In the late 1760s, Charles Eyloe ran a boarding house at his home Orchard House in Blackwall, London. One of his contracts was with the East India Company to provide lodgings for the Asiatic sailors, known as lascars, who came to England as part of the Company’s ship crews. The sailors needed somewhere to stay until they could return home.

In August and September 1767, Eyloe suffered a string of break-ins and robberies at his house. The first was on August 2, 1767, when his house was broken into and 50 shillings in silver was taken. The second occurred on August 6, 1767, when his cellar window was broken and a 12 pound (5.4 kg) shoulder of veal and a bushel of flour were stolen.

Following these break-ins, Eyloe had a new cellar door put in and a metal bar put across his wine cellar. These precautions appear to have deterred the thief from the cellar for a time, however instead eight hens and a cock were taken on September 11, 1767.

On September 14, 1767, the thief managed to rip the cellar door off its hinges and took four pieces of beef worth five shillings and Eyloe suspected wine, beer and brandy were taken although he could not say for sure.

The thief turned out to be Thomas James, a lascar from Bengal, who had previously boarded at Eyloe’s house. James had indeed taken bottles of brandy from Eyloe’s cellar on September 14, 1767, and was caught after promising ten of the bottles to a fellow sailor who then reported the incident to Eyloe.

James was tried at the Old Bailey (the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales ) on October 21, 1767, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. However on February 24, 1768, he was granted a conditional pardon and on July 12, 1768, his sentence was changed to transportation for life.

This article first appeared on The British Library’s Untold Lives blog.