Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Jane Holmes

The Life of JANE HOLMES, alias BARRET, alias FRAZER

a Shoplifter

In the summer of the year 1726, shoplifting became so common a practice, and so detrimental to the shopkeepers, that they made an application to the Government for assistance in apprehending the offenders; and in order thereto, offered a reward and a pardon for any who would discover their associates in such practices. It was not long before by their vigilance and warmth in carrying on the prosecution, they seized and committed several of the most notorious shoplifters about town, and at the next several ensuing sessions convicted six or seven of them, which seems to have pretty well broke the neck of this branch of thieving ever since.

The malefactor of whom we are now speaking pretended to have been the daughter of a gentleman of some rank in a northern county. Certain it is that the woman had had a tolerable education, and neither in her person, nor in her behaviour betrayed anything of vulgar birth. Yet those whom she called her nearest relations absolutely disowned her on her application to them, and would not be prevailed on to take any steps whatsoever in order to procure her a reprieve.

When between fifteen and sixteen years old, she came up to London to her aunt, as she asserted, much against the will of her relations. At that time she was not ugly, and therefore a young man in the neighbourhood began to be very assiduous in his courtship to her, hoping also that the persons she talked of, as her father and brothers in the country, would give him a sum of money to set up his trade. Miss Jenny was a forward lass, and the fellow being a spruce young spark, soon prevailed over her affections, and they were accordingly privately married, though it proved not much to her advantage. For her husband finding no money come, began to use her indifferently, upon which she fell into that sort of business which goes under the name of a Holland's Trader, and gave the best opportunities of vending goods that are ill come by, at a tolerable price, and with little danger.

Whether in the life-time of this husband or afterwards, I cannot say, but she fell into the acquaintance of the famous Jonathan Wild, and possibly received some of his instructions in managing her affairs in the disposal of stolen goods; but as Jonathan's friendships were mostly fatal, so in about a year's time afterwards she was apprehended upon that score, and shortly after was tried and convicted, and thereupon ordered for transportation. She continued abroad for two years or somewhat more; and then, under pretence of love to her children, ventured over to England again, where it was not long before she got acquainted with her old crew, who, if they were to be believed upon their oaths, were inferior to her in the art or mystery of shoplifting. However it were, whether by selling stolen goods, or by stealing them, certain it is that she ran into so much money that an Irish sharper thought fit, about Christmas before her death, to marry her in order to possess himself of her effects; which without ceremony he did upon her being last apprehended, disposing of every thing she had, and taking away particularly a large purse of old gold, which by her industry she had collected against a rainy day.

The woman who became an evidence against her swore so positively on the several indictments, and what she said was corroborated with so many circumstances, that the jury found her guilty on the four following indictments, viz.: for stealing 20 yards of straw-ground brocaded silk, value L10, the goods of John Moon and Richard Stone, on the 1st of June, 1726; of stealing, in the shop of Mr. Mathew Herbert, 40 yards of pink-coloured mantua silk, value L10, on the 1st of May, in the same year; of stealing, in company with Mary Robinson, a silver cup of the value of L5, the goods of Elizabeth Dobbinson, on the 7th January; of stealing, in the company of Mary Robinson aforesaid, 80 yards of cherry-coloured mantua silk value L5, the goods of Joseph Bourn and Mary Harper, on the 24th December.

Notwithstanding the clearness of the evidence given against her, while under sentence of death she absolutely denied not only the several facts of which she was convicted, but of her having been ever guilty of any theft during the whole life. Yet she confessed her acquaintance with Jonathan Wild, nay, she went so far as to own having bought stolen goods, and disposing of them, by which she had got great sums of money. She was exceedingly uneasy at the thoughts of dying, and left no method untried to procure a reprieve, venting herself in most opprobrious terms against some whom she would have put upon procuring it for her, by pretending to be their near relation, though the people knew very well that she had nothing to do with them or their family; and she herself had been reproved for nuking such pretensions by the ministers who assist condemned persons; yet she still persisted therein, and on the Ordinary of Newgate's acquainting her that the gentleman she called her father died the week before, suddenly, she fell into a great agony of crying, and as soon as she came a little to herself, reproached, though in very modest terms, the unnatural conduct of those she still averred to be so nearly related to her.

Nothing could be more fond than she was of her children, who were brought to Newgate to see her, and over whom she wept bitterly, and expressed great concern at her not having saved wherewith to support them in their tender years. At last, when she lost all hopes of life, instead of growing calmer and better reconciled to death, as is frequent enough with persons in that sad condition, on the contrary, she became more impatient than ever, flew out into excessive passions and behaved herself with such vehemency and flights of railing, that she did not a little disturb those who lay under sentence in the same place with her. For this she was reprimanded by the keepers, and exhorted to alter her behaviour by the minister of the place, which had at last so good an effect upon her that she became more quiet for the two or three last days of her life; in which she professed herself exceedingly grieved for the many offences of her misspent life, declaring she heartily forgave the woman who was an evidence against her, and who she believed was much wickeder than herself, because as this criminal pretended, she had varied not a little from the truth. At the place of execution she was more composed than could have been expected, and with many prayers that her life might prove a warning to others, she yielded up her last breath, at Tyburn, on the same day with the before-mentioned malefactors, being then about thirty-four years of age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals