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


a Thief

The character of this criminal is already so infamous, and his crimes so notorious that I may spare myself any introductory observation which I have made use of as to most of the rest with respect to his birth. He was so unfortunate as to have the gallows hereditary to his family, his father, who was by birth an Irishman, and in the late Wars in Flanders a sergeant, coming over here was indicted and hanged for a street robbery. After his death, Dalton's mother married a butcher, who, not long before Dalton's death, was transported, and she herself for a like crime shared in the same punishment.

This unhappy young man himself went between his father's legs in the cart when he made his fatal exit at Tyburn. It has, indeed, remained a doubt whether Dalton the father were a downright thief or not; his own friends say that he was only a cheat, and one of the most dexterous sharpers at cards in England. It seems he fell in with some people of his own profession, who thought he got their money too much easily, and therefore made bold to fix him with a downright robbery.

As for James Dalton the younger, from his infancy he was a thief and deserved the gallows almost as soon as he wore breeches. He began his pranks with robbing the maid where he went to school. By eleven years old he got himself into the company of Fulsom and Field, who were evidences against Jonathan Wild and Blueskin, and in their company committed villainies of every denomination, such as picking pockets, snatching hats and wigs, breaking open shops, filching bundles at dusk of the evening. All the money they got by these practices was spent among the common women of the town, whose company they frequented. Then the Old Bailey and Smithfield Cloisters became the place of their resort, from whence they carried away goods to a considerable quantity, sold them at under-rates, and squandered away the money upon strumpets.

Towards Smithfield and the narrow lanes and allies about it, are the chief houses of entertainment for such people, where they are promiscuously admitted, men or women, and have places every way fitted for both concealing and entertainment. The man and woman of the house frequently take their commodities off their hand at low prices, and the women who frequent these sort of places help them off with what trifling sums of money they receive; for though they are utterly devoid of education, yet dinning and flattery are so perfectly practised by them, that these bewitched young robbers make no scruple of venturing soul and body to acquire wherewith to purchase their favours, which are frequently attended with circumstances that would send them rotten to their graves, if the gallows did not intercept and take them before they are got half way. But it happened that Field was apprehended, and to save himself immediately made an information against his companions, named Dalton and Fulsom, whereupon they were obliged to be very cautious and durst venture out only in the night. It happened that in Broad Street, St. Giles's they met about twelve o'clock at night a captain in the Foot-Guards. Dalton commanded the gentleman to surrender, but persons of his cloth seldom parting with their money so peaceably, there happened a skirmish, in which Fulsom knocked him down, and afterwards they rifled him, taking some silver and a leaden shilling out of his pocket, together with a pocket book, which had some bank notes in it, and therefore was burnt by them for fear it should betray them. But in this fact, Dalton, who had not even honesty enough for a thief, cheated his companion of seven guineas and a watch.

The woman to whom they sold their stolen goods was one Hannah Britton, who, upon Lambert's being committed to New Prison, was named in his information, taken up and committed to Newgate. At the sessions after she was convicted for that offence, and thereupon whipped from Holborn Bars to St. Giles's Pound; which proceeding so affrighted Dalton that he resolved for a time to retire out of London.

Thereupon he and one of his companions went down to Bristol, to see what they could make at the Fair. But they were not over-lucky in their country expedition, for they were apprehended for breaking a shop open, and tried at the assizes; but the witness not being able to swear directly to their persons, they were acquitted through the defect of evidence. As soon as they were out of prison, Dalton returned to London as speedily as he was able, where joining himself with the remainder of the old gang, shortly after his arrival they broke open a toy-shop near Holborn Bars, and carried off eight hundred pounds worth of goods, with a pretty large sum in ready money. Of the goods they did not make above two hundred and fifty pounds, and for the ready money, which was about twenty pounds, they shared it amongst them.

Dalton about that time frequenting a house near Golden Lane, found doxies there to help him off with it, and reduced him to the necessity of making t'other large stride in the way to Tyburn. Not long after, therefore, he committed a robbery in the road to Islington, for which being taken up he brought three who personated a doctor, apothecary and surgeon at his trial, who swore that the time the robbery was said to have been committed he was sick and even at the point of death, upon which he was acquitted.

But as this was a narrow escape, so his liberty was of no long continuance, for his companion Fulsom, being apprehended for a felony, to save himself, made an information against his comrades, and amongst the rest named Dalton, and gave so exact an account of his haunts that h e was quickly after apprehended, and at the ensuing sessions convicted and ordered for transportation.

At sea a great storm arising, they were glad to call up such of the criminals as they thought might be of use towards managing the ship, amongst whom was James Dalton, who no sooner was upon deck but he was contriving to make the crew mutiny and seize the ship. In a very little time he brought enough of them to be of his mind in order to execute their intent, and accordingly got the fire-arms and made themselves masters of the ship, and obliged the men to navigate her to a little port near Cape Finisterre, in Spain, where they robbed the ship of about a hundred pounds, and then went on shore and travelled by land to Vigo. They were scarce got thither before the ship arrived, and the captain charged them with the piracy they had committed; but from the lenity of the Spanish Government, they quickly got released, without giving the captain any satisfaction. The Governor, when they were discharged from their confinement, gave them a pass in which, after reciting their names, he styled them all English thieves, which putting them in no small fright, they resolved to prevent its doing them a mischief, committed it to the flames, and then ran the hazard of travelling the country without one. This, accordingly, they did, until they met with a Dutch ship, the master of which readily gave them a passage to Amsterdam, from whence Dalton and two or three more, found means to get over again to England, and came up to London.

On their arrival here they fell to robbing with such fury that the streets were hardly safe when the sun was set; but Dalton apprehending that this trade would not lost long, resolved to make a country expedition, in order to get out of the way. Thereupon down he went again to his old city of refuge, Bristol. There he did not continue long before he was apprehended for breaking open a linen-draper's shop but the burglary not being clearly proved, the jury found him guilty of the felony only, whereupon he was once more transported to Virginia.

He did not continue long in that plantation before growing weary of labour, he thought fit to threaten his master, so that the man was glad to discharge him, and thought himself happy of getting rid of such a servant. Upon which Dalton soon found out one Whalebone, a fellow of a like disposition with himself; and they went about stealing boats and negroes, running away with them and selling them in other colonies. At last Dalton met with a ship which carried him for England. By the way he was pressed on board the "Hampshire" man-of-war, in which he was a spectator of the last siege of Gibraltar.[1]

On his return he received his wages and lived on it for a little time. Then he with Benjamin Branch and William Field, took to snatching of pockets. At last they took Christopher Rawlins into their society and in a few months' time they three snatched five hundred pockets. Amongst the rest Dalton cut off one from a woman's side at St. Andrew's, Holborn, for which Branch being in company was taken and executed, although Dalton and Rawlins did all they could to have made up the affair with the prosecutor but in vain. This trade therefore being at an end, he and his companion Rawlins fell next to robbing coaches in the streets, and being once more apprehended, he found himself under a necessity of making an information against his companions, six or seven of whom were executed upon his evidence. He also received ten guineas to swear against Nichols the peruke-maker, but after he received the money, his conscience checked him, and though he did not return it, yet he absolutely refused to give any evidence against him. But Neeves, who had been taken into the same plot, went through with it, and as has been said before, hanged him for a fact which he never committed.

A multitude of wives Dalton married during his life, and many of them were alive at the time of his decease, four of them coming at once to see him in Newgate when under his last misfortune, and appearing at that time to be very friendly together. He had not been long out of Newgate before be fell to his old practices, and a few sessions after was apprehended, and tried for stopping the coach of an eminent physician with an intent to rob it. For this he was sentenced to a fine and imprisonment, which upon insulting the court was ordered to be in one of the condemned cells in Newgate. But he did not remain long there, being the very next sessions brought to his trial on an indictment for robbing John Waller in a certain field or open place near the highway, putting him in fear of his life, and taking from him twenty-five handkerchiefs, value four pounds, five ducats value forty-eight shillings, two guineas, a three guilder piece, a French pistol, and five shillings in silver, on the 22nd of November, 1729. The prosecutor deposed, that being a Holland trader, the prisoner met with him as he was drinking at the Adam and Eve at Pancras, in his return from Hampstead, where he had sold some goods, and received a little money; that Dalton perceiving it grow dark, desired to walk to town with him, and that they had a link with them, which Dalton put out in the fields, and then knocked him down, beat him and abused him, and then robbed him of the things mentioned in the indictment; and that he threatened to blow his brains out if he made any noise or called for help. He swore also to a pistol which had been produced against Dalton on a former trial.

In his defence the prisoner insisted peremptorily upon his innocence, charged the prosecutor with being a common affidavit man, and a fellow of as bad if not worse character than himself. However, in order to falsify some circumstances which he had deposed against him, Dalton called three witnesses, Charles North, Edward Brumfield, and John Mitchell, who were all prisoners in Newgate, but were permitted by the Court to come down. Some of them contradicted the prosecutor as to a gingham waistcoat which he had swore Dalton wore in Newgate. They swore also to the prosecutor's visiting Dalton there, and owing that he never damaged him a farthing in his life. But the jury on the whole found him guilty, and he received sentence of death.

As he had little reason to hope for pardon, so he never deluded himself with false expectations about it, but applied himself, as diligently as he was able, to repent of those manifold sins and offences which he had committed. He confessed very frankly the manifold crimes and horrid enormities in which he had involved himself. He seemed to be very sensible of that dreadful state into which his own wickedness had plunged him. He behaved himself gravely when at public prayers at the chapel, and applied himself with great diligence to praying and singing of Psalms when in his cell; but as to the particular crime of which he was convicted, that he absolutely denied from first to last, with the strongest asseverations that not one word of all the prosecutor's evidence was true, and indeed there has since appeared great likelihood that he spoke nothing but the truth.

For this Waller going on in the same fact after the death of Dalton, became an evidence against many others, sometimes in one country by one name, by and by in another country by another name. In Cambridgeshire, particularly, he convicted two men for a robbery whose lives were saved by means of the Clerk of the Peace entertaining some suspicion of this Mr. Waller's veracity. But as practices of this sort, though they may continue undiscovered for some time, rarely escape for good and all, so Waller's fate came home to him at last; for a worthy magistrate suspecting the truth of an information which he gave before him by another name, and he coming afterwards and owning his true name to be Waller, he was apprehended for the perjury contained in the said examination, and committed to Newgate, and at the next sessions at the Old Bailey received sentence for this offence to stand in the pillory near the Seven Dials. He had scarce been exalted above five minutes, before the mob knocked him on the head, for which fact Andrew Dalton, who did it to revenge the death of his brother, the criminal of whom we are now speaking, together with one Richard Griffith, at the time I am now writing, are under sentence of death.

But to return to James Dalton, he continued to behave uniformly and penitently all the time he lay under conviction, and as the friends and relations of Nichols applied themselves to him about clearing the innocence of their deceased friend, he said that Neeves himself actually committed the fact, which he swore upon the person they mentioned, and that he was entirely innocent of whatever was laid to his charge.

When the bellman came to repeat the verses, which he always does the night before the malefactors are to die, Dalton illuminated his cell with six candles. In his passage to the place of execution he appeared very cheerful. When he arrived there, having once more denied in the most solemn manner the fact for which he was to suffer, he yielded up his breath at Tyburn, the 13th of May, 1730, being then somewhat above thirty years of age.


[1] On Feb. 22, 1727, when the Spaniards attacked with 20,000 men and were repulsed with a loss of 5,000. The English lost 300.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals