The Malmsbury bank scandal gained Melbourne media attention in 1874 for the rare prosecution of a blatant white-collar crime.
The Bank of Victoria manager, George Everist, was charged and convicted of forging and uttering a cheque for 400 pounds with intent to defraud William Green of Lauriston.
A second charge of forging a cheque in the name of John Olive was withdrawn. Olive was Mary Gorey’s husband and couldn’t read or write, so forging a cheque in his name wouldn’t have been too difficult. Olive made his mark with an X on documents including his will and the inquest into the death of Patrick Donovan.
When Everist appeared in the Police Court for committal he tried to bluff his way out.
His counsel offered a theatrical defence and argued that no crime had occurred because Everist was authorised to access client accounts. Instead it was a mistake which could be rectified by repayment of any outstanding amount.
According to the Kyneton Observer, Everist’s lawyer said he did not wish to compare the bank to Shylock because Shylock did not get his pound of flesh, whereas the bank did. He hoped the Bench would not be party to sending a young man who made one false step to gaol.
At the trial in Kyneton Court, Everist appeared less cavalier, or as the Kyneton Guardian observed: “more sensible of his disgraceful position than when he appeared in the Police Court”. Everist pleaded guilty and asked for leniency.
His mortified father urged the judge to read character references, which he did while drily commenting “previous good character might be taken for granted or he would not have been in a position to commit the crime”.
Everist was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment with hard labour.
His entry in the register at Pentridge Prison shows that he was married to Fanny Jane Gibson and they had three children. He was convicted on 8 September 1874 and released on 29 December 1876.
The Argus gave some more background on Everist’s state of affairs and personal life. He had debts of 787 pounds and his main assets were mining shares, which he transferred to his wife and tried to shield from creditors.
The bank’s losses were higher than originally believed, in the order of 2000 pounds … “there is abundant evidence that the swindle has been most deliberately planned and just as deliberately carried out”.
A large number of customers had their accounts tampered with and fictitious accounts were opened “to represent that valuable security had been deposited and then to overdraw the account”.
His father posted bail of 500 pounds and repaid the bank 1000 pounds.
The scandal was big news in Malmsbury and the Gorey family were touched by it as John Olive’s involvement attests.
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