Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from Edinburgh’s archives.

Feb 23, 2013

Our thanks to the Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh whose Bank of Scotland archives hold information on Scotland's first ever banknote forgery, which was reported on 23 February 1700. The Bank of Scotland, founded in 1695 by act of the old Scottish parliament, opened for business in Edinburgh in 1696.

Only four years later, minutes and letters in the Bank's archive describe the discovery of the criminal forgery, and the Bank's subsequent attempts to bring the perpetrator to justice. 

The forgery is first mentioned in the Minutes of 23 Feb 1700. During a routine check of the banknotes, staff 'discovered a vitiation [corruption] in a note of £50 sterling'. The Bank acted quickly, putting out announcements warning of the forged notes in the Edinburgh Gazette, and offering a reward of £100 sterling for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.

The suspected forger was Thomas McGhie, a former student of Edinburgh University. Newly married and strapped for cash, he was seduced by the lure of easy money. McGhie's method was simple. He converted a £5 note to £50 by 'artful razing' [erasing] of the word 'five', replacing it with 'fifty'.

Suspicion fell on McGhie when he visited the Bank to change forged notes for real ones, apparently in response to the warning in the Gazette. Bank staff questioned McGhie as to where he had got the notes, but he claimed not to remember the names of the men who had given them to him, and was 'confused in his answers'. He was allowed to leave the Bank office, on the understanding he would return the following morning 'further to vindicat himself'. McGhie did not appear, but fled to Newcastle and protested his innocence by letter. He wrote a 'short and plain account' to the Governor of the Bank of Scotland, claiming he had received the forged notes from two Englishmen with whom he had traded.

McGhie's deserted wife wrote to him at Newcastle, addressing her letter to 'James Thomson' (an assumed name). She entreated McGhie to return to Edinburgh and 'handsomly purge yrself of ys accused villainy'. Despite her pleas, McGhie stayed away. Although the Bank took steps to trace him, sending an officer to Newcastle and intercepting letters to and from his wife, he was never caught.  A warrant (illustrated below) was obtained on 28 February 1700 from Holyroodhouse permitting his pursual.

As recompense, the Bank laid claim to McGhie's possessions, which included books, 'mappes', and 'a pair of boot spurs'.  They were then sold them at 'roup' (auction), raising over £44 – around £3,500 today.

In the wake of the McGhie forgeries, the Bank commissioned a new set of banknotes to be made. Each denomination was to be 'of a different character', to help the public distinguish between them. Additional security features were also added, to prevent 'the like abuse and villainy of vitiating or counterfeiting'.

While no examples of the notes McGhie forged survive, the illustrated £12 Scots from 1716 gives us an idea of their plain and simple appearance. (Photograph on right by Antonia Reeve)

Records relating to the McGhie forgery can be consulted by appointment at the Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh...Read more   

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