An abandoned Villain who inveigled and murdered his Wife’s Lover, murdered his Uncle, terrorised the Country-side, and was executed at Leith, 12th of April, 1635
This person had no reason to say he was come of mean parents, or that good education or tuition was denied him, whereby he might have avoided the several pernicious actions and villainies he committed, as will presently be shown in the sequel. His family lived in tolerable good repute at Glasgow in Scotland, where he was born; but, in spite of all the learning his parents had given him, or good examples they had set before him to regulate his passions and direct his conduct right, he abandoned himself, from his earliest acquaintance with the world, to little shuffling and pilfering tricks; which growing habitual to him as he advanced in age, he increased in his wicked practices, till at last he became a monster of profaneness and wicked living.
However, these (which one would take to be) great disadvantages hindered him not from making a very honourable match in wedlock. As his parents could not be blamed with any misconduct, but still kept up an honest and genteel character in the neighbourhood where they lived; and as it would have been infamous to have reproached them for those miscarriages in the son which they had strove all they could to root out of his mind, and could not help, so an old gentleman, who had preserved for a long time an inviolable friendship for the family, entered into an alliance with Mr Cunningham the elder, which at last terminated in giving his daughter to Sawney, and an estate in portion with her of above one hundred and forty pounds per annum, thinking that marriage might be a means to reclaim our adventurer from his ill course of life, and at last settle his mind, to the mutual satisfaction of both families, for which he thought his daughter’s portion would be a good purchase, and well laid out.
But how are mankind deceived, and, in short, all our foresight and consultation.
Sawney no sooner found himself in possession of an estate able to support his extravagances but he immediately gave a more violent loose to his passions than he had hitherto done.
He made taverns and alehouses the frequent places of his resort; and, not content idly to waste the day in debauches and drunkenness, the night too must come in to make up the reckoning.
These destructive steps could not be attended but with hurtful consequences, and he was too soon an eye-witness of some of them; for not having always wherewithal to indulge his usual expenses and method of living, he was forced to have recourse to indirect measures, which ended in pawning everything he had, not only of his wife’s but of his own. Melancholy things were unavoidably to follow, if some redress or care was not taken to put a restraint on this destructive course.
Sawney laughed at his follies, and could not bring himself to believe he should ever want while he had either hands or heart to support him. He was determined to enter upon business as soon as possible —- I mean such business as generally brings so many unhappy men to the gallows. His wife, who was vastly beautiful and handsome, saw this, but with a prudence that became her sex stifled her uneasiness so long, till, no longer able to bear the torment upon her mind, she first began with kind entreaties, since all they had in the world was gone, to fall into some honest way of livelihood to support themselves, for it was much and more commendable to do so than for him to give his countrymen every day so many instances of his riotous and profuse living.
Had Sawney been so good to himself as to have given ear to this remonstrance, without doubt things had succeeded well, and we should never have read the miserable end he suffered. But all admonition was lost on a man abandoned to wickedness, and determined to support his usual extravagances at any rate.
The poor young gentlewoman, instead of being answered civilly for her love and affection to him, met with nothing but harsh and terrifying words, attended with a thousand oaths and imprecations. The parents on both sides, observing this, were in extreme grief and concern, and determined, after a serious consultation, to dissolve the couple; but the young and handsome wife would never consent to part from her husband, though so base to her.
Before we enter upon the first remarkable transaction of Sawney’s life, we think ourselves under an obligation to lay before our readers some account of this young bride’s rare qualifications. In the first place, as I have taken notice above, she was extremely beautiful, not only in a perfect symmetry of features, but likewise to these were joined an exquisite person. She was tall, finely shaped, full-breasted, and had all the other exterior ornaments of her sex. For her temper and the qualifications of her interior part or soul, she was sincere in her love to the last, ever patient under the greatest difficulties, and ready at all times to extricate her husband out of the misfortunes he involved himself in, by lawful and justifiable methods; she had a nice conduct, and an extraordinary restraint upon every passion that might betray her into unforeseen miscarriages.
In Glasgow, where a university was, and consequently young gentlemen of fortune and address, it was impossible for Mrs Cunningham to hide the charms of her face and person so as not to be taken notice of. Several immediately offered their respects, and money was not wanting to promote their suits; but all were below the prudent sentiments of her mind. She could not endure to think of dishonouring the bed of her husband by a base compliance with the richest man in the kingdom, and always she put off her suitor with a frown and a seemingly disdainful air.
But this only served to animate her lovers the more, who now seemed to attack her with a resolution not to quit the siege till she had either capitulated or surrendered herself. Amongst the rest was a certain lawyer, who was so frequent in his importunities that she was quite tired out. However, she was so discreet all the while as to conceal from her husband Sawney the importunities of her several lovers; but their solicitations increasing, and being determined to be delivered of them as soon as possible, she one night, as she lay in bed with her husband, began to discourse to him in words to the following effect:
You are sensible, my dear, of the inviolable love I have, from the first day of my marriage to you, preserved for you, which shall still, let whatever will happen, be as chastely maintained; for the infernal regions shall sooner open and receive me alive than I will dare to break the laws of your bed, or bring dishonour to my person, by a shameless prostitution of my person in the embraces of any man alive. As a proof of what I tell you, you need only be acquainted that for these several months I have been strongly importuned by Mr Hamilton the lawyer to consent to his embraces, but still I have warded off from his addresses, yet cannot be free from him; which makes me now discourse thus, in order to hear your opinion in the matter, and see which will be the safest and best expedient to be delivered of his company.
Here she ended, and Sawney, being thoroughly convinced of his wife’s loyalty and fidelity, first answered her with a desire she should forget all his irregularities, confessing their present poverty had been the immediate consequences of his too liberal and profuse livings but that for the future she should see a good alteration in his conduct, and he would make one of the best of husbands.
“As for Mr Hamilton,” said he,
it is my advice that you do not give him an absolute refusal, but pretending a kind of love at a distance, make him think that a considerable sum of money will finish his expectations, and gain him what he so much longs for. You have youth and beauty on your side, and you may, consequently, command him as you please: for I am not so much a stranger to Mr Hamilton’s temper and inclination but that I know love will influence him to perform generous things. My dear, I have no occasion to acquaint you with our poverty at this time, which, to my extreme grief, has been the consequence of my irregular and profane living; but our wants and necessities may be amply made up by dextrously managing this adventure, the prosecution of which I leave to your own prudence and conduct; and for my part, I shall take effectual care to extricate you and myself out of any consequences that may happen upon it.
Mrs Cunningham, after this conference with her husband, had a thousand thoughts in her head how to manage this scheme so as to make the most advantage of it. She saw that the want of money in her family must oblige her to it, though never so much against the bent of her inclination to the contrary, and therefore, determining to put it in execution as soon as possible, she composed herself to rest for that night.
The next day Sawney got purposely out of the way, but not without a longing expectation of receiving extraordinary matters from his wife’s conduct. Hamilton appeared as usual; and, protesting his love for her was the sincerest in the world, said that it was impossible for him to enjoy a moment’s rest without tasting those joys she could so easily afford him.
Mrs Cunningham at first reproved him for such a bare declaration of his desires, and said that so long as her husband lived she could not, without the most manifest breach of conjugal fidelity, and an eternal infamy to herself, give way to comply with his demands.
“Your person, Mr Hamilton,” said she, “is none of the worst, neither is your sense to be despised; but, alas! heaven has decreed it that I am already another man’s wife, and therefore deprived from gratifying you as I would were the case otherwise. And I have apprehensions of my husband, who is a choleric person, and presently urged into a passion upon the most trifling affairs, which either he doth not like, or squares not with his happiness or interest.”
“Interest!” replied Hamilton. “Why, if that be the case, neither your husband nor you shall have any reason to complain; for, let me tell you once and for all, I do not require a gratification from anyone without making a suitable return. Your circumstances, madam, are not unknown to me; and I am sorry to think that, after having brought Mr Cunningham so plentiful a fortune, I should have a just occasion to say that you are poor. But mistake me not, I scorn to make a handle of your circumstances; neither do I believe Mrs Cunningham would ever consent to my desires on such servile terms.”
Upon this madam answered him with a great deal of prudence and art: she told him that he pleaded handsomely for himself, and if she was not a married woman there should be nothing to obstruct their desires.
Mr Hamilton, finding this, made her a long harangue, in which he endeavoured to show how weak her objection was, with respect to her husband, concluding that what they did might be so artfully contrived that neither Mr Cunningham nor the world should know anything of it. In fine, the lawyer pleaded as if it were for life for her consent, which madam observing, and not caring to prolong the time too far, but dispatch a great deal of business in a little time, she artfully told him that since her stars had so directed the actions of her life that she had no power of herself to contradict them, she resigned herself to him, and said that it was to no purpose to stifle her inclinations for him any longer; for, to be plain with him, she had loved him from their first acquaintance together, before all the men she had ever seen, and that she hoped there was no transgression in an affair which her destiny overruled; and if the world proved censorious, she did not care, and left her cause to be determined by the stars, who, together with Mr Hamilton’s fine person, had influenced her to it.
To be short, an assignation was made, and a porch of one of the churches in Glasgow designed to be the place where these two lovers were to meet. Nothing in the world gave the lawyer so much satisfaction as the thought of having obtained the consent of his fair mistress, who had declared her love to him, and resigned herself up to his arms.
Hamilton promised to make her a present of a purse of a hundred pounds sterling before anything was done, and she on her side assured him she would please him to the utmost, and acquainted him that he might expect all the kindness she was able to afford him. Here they parted, and the lawyer thought the time contained a thousand days till the hour appointed was come, and he in the arms of his mistress.
It arrives, and both appear in the porch; they caress and toy, but no further than the laws of modesty permitted. Hamilton wants to know where Mr Cunningham, her husband, is, and is acquainted that he has gone a short journey into the country, which, however, will take him up eight days; whereas madam has posted him, or he has done it himself, in a private place in his chamber at home. Hamilton seems extraordinarily pleased at his success, and the repose he should find in humouring his appetites now his antagonist was out of the way, as he thought.
In a little time both these lovers come to Sawney’s house, and having entered his bed-chamber, where he was concealed, and a good fire burning, Mr Hamilton pulls out two purses of gold and gives them to her; and then, going to undress himself, Sawney springs out from his secret place, and with one stroke lays Mr Hamilton flat on the floor with a club he had in his hand; for, not contented with his wife’s having received the two purses of gold, he must have the lawyer’s clothes too; and therefore, to make sure of them, he redoubles his blows, till the poor gentleman gave up the ghost at Mrs Cunningham’s feet.
This was a sacrifice to love with a witness.
The lawyer had contributed handsomely before for a night’s lodging, and must he give his life into the bargain? I know not how mankind may think on it; but the affair was carried to a desperate length.
Now Mrs Cunningham, not dreaming her husband would have carried matters to such an issue, seemed frightened to the last extreme at what had been done; but Sawney endeavoured to give her ease by telling her that he would work himself out of the scrape immediately, and, so saying, hoisted the body on his shoulders and went out at a back door which led directly to Hamilton’s house, which easily opening, as a profound sleep in the family and the darkness of the night favoured him, he carried the lawyer to the vault, and placed him upright upon the seat, to the end that the first who found him there might conclude he had died in that place and posture.
Now it seems Mr Hamilton, the day before, had acquainted a particular friend who lived in his house with his success, and how he was to have a meeting with Mrs Cunningham that night. This friend had had the gripes upon him for three or four days, which made him have a very violent looseness, and being obliged to untruss a point about midnight, rises in his night-gown and steps down to the vault, where, opening the door, he spies Mr Hamilton sitting, as he supposed; and taking it that he was come there on the very same errand as himself, stays without a while to let him have a quiet play.
But finding he made no motion to stir, after having waited a considerable time, to his own uneasiness, he opens the door again, and taking him by the sleeve of his coat was surprised to find him fall down. He stoops to take him up, but finds him dead; at which, being in a thousand perplexities, and fearing to be thought the murderer, he brings to mind his acquainting him with the assignation between him and Mrs Cunningham; upon which he concludes his friend had found no fair play there, knowing the husband to be none of the easiest of men.
What should this lodger do in this case? Why, he takes up the body, throws it upon his shoulders, and carries it to Sawney’s house door, where he sets it down. Madam, a little after midnight, having occasion to discharge, gets out of bed and, opening the door, lets the body of her late lover tumble into the house, which putting her into a fright, she runs upstairs into the chamber and tells Sawney how that the lawyer has come back.
“Aye, aye,” says he (just waking out of his sleep), “I’ll warrant he shall come back no more, I’ll secure him presently”; and so saying, gets immediately out of bed, puts on his clothes, and hoists the dead lawyer once more on his shoulders, with a design to carry him to the river and throw him in; but seeing some persons at some distance coming towards him, he steps up to the side of the street till they were got by, fearing his design might be discovered, and consequences were dangerous.
But what should these persons be but half-a-dozen thieves, who were returning from a plunder they had made of two large flitches of bacon out of a cheese-monger’s shop, and as they came along were talking of a vintner hard by, who sold a bottle of extraordinary wine.
Sawney was somewhat relieved from his fears (for fears he could not miss from having) at hearing this conversation. He had not been in his post long before he had the satisfaction of seeing this company put their bacon, which was in a sack, into an empty cellar, and knock the master of the tavern up to let them in.
The coast being now clear, Sawney conveys the dead lawyer into the cellar, and taking out the purloined goods, put his uneasy cargo in the room, and then marches home. Meanwhile the thieves were carousing, little dreaming what a change they should presently find in their sack. Little or no money was found amongst them, and the flitches were to answer the full reckoning, so that they continued drinking till they thought the bacon was become an equivalent for the wine they had drank. One of them, who pretended to be spokesman, addressing the landlord, told him that he must excuse him and his comrades for bringing no money in their pockets to defray what they had expended, especially at such an unseasonable time of night, when he had been called out of his bed to let them in; “but, landlord, in saying this, we have no design of doing you any wrong, or drinking your wine for nothing. For if we cannot answer the shot with the ready cole, we will make it up by an exchange of goods. Now we have got two flitches of bacon in a cellar hard by, which will more than answer our expenses, and if you care to have them, they are at your service; otherwise we must be obliged to leave word with you where we live, or you lie under a necessity of trusting us till the morning, when, on sending anybody along with us, you may depend on receiving the money.”
“Gentlemen,” says the vintner, “you are all mere strangers to me, for to my eyes and knowledge I cannot say I ever saw one of you before; but we will avoid making any uneasiness about my reckoning. I do not care to purchase a commodity I never saw, or, as the saying is, to buy a pig in a poke. If the flitches of bacon you say you have are good, I’ll take them off your hands, and quit scores with you so they but answer my demands.”
Immediately one of them, who had drunk more plentiful than the rest, said he would go and fetch them, and accordingly coming into the cellar, strove to hoist the sack up. “Zounds,” says he, “why, I think the bacon’s multiplied, or I am damnably deceived. What a pox of a load is here to gall a man’s shoulders! Tom might well complain they were heavy, and, by gad! heavy and large ones they are, and the vintner will have a rare bargain of them; much good go along with them!”
And, so saying, he lugs the corpse on his shoulders to the tavern. On coming to open the mouth of the sack, lord! what a surprise were all in to see a man’s head peep out. Mr Dash presently knew the lineaments of the deceased’s face, and cried out: “You eternal dogs! did you think to impose a dead corpse on me for two flitches of bacon? Why, you rascals, this is the body of Mr Hamilton the lawyer, and you have murdered him, have you, you miscreants! But your merits shall soon be soundly rewarded, I’ll warrant you.”
At this all the six were in the saddest plight that could be imagined; nothing but horror and dismay sat on their looks, and they really appeared as the guilty persons. But the vintner, observing them bustling to get away, made such a thundering noise of murderers, murderers, murderers, that immediately all the family were out of their beds, and the watch at the house door to know the reason of such an alarm. The thieves were instantly conveyed to a place of durance for that night, and in the morning were sent to the main prison, when after a little time they took their trials, were found guilty (though innocent) of Mr Hamilton’s death, and executed accordingly.
Sawney came off very wonderfully from this matter, though neither his wife’s admonitions nor his own frequent asseverations to her to leave off his irregular course of life were of any force to make him abandon it. The bent of doing ill, and living extravagantly, was too deeply rooted within him ever to suppose now that any amendment would come; nay, he began to show himself a monster in iniquity, and committed every wickedness that could exaggerate the character of a most profane wretch. For it is impossible to enumerate, much more to describe, the quantity and qualities of his villainies, they being a series of such horrid and incredible actions, that the very inserting them here would only make the reader think an imposition were put upon him in transmitting accounts so shocking and glaring.
The money he had obtained of Mr Hamilton was a dear purchase; it was soon played away with and consumed, which made him throw himself on other shifts to support his pockets; to which end he visited the highway, and put those to death who offered to oppose him.
His character was too well known in the west of Scotland to want any further information about him, which obliged him to retract towards Edinburgh, where, meeting with a gang of his profession who knew him to be most accomplished in their way, he was constituted generalissmo of their body, and each man had his particular lodging in the city.
But Sawney, who ever chose to act the principal part in all encounters, industriously took lodgings at a house noted for entertaining strangers, where he was not long in insinuating himself into their acquaintance, by making them believe that he was a stranger as well as they, and was come to Edinburgh on no other account than purely to see the city, and make his observations upon its public buildings and other curiosities; and that his ambition has been always to procure honest and genteel acquaintance.
Sawney, indeed, had a most artful method to conceal the real sentiments of his mind and hide his actions, which in a little time so gained upon the belief of these strangers, that they could not help taking him for one of the sincerest men breathing. For it was his custom sometimes to take them along with him two or three miles out of the city to partake of some handsome dinner or supper, when he was sure never to let them be at a far thing expense, but generously discharge the reckoning himself.
The design of all this was to make his advantage of them, and force them to pay an extravagant interest for the money he had been out of pocket in treating them. For constantly were persons planted in one place or other of the road by his immediate direction, who fell upon them as they returned to the city, and robbed them of what they had. But the cream of all was, that to avoid suspicion they always made Sawney their first prize, and rifled him, who was sure in the morning to obtain his own loss back again, and a considerable share of the other booty into the bargain.
Some time after this our adventurer, with two of his companions, meeting on the road with three citizens of Edinburgh, affronted them in a very audacious manner, and threw such language at them as plainly discovered that either death or bloodshed was near at hand. He had the impudence to tell the person who seemed the genteellest and best dressed of the three that the horse he rode on was his, and had been lately stolen from him, and that he must return it to him, or else the sword he wore should do him right. Sawney’s companions began with the others after the same manners and would needs force them to believe that the horses they rode upon were theirs. The citizens, astonished at this gross piece of impudence, endeavoured to convince them the horses they rode on were their own, and they had paid for them, and wondered how they durst pretend to dispute an affair which was so essentially wrong; but these words were far from having any effect on Cunningham, and the citizens, in the conclusion, were forced to dismount and give them their horses, and money into the bargain, being somewhat satisfied they had suffered no worse consequences, for Sawney, by this time, was drenched in all manner of villainy, and bloodshed was now accounted a trifle, so little value did he set on the lives of any persons.
Sawney having run a merry course of roguery and villainy in and about Edinburgh for some time, where he made a considerable advantage to himself, so that fortune seemed to have requited him for all the poverty and want he had before endured, determined now to go home to his wife, and spend the remainder of his days agreeably with her, on the acquisitions and plunder he had made on his countrymen.
Accordingly he came to Glasgow, where, among a few acquaintances he conversed with, for he did not care to make himself too public, he gave signs of amendment, which struck those who knew him with such astonishment that at first they could hardly be brought to believe it.
One night, being in bed with his wife, they had a close discourse together on all their foregoing life, and the good woman expressed an extraordinary emotion of joy at the seeming alteration and change in her husband; she could not imagine what reason to impute it to, for she had been so much terrified from time to time with his barbarities that she had no room to think his conversion was real; neither, on reflecting on the many robberies and murders he had committed, could she persuade herself that he could so soon abandon his licentious and wicked courses; for she supposed, if his altered conduct (as she thought) was real, it was miraculous, and an original piece of goodness hardly to be met with.
The sequel will prove that this woman had better notions of her husband than the rest of his acquaintance and those who knew him, and that she built all her fears on a solid and good foundation. The proverb says: “What is bred in the bone wiIl never be out of the flesh”; and this will be remarkably verified in Cunningham, as we shall endeavour to show in its proper place.
For all the signs he gave of an altered conduct, and all the plausible hints to rectify his former mistaken steps, were no other than only to amuse the world into a good opinion of him, that so he might make his advantage, through this pretended conversion, with the greater freedom and impunity. And he was not out in his aim; for it seems, whenever he committed anything sinister, or to the disadvantage of any of his countrymen, and he was pitched on as the transgressor, the town would say: “It could not be, for Mr Cunningham was too much reclaimed from his former courses ever to give in to them again.”
I shall insert a very notable adventure Sawney had with a conjurer, or fortune-teller, to which end I shall trace it up from the fountain-head, and give my readers the first cause that induced him to it. When Sawney was an infant, he was put out to nurse to a poor countrywoman in a little village a mile or two out of Glasgow. The woman, as the boy grew up, could not help increasing in her love for him, and he being an exceeding snotty child, would often say to her neighbours: “Oh, I shall see this lad a rich man one day!” This saying coming to the ears of his parents, they would frequently make themselves merry with it, and thought no more of it than as a pure result of the nurse’s fondling.
Sawney, having enriched himself with the spoils about Edinburgh, actually thought his old nurse’s words were verified, and sent for her to give her a gratification for her prediction. She came, but Sawney had changed his clothes, so that the poor woman did not know him at first. He told her that he was an acquaintance of Mr Cunningham’s, who, on her coming, had ordered him to carry her to Mr Peterson the astrologer’s, where she would be sure to see and speak to him; for he was gone there to get some information about an affair that nearly concerned him.
The nurse and her pretended conductor went to the fortune-teller’s, where, desiring admittance, Peterson thought they were persons who wanted his assistance, and bade them sit down when Sawney, taking a freedom with the reverend old gentleman, as he was known to use with all mankind, began to give a harangue about astrology, and the laudable practice of it.
“I and this old woman,” said he,
are two of the most accomplished astrologers or fortune-tellers in Scotland; but I would not, reverend sir, by so saying, seem to depreciate from your knowledge and understanding in so venerable a science. I came to communicate a small affair to you, to the end that, not relying on my judgment and this woman’s, I might partake of yours.
You are to know, sir, that from six years of age I have led a very untoward life, and been guilty of many egregious sins, too numerous to tell you at present, and what your ears would not care to hear; for my employment has been to lie with other men’s wives, make a share of other people’s money, bilk my lodging, and ruin the vintners; for a whore and a bottle I have sold the twelve signs in the zodiac, and all the houses in a horoscope; neither sextile, quartile, nor trine ever had power over me to keep my hands out of my neighbours’ pockets; and if I had not a profound respect for the persons of my venerable order and profession, I should call Mercury the ascendant in the fourth house at this minute, to lug half-a-score pieces of yours.
By my exceeding deep knowledge in astrology I can perfectly acquaint all manner of persons, except myself, with every occurrence of their lives; and were it not to frighten yourself, I would conclude, from the appearance and conjunction of Saturn and Vulcan, that your worship would be hanged for your profession. But, sir, though destiny hangs this unfortunate death over your head, it is at some distance from it, and may be some years before it strikes you.
Is it not surprising that a man shall be able to read the fates of mankind, and not have any preknowledge of his own? And is it not extremely afflicting to think that one who has done so much good in his generation, and assisted so many thousands to the recovery of things that would have been inevitably lost, without his advice, should come at last to meet with an ignominious halter, as a fit recompense for his services? Good heavens! where is the equity of all this? Certainly, sir, if we are to measure the justice of things by the laws of reason, we must naturally conclude that laudable and good actions deserve a laudable and good recompense; but can hanging be said to be this good recompense? No: but the stars will have it so, and how can mankind say to the contrary?
Sawney Cunningham with the astrologer
Cunningham paused here a while, and the astrologer and old nurse wondered who in the devil’s name they had got in company with.
Mr Peterson could not help staring, and well he might, at the physiognomy of our adventurer, And, in spite of himself, began to be in a panic at his words, which so terribly frightened him.
The nurse was in expectation of seeing Sawney come in every minute, little dreaming the person she was so near was the man she wanted.
Cunningham’s harangue was a medley of inconsistencies and downright banter. It is true the man had received tolerable education in his youth, and consequently might obtain a jingle in several sciences, as is evinced from the foregoing.
“Well, venerable sir,” says he,
do not be terrified at my words, for what cannot be avoided must be submitted to. To put you out of your pain, I’ll tell you a story.
A gentleman had a son who was his darling and consequently trained up in all the virtuous ways that either money could purchase or good examples teach. The youth, it seems, took to a kind and laudable course of life, and gave promising signs of making a fine man; nor indeed were their expectations deceived, for he led a very exemplary life of prudence, excellent conduct and good manners, which pleased the parents so much, that they thought everything they could do for him too little.
But the mother, out of an inexpressible fondness for him, must needs go to an astrologer, and inquire how the remaining part of his life must succeed.
Accordingly the horoscope is drawn, but a dismal appearance results from it; it acquaints the mother that her son shall remain virtuous for two and thirty years, and then be hanged.
“Monstrous and incredible,” says she, “but I’ll take care to secure him in the right way; or all my care will be to no purpose.”
Well, the family are all soon acquainted with this threatening warning. The person determined to be the sacrifice is already nine and twenty years old, and surely they suppose they can easily get the other three years, when all shall go well with their kinsman.
But what avails all the precaution of mankind? This same son obtains a commission of a ship, goes to sea, and, acting quite contrary to his orders, turns pirate, and in an encounter happens to kill a man, for which, on his return to his native country, he is tried, condemned and hanged.
What think you of this, venerable brother? Is not he a sad instance of an overruling influence of the stars? But, not to prolong too much time on a discourse of this nature, let us come to the purpose. You are now, as I cannot do it myself, to tell me my fortune, and this old woman is to confront you if you tell me a lie. There is no excuse to be made in the matter; for, by heavens, on your refusal, I’ll ease this room of your damnable trumpery,* and send you packing to the devil after them!
These words were enough to frighten any man out of his senses; nor could Peterson well discover the intention or drift of his talkative and uneasy visitant.
“What would you be at?” says the astrologer. “Why, do not you see what a terror you have put that good woman into, who trembles like an aspen leaf? I am not used, friend, to have persons come into my house and tell me to my face that I am to be hanged, and then to confirm it, as you pretend, tell me an old woman’s cock-and-bull story of a young man who went to sea, and was hanged for robbing, for which he certainly deserved the punishment he met with. As for telling your fortune, I’ll be so plain with you, that you’ll swing in a halter, as sure as your name is “Sawney Cunningham.”
“Sawney Cunningham!” quoth the mawk, who straight way throwing her arms about his neck, began to kiss him very eagerly, and then, looking earnestly in his face, cried aloud: “O laird! and art thou Sawney Cunningham? Why, I thought thou wouldst come to be a great man, thou wast such a Scotty lad!”
“Do you see now,” says Sawney, “what a damnable lie you have told me, in impudently acquainting me that I shall be hanged, when my good prophetess here tells me, I am a great man; for great men can never be hanged.”
“I do not care for what she says, nor you neither, for hanged you’ll be, and that in a month’s time, or else there never was a dog hanged in Scotland.”
“Pray, brother, how came you to know this, without consulting my horoscope?”
“Know it! Why, your very condition tells me you have deserved hanging these dozen years, but the laws have been too favourable to you, else Mr Hamilton’s death had been revenged before this time of day. Now, to convince you of my superior knowledge in astrology, I mean in telling how far their influence extends over any man’s actions, I will point to you the very action and persons that will bring you to the gallows. This very day month you shall go, in spite of all your foresight and endeavour to the contrary, to pay a visit to Mr William Bean, your uncle by the mother’s side, who is a man of an unblamable character and conversation. Him shall you kill, and assuredly be hanged.”
Was there ever such a prophetic or divining tongue, especially in these modern days, heard of? For the sequel will presently discover how every circumstance of this prediction fell out accordingly.
Sawney, having observed the air of gravity wherewith Mr Peterson delivered his words, could not help falling into a serious reflection about them, and thinking the place he was in not convenient enough to indulge the thought he found rising within him, abruptly left the fortune-teller, and giving his old nurse five shillings returned home.
But what does he determine on now? After having seriously weighed on the several particulars of Peterson’s words, he could not for his heart but think that the old man, in order to be even with him for telling him of being hanged, had only served him in his own coin; so that, after a few hours, every syllable was vanished out of his mind, and he resolved to keep up to his usual course of life.
King James I, sitting on the throne of Scotland at this time, and keeping his Court at Edinburgh, the greatest part of the Scottish nobility resided there, when our adventurer used frequently to go to make the best hand he could of what spoil he found there.
The Earl of Inchiquin, having a considerable post under the King, and several valuable matters being under his care, had a sentinel assigned, who constantly kept guard at this lord’s lodgings’ door. Guards were not much in fashion at this time, and about two or three hundred in the same livery were kept only on the establishment.
Cunningham having a desire of breaking into this minister’s lodgings, and having no way so likely to succeed as by putting on a soldier’s livery, went in that dress to the Sentinel, and after some little talk together they dropped accidentally into some military duty and exercise; which Cunningham so well displayed that the sentinel, seeming to like his brother’s notions, and smile extraordinarily, it made Cunningham stay a considerable time, till in the end he asked the sentinel to partake of two mugs of ale, and put sixpence into his hand to fetch them from an ale-house at some distance from his post, giving some reason for it that it was the best drink in the city, and none else could please his palate half so well as that. Hereupon the sentinel acquainted him that he could not but know the consequences that attended leaving his post, and that he had rather enjoy his company without the ale, than run any risk by fetching it. “Oh!” says our adventurer, “I am not a stranger to the penalties we incur on such an action, but there can no harm come of it if I stand in your place while you are gone.” And with that the sentinel gives Cunningham his musket, and goes to the place directed for the drink; but, on returning, he must needs fetch a pennyworth of tobacco from the same place, during which some of our adventurer’s companions had broken into the lord’s apartments, and rifled the same of three hundred pounds’ value. Cunningham was, however, so generous as to leave the sentinel his musket. The poor soldier returns in expectation of drinking with his friend, and enjoying his company some time longer; but alas! the bird has flown, and he is taken up to answer for his forthcoming, and committed to the Tolbooth Prison, where he was kept nine months in very heavy irons, and had only bread and water all the while allowed him to subsist on. At length he is tried, condemned and hanged. Thus did several innocent persons suffer death for that which ought to have been the portion of our adventurer.
We draw on to his last scene now, which shall be dispatched with all the brevity we are masters of.
Sawney having thus escaped so many dangers, and run through so many villainies with impunity, must needs go to his Uncle Bean’s house, who was a very good Christian, and a reputable man, as we have before observed, to pay him a visit, with no other design than to boast to him of his late successes, and how fortune had repaired the injuries his former misconduct and remissness had done him.
He went, and his uncle, with his moral frankness, bade him sit down, and call for anything his house could afford him. “Nephew,” says he, “I have desired a long time to see an alteration in your conduct, that I might say I had a nephew worthy of my acquaintance, and one to whom I might leave my estate, as deserving of it; but I am acquainted from all hands that you go on worse and worse, and rather than produce an amendment, abandon yourself to the worst of crimes.” The good old man followed this with a long exhortation, after which he issued a flood of tears, which pity and compassion had forced from his eyes; nor could Sawney forbear shedding a tear or two at hearing.
But it was all pretence, and an imitation of the crocodile; for he was determined to take this reverend old gentleman out of the world to get possession of his estate, which, for want of male issue, was unavoidably to devolve upon him after his death.
With this view, after he had made an end of his exhortation, he steps up and, without once speaking, thrusts a dagger to his heart, and so ends his life. Thus fell a venerable old uncle for pronouncing a little seasonable advice to a monster of a nephew who, finding the servant maid come into the room at the noise of her master’s falling on the floor, cut her throat from ear to ear, and then to avoid a discovery being made, set fire to the house, after he had rifled it of all valuable things in it.
But the divine vengeance was resolved not to let this barbarous act go unpunished; for the neighbourhood, observing a more than ordinary smoke issuing out of the house, concluded it was on fire, and accordingly unanimously joined to extinguish it, which they effectually did, and then going into the house, found Mr Bean and his maid inhumanly murdered. Our adventurer was got out of the way, and no one could be found to fix these cruelties upon; but it was not long before justice overtook Cunningham, who being impeached by a gang of thieves that had been apprehended, and were privy to several of his villainies, was taken up and committed a close prisoner to the Tolbooth, where so many witnesses appeared against him that he was condemned and hanged for his tricks at Leith, in company with the same robbers that had sworn against him.
When he went to the place of execution he betrayed no signs of fear, nor seemed any way daunted at his approaching fate. As he lived, so he died, valiantly and obstinately to the last, unwilling to have it said that he, whose hand had been the instrument of so many murders, proved pusillanimous at the last.
* An apposite contribution from the annals of old-tyme English slang, “trumpery” denotesOld Ware, old Stuff, as old Hats, Boots, Shoes,’ etc. (B. E.); goods of no value, rubbish (Grose): also trash and trumpery, and (proverbial), For want of good company, welcome trumpery. Whence (modern) generic for showy trashiness, and as adj., meretricious, worthless (1574).
On April 1, 1464 mayor of Cologne Johann Breyde was chopped into quarters … with ink.
This startling image does not depict an actual flesh-and-blood execution. It is, instead, an outstanding (and conveniently for our purposes, dated) instance of an artifact from medieval Germany, the Schandbild. Such “defamatory pictures” often supplemented a Schmahbrief or “defamatory letter” — intended, as the names suggest, to impugn publicly the target over a debt, a broken promise, or some other private breach of faith.
Something like 100 of these defamations survive from late medieval and early modern Germany (approximately 1400 to 1600), many of them fantasizing about their debtors’ executions in bloodthirsty scenes that also gesture to the place that ritual, spectacle, and dishonor held on the real-life gallows. Here are a few of the more piquant examples; many more await at a wonderful Pinterest gallery here.
The purpose of defamatory letters and pictures was to bring low the reputation of their target in the eyes of a wider community — leveraging social pressure either for revenge, or to force the defamed to repair the breach.
Matthias Lentz, one of the (regrettably few) historians working on these underappreciated objects, notes* that there are even surviving contracts from Germany, Bohemia and Poland enumerating an “explicit understand about injuring a person’s reputation and bringing dishonour upon a defaulting individual … a clause called Scheltklausel that laid down the practice of publicly scolding a defaulter.” For every Schandbild or Schmähbrief there must have been a dozen other potential swindlers quietly forced by the threat of public infamy to make good their contracts.
Per Lentz, the earliest known instance of an explicit contract dates to 1379, “wherein a ducal councillor accorded a nobleman, in eventuality of the former violating the terms of the contract, the right to denounce him as a fraud by ‘posting his name on the pillory [of the councillor’s home town], or wherever he likes'” — again, linking the “mere” text to the instruments of official corporal punishment.
Nor was it uncommon for the Schmähbrief, if things got to that point, to fantasize about the debtor’s bodily suffering in brutal terms that would like invite an investigation for terroristic threats were the modern debt collection call center to deploy them in its harangue. One quoted by Lentz captioned his illustration thus:
It is customary to judge thieves and traitors according to their offences, the first is sent to the gallows, the second broken on the wheel. As I have not got power to carry out the above-mentioned acts, it is my intention to use the painter to have them painted hanging from the gallows and being tortured on the wheel.
Still, Schandbilder und Schmähbriefe meant to intimidate not physically, but socially.** It was in this capacity that the iconography of the pillory and the scaffold entered the frame: ’twas an infamy to be exposed upon them for a public crime — serving as “an indictment of those who knew the criminal … [and] a punitive stigma over his or her relatives and friends.”† Posting a slur on the repute of a prominent person — for the targets were most always people of rank, who would feel an injury to their status — taxed this same, essential, civic currency.
This is why we should let his shameful picture hang here with his coat of arms, until he has given me compensation recognized by respectable people for those unwarranted things that he and his people did … and ask all those who seek charity, who see him painted hanging, that they let him hang. (Source)
By consequence the execution imagery was strictly optional, one iconographic choice among many. From the too-few examples that survive to us it is plain that creditors delighted in their symbolic chastisement, issuing all the obloquies a grievance could devise, untethered from the confines of possible or the … sanitary.
The Schandbild frequently evinced a scatological fixation.
* Quotes form Lentz’s “Defamatory Pictures and Letters in Late Medieval Germany: The Visualisation of Disorder and Infamy” in The Medieval History Journal, vol. 3, no. 1 (2000). Lentz also has several German-language journal titles on the same topic.
** Not necessarily true of their Italian cousins, pitture infamanti. These were a similar sort of thing, but were issued not privately but by the city-states themselves against absconded offenders — a sort of quasi-execution by effigy. Many of these were painted for public spaces and removed with the passage of time so we have lost exemplars, including the products of masters — the Medici, for example, commissioned Botticelli to grace Florence with pitture infamanti of the Pazzi conspirators, which were whitewashed in 1494.
A characteristic pose for these pictures, also used in Germany, had the “victim” hanging upside-down by one foot, conjoining “metaphors of inversion” (as Robert Mills puts it) to the disgrace of the gallows. This posture is commonly thought to have inspired the “Hanged Man” tarot card.
Left: a pittura infamante study by Florentine Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto; right: the “hanged man” card from a tarot pack.
*† Maria Boes, “Public Appearance and Criminal Judicial Practices in Early Modern Germany,” Social Science History, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Summer, 1996)
On this date in 1824, David D. Howe (or “How”) was publicly executed at the upstate New York town of Angelica. Up to five or six thousand souls — several times the population of Angelica — were said to have turned out on a fair springtime morning for the hanging.
Howe’s fate could be read as a cautionary of life before the bankruptcy code. Financially ruined by an unsuccessful investment in a turnpike, Howe attempted to recover himself by farming only to sink ever deeper into debt. Creditors soon came to drag him cruelly under the water line, and in the summer of 1823 they repossessed much of what he owned — including “all my crops, my horses, cattle, and even my farming utensils,” which of course cratered the farming venture into the bargain.
“Had I had time to have turned my property, I would have been able to pay my honest debts,” Howe complained (somewhat optimistically, given his track record) from his dungeon a few days before he hanged.
And the worst of these oppressors in his mind was the victim, Othello Church — who seized “possession of much more than he was bound for, (in my opinion, and which he acknowledged to several persons before his death.)” From Howe’s desperate standpoint, Church “had taken advantage of my troubles, and taken property from me wrongfully, and several other persons seemed combined with him to work my destruction.” The two traded high words often and in public; Howe’s obvious motive would in time help to cinch the circumstantial case against him because he was sought so immediately after the man’s murder that his horse was discovered still damp from its evil ride, and the muzzle of his rifle not yet cooled from the assassination.
Still, Howe could justify the fancy of escaping detection: after all, motive had not been enough to convict him when he was arrested — correctly so, he would admit in gallows’ shadow — for vengefully torching the barn of another vulturous creditor.
And so on December 29, 1823, having observed that “the state of the snow [was such] that I might not be tracked,” Howe — after a couple of alibi-making calls at public houses — secreted his rifle under his coat and made the six-mile ride to the farm of his nemesis. Whatever the injustice of his provocation, it is obvious in his narration that he acted with sure deliberation:
I hitched my beast near Mr. Spear’s shop — took out my knife and rubbed the flint that it might not miss fire. — I took the mitten from off my right hand and put it in my pocket, and was careful not to drop any thing whereby I might be detected. I then stepped to his kitchen door, which opened near the head of his bed, and stood 5 or 6 minutes on his door stone. All creation seemed locked in slumber, and one dread silence reigned through all the works of God.
Now my bold heart even trembled at the thought of an act so desperate, and every vibration of my soul seemed shrinking beneath the horrors of the scene.
I rapped at his door, and shuddered and the very noise I made, and was on the point of retiring, when his wife, I think, awoke him, and he exclaimed, “Who is there?” I endeavored to alter my voice, and answered, “I have a letter for you;” he then said, “walk in;” I answered, “have the goodness to open the door and take it.” He arose, and as he opened the door, as soon as I saw the appearance of his white shirt, I shot at venture; I took no sight, and had the gun by my side, and I think the muzzle was not more than three or four feet from him. I then heard him exclaim, “Oh! my God, my God!!” I heard no more of him. I then returned to my beast; and every step was marked with care, lest I should fall or loose something, as it was slippery. The shocking cries and shrieks of the family broke the midnight silence, and rent the air with horror, which I heard considerable distance. I then rode with great speed home. I dismounted and loaded my gun in haste, and set into the window whence I had taken it; then put out my beast, went to bed, and went to sleep.
The quotes above all come from The Trial of David D. How for the murder of Othello Church at Angelica, which is freely available here; it contains the evidence given against How(e) at trial as well as the confession he dictated to Rev. Joseph Badger.
Badger, a traveling evangelist, would preach the sermon at Howe’s hanging; Badger left an ample journal of his 18-day ministry to the doomed Howe, and parts of that journal can be read in Badger’s memoir. (Unfortunately I have not been able to access the complete original which the memoir references.)
Howe seems by Badger’s account to have hurled himself sincerely, and almost voraciously, into the pious repentance expected of a condemned man. One might well imagine the grateful heart with which Howe, so lately picked into penury by stone-hearted foes, greeted the clergymen and neighbors who now took such an interest in his salvation.
March the 18th. He sent for me at daybreak. I found he had a restless night, and was in great distress. I made him several visits ; his family came to take their leave of him forever. At 3 o’clock P. M., the Rev. Mr. Boach, a Methodist minister, preached a short discourse in the dungeon from John 3:16. Five clergymen were present, and the scene was solemn. Mr. How took the lead in singing two hymns, and carried his part through in a graceful manner. In singing the first, he stood up and leaned partly on the stove; held his little girl by one hand, who sat in the lap of her mother, and with the other he took the hand of his affectionate brother, who stood by his side. At the close of the meeting, his wife gave him her hand for the last time. He embraced her with fondness, and when he pressed his little girl to his bosom (about four years of age) he wept aloud. He requested that several Christian friends should spend the night with him in prayer; thus his last night on earth was spent in imploring God for grace and mercy.
March the 19th. I entered the prison at break of day, found him much resigned. He observed, as I entered, that his last night on earth was gone, which he had spent in prayer. At 7 o’clock I visited him again with a company of ladies who had never seen him. Mrs. Richards, of Dansville, took him by the hand, both fell upon their knees, and she prayed for him in the most fervent manner. He then prayed for himself, for his family, for the family of Mrs. Church, who were afflicted by him, for his executioner, and all the world. As we came out, a gentleman remarked that he had never heard a man pray like him.
At 9 I entered his apartment for the last time, accompanied by his heloved daughter and a young man who was soon to become her husband. We entered with serious hearts; he received them very pleasantly, and made remarks to me on the fine weather, and the lady who had prayed with him. He asked of me the privilege of walking into the yard with the young man. They spent a short time together. He then asked me to wait on Harriet to the door. He placed her by the side of the young man, and delivered her to his charge, saying that she had long been deprived of the counsels of a mother, and would be in a few moments separated from her father forever. “I now commit her to you as a friend, protector,
A True Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Last Dying Speeches Of the Criminals that were Executed at Tyburn, On Wednesday the 8th, of March, 1693.
On the Lord’s-Day, in the Forenoon the Ordinary preacht on the 16th. Verse of the 24th. Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, viz. And herein, I exercise my self, to keep always a Conscience void of offence toward God and Men. From which Words, The Doctrinal Observation was, that it is the Duty and Priviledge of every True Christian, to get aud retain the Integrity of Conscience. For the Explicating of this Four General Heads were inquired into, and Stated.
First, What is Conscience? It is a Mans Judgment of his Souls Estate and Actions, as these are subjected to the Judgment of God in his Revealed Will. The Lord hath placed Conscience in all Men to approve of what is Right with Complacency, and to disallow what is Evil with Grief, Shame, and Abhorrence. It is a Spy and Register in the Bosom of Ungodly Men, that they cannot Sin, in quiet. Conscience makes a Judgment and Determination. How we have observed the Rule of God’s Sacred Law, or swered from it, accordingly, it Acquits and Comforts; or, Condems and Terrifies.
Secondly, What is essentially necessary to constitute your Conscience Morally Good and Comfortable. First, It must be cleansed and sanctified by Renewing Grace, that it may be conformable in all Things to the Law of God. Secondly, Because its exactest Obedience is defective, therefore it must be spingled with the Propiatory Merits of Christ’s Bloodshed. Thirdly, From the Virtue of Christ’s death, there must be exprest, the lively Fruits of an Holy Conversation, with a constant Reliance on Christ’s Intercession to preserve the Integrity of Conscience, under the Violence of all Temptation to Sin, and to support its Comfort, under the deepest Tryals of Affliction.
Thirdly, What Influence doth the Practical believe of the Judgment Day.
What doth the Exercise which preserves a Good Conscience include? It signifies, to be train’d up, under the Discipline of Christianity, so as to be confirm’d in an Holy Conversation against all Contempt and Opposition. So dare be openly Good and Strict in the Practice of all Christian Virtues, when the present Age is most degenerate. It is to make True Religiion our Recreation, and to promote its Aymiableness, in the Uniformity of our Obedience. Righteousness toward Men, Severe[d] from Piety toward God, is veiled Ath[e]ism; and Holy Exercises toward Him, with the neglect of Relative Duties toward men is demure and glittering Hypocrisie. Therefore the Charitable Testimony of others, cannot comfort the Conscience, under its presumptive Groundles Hopes, concerning its Renewed State. This is Infallibly known to God, altho’ Conscience may make a false Report, by Self-flattery, and the Sinners deep Security. Therefore, let us Summon our Hearts, to a strict Account, what preparative Dispositions are formed in us, which may present us before Christ’s Tribunal, with Approbation. But such, who carry their unpardoned Guilt and unrenewed Nature, to the Judgment Seat of Christ, shall have Convulsive pangs of desperation in their Conscience, and shall be rejected by Christ, with the Greatest Abhorrency. After several Rules and Directions, how to get and preserve a Good Conscience, The Conclusion was thus directed to the Condemned Criminals. How may St. Paul‘s Example in the Text, reflect a sad Aspect on your Consciences. These you have defiled, by prostituting them to the Infamous Lusts of your Fleshly Minds. Have you not striven to rase out the Dictates and Sentiments of common Equity? when your Convictions have been troublesome, you have flattered Conscience, with Carnal Reasonings. How have you deafed it to Divine Instructions. By Wordly Diversions, and have drowned the Cries thereof in sensual Pleasures, and thereby, brought the sly Artifices of Sining, unto a destructive Maturity. You have sinned in despight of all Admonitions, and the Examples of Publick Justice. Notwithstanding, when your Consciences shall be arm’d with God’s Commission, they will be active to Condemn you, though cast at present, into a Lethargy of Stupidity. You cannot deny, that you have been great Sinners, yet, there is pardoning Mercy to be obained, by that Satisfaction Christ’s death hath made to God’s offended Justice. This applied by Faith unfeigned, purifies the Heart in Obedience to all Divine Commands. This Renewed Frame, by sprinkling the Merits of Christ’s Bloodshed on the Conscience, turns his Tribunal of Strict Justice, into a Throne of Grace and Mercy. So shall we (at last) be presented to God the Father, not only void of Offence, but in a perfect State of Holiness to all Eternity.
I proceed to give an Account of the Behaviour and Confessions of the Condemned Criminals.
I. Mr. Best, Condemned for High-Treason, in Clipping, Filing, and Diminishing the Current Coyn of England. He is Aged 50 Years. Was Educated at School in Hertfordshire. His Father sent him to in Cambridge, where, he continued his Studies, till he took the Degree of Bachelor in Physick. Afterwards, he practised in that Science, and might have lived comfortably upon it. But by Degrees, he neglected to follow his Profession; and was drawn into Bad Company, of which he now Repents. He denied not, that he had been a great Sinner. I enquired into the Particulars of his Evil Conversation, it being a necessary Duty, to unburthen the Conscience of a Load of Sin, by a free discovery, of it, that so, Serenity of Mind, may be obtained. Besides, there is great difference betwixt Person lying on a sick Bed whose Sins are more secreet, and who may recover to a longer Space of Repentance. Such, are not so strictly obliged, to confess their particular Enormities. But for those, who by Notorious Crimes have given Publick Scandal to the Christian Religion, and brought themselves under the Sentence of Death; such ought to make Publick Acknowledgment of their Excesses in Sinning, that their Repentance may be as Exemplary, as their Conversation hath been Vicious upon this, Mr. Best, was better convinced of his Duty. And freely confest, that he had been Guilty of most Sins, Murther only excepted. Saying withal, that he doubted not the Truth of his Repentance, and that God was reconciled to him, in Christ. I replied, that the Heart of Man is very deceitful in Judging its Spiritual State Godward, especially when Persons have contracted a Custom in Sinning, and thereby hardned their Hearts, to persist therein. To this he replied, that Naturally Man’s Heart is inclined to Self-flattery, but he hoped, the Spirit of God had so sanctified this distress, that his Heart was thoroughly broken for and from the Love of all Sin, chiefly, as an offence against God, who might have justly cut him off, by an untimely death, for his younger Excesses in Sinning. But, said he, I would not be Reclamed, by a more gentle Rod; therefore God now compells me, by greater Severity, to turn to him, and Blessed is the Man, whom the Reproachful stroke of Death, makes (tho’ late) a Partaker of God’s Holiness. I replied, that I was glad, he was convinced of his sinful State, and in some Preparation, to apply the Promises of Salvation. But, it is safest, to be poor in Spirit, and thereby, to Magnifie the All-sufficiency of God’s Grace. He replied, that he endeavoured to be Self abas’d in as much, as the Omniscient, Heart-searching God, would not be Mockt, and could not be deceived with semblant Flourishes in Soul-Concernments.
II. James Steward, Condemned for Breaking the House of Elizabeth Thorne. He is Aged 24 Years, or thereabout. His Father placed him forth, to the Employment of a Chyrugeon. He said, that his Father was of the Roman Religion, and bred him up, in it, so that he knew not well how to quit it. I replied, that we are not obliged to live and d[i]e, in the Religion of our Parents, not grounded on the Purity of God’s Word. And endeavoured to convince him of the Hazard and Danger, in Adhearing to False Principles in Religion, in as much, as these have Influence on an Immortal Conversation. He replied, that he had so much Knowledge, as not to believe the gross Errors of the Romish Church. He also said, that be could not have wanted this Severe. Yet, Just Dealing of God with him in as much, that now he is thoroughly awakend from his Security, and Hopes, that God will turn this distress, into a means of his Conversion; and then, he shall not be troubled for his Reproachful Death. I Stated to him, the Nature and Effects of True Saving Faith and Godly Sorrow for Sin: To which he was attentive and seemed to comply with my Advice, that he might be prepared for Death. He said, that if he had followed his Wives Good Counsel to have been content with an Honest Employment, he had not fallen into this Shameful and Untimely End.
III. Elizabeth Wann, Condemned for Robbing Frances Coguer of a Gold-Chain, Value 8 l. being stopt, the Neck-Lace was found in her Mouth. She is Aged 16 Years. Had Good Education, but was Disobedient to her Mother. Whereupon she left her Family, and entered her self a Servant in London with a Mistress, who employ’d her, most what in Needle-work; but she soon left that Service. Then she grew idle and kept bad Company. She confest, that not Poverty, but only her wicked Heart, inclined her to commit the Crime she did not observe the Sabboth days of later time, and when she did pray, (which was seldom) she performed that Holy Part of Worship, very carelesly. She denied not that she had been a Great Sinner, but being Reprieved, as with Child she promised, that she would not absent her self from the Publick Worship of God, but would endeavour, to beg of Him, firrm Resolutions of Amendment.
IV. David Shammel, Condemn’d for Felony. He is Aged 33 Years. He said, that he was bred up, to Husbandry, and continued that Employment for some length of time, but leaving it, and betaking himself to an Idle Life, he became Poor, and so adventur’d to commit this Felony. He was willing to make an Acknowledgment of his Evil Life. and in particular accused himself of Sabboth-breaking, neglecting to pray that God would keep him, from the wicked incliantions of his own Heart, and the Mischiefs of bad Company. He wept, yet complained of the Hardness of his Heart. Saying, he prayed earnestly, that God would make it thoroughly Contrite, that upon the Change of it, and being made Holy, he might be in a fit Frame to die.
V. John Noble, Condemn’d for Felony and Burglary in Breaking the House of William Cook together with others, not yet taken. He is Aged 53 Years. He said, that he had used the Employment of a Seaman for 38 Years. That he had been Master of a Ship, some time since, but of late, he serves King William in the Fleet. That he had escaped many Perils at Sea. That in great Distresses, he made several Vows to God, that is he would preserve him, his Life should be Reformed. But he forgot the sparing Mercies of the Lord, and return to his former Evil Course of Life, which is now, a greater Trouble to his Mind. He said, that God was Righteous in bringing him to Shame and Punishment: But he prays, that this may work upon his Heart, to make him thorouhgly sensible of all his Sins, that the Lord may Pardon them and in Mercy, save his Soul, when he shall undergo the Pains of Death. I hope he was Penitent.
VI. Philip Mackqueere, Condemned for Robbing John Lacey Esq; in the High-way. He is Aged 28 Years. Was born in Ireland of Protestant Parents. They educated him with Religious Instruction, but he now grieves, that it made not that Impression on him, which they expected. For, he was not obedient to them, as he ought. Upon that, he left them to Travel into Spain and Portugal, after that, into the West-Indies when he returned into England.
He entr’d into Sea-service, under King Charles the II. He said, that he was entertain’d in a large Ship of War last Summer, and was Engaged in a Sea-Fight: But he left that Employment, and thereupon, joyning with bad Company, fell into many Excesses in Sinning. He said, it Repents him, that he did not take Warning by former escaping the Sentence of Death. But since his last Confinement, he hath endeavour’d to get his Heart made sensible of all his sins, which now lie as an heavy Burden on him. He was attantive to the Exhortations given him, to prepare for Death. He promised that he would endeavour to the utmost, by God’s Assistance, to improve his Time, for the getting his Heart into a more penitent Frame, that he may make his Peace with God, and be fit for his Appearance at Christ’s Judgment Seat
On Wednesday the 8th. of March these Five Prisoners were convey’d to Tyburn, viz.
Josiah Best (who was drawne in a Sledge) Phillip Mackguire, James Steward, David Shammell, and John Noble. Mr. Best Confest that he had been Educated at the University of Cambridge, and there took the Degree of Batchelour in Physick; though now he had unworthily declined his profession; which was a great trouble to him, he desires the Ordinary to come to him in the Sledge, which he did, where he told him that he had great hopes of Salvation through the Merits of Christ, and that he was very willing to Dye, though he had sometimes some doubts and jealousies upon him as to his Eternal welfare: Yet now he was Composed, and so did continue to the last, in an humble Frame, after a Devot manner; Joyning in Prayer, and Pray’d to Almighty God in a very sensible manner with Contrition; acknowledgeing that God was Jnst and Righteouss.
David Shammell, was very Ignorant as to to the concerns of his Soul, but was willing to hearken to Instructions; desiring all he Spectators to take warning by his untimely end, and particularly to beware of Whoredom, evil Company, and breach of the Sabbath.
James Steward, and Phillip Mackguire, Declared that they Dyed in the Roman Catholick Religion, (tho’) when they were in Newgate, they always came to the Chappel. Steward at last spake to this effect; Gentlemen, I am but a young Man, and by my sins, I have brought my Body to be Exposed before you, but I hope God will have Mercy upon my soul: I desire that all young Persons would take Example by me, that they may not be Disobedient to their Parents; I run from mine, and would not be ruled by them, they Indulged me and gave me Money, which spoiled me, I had good Education, and might have lived honestly, but Pride and Lastness hath brought me to this shameful End, and now God is just; I spake this that all Parents may take heed, and breed their Children well; and in the fear of God, and that all men may be warned by my fatal End.
Mackguire said but little, only desired all Men to take timely Warning by him; acknowledging that God had justly brought him to such severe Punishment.
John Noble, behaved himself a little unseemly, being very unsensible, of his latter End; would not be perswaded to hear good Counsel, he seemed to be disturbed in his Brain.
This is all the Account I can give of this Sessions.
Samuel Smith, Ordinary.
Dated the 8th. March, 1693.
There is lately Published a Book Entituled, Conversation in Heaven: Being Devotions consisting of Meditations and Prayers on several considerable Subjects in Practical Divinity; Written for the raising the Decay’d Spirit of Piety; very proper to be Read in the time of Lent: By Lawrence Smith, LL. D. Fellow of St. John’s College in Oxford. Price Two Shillings.
Printed for Tho. Speed, at the Three Crowns near the Royal Exchange in Cornhill.
Whereas a Picture was lost some time since being the Representation of Flushing, one of the Provinces, or a Town in Holland, with a Sea incompassing it; a Packet-boat under Sail, a large Ship under Sail: and a little above the Ship it was torn about eight Inches, and but corsely swen up. At the Bottom, near the Frame, there is a yellow Streak, whereon was inscribed Ulisingen: It had a gilt Frame, and fit for a large Chimney-Piece Whoever gives Notice of it to Edward Paige, Surgeon, in Goat-Court upon Ludgate-Hill, shall be rewarded, and if bought their Money returned, and gratified for their Trouble.
LONDON, Printed for L. Curtis, at Sir Edmundbury-Godfrey’s-Head, near Fleet-Bridge, 1693.
The Ordinary of Newgate’s Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Dying Words, of Five Malefactors, Viz.
John Prince for Forgery, Who was executed at Tyburn, on Wednesday, March 7; Anne Baker for a Street Robbery, Peter Robins for a Burglary, and James Rocket and Timothy Stewart for a Robbery, near the Highway, Who were executed at Tyburn on Wednesday, March 28, 1764.
Being the Fourth and Fifth Executions in the Mayoralty of the Rt. Hon. William Bridgen, Esq.
Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Number III. for the said Year.
LONDON, Printed for J. COOKE, at Shakespear’s Head, in Pater-noster Row, and Sold by all Booksellers and News Carriers. Price 8d.
The Ordinary of Newgate’s Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Dying Words, &c.
The Introduction to the tryal and conviction of John Prince having been published in the foregoing account of six malefactors, Numb. II. need not be recited here.
1. John Prince was indicted, for feloniously forging and counterfeiting a certain bill of exchange, for the payment of 125l. and publishing the same, well knowing it to have been forged, with intent to defraud Robert Mackoun, July 8.
The steps, by which this well-known offender was brought to justice, are remarkable: He was apprehended, about the 12th or 13th of September, on account of a fraud only, at the suit of Mr. Richard Marshe, Hosier, near Temple Bar, for obtaining from him a parcel of silk hose, by false pretences. It was no easy task to lay hold of a man long practised in much greater frauds, and yet evading the hand of justice. Prince (who always flattered himself, and looked on his own actions in the most favourable light,) told me, he had not fair play on that occasion. At least he was inclined to think so, because the consequence of his being taken up for this fraud, brought to light a worse crime, which proved fatal to him. He said Mr. Marshe had taken out warrants against him, and way-laid him in three or four counties, as well as the city of London; that about this time he was seen casually passing through Fleet Street, by Mr. Marshe, who pursued him, with an hue and cry of stop thief, and was taken in a publick house under that character, where he stepped in for shelter; whereas, said Prince, he had no right to consider me as a thief, but only his debtor. However, he was taken before Sir John Fielding, and being examined, was committed to the Gatehouse, Westminster, September the 13th last, for obtaining from Richard Marshe, by false pretences, silk hose to the value of 13l. and upwards. By this time the transaction of the forgery began to be looked after by the injured party, and, like a mine, was ready to be sprung, and involve the miner in its ruin. Prince was now advertised to be re-examined the 15th, at the very time Mr. Mackoun was meditating how to prosecute this forgery; who seeing the advertisement in a news paper, which he took up in a coffee-house, attended at Sir John’s, and produced this bill. Prince being examined on it, said, Bricklen (the supposed drawer of the bill,) was gone into Yorkshire. It now probably appeared before the Magistrate, by the same evidence, afterwards given on tryal, that Prince had told the prosecutor two different stories about the drawer of this bill; the first was, that Bricklen and Co. were great Distillers and Brandy-merchants, living near the watch-house, in Moorfields; that they served Orcherton, the accepter of the bill, who then kept the Rose Tavern, in Cursitor Street, with rum and brandy. This being proved false, on enquiry, no such persons as Bricklen and Co. to be found, and Orcherton gone aside; the second story was, that Bricklen in truth was an outlawed smuggler, but was worth three or four thousand pounds, and the bill would be paid when due, and that he lodged in some lane or alley near Moorfields. This was equally true with the former; and now, being urged by the necessity of the case, to produce this drawer of the bill, he said he lived in the country, and was gone into Yorkshire. The bill was to this purport:
London June 3, 1763.
Three months after date pay to Mr. John Prince, on his order, the sum of one hundred twenty five pounds sterl. and place the same to account of,
Sir, your most humble servant,
G. Bricklen and Co.
To Wm. Orcherton, at the Rose Tavern, Cursitor Street.
Accepted, William Orcherton.
This bill had been passed by the prisoner to the prosecutor, instead of 100l. cash, payable by way of deposit to bind a bargain and sale of an estate, near Long Ford, Middlesex, in the Windsor Road, about 15 miles from London. The terms of this sale had been agreed upon in a memorandum, of which the seller had given the buyer a copy, signed by him. On discovery that the bill was bad, the former would have returned it to the latter, on condition of recovering his memorandum again; but this was wilfully and obstinately refused by Prince, who insisted on his bargain; for that he had friends who would raise him the money when the bill became due. The bill was now due nine days before this examination, as appears by the date in the face of it; and yet neither he nor his friends had paid it, otherwise we should probably have heard nothing of this prosecution. This is here mentioned to demonstrate the audacious temper and effrontery of this prisoner, who persisted, after his conviction, to assert, “that it was no forgery, but a good bill, and would have been paid had it been demanded when due; and that it never was demanded;” which is contrary to the whole tenor of the evidence on trial. But if this assertion had any appearance of truth, it was a mere fallacious evasion; if it was not demanded, it was because none of the parties, by whom it was payable, could be found. On this issue the prisoner himself put the affair at the time of this examination, when he pretended that Bricklen was gone into Yorkshire, and desired five or six days might be allowed him till he should return, or be found. Sir John granted him eight or nine days, and also proposed, if the prisoner would give him an account what part of Yorkshire he was in, he would send an express for him, at his own expence; for, as he told the prisoner, it was a matter that nearly concerned him; this kind offer was not accepted, because it could not be complied with. At this examination Orcherton, the keeper of the Rose Tavern, in Cursitor Street, was produced. Some words dropt from him, which caused him to be secured as an evidence at least, if not an accomplice in the forgery; he set forth, that he had known the prisoner only since May last, that he wrote the body of that bill of exchange, and accepted it with his own name; but G. Bricklen and Co. was not on it at that time, nor did he ever remember to hear of that name, till he saw it on the draught with Mr. Mackoun’s Attorney; consequently, that he had never dealt with Bricklen and Co. for brandy and rum, as the prisoner had pretended. Orcherton also now opened the pretences, by which he was drawn in by Prince and his associates, to write this, and some other bills of the same nature, to the amount of 500l. which was, to raise money for Prince to purchase the house Orcherton then lived in, being advertised for sale, and, when purchased, it was to be mortgaged for money to pay off those bills. This was to be for the use and benefit of Orcherton, to prevent his being turned out of the house. Prince was remanded back to the Gatehouse for further examination; but would not yet be persuaded to think, or seem to believe, that his case was any way dangerous. In conversation between Prince and Orcherton, as they were carried in a coach together, a kind of dispute or quarrel arose; Prince charging Orcherton with giving evidence too severely against him, and the other insisted it was the truth: And charged him with having been the occasion of great losses to him, by which he became a bankrupt; adding, that he “would not think much to be banished, for the satisfaction to see him hanged.” Prince, forward to catch at any thing that might break the force of so pointed an evidence, considered this hasty and vindictive expression, as sufficient to invalidate his testimony; and therefore had subpoena’d witness to prove it on his trial. But Orcherton having, of his own accord, acknowledged it in his cross examination, and accounted for it by a sudden passion he was put in, for being sent to prison on account of these notes, which Prince induced him to write, and also explained himself, that he did not mean to have him hanged unless he deserved it, the objection seemed to lose its weight.
