Family Lessons 12: the Embezzler

Yesterday morning before the Mayor (Alderman Kelsey), Joseph Rowland Cottom, grocer’s traveller, late in the employ of Messrs H. Bray and Co., Masbro’, was brought up on a charge of embezzling £35, the property of his employers. About a week ago, Cottom proceeded out of Mexbro’ on business, and, giving his companion a silent farewell, he walked to Swinton and booked to Doncaster. From thence he proceeded to Leeds, where he entered a coffee tavern, and was partaking of some refreshment when he overheard a conversation in an adjoining apartment respecting himself. Thinking there was one in pursuit, he hurriedly left the establishment, leaving behind him a box containing various articles in his possession. He at once departed from Leeds to York and on leaving York went to London. In the metropolis he took private lodgings, where he secreted himself for some time. Last Monday, his employers received a very repentant letter from Cottam, promising to refund the money he had in hand and make good the deficiency, stating that he intended to return home but that he was unwell and suffering much anxiety of mind. He returned to Sheffield on Tuesday night and walked to Rotherham, and was apprehended at Kimberworth at his home by Sergeant Powel early yesterday morning- He was remanded.

Sheffield Independent, 11 Sep., 1884.

This sorry character is my great, great grandfather. Thirty-five pounds was quite a lot of money then; in today’s purchasing terms, it would be worth £4,377.86. But what did it buy him? It was not enough to buy peace of mind, a new start, his personal safety and security. He offered to return what he had taken and to make up any difference- but those thirty-five pounds could not satisfy his employers’ rightful disgust at his conduct. It was not enough to keep his job nor to retain his liberty and good reputation. The reasons for his theft are not recorded, and further reporting of the case cannot be found. It gives me no pleasure to understand I’m descended from a common thief. Though the records might not be available,  I dare say we all come from such stock.

Grandfather Cottom was born with a sinful nature, what the Authorised Version terms the flesh. Human nature is corrupted and poisoned; it veers towards evil and harm. He may have had enough of his job, he might have struggled to survive on whatever wage he was earning, but the real reason for his theft was his own, wicked heart. I am not clear if his ‘repentant letter’ shows his sorrow for being pursued or whether he truly did lament his dishonest actions. In any event, it was not enough. That he was remanded ahead of his sentence suggests he was imprisoned thereafter. I only hope he repented in his heart towards God Himself. Whenever we sin against others, be they spouse, friends, parents or employers, we also sin against Him by default, for He is their Maker and Ordainer. Yet unlike them, He never rejects a repentant sinner.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

We have all done things about which we are deeply ashamed. Confess them to God, claim the mercy He offers you in Christ Jesus. Though He is swiftly offended by our sins, He forgives and restores with equal alacrity.

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