On this date in 1763, four thieves hanged at Tyburn to great public indifference.
They were of such scanty account that one is hard-pressed to find a newspaper report of the executions; even the Ordinary of Newgate didn’t bother to publish on them until weeks later, when he could combine them with a pair of February hangings. (Perhaps because, as he notes in his account, three of the four were Catholic and so gave the Anglican minister short shrift on the confessional front.)
Two of the men — and also one prosecutor, the victim Peter Manchester, who was robbed of his prize money — appear to have been recently from royal service in the just-concluded Seven Years’ War: early avatars of the crime wave that would engulf London as demobilized soldiers and seamen swamped its labor market.
six persons were capitally convicted and received sentence of death, for the several crimes in their indictments set forth, viz.
John Brannon, John Edinburgh, Joseph Jervis, Charles Reiley [Riley -ed.], Mary Robinson, and Mary Williams.
And on or about Friday the 16th of December the report of the said malefactors being made to his Majesty, by Mr. Recorder, two of them were respited, namely, John Edinburgh, for horse-stealing; and Mary Williams, for being concerned with Charles Reily and Mary Robinson in the robbery of Peter Manchester; and the remaining four ordered for execution on Wednesday December the 28th, and were accordingly executed.
1. John Brannon was indicted, for that he, on the King’s highway, on Thomas Worley did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and stealing from his person one pair of silver shoe-buckles, value 10s. his property; and Jane Blake, otherwise Buckley, spinster, for receiving the same, well knowing them to have been stolen, October 17.
The prisoner Brannon was one of five in a desperate gang, who attacked the prosecutor Worley, and another, John Paget, in Church-lane, White-chapel, about 12 at night. Having searched them and found no money on them, they took a pair of silver buckles from each, and a handkerchief from Paget: Mean time Esq. Gore’s chariot passing by, they fired two pistols at it, because the coachman would not stop. Brannon was positively sworn to, as one of the two first that came up to the prosecutor, and held a pistol to him while he was robbed. He was detected and taken the next day by means of Jane Blake offering the buckles to a pawn-broker, Mr. Samuel Spencer, who stopped them, secured her, and sent constables to search her lodgings, where they took Brannon, found the other pair of buckles and the handkerchief before mentioned, and also a pair of horse pistols loaded.
His behaviour after sentence was in general such as became his unhappy condition; but being under the influence and direction of the church of Rome, he gave no account to me of his accomplices, or any other fact: Nor did he pretend to deny this, either at his trial or afterwards, as indeed there was no room for it. He appeared to be about thirty years of age, was born in Dublin, was by trade a Carver, and had served six years in the Royal Navy.
2. Joseph Jervis was indicted, for that he, on the 14th day of November, about the hour of two in the night, on the same day, the dwelling house of Joseph Hill did break and enter, and steal one silver spoon, value 1s. the property of the said Joseph in his dwelling.
This convict lived in King-street, Spitalfields; but how he supported himself there, whether by any honest labour, doth not appear either by his own confession, or the evidence of several witnesses for him, who gave only a negative character, that they never heard any ill of him. And supposing he had practised this wicked scheme of breaking into houses, and plundering them in the hour of deep sleep undiscovered for a time, ’tis hard to imagine how they could hear any ill of him, however criminal. As to the present fact, he had prowled away as far as Kingsland, a mile or two, at midnight, to perpetrate it. But here, luckily for the publick safety, he was mistaken in his mark, and fell upon a house well inhabited by a master Carpenter and his workmen: The former, awakened by the noise of wrenching open the frame of a cellar window, alarmed two or three of his men, who came upon him, and with some difficulty seized and secured him; in effecting of which, by means of his resisting and endeavouring to escape in the dark, he had received two unlucky strokes, one with a pistol and another with a hanger, both on the head; by which he was wounded, and made more deaf and stupid than he was before, for he laboured under both those defects during the time between sentence and execution. After he was apprehended, he was found to be furnished with a tinder-box, a dark-lantern, a candle, and an iron bar flatted at one end. A silver spoon was also found upon him, the property of Mr. Hill, the prosecutor.
