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


Housebreaker and Thief

Amongst the numbers of unhappy wretches who perish at the gallows, most pity seems due to those who, pressed by want and necessity, commit in the bitter exigence of starving, some illegal act purely to support life. But this is a very scarce case, and such a one as I cannot in strictness presume to say that I have hitherto met with in all the loads of papers I have turned over to this purpose, though as the best motive to excite compassion, and consequently to obtain mercy, it is made very often a pretence.

Joseph Middleton was the son of a very poor, though honest, labouring man in the county of Kent, near Deptford, who did all that was in his power to bring up his children. This unfortunate son was taken off his hand by an uncle, a gardener, who brought up the boy to his own business, and consequently to labour hard enough, which would, to an understanding person, appear no such very great hardship where a man had continually been inured to it even from his cradle, and had neither capacity nor the least probability of attaining anything better. Yet such an intolerable thing did it seem to Middleton that he resolved at any cost to be rid of it, and to purchase an easier way of spending his days.

In order to this, he very wisely chose to go aboard a man-of-war then bound for the Baltic. He was in himself a stupid, clumsy fellow, and the officers and seamen in the ship treated him so harshly, the fatigue he went through was so great, and the coldness of the climate so pinching to him, that he who so impatiently wished to be rid of the country work, now wished as earnestly to return thereto. Therefore, when on the return of Sir John Norris, the ship he was in was paid off and discharged, he was in an ecstacy of joy thereat, and immediately went down again to settle hard to labour as he had done before, experience having convinced him that there were many more hardships sustained in one short ramble than in a staid though laborious life.

In order, as is the common phrase, to settle in the world, he married a poor woman, by whom he had two children, and thereby made her as unhappy as himself; what he was able to earn by his hands falling much short of what was necessary to keep house in the way he lived, this reduced him to such narrowness of circumstances that he was obliged (as he would have it believed) to take illegal methods for support.

His own blockish and dastardly temper, as it had prevented his ever doing good in any honest way, so it as effectually put it out of his power to acquire anything considerable by the rapine he committed; for as he wanted spirit to go into a place where there was immediate danger, so his companions, who did the act while he scouted about to see if anybody was coming, and to give them notice, when they divided the booty gave him just what they thought fit, and keep the rest to themselves. He had gone on in this miserable way for a considerable space, and yet was able to acquire very little, his wants being very near as great while he robbed every night, as they were when he laboured every day, so that in the exchange he got nothing but danger into the bargain.

At last, he was apprehended for breaking into the house of John de Pais and Joseph Gomeroon, and taking there jewels and other things to a great value, though his innocence in not entering the place would sufficiently excuse him, for he pleaded at his trial that he was so far from breaking the house that he was not so much as on the ground of the prosecutor when it was broke, but on the contrary, as appeared by their own evidence, on the other side of the way. But it being very fully proved by the evidence that Joseph Middleton belonged to the gang, that he waited there only to give them an intelligence, and shared in the money they took, the jury found him guilty.

While he lay under conviction, he did his utmost to understand what was necessary for him to do in order to salvation. He applied himself with the utmost diligence to praying God to instruct him and enlighten his understanding, that he might be able to improve by his sufferings and reap a benefit from the chastisements of his Maker. In this frame of mind he continued with great steadiness and calmness till the time of his execution, at which he showed some fear and confusion, as the sight of such a death is apt to create even in the stoutest and best prepared breast. This Joseph Middleton, at the time of his exit, was in about the fortieth year of his age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals