Hanged for High Treason, in counterfeiting the current Coin of this Realm.
THE first mentioned of these malefactors was a native of Shrewsbury. He was descended of parents of very fair character, but in circumstances rather contracted; however, they gave him what education was in their power, and then apprenticed him to a baker.
After the expiration of the term of his apprenticeship, he repaired to the metropolis, and laboured as a journeyman with different masters for a considerable time, still supporting the character of an industrious and honest man. Some friends, observing the goodness of his disposition, advanced him money, with which he took a shop in Graysinn-lane, and met with such success in business as rewarded his assiduity.
At length, very unhappily for himself, he became acquainted with the father of Bacchus, from the casual meeting him at a public house. Soon after their acquaintance the old man advised him to remove into Southwark, where he said an excellent house and shop offered for his accommodation. Roberts being married, and having four children, listened to this advice, in the hope of making a better provision for his family.
A very short time after his residence in Southwark, the elder Bacchus and his son, with some other people who were coiners, told Roberts that they would be ready to assist him with money on any emergency. It happened that, some little time afterwards, Roberts wanted some money to make up a bill due for flour, on which he mentioned the affair to the elder Bacchus, and he was immediately furnished with the requisite sum.
This circumstance had not long taken place, when the younger Bacchus informed Roberts that his father was out of town, and begged his assistance in coining, on the condition of which he should be amply supplied with such money as he might want.
Roberts hesitated for a while to comply with a scheme big with such evident destruction; but the prospect of gain becoming at length too strong for his more virtuous resolutions, he fatally consented, and ruin was the consequence. The nature of the partnership, for such it may be deemed, was this: Bacchus was generally the immediate coiner of the counterfeit money, which Roberts put off to unsuspecting people. They had imitated a variety of gold and silver coin, which was so well executed that it could hardly be distinguished from the real money made at the Tower; yet the adulteration was so great, that, in many pieces, the intrinsic value was not a fourth of the nominal.
A great part of this counterfeit money was put off at country fairs, where the agents employed to dispose of it (for there were others besides Roberts) appeared as horse-dealers, and found several country tradesmen ready enough to traffic with them for this false coin.
The coiners used to sell this money by weight to the countrymen, who circulated it in the course of their connexions; so that the evil spread wide, to the injury of many an unfortunate individual.
In the interim Bacchus and Roberts lived in a very handsome manner on the profits of their iniquitous trade. Their neighbours could not conceive how they procured a subsistence; and it is possible that they might have continued their practices a considerable time longer, but that one of their accomplices gave such hints as led to the ready means of detecting them.
Some constables being employed to search the house, they found Bacchus, with all the implements proper for coining, in the act of making counterfeit money, while Roberts was assisting him in this unlawful transaction; on which both the parties were taken into custody, and being carried before Sir John Fielding, that magistrate committed them to Newgate.
It may be now proper to mention that Bacchus was a native of the town of Stafford, and was, at a very early age, initiated into the art of coining by his father, who seems purposely to have trained him to the gallows. The younger Bacchus never followed any business but coining, except occasionally dealing in smuggled goods when he happened to have a considerable sum of money in his possession.
The prisoners remained in Newgate several months before they were brought to trial; but at length they were convicted on the clearest evidence, and sentenced to die.
The behaviour of Roberts after conviction was exceedingly well adapted to his unhappy situation. He was regular and devout in his attendance on religious duties, employed much time in reading books of devotion, and was regardful of the instructions given him by the ordinary of Newgate. On learning that the warrant for his execution was arrived, his seriousness and penitence appeared to be augmented, and he looked forward to eternity in the humble hope of the divine pardon.
Nor was the behaviour of Bacehus less regular, penitent, and devout. He made a decent preparation for his approach ing death. The father of Bacchus had retired into the country, whence he sent his son a letter after condemnation, of which the following is a copy:
'My dear Child,
'I send you these few lines to comfort you; I should have sent you some money before, but I hope, my dear child, you will forgive me, as you hope to be forgiven in heaven. There you will find a better father than you have found in me. Be as happy as you can; -- you are going to happiness, and leave me behind to be miserable. I hope you will die happy, because you know you are innocent. Thou art now going, I shall soon follow thee. I hope you will meet your dear mother in heaven. As we shall soon part in this world, may my prayers be heard for you in heaven!
'From your loving father till death,
'P.S. My dear love to Roberts; and tell him, if it should be in my power to serve his family, I will, I shall think it a pleasure. May heaven receive you both!'
The unhappy convicts received the holy sacrament on the morning of execution, and behaved in a manner suitable to their calamitous circumstances. They were drawn to the gallows on a sledge, as is usual in the case of coiners. They warned the multitude not to follow their evil example, and acknowledged the justice of that sentence by which they had been condemned to an ignominious death.
After the customary exercises of devotion, the prisoners underwent the final sentence of the law; and when the bodies had hung the usual time, they were delivered to their relations, in order that the bodies might be deposited with the parent earth.
Samuel Roberts and Thomas Bacchus were hanged at Tyburn on the 21st of May, 1772.
There is something singular in the affair before us. We see that the counterfeit money was sold by weight to people in the country, who could be mean enough to make such purchases from avaricious motives, though they must know that their neighbours would be ultimately defrauded.
The young Bacchus, though a professed coiner, appears to have been in some measure an object of pity. His father had trained him to the business from his early youth: but surely that father ought to be the general object of execration. It is difficult to form an idea of the aggravated guilt of that man who can wilfully train his own child to destruction. The paternal and the filial duty ought to be mutual: a failure on either side is usually fatal to the happiness of one of the parties.