The Lives of CHRISTOPHER, alias THOMAS RAWLINS; ISAAC ASHLEY, alias ALSEBY; JOHN ROUDEN, alias HULKS; EDWARD BENSON, alias BROWN, alias BOYSTON; GEORGE GALE, alias KIDDY GEORGE; THOMAS CROWDER; JAMES TOON; JOHN HORNBY; WILLIAM SEFTON; and RICHARD NICHOLS
Thieves, Street-Robbers, Housebreakers, etc.
Although the several criminals whose lives we are now going to relate do not so well tally with one another, they having been of different gangs and dying for various offences, yet as they were all apprehended in consequence of the before-mentioned proclamation, were street-robbers and most of them not unknown to each other, I thought it would be better to speak of them here all at once rather than divide them into several lives. I have very little to say of any of them worthy the attention of the reader.
To begin, then, with Christopher, alias Thomas Rawlins. He was the son of very honest parents here in town, who brought him up as well as their circumstances would permit, and when he grew big enough to go out to a trade put him apprentice to a silversmith with whom he served out his time with tolerable reputation. But being a lad of great gaiety and spirit, having much addicted himself to the company of young fellows of a like disposition, frequented dancing meetings, and taken delight in everything but his business, such inclinations as these easily betrayed him to the commission of the greatest crimes and a certain alertness in his temper made him very acceptable to those debauched young fellows who were his usual companions to such places. Whether he was at first seduced by the persuasions of others to the committing thefts and robberies, or whether those necessities to which their extravagancies had reduced them put him and his associates on taking such measures for filling their purses, is hard to be determined. But certain it is that for some time before his being apprehended he had been very busy in committing such exploits and for his courage and dexterity was looked upon as one of the chief of the gang.
Isaac Ashley, who was Rawlins's companion, and who went commonly amongst them by the nickname of Black Isaac, was a fellow of a very different cast. His parents were poor people, who had, indeed, taken as much care as was in their power of his education and afterwards provided for him as well as they were able, putting him out to a weaver in Spitalfields. But he made them a very ill return for all their care and tenderness, proving an obstinate, idle and illiterate fellow, willing to do nothing that was either just or reputable, and who, except for his dexterity in pocket-picking was one of the most stupid, incorrigible wretches that ever lived. He followed the practice of petty thieving for a considerable space, but though he got considerably thereby, he lost his money continually at gaming, and so remained always in one state, viz., very poor and very wicked; which is no very uncommon case amongst such sort of miserable people, who lavishly waste what they hazard their souls and throw away their lives to obtain.
John Rouden, alias Hulks, the latter being his true name, had the advantage of a very tolerable education, the effects of which were not obliterated by his having been many years addicted to the vilest and most flagitious course of life that can possibly be imagined. The principles with which he had been seasoned in his youth served to render him more tractable and civilized when under his last misfortunes, unto which he fell with the two afore-mentioned malefactors; they being all indicted for assaulting one Mr. Francis Williams on the highway, and taking from him a silver watch value three pounds, two guineas and a moidore, on the 28th of February, 1728. The prosecutor deposed that going in a hackney coach, between Wading Street and St. Paul's School he heard the coachman called on to stop; immediately after which a man came up to the side of the coach, presented a pistol and demanded his money. Four more presented themselves at the coach windows, offering their pistols and saying they had no time to lose. One of them thereupon thrust his hand into his fob and took out his money and his watch. Jones next produced the watch to the Court and said he had it from Dalton, who was the third witness called to support the indictment. He deposed that himself, the three prisoners at the bar, and another person not yet taken, were those that attacked the coach; that himself came up first and Rouden afterwards, who took the watch, as himself did the money, Rawlins and he secreting one guinea from their companions and afterwards pawning the watch for two guineas more.
Mr. Willis, the constable, swore that having received information of certain disorderly persons, he thereupon went and apprehended Dalton, the evidence, who, making an ingenious confession, told him of the robbery committed on Mr. Williams and where the prisoners then were; whereupon he went immediately to apprehend them also. Dalton produced a pistol after he was apprehended, and declared that Rawlins had the fellow to it which was loaded with a slug. When they came to the place where the prisoners were, Rawlins and Rouden made an obstinate defence, sword in hand, and were with great difficulty taken, while Ashley hid himself under the bed, in hopes of making his escape in the confusion. Mr. Willis's brother swore to taking a pistol from Rawlins, such as Dalton had described, and which was loaded with a slug.
The prisoners had nothing to say in their defence except flatly denying everything, and averring that they did not so much as know Dalton. But Mr. Wyatt being produced, swore to the contrary of that, affirming that they were very intimate and that they all lodged together at his house. The jury having received their charge from the judge, took but a small time to consider, and then returning, brought in their verdict that they were all guilty; whereupon at the close of the sessions they received sentence with the rest.
Edward Benson was the son of very reputable persons in the City of London, who had taken all due care in providing him a suitable education with respect both to the principles of learning and of religion; and when he was at years of discretion, they put him out apprentice to a silver-wire-drawer. In himself he was a young man of good understanding, of a sweet temper and but too tractable in his disposition, which seems to have been the cause of most of his misfortunes. For during the time of his apprenticeship, being so unlucky as to fall into bad company, he was easily seduced to following their measures; although he was far enough from being naturally debauched, and seemed to have no great vice but his inclination to women, which occasioned his marrying two wives, who notwithstanding lived peaceably and quietly together. The papers I have do not give any distinct account of the manner in which he first came to join in the execrable employment of plundering and robbing in the streets, and therefore it may be presumed he was drawn into it by his companions whom we are next to mention.
George Gale, alias Kiddy George, was a perfect boy at the time of his suffering death, and though descended of very honest parents, who no doubt had given him some education in his youth, yet the uninterrupted course of wickedness in which he lived from the time of his being able to distinguish between wrong and right had so perfectly expunged all notions of justice or piety, that never a more stupid or incorrigible creature came into this miserable state. Thomas Neeves, who had been their associate in all their villainies, was the person who gave information against him, Benson, and several other malefactors we shall hereafter speak of. Gale, as is common with such people, complained vehemently against the evidence who had undone him. As death approached he shed tears abundantly, but was so very ignorant that he expressed no other marks of penitence for his offences.
Thomas Crowder was a young man of an honest family and of a very good education. His friends had put him out apprentice to a cabinet-maker. Before he was out of his time he thought fit to go to sea, where, for aught appears by our papers, he behaved himself very honestly and industriously. Coming home from a voyage, a little before his death, he was so unfortunate as to fall into the company of Neeves, the evidence, who, pretending to have money and an inclination to employ it in the Holland trade, prevailed on poor Crowder to attend him three or four days, in which space Neeves was married and had great junkettings with his new wife and her friends. In the midst of this they were all apprehended, and Neeves, with how much truth must be determined at the Last Day, put this unhappy man into his information and gave evidence against him at his trial, when Benson, Gale and this Crowder were indicted for assaulting James Colver on the highway, and taking from him a watch value forty shillings, and five shillings in money. For this offence, chiefly on the oath of Neeves, they were all capitally convicted.
James Toon was another of those unhappy persons who suffered on the oath of Neeves. He had spent his time mostly upon the water, having been a seaman for several years, and after that a bargeman. He was a young man of tolerable good sense, very civil in his behaviour and in nothing resembling those who are ordinarily addicted to robbing and thieving. His parents were persons in tolerable circumstances, and had taken a due care of his education. The particular crime for which he died was assaulting James Flemming, in the company of George Gale and Edward Brown, alias Benson, and taking from him, the said Flemming, a silver watch value forty shillings, and two guineas in money, the third of April.
John Hornby had been bred for some time at school, being descended of honest parents, who put him apprentice to a joiner. But being naturally inclined to idleness and vice, in a short time he had occasion to take base and illegal methods to acquire money. His necessities were also increased through foolishly marrying a woman, while he was yet a perfect boy and knew not how to maintain her. Picking pockets was his first resource, and the method of thieving which he always liked best and got most money at; but being of a very easy temper, his companions found it no hard thing to persuade him into taking such other methods of robbing as they persuaded him would be more beneficial, and in this Benson seems to have been one of his chief advisers. In himself, Hornby was good-natured and much less rude and boisterous than some of his companions. He had been but a very short time engaged in the street-robbing practice and did not seem to have courage or boldness sufficient to make himself considerable amongst his companions in those enterprises, which in all probability was the reason that while under confinement they treated him but very indifferently, and sometimes went so far as to give him ill names and blows, which he endured without saying much, and seemed perfectly resigned to the several punishments which his own iniquities had brought upon him. The crime for which he died was a robbery committed on the highway, upon the person of one Edward Ellis, from whom was taken a silver watch, value four pounds, and two guineas in money.
William Sefton was born in Lancashire, and during the life-time of his father received a tolerable education. But on his mother's marrying another husband, Sefton, who had been bred a barber and peruke-maker, finding things not to go to his mind, came up to London. But changing place did not seem to make him much easier, so that after having led an unsettled life for a considerable space, he became at length a common soldier. 'Twill be easily imagined that this choice of his did not much better his fortunes and possibly the company which his military life obliged him to keep served only to increase his courage so far as to enable him to take a purse on the highway; a practice he had pursued with pretty good success a considerable time before he was taken. But being a naming, close fellow, he robbed with so much precaution that he was little suspected until taken up for the offence for which he died, which was for assaulting Henry Bunn on the highway, and taking from him a silver watch, two pieces of foreign gold, and two pounds eleven shillings in money.
Richard Nichols was a man in the middle age of life, of a grave and civil deportment, of good character, and who was a barber and peruke-maker. He had lived by his profession without the least suspicion of his being guilty of any such crime as that for which he died. He was convicted, chiefly on the evidence of Neeves, for feloniously stealing nine silver watches and a gold watch, the property of Andrew Moran and others in the dwelling-house of the said Moran. As there was nothing remarkable in this man's life, and as it did appear that he was not flagrantly guilty of any other vice except drinking and wasting his own money, so it would be needless to dwell longer upon his adventures prior to his condemnation; therefore we shall go on to speak of the behaviour of these criminals while they remained under sentence of death.
Christopher Rawlins seemed to retain much of his old boisterous temper, and though he would bring himself to speak with more decency concerning the great duty of repentance which now alone remained for them to practise, yet in a little time he would fly out into strange and blasphemous expressions, for which being reproved by William Russell, whom we have before mentioned as being under sentence at the same time, he answered, "What does it signify to prepare ourselves, since we have passed through so wicked a life in this world and have now so short a time to remain in it?" He frequently expressed a despair of God's mercy though after the death warrant came down he appeared somewhat more easy, and in a better disposition to offer up his prayers to the Almighty. As to the crimes for which he suffered, he readily and ingenuously confessed them, owning the justice of the sentence which had been passed upon him and expressed this sense of the multitude of offences which he had committed, such as he acknowledged deserved no mercy here, nor, without the interposition of the mercy of God hereafter. Yet in the midst of these expressions of penitence he could not forbear doing something in his old way, and a few days before his execution actually cut the tassels from the pulpit cushion in the chapel.
Ashley was very frank in his confessions of numberless thefts which he had committed in the course of his wicked and licentious life; but he peremptorily denied that he had any concern whatsoever in the robbery for which he was to die, and this was confirmed by Rawlins and Benson, who said that they, indeed, committed it, but that Ashley was no ways concerned therein. However, as far as his stupid disposition would give him leave, he sometimes expressed great penitence for the deeds which he had committed. Yet the Sunday before his death he stole five or six handkerchiefs at chapel, of which when the Ordinary spoke to him at the place of execution, he only said that it was true, but that he must have something to subsist on.
Rouden acknowledged the justice of his sentence, that he was guilty of the crimes laid to his charge, and behaved in every respect like a true and sincere penitent. Benson showed the same easiness and sweetness of temper which he had always been remarkable for, even to the last moment of his life. He expressed, indeed, much sorrow for his having lived deliberately in a continued course of adultery with two women who both of them averred that they had been lawfully married to him. He frankly confessed his own guilt, and that the sentence of the Law was just, dying, as far as we are able to judge, in a composed and penitent disposition of mind.
George Gale, though he owned he had for some time been a thief, yet he absolutely denied his having any concern in the robberies before mentioned; but he averred that Neeves, knowing his character, took the advantage of putting him in the information, as knowing that he had neither friends nor interest to make his innocence appear. Indeed, Benson did so far confirm what Gale had said that he owned he alone committed the robbery for which he was convicted, and to this they both adhered to their last moments at the place of execution, where Gale wept bitterly, and with all outward tokens of sorrow confessed the multitude of sins he had committed throughout the whole course of his life.
Thomas Crowder persevered even to death in denying any concern with Neeves, further than his being deluded with the hopes of joining with him in a trade to Holland and France; yet the Ordinary tells us in his account of these criminals that he had reason to believe that Crowder, notwithstanding this, was guilty, because a gentleman averred that he had owned as much to him in the chapel the very day he died.
James Toon continued to behave with a uniform submission to the decrees of Providence, absolutely denied his being guilty of the fact for which he was convicted, yet acknowledged that he had led a very sinful life, and therefore looked on it as a great mercy of the Providence of God that he had so much time to reflect and repent in. Hornby wept and lamented grievously for the miseries which he had brought on himself and those who were related to him, said he had for a long time been guilty of illegal practices, but would not acknowledge that he had been guilty of that for which he was condemned.
Sefton appeared under condemnation to have a very just idea of the wretched state he was in, the necessity there was of preventing, by a thorough repentance, a yet more severe judgment than that under which he then lay. He acknowledged the crime for which he died, said he had been drawn to the commission of it by the persuasion of a person whom he named, and at the place of execution declared he died sorry for all his sins and in charity with mankind. He had hardly been turned off a minute before the rope broke and he fell to the ground, but the sheriff's men laying hold on him, he was soon tied up again and so executed in pursuance of his sentence.
Richard Nichols, as he always behaved with great decency and was of a sober, serious and religious disposition, so he constantly affirmed (though without vehemence or any signs of passion) that he knew nothing of the robbery whereof he stood convicted, but that his life was basely sworn away by Neeves the evidence, without the least grounds whatsoever, he having never associated himself with street-robbers or been concerned in any sort of thieving whatever. In this he persisted to the time of his death, repeating it and averring it at the place of execution; and, indeed, there is the greatest reason to believe that he spoke nothing but the truth, because Thomas Neeves, the witness, when he came afterwards to die at Tyburn, did acknowledge that he knew nothing of Nichols, nor had ever seen him before his being committed at the Justice's, and begged that God would pardon his crying sin of perjury and murder in taking the life of an innocent man.
These malefactors suffered on the 20th of May, 1728; Rawlins being twenty-two, Ashley, twenty-six; Rouden, twenty-four; Benson, twenty-four; Gale, seventeen; Crowder, twenty-two; Toon, twenty-five; Hornby, twenty-one; Sefton, twenty-six; and Nichols, forty years of age.
 A Portuguese gold coin current in England, worth about 23s.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals