Executed at Surrey, August 12, 1749, for burglary.
HOUSE-BREAKING is a desperate species of robbery. Those who engage in it may be fitly compared to Satan, who, in an inauspicious hour, broke into the garden of Eden, stripped our first parents of their innocence, and filled the world with violence and rapine. Thieves and robbers are of their father the devil, and the work of their father they will do; but all such enjoy short and unsatisfying pleasure, to which long woe frequently succeeds: and, in the mean time, while such persons are carrying on their depredations on the public, they cannot but at times, unless entirely hardened, be subject to the stings of an accusing conscience, which severely condemns the guilty. The terrors of an agonizing conscience have, in many instances, been so intolerable, that the atrocious offender, unable to support the violence of divine wrath, has often laid violent hands on himself; but this desperate expedient will prove at length, to all such, only the beginning of sorrows in the world to come.
Benjamin Neale was a hardened sinner,. whose fate exhibits a melancholy instance of the danger of mixing in dissolute company. He was the son of an apothecary and surgeon at Extel, in Warwickshire, who, having, many children to provide for, apprenticed Benjamin to a baker in a large business, at Coventry.
During his apprenticeship his conduct was very reprehensible, for he would frequently stay out whole nights, and return to his master's house in the morning in a state of intoxication.
With some difficulty he served to the end of his time, when several of the inhabitants of Coventry recommended it to his father to put him into business, and promised to deal with him; and the father enabled him to begin the world in a creditable manner. For a considerable time he had such success in business, that he became the principal baker in the place; and he married the daughter of one of the aldermen, with whom he received a good fortune, and would soon have been a rich man if he had paid a proper attention to his business: however, it was not long after he received his wife's fortune before he began to give himself such airs of consequence as rendered him disagreeable to his wife, and made the servants look on him as a perfect tyrant.
To this behaviour succeeded a neglect of his business, which visibly declined, while he frequented cock-pits and horse-races, it was in vain that his father and his wife remonstrated on the impropriety of this conduct, and represented its inconsistence with the life of a tradesman: he continued his courses till his character was lost, and he was reduced to labour as a journeyman baker.
Unable to submit with decency to a fate which he had brought on himself, he wandered about the country, picking up a casual and doubtful subsistence. Returning one night to Coventry, he found his mother, his wife, and child, in company. He demanded money, but they refusing to supply him, he threatened to murder them, and was proceeding to put his threats into execution, when their cries alarmed the neighbours, and prevented the perpetration of the deed; but this affair had such an effect on his wife that she was seized with a fever, which soon put a period to her life.
This disaster did not seem to make any impression on his mind, for, travelling soon after into Staffordshire, he married a second wife; but, returning to Coventry, he privately sold off his effects, and left the poor woman in circumstances of great distress.
It was not long after this before he commenced highwayman, and committed a variety of robberies on different roads, and at length became a house-breaker, which brought him to a fatal end.
At Farnham, in Surrey, lived a gentleman of fortune, named Newton, at whose house Neale thought he might acquire a considerable booty, and, in pursuance of this plan, he broke into the house at four o'clock in the morning, and, forcing open a bureau, he stole several bank-notes, an East-India bond, between fifty and sixty pounds in money, some medals of gold, and several valuable articles.
Mr. Newton no sooner discovered the robbery than he sent off a messenger, with a letter to his brother in London, requesting that he would advertise the loss, and stop payment of the notes. When Neale had committed the robbery, he likewise proceeded towards London, and, when he came to Brentford, offered some water-men three shillings and sixpence to row him to town; but this they refused, and Neale had no sooner got into another boat which was putting from the shore, than the messenger arrived at Brentford; and the watermen, having entertained a suspicion of Neale, asked the man if he was in pursuit of a thief, and, he replying in the affirmative, they pointed to the boat in which Neale was sitting.
On this the messenger hired another boat, and having overtaken him, found him wrapped up in a waterman's coat. The criminal being conducted before a magistrate, the stolen effects were found in his possession: on which he was ordered for commitment, and conveyed to Newgate the same day.
When the assizes for Surrey began, he was sent to Guildford, where he was capitally convicted, and sentenced to die. After conviction his behaviour was such as might have been expected from one who was too hardened to repent of crimes which he could not hesitate to commit. His conduct was so totally improper for his situation, that even the keepers of the gaol seemed to be shocked at his want of feeling, and advised him to amend his manners: but their advice was lost on one of the most abandoned of the human race.
[Note: We could wish to caution housekeepers to look every evening about their houses, and particularly in their bedchambers, for lurking thieves, who often steal in unobserved about twilight, and lie concealed until they find an opportunity of plundering, and perhaps murdering, the family in their sleep. The following anecdote, among many similar circumstances which we have met with, may serve to strengthen our admonition: Mrs. Lewis, who kept a public-house at Hilsea, near Portsmouth, was alarmed, on going to bed, by observing the feet of a man below the window curtain; at the same moment her young child, who slept with her, cried for beer, and, with a happy presence of mind, she answered, that she would go down stairs, and bring it drink. This fortunate pretence afforded her an opportunity of alarming her neighbours, who entered the house, and seized the villain, with a razor in his hand, with which he most likely meant to have cut her throat. It is remarkable that this woman's husband was, a few years before, shot by a robber of the name of Williams, who was executed for the murder, and his body at the time hanging in chains on South-sea common, adjoining Portsmouth.]