Newgate Calendar - JAMES FRITH


Convicted of Robbing His Master's House, in the Dead of the Night, and Transported in the Year 1772

James Frith was a servant to an aged wealthy farmer, of the name of Marsh, residing at Beckingham, near Gainsborough, in Lincolnshire. Frith had an excellent place; for his master, almost past the time of labour, confided in him, and gave him extraordinary indulgencies. There certainly are people in this world so truly restless for worldly pelf, who will not endure kinder treatment than is commonly given to those in a similar situation of life. So did it prove with the ungrateful J. Frith. In the dead hour of night this treacherous domestic, unseen, stole to the bed-chamber of his master's daughter, a widow, of about forty years of age, where the father deposited his ready cash and his plate. He had provided himself with a rope, on which he made a noose, and before the victim could make resistance, or give the alarm he put it round her neck, drew it tight, until he thought she was strangled. Conceiving her dead, he took up the trunk, and carried it off, but in a quarter of an hour, recovering her senses, she alarmed her aged father, and the remainder of the family, but the thief was fled. Pursuit was, however, immediately made, and he was overtaken at Matlersey, five miles from Beckingham, with the trunk and its contents, amounting to one hundred and fifty pounds, besides plate, &c. He was carried before John Dawson, Esq. a Justice of the peace, who committed him to Nottingham gaol. Evidence to this effect being given on his trial, he could only be found guilty of privately stealing, and his sentence was transportation to America for seven years.

The expense to the nation of transporting each felon, on the most moderate calculation, is two hundred pounds. The plan recently adopted in employing them in public works, for our national defence against a deadly foe, whose ambition knows no bounds, and whose means of gratifying that accursed passion are bounded alone by our fleets and our insular situation, is a measure of some wisdom: the other, to the nation's sorrow, has been proved misplaced security. By persisting in transportation of felons, within a century, a far distant country, like the American colonies, would be peopled; and like them, ungratefully renounce all allegiance and connection.

Men who violate the well-known laws of their country, and who, instead of following an honest avocation to earn their bread, plunder the industrious, ought to atone for the injuries they have done; and the public, upon whom they had long preyed, has a right to insist, for that end, upon the services of the convicted. If, instead of planting a colony, twice the distance of America, from which we found ourselves already too distant to keep the offspring of our transported felons in subjection, we turn their forfeited term of years to services at home, the nation may receive considerable benefit. It will make a difference at least of 350l., per man, allowing his seven year's servitude worth no more, clear, to the state, than 150l. [Note: This estimate will not admit of Contractors, Agents, or any other description of Governmental Birds of Prey, who hovered round even the convicts on the Thames, after the revolt of America.] The first eight years of the Botany Bay mania, 5765 men and women were transported thither, and 93 children. The females, at first, were few in proportion to the males; but of later years, cargoes of them have been shipped for the purpose of propagation. Supposing, therefore, that in eight years our sapient rulers, by neglecting their services at home, the country lost, in expenses and wages, 155,000l. There can be neither calculation nor allowance made of the smallest benefit to this country ever accruing from New South Wales. America was ever an expense to the mother country; she did not, in many instances, pay her own governors and public officers; and when matured by the fostering arm of the mother country, the moment her energies would have become serviceable, she rebelled, and ever since has remained, in her heart's core, the bitter enemy of the British empire. But this, it will be remembered, is the calculation of eight years only, ending with 1789; and from the increase of felons transported at that rate, millions of money may be lost in this second experimental colonization.

In resorting to the old plan of employing the convicts at home, I am willing to allow, that we had better send them away, at double the sacrifice of money to that already submitted to. An ingenious commentator on the penal laws, [Colquhoun] has given the expenses and the earnings of the convicts, at Langston Harbour, Portsmouth, and Woolwich Warren; and extracting therefrom only three years balance, will stand thus:






Cash paid out of the Exchequer for their expenses for the 1789 year




Ditto for the year 1790,




Ditto for the year 1791,












By 653,432 days' work performed at Langston harbour, Portsmouth, and Woolwich, estimated at 9d. per day is




By 260,440 days' work at Woolwich Dock Yard, chiefly by artificers, at 1s. per day, is








Balance being the Money paid by the Country for maintaining Convicts for two Years




The effect produced by this plan of employing convicts, it must be allowed widely differs from mine; but I will show the reader that my observations are not altogether visionary or speculative, for I know a nation (once colonies) which makes convicts useful to society, as they had before been a pest. This may be found in "Janson's America," a work of much information, and which we offer as our authority. Mr. Janson, (who it will be remembered resided fourteen years in the United States, practising as a Counsellor at Law) on the subject of convicts there, says," [Note: See "The Stranger in America," page 182]

"The punishments annexed to criminal convictions, in all the American States, are worthy of imitation. The many public executions which take place in England, after every jail delivery, are a subject which strike Americans with horror.

"Though both the penal and common laws of England are generally adopted in the United States, the punishments differ materially; but it will be admitted that they are sufficiently proportioned to the crimes. In very, few cases, indeed, in any State, is the punishment of death inflicted. Legislative bodies consider, that the laws of man should seldom extend to the extermination of that life which was given by the Almighty.
"In Pensylvania, capital punishments are remitted in all cases except treason, or murder in the first degree; and in the latter case death is seldom inflicted; but the culprit is sentenced to solitary confinement in a dark cell for several years, or perhaps for life. In the second degree, light is admitted into the cell of the prisoner, and his confinement is limited to seven or fourteen years. For burglary, which rarely occurs, the punishment is also solitary confinement.

"Such as are under conviction of theft and petty-larceny, are made to work in their cells, at the trade to which they were bred. Prisoners for inferior misdemeanours, midnight disturbers, vagabonds, and such as are detected fighting or begging, are kept at labour together.

"It is curious and pleasing to reflect upon the various useful occupations, these people, hitherto dangerous to society, are obliged to follow, in the prisons of America, Manufactures of most kinds are there carried on. Tailors, Shoemakers, and persons of other trades, have separate rooms; and such of the prisoners as have not followed any useful branch in particular, are instructed in making nails, by machines, of which quantities are constantly manufacturing. The produce not only maintains the prisoners, but leaves considerable profit to the state. Thus, prisoners who are a great expense to the English nation, living in idleness, and plotting and teaching each other mischief, and new methods and devices for plundering the public, are there rendered valuable members to society.

"The punishment, so far from hardening them in turpitude, reforms them, and they generally, on their liberation, return to those habits of industry, which, from compulsion, have become second nature. The task assigned to them is so moderate, that each individual can, with ease, earn a daily surplus; and in this case, an account is taken of it, and it is delivered in cash to the respective claimants, on liberation. Thus, the most industrious, often accumulate a sufficiency to enable them once more to begin an honest business."

This mode of reclaiming criminals has stood the test, with increasing advantage, both to the nation and the individual, for more than twenty years. Though we have the same resource, yet it may be said we cannot avail ourselves of the advantage, like the Americans. It is true, she is not annoyed by ambitious placemen, or hungry pensioners. There we find no saucy contractors, or craving agents. A gaoler, and half a dozen turnkeys, inspect the whole business of a thronged but working prison. Occasionally, a parish-officer, nay, an unofficial householder, will pay a visit through the wards, and report what he may see amiss; but in fact this is seldom wanted. There, prisoners are dismissed, generally reclaimed; here, the man who enters the walls with but a litle roguery about him, comes out a finished villain, ready to commit depredations, which, till then, he had never contemplated.

Instead of ballast heaving, cannot the tailor be made to work on army-clothing, since wars we are doomed perpetually to groan under? In like manner the shoemaker, weaver, hatter, button-maker, and, in fine, every mechanic; cannot they, we say, be confined for the same? The women could make up linen, and knit soldier's stockings, while those brought up to no mechanism, the lazy, and the incorrigible, might be kept to ballast-heaving, or repairing forts and harbours. Instead, therefore, of the enormous expense to the public in maintaining the convicts, they might, by honest means, be made a public benefit. Some Englishmen will not trouble themselves to think of these things; and those whose eyes are open, will only shrug their shoulders, and pay the next year's increased taxes.

The many millions expended in Spanish knight-errantry, or for a peep into Antwerp, honest John Bull clearly sees, and yet seems to freely pay; and, let our sage men plan expedition after expedition, still will John pay, and hope the next piece of Quixotism will, in fame, out-do the last.

Wherever we have found an opportunity of gleaning from detached observations on the cases and lives of notorious criminals, which have never been moulded into a regular report, we lay hold of them with avidity; in this we hope for credit, in according to us a pre-eminence over all other reporters.


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