He had the artifice to plead on his trial, that he was non compos, out of his mind, and knew not what he did. But being reminded by the Court that his situation was very serious, and no proof of this assertion being offered, it was urged no farther. After conviction and sentence passed, he still appeared to be very hard of hearing and dull of apprehension; so that it was a difficult task to instruct and prepare him, whether this was real or partly affected. He said he was born at Hertford, where he learned to read and write, and then was brought up to the trade of dressing flour, which he afterwards followed for several years in London, in or near Houndsditch; he was now about forty-five years of age.
After he had been daily visited, assisted with prayers, and the plainest instructions, he was now and then questioned what progress he had made in his preparation for an awful change; but could give very little satisfaction in that matter, only said, he would trust to Providence; meaning, that he would give no farther account of his past life, nor confess any other facts; tho’ he did not pretend to deny he was guilty of any other.
When he found himself included in the Death-warrant, it did not much affect him, as he seemed to expect it. Endeavours were renewed to prepare him for the holy communion; but with no better success; he pleaded he had lost his memory, as well as his apprehension; and that what he read or heard made little impression, and was quickly gone from him; so that he seemed incapable of celebrating that sacred act of remembrance. However, there seemed to be a greater want of disposition than capacity. To arouse and quicken him, therefore, to a sense of his duty in this respect, he was permitted to be present, and very near, at the administration of the communion in the chapel, the day before he suffered; so as that he could hear and see all that was spoken, or done, without admitting him to partake of it. Several intelligent good neighbours were present now, and on other occasions, who took opportunities to speak familiarly to him before and after service, in order to bring him to a better disposition. But neither did these means kindle in him that desire, which we hoped. He still continued in a languid indifference. As he could still read, and as his last evening was now come, a brief but excellent little tract on spiritual communion was put into his hands, to assist and raise his thoughts this last night of his life. He returned it to me the next morning, and said he had read it. Being asked whether he understood it, and applied it to himself? he replied, he did, as well as God gave him leave; his usual answer to such questions.
3, 4. Charles Reiley, labourer, and Mary Robinson, and Mary Williams, spinsters, were indicted for that they, in the dwelling house of Francis Talbot, near the King’s high-way, on the body of Peter Manchester did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and stealing from his person four guineas and one half-guinea, his property, against his will, October 18.
The prosecutor, Peter Manchester, was a sailor, come to town about a week, and had received five guineas prize money the very day of this robbery. Passing along Salt-petre Bank, he was forced into this house by Williams and Robinson, shut in, and his purse violently taken from him by these two women, assisted by Charles Reiley. He was also beaten by the women, while Reily threatened to cut off his hand, if he did not let go the purse to him; by which means Reily got it, containing four guineas and a half, and he and Robinson ran off with it. The prosecutor pursued, but missed them; he then applied to two of his shipmates and a constable to assist him. By help of these, and others, the two women were found out, and apprehended the same night. Robinson being searched, had two guineas and a quarter found concealed upon her. The two guineas she confessed before the Justice next day to be the property of the prosecutor, and that they were given to her by Charles Reily, one for herself, and one for Mary Williams, to reward them for their trouble; and that he kept two guineas and a half, the remainder of the money. But luckily for Williams she had not fingered the guinea; which circumstance, together with her not being able to follow Reily, to get her share from him, seem to be the distinguishing considerations, which might turn the scale for a respite to one of these three, rather in her favour. As for Reily he was caught in the very trap for such creatures of prey. The prosecutor being at Hicks’s-hall next day, to prefer a bill of indictment against them, had intelligence that Reily was then drinking at Newgate, only as a voluntary visiter, went directly and found him there; and tho’ he fled, and had a long run for it, from thence to St. Dunstan’s church, he was there taken, detained in the cage at St. John’s, Wapping, examined, and committed, having confessed the fact, but said it was the first.
Being all three convicted the 10th of December, they came up to chapel the 11th, being Sunday morning, tho’ they professed all to be of the church of Rome. Yet Reily, to my surprize, joined in the service, made his responses, read his part in the Psalms and the Liturgy very distinct and intelligible, as if well acquainted with it. On questioning him, after divine service, he let me know, that he was brought up in an hospital for children on a Protestant foundation in a great city, where he received a common share of good learning and the principles of Christianity, but was now determined to die in the faith of the church of Rome; for which he could give no better reason, than that his father died in that persuasion. Endeavours were used to reason him out of this very groundless and weak resolution, and proper books put into his hands for that purpose, particularly a Protestant Catechism and a New Testament, both which he soon after returned, without suffering them to make any good impression upon him. As to the fact for which he was convicted, he said, he was not in the house when the fray began but, having his lodging there, came in, in the midst of it, and so was drawn in.
