Humphry Morice, Prince of Thieves

Humphry Morice was Director of the Bank of England four times. He also served as Deputy Governor from 1725-27 and as Governor from 1727-29. After his death, it was discovered that while in office he had cheated the Bank of England out of £29,000 (around £7 million today). The lengthy court proceedings following his death led to his business papers being held by the Bank, later becoming part of its archive. For this, his reputation was ruined, albeit posthumously. Yet this particular fraud and theft was not his primary crime. A lot of his papers reveal his extensive involvement in the slave trade.

From around 1704, Morice began participating in the West African trade after the monopoly held by the Royal African Company was ended by Parliament. His interests were primarily in transporting enslaved West Africans to plantations in North America and the Caribbean, investing in at least 103 voyages to and from Africa. Around 30,000 black men, women and children were forced across the Atlantic in Morice's ships. This earned him the name the 'prince of slavers'. Few in eighteenth-century London were as horrified by this than as his embezzlement of cash, even though the magnitude of pain was far greater. Robbing men, women and children, and their thousands of descendants, of liberty, health and the right to live off their own labour, was an appalling act of fraud with which his victims’ families must still grapple.

Theft need not only concern physical items or cash, it is also a stealing of virtue, goodness and happiness. The child molester robs his victims of sleep, security and confidence for decades to come; the bullying, belittling spouse raids his or her partner’s stock of self-confidence and poise. When the ten commandments forbid theft, they refer to much more than objects. Humphry Morice was the Prince of Thieves long before he pilfered his own bank’s coffers, and the God before whom he now stands will demand justice for everything he stole.

“I will send out the curse,” says the Lord of hosts; “It shall enter the house of the thief And the house of the one who swears falsely by My name. It shall remain in the midst of his house And consume it, with its timber and stones.” Zechariah 5:4, NKJV