Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Mary Robinson


a Shoplift

The indiscretions of youth are always pitied, and often excused even by those who suffer most by them; but when persons grown up to years of discretion continue to pursue with eagerness the most flagitious courses, and grow in wickedness as they grow in age, pity naturally forsakes us, and they appear in so execrable a light that instead of having compassion for their misfortunes we congratulate our country on being rid of such monsters, whom nothing could tame, nor the approach even of death in a natural way hinder them from anticipating it by drawing on a violent one through their crimes.

I am drawn to this observation from the fate of the miserable woman of whom we are now speaking. What her parents were, or what her education it is impossible to say, since she was shy of relating them herself; and being seventy years old at the time of her execution, there was nobody then living who could give an account about her. She was indicted for stealing a silver cup, in company with Jane Holmes, and also stealing eighty yards of cherry-coloured mantua silk, value five pounds, in company with the aforesaid Jane Holmes, the property of Joseph Brown and Mary Harper, on the 24th of December. On these facts she was convicted as the rest were, in the evidence of Burton, whom, as is usual in such cases, they represented as a woman worse than themselves, and who had drawn many of them into the commission of what she now deposed against them.

As to this old woman Mary Robinson, she said she had been a widow fourteen years, and had both children and grandchildren living at the time of her execution; she said she had worked as hard for her living as any woman in London. Yet when pressed thereupon to speak the truth and not wrong her conscience in her last moments, she did then declare she had been guilty of thieving tricks; but persisted in it that the evidence Burton had not been exactly right in what she had sworn against her. It was a melancholy thing to see a woman of her years, and who really wanted not capacity, brought into those lamentable circumstances, and going to a violent and ignominious death, when at a time when she could not expect it would be any long term before she submitted to a natural one.

Possibly my readers may wonder how such large quantities of silk were conveyed away. I thought, therefore, proper to inform them that the evidence Burton said they had a contrivance under their petticoats, not unlike two large hooks, upon which they laid a whole roll of silk, and so conveyed it away at once, while one of their confederates amused the people of the shop in some manner or other until they got out of reach; and by this means they had for many years together carried on their trade with great success and as much safety, until the losses of the tradesmen ran so high as to induce them to take the method before-mentioned, which quickly produced a discovery, not only of the persons of the offenders, but of the place also where they had deposited the goods. By this means a good part of them were recovered, and those who had so long lived by this infamous practice were either detected or destroyed; so that shoplifting has been thereby kept under ever since, or at least the offenders have not ventured in so large a way as before.

But to return to the criminal of whom we are to treat. She said she was not afraid of death at all, though she confessed herself troubled as to the manner in which she was to die, and reflected severely upon Burton, who had given evidence against her. By degrees she grew calmer, and on the day of her execution appeared more composed and cheerful than she had done during all her troubles. She suffered at the same time with the malefactors before mentioned, and in her years looked as if she had been the mother of those with whom she died.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals