The Life of EBENEZER ELLISON
a Notorious Irish Thief
With respect to this malefactor I have nothing to acquaint the world with but what is taken from his own speech which was printed at Dublin, and said to be published there by his own desire for the common good. It made a great noise there then, and may perhaps serve to entertain you now, wherefore I proceed to give it you in his own words.
I am now going to suffer the just punishment of my crimes, prescribed by the Law of God and my country. I know it is the constant custom that those who come to this place should have speeches made for them, and cried about in their own hearing as they are carried to execution; and truly they are such speeches that although our fraternity be an ignorant illiterate people, they would make a man ashamed to have such nonsense and false English charged upon him, even when he is going to the gallows. They contain a pretended account of our birth and family, of the facts for which we are to die, of our sincere repentance, and a declaration of our religion. I cannot expect to avoid the same treatment with my predecessors. However, having an education one or two degrees better than those of my rank and profession, ever since my commitment I have been considering what might be proper for me to deliver upon this occasion.
And first, I cannot say from the bottom of my heart that I am truly sorry for the offence I have given to God and the world; but I am very much so for the bad success of my villainies, in bringing me to this untimely end; for it is plainly evident, that after having some time ago obtained a pardon from the Crown, I again took up my old trade. My evil habits were so rooted in me, and I was grown unfit for any other kind of employment; and therefore, although in compliance with my friends I resolved to go to the gallows after the usual manner, kneeling with a book in my hand and my eyes lift up, yet I shall feel no more devotion in my heart than I observed in some of my comrades, who have been drunk among common whores the very night before their execution. I can say further from my own knowledge, that two of my own fraternity, after they had been hanged and wonderfully came to life, and made their escapes, as it sometimes happens, proved afterwards the wickedest rogues I ever knew, and so continued until they were hanged again for good and all; and yet they had the impudence at both times they went up to the gallows to smite their breasts and lift up their eyes to Heaven all the way.
Secondly, from the knowledge I have of my own wicked dispositon, and that of my comrades, I give it as my opinion that nothing can be more unfortunate to the public than the mercy of Government in even pardoning and transporting us, unless we betray one another, as we never fail to do if we are sure to be well paid, and then a pardon may do good. By the same rule, it is better to have but one fox in a farm than three or four, but we generally make a shift to return after being transported, and are ten times greater rogues than before, and much more cunning. Besides, I know it by experience, that some hopes we have of finding mercy when we are tried, or after we are condemned, is always a great encouragement to us.
Thirdly, nothing is more dangerous to idle young fellows than the company of those odious common whores we frequent, and of which this town is full. These wretches put us upon all mischief to feed their lust and extravagance. They are ten times more bloody and cruel than men. Their advice is always not to spare us if we are pursued, they get drunk with us, and are common to us all, and yet if they can get anything by it, are sore to be our betrayers.
Now, as I am a dying man, something I have done which may be of good use to the public, I have left with an honest man and indeed the only honed man I ever was acquainted with--the names of all my wicked brethren, the present places of abode, with a short account of the chief crimes they have committed in many of which I have been their accomplice, and heard the rest from their own mouths. I have likewise set down the names of those we call our setters, of the wicked houses we frequent, and of those who receive and buy our stolen goods. I have solemnly charged this honest man, and have received his promise upon oath, that whenever he hears of any to be tried for robbing or housebreaking, he will look into his list, and he if finds the name there of the thief concerned, to send the whole paper to the Government. Of this I here give my companions fair and public warning, and I hope they will take it.
In the paper above-mentioned, which I left with my friend, I have also set down the names of the several gentlemen whom we have robbed in Dublin streets for three years past. I have told the circumstances of those robberies, and shown plainly that nothing but the want of common courage was the cause of their misfortunes. I have therefore desired my friends that whenever any gentleman happens to be robbed in the streets, he will get the relation printed and published with the first letters of those gentlemen's names, who by their want of bravery are likely to be the cause of all the mischief of that kind, which may happen for the future. I cannot leave the world without a short description of that kind of life which I have led for some years past and is exactly the same with the rest of our wicked brethren.
Although we are generally so corrupted from our childhood as to have no sense of goodness, yet something heavy always hangs about us. I know not what it is, that we are never easy until we are half drunk among our whores and companions, nor sleep sound, unless we drink longer than we can stand. If we go abroad in the day, a wise man would easily find us to be rogues by our faces, we have such suspicious, fearful and constrained countenances, often turning back and sneaking through narrow lanes and alleys. I have never failed of knowing a brother thief by his looks, though I never saw him before. Every man amongst us keeps his particular whore, who is however common to us all when we have a mind to change. When we have got a booty, if it be money, we divide it equally among our companions, and soon squander it on our vices in those houses that receive us, for the master and mistress and very tapster go snacks, and besides make us pay treble reckonings. If our plunder be plate, watches, rings, snuff-boxes and the like, we have customers in all quarters of the town to take them off. I have seen a tankard sold, worth fifteen pounds to a fellow in ---- Street, for twenty shillings, and a gold watch for thirty. I have set down his name, and that of several others in the paper already mentioned. We have setters watching in corners, and by dead walls, to give us notice when a gentleman goes by, especially if he be anything in drink. I believe in my conscience, that if an account were made of a thousand pounds in stolen goods, considering the low rates we sell them at, the bribes we must give for concealment, the extortions of alehouse reckonings, and other necessary charges there would not remain fifty pounds clear to be divided among the robbers, and out of this we must find clothes for whores, besides treating them from morning until night, who in requital award us with nothing but treachery and the pox, for when our money is gone, they are every moment threatening to inform against us, if we will not get out to look for more. If anything in this world be like Hell, as I have heard it described by our clergy, the truest picture of it must be in the back room of one of our alehouses at midnight, where a crew of robbers and their whores are met together after a booty, and are beginning to grow drunk, from that time until they are past their senses, in such a continued horrible noise of cursing, blasphemy, lewdness, scurrility, and brutish behaviour, such roaring and confusion, such a clatter of mugs and pots at each other's heads, that Bedlam in comparison is a sober and orderly place. At last they all tumble from their stools and benches, and sleep away the rest of the night, and generally the landlord or his wife, or some other whore, who has a stronger head than the rest, picks their pockets before they awake. The misfortune is, that we can never be easy until we are drunk, and our drunkenness constantly exposes us to be more easily betrayed and taken.
This is a short picture of the life I have led, which is more miserable than that of the poorest labourer who works for fourpence a day; and yet custom is so strong that I am confident, if I could make escape at the foot of the gallows, I should be following the same course this very evening. Upon the whole, we ought to be looked upon as the common enemies of mankind, whose interest it is to root us out like worms, and other mischievous vermin, against which no fair play is required. If I have done service to men in what I have said, I shall hope to have done service to God, and that will be better than a silly speech made by me full of whining and canting, which I utterly despise, and have never been used to yet such a one I expect to have my ears tormented with as I am passing along the streets.
Good people, fare ye well; bad as I am, I leave many worse behind me, and I hope you shall see me die like a man, though a death contrary.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals