Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Martin Bellamy


a Notorious Thief, Highwayman and Housebreaker

This criminal was amongst the number of those whom long practice had so hardened in his offences that he took up the humour of glorying in them, even under his confinement, and persisted in it to the hour of his death, drawing up, when under sentence (or at least giving instructions by which it was drawn up) an account of the several street-robberies, burglaries, and other crimes which he had committed, in a style which too plainly showed that nothing in his miserable condition afflicted him but the thought of his ignominious death he was to suffer, not even the reflection of those crimes which had so deservedly brought him to his fate. By trade he was a tailor and a good workman in his business, by which he lived in good credit for some time. It seems he married a woman whose friends, at least, were very honest people, and highly displeased with the villainous course of life he led. Insomuch that upon his being apprehended and sent to Bridewell on suspicion, his wife's brother came to him there in order to know where the prosecutor lived, that, as he said, he might go and make some proposals for making up the affair. Bellamy gave him the best account he could, and the man finding out the person, advised him to prosecute Martin with the utmost severity, in hopes, no doubt, that he should in this way rid his sister of a very bad husband. However, Bellamy was so irritated by the attempt that he would never cohabit with her afterwards, but with implacable hatred pursued her and her family with all the mischiefs he was able.

The methods which he and his gang mostly took in robbing, according to the account which, as I have before said, he has left us of himself, were chiefly these: the gang having met together in the evening used to go, three or four in a company, to visit the shops of those tradesmen who deal in the richest sort of toys[1] and other goods that are portable and easily conveyed away. Then one of the company cheapens something or other, making many words with the shopkeeper about the price, thereby giving an opportunity to some of his companions to hand things of value from one to another till they were insensibly vanished, the honest shopkeeper being left to deplore the misfortune of having such light-fingered customers find the way to his shop. Another practice of theirs, to the same laudable purpose, was carried on after this manner: three or four of them walked up and down several streets, which by observation they had found fitted for their purpose, and on perceiving things of any value lying in a parlour, they, with an engine contrived for that purpose, suddenly threw up the sash; and notwithstanding there being persons in the room, they would venture to snatch it out and often get clear off before the people who saw them could recover themselves from the surprise. But if there was nobody in the way, then one of their associates, slipping off his shoes, stole softly into the room and handed out whatever was of most value to his companions without doors.

But Bellamy was not only adroit in these ordinary practices, but was also perfectly acquainted with the art and mystery of counterfeiting hands; and as an instance thereof, upon which he much valued himself, he used to relate a trick of that sort which he put upon the late Jonathan Wild, after this manner: having accustomed himself for some time to frequent the levee of that infamous agent of thieves, he became so well acquainted with Jonathan's manner of writing and also with the persons who gave him credit on particular occasions when money was low. Whereupon he took occasion to forge a note from the said Wild to one Wildgoose, servant at an inn, who used to be Jonathan's banker upon emergencies, who, on receipt of the note, paid Bellamy the contents thereof without hesitation. A few days after, Mr. Wild and his correspondent met. The forgery was soon detected and Jonathan immediately gave directions to that infamous band of villains who were always in his pay and under his direction, to leave no means untried for the apprehending Bellamy, who from Wildgoose's description he knew to be the man who had been guilty of the forgery.

In the search after him they were so assiduous that in a very short space they surprised him at a house in Whitefriars, where he was forced to fly up to a garret in order to conceal himself. His pursuers thinking they had now lodged him pretty securely, sent notice of it to their master. But Martin perceiving a long rope lying upon a bed in the room where he hid himself, resolved for once to venture his neck; and having fastened it as well as he could, he slipped down by it into the street, with so great agility that none of his attendants perceived it till he was in the street, by which time he got so much the start of them that they found it but in vain to pursue him, and therefore laid by all thoughts of catching him until another opportunity.

However, the trick he had played them made them so diligent in pursuing him that it was but a very short time before they surrounded him in a brandy-shop in Chancery Lane, seized him and brought him in a coach to the Elephant and Castle alehouse, Fleet Street, from whence they dispatched advice to Jonathan of his apprehension. It happened that that great man was gone to bed when the message arrived with this news; however it was carried up and Jonathan with an air of generosity bid the fellow return and inform his people that he would take Mr. Bellamy's word, and that he might meet him with safety the next morning at his levee. Bellamy, who well knew the temper of the man, failed not to pay his court at the time appointed and adjourning to the Baptist Head tavern in the Old Bailey, after drinking a refreshing bottle, he presented Mr. Wild with five guineas, by way of atonement for the offence which he had committed against him. Jonathan was so well appeased by the intervention of the golden advocates that he promised not only to forgive him, himself, but also to prevail with Mr. Wildgoose to do the same, provided he entered into a bond for the repayment of the ten guineas. This was a condition easily submitted to by Martin in his present circumstances. This danger thus got over, he returned to his old profession without running any further hazard of Jonathan's interruption.

About this time the gang to which he belonged entered upon a new method of housebreaking, which they effected by stealing the keys which fastened the pins in shopkeepers' window-shutters and thereby removing the greatest difficulty they had of getting in. This trade they carried on successfully for a good space; though now and then they miscarried in their attempts, particularly at a goldsmith's shop in Russell Court, where, having got into the shop and being about to remove a show-glass, a man who lay in the shop suddenly started up and presenting a blunderbuss with a great presence of mind told the thieves that he was tender of shedding their blood and therefore advised them to get off as soon as they could. They took his advice and withdrew accordingly, with great confusion. But the same night they had, as Mr. Bellamy expresses it, much better luck at a toy-shop not far from the same place, where, entering the house, they found the maid sitting by the fire. She at first screamed, but they soon made her silent, and then proceeded to carry off the show-glass, with all the boxes that were contained in it.

Not long after this they broke off the padlock from a toy-shop in Swithin's Alley, in Cornhill. Not being able afterwards to enter the house they fell to work next upon the thick timber that supports the shutters, and after labouring at it about an hour, forced it off, whereupon all the shutters dropping down at once into the court, made so great a clatter that they doubted not that all the neighbourhood was alarmed, and thought it would be no ill night's work if, after such an accident, they had the good luck to escape. Upon which they endeavoured to shift, everyone for himself. However, seeing nobody alarmed at the noise of the falling of the shutters and that during two hours' time the watch had never passed that way, they took courage at last: and returned, entered the house, and putting up the most valuable goods, went off without any molestation.

A multitude of robberies of the same kind he confessed, but as they are narrated in the account we have so often mentioned, it would be a kind of imposition on our readers to transcribe those accounts there. Wherefore, in the following articles concerning him, we shall make no use at all of any that is to be found there.

During the space he led this life he cohabited with one Amy Fowles, who passed for his wife and bore him several children. At last, though he had so often escaped, he was apprehended for a burglary committed on the house of Mr. Holliday, in Bishopsgate Street, and upon very full evidence was convicted at the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey. After his commitment to Newgate he entered, it seems, into a treaty with a certain Justice of the Peace for making a full discovery of all his accomplices, which might at that time have contributed very much to the public advantage; but in the interim some person had talked thereof too openly, it came to the ears of one who collected news for a daily paper. This man thereupon went to Bellamy, making the poor fellow believe that he came to him by the direction of some persons in power (a thing not at all unlikely, considering that a proclamation had been issued but very little before for the better encouraging the discovery of and bringing first offenders to justice). And having by this means drawn the poor fellow into a confession of several robberies and burglaries, he digested it, or got somebody to do it for him, into proper paragraphs which were inserted the next day in a newspaper and gave thereby an opportunity to the persons impeached, of making their escape. This rogue, therefore defeated Bellamy of all hopes of pardon and hindered the public from receiving any benefit from his confession. All which enormous villainies were perhaps perpetrated for the sake of a poor crown, the utmost that could be expected by the collector for procuring this extraordinary passage big with so much mischief, and which in its consequences produced little better than a murder, since it is possible that Bellamy's life might have been saved if a right use had been made of his confession.

At his trial he behaved with great impudence and during the time he lay under sentence continued to affect that gaiety which amongst persons of his profession is too often mistaken for bravery and true courage. But when the fatal day approached he, as is common with most of them, sank much in his spirits and had a great deal to do to recover himself so as to be able to read the following paper, which he had written for that purpose and brought with him to the tree, which, as the words of a dying man, I publish verbatim:

A Copy of the paper read by Martin Bellamy at the Place of Execution

Gentlemen, I am brought here to suffer an ignominious death for my having wilfully transgressed against the known laws of God and my country. I fear there are too many here present who come to be witnesses of my untimely end rather out of curiosity than from a sincere intention to take warning by my unhappy fate. You see me here in the very prime of my youth, cut off like an untimely flower in the rigorous season, through my having been too much addicted to a voluptuous and irregular course of life, which has been the occasion of my committing those crimes for which I am now to suffer. As the laws of God as well as of men call upon me to Lay down my life as justly forfeited by my manifold transgressions, I acknowledge the justice of my sentence, patiently submit to the same without any rancour, ill-will or malice to any person whatsoever; hoping through the merits of Christ Jesus (who laid down His life for sinners, and who upon the cross pronounced a pardon for the repenting thief under the agonies of death) to be with Him permitted to partake of that glorious resurrection and immortality He has been so graciously pleased to promise to the sincere penitent. I earnestly exhort and beg of all here present to think seriously of eternity--a long and endless eternity!--in which we are to be rewarded or punished according to our good or evil actions in this world; that you will all take warning by me and refrain from all wilful transgressions and offences. Let a religious disposition prevail upon you, and use your utmost endeavours to forsake and fly from sin. The mercies of God are great, and He can save even at the last moment of life. Yet do not therefore presume too much, lest you provoke Him to cast you off in His anger, and become fearful examples of His wrath and indignation. Let me prevail upon you to forget and forgive me all the offences and injuries I have committed or promoted in action, advice or example; and entreat your prayers for me that the Lord would in mercy look down upon me in the last moment of my life.

His Prayer

Look down in mercy, O God, I beseech Thee, upon me a miserable, lost, and undone sinner. Number not my transgressions nor let my iniquities rise up in judgment against me. Wash me and I shall be clean; purge me and I shall be free from offence. Though my sins be as scarlet, they shall be whiter than snow if Thou pleasest but to receive me amongst those whom Thou hast redeemed, that I may sing praises to the Most High and extol Thy Holy Name in the courts of Heaven for ever and ever more. Amen.

He suffered on the 27th of March, 1728, being then about eight-and-twenty years of age.


[1] Trinkets and such trifles, not children's playthings.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals