Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Joseph Kemp


a Housebreaker

We have often, in the course of these lives, observed to our readers that loose women are generally the causes of those misfortunes which first bring men to the commission of felonious crimes, and, as a just consequence thereof, to an ignominious death. It may yet seem strange, how, after so many instances, there are still to be found people so weak as for the sake of the caresses of these strumpets to lavish away their lives, at the same time that they are putting their souls into the greatest hazard. If I may be allowed to offer my conjecture in this case, I should be apt to account for it thus: that in the present age, the depravity of men's morals being greater than ever, they addict themselves so entirely to their lusts and sensual pleasures that having no relish left for more innocent entertainments, they think no price too great to purchase those lewd enjoyments, to which, by a continued series of such actions, they have habituated themselves beyond their own power to retire.

This unfortunate person, Joseph Kemp, was son to people in very mean circumstances, in Holborn, who yet procured him a very good education in a public charity-school. When of age to be put out to employment, his friends made him apply himself to the heads of the parish, who put him out to a glazier, with whom he served out his time with the character of a very honest young man. By that time his parents had thriven pretty well in the world through their own industry, and so, on his setting up a shop, they gave him sixty pounds to begin with. But unfortunately for him, he had ere now seen a woman of the town, on whom he had irretrievably fixed his affections, and was absolutely resolved on living with her, though ever so great ruin should prove the consequence of the purchase.

In pursuance of this unfortunate resolution, he no sooner had received the aforesaid sum, but proposals of marriage were immediately offered to this object of his affections, notwithstanding that he well knew she at that time conversed with two men, styling each of them her husband. However, as Kemp was the most likely to maintain her in idleness and plenty, she, without much trouble, suffered herself to be prevailed on to let him, by a legal matrimony, increase the number of her husbands. This, as it was but probable, was speedily followed by his breaking in his business, and being totally undone, which, though it was a great misfortune, and an evil new to poor Kemp, only reduced the lady to her former manner of living, which was by thieving whatever she could come at. A little while after, she was ruined even in this business, for being detected, she was committed to Newgate, and was in great danger of lying there for life. Poor Kemp was still as fond of her as ever. He carried her all the money he could get, and lamenting to her that it was not in his power to raise more, she immediately flew into a passion, stormed and swore at him, bid him go and break houses, rob people in the streets, or do anything which would get money, for money she wanted and money she would have. He foolishly complied with her request and having provided himself with the necessary implements for housebreaking, he soon put her in possession of a large quantity of plate, which being converted into money, easily procured her liberty, the consequence of which was that she lavished whatever he brought her upon other men.

Yet even her perfidy could not cure him; he was still as much her slave as ever, and failed not venturing body and soul to procure whatever might give her pleasure. In this unhappy state a considerable space of time was spent, until, for some other thievish exploits of her own, Kemp's wife was apprehended, convicted and transported. One would have thought this might have put an end to his crimes of the same sort, but it seems he was too far plunged into the mire of rapine and debauchery ever to struggle out, so that no sooner was she safely on board the transport vessel but he found out a new mistress to supply her place; as if he had been industrious in destroying his fortune and careful about nothing but arriving as soon as possible at the gallows.

By the time he made his second marriage, which in itself was illegal while the first wife was living, his credit was totally exhausted, his character totally ruined, and no manner of subsistence left but what was purchased at the hazard of his soul and the price of his life; and as housebreaking was now become his sole business, so he pursued it with great eagerness, and for a while with as great success. But it was not long before he was apprehended, and committed close to Newgate for a multitude of charges of this kind against him.

At the following sessions at the Old Bailey, he was indicted for burglariously breaking open the house of Sarah Pickard, and feloniously taking thence thirty-six gold rings and stone rings, three silver watches, several pieces of silver plate, and divers other goods of considerable value. The prosecutrix, Mrs. Pickard, deposed that her house was fast shut between then and eleven o'clock at night, and found broken open at five of the clock the next morning, and that one Kemp, a person related to the prisoner, found a short strong knife left in the yard, together with an auger, which he knew to belong to the prisoner.

In confirmation of this Mr. Kemp deposed that the prisoner had shown him the knife; Joanna Kemp and Jonathan Auskins deposed likewise to the same thing, and Samuel Gerrard, the constable, swore that when with the two preceding witnesses he went to search the house of the aforesaid prisoner, and found therein several things belonging to Mrs. Pickard, the prisoner then confessed that he committed burglary alone and not by the persuasion or with the assistance of any other person whatsoever.

The prisoner said very little in his own defence, and the jury thereupon, without hesitation, found him guilty; as they did also upon two other indictments, the one for breaking the house of James Wood, and the other for breaking the house of Mrs. Mary Paget, and stealing thence plate to a considerable value; the facts being dearly proved by John Knap, who had been an accomplice, and turned evidence to save himself. His last wife was indicted and tried with him, but acquitted.

Under sentence of death he was seized with a disease which held him for the greater part of the time permitted by Law for him to repent, and by reason of that distemper he was so deaf that he was scarce capable of instruction. However, he appeared to be fully sensible of the great danger he was in, of suffering much more from the just anger of God than that sentence of the Law which his crimes had drawn upon him. He bewailed with much passion and concern that wicked course of life which for many years past he had led, seemed exceedingly grieved at the horror of those reflections, and to mourn with unfeigned penitence his forgetfulness of the duties he owed towards God, and to his neighbours. As the hour of death approached, he resumed somewhat of courage, and at the place of execution died with all outward marks of a repenting sinner.

His wife came up into the cart and took her last adieu of him, in the most tender manner that can be imagined. He died on the 24th of August, 1729, being then in the twenty-fourth year of his age, and left behind him the following paper, which seems to have been what he intended to have said to the people at the time of his death, and therefore we, according to custom, thought it not proper to be omitted in this account.


Good People,

My father and mother brought me up tenderly and honestly, and always gave me good advice, whilst I was under their care. They put me apprentice to a glazier. My master not being so careful of me as he ought to have been, I took to ill courses, and before my time was expired, married a woman that brought me to this untimely end; for she could not live upon what I got at my trade, and out of my over-fondess for her, I did whatever she required, or requested of me. At length she was taken up for some fact, and transported. Then I married a second wife, and she was as good as the other was bad. She would do anything to help to support me that I might not commit any wickedness, but I could not take her advice, but still ran on in my wicked course of life, till I was overtaken by my folly. For if we think ourselves safe in committing sin, God will certainly find such out, because He is just, and will punish accordingly. This my miserable end, I would have all take warning by, and that they follow not the devices of the world, the snares whereof are apt to lead men into evil courses, unless they endeavour to shun them, and seek the grace of God to assist and enable them for the good of all men, and ask pardon of God for my evil doings, and forgiveness of all whom I have wronged, and particularly the forgiveness of God to those who have sworn away my life. I beg reflections pass not upon my wife, for I declare, whatever wrongs she may have committed, was through my persuasion, of herself being inclinable to good. I would lastly request that the follies and vices which have brought me to this untimely end may not by any means be a cause to afflict my grievous parents, both father and mother, but would have all to consider when ever they are persuaded to any manner of ways, tending to their ruin, they would likewise remember to call upon God to help and assist them, in shunning such, and all other wicked courses. Good people, pray for me, that God may receive me through his mercies, which I trust he will.

Newgate, August 22nd, 1729.

Joseph Kemp

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals