On the trail of history on the high seas

David Butler, archivist at Durham County Record Office.
David Butler, archivist at Durham County Record Office.

Real accounts of adventure, arrest and a suspect sailor will be brought to life through historical records as monthly history sessions resume.

Durham County Record Office welcomes in the new year with its first Third Thursday Talk of 2020. And keen historians won’t be disappointed, as the session promises a remarkable exploration of ‘Arrest on the High Seas – On the trail of a 19th-century embezzler.’


Led by archivist David Butler, the session will recount the arrest of William Robinson for embezzlement in 1851. Historical records held in the County Durham collection reveal the intriguing case that ensued around the then evolving railway network.

Quirky details include a police officer disguised as a sailor, the secret boarding of a clipper bound for New York and an ingenious defence which failed to convince the jury.

David Butler, archivist at Durham County Record Office said: “Our archives are full of unique encounters and William Robinson’s is certainly an exciting one.

“I discovered his story by chance when I was looking at the prisoners in Durham Prison on census night 1851, and William’s case stood out as being a bit different from the run of robberies and assaults.

“I am excited to share not only the stories I encountered but to showcase how documents from our rich collection can bring to life people and experiences from the past.”

Third Thursday Talk takes place on Thursday 16 January 2020, from 12.30pm to 1.15pm.

Talks are free to attend (donations welcome on the day) but places should be booked in advance. Book online or call 03000 267 619.

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