HIS plan looked foolproof until a fellow traveller's sudden whim - he wanted to purchase a parrot!

Scheming Edward Peel had ingratiated himself with other passengers on the P&0 steamer Candia that had just sailed from India in 1862, lamenting over the dinner table: "Somone has stolen a carpet which contained some rupees and jewellery I had bought for my wife."

John Tyler was taken in. Feeling sorry for him, the gullible surgeon suggested he should put his gold watch in his desk for safe keeping, but when he returned to his cabin, he was stunned to discover that not just the watch but also the desk had vanished.

Some two hours later it was found - cut in two and its contents missing. Though he naturally could not be held responsible, the surgeon felt so bad about the watch's loss he promised to reimburse Peel £13 on the vessel's arrival at Southampton.

But Peel could not have been envisaged what was to ensue.

When the ship made a scheduled call at Madras, Tyler told him he wanted to buy a parrot and asked if he could borrow some money. Without thinking, Peel thrust his hand into his pocket and produced an assortment of coins, among them a halfpenny. The well-travelled surgeon knew no such a coin was in circulation in India, and Peel tried to fob him off by saying he had received it by way of change from making a series of purchases on board.

Daily Echo: Bargate in 1932.

However, Tyler then snatched a rupee from Peel's grasp, recognising it as his own because of a distinctive red mark. Stopping short of accusing his fellow passenger of theft, he demanded to know where Peel had obtained it.

"From a steward," he blustered.

"In that case, we must see the captain," Tyler retorted.

However, the skipper had complete faith in the integrity of his crew and shrewdly assessed where the truth lay.

"Please accompany me to the hold," he ordered them. "Mr Peel, you can then open your luggage."

Once it was unlocked, not only were the watch and the surgeon's property found, but also valuables belonging to other passengers.

Daily Echo: Parrot.

Peel invented an extraordinary excuse. "Yes, I took them but I cannot resist taking anything I fancy. I am a kleptomaniac, and this was the only way I could stop myself from throwing the desk overboard."

The captain confined Peel to his cabin for the remainder of the journey, only releasing him when the Candia arrived at Southampton where he was detained by a detective who swiftly took him to the Bargate police station to be charged with the theft of a gold chain, 21 rupees and sundry items.

Minutes later, Peel appeared before magistrates who committed him for trial at the town's quarter sessions the same day when he came up with a novel excuse in front of Recorder Michael Bere. Pleading guilty and asking for clemency, he claimed he had been building bridges in Calcutta and the intense heat had affected his brain and judgement!

The judge was unimpressed and jailed him for three months with hard labour.