The records of the Old Bailey, from 1674 up to 1913, are now online, at OldBaileyOnline.org. I've already wasted hours reading them, and I bet you will too. The web site is beautiful, has an outstanding search system, and the most fascinating records. It's just wow.
The first thing I did, of course, was go name surfing. In only a few minutes I found this record. Let me introduce you to my ancestor, in the criminal trial of...
WILLIAM CORBY, Theft > pocketpicking, 6th July 1835WILLIAM CORBY was indicted for stealing, on the 3rd of July, 1 handkerchief, value 2s. 6d. the goods of Charles Frederick Edgar, from his person.CHARLES FREDRICK EDGAR . On the 3rd of July I was in Clerkenwell—I had this handkerchief in my pocket, and lost it—I do not know who took it.THOMAS HEADWORTH . I live in St. John-street. About three o'clock, I saw the prosecutor walking in that street, and the prisoner was close behind him, touching his pocket—I went to the door, and saw his hand in the pocket—he drew the handkerchief out, and passed it form his right hand to his left—I immediately ran and laid hold of him—he threw it down—I told the gentleman, who took it up.Prisoner. Q. Did you not say a man in a velvet coat threw the handkerchief down, and it went on my breast.A. I did not.GUILTY . Aged 20.— Transported for Seven Years.
Or at least, my relatives who've researched the family history tell me this is the fellow from whom we're descended.
It's a good thing my ancestor took to a life of crime. Based on his defense, he would never have made it as a lawyer.
Why didn't Corby argue that he was walking behind Edgar, saw the handkerchief fall, and picked it up to return it? He still needs to impugn Headworth as a witness, but he can argue the angle of sight, and Headworth's natural suspicion, led him to misinterpret an innocent event. The agreed fact that Edgar felt nothing helps the claim of an accidental fall.
Yes, yes, I know...my illustrious forefather is obviously a petty thief, but seriously, almost any defense is better than asking the prosecution's only witness to change his mind with a leading question.
The earliest record of a criminal Corby is another William Corby in 1770 for highway robbery, violent theft, receiving, and grand larceny. Needless to say he dangled for that lot.
I also discovered that there was a police officer called George Corby, variously described as a beadle, a constable, and a street-keeper who, if the number of times he appears is any indicator, touched an amazing number of collars. GC (same initials!) appears to have been more Lestrade than Holmes, but nevertheless the temptation to write some short stories is almost overwhelming.