The Newgate Calendar - Supplement 3

The Newgate Calendar - STEPHEN BUNCE


A Most Brazen and Ingenious Thief

            IN the plain but strong phrase, this man was born a thief.

            Scarcely could his hand carry away the property of others, when he engaged in this nefarious trade. When a child, he was frequently amusing himself with the children of a charcoal-man, who lived in the neighbourhood, and would even then fill his pockets with the charcoal, and sell them to a woman that kept an apple-stall, for codlings. One day he wished to try his ingenuity upon the good woman, and requested to have some codlings beforehand, promising to pay them with his next charcoal. But, though she could purchase from him that which she knew he had stolen, yet she was not disposed to give him any credit.

            Stephen was highly enraged that his fidelity should be called in question by the old woman, and he determined upon revenge. So, stealing a larger quantity of charcoal than usual, he filled the empty parts with powder, and sealed them with black wax. The old woman kindled a fire with them, and, being a very cold, frosty night, she sat down before the fire, in the usual manner, to warm her starving body. But, scarcely had the heat began to operate, when the powder catching fire, off flies the kettle from the grate, the codlings and the water flew about the woman's ears, and, in the midst of fire and smoke, she cried out in the most piteous manner, which brought a great mob about her, to assist her in the hour of misfortune and distress. Fortunately, however, the chief injury that the old woman received, was a hole burnt in her smock, a scalding to her skin, and the trouble of picking up her codlings.

            But Stephen was not long to remain in correspondence with apple-wives and such low gentry. Arrived at the years of a stripling, he went into a coffee-house, and called for a dish of tea. Meanwhile, rustling among the newspapers, he picked up the lid of a silver box, and, paying his tea, went and instantly got his own initials engraven upon it. Then, with the greatest assurance, came back, saying, "Gentlemen, have not I left the bottom of my tobacco-box." So, rummaging among the papers, he found it, exclaiming, as he put the lid on, "Oh, here it is!" Upon this, the owner claimed his property, but Stephen, impudently showing his cipher upon it, claimed and retained it as his property. This filled the company with no small consternation and astonishment, at what must have become of the gentleman's box.

            At one time Bunce was benighted at Branyard, in Hertfordshire, and, being destitute of money, he was at a considerable loss. But a fertile invention is a necessary qualification in a deceiver, and Stephen's was acquiring considerable strength. He called at the parson's door, and requested the maid to tell her master that a stranger wished to have the honour of speaking with him. When the clergyman made his appearance, Stephen, in an eloquent and affecting tone, informed him, that he was a poor student from Oxford, going home to his friends, and, as he was benighted, he entreated that he would afford him the friendly aid of his roof for one night. The generous-hearted parson, being pleased with his appearance, and pitying his distress, kindly received him, and entertained him according to his ability.

            When Stephen was taking his leave for the night, he, with no small degree of modesty and respect, requested that he might be permitted to give the parson a sermon in the morning, the next day being Sunday. As, in general, no clergyman has any great objections to a day of rest, the parson willingly accepted of his offered services. The morning came, and, the hour of divine service arrived, the young student was equipped in the parson's gown and cassock; and, as it was about a mile to the church, he was mounted on the parson's horse, while the latter, with his wife and family, went a nearer path through the fields. When his reverence came to the church, everyone was scraping and bowing, and inquiring why he was without his canonical robes on the day of sacred duty. He soon relieved their anxiety, by informing them that a young gentleman of the University of Oxford would be there presently, and would preach for him that day. They waited for some time, then commenced divine service; the prayers were now ended, and the last psalm sung, but no preacher appeared. In short, not to detain our readers with a long narrative, they waited until noon; the congregation went home without a sermon, and the parson without his robes and his horse, while Bunce was by this time far advanced on his journey, employing the horse to carry a thief instead of a parson.

            Upon another day, as Stephen was going about seeking whom he might render lighter on their journey, he saw a gentleman, well mounted upon a gelding, and, going into the road along where he was to ride, he laid himself all along the ground, with his ear to it. When the gentleman came up to him, he asked the reason of such unusual conduct. Stephen held up his hand to him, signifying his desire that he should be silent; but the gentleman being of a hasty temper, cried, "What a pox are you listening to?" Upon this Stephen sat up, saying, "Oh! dear sir, I have often heard great talk of the fairies, but I could never have the faith to believe that there was ever any such thing in nature, till now, in this very place, I hear such a ravishing and melodious harmony of all kinds of music, that it is enough to charm me to sit here, if possible, to all eternity." Curiosity, that active principle in the human mind, inclined the gentleman to alight from his horse to hear the enchanting music. Having reached the ground, he gave his gelding to Stephen, to hold during his interview with the fairies. Then, applying his ear to the ground, he said, "I can hear nothing." Bunco desired him to turn the other ear. This being done, and his face turned away from him, Bunce leaped into his saddle, and rode off with his gelding at full speed, until he came to Rumford. Supposing that the owner would have some particular inn where he put up his horse, and, therefore, that the horse would know that place, he went after the horse at a small distance.

            He no sooner appeared, than the hostler, who was standing at the door, exclaimed, "Master! master! here's Mr. Bartlet's horse come without him." Thus Stephen having discovered the name of the owner of the gelding, said to the innkeeper, "Mr. Bartlet being engaged with some gentlemen at play, in Ingerstone, he requests you to send him fifteen guineas, and to keep his horse in pledge, in the meantime, until he comes himself, in the evening." "Ay, ay," replied the innkeeper, "an hundred guineas if he stood in need of them." So Bunce, having received the fifteen guineas, prosecuted his journey to London. In a few hours, Mr. Bartlet came puffing and blowing, and covered with sweat and dust. The innkeeper accosted him, saying, "Oh, dear sir, what need you have sent your gelding, and so put yourself to the trouble of coming, in this sultry weather, on foot, for the small matter of fifteen guineas, when you might have commanded ten times as much without a pledge." Quoth the gentleman, "Hath the fellow, then, brought my gelding hither? A villain! he was pretty honest in that, but I find the rogue has made me pay fifteen guineas for hearing one tune of the fairies."

            Bunce was an industrious man, and frequented the billiard-tables, the cock-pits, and every place where he thought that a penny would come in his way. Though his funds often afforded him the means of reformation, he naturally hated virtue and honesty; therefore, with redoubled keenness, pursued his depredations. Once, upon foot, he met with a butcher, between Paddington and London, who, being a strong lusty fellow, was not disposed to give his contribution to Bunce, without some blows. The cudgelling commenced, and though the butcher acted his part well, yet Bunce was victorious. The conqueror, then, on searching for his spoil, found the immense sum of fourpence in his pockets. "Is this all you have got?" "And too much to lose," said the butcher. Bunce then exclaimed, "You villain I if you'd fight at this rate but for a groat, what a plague would you have done if you'd had more money?"

            This was rather an unfortunate adventure, to have lost so much time, and given so many blows for so little; but, when returning home, he observed a goldsmith, who was a far richer prize than a butcher, telling a large sum of money in his shop. His eyes instantly sparkled, and his invention awoke. He went into an old shop in the vicinity, and purchased one farthing's worth of salt; then, hastening into the goldsmith's shop, threw the whole in his eyes; so that while he was rubbing his peepers, and stamping with rage, Bunce went off with about fifty pounds—very good interest for a farthing's worth of salt.

            It is an old proverb, "light won, light wared." The same evening having gone to recreate himself with certain females, he was robbed of twenty pounds, when, in the most furious manner, though to no purpose, he vented his imprecations against all the sex—asserting, "that every woman was a crocodile at ten, a prostitute at fifteen, a fury at thirty, and a witch at fourscore."

            Under the influence of vexatious disappointment, Bunce soon spent the remainder of his fifty pounds, and stern necessity again impelled him to action. Along with one of his trusty companions, he went into a woollen-draper's shop, just as the good man was about to shut up; and, while he was cheapening a remnant of cloth, his companion stole the key of the shop from its usual place of residence. They both went off without making a purchase. Favoured by the darkness of the night, they returned, and, without interruption or difficulty, abstracted from the shop, cloth to the amount of eighty pounds.

            Bunce having been afterwards, by an order of the court, sent a soldier into Spain, while there, he and his comrade were one day in great want of victuals; and, having loitered all day about the market-place of Barcelona, without finding anything to remove their hunger, they discovered in the evening a countryman returning home on an ass. They followed him, and, having to ascend a steep hill, he alighted, and led the ass. Bunce, with his companion, slipped quietly forward, and, dexterously removing the bridle from the ass's head to his own, his comrade went off with the ass, and Bunce trudged after the man upon all fours. Arrived at the top of the hill he looked around, and, to his great consternation and amazement, he saw his ass transformed into a man.

            Stephen, observing his surprise, said, "Dear master, don't be troubled at this strange alteration that you see in your beast; for, indeed, I was no ass, as you supposed me, but a man, real flesh and blood as you yourself are; but, you must know, that it being my misfortune to commit a sin against the Virgin Mary, she resented it so heinously, that she transformed me into the likeness of an ass, for seven years; and now, the time being expired, I resume my proper shape again, and I am at my own disposal. However, sir, I return you many thanks for your goodness towards me; for, since I have been in your custody, you put me to no more labour than what I, you, or any other ass, might be able to bear."

            The countryman was greatly surprised at the relation, but was so far satisfied on receiving the grateful thanks of his former ass, for the kind treatment he had given him during the period of his degradation. Stephen returned to his comrade, who had made the ass undergo another transmigration into money, so that these two hungry sharks hastened to set their teeth at work, lest they should lose the power of action by long disuse. Meanwhile, the countryman returned to town to purchase another ass to carry him home. But, to his astonishment, the first thing he met with was his own individual ass. Stepping up to the animal, he said, "Oh, I see that you have committed another sin against the Virgin Mary! but I shall take care how I buy you again."

            Bunce was married to a victualler's daughter in Plymouth, and, for some time, lived with her with tolerable regularity, making the table roar, and the bowl to foam, and entertaining all the merry beaux in the town, until one of the tars offended Bunce with his politeness. Upon this he left his young wife, and plunged into all those scenes of debauchery which are the usual attendants of the acquisition of money by unlawful means. In the progress of time, his manners became so abandonedly profligate, and his conversation so lascivious, that he was the abhorrence of all decent persons, and a disgrace to human nature. He was at last detected in his wickedness, and suffered at Tyburn along with Dick Low and Jack Hall.

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