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


a Horse-Stealer

This malefactor was descended of very honest and reputable parents in the county of York, who took care not only that he should read and write tolerably well, but also that he should be instructed in the principles of religion. They brought him up in their own way of business, which was grazing of cattle (both black cattle and horses), and afterwards selling them at market. As he grew up a man, he settled in the same occupation, farming what is called in Yorkshire a grazing room, for which he paid near a hundred pounds a year rent, and dealt very considerably himself in the same way which had been followed by his parents. He married also a young woman with a tolerable fortune, who bore him several children, five of which were alive at the time of his execution, and lived with their mother upon some little estate she had of her own.

For some years after his marriage he lived with tolerable reputation in the country, but being lavish in his expenses, he quickly consumed both his own little fortune and what he had with his wife, and then failing in his business, a whim took him in the head to come to London, whither also he brought his son. Here he soon fell into bad company, and getting acquaintance with a woman whom he thought was capable of maintaining him, he married her, or at least lived with her as if they had been married, for a considerable space; the news of which reaching his wife in the country, affected her so much that she had very nigh fallen into a fit of sickness. Thereupon her friends demonstrated to her, in vain, how unreasonable a thing it was for her to give herself so much pain about a man who treated her at once with unkindness and injustice; in spite of their remonstrances she came up to London, in hopes that her presence might reclaim him. But herein she was utterly mistaken, for he absolutely denied her to be his wife, and even persuaded his son to deny her also for his mother, which the boy with much fear and confusion did; and the poor woman was forced to go down into the country again, overwhelmed with sorrow at the ingratitude of the one and the undutifulness of the other. However, Murrel still went on in the same way with the woman he had chosen for his companion.

There is all the reason imaginable to suppose that he did not take the most honest ways of supporting himself and his mistress. However, he fell into no trouble nor is there any direct evidence of his having been guilty of any dishonesty within the reach of the Law, until he ran away with a mare from a man in town, as to which he excused himself by saying that she had formerly been his own, and that there having nothing more than a verbal contract between them, he thought fit to carry her off and sell her again. Sometime afterwards, going down to Newcastle Fair (for he still continued to carry on some dealing in horse-flesh) he fell there into the company of some merchants in the same way, who found means to get gains and sell very cheap, by paying nothing at the first hand. Among these, there was a country man of his who went by the name of Brown, with whom Murrel had formerly had an acquaintance. This fellow knowing the company in general to be persons of the same profession, began to talk very freely of his practices in that way (viz., of horse stealing), and amongst other stories related this. He said he once rode away with an officer's horse, who had just bought it with an intent to ride him up to London; he carried the creature into the West, and having made such alterations in his mane and tail as he thought proper, sold him there to a parson for thirteen guineas, which was about seven less than the horse was worth. But knowing the doctor had another church about eight miles from the parish in which he lived, and that there was a little stable at one angle of the churchyard, where the horse was put up during service, he resolved to make bold with it again. Accordingly, when the people were all at church, having provided himself with a red coat and a horse-soldier's accoutrements, he picked the stable door, clapped them on the priest's beast, and rode him without the least suspicion as hard as conveniently he could to Worcester. There he laid aside the habit of a cavalier, and transforming himself into the natural appearance of a horse-courser, he sold the horse to a physician, telling him at the time he bought it, that it would be greatly the better for being suffered to run at grass a fortnight or so. "No doubt on it", said he; "but I had some design of so doing."

Yet they were much sooner executed than at first they were intended to have been, by an accident which happened the very day after the beast came into the hands of the physician; for one evening as Brown was taking a walk in the skirts of the city, who should he perceive but his old Cornish parson and his footman, jogging into town. Guilt struck him immediately with apprehensions at their errand relating to him, so that walking up and down, nor daring to go into the town for fear of being taken up and at last supposing it the only way to rid him of danger, he caught the horse once more in the doctor's close, and having stolen a saddle and bridle out of the inn where he lodged, he rode on him as far as Essex.

There he remained until Northampton Fair, where he sold the horse for the third time, for twenty-seven guineas, to an officer in the same regiment with him from whom it had been first stolen, on whose return from Flanders it was owned and the captain who bought it (though he refused to lose his money) yet gave as good description as he could of the person who sold it. Upon this the other officer put out an advertisement, describing both the man and the horse, and offering a reward of five guineas for whoever should apprehend him. This advertisement roused both the parson and the doctor, and the former took so much pains to discover him that he was at length apprehended in Cornwall, where at the assizes he was tried and convicted for the fact. But the captain who was the original possessor of the horse was so much pleased with his ingenuity that he procured a reprieve for him, and carried him abroad with him where he continued until the peace of Utrecht, when he returned home and fell to his old way of living, by which he had submitted himself unto the time in which he fell into company with Murrel, and had then bought five or six horses which had been stolen from the South, to be disposed of at the fair.

Murrel liked the precedent, and put it in practice immediately by stealing a brown mare which belonged to Jonathan Wood, for which he was shortly after apprehended and committed to Newgate. At the next sessions at the Old Bailey he was tried and convicted on very clear evidence, and during the space in which he lay under condemnation, testified a true sorrow for his sins, though not so just a sense of that for which he died as he ought to have had, and which might have been reasonably expected. For as horse-stealing did not appear any very great sin to him at the time of his committing it, so now, when he was to die for it, such an obstinate partiality towards ourselves is there naturally grafted in human nature that he could not forbear complaining of the severity of the Law, and find fault with its rigour which might have been avoided. What seemed most of all to afflict him under his misfortune was that be saw his son and nearest relations forsake him, and as much as they could shun having anything to do with his affairs. Of this he complained heavily to the minister of the place, during his confinement in Newgate, who represented to him how justly this had befallen him for first slighting his family, and leaving them without the least tenderness of respect, either to the ties of a husband, or the duty of a parent; so he began to read his sin in his punishment, and to frame himself to a due submission to what he had so much merited by his follies and his crimes.

When he was first brought up to receive sentence, he counterfeited being dead so exactly that he was brought back again to Newgate, but this cheat served only to gain a little time; for at the next sessions he was condemned and ordered for execution, which he suffered on the 27th of June, 1726, being then between forty and fifty years of age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals