Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: James Carrick


a Notorious Highwayman and Street Robber

Though it has become a very common and fashionable opinion that honour may supply the place of piety, and thereby preserve a morality more beneficial to society than religion, yet if we would allow experience to decide, it will be no very difficult matter to prove that when persons have once given way to certain vices (which in the polite style pass under the denomination of pleasures) rather than forego them they will quickly acquire that may put it in their power to enjoy them, though obtained at the rate of perpetrating the most ignominious offences. If there had not been too much truth in this observation we should hardly find in the list of criminals persons who, like James Carrick, have had a liberal education, and were not meanly descended, bringing themselves to the most miserable of all states and reflecting dishonour upon those from whom they were descended.

This unfortunate person was the son of an Irish gentleman, who lived not far from Dublin, and whom we must believe to have been a man of tolerable fortune, since he provided as well for all his children as to make even this, who was his youngest, an ensign. James was a perfect boy at the time when his commission required him to quit Ireland to repair to Spain, whither, a little before, the regiment wherein he was to serve had been commanded. As he had performed his duty towards the rest of his children, the father was more than ordinarily fond of this his youngest, whom therefore he equipped in a manner rather beyond that capacity in which he was to appear upon his arrival at the army. In his person James was a very beautiful well-shaped young man, of a middle size, and something more than ordinarily genteel in his appearance, as his father had taken care to supply him abundantly for his expenses; so when he came into Spain he spent his money as freely as any officer of twice his pay. His tent was the constant rendezvous of all the beaux who were at that time in the camp, and whenever the army were in quarters, nobody was handsomer, or made a better figure than Mr. Carrick.

Though we are very often disposed to laugh at those stories for fictions which carry in them anything very different from what we see in daily experience, yet as the materials I have for this unfortunate man's life happen both to be full and very exact, I shall not scruple mentioning some of his adventures, which I am persuaded will neither be unpleasant, nor incapable of improving my readers.

The regiment in which Carrick served was quartered at Barcelona, after the taking of that place by the English troops[1] who supported the title of the present Emperor to the crown of Spain. The inhabitants were not only civil, but to the last degree courteous to the English, for whom they always preserved a greater esteem than for any other nation. Carrick, therefore, had frequent opportunities for making himself known and getting into an acquaintance with some of the Spanish cavaliers, who were in the interest of King Charles. Amongst these was Don Raphael de Ponto, a man of fortune and family amongst the Catalans, but, as is usual with the Spaniards, very amorous and continually employed in some intrigue or other. He was mightily pleased with Carrick's humour, and conceived for him a friendship, in which the Spaniards are perhaps more constant and at the same time more zealous, than any other nation in Europe. As Carrick had been bred a Roman Catholic and always continued so, notwithstanding his professing the contrary to those in the Army, so he made no scruple of going to Mass with his Spanish friend, which passed with the English officers only as a piece of complaisance.

Vespers was generally the time when Don Raphael and his English companion used to make their appointments with the ladies, and therefore they were very punctual at those devotions, from a spirit which too often takes up young minds. It happened one evening, when after the Spanish custom they were thus gone forth in quest of adventures, a duenna slipped into Don Raphael's hand a note, by which he was appointed to come under such a window near the convent, in the street of St. Thomas, when the bell of the convent rang in the evening, and was desired to bring his friend, if he were not afraid of a Spanish lady. Don Raphael immediately acquainted his friend, who you may be sure was ready to obey the summons.

When the hour came, and the convent bell rang, our sparks, wrapped up in their cloaks, slipped to their posts under a balcony. They did not wait long there, before the same woman who delivered the note to Don Raphael made her appearance at the window, and throwing down another little billet, exhorted them to be patient a little, and they should not lose their labour. The lovers waited quiet enough for about a quarter of an hour, when the old woman slipped down, and opened a door behind them, at which our sparks entered with great alacrity. The old woman conduced them into a very handsome apartment above stairs, where they were received by two young ladies, as beautiful as they could have wished them. Compliments are not much used on such occasions in Spain, and these gentlemen, therefore, did not make many before they were for coming to the point with the ladies, when of a sudden they heard a great noise upon the stairs, and as such adventures make all men cautious in Spain, they immediately left the ladies, and retiring towards the window, drew their swords. They had hardly clapped their backs against it, before the noise on the stairs ceasing, they felt the floor tremble under their feet, and at last giving way, they both fell into a dark room underneath, where without any other noise than their fall had made, they were disarmed, gagged and bound by some persons placed there for that purpose. When the rogues had finished their search, and taken away everything that was valuable about them, even to ripping the gold lace off Carrick's clothes, they let them lie there for a considerable time, and at last removed them in two open chests to the middle of the great marketplace, where they left them to wait for better fortune. They had not remained there above a quarter of an hour, before Carrick's sergeant went the rounds with a file of musketeers. Carrick hearing his voice, made as much noise as he was able, and that bringing the sergeant and his men to the place where they were set, their limbs and mouths were immediately released from bondage.

The morning following, as soon as Carrick was up, the Spanish gentleman's major domo came to wait upon him, and told him that his master being extremely ill, had desired him to make his compliments to his English friend in order to supply the defects of the letter he sent him, which by reason of his indisposition was very short. Having said this, the Spaniard presented him with a letter, and a little parcel, and then withdrew. Carrick did not know what to make of all this, but as soon as the stranger was withdrawn, opened his packet in order to discover what it contained. He found in it a watch, a diamond ring, and a note on a merchant for two hundred pieces-of-eight, which was the sum Carrick (to make himself look great) said he had lost by the accident. The note at the same time informing him that Don Raphael de Ponto thought it but just to restore to him what he had lost by accompanying him in the former night's adventures.

After Carrick returned into England, though he had no longer his commission, or indeed any other way of living, yet he could not lay aside those vices in which hitherto he had indulged himself. When he had any money he entertained a numerous train of the most abandoned women of the town, and had also intrigues at the same time with some of the highest rank of those prostitutes. To the latter he applied himself when his pocket first began to grow low, and they supplied him as long, and as far as they were able. But, alas! their contributions went but a little way towards supporting his expenses. Happening about that time to fall into an acquaintance with Smith, his countryman, after a serious consultation on ways and means to support their manner of living, they came at last to a resolution of taking a purse on the road, and joined company soon afterwards with Butler, another Irish robber, who was executed some time before them on the evidence of this very Carrick. When Carrick's elder brother heard of this in Ireland, he wrote to him in the most moving terms, beseeching him to consider the sad end to which he was running headlong, and the shame and ignominy with which he covered his family and friends, exhorting him at the same time not to cast away all hopes of doing well, but to think of returning to Dublin, where he assured him he would meet him, and provide handsomely for him, notwithstanding all that was past.

But Carrick little regarded this good advice, or the kind overtures made him by his brother. No sooner had he procured his liberty but he returned to his old profession, and committed a multitude of robberies on Finchley Common, Hounslow and Bagshot Heaths, spending all the money he got on women of the town, at the gaming table, and in fine clothes, which last was the thing in which he seemed most to delight. But money not coming in very quick by these methods, he with Molony, Carrol and some others of his countrymen, began to rob in the streets, and by that means got great sums of money. They continued this practice for a long space of time with safety, but being one night out in Little Queen Street, by Lincoln's Inn Fields, between one and two in the morning they stopped a chair in which was the Hon. William Young, Esq., from whom they took a gold watch, valued at L50, a sword, and forty guineas in money. Carrick thrust his pistol into the chair, Carrol watched at a distance, while Molony, perceiving the gentleman hesitate a little in delivering, said with a stern voice, "Your money, sir! Do you trifle?" It was a very short time after the commission of this robbery that both he and his companion Molony were taken, Carrol making a timely escape to his native kingdom. While James Carrick remained in Newgate, his behaviour was equally singular and indecent, for he affected to pass his time with the same gaiety in his last moments as he had spent it in the former part of his days.

Throngs of people, as it is but too much the custom, came to see him in Newgate, to whom, as if he had intended that they should not lose their curiosity, he told all the adventures of his life, with the same air and gaiety as if he had been relating them at some gaming ordinaries. This being told about town, drew still greater heaps of company upon him, which he received with the same pleasantness; by which means he daily increased them, and by that means the gain of the keepers at Newgate, who took money to show him. Upon this he said to them merrily one day: "You pay, good folks, for seeing me now, but if you had suspended your curiosity 'till I went to Tyburn, you might have seen me for nothing." This was the manner in which he talked and lived even to the last, conversing until the time of his death with certain loose women who had been his former favourites, and whom no persuasions could engage him to banish from his presence while he yet had eyes, and could behold them in his sight.

At the place of execution, where it often happens that the most daring offenders drop that resolution on which they foolishly value themselves, Carrick failed not in the least. He gave himself genteel airs (as Mr. Purney, the then Ordinary, phrases it) in placing the rope about his neck, smiled and bowed to everybody he knew round him, and continued playing a hundred little tricks of the same odd nature, until the very instant the cart drove away, declaring himself to be a Roman Catholic, and that he was persuaded he had made his peace with God in his own way. In this temper he finished his life at Tyburn, on the 18th of July, 1722, being then about twenty-seven years of age.


[1] This was in 1705, by an expedition commanded by the Earl of Peterborough.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals