Sidney George Reilly

An agent of the British Secret Service Bureau.


By all accounts Reilly leaves one with an indelible impression. He is suave, debonair, self-confident, and reported by many to able to charm both women and men alike. He is overtly generous with his friends and those rare family members with whom he associates. He enjoys gambling with both his money and his life and has often given his friends bags of gold sovereigns with which to gamble against him. As gregarious as he appears, he is said to be cold and pragmatic, capable of using any and every means to get what he wants. His personal stationary is embossed with the motto Mundo Nulla Fides, “Put no faith in the world,” or more simply, “Trust no one.”


The exact date of his birth and even his true name are in question. Most fairly reliable sources give his birth date as March 24, 1874, and the location as in or somewhere near Odessa, in the Ukraine. Other sources state he was born in 1873. His name has alternately been given as Georgi Rosenblum, Sigmund Rosenblum, Shlomo Rosenblum, Salomon Rosenblum, and even Sigmund Georgjevich Rosenblum. It is said that Reilly himself at first claimed that Rosenblum wasn’t his real name, but that when his father—a Russian Army colonel with connections at the Czar’s court—died, he learned the family secret that he was the progeny of an affair between his mother and her Jewish doctor, named Rosenblum

As a young university student, Reilly purportedly became involved with an early Marxist group called The Friends of Enlightenment and acted as a courier for them. He was arrested by Czarist police and thrown into jail. When he was released he faked his death in Odessa Harbour and stowed away on a British ship bound for South America.

In Brazil young Sigmund adopted the name Pedro and worked odd jobs as a dock worker, a road mender, a plantation labourer and, in 1895, as a cook for a British intelligence expedition. During an attack by a local tribe, Pedro is said to have saved the lives of the mission group. One of them, a British agent named Major Fothergill, gave Pedro £1500 out of gratitude. When Fothergill learned who Pedro really was, he arranged both a passport and passage for him to England. A different account of Reilly’s arrival in England says that his knowledge of languages—he was apparently fluent in seven—impressed some British Army intelligence officers visiting Brazil, and they arranged for him to go to England where he was later recruited as a spy for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). And yet a third story has Reilly in Paris, working for the Okhrana, the Imperial Russian Secret Police, spying on Russian radicals, where he was recruited by British Intelligence.

Whichever legend is closer to the truth, Reilly arrived in England in 1895 and set himself up in London. By 1896, he had started a business as a consulting chemist under the name of Rosenblum & Company. Within nine months he was a fellow of The Chemical Society and a member of the Institute of Chemistry. It seems that, instead of actually being a chemist, he was manufacturing and distributing patent medicines or “miracle cures” to an unsuspecting public. It was around 1898 that he married his first wife, a widow named Margaret Thomas, who had inherited a small fortune from her late husband, Hugh Thomas. It has been suggested that Reilly and Margaret were involved in an affair, and that Reilly, or both of them, murdered Margaret’s husband so they could marry and inherit Hugh’s money. It has even been suggested that Reilly impersonated the local doctor and signed the death certificate, thereby removing suspicion from himself.

The patent medicine business not supplementing his income as he had envisioned, Reilly began to work as an informer for Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, augmenting his income by spying on radicals and revolutionaries among the Russian émigré community. When his name was linked to an Okhrana investigation of a London-based counterfeiting ring producing fake Russian rubles, the head of Special Branch decided Reilly should leave England immediately. With a new passport, Reilly and his wife hurriedly left London in June of 1899 and headed for the one place no one would think to look for them—Russia.

The timeline of his life and activities becomes rather fragmented over the intervening years, but existing records indicate Reilly was working for British intelligence. Although, while in the service of England, Reilly’s true loyalty remained solely to himself and his bank account. He would go to any extreme to accomplish the most dangerous of missions so far as it would enhance his financial position.

With the beginning of World War I, Reilly became an invaluable British asset. He was sent to Japan, where he worked as an agent for the Russo-Asiatic Bank, purchasing Japanese supplies for the Russian Army. In 1914, he moved to New York, where he was alternately credited with countering German attempts to sabotage American efforts to supply the Allies, while purchasing and transporting American supplies for the Russian Army. He has even been reputed to have disguised himself as a German officer on Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria’s staff and participated in a meeting of the Chiefs of the German High Command with Kaiser Wilhelm himself in attendance.

Sidney George Reilly

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