Thomas Edward Jones was born in 1824 in England, the son of a tailor from Westminster. The last time his name made the newspaper, save for his obituary, was in 1844, when he fell off a boat traveling between Tunis and Algiers. After that, though, he disappeared from the public consciousness, living out the remainder of his nearly fifty years in relative obscurity. He somehow ended up in Australia where at one point, he became the town crier of Perth. He passed away in 1893. If Jones’s adulthood was all history cared about, he’d be hardly worth of a passing mention. He was even buried in an unmarked grave.
But before his 18th birthday, Jones was one of Great Britain’s most famous scofflaws. His crime?
He stole Queen Victoria’s underpants.
In 1838, Jones, then a 14-year-old who worked for a builder, dressed up as a chimney sweep and entered Buckingham Palace unlawfully. As the BBC recounts, a palace staffer noticed that Jones was out of place and chased him out of the building. Police caught up to Jones on the street and, upon inspection, found that the newly minted teen had a pair of the Queen’s underwear hidden in his pants. At trial — apparently, in 1838, 14-year-olds went to trial for pranks, albeit colossally stupid ones — the authorities discovered that Jones had also nicked bed sheets and a sword from the palace in previous attempts to invade the Queen’s home.
The jury acquitted Jones for these sophomoric acts even though they were evidence of an ongoing spree. And while details of Jones’ regal panty raid made the papers, it’s unclear whether it made him the household name he’d soon become. But that’s OK — he wasn’t done yet. On November 30, 1840, Jones scaled a wall and re-entered the palace unlawfully, and escaped undetected. The next day, he returned to the palace, again uninvited, but this time was caught — he was discovered underneath a sofa in the Queen’s dressing room. This time, the public took notice, but not due to Jones’ age. Queen Victoria had given birth to her daughter Princess Victoria less than two weeks prior, and many feared that the Queen’s postpartum state made her exceptionally vulnerable to teens that go bump in the night. Jones’s father argued that his son was no criminal but, instead, a youth suffering from some version of insanity. But the public wouldn’t have it. This time, Jones was sentenced to three months in a house of correction, a special type of jail used primarily for vagrants and beggars — and, apparently, teenaged palace intruders.
Unfortunately, Jones didn’t learn his lesson. Shortly after his release, Jones unlawfully entered a royal apartment and grabbed a snack — and was caught leaving, apparently on his way back to visit Queen Victoria again. He was sentenced to three months of hard labor.
After his release? He tried to enter the palace again, but, due to an increased amount of security in the area (due to him), he was caught simply loitering around the palace, well before he could breach the walls. Jones was pushed to join the navy, probably against his desires, and therefore was physically separated from the building his wanderlust drew him toward.
But he wasn’t done yet. After a year of naval service, he found himself in Portsmouth, about 75 miles (120 km) from London. Most would be deterred by the distance, but not Jones. He began to trek toward the palace, by foot. He was caught before he reached London, though, and was returned to his ship. Taking Jones off of dry land was proving the only way to keep him out of the Queen’s homes (and away from her underwear).
History lost track of Jones shortly thereafter — there are records of him battling alcoholism and burglarizing some homes and businesses, but beyond that, the man known as “the boy Jones” had peaked in infamy before reaching adulthood. The motives — sane or otherwise — for his magnetic fascination with Buckingham Palace have never been established.
From the Archives: Wine and Cheese with the Queen: Another Buckingham Palace intruder.
Related: The official souvenir guide of Buckingham Palace, in case you want a keepsake but don’t want to risk a prison sentence.