Prince being searched when charged with the forgery, a paper, teeming with secret practices and dark deeds, was found upon him, which, as it tended to confirm Orcherton’s evidence, in relation to the company that used to frequent his house with Prince, and their practices, was also read at the close of his evidence on the trial, to the purport following:
An agreement between Samuel Fisher, Edward Hart, George White, and John Prince, concerning dividing the money that should be raised by a bill, or bills, drawn by the prisoner, and the expences how to be paid.
An occasion will offer itself, in the course of this account, to compare some names in the aforesaid paper with another curious piece dictated by Prince, and by means of which his respite of three weeks was obtained.
On his next examination before the Justice, no Bricklen, no drawer of the bill being found or traced out, and the presumption of a forgery rising proportionably higher, he was committed to Newgate toward the latter end of September; when the gaol being sickly, he caught the distemper, which occasioned his trial to be put off, he being reduced so low in health that it was believed he could not live to be tried. During this interval, there was no opportunity for me to know or converse with him, he being either disabled by sickness, or (like the bulk of the other prisoners) disinclined to think of his duty in the chapel, till after trial and conviction. His trial at length came on in January sessions. Beside what has been said, it was proved, that all possible enquiry was made for Bricklen and Co. but they were not to be found by the prosecutor, or his clerk; and it was proved positively, by an old inhabitant, of twenty years, near the watch-house, Moorfields, that no such person was in that time known to live there. The prisoner only said in his defence, that he lived in an alley beyond the watch-house, and produced two witnesses, to prove they had seen the prisoner in company with a person of that name, above a year since, and that he was a dealer in horses; and one of them believed the signing of the bill to be like his hand. But this did not come up to the point, nor prove such persons as Bricklen and Co. to exist under the description and character given by the prisoner, of the drawers of the bill, and therefore it was determined he had forged the person; and no such person appearing, he was found guilty.
Thus the charge against this prisoner, with its proof and issue, has been briefly collected and laid before the reader. His behaviour after conviction, together with the means used to bring him to a repentance proportioned to his crimes and course of life, have been also in part represented to the publick, with that of his other eight fellow-convicts; two of which, James Anderson and Thomas Thompson, have been executed Feb. 15, and six respited.
So long as there is any hope of the reformation of criminals in the character of penitents, and while there is life there is hope, all possible patience, and forbearance, and tenderness should be exercised towards them: But when their lives are forfeited, and the forfeit paid for the warning of other hardened and presumptuous offenders, and the safeguard and protection of the honest and industrious; the best use should be made of their subtile schemes and evil conduct, to answer those purposes for which criminals are punished.
And first, it is a desperate and most provoking degree of hardness in guilt, for any surviving criminal to encourage himself in his wickedness, and persist in his evil courses, because he sees or hears of a dying criminal making a decent exit at the place of execution. This is a most fallacious sign, on which there is no dependence. We are, indeed, in general obliged to perform the best offices of piety and charity we can, and they are capable of, for the worst of dying sinners and criminals; but the success is wholly unknown and uncertain to us; it is deep involved in futurity, and the divine counsels. There is no judging, by present superficial outward appearances, of their true spiritual state at present, nor of the judgment that will pass upon them for their eternal lot hereafter. ‘Tis impossible for us, for any but the Searcher of Hearts, to know how far these seeming penitents have complied with the terms of salvation. Whether they have outsinned their day of Grace and Salvation, or are still objects of it? Whether they strive earnestly in prayer, that a true repentance, a lively faith, and all the graces requisite for their condition may be granted to them? or whether it is too late to sue for them? For however presumptuous and ignorant men may flatter themselves, and each other, that it is never too late to repent (and tho’ perhaps this may be true of a sincere repentance) yet we are assured, by the highest authority, that the hope of the hypocrite shall perish; that there is a time when these good things are hid from mens eyes, and the door of mercy is shut. And the reasons and causes are assigned, which bring things to this desperate pass. When men hate knowledge and do not chuse the fear of the Lord; when they refuse his calls and disregard the stretching out of his hand; when they set at naught his counsel and will hear none of his reproof; then will he also laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh; — when their fear cometh as desolation, and their destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon them. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me, saith the supreme Judge. [Proverbs 1:22-28 -ed.] We know, and are witnesses, that these causes and symptoms too generally prevail among obdurate sinners, within and without our prison-doors, whether at large or in chains. How then can they escape the inevitably connected consequences? Have we not invincible arguments, to make us expect and dread them all in the worst sense? It appears to me the best good office which humanity and good-will can do such men, to set these things strongly before their eyes, ere it be yet too late, for ever.
We know, and are witnesses, that in general the apparent repentance of convicts in chains seems to be merely forced upon them by their present fears and miseries; for they too frequently prove this, by putting it off as long as they can, and relapsing as soon as they can, i.e. on the first opportunity.
These reflexions naturally rise from the long course of frauds and misconduct which the convict now in view had run thro’, and the little sense he seemed to feel of his real case and danger. For tho’ he attended the chapel almost daily after conviction, yet he acknowledged he had never been there above three or four times in so many months that he was a prisoner before it: And now that he came, the point he seemed to have most at heart was to deny his guilt, plead innocence, and consult with me how to escape this death? rather than ask and learn how he should obtain eternal life; for this was the convict hinted at in the former Account, (No. II. p. 9.) who desired a private conversation on this subject; but being then respited, was not named. This is the convict, there also unnamed, who mistook the Commination for the Communion Office, after some weeks instruction and preparation. For it appeared from his conversation, from his incapacity to read common English with propriety, or write a plain hand, that he was of a more ignorant and low-bred class than he found it his interest to assume in the several scenes he had gone thro’. From his being known to have been a Draper on Ludgatehill, or a Warehouseman in Bread-street, one would form an idea of a man of suitable birth and education. And this pretence he still endeavoured to support; for being asked one day, whether he had served his time to a Draper? he answered no, he had learned it by being bred up and travelling among the woollen manufacturers; that he was born in Wiltshire, and there educated with his father, came to London at the age of eighteen or twenty years, and having lived sometime among the principal Drapers, to whom he was sometime a rider , he then set up the business on his own account. The truth is, he came to town a raw country young fellow, about twelve years ago, and was first employed in a considerable Print-shop kept by Mr. O–v–n, facing St. Sepulchre’s church, as a menial servant, and acted as footman and porter to carry out parcels, and used to ride journeys with his master, to carry his portmanteau. In this service he was thought to be rather heavy and stupid, than capable of those pranks, which he has since had a part in playing off. When he had lived here about a year, he got another place at a Draper’s and Sale-shop in Houndsditch, and from thence he moved to a like place in Drury-lane, much in the same capacity. In these two latter places he learned so much of the business as to open a shop for himself on Ludgate Hill, which much surprized all who knew him from his beginning; and puzzled them to account, whence the capital should arise to enable him to venture on such a house. But this blaze, having served his turn, was soon extinguished, and the house shut up in darkness. This is said to have been about the year 1760. His next step was to remove to Godalming in Surrey, where, out of the spoils already picked up, he dealt in corn and flour to London, having purchased a mill for that purpose, and was getting money apace; this held on for about eighteen months, and he told me he might have done well here, and continued so, had not some of his former companions, ever restless, and seeking whom they may devour, found him out, and came down to extort a sum of money from him, or threatened to blow him. He not answering their large demands, they exposed him as one who had been a bankrupt and in gaol, &c. He was soon pointed at by his neighbours and others (with whom he had hitherto kept up his credit) as one who had been so and so in London, and was now come down to cheat the country. This obliged him to sell his mill and decamp; and he added, that 90l. of the price was still due to him, which he hoped they would pay his wife. Of her he always spoke with tender concern, and, to aggravate his sorrows, said they had three children; the last of which died of the gaol distemper, caught by being with his mother to visit him in the prison. It is known, and generally believed, that this convict had been too frequently and deeply concerned with several persons (some of them before named in the paper found in his pocket when taken) in sundry frauds and forgeries to procure goods, to get possession of effects and estates on counterfeit securities, and then raise money upon them. One of their most successful methods was to put on the guise of considerable dealers and persons of property, to strike a bargain, pay down some cash in hand, and give bills for the rest, which, on enquiry, proved much like the bill for which he was convicted. This he seemed conscious of, when he endeavoured to account for his conviction on other principles than those of justice and law; for he insisted on being innocent of any forgery in this case; but, said he, I was unfortunately connected with a set of bad people, and had but a light character, and it was determined that some one must die, and I am singled out to fall a sacrifice. By whom and what number of men this was determined, he did not explain; but often hinted, that a person concerned in his prosecution was no better than he should be. Several exploits in their way are reported of this sett of confederates. Prince had agreed with a principal for an Oyster-meter’s place at Billingsgate. He would have paid down 100l. cash, and 400l. more in bills: But this latter part not being approved, broke off the bargain. When he dealt as a Draper, he took a journey into the West Country with his ingenious accomplice F–r, under the stile and title of F-sh-r, Esq; of F-s-r hall in Lancashire, where, by offering a good price, they dealt with a clothier for the value of 1500l. in pieces of cloth, then lying in a great warehouse in London, for which they paid down 600l. in cash, and gave bills on supposed Merchants for 900l. They had the pieces delivered to them by order; but when the bills became due, the persons by whom they were payable were not to be found. The two accomplices were secured, on an affidavit or oath made by the creditor, or prosecutor, and sent to prison; their attorney found, or pretended to find, a flaw in the affidavit, trumped up a prosecution for perjury against him, which, it is said, terrified him so, as to induce him to give the defendants a general release, and 400l. more by way of composition.
It is well known, that Prince and his companion aforesaid were fellow-prisoners in Newgate for a fraud in March 1761, in obtaining several pieces of superfine cloth by false pretences. A little before they were to be tried for this fact, the prosecutor was prevailed on to make a debt of it, by their paying down some little money, and giving him some large promises to pay the rest. They were detained as debtors in Newgate five or six weeks, till F–r first, and Prince in a week after, moved themselves by Habeas Corpus to the King’s Bench prison, from whence, in less than a year, they were both cleared by the compelling clause in the Act of Insolvency. They were well known in each of these prisons on other occasions.
On the day that Prince was convicted, some young gentleman was seen to give him a quarter guinea, for his present relief; and said, at the same time, that his father had lost 1000l. by him. For that and the like purposes, he and his accomplices had taken a house in Bread-street, facing the Three Cups Inn, the better to give a colour to their transactions.
When men have long turned their whole thoughts, and laid out their talents on such deep schemes of fraud and villainy, they may truly be said to have sold themselves to work iniquity; their heart is perverted, and become callous to every good impression, which they have long resisted and stifled. There is a root of bitterness in them, which it were impossible for human strength or means to change or extirpate; and if ever they are changed so as to be saved, it can only be by the mighty power, the extraordinary grace, the exceeding great love and mercy of that God, to whom nothing is impossible. But let sinners take heed how they presume upon these perfections, and dally with divine patience and goodness. It is for this very reason, because there is mercy with him, therefore he is to be feared.
These thoughts are occasioned by a sudden change in this prisoner, which flattered us with hopeful appearances of a good work begun in him, on January 25, the festival of the Conversion of St. Paul, when the Psalms, the proper lessons, and other offices of the day were explained and applied to the prisoners, teaching them that the same heavenly light and grace which had converted Saul from being a persecutor, a blasphemer, and injurious, to be a most zealous Apostle and Preacher of the Gospel, was most surely recorded, and still shone bright in the hearts of all who were open to receive it, and that for this very cause he obtained mercy, to be a pattern to others, who should hereafter be convinced. After service he came, of his own accord, and spoke to this effect; first, that he was sorry for some refractory misbehavour he had been guilty of yesterday in the chapel, and also that he was now glad he did not die of the goal distemper before his trial, (for he said he was, indeed, very wicked when first put in gaol, but hoped he was now spared to repent,) tho’ he should die a shameful death; that he had not an opportunity of attending chapel above two Sundays during his confinement, before trial, having been ill the best part of three months; that he had been drawn in and connected with bad men, but now saw his folly, for they were his ruin; he added, that a friend who supported him, promised to use his endeavours to save his life, but he would make the best use of his time, and not depend on it. He was in the same cell with another convict, who could read well, and had several proper books lent them, which they promised to make good use of.
One of these bad connections is little known or spoken of, viz. that which he had with John Perrott, his neighbour on Ludgate Hill, who was executed at Smithfield, November 11, 1761, for concealing his effects as a bankrupt; not long before which was the failure of Prince, with some similar causes and circumstances. This connection was carried so far, that it is said F–r, at least his associate, if not Prince himself, was concerned in a scheme to rescue Perrott out of gaol a few days before his execution; which was indeed then apprehended, and guarded against. (See page 12, 13, of the Account of John Perrott and Samuel Lee.)
The respite of Prince, the night before his fellow convicts were executed, has been mentioned in the preceding Account; as also that the reasons and means of that respite seemed unknown even to himself; but this was owing to his dissimulation with me, and perhaps shame also to avow the real means and motives by which that respite was obtained. To conceal which, when asked, a few days after, how this respite came about, he amused me with the following blind stories; that he was visited Feb. the 14th, the evening before execution, by a gentleman of fortune from Spitalfields (his name being forgot;) he asked him a few questions, and going away left two shillings for him at the lodge; when he heard this, he revolved in his mind, why should two shillings be left for a man who is to die to-morrow? He conjectured, therefore, this respite was obtained by his means, thro’ the interest of a noble Lord and some gentlemen, for whom he once procured a sum of money, as a broker, on some goods and an estate, for which he gave a bond. And as the estate is now vested in him, it must be forfeited if he dies: To prevent this, he would seem to suppose he was respited. He added, that he had suffered much by law and imprisonment on account of that affair, as the parties believed he had defrauded them of a large sum, but at last cleared himself, and believes they are satisfied of his innocence. The real story he alluded to, is thus reported; that he advised a certain N-b-n, who applied to him in necessity for ready cash, to take up goods from a manufacturer in Spitalfields, to the value of 2000l. which being put into the hands of Prince, when he had raised a proper sum on them, he returned three or four hundred pounds to his employer, and sunk the rest. This was an expedient he was well practised in, the raising of money on goods, however obtained, of which there are numberless instances. This is one of those abuses of trade and credit, which perverts this practice into one of the worst species of robbery; and is common among that obdurate set of enormous criminals, who live luxuriously upon the spoil in our prisons under the name of debtors. For it must be allowed, that in proportion as the right use of fair trade and well-grounded credit is beneficial to society, and is, in fact, the support of millions in these nations and dominions; so the abuse and perversion of either, or both, is detrimental and destructive to numbers.
But so long habituated was this criminal to the use of false pretences, that he could scarce divest himself of them to his dying day. Whatever pretences he had made use of to conceal the real occasion of his respite from me, the true state of it was first hinted by another, and in due time fully cleared up; and it was thus. He sent his wife to a compassionate Gentleman, in the Commission of the Peace for Middlesex, to inform him, that John Prince, her husband, was able to make some material discoveries for the publick utility, she herself making an affidavit to that purpose, and that he was ready to give his information to proper persons. This was on the 14th of February, the day before he was to suffer. Proper application being made above, by the Gentleman aforesaid, in a few hours a respite, for three weeks, was sent down. And the next day, Prince being examined in an apartment of the prison, gave the following Information.
MIDDLESEX. The Examination of John Prince, now under sentence of death in Newgate, taken this 15th day of February, 1764.
THIS Examinant says, that he knows Ed—d H–t, late of the Seven-dials, Cheesemonger; T—s G–ff–h, a Cabinet-maker; J–n W–ms, late a Change-broker, and who now lives near Grosvenor, or Hanover-Square; George White; who lately died in Newgate; Ch–s Wh–e, brother to the said G–e, who is now at large; J–h H–mm–d, and S–l F–r: Says, that about last Spring he frequented H–ll’s, at the Wheatsheaf, in Purpoollane; that he there saw the aforesaid Ch–s and G–e W–te, who told him, that they lived by picking of pockets; that he also then and there saw, in company with the said two Wh–s, two lusty country-looking fellows, who the said Wh–es informed him, lived by robbing on the highway, and by committing other robberies, but does not know the said last mentioned two persons names, but that they use L–l–y’s, in Golden-lane; says that about nine months ago he was sent for to the Royal Oak, as he believes at Mile-end, by G–e Wh–e and Ed–d H–t, who informed him they had a good job for him to do; says they did not then inform him what the job was, but appointed him to meet them at the Angel at Islington, at five o’ clock the same evening; says he met them there accordingly; says he stayed some time there, when and where they told him, that money must be had, and that if he would go along with them, they had a scheme to get it that night; says they set out from Islington, and proceeded together on horseback to the Halfway-house in the bottom of Finchley Common, where they had some brandy; from thence went to Whetstone, and put up their horses at the Green Man there; from thence went to Barnet to the Green Man there, where they drank; from thence went to the White Lion at Kitt’s Inn, put up their horses there, and after staying some time returned towards London, till they got on to Finchley Common: says they then took across the Common towards Southgate, when they told him they had come out on purpose to rob the Mail: says they staid together on horseback till they saw the Mail cart come along from London; when they desired this informant to go and rob it, and at the same time told him, it was a very rich Mail on account of Chester fair: says he refused robbing it, clapt spurs to his horse, and rode away to his lodgings, opposite the Royal Oak at Mile End aforesaid: says that about twelve days afterwards the said W–te and H–t again called upon him at his lodging, and that they drank together at the Royal Oak; that they then took him into the fields, and told him they had robbed the Mail at the time they wanted him to rob it as aforesaid; and that W–te then gave this examinant a black pocket-book, now in the possession of T–s M–r, Esq; in which was sixteen or eighteen Bank notes of different sums, all which, they told him, they had got out of the aforesaid Mail: says they desired this informant to put the notes by, but not to put them off without their knowledge: says he kept them about a month, and returned them to them again at the Royal Oak aforesaid: says that a few days afterwards they gave him a thirty pound bank bill, which he, in his way from Ascot-Heath races, put off to a Butcher in the morning, who lives opposite the White Hart at Slough, who is a lusty man; that H–t and White told him the said note was taken out of the aforesaid Mail: says he afterwards put off a bank bill, at Bury St. Edmund’s, to G–e M–n, an Attorney, of 20l. which he also had from W–te and H–t, and which they told him they got out of the Mail in manner aforesaid: says H–t told him he buried his share of the bank notes and other papers, which were taken out of the said Mail, in his cellar, near Lombard Court, Seven-dials: says the widow of G–e Wh–e now lives at Matthew Fr–h’s, at Coney, and verily believes that she now has concealed, either in a trunk or in two boxes, papers taken out of the aforesaid Mail. Says, that at the time the said Mail was going to be robbed, as aforesaid, he rode a bay mare, fourteen hands high, which he hired in Red Lion yard, Clerkenwell; that G–e Wh–e rode a brown horse of his own, which at that time stood at the first inn on the left hand going down Old-street; that H–t rode a little black horse, which was hired of C–kst–e at Mile-end, where he this examinant then lodged; that Wh–e was dressed in a brown suit of cloaths, all of the same; but at that time had in his saddle-baggs, a dark grey coat, a black shag waistcoat, and leather breeches; that H–t was dressed in a brown coat and waistcoat, and leather breeches; that he had an old brown great coat tied before him, but that Wh – e had no great coat: Says J–ks-n was a sailor, but now dealt in horses; is a short thick man, and used to pick pockets.
It was observed by one well versed in these matters, that after this information was known to be on foot, it was designedly or incautiously kept by the prisoner for twenty-four hours; in which time notice for escape and secreting the effects might be given to the parties, and so the design be defeated. That in consequence of it search warrants were issued, and several parties taken up, but nothing was to be found, or proved.
It was also humanely observed, with due concern, by a Magistrate, that the matter of this examination did not come before the Magistrates in a due and regular channel, by confession made, in a serious hour and frame of preparation, to the proper Minister of the prison, by whom it might have been laid before them, that they might judge whether it deserved the extraordinary favour of a reprieve sine die, and not merely serve the turn of a short, because ill-founded, respite, by which the unhappy convict underwent the dreadful vicissitudes of hopes and fears, and was at length disappointed, to the great disturbance of his mind, and interruption of the regular progress of his preparation. But whom had he to blame for thus undertaking what he could not perform? But there have been like cases of others, who, when sinking, will catch at these twigs.
The matter of this information being referred from authority to three Magistrates, to consider and report whether the case merited a farther respite, it was agreed and concluded to send a written message to Prince, to acquaint him, that his discoveries hitherto were of no service to the publick, and for the most part known before; therefore not to flatter himself with farther favours, unless he could better fulfil his promise; this being signed by the aforesaid three Gentlemen, was sent to him by the hand of his wife, at least nine or ten days before he suffered. Yet he thought proper to keep this whole transaction a secret from me, nor did it come to my knowledge till communicated thro’ an authentic hand after his execution: Insomuch that it now seems unaccountable, how he could amuse himself and me with the appearance of hope, without truth or reason, to the last day; sometimes affecting to expect to know more in a few days; again, insinuating that he was sold by those who better deserved the same fate; then to suspect the intercepting or suppressing some paper of intelligence, which he obscurely hinted at by the application of some bank bills; and dropping other half sentences then unintelligible to me; but which, I now conceive, he must know to be impossible to be true, unless he suspected his wife, or could doubt his own eyes in the answer she brought him. And yet it is well known, she was unwearied and importunate in her applications, and strained some points, at her own peril, to save his life.
As he was frequently warned by me not to build too much on the renewal of this respite, he assured me he would not; for which he gave an instance; that while he was shopman to a draper in Drury-lane, he was picked out as an expeditious rider, to ride post with a respite for a convict in a distant county for six weeks, which was renewed from time to time for six months; and yet at last he suffered.
In the interval of this respite, Prince was far from being composed, but seemed rather fretful and captious. Some ignorant visitor having told him that his life and character was published, much to his disadvantage, being no other, I presume, than the Grub street half-penny speech, he or his friends absurdly took it in their head to suspect, and at last to accuse me, of doing him this ill office. It greatly shocked me, that in the midst of all the best offices I could do him, he should imagine me capable of so much inconsistency. However, considering his ignorance, and the torturing suspence he was in, I patiently gave him all the satisfaction I could, that I never had seen that paper, nor knew what he meant. Still he, in his resentment, seemed unsatisfied, and brought and returned me all the pious and proper tracts I had lent him for his better instruction and preparation. Being calmly asked, how he could do without them? he answered, he had other good books of his own. He still attended the chapel, except an odd day, when in a sullen fit. The last Sunday he had to live, two persons, having desired leave, happened to come with me to go to the chapel; he outrageously attacked one of them, a working Printer, with hand and tongue, seizing him by the collar, was ready to choke him, and using the bitterest imprecations against him, for having published his life; and swore, if he went up to chapel, he would tumble him down stairs. The man assured him (as, I believe, he well could) that he was quite innocent, and an utter stranger to the affair: Prince answered, It was you, or that parson there! Luckily, I had gone first up to chapel, and was not disturbed with this outrageous fray, till after service being ended, and returning to the press-yard, I reproved the man, with some warmth, for neglecting to come up to the service. He then explained the matter, and pleaded his fears of Prince, as a very reasonable excuse. This matter was quickly made known to Mr. A-k-n, who with temper and prudence undertook to set Prince right. By his means he was convinced of his rash judgment and gross misbehaviour, and when visited next day, relented, asked pardon, and expressed sorrow for his fault, of abusing a person who had spoke favourably of him in the account that was then published. And in truth, none of those papers, so offensive to this unhappy man, ever fell under my eye, tho’ enquiry was since made to procure one of them. And considering that those ill-timed and ill-natured invectives, against a man in his critical situation of doubt and fear, might lessen his hope of farther mercy, his resentment, tho’ foolishly misplaced, admits of some sort of excuse. The two last days he employed chiefly in writing notes and sending messages to some officers of the Mint and the Post-office; one from each of which came, and had private conferences with him, by which he seemed to expect a renewal of his respite: But, in fine, he was told, they could do him no service. On these occasions, he only told me in general, that his mind and conscience was not easy, till he had opened what he had to say to those gentlemen before he suffered, which, he told me, was a discovery concerning the robbery of the Chester Mail: But said nothing of his conversation with the Gentleman from the Tower. And as to his discovery concerning that robbery of the Mail, it is strongly surmised, for good reasons, that it was all hearsay evidence, which he had learned in conversation from his fellow-prisoner, G. White aforesaid, who died in Newgate, and is believed to be the person, or one of them, who committed that fact; for neither Prince nor his wife, when closely examined, could ascertain the time when it was committed. He told me it was above a year ago, while his examination makes it only three quarters of a year; and she, from the circumstances of her husband’s returning home in a morning, would have proved it to be in June last: whereas it appears, from the Advertisement, to be on the 7th of September last, between three and four in the morning, by two footpads, the one rather a tall man, pitted with the small-pox; the other rather a short man, in a sailor’s jacket and a check shirt, &c.
He seemed to become very serious and attentive the two last days, in the chapel, when I explained to him, from the chosen Lessons of Isaiah the fifth and St. Luke the sixteenth, and other places, the necessary distinctions between moral good and evil, virtue and vice, obedience and disobedience, and their inevitable consequences; and also the certainty and eternal duration of two opposite states, from the Parable of Dives and Lazarus. When visited the evening before he suffered, several proper and affecting prayers were offered up, in which he humbly and heartily joined. He was very thankful, and expressed his gratitude in the tenderest manner, seizing my hand and kissing it, and shewing great sorrow that he had ever distrusted my care and fidelity, and wished he had placed that confidence in his minister which he put in others.
The Morning of Execution.
Having saluted him with a blessing of Peace, and asked him how are you? he said, As well as can be expected. He had two books in his hand, which I lent him a second time the preceding evening. He was asked, have you made good use of those books? He answered, he had, as long as light was allowed him, which was but an hour after I left him at six. Had you any sleep? Yes, he said, he lost himself for about two hours, and then returned to his thoughts and exercises proper for his approaching change.
At Prayers and the Administration he behaved with humble and attentive devotion, only seemed too little acquainted with his part of the office, unless directed. After which, he was reminded, to keep in his heart this surest and highest pledge of the love of God, and in his passage to meditate on the articles of the Christian Faith, and these two petitions — Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven: And to comfort himself with the hope that this chastisement is a mark and proof of God’s love to his soul, intended by a right use of it to save him from worse, infinitely worse, hereafter. He seemed very thankful, and promised he would comply with these directions. He went down directly, and passed thro’ the operation of having his irons knocked off, and his hands and arms bound, with great resignation. He said, indeed, one thing which had better been spared, “That he might have saved his own life had he put others in his place; but this he did not chuse to do.” This speech, compared with what has been before related, seems to prove he was not yet purged from the dross of all dissimulation and false pretences. This was his weak side.
When put in the cart, he appeared intent on his book, and regardless of any thing that passed around him. There were few spectators here in comparison, and fewer at the place of execution; this execution being scarce known, or expected by the public.
When brought to the tree, he seemed calm and chearful; and being asked, said he was very easy. Also, Whether he now acknowledged the justice of his sentence? he answered, there was no fraud intended, nor forgery committed; but as his King and country had found him guilty, he submitted. He added, that nothing lay heavy on his conscience, nor had he any concern, but that dear, worthy, good creature he left behind him; to whom, he assured me, he was married, whatever malicious report may say to the contrary. The usual proper devotions being performed, in which he joined and also the surrounding people, he looked round with a calm countenance, but seemed to want words; he then said, “The peace of God be with you all; I wish you more grace than I have had, and not to come to this sad end which I have brought myself to.” Then having received the last benediction, he quietly resigned his life and suffered his sentence.
An Account of the Behaviour of Anne Baker, Peter Robins, James Rocket, and Timothy Stewart.
BY virtue of the King’s commission of the peace, oyer and terminer, and gaol-delivery of Newgate, holden for the city of London and county of Middlesex, at Justice-hall in the Old-Bailey, before the Right Honourable William Bridgen, Esq; Lord-Mayor of the city of London ; Sir Henry Gould, Knt. one of the Judges of his Majesty’s Court of Common Pleas ; the Honourable Mr. Baron Perrott; James Eyre, Esq; Recorder , and others of his Majesty’s Justices of oyer and terminer of the city of London, and Justices of gaol-delivery of Newgate, holden for the said city and county of Middlesex, on Wednesday the 22d, Thursday the 23d, Friday the 24th, Saturday the 25th, Monday the 27th, and Tuesday the 28th of February, in the fourth year of his Majesty’s reign, five persons were capitally convicted and received sentence of death, for the several crimes in their indictments set forth, namely, Anne Baker, Peter Robins, James Wharton, James Rocket, and Timothy Steward.
1. And on Friday the 23d of March, the report of the said malefactors was made to his Majesty, by Mr. Recorder, when James Wharton, for the robbery of Anne Curtise of 2s. on the King’s highway, was respited, and the other four abovenamed ordered for execution, on Wednesday March 28th, and were executed accordingly.
2. Anne Baker, spinster, was indicted, for that she, (together with Anne Hill, James Doleman and John Wright, not taken,) in a certain alley, near the King’s highway, on Thomas Porter did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and violently taking from his person one guinea and twelve and six-pence in money, numbered, his property, January the 8th.
The prosecutor, Thomas Porter, a seafaring and lighter-man , who then lodged on Snow-Hill, drinking a pint of beer at the Bell in the Old-Bailey, fell into this ill company, and had a quarrel raised against him, for speaking a word to save the prisoner from the stripes of a rattan; he went out to avoid them; and the two women, mentioned in the indictment, followed him close, under pretence of getting some persons to see him righted. They got the two men abovementioned. They decoyed him from one alehouse to another, between Fleet-Market and the Old-Bailey, from seven till twelve at night, and then the women persuading him to see them home to White-Cross Street, they led him round through Chick-Lane, to Black-Boy Alley, where the prisoner, by a frightful whistle which she blew, had him surrounded by five, in a moment. The four now mentioned, struck and wounded him terribly, saying, they would have his money, life, and clothes; and then dragging him by the legs along the street, they held him down, rifled his pockets, cutting one of them out with a knife; this made him cry out, Murder, help, mercy. The prisoner said, Blast him, murder him, &c. Some door opening at that instant, they fled. He caught Wright and hauled him up Chick-Lane; a watchman said, he dared not to assist the prosecutor, among such a number of thieves as are in that lane, for fear of being murdered; and he was advised to let go the robber, which he did. The prisoner was taken the second night after, by a warrant from Sir John Fielding, and by help of some of his men, at the said Bell ale-house. Having denied the charge as long as she could, with great impudence and imprecations, she at last confessed it, and impeached her accomplices, saying, she and Anne Hill had 6s. each, and the two men 12s. each; that they lay together that night; and she was an unhappy woman. All which is confirmed by several other witnesses.
