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THE LIFE, OPINIONS, AND PENSILE ADVENTURES OF
WITH RECOLLECTIONS OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES DURING
THE LAST THREE REIGNS.
EDITED BY THE AUTHOR OF
OLD BAILEY EXPERIENCE."
“ O grief beyond all other griefs, when fate
First leaves the voung heart lone and desolate
Few men at that time could cover the ground like me; one, however, I heard close at my heels, and that after I had made several of my best pushes. A thought now struck me; I suddenly laid myself down across the road, then raising up my back as he came down it, 1 occasioned hiin almost to throw a somerset; then getting up, I left him stretched upon the road at his full length, severely hurt, as I am sorry to say, if the account in the newspapers which reported the affair are to be believed.
By-the-way, I may remark, that of all the public transactions in which I have been engaged, both as regards opposing or executing the laws, I never read one faithfully reported in a newspaper, although the accounts of many malefactors are obtained from the office at Newgate; but the public are not aware how numerous are the motives and the causes which lead to false statements, coming even from that place. Proceeding a mile on towards town, I recollected that the coach was to go another way, and that I might be pursued, on which thought I crossed at the first turning, and hastened to make the road down which I knew my associates must pass, because they had to go a considerable way round. I met them as I expected, but when I got into the coach the thoughts of the body made me sick, and I wished myself opposed to some living being, however formidable, rather than to the silent one lying at my feet. We now put up the blinds of the coach, and turning the lantern, took the body out of the sack, and packed it up in the hamper, which I was surprised to see so fitted to the purpose; then driving straight to the surgeon's house, the coach-yard gate being left open for the purpose, we deposited our prize at once, instead of leaving it until the morning as intended when the subject was put into the hamper. We were rewarded with twenty-five pounds for this exploit, although the current price of subjects was at that time from six to nine pounds.
If the effect upon me be general, and the same with other persons, as regards our intimacy with death, I think nothing so alarming and awful as the first introduction to a dead body, and yet nothing which gives us pain at first sight is so soon overcome. In a few days I thought no more of being in company with a corpse than I do now in sitting by the fire-side with my old faithful Sall, and smoking my pipe.
I remained upwards of three years a resurrectionist, during which time I had many curious adventures, similar to those which are frequently laid before the public as anecdotes connected with body snatching-false alarms from donkeys, bearded goats, hogs, and also grey mares, which
Continued from vol. xiii. p. 448.
have strolled into the churchyard at the dead of the night for a bit of long grass, in direct opposition to the positive orders of the vicar, who claims the produce of the rich compost formed by the dead as his own property. With these stories I will not detain the reader, but hasten on to that period of my history which is connected with questions of public interest.
The surgeon whom I especially served was a remarkable man for selecting his own subjects, and few of his friends on whom he had placed his eye while living, escaped his knife when dead. I was sent for one day, and told that a relation of his, recently dead, who was buried in Highgate churchyard, must be had. Unwilling to disoblige or lose a good customer, we went down two successive nights, but failed, which put our employer in a towering passion. To appease him I was determined to make another attempt, and try what a bribe would do with the watchman: I however had no sooner made an offer in a public-house to which I had invited him before the watch was set, than he seized me, and calling for assistance, took me before a magistrate. I was the next day brought up to Bow-street office upon some other raked up charge, and twice examined, but ultimately discharged. As I left the office, and was proceeding across Covent Garden Market, a person accosted me and said, * You and I have met before ; I heard your examination, and am glad it has turned out so well, but I wonder one of your talent should go body snatching.” He then informed me that we had once been in prison together, and that, although I had forgotten him, he knew all about me; then viewing me from head to foot continued, “I am glad to see you looking so well; you do right to dress as you do. It must be comfortable to yourself, and it is decidedly the best blind known or practised.” He then invited me to dine with him, to which I readily assented, for it was one of my failings to be over fond of the company and professed friendship of strangers. After dinner he became more communicative, and said that he thought he could serve me; that he had been desired to look out for such a person, and that it was with the view of meeting one which would suit, that he attended at Bow Street, adding, “I cannot at present say more, but let us be acquainted, and a few days will enable me to be more explicit."
My new acquaintance turned out to be a person connected with a first. rate gang of housebreakers. The reader must understand that there are two distinct classes of burglars in London ; one consisting of the most desperate men in all the classes of thieves, men who have been often at the bar of justice, and are so well known to the officers, that they have no resource left but to rob under the cover of night. These depredators usually associate in small parties, com ng three, four, or five indi. viduals in each partnership, many of whom, in my time, have impeached one another to save their own lives. When a robbery is committed, and accompanied with murder or violence of the person, one of these gangs is sure to be concerned in it; for when they become hard up for money they throw prudence overboard, and go rashly and desperately to work in order to obtain it, and I can generally find out which of the different sets of cracksmen about town has perpetrated the deed, by making inquiries who about the same time were known to have been at low-water mark, and who after the affair is over have sported new clothes, and been seen with money in their possession. This was Jonathan Wild's plan, and very successful he was in his day, upon all occasions either causing the apprehension of the guilty parties, or making his own terms to save them, as his interest might dictate or point out.
The other class, (swell cracksmen,) are altogether another kind of beings; the wary and comparatively wealthy housebreaker never allows the men with whom he connects himself to become absolutely poor and needy; nor do they resort together at any known place of rendezvous to which they may be traced, or their movements watched. The whole body are well organized, and in as perfect a state of subordination as the British army is under those who preside at the Horse Guards. Some are employed as scouts or lookers-out for fit places for attack; these are kept as gentlemen in appearance, never connecting themselves with any actual commission of robbery, or the possession of property when stolen; nor do those who commit the robbery know any thing of the persons who are the real movers of all the affairs of the concern.
The manner in which I was engaged into one of these confederacies (for there are several in London) will give some idea of the perfection of their system. The acquaintance I had made introduced me to several of his associates, who, as it afterwards appeared, were some of the working hands of a party of burglars of the class last described. Our interviews were at their own private lodgings and not at public houses, as I had been accustomed to meet my former acquaintances; they did occa. sionally go to take a pipe and a glass, but then they uniformly selected the most respectable houses where tradesmen met to enjoy a social hour together.
Although I had said I would join them, as yet they had imparted none of their secrets to me. One day, my friend, to whom I was indebted for my introduction, told me I must take a walk down the King's Road, towards Chelsea, with him that morning. To this I readily complied without asking him for any reasons. When, however, we reached the top of Sloane Street, we met a person, who came up and said to my companion, “ You may go !” then, turning to me, continued, “Come, you and I will have a walk into the country and dine together to-day.” Then turning down a bye-way, went on to say, “ You have been spoken of very highly, but you are now coming into a line of business which it is my duty to explain to you, and to that end are we now met; you cannot but consider yourself fortunate in joining such a respectable concern.” He then laid a strong injunction on me to recollect every word he uttered, as his duty would be performed when we parted: he strongly inculcated sobriety of conduct, and expatiated largely upon the necessity of giving up all my former acquaintances, and abandoning my haunts for smoking tobacco and drinking as I had been accustomed to do; telling me that, as I should always be supplied with money, I had better go into the society of respectable tradesmen, where I was not known.
When we arrived at Fulham he ordered a fowl and some pickled pork for our dinner, and then renewed the conversation, cautioning me especially against committing any petty theft for the supply of present need, saying it would now be inexcusable, because, if I were prudent, I could not want money.
He further informed me that the business I should have to perform would be all straightforward work, unaccompanied with any risk, compared to my former mode of proceeding, but of that I should be better informed, when he sent me to another person; concluding by saying, that all property which came into my hands must be faithfully delivered, untouched, according to the directions in every case given; and that any deviation from such a line of conduct could not fail of being fatal to me, because, as the society gave liberal per centages upon all property which came into their possession, they exacted the strictest account from indi. viduals, nor would they leave unpunished a dishonest member of their community, when detected ; adding, that their measures were so well taken, that none who attempted to appropriate to themselves property unfairly could escape detection. He then put ten pounds into my hand, together with a card, on which was written, “Be at the gate of the almshouses opposite the Elephant and Castle at twelve o'clock to-morrow morning;" after which he paid for our dinner and wine, and then wished me good day.
Turning over in my mind, as I returned to town, all the particulars of this interview, I was struck with the threat held out, that any deviation from the rules laid down would be fatal to me; this part of the conversation occupied all my thoughts, and it was not until the following day that I penetrated its full meaning, viz.— that as the primary movers of all the plans were always kept in the back-ground, and never known to the subordinate operatives, all schemes for obtaining property necessarily must be issued from their incognito superiors, who could, at any time, send their workmen upon such jobs as should ensure their certain apprehension and subsequent conviction; and this the leading men can accomplish without any risk on their own part, when they have a faithless or an obnoxious auxiliary among them.
On my arrival in town I immediately proceeded to the lodgings of my friend who had introduced me to this party, but to my surprise he had left town, and all my subsequent inquiries, to find where he was gone, among bis companions, and at the well-known places of rendezvous, proved fruitless, nor did I see him, or hear in any way from him, for two years afterwards, when I learnt that he had been suddenly ordered into the country, to work at a branch station, precisely at the time I was about to be placed among strangers,-a piece of policy our employers have very excellent reasons for adopting.
The following morning I obeyed my instructions, and went to the gate of the Fishmongers' Company's alms-houses, where stood a person who knew me, although I had no knowledge of him. The moment he saw me, he came up, and accosting me, said, “ It appears that you and I are to do some business together, (showing me a duplicate card to my own,) come, let us walk away from here.” We then proceeded a little way down the road, when a Croydon coach passing, he proposed that we should both get on it: as I entered no demurrer to this measure, we were soon seated, and carried, without another word being spoken by either of us, ten miles from the noisy metropolis. We dined and spent the day at Croydon, during which he further enlightened my mind upon the perfect system of robbery, by which the party with which I was now connected conducted their affairs. He then gave me to understand that our employers were real swells, (gentlemen in appearance, judging also from the company they kept,) but that they were invisible to all the men who performed the actual work, their avocations being confined to invention, discovery, the obtaining information, and issuing orders, besides that of disbursing a fair proportion of the receipts, and withholding a capital to support their retainers, when there was no employment for them. “ These orders,” said he, “ they give out in such a manner, and with so much secret judgment, that none of the operatives can possibly ever know whence they originate: this,” he added, with remarkable emphasis, “ they accomplish with an astonishing degree of certainty;" saying, “ whoever they may be, they, for certes, have longer heads than our pudding-knobbed legislators: it's a great pity for the sake of the nation they can't be found out, and persuaded to form an administration among themselves for the better government of the country; it would then," continued he, “ be soon made apparent to the world that Metternich and Talleyrand were mere asinine politicians.” Going on in this strain, he added, “ There's myself now, I am but a messenger, a mercury among these gods, a kind of call-boy, to use a theatrical phrase; I summon the actors to the stage, and deliver out the instructions for the guidance of individuals who are selected to give effect to, and perfect the performance of the drama ; but then I know nothing of the author or stage manager, neither have I, or shall I, ever be admitted to the green room. Although I am now about to deliver you your first orders from these incognito great men, mind, I know not from whence they come, or who issued them; they were left at my house in writing from an unknown hand. I am regularly paid, and therefore prudently abstain from further inquiry, which might lead to my ruin, without offering a chance of doing me any further good. And now, sir, before I conclude,” looking me hard in the face, he continued, “ let me give you one general and serious piece of advice-perform your duty rigidly, maintain, upon all occasions, a respectable appearance, and never attempt to penetrate their secrets; if you do, you are assuredly an undone man. Remember my words, nothing can save you ; for if you quit the service, and embark in another line, either for yourself or other persons, on the first affair you are concerned in you will be apprehended, and have for your opponents a more fearful enemy than Bow-street officers-those who will unerringly bring the whole weight of the law upon you.” Hearing this, I expressed some surprise: my companion, however, soon made me understand that they had emissaries all over the town and country, and that when a black mark was placed against a man's name, they very soon caused his apprehension, because he must, when they withheld his supplies, either consent to go on such jobs as they ordered, or undertake private business of robbery; and in both cases they would give information to occasion his conviction ; besides, afterwards, sending to the Secretary of State's office accounts of his bad character, and the number of robberies in which he had been concerned. These reports they, and all others connected with the family men, well know are received and swallowed with great avidity at head quarters, and used as plaisters to heal the lacerated feelings of any soft-hearted, non-hanging applicant for mercy at the hands of the king, as it is erroneously termed. Concluding with
“ For men ere now grown wise, and understand
How to improve their crimes as well as land;
And pay before-hand (ere they're born) the nurse." Although this at first appeared harsh conduct on the part of the great men in our walk of life, I could not, on reflection, but acknowledge that it arose from expediency, and was justified upon the same principle, as are the pressing seamen and flogging in the army, and that law advocated by many of our great men in the parliament-house—the law of necessity; which law, by the way, nobody understands better than myself, for this reason -all the actions of my life, up to the present moment of my writing this, have been the result, and under the control, of this said despotic rule of individuals. It is true that, although I could not choose my path in the world, I might, if I pleased, have stood still: in other words, I might have put an end to my life instead of becoming a thief; but for not taking the latter course, I have two good reasons to urge. Firstly, that the desire to preserve life is a principle in men which predominates over all others, more especially with the younger subjects of the creation; this principle is the ruling power of action in every animal, but in man, when opposed to honour, honesty, and other moral laws, it overturns and tramples them under feet, in spite of all saws and modern cant.
I will grant that there are some few exceptions—instances, for example, wherein the parties have had the instruction of some parson in false notions, regarding the laws and operations of nature ; setting up other gods and idols for worship instead of nature's God, thereby producing an imbecility of the mind, and the destruction of the natural feelings of man; and this they term wisdom, such as only a few can comprehend.