Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Benjamin Wileman


a Highwayman

Amongst the many other ill consequences of a debauched life and wicked conversation, it may be reckoned, perhaps, no small one that they render men liable to suspicions, imprisonments and even capital punishment, when at the same time, they may be innocent of the particular fact with which they are charged; nor in such a case is the conviction of an innocent person so great a reflection on any, as on themselves having rendered such an accusation probable.

Benjamin Wileman, of whom we are now to speak, was the son of honest parents in the city of Dublin. They gave him a very good education at school, and when he was fit to go out apprentice, his father bred him to his own trade, which was that of a tailor. When he grew weary of that business, he listed himself as a soldier, and in that state of life passed twelve years, a sufficient space of time to acquire those numerous vices which are so ordinary amongst the common sort of men, who betake themselves to a military employment. Then he came over into England and lived here, as he himself said, by working at his own trade; though certain it is, that he led a most debauched and dissolute life, associating himself with those of his countrymen who of all others were the most abandoned in their characters. In fine, in all the associations of his life he seemed to proceed without any other design than that of gratifying his vicious inclinations.

In the midst of this terrible course of folly and wickedness he was apprehended for a highwayman, committed to Newgate, and at the ensuing sessions capitally indicted for two robberies, the one committed on William Hucks, Esq., and the other on William Bridges, Esq. On the first indictment it was deposed by the prosecutor that he believed Wileman to be the person who attacked him. John Doyle, who owned himself to have been an accomplice in the robbery, swore that Wileman and he committed it together, and that he paid Wileman five guineas and a half for his share of the gold watch and other things which were taken from the gentleman. As to the second fact, Mr. Bridges gave evidence that he was robbed on the highway and lost a sword, a hat, a pocket-book and a bank-note for twenty pounds. Doyle gave evidence in this, as in the former case, declaring that Wileman and he committed the fact together.

Then Elizabeth Jones being produced, swore that the same day she met Doyle and Wileman booted and spurred and very dirty in Bedford Row, and that they showed her the bank note, which when shown to her, she deposed to be the same. Arabelle Manning deposed that on the night of the day the robbery was committed, the prisoner Wileman and Doyle gave her a dram at a gin-shop in Drury Lane, and that one of them let fall a paper, and taking it up again, said that the loss of it would have been the loss of twenty pounds.

The prisoner objected to the character of Doyle, Jones and Manning, and called some persons as to his own, but the jury thinking the fact sufficiently proved, found him guilty on both indictments. Under sentence of death, his behaviour was very regular, professing a deep sorrow and repentance for a very loose life which he had led, and at the same time peremptorily denying that he had any hand in, or knew anything of either of those facts which had been sworn against him, and for which he was to die.

Notwithstanding that the most earnest entreaties were made use of to induce him to a plain and sincere confession, yet he continued always to assert his innocence as to thieving, letting fall sharp and invidious expressions against the evidence of Doyle whom he charged with swearing against him only to preserve another guilty person from punishment, whom Wileman intended to prosecute and had it is his power to convict. The effects of his former good education were very serviceable to him in this his great and last misfortune, for he seemed to have very just notions of those duties which were incumbent upon him in his miserable state; therefore, especially towards the latter part of his time, he appeared gravely at chapel and prayed fervently in his cell until the boy James Grundy, whom we have mentioned before, put it in to his head to make his escape; for the attempting which they were all carried (as we have said before) into the old condemned hold and there stapled down to the ground.

As there is no courage so reasonable as that which is founded on Christian principles, so neither constitutional bravery nor that resolution which arises either from custom, from vanity, or from other false maxims preserves that steady firmness at the approach of death which gives true quiet and peace of mind in the last moments of life, taking away through the certainty of belief, those terrors which are otherwise too strong for the mind, and which human nature is unable to resist. Wileman's conduct under his misfortunes, fully verified this observation in its strongest sense; he only retained just notions of religion and this enabled him to support his affliction after a very different manner from that in which it affected his two companions; or as it had done himself before, from a just contemplation of the mercy of God, and the merits of his Saviour, he had brought himself to a right idea of the importance of his soul, and thereby took himself off from the superfluous consideration of this world and stifled those uneasy sensations with which men are naturally startled at the approach of death. Yet he did not in all this time alter a jot in his confession, but asserted calmly that he was innocent, and that Doyle had perjured himself in order to take away his life.

At the place of execution his wife came to him, embraced him with great tenderness, and all he said there in relation to the world was that he hoped nobody would reflect upon her for the misfortune which had befallen him, and then, with great piety and resignation in the midst of fervent ejaculations, yielded up his last breath at Tyburn, at the same time with the malefactor before mentioned, being at the time of his decease about forty-three years of age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals