The Life of JOHN THOMSON
a thief, Highwayman, etc.
John Thomson was born at Carlisle, but was brought with his friends to London. They, it seems, were persons of no substance, and took little care of their son's education, suffering him, while a lad, to go often to such houses as were frequented by ill-people, and such as took dishonest methods to get money. Such are seldom very dose in their discourse when they meet and junket together, and Thomson, then a boy, was so much pleased with their jovial manner of life, eating well and drinking hard, that he had ever a bias that way, even when he was otherways employed, till he was fifteen years old, leading such an idle and debauched life that, as he himself expressed it, he had never heard of or read a Bible or other good book throughout all that space.
A friend of his was then so kind as to put him out apprentice to a weaver, and he might have had some chance of coming into the world in an honest and reputable way, but he had not continued with his master any long time before he listed himself in the sea service, during the Wars in the late Queen's time, and served on board a squadron which was sent up the Baltic to join the Danes. This cold country, with other hardships he endured, made him so out of humour with a sailor's life that though he behaved himself tolerably well when on board, yet he resolved never to engage in the same state, if once discharged and safe on shore.
Upon his coming back to England, he went to work at his trade of a weaver, and being for a while very sensible of the miseries he had run through on board the man-of-war, he became highly pleased with the quiet and easy way in which he got his bread by his business, thinking, however, that there was no way so proper to settle him as by marrying, which accordingly he did. But he was so unfortunate that though his wife was a very honest woman, yet the money he got not being sufficient to maintain them, he was even obliged to take to the sea again for a subsistence, and continued on board several ships in the Straits and Mediterranean for a very considerable space, during which he was so fortunate as to serve once on board an enterprising captain, who in less than a year's space, took nineteen prizes to a very considerable value. And as they were returning from their cruise, they took a French East India ship on the coast of that kingdom, whose cargo was computed at no less than a hundred thousand pounds sterling. Thomson might certainly, if he would, have saved money enough to have put himself into a creditable method of life as many of his shipmates had done, and so well did the captain improve his own good fortune that on his return he retired into the country, where he purchased an estate of fifteen hundred pounds "per annum."
But Thomson being much altered from the usual bent of his temper by his being long accustomed at sea to blood and plunder, so when he returned home, instead of returning to an honest way of living, he endeavoured to procure money at the same rate by land which he had done at sea, and for that purpose associated himself with persons of a like disposition, and in their company did abundance of mischief. At last he and one of his associates passing over Smithfield between twelve and one in the morning, on the second of March, they perceived one George Currey going across that place very much in drink. Him they attacked, though at first they pretended to lead him safe home, drawing him to a proper place out of hearing of the houses, where they took from him a shirt, a wig and a hat, in doing which they knocked him down, stamped upon his breast, and in other respects used him very cruelly. Being apprehended soon after this fact, he was for it tried and convicted.
In the space between that and his death, he behaved himself very penitently, and desired with great earnestness that his wife would retire into the country to her friends, and learn by his unhappy example that nothing but an honest industry could procure the blessing of God. This he assiduously begged for her in his prayers, imploring her at the same time that he gave her this advice, to be careful of her young son she had then at her breast, not only as to his education, but also that he might never know his father's unhappy end, for that would but damp his spirits, and perhaps force him upon ill-courses when he grew up, from an apprehension that people might distrust his honesty and not employ him. He professed himself much afflicted at the past follies of his life, and with an outward appearance of true penitence, died on the fourth of May, 1722, in the thirty-third year of his age, at Tyburn.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals