Ex-Classics Home Page



From the Earliest Stage of Human Depravity


"He who at his early years
Has sown in Vice, shall reap in Tears."

            From the meanest petty larceny to the swindler in his phaeton, who assumes the name of Colonel, Lord, or Duke, there is a gradation of pride which supports each class, with a certain quantum of contempt for its inferior—and sometimes with an honest ambition to reach a higher rank, and instead of being huddled among the trials not worth recording, be stared at by a crowded Old Bailey, and honoured by a portrait in the print shops. The filcher of door-mats and scrapers looks up to the superior adroitness of the pickpockets, and the pickpocket longs for the day when, associating with the servants of some indulgent master, he may break into the house and the bureau, and supply the melting shops with bullion. The housebreaker, emboldened by success, would display his courage on the highway; and the highwayman, tired of a contest in which it is possible he may be either shot or hanged, devotes his leisure moments to the study of commerce, forms connexions at Liverpool, Bristol, and London, and issues his paper in hopes that when he obtains the discount he may hear no more of it; and, to prevent his name from being injured, very judiciously supplies himself with a commodity of various names and firms. At length, tired of borrowing money, he undertakes to lend it, and becomes a peculator upon a large and extensive scale.

            Accuse any one of these, and you will find he screens himself by an appeal to his brethren. Defendit numerus. He asks, would you be so mad as to inquire into these petty matters? You will overturn the whole system; no man will be safe, for all do the like. Then, as a palliative to their own honour, the swindler tells you he is no highwayman nor footpad; the footpad pleads that he disturbs no man's sleep by breaking into his house at night; the housebreaker is happy to think he never picked a pocket, and the pickpocket thanks God he never descended so low as to steal pint-pots and door scrapers. These examples are taken from the very lowest on this scale. Let us proceed higher, and inquire whether peculation is to be estimated by quantity or quality, or at what precise sum honesty ends, and t'other thing begins.

            To exemplify these melancholy observations, and to bring sufficient instances into one point of view, we found occasion to trace the progress of iniquity for a few months only of the time whereof we write. To begin then, at that early stage when we should be found, with satchel on our backs, "Creeping like snail, unwillingly to school."

            We find on the records at the Old Bailey, that BENJAMIN EDWARDS was put to the bar, being charged with stealing one gallon of rum, and 8l. in Bank of England notes, and some silver, the property of John Towston. The prisoner contrived to get himself into the employ of the prosecutor, who is a wine and brandy merchant; but he had not been many hours engaged, when, taking advantage of the short absence of Mr. Towston, who went out about business, told him when he returned that an order came for a gallon of rum, and to bring change for a 10l. note. The prosecutor, not suspecting any wrong, gave him the rum to take to the supposed customer, together with the difference between the value of the rum and a 10l. note, but he never returned. Being apprehended some few days afterwards for another offence, he was recognised by the prosecutor, who instantly identified him, as did his clerk. He at first denied all knowledge of him, but finding that would not do, he said that he himself was imposed on by a gentleman's servant, and afraid to go back to his master. He was convicted as for larceny; but it was intimated to him, that he was not to expect to remain any longer at large in this country—for it turned out not only that he was a most notorious offender, but that he had actually been tried about three sessions ago for nearly a similar offence in this court.—Sentenced to the house of correction for one year.

            JOHN HAWLEY, alias HAMPTON, and BENJAMIN RATTEY, neither of whom had completed their twelfth year, were indicted for stealing various articles, the property of George Chalmers, nurseryman, at Newington. The facts were clearly proved, and the boys were both found Guilty. The court, and indeed every one present, were interested in their behalf, particularly Rattey, whose face was the picture of apparent innocence. The chairman asked Mr. Ives if he knew them, when he shook his head and said Rattey was well known to him, and he wished something could be done for him. An explanation took place, and we understand that he had been five times charged in that prison, that he had been tried for a capital offence; and that his brother, who was tried with him, had been transported, that he had been sent to the Marine Society, from whom he had run away, and had become a professed thief. The other boy was unknown, and he kept a determined silence as to what friends he had, or who were his parents. Not a creature came forward in their behalf, though they were decently dressed, and the court in consequence ordered their sentence to stand over till next sessions. The mother, however, of Rattey, a decent looking woman, was in court, and appeared to be much afflicted. They were sent to the house of correction. From the circumstance of Hawley's having been proved to have used two names, there is reason to suppose that he was vicious, perhaps, equal to his companion.

            The next juvenile depredators who were put to the same bar, answered to the respective names of OGLE, HAMILTON, and DOYLE. They were charged with having burglariously broken and entered the house of Thomas Adlington, at Tottenham, in the county of Middlesex, and thereout taking six shawls, and a variety of wearing apparel, the property of Thomas Adlington.

            O'Mara (an accomplice) stated, that he and the three prisoners, together with two others not yet taken, met on the evening before the robbery at a public house, when they agreed the next morning to assemble at the Swan in Salisbury-street, Fleet-street, where they breakfasted; that they did so assemble, whence they proceeded into the country with the intention of going as far as Cambridge, and rob all the way there and back; that they first stopped at Tottenham, where he and Hamilton sat down nearly opposite the prosecutor's shop, whilst Ogle and Doyle went in and robbed it; that they also committed another robbery, the booty whereof they likewise shared.

            On his cross-examination by Mr. Barry, who was counsel for the prisoner Doyle, he said that he was an apprentice to a printer, had served but three years of his apprenticeship, and left his master; he could give no account how he got his bread, said he met the other boys at a public-house near St. Clement's Church-yard on the 23d, the night before the robbery, when he told them that he had just seen a gentleman's pocket picked by man that he knew was a sheriff's officer, and thereupon they agreed to go the next day out a-thieving. It was the first time that he ever took the other boys, or the prisoners, out with him. He himself had been in custody before; he had been once put into custody by his master, and again by an officer of the police, and lastly he was in custody upon this charge, and had the greatest and best part of the booty in his possession when he was apprehended. The rest of his cross-examination was a tissue of the former, and displayed all the hardened villain, a perfect adept in slang and wickedness, though not quite 18 years of age.

            After a very able charge from Mr. Justice Heath, who observed, that Mrs. Adlington's testimony did not bring home the burglary to the prisoners, as she could not say whether the door of the shop had been shut or not, they were all acquitted of the capital part, and found guilty of the larceny only.

            Doyle had numerous friends, who knew him from his birth (he was not quite 15 years old), and they gave him an excellent character, this being the first time that they ever heard anything dishonest imputed to him. Ogle and Hamilton had also friends who spoke to their characters. They were tried upon another charge of privately stealing three handkerchiefs from the shop of Mr. Wright, and found Guilty of stealing, but not privately; the capital part of the charge was therefore removed, and sentence transportation. The eldest of the three prisoners, viz. Ogle, was but just turned 16 years old.

            JOHN WHEELER, another boy, was next put to the bar, charged on two indictments, the first with stealing some beef, and four carcases of lamb, the property of Thomas Powell, and the second with stealing a horse and cart, the property of Marlborough Powell. He was found Guilty upon both indictments. On retiring from the bar, he seized a large leaden inkstand that lay near him in the dock, and was raising his arm to strike one of the witnesses against him, who was passing close by the dock, when his arm being seized he was prevented, and the inkstand wrested out of his hand. This being done in the face of the open court, the judges instantly directed that the keeper of the prison should restrict so dangerous a person even from communication with the other prisoners, and he was ordered to be kept in solitary confinement.

            MARGARET NORTON was capitally indicted for stealing in the dwelling-house of George Bagshaw, a quantity of plate and other articles, the property of Mr. Scott. It appeared that the prisoner was hired by Mrs. Scott as a servant, from one of the offices in the neighbourhood of Covent-garden; and on the third day after she was hired she absconded. Mrs. Scott, alarmed at her absence, began to look after her property, and presently discovered that all her husband's plate, and divers other articles of value had been stolen. Information was immediately given at the police office, and the next morning the prisoner was discovered sitting upon the floor, at her lodgings in St. Giles's, sorting the plate. The jury, having no doubt but the prisoner committed the robbery, found her Guilty.—Death.

            WILLIAM RAWLINS, a deaf and dumb lad, apprenticed from the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, was indicted for stealing some wearing apparel in the house where he lived. The peculiarity of this trial was the manner in which the proceedings were brought to the cognizance of the prisoner. An instructor from the Deaf and Dumb Asylum attended, and by signs either of his fingers, or by his lips, conveyed to the prisoner the depositions of the prosecutor and witnesses. The prisoner had been taught to write, and in his written answers evaded the charge with uncommon dexterity. For the most part, however, the instructor interpreted his answers from signs he made, and a sort of hissing articulation from his lips. The larceny, however, was apparent, and the jury found him Guilty.

            WILLIAM BERRY, CHARLES GLOVER, and MARY TOOLEY, were indicted for breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Frances Clarke, widow, in the day time, and stealing therein a pair of stockings, value 14s. The two boys, Berry and Glover, cut the shop window of Mrs. Clarke, haberdasher and milliner, in Great Russel-street, Bloomsbury, between 11 and 12 o'clock in the day, and stole a pair of black silk stockings, which they afterwards handed to Mary Tooley, who went to pawn them. They were watched during the whole transaction by a person of the name of Gerrard, and almost immediately taken into custody. They were all found Guilty, and were sentenced—Death—which, on account of their ages was commuted to transportation; Berry being only 13, Glover 14, and the girl 16.


Previous   Next