IT was a story American journalist James Schmidt would never file, the day he was locked up for fraud and theft.

Schmidt duped an unsuspecting boat passenger, a trick which Southampton police were convinced he and other opportunistic charlatans loitering at the dock side had played before.

His day of reckoning came after he had travelled with a day’s return ticket from Waterloo as insurance should his scheme for free travel on the South Africa bound Walmer Castle fail.

With just sixpence in his pocket, even third class travel was well beyond his means.

Just how he was going to achieve it? Simply by masquerading as an emigrant officer.

And in Antonio Anselimo, who was returning home to conduct his drapery business, he figured he had found the perfect victim.

Having sneaked aboard, Schmidt impudently persuaded the businessman to follow him from the third class area to the second.

“What is wrong, what do you want?” the puzzled passenger asked. Whatever the reply, he did not understand it.

Schmidt then beckoned Anselimo to the reading room where he was told to wait. Minutes later, the fraudster returned, identifying himself as an emigrant officer and demanding to see his ticket.

Seizing it, Schmidt asked: “Why are you going to the Cape?” to which Anselimo replied: “I have work there.”

Schmidt then wanted to know how much money he was carrying and Anselimo produced a transfer letter for £60 from the South African Banking Company.

“I don’t care for that,” Schmidt snapped. “What real money do you have?”

The compliant draper took out £7.10s which was instantly snatched from his hand.

Schmidt tried to run off but Anselimo smartly grabbed him and in desperation he stuffed the money and ticket back into his hands and fled down the gangway.

The unlikely scene caught the eye of Inspector Tribe who was on duty at the berth. Schmidt rushed into shed to hide but was swiftly apprehended by both men.

“What’s up?” asked Schmidt feigning innocence.

“I am a police officer,” Tribe countered. “What are you doing here?”

Before he could reply, Anselimo demonstrated how he had been conned out of his valuables.

Tribe immediately arrested him and asked Anselimo to stay behind to aid the prosecution but Schmidt however shouted: “Don’t listen to him. Go on the ship and take your passage.”

At the Bargate police station, he still kept up the pretence.

“I asked him to lend me £7.10 and said I would pay him back on the other side. I was trying to get a job on the ship to work my passage.”

Told to turn out his pockets, he produced just sixpence, a pawnbroker’s ticket for a cheap shirt and the train ticket.

To enhance his credibility, he had been wearing a metal chain - but without a watch.

Two days later on February 15, 1904, Schmidt appeared the magistrates, and admitting fraud and theft, said he had been out of work for some time, had been drinking for two or three weeks and wanted to return to South Africa.

But C A Emanuel, prosecuting, urged the Bench to impose a stern penalty as a warning to other shamsters, explaining: “Several other men are coming down to Southampton on a similar errand,” a statement endorsed by the town’s chief constable.

“There is reason to believe the prisoner is an old hand at the game. A similar case has happened on the Philadelphia when a passenger was robbed of 16 dollars.”

Magistrates concurred and Schmidt was given ample time to write about life behind bars - six months with hard labour.