He was bred up to the sea from a lad, served his time in the Merchants service, in the New York trade; and between six and seven years since, entered into the King’s service, a volunteer, at Cork, in which he has continued ever since, till discharged about six months before from the Orford of 70 guns, in which he had been at the taking of the Havanna, from whence he came home in her; and had also a share in two Spanish prizes, the St. Jago and St. Charles, taken by the Orford in company with the Temeraire and the Alarm, a little before the peace extended thither. After he was a prisoner in Newgate, he was told that a dividend of 3l. 17s. a man was paid the 26th of October, which he did not receive, and believed he had much more due to him. In the same ship, he said, he was at the taking of Cape Breton and Quebeck, for both which he received some prize money. — He was about 30 years of age.
4. Mary Robinson was much about the same age of thirty, and had passed thro’ various scenes, in her way, which was none of the best. She had been at the cities of Bath and Bristol for five years, to which she came from Dublin, where she was born. She had left her husband there, having sold his goods and quitted him, because, as she said, he had used her ill. While she was under sentence, she owned she had been a wicked sinner in all respects, except the crime of Murder.
The Morning of EXECUTION, Dec. 28.
OF the four convicts, there being only Jervis who adhered to the church of England, he went up and attended to the duties of the chapel, as well as his imperfect state of sensibility and attention would permit. He was sincere and sensible enough to acknowledge the justice of his sentence; and also owned expressly that this was not his first offence of this nature; but would give no particulars of time, place, or persons. For, either he could not be convinced it was his duty, or else he could not be persuaded to comply with it; still persisting to say, that his memory was so bad he could not recollect any fact, or he did not see what use or satisfaction it could give the world, or any injured person, to confess it. To set this in a strong light before him, a plain case was put; Suppose you had been robbed, would it not give you satisfaction to know who did it? And what is become of him? Whether living or dead? Whether hardened and going on still in his wickedness, or penitent and reformed, at least past the power of offending any more. Would it not be a great ease and benefit to you to put an end to your doubts and suspicions? Would it not be the same to innocent persons, who might be suspected, to be cleared of those doubts and suspicions? Surely it might, to the saving of their character, their liberty, and their livelihood. Reason and justice, no less than our rational religion and our excellent church, join in requiring this mark of sincere repentance from dying criminals: And let those who teach, or think, or act otherwise, see to it.
There is the more reason to speak thus freely, because this duty is too often made a stumbling-block to several unhappy persons under sentence, whose preparation is obstructed, and rendered more difficult, by the contrary poisonous principles sown in the prison by some disguised enemy; tho’ it must be owned there is no need of this, while the native pride and corruption of the human heart, unmortified, are sufficient to harden it against this duty, and every act of self-abasement.
In a word, I could form no apology in my own mind for this criminal not complying with this duty, but his defect of apprehension and memory before-mentioned.
We used the Litany, and other proper acts of devotion in the chapel, in which he joined tolerably well for the most part. After which he was directed to meditate on proper subjects, or read in the way to the place. When he went down from the chapel, which was about twenty minutes before nine, he was asked, Are you resigned? He answered in the affirmative. Do you find peace and hope in your breast, on a sure foundation? He replied faintly in the same manner.
The other three convicts of the church of Rome, were kept ready in their cells, not in the Press-Yard, or Little hall, as usual, for what reason, as I did not enquire, so I did not learn. But all were detained about an hour later than usual, till after ten, on account, as it was said, of some necessary part of the apparatus not being provided in time.
After the Sheriff was set off in his chariot, preceded by proper officers on horseback, then followed the first cart with Charles Reily and Mary Robinson; and in the second were John Brannon and Joseph Jervis. In a little more than an hour they arrived at the place, where they read and repeated their prayers very earnestly, with an audible voice; the last offices of prayer were performed for Jervis, while the others were exercised in their own devotions. They were all greatly affected, the woman wept and bewailed herself much, till the cart being driven away, they all resigned their lives.