Portrait from the Representative Men of New York, Volume II, 1898.
The picturesque life of Godolphin Burslem is examined today, and after reading the following passages on his life, I'm certain you'll agree that the mustachioed man above lived a life of intrigue and mystery! While not a politician in the exact sense of the word, Burslem ran an unsuccessful campaign for the New York State Assembly in 1896, but it is the other aspects of his life (that of a con man and criminal) that will lend quite a bit of color to this article. Godolphin Finney Burslem was born in Great Britain on May 6, 1855 into a family prominent in the English military. He attended the Woolrich Military School in 1870 and the next year began service in the Royal Horse Artillery.
In 1874 he journeyed to South Africa and eventually became caught up in the Zulu War, which began in 1879. During his service in that war Burslem lost a leg at the Battle of Isandlwana and later had it replaced by one made of cork (and here is where his story starts to get interesting; it was later determined that Finney actually lost his leg in a gun carriage accident during the final months of the war.) While he may have been exposed as a humbug late in his life, it is obvious that Burslem did have a noteworthy military career early on.
After returning home to Great Britain Burslem began a career (if you can call it that) as a swindler and fraudster. A brief snippet of his criminal beginnings was chronicled in the New York Times in 1901 and is shown below.
A Burslem campaign notice from the New York Times, 1896.
In 1896 Burslem's apparently "sterling" reputation got him noticed by the Democratic Party in New York City, which subsequently nominated him for a seat in the state assembly. The above New York Times snippet for the assembly seat lists Burslem as a member of the ill-reputed Tammany Hall, and mentions him as an insurance agent. The results of the campaign (which Burslem lost) were posted in the New York Times a few days after the election. You'll notice that he placed a respectable second out of a field of six candidates, being defeated by Republican nominee Robert Mazet by over three-thousand votes.
Between this election and 1901 little is known of Burslem's life, but what life he had carved for himself was brought to an end in December 1900 when a bench warrant was issued for his arrest on the charge of larceny, having stolen a sum of $40 from a Ms. Caroline Krager of Elberon, New Jersey. Burslem would escape New York City shortly afterward and was later arrested in Boston in July of 1901. Following his return to New York City, he was incarcerated at the infamous "Tombs" jail, being held on $1000 bail.
Godolphin Burslem was convicted of larceny in February 1902 and when sentenced, pleaded for clemency. The final New York Times article mentioning him was published shortly after his conviction and is posted in its entirety below. Strangely, none of these articles dealing with his arrest mention his earlier candidacy for the state assembly.
For those who may want to read the "clean" version of Burslem's life (as published in 1898 in the Representative Men of New York mentioned earlier) it has been posted below, as it was originally found on the website www.archive.com.