Home » The dark side

A high point: the Admiralty hired a fleet of electrobuses to take French sailors, who had accompanied the president on an official visit, on a tour of London

In early January 1910 it was announced that the assets of the London Electrobus Company had been taken over by “The Reorganisation and Control Syndicate”. The sale marked the end of the London electrobus operation.

In an article commenting on the sale the magazine Electrical Engineering urged shareholders in the electrobus company to insist on an investigation into the way the company had been run. It said “there may be further revelations of the methods of some of the individuals connected with the company” in a forthcoming court case which would shed more light on “Dr Lehwess’s peculiar activities,” said the magazine, adding the warning: “it will doubtless not disclose all that has been done during his direct or indirect connection with the London Electrobus Company.”

The essential paradox of the electrobus story is that while the technology worked well there always was a dark side to the electrobus finances, as revealed in the recent book A Most Deliberate Swindle.

Dr Edward Lehwess was a German-born lawyer. He controlled the electrobus company and the companies that assembled the bus. By the autumn of 1907 he had been joined in the swindle by a former solicitor called Edward Beall. Beall, a convicted fraudster, who had only recently been released from prison, was a veteran of pump and dump share swindles.

In the summer of 1909 Lehwess acquired a new partner, Demetrius Delyannis, a nephew of the recently assassinated Greek prime minister. Together they came up with a plan to reconstruct the company, and raised a sizeable sum of money from gullible investors. But the reconstructed company never ran a single bus and the money vanished. When a judge instigated an inquiry into what had become of the electrobus assets Delyannis skipped the country, handing on the rump of the reconstructed company to a Swiss-born swindler called Joseph Chansay. Chansay also fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest over other frauds.

Of course it was the job of the electrobus auditor to protect the interests of ordinary shareholders and to prevent fraud by the likes of Delyannis and Lehwess. The auditor was a man called Thomas Garlick. A couple of years after the collapse of the London Electrobus Company, Garlick was also jailed for an unrelated fraud.