Being convicted, she, with the other two Protestant convicts, attended the chapel, February the 26th, and before prayers heard an exhortation suited to their sad case, with which they seemed deeply affected. On Tuesday afternoon, the 28th, they received sentence of death. After this they were daily instructed in a manner suited to their gross ignorance, and evil habits, and taught to join in the service, with which they seemed little acquainted. Baker could not read, and required the more labour to be laid out in teaching her. She said she was only nineteen years of age, the daughter of a Printer, of the name of Craddock, born in St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell; the name of Baker being that of her husband, a sailor, now abroad; that while her father lived, she got a little instruction, and could read; but he dying, left her poor mother a widow, with five children, about four or five years ago; in her tenth year she had a fever, which hurt her eyes, so that she was blind nearly for a year, and so lost her reading. When recovered, and at a proper age, she was put out by the parish of St. Bride’s, to a man in Rosemary-Lane, to learn the business of closeing shoes, and dealing in old cloaths ; here, she described her treatment to be so very bad, that she ran away, and made her complaint to the parish officers. They passed her back to Whitechapel parish, in which her master lived, to whom she was compelled to return, and was then treated worse than ever; for she said, he was the first that corrupted her, and used to lock her up, and force her to yield to his wicked purposes. She then fled from him entirely, and went and hired herself at the Blue Ball and Crown in Black-Friars, a publick house, where she lived for two years. But being seduced by some unhappy young girls like herself, she then went to a house of ill-fame near Fleet-ditch, begun to walk the street, and has been in these wretched and detestable courses for some years, so that she now seemed languid, distempered, and decayed, at an age when youth and virtue would have ripened her into blooming health and strength. She was free to confess she had lived in several bad houses, partly as a servant, and partly as a guest. She owned she was in company with the prosecutor, and the other men, who frequent those houses, and go a thieving; but denied the most odious and cruel parts of the charge against her, pretending she knew not the men had robbed and abused the prosecutor, till she heard him cry out murder, and then she ran away. They were duly warned not to dissemble and hide their sins, but to repent of them all without reserve. After the Death warrant she seemed so far convinced of this duty, that she humbly and heartily opened several acts of theft she had been guilty of; such as going off with a guinea now and then, of a guest, which was entrusted with her to change; and once she stole three guineas of a sick man, whom her mother was a nursing. She was also concerned in the robbery of a man at the Turk’s Head Bagnio, in Catharine-street, near the Strand.
While the Death-warrant was delayed, she and her-fellow convicts seemed to forget their condition and to relapse into bad habits and filthy conversation; but when she found she must die, she wept and lamented much; was filled with sorrow and shame for her past sinful life, and became more thoughtful and serious than ever.
By help of the plain instructions which were daily given them, she endeavoured to prepare herself with all the requisites for receiving the holy communion; and after careful examination and repeated instruction, was admitted to it the day before she suffered, not without hope and comfort.
3. Peter Robins, Charles Galliher, and Jane Godfrey, otherwise Simonds, spinster , were indicted, for that they, on the 16th of January, about the hour of one in the night, the dwelling house of Christian Watts did break and enter, and steal one large silver salver value 5 l. one silver apple scoop value 2 s. two silver tea spoons value 2 s. one silver table spoon value 6 s. two silver dessert forks value 3 s. one pair of cotton stockings value 2 s. one pair of worsted stockings value 2 s. one canvas bag value 1 d. and 20 s. in money numbered, the property of the said Christian, in her dwelling house.
This burglary and robbery is the more aggravated, as it was perpetrated against a lonely gentlewoman in years, at Staines, Middlesex, afflicted with deafness, and unguarded by any company in her house, which stands alone in the Hampton Road. In the morning of the 16th or 17th of January, she found the glass of her window had been broke, the sash of the staircase unscrewed, her chamber door broke to pieces, which had been fastened with a lock and bar, her pocket taken from under her head, emptied, and thrown in the passage; five locks broke; the several things mentioned in the indictment missing, besides a feather-bed thrown out of a window into the garden. Three of her neighbours, being called in, were eyewitnesses of the damages, to which they gave testimony. Mr. Bolt, by applying to Sir John Fielding, and advertising the particulars, traced the affair to the prisoner Robins, who was stopt with the salver, on Sunday the 22d of January, by Mr. Hebbleswaite, a Watch-maker, in New-Street, St. Martin’s in the Fields, and given in charge to Mr. Sheffield the Constable. He said first, it was a family piece of plate, that belonged to his mother. Then, before the Magistrate, that it was thrown at him, by a man galloping by his door, with several other improbable falsehoods, till at last the prosecutrix coming to town, and swearing to the property, he declared the truth in all its circumstances, discovered his two accomplices, and that he had sold the rest of the plate at Mr. Master’s, a Silver-smith, in Coventry-Street, where they found it.
Jane Godfrey was taken in the street, and Galliher in his bed at Egham: She swore against a fourth person, who being taken up, and examined, was set at liberty, being thought innocent. She would have turned evidence, but was not judged, by Mr. Bolt, sit to be credited.
The prisoner in his defence denied no part of the evidence given against him, but rather confirmed it, by admitting he first named the person to be robbed, in very abusive and opprobrious terms; which terms expressed more vengeance against the injured prosecutrix, than a sense of his own guilt, or the least remorse for it at this time. Bad symptoms, indeed! which glared so strong against him, that they probably contributed to countervail all the powerful interest since used to save his life.
There being nothing found on the other two accomplices, nor no evidence against them, but that of the prisoner; they are acquitted and let loose. But let them be warned, by his fate, how they intangle themselves again.
For some time after conviction Robins said he could not read, but stood silent in the chapel, and took no proper books to assist him in the cell: For this reason, perhaps, Wharton, his fellow convict, was put in the same cell to read to him, till they disagreed in about a week, and were parted; when it came out that Robins could read a little tolerably, and having books put into his hands, began to apply himself to it, both in chapel and in private. His case and condition having been strongly and frequently represented to him, he seemed really affected; he began to look serious, dejected, and terrified, and to give more earnest heed to instruction. He was naturally of a good spritely countenance, about twenty-four years of age, well-made, of a middle size, seemed strong and active, and capable of doing much good, or evil. It should have been mentioned before, that when first questioned, what he was convicted for? he put on a piteous face, and said it was for robbing a house, but he was never in it, nor near it. This was gross prevarication, after all that he had confessed, and was proved against him. He was reminded, that he was now in a situation, where the hiding of his guilt could be of no service to him, in the presence of him to whom his heart, life, and actions were open and visible; to whom if he denied his guilt, it was not only vain, but must seal his destruction. On this he was silent for the future about his innocence; and only insisted that this was his first fact; and from this he never departed. His meaning in the former assertion he explained to be, that he was not one of those who broke into the house, but only stood at the window and received the goods, and, to his cost, sold them too.
On his insisting that this was his first and only fact, he was told it was otherwise believed and reported by those who knew him at Staines. He seemed surprized, and appealed to his character there; and pleaded the common excuse, that he was in liquor when he did this.
He told me he was born in Northampton, that his father was a plumber and glazier; which business he had not thoroughly learned, but used to work at house-painting at Staines, and sometimes at London; that he used also to break and ride young horses. He did not mention, what I heard from others, that he was some time in the light horse , and of Lord Albemarle’s troop; which being reduced, he was discharged. Also that he could earn 20s. a week as a plumber .
He was married to a young woman of a decent family at Staines, by whom he has left issue. His wife and brother are said to have been very active in applying to get his sentence mitigated, and some great personages spoke for the same favour, but could not prevail.
He, with the other convicts, had relapsed into a scene of very indecent conversation about the 18th of March, while the sword of justice seemed suspended; but being reproved, and the danger of so hardened and desperate a temper set before them, they seemed to relent, and behave better the few remaining days.
After the Death-warrant he was remarkably composed, and said he expected no other, and hoped he was on a good foundation. On expressing his preparation and desire, he was admitted to communicate. Wharton also, who is respited, humbly and devoutly joined with them in this duty, the day before and the morning they suffered.
On the 25th, being the last Sunday they had to live, the nature, end, and institution of the holy communion was summed up to them a-new, before prayers. The prisoners in general were serious and attentive, and the convicts behaved with deep humility and sorrow. Then followed the morning-service. From the first proper lesson, Genesis chap. xxxix. the two very contrary characters of faithful Joseph, and his lewd, perfidious, and vindictive mistress, were contrasted and set in opposite points of view. The blessing and prosperity of Joseph sprung hence, that the Lord was with him, and preserved him in purity of heart and integrity of life; while they who forsake God are left to themselves, to work their own ruin. The epistle for the day, Ephes. ch. v. proved exactly suitable to warn and reprove these backsliding convicts, and other prisoners, for their bad habits and conversation, which was therefore opened and applied to them. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God: The conscience and experience of sinners joining to convince them, that (without repentance) the punishments are and will be inflicted, as sure as denounced. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God on the children of disobedience. In the afternoon they were farther instructed from the ixth chapter of Jeremiah, and the xiith chapter to the Hebrews, and from other proper portions of Scripture on different occasions.
4. James Rocket, otherwise Price, and Timothy Steward, were indicted, for that they (in company with Joseph Redmond, sick in gaol) in a certain footway, near the King’s highway, on John Pennington did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and violently taking from his person a metal watch, value 3l. three metal seals, value 12d. a brass watch-key, value 1d. three guineas and five shillings in money numbered, his property, November 20.
This fact was brought home to the two prisoners, on the evidence of one of their accomplices, Joseph Lowther, (there being five of them concerned) supported by the prosecutor’s swearing to both Rockett and Steward; and also by Henry Jacobs, son of a Jew Silversmith in Wapping, to whom the said two prisoners sold the watch and seals for a guinea, and the property of which was also sworn to by the prosecutor. He was first cruelly knocked down with a poker by one of this inhuman gang, who is now a respite in Newgate. Pennington being somewhat in liquor, and a stranger about those parts of Nightingale-lane and East Smithfield, had enquired his way of them, and was making home through Chelsea to Battersea, where he lives, and is a Slater, Plaisterer, and Painter. These five seafaring men were prowling about, and had formed a scheme to rob a Chandler’s shop of the till, while one of them was buying some bread and cheese: This being prevented by the people being on their guard, they were looking out for some other prey when they met with this unlucky man, whom they marked out, followed, and beset, till they treated him in the manner described. ‘Tis well the knot is broke!
James Rockett told me his true name is Lockart, that his father was a Scotchman and belonged to the army, and his mother an Irish woman; that he was born in the English camp, then in some part of Germany; he pretended he was but sixteen years of age, but it proved afterwards he could not be less than twenty-two or twenty-three years old, for he was said to be an old offender, and companion to Steward, who owned himself to be about that age. They were often invited to attend our service, but refusing to come, they were warned not to trust in any other means of salvation without true repentance, and an entire change of mind and manners. They had enlisted themselves under a different persuasion, and would give little account of their past life. They were both illiterate, and very ignorant.
Timothy Steward was born at Knightsbridge, where his father lived some time, and, as he said, was one of the Gardeners of Kensington gardens, which employment, I was told, he quitted for that of a Coal-heaver in the river, and about Wapping, in which neighbourhood his mother now lives. This lad served his apprenticeship to the sea in a vessel out of Scarborough, in the coal trade , and was afterwards in his Majesty’s service for two years. When asked what religion his parents professed? he answered, he knew not, for they taught him none, nor ever made him go to any place of worship, to which he and his companion were strangers. No wonder, will the serious reader be apt to say, they were brought to this untimely and shameful death! Their religion being to chuse, and they incapable of making any distinction, it was said in the prison they chose the church of Rome, on account of some emoluments allowed them. These two behaved careless and insolent till they found themselves included in the Death-warrant, when they appeared more thoughtful and humble.
On the Morning of Execution.
Ann Baker and Robins, when visited, were found in a composed and hopeful temper, as they were left the day before. Baker said, she had asked pardon of her mother for all her disobedience and rude behaviour to her, and had taken leave of her mother and sister in peace. Robins confessed nothing farther. The usual good offices in the chapel were performed for them, and they seemed well supported and resigned. About nine these two were put in one cart, and Rockett and Steward in a second; one of the latter, viz. Rockett, behaved with levity, dancing in the cart, and calling out to some sailors in the crowd, What ship, brother? He was in a different temper at the place of execution, where he confessed, “he was in the company that committed this robbery; but had deserved this death for other facts more than this; that he would not take warning, though he had been transported from Hicks’s-hall, but returned from the Havanna in a King’s ship, and fell again into bad company at Saltpetre-bank.” Steward denied “he had been long in these courses, but was foolishly drawn into this fact.”
Robins was very easy and calm; both he and Baker behaved with great devotion, and were prayed for by the surrounding multitude, at their own request. They warned others to beware of bad company and bad courses; to which purpose Baker repeated this couplet:
Take heed ill company and vice to shun,
Lest soon like mine your glass may run.
When prayers were ended, and I had parted from them, she fainted, and was only supported by the cord; after which they quickly suffered their dreadful sentence.
Steele was 35 at the time of death and was noted for his “amiable character.” He had a warehouse in London and a lavender plantation in the country at Feltham, and business was going well.
On Friday, November 5, 1802, he set out from his London townhouse to Feltham. He didn’t say exactly when he was coming home, but it was his wife’s birthday on Sunday and the family assumed he’d be back by then.
He didn’t arrive home by Saturday, and everyone figured he’d stayed overnight at his plantation. But when he missed his wife’s birthday party the next day, they got worried. On Monday they sent a messenger to investigate.
Steele, it turned out, had arrived in Feltham, and by 7:00 Saturday evening he was ready to return to his London house. He wasn’t able to procure a carriage, however, and decided to walk across Hounslow Heath, then a notorious haunt of bandits and highwaymen. It was not the sort of place a man with money — Steele was carrying about 26 shillings on him — should be at night.
He had paid for his want of caution with his life.
Searchers subsequently found Steele’s bloodstained coat on the heath, in a gravel pit ten or fifteen yards off the road. His corpse was under a clump of trees in a ditch 200 yards from the road. It had not been buried, but turf had been laid over it to conceal it. He’d been beaten and strangled to death, and the leather strap used to choke him was still tied tightly around his throat. His boots and hat were missing, his pockets had been cut away from his clothes and all his money was missing.
The coroner’s jury recorded a verdict of willful murder against some person or persons unknown. Forensics in the early 1800s basically didn’t exist, and with no witnesses to the crime, it seemed very unlikely that Steele’s murder would ever be solved. As Linda Stratmann records in Middlesex Murders,
Letters were sent to justices in Rutland and Leicester, urging that the most strenuous efforts should be made to apprehend [suspects], but they were never found. Steele’s family placed an advertisement in the newspaper offering a reward of £50 for information leading to the capture of the murderers. Several known criminals were arrested on suspicion, but after questioning they were released. Four years went by and all hope of finding the guilty persons was gone.
In 1806, 26-year-old thief Benjamin Hanfield was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. While awaiting transfer to a convict ship to take him to Australia, he mentioned Steele’s murder to some other prisoners and said three men were involved in the slaying.
Word got around to the authorities, and they took him to Portsmouth by coach for questioning. He implicated John Holloway and Owen Haggerty. It had been Holloway’s idea, he said; he’d somehow found out that a gentleman with money would be at Hounslow Heath on Saturday, November 6, and had recruited the other men to help him commit a robbery.
The three of them went to Hounslow Heath that Saturday, as according to plan, and waited for Steele. When Hanfield accosted their mark and demanded money, Steele was cooperative at first, handing over his cash. But when the robbers demanded his pocketbook as well, he claimed he didn’t have it and begged them not to hurt him. Holloway struck him with his stick, and as Steele began to struggle, Holloway said, “I will silence the bugger,” and beat him several times about his head and body.
They left him lying dead on the heath.
Hanfield ran away first, ahead of the others. He waited for nearly an hour at The Bell public house for them to catch up. After his accomplices arrived, they all went to an inn, the Black Horse. It was midnight and inn was closed for business, but its proprietor was still awake and the three men convinced him to serve them. They shared half a pint of gin there before parting ways.
Hanfield’s story had some evidence to support it. While he was being transported to Portsmouth for questioning, the coach passed the place where Steele had been killed and Hanfield pointed it out. After confession, he was taken back the heath and pointed out the clump of trees where Steele’s body had been located. This was enough to get Holloway and Haggerty arrested. Both men, when apprehended, said they were innocent.
By December 8, Haggerty and Holloway were brought together and Hanfield’s statement was read to them. The two men denied knowing each other, denied any knowledge of the murder, and denied having ever been on Hounslow Heath in their lives.
Hanfield’s story had another problem: he said Holloway knew well in advance that Steele would be on the heath that fatal Saturday. But, although Steele visited his Feltham plantation regularly, he didn’t have a fixed day of the week for doing it, and his own family wasn’t sure when he would be returning when he left London on Friday.
But in spite of the discrepancies, the flat denials from the alleged accomplices, and the lack of evidence supporting Hanfield’s statement, the authorities were sure they had the right men — tunnel vision that presents in many wrongful convictions. Hanfield was granted a free pardon for turning King’s Evidence against his co-defendants, and his previous sentence of transportation was commuted. At the trial, he was chief witness for the prosecution.
The defense argued that Hanfield was a liar and a professional criminal who had implicated innocent people for personal gain. But the defendants could not prove where they had been on a random autumn night five years earlier, and both had clearly lied about being strangers to each other.
Multiple witnesses testified that Haggerty and Holloway had known each other for many years. One of those witnesses was Officer Daniel Bishop, who worked at the jail. The two prisoners had been placed in separate cells side by side, and the partition between them was so thin that they could easily converse with each other. This had been a trick, and Bishop had been hiding in a nearby privy, writing down everything they said. From Haggerty and Holloway’s conversation it was obvious the men were good friends.
That much was true. But it was also true that when they thought they were alone together, neither of them implicated themselves in Steele’s slaying, and in fact they said Hanfield was a liar and that he, and not they, should be hanged.
As the Newgate Calendar said, “There was a great body of evidence adduced, none of which tended materially to incriminate the prisoners, except that of Hanfield, the accomplice, who, under the promise of pardon, had turned King’s evidence.”
The verdict, nevertheless, was guilty, after fifteen minutes’ deliberation. The sentence was death.
Holloway and Haggerty went to the scaffold invoking God and insisting they had not been involved in Steele’s murder. The execution was a memorable one; the Reaper got a bountiful harvest that day. Linda Stratmann describes the awful events in detail:
The crowds that assembled were unparalleled and estimated at about 40,000 people. By 8 a.m. there was not an inch of ground around the scaffold unoccupied. Even before the prisoners arrived the crush was so great that people trapped in the crowd were crying out to be allowed to escape …
At the corner of Green Arbour Lane, nearly opposite the Debtors’ Door, two piemen were selling their wares when one man’s basket was knocked over. He was bending down to pick up his wares when surging crowds tripped and fell over him. There was an immediate panic, in which people fought with each other to escape the crush. It was the weakest and the smallest in the crowd who suffered. Seven people died from suffocation alone, and others were trampled upon, their bodies mangled. A broker named John Etherington was there with twelve-year-old son. The boy was killed in the crush, and the man was at first thought to be dead and placed amongst the corpses, but he survived with serious injuries. A woman with an infant at her breast saved her baby by passing it to a man and begging him to save its life. Moments later she was knocked down and killed. The baby was thrown from person to person over the heads of the crowd and was eventually brought to safety …
Gradually the mobs dispersed and the bodies, thirty in all, were taken up in carts, twenty-seven to Bartholomew’s Hospital, two to St. Sepulchre’s Church and one to The Swan public house. Numerous others were injured, including fifteen men and two women who were so badly bruised that they were taken to the hospital, one of whom died the following day.
As it turned out, the landlord of The Bell didn’t remember any strangers coming to the pub on the night of the murder, and the landlord of the Black Horse didn’t remember three men coming at midnight and asking for gin. There were no details of the murder in Hanfield’s confession that he couldn’t have learned from common gossip. Furthermore, he had a history of making false confessions. A lawyer, James Harmer, actually compiled a pamphlet (Google Play | Google Books) of evidence that supported Haggerty and Holloway’s innocence.
But none of this exculpatory evidence surfaced until after the executions.
In yet another twist, in 1820, John Ward, alias Simon Winter, was indicted for John Cole Steele’s murder. Ward had a bad reputation in the area and was suspected of robbery and livestock theft. It was said he participated in the search for Steele, and one witness said he had seemed to be trying to lead the search party in the opposite direction from where the corpse was found.
The paper-thin murder case against Ward was dismissed for lack of evidence, and rightly so. But by indicting him in the first place, the authorities had as much as said Haggerty and Holloway had been wrongfully convicted.
“The fate of Holloway and Haggerty,” Stratmann notes in her book, “was often referred to in subsequent trials as an example of how little weight could be given to accomplices to a crime. The tragedy which had attended their execution also gave rise to considerable anxiety for many years.”
Hanfield disappeared without a trace after the murder trial; it’s unknown whether he continued his criminal ways.
On this date in 1967, Sunny Ang hanged in Singapore for murder.
“This is an unusual case insofar as Singapore, or for that matter Malaysia,* is concerned,” said the prosecutor. “This is the first case of its kind to be tried in our courts that there is no body.”
The missing corpse did not present anything like the difficulty the barristers might have anticipated for this landmark conviction.
For one thing, everyone knew where and how 22-year-old waitress Jenny Cheok Cheng had died: on a diving trip near the Sisters’ Islands, Cheng had slipped under the waves while her betrothed waited in the boat … and she had never resurfaced. Frogmen combing the area could find only a single swimming flipper: it had been sliced with a knife to make it slip off during the swim, the inference being that the bladehandler had been interested in the inexperienced diver “accidentally” losing her maneuver while the forceful straits currents went to work on her.
Loverboy Sunny Ang, a vain wastrel facing bankruptcy,** just so happened to be in line to benefit, having insured his bride-to-be to the tune of nearly $1 million over several policies — including one which he had extended mere hours before the murder, and extended by only five more days. One imagines here that the tampered flipper might have been just one of several innocuous-looking accidents, each one a little lure for the Angel of Death, slated to cross Jenny Cheng’s path during the couple’s seaside canoodle courtesy of her own personal Final Destination.
In his young life, Ang had washed out of teacher school, pilot school, and law school. Ang’s laziness went on full display in the murder caper because the hired boatman who took the couple out diving — a witness whom Ang was probably expecting to provide his alibi — took the stand to describe the amazing extent of his guest’s unconcern about his lover going missing.
In a situation where the reasonable homicidal villain would anticipate means, motive, and opportunity all implicating him like blazing klaxons, Ang couldn’t be arsed to allay suspicion with the duest of panic-stricken diligence, like putting on his own suit and jumping in the water to look for her, or even raising his voice a few decibels to feign alarm. He did not, however, neglect to file his insurance claims very promptly.
Small wonder with bloodless banter like this that his jury only needed two hours to convict him, body or no body.
Justice Buttrose: Did you realise that this girl, whom you love and whom you were going to marry, had gone down and disappeared, and you calmly turn round to the boatman and said, ‘All right. Go to St John’s’?
Ang: If she was anywhere around the boat we would have seen her air bubbles.
Justice Buttrose: It didn’t occur to you to go down and search for her?
Justice Buttrose: Why?
Ang: Because I thought there was obviously a leak and also if she was anywhere around the boat, we would have seen her air bubbles.
Mr Seow: You had skin-diving equipment with you in the boat?
Mr Seow: The girl you were going to marry was obviously in difficulty, if not actually dead already. Why didn’t you use your skin-diving equipment to go down?
Ang: I was not quite sure what sort of difficulties she was in. It occurred to me — it was a vague thought — that she might have been attacked by sharks. In fact, I remarked upon that to Yusuf [the boatman]. Not then, but long after the incident.
Justice Buttrose: You could have gone down to find out?
Ang: She might have been attacked by sharks.
Mr Seow: When did you change back into your street clothes?
Ang: I think I remember I put them on, on my way to St John’s Island.
Mr Seow: So that when the Malay divers were going in, you were then in your street clothes, and you saw no point in joining them?
Ang: I do not say I saw no point. I was in my street clothes and there were more experienced skin-divers, and there were five of them. Besides I knew the chances of finding her were very slim.
Justice Buttrose: You never got into the water at all that day? You never got your feet wet?
Ang: That is so.
* Ang went on trial in April 1965, when Singapore was still part of Malaysia — hence the reference to the scope of the country as a whole. By the time Ang hanged, Singapore had been expelled from Malaysia and become an independent polity.
** He had also previously stolen from his father and police already knew that, so he didn’t enter his capital trial with much existing credence for rectitude.
And Pilorge’s death specifically would prove to be the last performance of the guillotine in Rennes. It was also to have been the 396th in the legendary career of 75-year-old headsman Anatole Deibler … except that Deibler dropped dead on a Paris metro platform two days before, as he set out for the lethal rendezvous.
So too did Pilorge’s crime belong to that interwar moment of cosmopolitan decadence. He fatally slashed the throat of a Mexican visitor named Escudero after what Pilorge claimed, in an unsuccessful attempt to leverage the “gay panic” defense, was an indecent proposition. The facts of the case appear better to fit the hypothesis that indecent propositions were Pilorge’s stock in trade: a black book full of dates and initials whose owners he would not identify, a short late-night visit to Escudero’s hotel room, and a total refusal to explain his activities.
Pilorge, who maintained a wry and mirthful attitude throughout his trial, could not but laugh at the judge’s speculation — inspired by the swarthiness of his victim in the case at hand? — that his prisoner was involved in traite des blanches, the white slave trade: “I was never cut out for that. I assure you that I have never fallen so low.”
If Pilorge’s character entered the public gaze awash in same-sex eros, he was fixed in the firmament as such by the pen of Villonesque criminal/writer Jean Genet after the war years.
Claiming (falsely) to have had a prison intimacy with this doomed “Apollo”, Genet dedicated to Pilorge, “assasin de vingt ans,” one of his breakthrough works. Written in prison in 1942, Le Condamné à mort is a homoerotic hallucination of lovemaking ahead of a gathering doom and it helped to launch the theretofore Genet into literary superstardom. I’ve found the lengthy poem available online only in the original French, but here’s a translated excerpt via The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature:
O come my beautiful sun, o come my night of Spain,
Arrive in my eyes which will be dead tomorrow.
Arrive, open my door, bring me your hand,
Lead me far from here to scour the battleground.
Heaven may awaken, the stars may blossom,
Nor flowers sigh, and from the meadows the black grass
Gather the dew where morning is about to drink,
The bell may ring: I alone am about to die.
O come my heaven of rose, o my blond basket!
Visit in his night your condemned-to-death.
Tear away your own flesh, kill, climb, bite,
But come! Place your cheek against my round head.
We had not finished speaking to each other of love.
We had not finished smoking our gitanes.
Well we might ask why the Courts condemn
A murderer so beautiful he makes the day to pale.
Love come to my mouth! Love open your doors!
Run through the hallways, come down, step lightly,
Fly down the stairs more supple than a shepherd,
More borne up by the air than a flight of dead leaves.
O cross the walls; so it must be walk on the brink
Of roofs, of oceans; cover yourself with light,
Use menace, use prayer,
But come, o my frigate, an hour before my death.
The poem was one of several that Genet wrote later set to music by herhis friend, Helene Martin. (It’s also been covered and reinterpreted by severalothers.)
They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.
At noon this date in 1824, upon a fresh-built black gallows adjoining Hertford Prison, John Thurtell hanged for one of regency England’s most infamous crimes.
Son of the Norwich mayor, John Thurtell was rubbish with money and had twice crashed his bombazine business into insolvency while stiffing his creditors. (John’s brother Tom served time for defrauding an insurance company with a suspicious warehouse fire.)
But these were merely business matters.
When Thurtell fell into a £300 gambling debt to thanks to Weare’s cheating at cards, maybe it was a matter of honor. Thurtell invited the Lyon’s Inn barrister to a gaming piss-up at Thurtell’s cottage in the village of Radlett. They’d be joined by Thurtell’s mates Joseph Hunt and William Probert, “Turpin lads” in Thurtell’s estimation.
Just short of their destination, on a street later to be known as “Murder Lane”, Thurtell shot Weare in the face. The shot scored only a glancing hit against his victim’s cheekbone, but Thurtell was in for a penny, in for a pound: he tackled the fleeing Weare, opened his throat from ear to ear, and pistol-whipped his skull into bloody-brained bits.
Whatever malice aforethought had moved Thurtell to this vengeful crime did not contain near enough calculation. “The whole history of the murder, and the scenes which ensued, are strange pictures of desperate and short-sighted wickedness,” Sir Walter Scott marveled.
Abandoning the gun at the scene — it was one of a paired set of which Thurtell owned the other — the killer and his friends hauled the corpse to a nearby pond, then proceeded unperturbed to the night’s revelry fresh from homicide, even donning Weare’s own clothes in subsequent days.
Worst of all from the perfect-crime standpoint, Thurtell had undertaken the crime himself (openly popping off, per the subsequent court record, “if Weare comes down, I will do him, for he has done me out of several hundred pounds”) and his companions turned on him when the investigation inevitably bore down on them. Probert went crown’s evidence immediately in exchange for immunity, even leading authorities to the body; Hunt stalled and lied for a while, but cracked soon enough.
To the nationwide outrage at this shocking callousness among obnoxious society rakes was added the whiff of scandal about Thurtell’s involvement in “the Fancy” — the semi-illicit sport of amateur boxing.
Frequented then as now both by underworld elements and society gentlemen, boxing was officially illegal but widely celebrated and openly advertised without much fear of police intervention. At the same time, the burgeoning sport — with its naked brutality, more-than-occasional fatalities, multiracial proletarian cast, and associations with various unsavory characters, had ample moral-panic potential. The Fancy, said a judge in 1803,
draws industrious people away from the subject of their industry; and when great multitudes are so collected, they are likely enough to be engaged in broils. It affords an opportunity for people of the most mischievous disposition to assemble, under the colour of seeing this exhibition, and to do a great deal of mischief; in short, it is a practice that is extremely injurious in every respect and must be repressed.
But many of his peers were there in the audience, laying their own mischievous wagers.
As magistrates it may have been their duty to discountenance, but as county gentleman it was their privilege to support, the noble champions of the art, especially when they had their money on the event.
Thurtell, briefly an amateur pugilist himself, was a trainer and promoter on the boxing circuit.
Detail view (click for full image) of “A correct view of the execution, taken on the spot by an eminent artist.” (Source)
Thurtell was anatomized after execution; a wax likeliness of the hated murderer stood in Madame Tussaud’s until the 1970s.
As for Thurtell’s confederates: Joseph Hunt’s cooperation was sufficient to cop a last-second commutation of his death sentence; he was transported to Australia instead. William Probert completely avoided prosecution thanks to his expeditious turn to crown’s evidence, but the career criminal (now practically disbarred from honest labor by dint of his nationwide infamy) found himself in hangman Foxen‘s hands not long thereafter for stealing a horse.
And Thurtell’s victim Weare did his own posthumous bit for the annals of English publishing when a printer multiplied its customary revenue stream on a Thurtell gallows broadsheet with a second edition headed “WE ARE alive”. Printed in such a way to intentionally make the first two words appear to read “WEARE”, its handsome sales to the gullible allegedly originated the term “catchpenny”.
There are a number of 19th century accounts of this case available in the public domain, including here, here and here.