The Head of a Gang of Thieves of every Description. Executed at Tyburn, 18th of March, 1740
We have seldom heard of any more skilled in the various arts of imposition and robbery, than Mary Young. Her depredations, executed with undaunted courage, and artful deception, are surpassed by none which we have, as yet, met with.
Mary Young was born in the north of Ireland; her parents were in indigent circumstances; and dying while she was in a state of infancy, she had no recollection of them.
At about ten years of age she was taken into the family of an old gentlewoman, who had known her father and mother, and who caused her to be instructed in reading, writing, and needle-work; and in the latter she attained to a proficiency unusual to girls of her age.
Soon after she had arrived to her fifteenth year, a young man, servant to a gentleman who lived in the neighbourhood, made pretensions of love to her; but the old lady being apprized of his views, declared that she would not consent to their marriage, and positively forbade him to repeat his visits at her house.
Notwithstanding the great care and tenderness with which she was treated, Mary formed the resolution of deserting her generous benefactor, and of directing her course towards the metropolis of England; and the only obstacle to this design was, the want of money towards her support till she could follow some honest means of earning a subsistence.
She had no strong prepossession in favour of the young man, who had made a declaration of love to her; but she, determining to make his passion subservient to the purpose she had conceived, promised to marry him on condition of his taking her to London. He joyfully embraced this proposal, and immediately engaged for a passage in a vessel bound for Liverpool.
A short time before the vessel was to sail, the young man robbed his master of a gold watch and eighty guineas, and then joined the companion of his flight, who was already on board the ship, vainly imagining that his infamously acquired booty would contribute to the happiness he should enjoy with his expected bride. The ship arrived at the destined port in two days; and Mary being indisposed, in consequence of her voyage, her companion hired a lodging in the least-frequented part of the town, where they lived a short time in the character of man and wife.
Mary being restored to health, they agreed for a passage in a wagon that was to set out for London in a few days. On the day preceding that fixed for their departure they accidentally called at a public-house, and the man being observed by a messenger dispatched in pursuit of him from Ireland, he was immediately taken into custody. He being committed to prison, Mary sent him all his clothes and part of the money she had received from him, and the next day took her place in the wagon for London. In a short time her companion was sent to Ireland, where he was tried, and condemned to suffer death; but his sentence was changed to that of transportation.
Soon after her arrival in London, Mary contracted an acquaintance with one of her countrywomen, named Anne Murphy, by whom she was invited to partake of a lodging in Long Acre. Here she endeavoured to obtain a livelihood by her needle, but not being able to procure sufficient employment, her situation in a little time became truly deplorable.
Murphy intimated to her that she could introduce her to a mode of life that would prove exceedingly lucrative; adding, that the most profound secrecy was required. In the evening Murphy introduced her to a number of men and women, assembled in a kind of club, near St Giles's. These people gained their living by cutting off women's pockets and stealing watches, etc., from men in the avenues of the theatres, and at other places of public resort; and on the recommendation of Murphy they admitted Mary a member of the society.
After Mary's admission they dispersed, in order to pursue their illegal occupation, and the booty obtained that night consisted of eighty pounds in cash and a valuable gold watch. As Mary was not yet acquainted with the art of thieving, she was not admitted to an equal share of the night's produce; but it was agreed that she should have ten guineas. She now regularly applied two hours every day in qualifying herself for an expert thief, by attending to the instructions of experienced practitioners; and in a short time she was distinguished as the most ingenious and successful adventurer of the whole gang.
A young fellow of genteel appearance, who was a member of the club, was singled out by Mary as the partner of her bed; and the cohabited for a considerable time as husband and wife.
In a few months our heroine became so expert in her profession as to acquire great consequence among her associates, who distinguished her by the appellation of "Jenny Diver" —- on account, as we conceive, of her remarkable dexterity, and by that name we shall call her in the succeeding pages of this narrative.
Jenny, accompanied by one of her female accomplices, joined the crowd at the entrance of a place of worship in the Old Jewry, where a popular divine was to preach, and observing a young gentleman with a diamond ring on his finger she held out her hand, which he kindly received in order to assist her; and at this juncture she contrived to get possession of the ring without the knowledge of the owner; after which she slipped behind her companion and heard the gentleman say that as there was no probability of gaining admittance he would return. Upon his leaving the meeting he missed his ring, and mentioned his loss to the persons who were near him, adding that he suspected it to be stolen by a woman whom he had endeavoured to assist in the crowd; but as the thief was unknown she escaped.
The above robbery was considered as such an extraordinary proof of Jenny's superior address that her associates determined to allow her an equal share of all their booties, even though she was not present when they were obtained. A short time after the above exploit she procured a pair of false hands and arms to be made, and concealing her real ones under her clothes she repaired on a Sunday evening to the place of worship above mentioned in a sedan-chair, one of the gang going before to procure a seat among the more genteel part of the congregation, and another attending in the character of a footman.
Jenny being seated between two elderly ladies, each of whom had a gold watch by her side, she conducted herself with seeming great devotion; but when the service was nearly concluded she seized the opportunity, when the ladies were standing up, of stealing their watches, which she delivered to an accomplice in an adjoining pew. Flushed with the success of this adventure, our heroine determined to pursue her good fortune; and as another sermon was to be preached the same evening she adjourned to an adjacent public-house, and, having entirely changed her dress, she returned to the meeting, where she had not remained long before she picked a gentleman's pocket of a gold watch, with which she escaped unsuspected.
Her accomplices also were industrious and successful for, on a division of the booty obtained this evening, they each received thirty guineas. Jenny had now obtained an ascendancy over the whole gang, who, conscious of her superior skill in the arts of thieving, came to a resolution of yielding an exact obedience to her directions.
Jenny, again assumed the appearance of a pregnant woman, and, attended by an accomplice, as a footman, went towards St James's Park on a day when the King was going to the House of Lords, and there being a great number of persons between the Park and Spring Gardens she purposely slipped down, and was instantly surrounded by many of both sexes, who were emulous to afford her assistance; but, affecting to be in violent pain, she intimated to them that she was desirous of remaining on the ground till she should be somewhat recovered. As she expected, the crowd in- creased, and her pretended footman and a female accomplice were so industrious as to obtain two diamond girdle-buckles, a gold watch, a gold snuff-box and two purses, containing together upwards of forty guineas.
Two of the gang being confined to their lodgings by illness, Jenny and the man with whom she cohabited generally went in company in search of adventures. They went together to Burr Street, Wapping, and, observing a genteel house, the man, who acted as Jenny's footman, knocked at the door, and saying that his mistress was on a sudden taken extremely ill, begged she might be admitted. This was readily complied with, and, while the mistress of the house and her maid-servant were gone upstairs for such things as they imagined would afford relief to the supposed sick woman, she opened a drawer and stole sixty guineas; and after this, while the mistress was holding a smelling-bottle to her nose, she picked her pocket of a purse, which, however, did not contain money to any considerable amount. In the meantime the pretended footman, who had been ordered into the kitchen, stole six silver tablespoons, a pepper-box and a salt-cellar. Jenny, pretending to be some- what recovered, expressed the most grateful acknowledgements to the lady, and, saying she was the wife of a capital merchant in Thames Street, invited her in the most pressing terms to dinner on an appointed day, and then went away in a hackney-coach, which by her order had been called to the door by her pretended servant.
She practised a variety of felonies of a similar nature different parts of the metropolis and its environs; but the particulars of the above transactions being inserted in the news papers, people were so effectually cautioned, that our adventurer was under the necessity of employing her invention upon the discovery of other methods of committing depredations on the public.
The parties whose illness we have mentioned being recovered, it was resolved that the whole gang should go to Bristol, in search of adventures during the fair, which is held in that city every summer; but being unacquainted with the place, they deemed it good policy to admit into their society a man who had long subsisted there by villainous practices.
Being arrived at the place of destination, Jenny and Anne Murphy assumed the characters of merchant's wives, the new member and another of the gang appeared as country traders, and our heroine's favourite retained his former character of footman. They took lodgings at different inns, and agreed that, if any of them should be apprehended, the others should endeavour to procure their release by appearing to their characters, and representing them as people of reputation in London. They had arrived to such a proficiency in their illegal occupation, that they were almost certain of accomplishing every scheme they suggested; and when it was inconvenient to make use of words, they were able to convey their meaning to each other by winks, nods, and other intimations.
Being one day in the fair, they observed a west country clothier giving a sum of money to his servant, and heard him direct the man to deposit it in a bureau. They followed the servant, and one of them fell down before him, expecting that he would also fall, and that, as there was a great crowd, the money might be easily secured. Though the man fell into the channel, they were not able to obtain their expected booty, and therefore they had recourse to the following stratagem: One of the gang asked whether his master had not lately ordered him to carry home a sum of money; to which the other replied in the affirmative. The sharper then told him he must return to his master who had purchased some goods, and waited to pay for them.
The countryman followed him to Jenny's lodging, and being introduced to her, she desired him to be seated, saying, his master was gone on some business in the neighbourhood, but had left orders for him to wait till his return. She urged him to drink a glass of wine, but the poor fellow repeatedly declined her offers with awkward simplicity; the pretended footman having taught him to believe her a woman of great wealth and consequence. However, her encouraging solicitations conquered his bashfulness, and he drank till he became intoxicated. Being conducted into another apartment he was soon fast locked in the arms of sleep, and while in that situation he was robbed of the money he had received from his master, which proved to be 100l.
They were no sooner in possession of the cash than they discharged the demand of the inn-keeper, and set out in the first stage for London.
Our heroine now hired a real footman, and her favourite, who had long acted in that character, assumed the appearance of a gentleman. She hired lodgings in the neighbourhood of Covent-garden, that she might more conveniently attend the theatres. She proposed to her associates to reserve a tenth part of the general produce for the support of such of the gang as might, through illness, be rendered incapable of following their iniquitous occupations: and to this they readily assented.
Jenny dressed herself in an elegant manner, and went to the theatre one evening when the king was to be present; and during the performance she attracted the particular attention of a young gentleman of fortune from Yorkshire, who declared, in the most passionate terms, that she had made an absolute conquest of his heart, and earnestly solicited the favour of attending her home. She at first declined a compliance, saying she was newly married, and that the appearance of a stranger might alarm her husband. At length she yielded to his entreaty, and they went together in a hackney-coach, which set the young gentleman down in the neighbourhood where Jenny lodged, after he had obtained an appointment to visit her in a few days, when she said her husband would be out of town.
Upon Jenny's joining her companions, she informed them that while she remained at the play-house, she was only able to steal a gold snuff-box; and they appeared to be much dissatisfied on account of her ill success: but their good humour re turned upon learning the circumstances of the adventure with the young gentleman, which they had no doubt would prove exceedingly profitable.
The day of appointment being arrived, two of the gang appeared equipped in elegant liveries, and Anne Murphy appeared as waiting-maid. The gentleman came in the evening, having a gold-headed cane in his hand, a sword with a gold hilt by his side, and wearing a gold watch in his pocket, and a diamond ring on his finger.
Being introduced to her bed-chamber, she contrived to steal her lover's ring; and he had not been many minutes undressed before Anne Murphy rapped at the door, which being opened, she said, with an appearance of the utmost consternation, that her master was returned from the country. Jenny, affecting to be under a violent agitation of spirits, desired the gentleman to cover himself entirely with the bed-clothes, saying she would convey his apparel into another room, so that if her husband came there, nothing would appear to awaken his suspicion: adding that, under pretence of indisposition, she would prevail upon her husband to sleep in another bed, and then return to the arms of her lover.
The clothes being removed, a consultation was held, when it was agreed by the gang that they should immediately pack up all their moveables, and decamp with their booty, which, exclusive of the cane, watch, sword, and ring, amounted to an hundred guineas.
The amorous youth waited in a state of the utmost impatience till the morning, when he rang the bell, and brought the people of the house to the chamber-door, but they could not gain admittance, as the fair fugitive had turned the lock, and taken away the key; when the door was forced open the gentleman represented in what manner he had been treated; but the people of the house were deaf to his expostulations, and threatened to circulate the adventure throughout the town, unless he would indemnify them for the loss they had sustained. Rather than hazard the exposure of his character, he agreed to discharge the debt Jenny had contracted; and dispatched a messenger for clothes and money, that he might take leave of a house of which he had sufficient reason to regret having been an inhabitant.
Our heroine's share of the produce of the above adventure amounted to 70l. This infamous association was now become so notorious a pest to society, that they judged it necessary to leave the metropolis where they were apprehensive that they could not long remain concealed from justice. They practised a variety of stratagems with great success in different parts of the country: but, upon revisiting London, Jenny was committed to Newgate, on a charge of having picked a gentleman's pocket: for which she was sentenced to transportation.
She remained in the above prison nearly four months, during which time she employed a considerable sum in the purchase of stolen effects. When she went on board the transport vessel she shipped a quantity of goods, nearly sufficient to load a wagon. The property she possessed ensured her great respect, and every possible convenience and accommodation during the voyage; and on her arrival in Virginia she disposed of her goods, and for some time lived in great splendour and elegance.
She soon found that America was a country where she could expect but little emolument from the practices she had so successfully followed in England; and therefore she employed every art that she was mistress of to ingratiate herself in the esteem of a young gentleman who was preparing to embark on board a vessel bound for the Port of London. He became much enamoured of her, and brought her to England; but while the ship lay at Gravesend she robbed him of all the property she could get into her possession, and, pretending an indisposition, intimated a desire of going on shore, in which her admirer acquiesced: but she was no sooner on land than she made a precipitate retreat.
She now travelled through several parts of the country, and by her usual wicked practices obtained many considerable sums. At length she returned to London, but was not able to find her former accomplices.
She now frequented the Royal Exchange, the theatres, London Bridge and other places of public resort, and committed innumerable depredations on the public. Being detected in picking a gentleman's pocket upon London Bridge, she was taken before a magistrate, to whom she declared that her name was Jane Webb, and by that appellation she was committed to Newgate. She was arraigned for privately stealing, and pronounced guilty. The property being valued at less than one shilling, she was sentenced to transportation.
A twelvemonth had not elapsed before she returned from transportation a second time, and on her arrival in London she renewed her former practices. A lady going from Sherborne Lane to Walbrooke was accosted by a man, who took her hand as if to assist her in crossing some planks that were placed over the channel for the convenience of passengers; but he squeezed her fingers with so much force as to give her great pain, and in the meantime Jenny picked her pocket of thirteen shillings and a penny. The gentlewoman, conscious of being robbed, seized the thief by the gown, and she was immediately conducted to the compter. She was examined the next day by the Lord Mayor, who committed her to Newgate in order for trial, and at the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey she was tried on an indictment for privately stealing, and the jury brought in the verdict, "Guilty;" in consequence of which she received sentence of death.
After conviction she seemed sincerely to repent of the course of iniquity in which she had so long persisted, punctually attending prayers in the chapel, and employing great part of her time in private devotions. The day preceding that on which she was executed, she sent for the woman who nursed her thud, then about three years old, and after informing her that there was a person who would pay for the infant's maintenance, earnestly entreated that it might be carefully instructed in the duties of religion, and guarded from all temptations to wickedness, and then, after acknowledging that she had long been a daring offender against the laws, both of God and man, she entreated the woman to pray for the salvation of her soul; she then took her leave, apparently deeply impressed with the sentiments of contrition.
On the following morning she appeared to be in a serene state of mind: but being brought into the press-yard, the executioner approached to put the halter about her, when her fortitude abated: but in a short time her spirits were again tolerably composed.
She was conveyed to Tyburn in a mourning-coach, being attended by a clergyman, to whom she declared her firm belief in all the principles of the Protestant religion; and at the place of execution she employed a considerable time in fervent prayer. Her remains were, by her particular desire, interred in St. Pancras church-yard.
We should always allow due force to the advice of our friends; and if the conduct that is recommended to us points to happiness, what folly is it to neglect it, in order to gratify an inclination, the indulgence of which will yield but a temporary gratification, and may prove the source of lasting sorrow.