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It was 1:00 am on February 21, 1814, when the door of the Ship Inn in Dover was suddenly yanked open and a Bourbon officer, seemingly near exhaustion, rushed in. He had just crossed the Channel from France, he gasped, and had come bearing the greatest news in the last 20 years. Then he asked for paper and ink and penned a letter to the admiralty in London conveying “dispatches of the happiest nature,” namely that “Bonaparte was overtaken by a party of Cossacks, who immediately slayed him.”
News of Napoleon’s demise circulated. People heaved a sigh of relief and the markets reacted euphorically. But when the hoax came to light – Napoleon would die seven years later – it turned out that the purported officer and his sidekicks had purchased British government bonds beforehand, earning a profit of 500,000 British pounds (GBP 50 million in today’s currency) on subsequently selling them. The conspirators were prosecuted, and their crime established a legal precedent and went down in the annals of history as the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814.