Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Edmund Neal


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Of all the unhappy wretches whose ends I have recorded that their examples may be of the more use to mankind, there is none perhaps which be more useful, if well considered, than this of Edmund Neal Though there be nothing in it very extraordinary, yet it contains a perfect picture of low pleasures for which men sacrifice reputation and happiness, and go on in a voluptuous dream till they awake to temporal and, but for the mercy of God, to eternal death.

This Edmund Neal was the son of a father of the same name, a blacksmith in a market town in Warwickshire. He was one of those mechanics who, from a particular observance of the foibles of human nature, insinuate themselves into the good graces of those who employ them, and from being created as something even beneath a servant, grow up at last into a confidence to which it would not be improper to affix the name of a friend. This Edmund Neal senior had by this method climbed (by a little skill he had in horses) from paring off their hoofs, to directing of their riders, until in short there was scarce a sporting squire in the neighbourhood but old Edmund was of his privy council. Yet though he got a vast deal of money, he took very little care of the education of his son, whom he scarce allowed as much learning as would enable him to read a chapter; but notwithstanding this, he carried him about with him wherever he went, as if the company of gentlemen, though he was unable to converse with them, would have been sufficient to improve him.

The scenes young Neal saw at the houses whither his father carried him, filled him with such a liking to debauchery and such an irreclaimable passion for sensual pleasures, as was the source from whence his following misfortunes flowed. For what, as he himself complained, first gave him occasion to repine at his condition, and filled him with wandering inclinations of pursuing an idle and extravagant life, was the forcing of him to go apprentice to a tailor, a trade for which he had always the greatest aversion, and contempt. No sooner, therefore, was he placed out apprentice, but the young fellows of that occupation whom he had before derided and despised, now ridiculed him in their turns, and laughed at the uneasiness which they saw his new employment caused him. However, he lived about four years with his master, being especially induced thereto by the company of a young man who worked there, and who used to amuse him with stories of intrigues in London, to which Neal listened with a very attentive ear.

This London companion more and more inclined him to vice, and the history he gave of his living with a woman--who cheated her other cullies to maintain him, and at last for the sake of a new sweetheart, stripped him of all he had one night while he slept, and left him so much in debt that he was obliged to fly into the country--the relation, I say, of these adventures made such an impression on young Neal that he was never at rest until he fell into a method of copying them. And as ill-design seldom waits long for an opportunity, so the death of his first master, and his being turned over to a second, much less careful and diligent to his business, furnished Neal with the occasion he wanted. This master he both cheated of his money and defrauded of his goods, letting in loose and disorderly persons in the night, and finding a way for their going out again in the morning before his master was awake, and consequently without the least suspicion.

These practices quickly broke the man with whom he lived, and his breaking turned Edmund upon the wide world, equally destitute of money, friends and capacity, not knowing what to do, and having but two shillings in his pocket. He took a solitary walk to that end of the town which went out upon the London Road, and there by chance he met a woman who asked him to go with her to London. He not knowing what to do with himself accepted her offer, and without any more words to the bargain they set out together. The woman was very kind to him on the road, and poor Edmund flattered himself that money was so plentiful in London as to render it impossible for him to remain without it. But he was miserably mistaken when he arrived there. He went to certain public-houses of persons whom he had known in the country, who instead of using him civilly, in a day or two's time were thrusting him out of doors. Some common whores, also, finding him to be a poor country fellow, easily seduced him and kept him amongst them for a stallion, until, between their lust and their diseases, they had put him in a fair road to the grave.

Tired out with their vices, which were even too gross for a mind so corrupted as his was, he chose rather to go and live with a brewer and carry out drink. But after living for some time with two masters of that occupation, his mind still roving after an easier and pleasanter life, he endeavoured to get it at some public-house; which at last he with much ado effected at Sadlers Wells.[1] This appeared so great a happiness that he thought he should never be tired of a life where there was so much music and dancing, to which he had been always addicted; and, as he phrased it himself, he thought he was in another world when he got with a set of men and maids in a barn with a fiddle among them.

However, he at last grew tired of that also; and resolving to betake himself to some more settled and honest employment, he hired himself to a man who kept swine, and there behaved himself both with honesty and diligence. But his master breaking a little time after he had been with him, though as he affirmed without his wronging him in the least, he was reduced to look for some new way of maintaining himself. This being about the time of the late Rebellion,[2] and great encouragement being then offered for those who would enter themselves in the late king's service at sea, Neal accepted thereof, and shipped himself on board the "Gosport" man-of-war, which sailed to the Western Islands of Scotland. What between the cold and the hard fare he suffered deeply, and never, as be said, tasted any degree of comfort till he returned to the West of England The Rebellion being then over, Neal with very great joy accepted his discharge from the service, and once more in search of business came up to London.

The reputation of an honest servant he had acquired from the hog merchant he had formerly lived with, quickly procured him a place with another of the same trade, with him he lived too (as was said) very honestly; and having been trusted with twenty or thirty pounds at a time, was always found very trusty and faithful. But happening, unluckily, to work here with one Pincher, who in the course of his life had been as unhappy as himself, they thereupon grew very intimate together, and being a couple of fellows of very odd tempers, after having got half drunk at the Hampshire Hog, they took it into their heads that there was not in the world two fellows so unhappy as themselves. The subject began when they were maudlin, and as they grew quite drunk, they came to a resolution to go out and beat everybody they met, for being happier than themselves.

The first persons they met in this expedition were a poor old man whose name was Dormer and his wife. The woman they abused grossly, and Pincher knocked the man down, though very much in years, Neal afterwards rolling him about, and either took or shook out of his pocket all the money he had, which was but three pence farthing. For this unaccountable action they were both apprehended, tried and convicted, with three other persons, in the November sessions, 1722. But their inhuman behaviour to the old man made such an impression on the Court to their disadvantage, that when the death warrant came down, they two only were appointed for execution.

At the near approach of death, Neal appeared excessively astonished, and what between fear and concern, his senses grew disordered. However, at the place of execution he seemed more composed than he had been before, and said that it was very fit he should die, but added he suffered rather for being drunk than any design he had either to rob or use the man cruelly. As for William Pincher, his companion both in the robbery and its punishment, he seemed to be the counterpart of Neal, a downright Norfolk clown, born within six miles of Lynn and by the kindness of a master of good fortune, taken into his house with an intent to breed him up, on his father's going for a soldier. At first he behaved himself diligently and thereby got much into the favour of his master, but falling into loose company and addicting himself to sotting in alehouses, his once kind and indulgent master, finding him incorrigible, dismissed him from his service, and having given him some small matter by way of encouragement, he set out for London. Here he got into the business before mentioned, and said himself, that he might have lived very comfortably thereon, if he had been industrious and frugal; but that addicting himself to his old custom of sitting continually in an alehouse had drawn him into very great inconveniences. In order to draw himself out of these he thought of following certain courses, by which, as he had heard some company where he used say, a young man might get as much money as he could spend, let him live as extravagantly as he would. This occasioned his persuading Neal into that fatal undertaking which cost them their lives. His behaviour under sentence was irreproachable, being always taken up either in reading, praying or singing of Psalms, performing all things that so short a space would give him leave to do, and showing as evident marks of true repentance as perhaps any unhappy person ever did in his condition.

Thus these two companions in misfortune suffered together on die last day of the year 1722, Edmund Neal being then about thirty years of age, and Pincher about twenty-six.


[1] This was opened, about 1680, by a certain Sadler, as a public music-room and house of entertainment. The discovery of a spring of mineral water in the garden attracted general attention and the place soon became a place of popular resort.

[2] The Jacobite rising of 1715.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals