IDLENESS, the step-mother of dissipation, hath driven many gentlemen by education, to commit depredations on the public. This observation is fully verified in the life of Mr. Butler. He was a native of Ireland, his father being, an officer in the army of king James the II; but king William having defeated that prince at the battle of the Boyne, young Butler and his father went with James to France. When the rebellion broke out in Scotland the young gentleman was employed as a spy in the family of the duke of Ormond, for which he was allowed 20l. a year; but he hereby lost the favour of his friends and relations, who espoused a different interest. From Paris he went to Holland, where he soon spent most of the money in his possession, and then embarked for England.
On his arrival in this country, being idle and extravagant, he commenced highwayman, and went out frequently in company with a man whom he called Jack, and who occasionally acted as his servant; and they jointly committed a great number of robberies near London, particularly in Kent and Essex.
When they were in London; and sometimes in a country town, they had the genteelest lodging, and then Jack wore a livery, while the 'squire was dressed in a most elegant manner, and had all the appearance of a man of fortune.
By this style of living they continued their depredations on the highway for many years; but Butler being at length apprehended, was brought to his trial at the Old Bailey, in January, 1720, when he was indicted for robbing Sir Justinian Isham and another gentleman on the highway, of a gold watch, a silk night-gown, six Holland shirts, and other valuable articles; and was convicted on the clearest evidence.
The circumstance that led to his detection was, that offering some of the effects for sale to a jeweller, he refused to purchase them unless he knew Butler's place of residence, which the latter readily told him; and, when his lodgings were searched, Sir Justinian's gown was found, and was produced in court. Butler's companion, or servant, was in Ireland, at the time of his detection, by which he escaped the fate he deserved.
While Mr. Butler lay under sentence of death, he behaved in a very penitent manner. Being a Roman Catholic, he received the sacrament from a priest of his own persuasion. It had been reported that he had eight wives; but this he solemnly denied; declaring that he was legally married to only one woman.
This malefactor was executed at Tyburn, on the 8th of February, 1720, at the age of forty-two years.