The Life of ANTHONY DRURY
This unfortunate man, whose fate made a great noise in the town at the time it happened, was born of parents neither mean in family nor fortune, in the county of Norfolk, where he received his education, on which no little pains and expense were bestowed. As to the particular circumstances of his life in his most early years, as no exact accounts have come to my hands, so I do not think myself obliged to frame any adventures for the entertainment of my readers, a practice very common, yet I think unjustifiable in itself. All that I can is that it appears he lived at Oxford and Bicester before he came to Wendover, at which place he had a house and family at the time of his death.
He was not, as far as I am able to learn, bred up to any particular profession whatever, his parents leaving him in circumstances capable of supporting himself. However, whether he arrived at it after some misfortunes, or had it discovered to him before, certain it is that he gained some knowledge in the act of curing smoking chimneys, by which he got very considerably, and from whence be derived the name of the Smoky Chimney Doctor, by which he was commonly known in the county of Bucks.
Some few years before his death, he married a widow gentlewoman at Oxford, of a considerable fortune. The world (though something too largely) reported that she had fifteen hundred pounds. However it were, he still addicted himself to women, and in all probability made her but an indifferent husband, since she took so little care about him, when in the midst of so great calamities. However it were, he maintained a tolerable character in the neighbourhood, and his credit had not been impeached in any degree when he committed the fact I am going to relate.
On the twenty-fifth of September, 1726, he attacked the Bicester wagon as it was coming from London, and committed the following robberies therein, viz., he took from Thomas Eldridge, fifteen moidores, two hundred and ten guineas, eighty half-guineas, and the goods and money of Mr. Burrows. He was likewise indicted and found guilty for assaulting Sarah, the wife of Robert King, on the highway, and robbing her of two shillings and sixpence. As likewise on a third indictment, for assaulting the aforesaid Thomas Eldridge, and taking from him a calico gown and petticoat, value twenty shillings, the goods of Giles Betts. There was a fourth indictment against him for assaulting Mary, the wife of Joseph Page, and taking from her two shillings and sixpence, but the three former being all capital, the court did not think proper to try him upon this.
While he lay under sentence of death he did not discover any signs of excessive fear, but appeared rather perplexed and confused than dispirited or dejected. He entertained at first great hopes of a reprieve, at least in order to be transported, and for obtaining it he spent a great deal of time writing to several friends who he thought might be instrumental in procuring it. However, he was far from neglecting the concerns of his soul, but read daily with much seeming diligence several little books proper for a man in his condition, and whenever he attended at chapel behaved with the utmost gravity, praying, if we may guess from exterior signs, with much fervour and devotion. He was a man very well acquainted with the principles of the Christian religion, and was in all appearance better persuaded of the merit and efficacy of his Saviour's passion than people often are in his condition.
As to his capacity, it appeared to have been very tolerable in itself, and to have received many advantages from education. How he acquired the art of curing smoky chimneys is not very well known, he having been bred up to no trade whatsoever, but coming into the world with a little fortune left him by his parents, he lived thereupon with a tolerable reputation, until the time of his marriage.
When he was first under sentence he was very desirous of having his wife come to town, and for that purpose wrote her several pressing letters, to which he received no answer. This gave him great disturbance. He thereupon wrote to a friend in the country, who lived near her, on whom also he had a strong dependance, entreating him to go to his wife and solicit her not absolutely to desert him in his extreme calamity, but to come up to town with him, in order to make their last efforts for his preservation. This epistle, however, proved in the main as unsuccessful as the rest, though it procured him an answer, wherein the person he wrote to informed him that his wife was extremely lame, insomuch that she could not put on her own clothes; that her servant was gone; that she had no money wherewith to defray the expenses of a journey to town, much less to assist him in his distress. As for himself, his friend excused his coming by reason of a great cold which he had caught in London when he came up before to attend Mr. Drury's affairs.
Hereupon the unfortunate criminal bethought himself of another expedient, which he imagined would not fail of engaging Mrs. Drury to come to London. He informed her by letter, that in the beginning of his troubles he had pawned some silver plate in town for four-and-twenty pounds, that it was more than double the value, and might probably be lost on his death. To this his friend wrote him back that if anybody would take the plate out, and give advice thereof to Mrs. Drury, she would repay them, and gratify them also for their trouble. When this letter came to the poor man's hand he said he was satisfied that his wife did not desire he should live, however he heartily forgave her.
He constantly denied that he had ever been concerned in any act of a like kind with that for which he died. He acknowledged that with what his wife had, and the business he followed, he might have lived very genteelly in the country; that he had not indeed, been very prudent in the management of his affairs; however, it was no necessity that forced him on the base and wicked act for which he died, the sole cause of his committing which was, as he solemnly protested, the repeated solicitations of King, the wagoner, who for a considerable time before represented the attempt to him as a thing no way dangerous in itself, and which would bring him a very large sum of ready money. As soon as King perceived that his insinuations begun to make some impression, he opened himself more fully as to the facility of robbing the Bicester wagon, "Wherein", says he, "you will find generally a pretty handsome sum of money; and as to opposition, depend on it you shall meet with none." At last these speeches prevailed on him, and it was agreed that the wagoner should have half the booty for his advice and assistance; and the better to conceal it, Drury, was directed to rob King's wife of about four pounds, which was all she had about her.
A minister of the Church of England, who was either acquainted with Mr. Drury, or out of charitable intention, attended him at the request of his friends, took abundance of pains to give him just notions of his duty in that unfortunate slate into which his folly had brought him; he repeated to him the reasons which render a public confession necessary from those who die by judgment of the Law; he exhorted him not to equivocate, or even extenuate in his declarations concerning his offence. Mr. Drury heard him with great patience, seemed to be much affected with the remonstrances which were made to him, and finally promised that he would act sincerely in the confessions he made to the public; adding that he had none in whom to trust but God alone, and therefore he would not offend him. The reverend divine to whom he spoke approved his resolution, and promised to afford him all the assistance in his power till death.
As soon as the criminal was satisfied that all applications that had been made for mercy were ineffectual, and that there was not the least probability of a pardon, he immediately sent for the clergyman before-mentioned, and desired to receive the Sacrament at his hands, to which the gentleman readily assented, uttering only a short previous exhortation unto a true repentance, open and genuine confession, and full and free forgiveness unto all who had ever injured him, or unto whom he bore any ill will. Mr. Drury, therefore, before he received the Elements, owned in express terms his being guilty of the fact for which he died, affirmed the truth of what he had formerly said concerning the wagoner, declared that he forgave both him and his own wife sincerely, and that having now in some measure eased his mind, he was no longer afraid of death.
Mr. Drury, even after receiving sentence, was indulged by the keepers of Newgate in having a room to himself in the Press Yard, which afforded him leisure and privacy for his devotions; and he seemed, especially for the last days of his life, to make proper use of those conveniences by excluding himself from all company and applying earnestly to God in prayer for the forgiveness of his sins. During the two or three days succeeding that whereon he received sentence, a gentlewoman attended pretty constantly upon him. Who she was we can neither say, nor is it very material; but Mr. Drury appealing to her in the presence of some persons, as to the truth of what he alleged concerning King, the wagoner, she desired to relate what she knew as to that point. The account she gave was to this purpose. "Mr. Drury carried me out of town with him in a chaise to Wendover. On the road we were met by the wagoner he speaks on, who desired Mr. Drury to step out, for he wanted to speak with him. Thereupon he complying with the wagoner's request, they walked together to a considerable distance, and there stopping talked to each other very earnestly for some time." As to the subject of their discourse she declared she could say nothing, but as they came back to the chaise, the wagoner said, "You need not be afraid, you will be sure to get what you want." To say truth, it was very odd for a single man to rob a wagon to which so many people belonged, in company with several other wagons, without any opposition, though it be likewise true that he did not attempt any of the rest.
Some persons of quality were prevailed on by his earnest solicitations and the circumstances we have before mentioned to endeavour the procuring him a pardon, but it was in vain; and it would have certainly have been much better for the man if he never had any hopes given him, for though he did not depend as much on promises as men in his miserable condition frequently do, yet the desire of life, sometimes excited the hopes of it, and thereby took off his thoughts from more weighty concerns, or at least made him more languid and confused than otherways he would have been, for the very day before his death he still entertained some expectations of mercy.
The evening before he suffered a woman knocked at his chamber door, and earnestly desired to speak a few words to him. He accordingly came towards the door and asked her what it was she would have to say to him. The woman, after expressing much sorrow for his misfortunes, told him she was desired by a person to whom she had been servant, if the thing were possible, to learn from his own mouth what he had to say against the wagoner. Mr. Drury replied that he had never had any thought of robbing wagons, or any such thing, if the wagoner had not advised and pressed him to it; so that his blood, the loss of his life, and all he had in the world lay upon that man. Then shutting the door he returned to his devotions, and continued to them all the evening and until the night was considerably spent.
As death drew near it seemed not to affect him so much as might be expected. On the morning of his execution he appeared not only easy, but cheerful, attended at the prayers at chapel with much composure, and went out of Newgate without any sign of fright or disturbance of mind. On the road to Tyburn he appeared serious but melancholy, spoke a good deal concerning the errors of his former life, said he had never bees addicted to drinking, but had conversed too much with bad women, which had made his wife jealous, and caused home to be very uneasy. He seemed truly penitent for these offences, as he confessed them without any questions being asked by those about him.
At the place of execution his courage did not forsake him. He still preserved a great deal of serenity in his countenance, and when he was desired to acquaint the people with anything he had to say concerning the crime for which he died, he spoke with a strong voice, and repeated what he had formerly alleged about King, the wagoner, adding that he advised him also to rob the Banbury wagon; and that notwithstanding he talked of his wife's having four pounds about her, yet he took but three shillings, whereon the third indictment was founded, on which he was convicted. He then complained of his wife's unkindness, and both prayed for the spectators, and desired their prayers for him. As he was leaning on the side of the cart, the Ordinary told him that a man had charged him the day before with having married a man's daughter at Norwich, who is still living. Mr. Drury answered, he was reproached by many people, and he forgave them all, he then called to a gentleman who was near the gallows and spoke to him about his estate, which he had before settled. Afterwards he exhorted the people to live virtuously, and be warned by his example, and then submitted patiently to his fate, on Thursday, the third of November, 1726, being at that time of his decease about twenty-eight years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals