Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: John Little


a Housebreaker and Thief

The papers which I have in relation to this malefactor speak nothing with regard to his parents and education. The first thing that I with concerning him is his being at sea, where he was at the time my Lord Torrington, then Sir George Byng, went up the Mediterranean, as also in my Lord Cobham's expedition to Vigo; and in these expeditions he got such a knack of plundering that he could never bring himself afterwards to thinking it was a sin to plunder anybody. This wicked principle he did not fail to put in practice by stealing everything he could lay his hands on, when he afterwards went into Sweden in a merchant-ship. Indeed, there is too common a case for men who have been inured to robbing and maltreating an enemy, now and then to receive the same talents at home, and make free with the subjects of their own Sovereign as they did with those of the enemy. Weak minds sometimes do not really so well apprehend the difference, but thieve under little apprehension of sin, provided they can escape the gallows; others of better understanding acquire such an appetite to rapine that they are not afterwards able to lay it aside; so that I cannot help observing that it would be more prudent for officers to encourage their men to do their duty against the enemy from generous motives of serving their country and vindicating its rights, rather than proposing the hopes of gain, and the reward arising from destroying those unhappy wretches who fall under their power. But enough of this, and perhaps too much here; let us return again to him of whom we are now speaking.

When he came home into England, he fell into bad company, particularly of John Bewle, alias Hanley, and one Belcher, who it is to be supposed inclined him by idle discourse first to look upon robbing as a very entertaining employment, in which they met with abundance of pleasure, and might, with a little care, avoid all the danger. This was language very likely to work upon Little's disposition, who had a great inclination to all sorts of debauchery, and no sort of religious principles to check him. Over above all this he was unhappily married to a woman of the same ways of living, one who got her bread by walking the streets and picking of pockets. Therefore, instead of persuading her husband to quit such company as she saw him inclined to follow, on the contrary she encouraged, prompted and offered her assistance in the expedition she knew they were going about.

Thus Little's road to destruction lay open for him to rush into without any let or the least check upon his vicious inclinations.

He and his wicked companions became very busy in the practice of their employment. They disturbed most of the roads near London, and were particularly good customers to Sadler's Wells, Belsize, and the rest of the little places of junketting and entertainment which are most frequented in the neighbourhood of this Metropolis. Their method upon such occasions was to observe who was drunkest, and to watch such persons when they came out, suffering them to walk a little before them till they came to a proper place; then jostling them and picking a quarrel with them, they fell to fighting, and in conclusion picked their pockets, snatched their hats and wigs, or took any other methods that were the most likely to obtain something wherewith to support their riots in which they spent every night.

At last, finding their incomings not so large as they expected, they took next to housebreaking, in which they had found somewhat better luck. But their expenses continuing still too large for even their numerous booties to supply them, they were continually pushed upon hazarding their lives, and hardly had any respite from the crimes they committed, which, as they grew numerous, made them the more known and consequently increased their danger, those who make it their business to apprehend such people having had intelligence of most of them, which is generally the first step in the road to Hyde Park Corner.[1]

It is remarkable that the observation which most of all shocks thieves, and convinces them at once both of the certainty and justice of a Providence is this, that the money which they amass by such unrighteous dealings never thrives with them; that though they thieve continually, they are, notwithstanding that, always in want, pressed on every side with fears and dangers, and never at liberty from the uneasy apprehensions of having incurred the displeasure of God, as well as run themselves into the punishments inflicted by the law. To these general terrors there was added, to Little, the distracting fears of a discovery from the rash and impetuous tempers of his associates, who were continually defrauding one another in their shares of the booty, and then quarrelling, fighting, threatening, and what not, till Little sometimes at the expense of his own allotment, reconciled and put them in humour.

Nor were his fatal conjectures on this head without cause; for Bewle, though as Little always declared he had drawn him into such practices, put him into an information he made for the sake of procuring a pardon. A few days after, Little was taken into custody, and at the next sessions indicted for breaking open the house of one Mr. Deer, and taking from thence several parcels of goods expressed in the indictment. Upon this trial the prosecutor swore to the loss of his goods and Bewle, who had been a confederate in the robbery, gave testimony as to the manner in which they were taken. As he was conscious of his guilt, Little made a very poor defence, pretending that he was utterly unacquainted with this Bewle, hoping that if he could persuade the jury to that, the prosecutor's evidence (as it did not affect him personally) might not convict him. But his hope was vain, for Bewle confirmed what he said by so many circumstances that the jury gave credit to his testimony, and thereupon found the prisoners guilty. Little, though he entertained scarce any hopes of success, moved the Court earnestly to grant transportation; but as they gave him no encouragement upon the motion, so it must be acknowledged that he did not amuse himself with any vain expectations.

During the time he remained under conviction, he behaved with great marks of penitence, assisted constantly at the public devotions in the chapel, and often prayed fervently in the place where he was confined; he made no scruple of owning the falsehood of what he had asserted upon his trial, and acknowledging the justice of that sentence which doomed him to death. He seemed to be under a very great concern lest his wife, who was addicted to such practices, should follow him to the same place; in order to prevent which, as far as it lay in his power, he wrote to her in the most pressing terms he was able, intreating her to take notice of that melancholy condition in which he then lay, miserable through the wants under which he suffered, and still more miserable from the apprehensions of a shameful death, and the fear of being plunged also into everlasting torment. Having finished this letter, he began to withdraw his thoughts as much as possible from this world, and to fix them wholly where they ought to have been placed throughout his life; praying to God for His assistance, and endeavouring to render himself worthy of it by a sincere repentance. In fine, as he had been enormously wicked through the course of his life, so he was extraordinarily penitent throughout the course of his misfortunes, deeply affected from the apprehensions of temporal punishment, but apparently more afflicted with the sense of his sins, and the fear of that punishment which the justice of Almighty God might inflict upon him. Therefore, to the day of his execution, he employed every moment in crying for mercy, and with wonderful piety and resignation submitted to that death which the law had appointed for his offences; on the 13th of September, 1725, at Tyburn. As to his own age, that I am not able to say anything of, it not being mentioned in the papers before me.


[1] That is, Tyburn tree.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals