Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Bryan Smith


a Threatening Letter Writer

I have already observed how the Black Act was extended for punishing Charles Towers, concerned in setting up the New Mint, who as he affirmed died only for having his face accidentally dirty at the time he assaulted the bailiff's house. I must now put you in mind of another clause in the same act, viz., that for punishing with death those who sent any threatening letters in order to affright persons into a compliance with their demands, for fear of being murdered themselves, or having their houses fired about their ears. This clause of the Act is general, and therefore did not extend only to offences of this kind when committed by deer-stealers and those gangs against whom it was particularly levelled at that time, but included also whoever should be guilty of writing such letters to any person or persons whatsoever; which was a just and necessary construction of the Act, and not only made use of in the case of this criminal, but of many more since, becoming particularly useful of late years, when this practice became frequent.

Bryan Smith, who occasions this observation, was an Irishman, of parts so very mean as perhaps were never met with in one who passed for a rational creature; yet this fellow, forsooth, took it into his head that he might be able to frighten Baron Swaffo, a very rich Jew in the City, out of a considerable sum of money, by terrifying him with a letter. For this purpose he wrote one indeed in a style I daresay was never seen before, or since. Its spelling was "a la mode de brogue", and the whole substance of the thing was filled with oaths, curses, execrations and threatenings of murder and burning if such a sum of money was not sent as he, in his great wisdom, thought it fit to demand.

The man's management in sending this and directing how he would have an answer was of a piece with his style, and altogether made the discovery no difficult matter. So that Bryan being apprehended, was at the next sessions at the Old Bailey tried and convicted on the evidence of some of his countrymen, and when, after receiving sentence, there remained no hopes for him of favour, to make up a consistent character he declared himself a Papist, and as is usual with persons of that profession, was forbidden by his priest to go any more to the public chapel.

However, to do him justice as far as outward circumstances will give us leave to judge, he appeared very sorry for the crime he had committed, and having had the priest with him a considerable time the day before his death, he would needs go to the place of execution in a shroud.

As he went along he repeated the Hail Mary and Paternoster.

But there being many persons to suffer, and the executioner thereby being put into a confusion, Smith observing the hurry slipped the rope over his head, and jumped at once over the corpses in the cart amongst the mob. Had he been wise enough to have come in his clothes, and not in a shroud, it is highly probable he had made his escape; but his white dress rendering him conspicuous even at a distance, the sheriffs officers were not long before they retook him and placed him in his former situation again.

Hope and fear, desire of life, and dread of immediate execution, had occasioned so great an emotion of his spirits that he appeared in his last moments in a confusion not to be described, and departed the world in such an agony that he was a long time before he died, which was at the same time with the malefactor before-mentioned, viz., on the 30th of April, 1725.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals