The Extraordinary Career of a Youth, who was executed at Tyburn, 16th of November, 1747, after returning from Transportation, for Highway Robbery
HENRY SIMMS was born in the parish of St Martin's-in- the-Fields, London, and was soon a helpless orphan. His grandmother, who was a Dissenter, sent him first to a school kept by a clergyman, but as he frequently ran away she placed him at an academy in St James's parish, where he became proficient in writing and arithmetic, and was likewise a tolerable Latin and French scholar.
Before the boy had completed his tenth year he gave a specimen of his dishonest disposition. His grandmother taking him with her on a visit to a tradesman's house, he stole twenty shillings from the till in the shop, which being observed by the maid- servant, she informed her master; and, the money being found on the youth, he was severely punished. He now began to lie from home at nights, and associated with the vilest of company, in the purlieus of St Giles's. His companions advising him to rob his grandmother, he stole seventeen pounds from her and, taking his best apparel, repaired to St Giles's, where his new acquaintances made him drunk, put him to bed, and then robbed him of his money and clothes. On his waking he covered himself with some rags he found in the room and, after strolling through the streets in search of the villains, went into an ale-house, the landlord of which, hearing his tale, interceded with his grandmother to take him again under her protection. To this, after some hesitation, she consented; and, buying a chain with a padlock, she had him fastened, during the daytime, to the kitchen grate, and at night he slept with a man who was directed to take care that he did not escape.
After a month of confinement he had his liberty granted him and new clothes purchased, with which he immediately went among some young thieves who were tossing up for money, in St Giles's. On the approach of night they took him to a brick-kiln near Tottenham Court Road, where they broiled some steaks, and supped in concert; and were soon joined by some women, who brought some geneva, with which the whole company regaled themselves.
Simms, falling asleep, was robbed of his clothes; and when the brickmakers came to work in the morning they found him in his shirt only. While they were conducting him towards town he was met by his grandmother's servant, who was in search of him, and conveyed him to her house. Notwithstanding his former behaviour the old lady received him kindly, and placed him with a breeches-maker. He having corrected him for his ill behaviour, he ran away, and taking his best clothes from his grandmother's house, in her absence, sold them to a Jew, and spent the money in extravagance.
The old gentlewoman now went to live at the house of Lady Stanhope, whither the graceless boy followed her, and being refused admittance he broke several of the windows. This in some measure compelled his grandmother to admit him; but that very night he robbed the house of as many things as produced him nine pounds, which he carried to a barn in Marylebone Fields, and spent among his dissolute companions. For this offence he was apprehended, and, after some hesitation, confessed where he had sold the effects. From this time his grandmother gave him up as incorrigible. Soon afterwards he was apprehended as a pickpocket, but he was discharged for want of evidence.
Simms now associated with the worst of company; but after a narrow escape on a charge of being concerned in sending a threatening letter to extort money, and two of his companions being transported for other offences, he seemed deterred from continuing his evil courses; and thereupon wrote to his grandmother, entreating her further protection. Still anxious to save him from destruction, she prevailed on a friend to take him into his house, where for some time he behaved regularly; but, getting among his old associates, they robbed a gentleman of his watch and money, and threw him into a ditch in Marylebone Fields; when only some persons accidentally coming up prevented his destruction.
Two more of Simms' companions being now transported, he hired himself to an innkeeper as a driver of a post-chaise; and after that lived as postilion to a nobleman, but was soon discharged on account of his irregular conduct. Having received some wages, he went again among the thieves, who dignified him with the title of "Gentleman Harry," on account of his presumed skill, and the gentility of his appearance. Simms now became intimately acquainted with a woman who lived with one of his accomplices, in revenge for which the fellow procured both him and the woman to be taken into custody on a charge of felony, and they were committed to Newgate; but, the Court paying no regard to the credibility of the witnesses, the prisoners were acquitted.
Soon after his discharge Simms robbed a gentleman of his watch and seventeen pounds on Blackheath, and likewise robbed a lady of a considerable sum near the same spot. Being followed to Lewisham, he was obliged to quit his horse, when he presented two pistols to his pursuers, by which he so intimidated them as to effect his escape, though with the loss of his horse.
Repairing to London he bought another horse, and travelling into Northamptonshire, and putting up at an inn at Towcester, learned that a military gentleman had hired a chaise for London; on which he followed the chaise the next morning, and kept up with it for several miles. At length the gentleman, observing him, said: "Don't ride so hard, Sir, you'll soon ride away your whole estate"; to which Simms replied: "Indeed I shall not, for it lies in several counties"; and, instantly quitting his horse, he robbed the gentleman of one hundred and two guineas.
He now hastened to London, and, having dissipated his ill- acquired money at a gaming-table, rode out towards Hounslow, and meeting the postilion who had driven the above-mentioned gentleman in Northamptonshire gave him five shillings, begging he would take no notice of having seen him. A reward being at length offered for apprehending Simms, he entered on board a privateer; but being soon weary of a seafaring life he deserted, and enlisted for a soldier. While in this station he knocked out the eye of a woman at a house of ill-fame, for which he was apprehended and lodged in New Prison. Soon after this, Justice de Veil admitted him an evidence against some felons, his accomplices, who were transported, and Simms regained his liberty.
Being apprehended for robbing a baker's shop, he was convicted, and being sentenced to be transported was, accordingly, shipped on board one of the transport vessels. As this sailed round to the Isle of Wight he formed a plan for seizing the captain, and effecting an escape; but as a strict watch was kept on him it was not possible for him to carry this plan into execution. The ship arriving at Maryland, Simms was sold, for twelve guineas, but he found an early opportunity of deserting from the purchaser. Having learned that his master's horse was left tied to a gate at some distance from the dwelling-house, he privately decamped in the night, and rode thirty miles in four hours, through extremely bad roads: so powerfully was he impelled by his fears.
He now found himself by the seaside, and, turning the horse loose, he hailed a vessel just under sail, from which a boat was sent to bring him on board. As hands were very scarce, the captain offered him six guineas, which were readily accepted, to work his passage to England. There being at this time a war between England and France, the ship was taken by a French privateer, but soon afterwards ransomed; and Simms entered on board a man-of-war, where his diligence promoted him to the rank of a midshipman. But the ship had no sooner arrived at Plymouth than he quitted his duty and, travelling to Bristol, spent the little money he possessed in the most dissipated manner.
His next step was to enter himself on board a coasting vessel at Bristol, but he had not been long at sea before, on a dispute with the captain, he threatened to throw him overboard, and would have carried his threat into execution if the other seamen had not prevented him. Simms asked for his wages when the ship returned to port; but on the captain threatening imprisonment for his ill behaviour at sea he decamped, with only eight shillings in his possession.
Fertile of contrivances, he borrowed a bridle and saddle, and having stolen a horse, in a field near the city, he went once more on the highway, and taking the road to London robbed the passengers in the Bristol coach, those in another carriage, and a single lady and gentleman, and repaired to London with the booty he had acquired.
Having put up the stolen horse at an inn in Whitechapel, and soon afterwards seeing it advertised, he was afraid to fetch it: on which he stole another horse; but as he was riding through Tyburn Turnpike, the keeper, knowing the horse, brought the rider to the ground. Hereupon Simms presented a pistol, and threatened the man with instant death if he presumed to detain him. By this daring mode of proceeding he obtained his liberty, and, having made a tour round the fields, he entered London by another road. On the following day he went to Kingston-upon-Thames, he stole a horse, and then robbed several people on his return to London; and the day afterwards robbed seven farmers of eighteen pounds. His next depredations were in Epping Forest, where he committed five robberies in one day, but soon spent what he thus gained among women of ill-fame. Thinking it unsafe to remain longer in London, he set out with a view of going to Ireland; but had ridden only to Barnet when he crossed the country to Harrow-on-the-Hill, where he robbed a gentleman, named Sleep, of his money and watch, and would have taken his wig, but the other said it was of no value, and he hoped, as it was cold weather, his health might not be endangered by being deprived of it. The robber threatened Mr Sleep's life unless he would swear never to take any notice of the affair; but this the gentleman absolutely refused. Hereupon Simms said that if he had not robbed him, two other persons would; and told him to say "Thomas" if he should meet any people on horseback.
Soon after this, Mr Sleep, meeting two men whom he presumed to be accomplices of the highwayman, cried out "Thomas!" -- but the travellers paying no regard to him he was confirmed in his suspicions, and rode after them; and on his arrival at Hoddesdon Green he found several other persons, all of them in pursuit of the highwayman.
In the meantime Simms rode forward, and robbed the St Albans stage; after which he went as far as Hockliffe; but, being now greatly fatigued, he fell asleep in the kitchen of an inn, whither he was pursued by some light horsemen from St Albans, who took him into custody. Being confined for that night, he was carried in the morning before a magistrate, who committed him to Bedford Jail. By an unaccountable neglect his pistol had not been taken from him, and on his way to prison he attempted to shoot one of his guards; but the pistol missing fire, his hands were tied behind him; and when he arrived at the prison he was fastened to the floor, with an iron collar round his neck. Being removed to London, by a writ of habeas corpus, he was lodged in Newgate, where he was visited, from motives of curiosity, by numbers of people, whom he amused with a narrative of his having been employed to shoot the King.
On this he was examined before the Duke of Newcastle, then Secretary of State; but, his whole story bearing evident marks of a fiction, he was remanded to Newgate, to take his trial at the ensuing Old Bailey sessions. Ten indictments were preferred against him; but, being convicted for the robbery of Mr Sleep, it was not thought necessary to arraign him on any other of the indictments.
After conviction he behaved with great unconcern, and in some instances with insolence. Having given a fellowprisoner a violent blow, he was chained to the floor. He appeared shocked when the warrant for his execution arrived; but soon resumed his former indifference, and continued it even to the moment of execution, when he behaved in the most thoughtless manner.
He was hanged at Tyburn, on the 16th of November, 1747.