The Newgate Calendar - HENRY WILLIAMS

Transported for Burglary

            The case of this prisoner is remarkable only for his singular and daring escape from Newgate after his conviction. He had been tried at the Central Criminal Court Sessions, in the month of July 1836, for a burglary at Islington, and the offence being clearly brought home to him, he was convicted and sentenced to death, in obedience to the requisitions of the then existing law. On Friday the 22nd of July, he succeeded in effecting his escape from the condemned yard, in which he was confined.

            The prisoner, it appears, had been brought up to the trade of a sweep; but naturally disinclined to follow a steady and honest course of life, he quitted the business to which he had been educated, but made his aptitude for it subservient to a new avocation. He joined with a gang of fellows of bad character, who pursued a system of plunder to gain a livelihood, and with them he adopted a means of effecting robberies, as remarkable as it was novel. Procuring access to the roof of an empty house, they would fix upon any other house in the row, from which they might hope to obtain a good booty, and one of them descending the chimney, he would generally succeed in carrying off such a prize as well repaid his daring. The burglary for which Williams was committed, however, was one of an ordinary character; but while in jail he still found his powers of climbing of use to him. It appears that he was confined in the condemned yard, with two other prisoners, and on the 26th of July, the day of his escape, while his companions were reading in the room appropriated to their use, he managed to work his way to the roof of the jail by means of his hands, back, and knees, sweep-like, up the angular corner of the building. The ascent, to a person of his accomplishment in this particular line, was comparatively easy, by reason of the roughness of the face of the wall, and he had soon gained the top of the building, in spite of all the obstacles, in the shape of chevaux-de-frise, and iron spikes, which presented themselves. To traverse the roof of the prison and gain the houses in Warwick-lane was the work of a very few minutes, and availing himself of an open sky-light, he dropped through it. To his astonishment, he found himself confronted with a woman who was at work in the room into which he had fallen; but speedily taking advantage of her alarm, he slipped past her, and had reached the open street before she had time to recover her scattered senses, or to give any intimation of her fright to the other occupants of the house.

            Williams knew too well the value of his liberty to afford an opportunity for his re-capture, and he had soon quitted the vicinity of his late residence.

            His want of means of support, or his unfortunate disinclination for an honest life, however, soon again placed him in the custody of his late keeper, Mr. Cope, the governor of Newgate. Within a fortnight after his escape, Mr. Cope received an intimation that he was in Winchester jail, upon a new charge of burglary, committed since he had gained his liberty in the extraordinary manner which we have described. He, in consequence, proceeded to that place to receive his prisoner back into his custody, and in a few days Williams was once again lodged in his old quarters.

            A humane consideration of his case, subsequently procured for him a commutation of his punishment to transportation for life.


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