CAPTAIN HENRY SMYTHEE
Executed at Dorchester, April 12, 1741, for the murder or the female whom he had seduced.
No sooner had we resumed the pen, after putting the finishing stroke to the interesting account of Gilbert Langley; and while yet the innocent Nanette was tripping o'er our fancy; the case of a detested murderer of the female he had loved, obtrudes upon our notice. When the object of his lust, and the victim of his barbarity, fell into his snare, she was innocent, virtuous and beautiful, as Nanette. With the poet would we exclaim,
"Accurs'd be that man who rifles innocence and beauty, And then, like a detested weed, throws it away."
Yet, after the commission of such crimes, men have breathed the air of heaven, while they deserved damnation; until the terribly offended laws of man have inflicted punishment on the wretches. Every circumstance that could aggravate, will be found in this shocking case. The murderer was a husband to another woman, and a father of children born in wedlock.
Henry Smythee was brought up to a sea-faring life, and succeeded his father in the command of a large merchant ship, in a foreign trade. After he had made several voyages, a storm obliged him to put into the harbour of Pool in Dorsetshire, where he saw a young lady, the daughter of a merchant, to whom he paid his addresses, and was in a short time married. His wife's father dying soon after their marriage, Mr. Smythee declined going any longer to sea, engaged in the mercantile business, and employed his leisure hours in rural diversions.
One day, when out with his gun, he wandered so far from home that he lost his way, and being very hungry, he strolled to a cottage kept by a poor widower, named Ralph Mew, who had an only daughter, equally distinguished by the elegance of her form, and the simplicity of her manners.
Mr. Smythee requested the favour of some food; but the countryman suspecting that he meant to take some undue advantage of him, told him he might be supplied at a public-house a mile distant. Smythee, to convince the countryman that he was no impostor, shewed him a diamond- ring, a purse of gold, and his watch; on which he was asked to sit down; and Jane Mew the daughter, fried some bacon and eggs for him, while her father drew some of his best ale.
After the repast, he recounted some of his adventures in foreign parts; but in the mean time regarded the daughter with an eye of desire, and being struck with her superior charms, resolved to get possession of her, if possible.
On his quitting the house, the old man told him that if he came that way another time, he should be welcome to any thing in his cottage, except his daughter. On the-following day he went to the cottage, and gave the old man a tortoise-shell snuff-box, as a compliment for his hospitable behaviour the day before.
The old cottager going out, Mr. Smythee paid his warmest addresses to the daughter, to whom he presented some jewels: but she no sooner judged of his design, than she said, "Is it thus, sir, you make returns for my father's hospitality, and my civility? And can you be such a wretch, as to think that my poverty will make me guilty of a dishonourable action?" Saying this, she rejected his presents with contempt; while he, struck with the force of what she had urged, remained some time speechless, and then attributed his conduct to the violence of his passion, and offered to make her all the satisfaction in his power, by marriage.
The girl acquainting her father with what had passed, Mr. Smythee was permitted to pay his addresses in an honourable way: but such were his artifice and villainy, that his solemn vows of marriage soon prevailed over the too credulous girl; and her ruin was the consequence.
When the father found that his daughter was pregnant, he died with grief, leaving the unhappy girl a prey to the pungent sorrows of her own mind. Distressed as she was, she wrote to her seducer, but as he took no notice of her letter, she went to Pool, and being directed to his house, the door was opened by Mrs. Smythee, who demanded her business, and said she was the wife of the person for whom she inquired. The poor girl was so shocked to find that Mr. Smythee had a wife, that it was with difficulty she was kept from fainting.
When somewhat recovered, she said that she was with child by Mr. Smythee, who had seduced her under promise of marriage. Hereupon the wife censured her conduct with unreasonable severity, and threatened that she should be lodged in prison if she did not immediately quit the town.
Leaving the house, the unhappy creature fainted in the street, and was soon surrounded by a number of females, who insulted her with every term of reproach. When she recovered her senses, she went to a public-house, where she intended to have lodged; but the landlady threatening to send for the beadle, she was obliged to quit the house.
In the interim Mr. Smythee came to his own house, and after being compelled to listen to the reproaches of his wife on the infidelity of his conduct, he went out, and desired a person to call on the young woman, and appoint her to meet him at a place without the town.
The unfortunate girl met him accordingly; what passed between them it is impossible to know; but on the following day she was found with her throat cut, and a bloody knife laying by her. Smythee absconding, it was generally supposed that he had been the murderer; and, on his return to Pool, about a month afterwards, he was taken into custody, and lodged in the county gaol.
In his defence at his trial, he urged that the reason of his absence from his family was a quarrel with his wife, in consequence of the unhappy discovery that had been made by the deceased: but as he could bring no proof of his being absent from the spot when the murder was committed, no doubt remained of his guilt, he was capitally convicted, and sentenced to die.
After conviction, he was visited by several clergymen, who exerted themselves to impress him with a due sense of his awful situation. As his death advanced, he became still more resigned, acknowledged the many errors of his life, and confessed himself worthy to undergo the rigour of the law.
He walked to the place of execution, amidst an immense surrounding multitude, and, having ascended the cart, addressed the populace, advising them to refrain from yielding to them first impulses of temptation, as they would wish to be preserved from the violation of the Divine laws. After the usual devotions, he drew his cap over his face, and saying, "To thee, O Lord, I resign my soul," he was launched into eternity.