The Life of MATTHEW CLARK
a Footpad and Murderer
Perhaps there is nothing to which we may more justly attribute those numerous executions which so disgrace our country, than the false notions which the meaner sort, especially, imbibe in their youth as to love and women. This unhappy person, Matthew Clark, of whom we are now to speak, was a most remarkable instance of the truth of this observation. He was born at St. Albans, of parents in but mean circumstances, who thought they had provided very well for their son when they had procured his admission into the family of a neighbouring gentleman, equally distinguished by the greatness of his merit and fortune.
In this place, certainly, had Matthew been inclined in any degree to good, he might have acquired from the favour of his master all the advantages, even of a liberal education; but proving an incorrigible, lazy and undutiful servant, the gentleman in whose service he was, after bearing with him a long time, turned him out of his family. He then went to plough and cart, and such other country work, but though he had been bred to this and was never in any state from which he could reasonably hope better, yet was he so restless and uneasy at those hardships which he fancied were put upon him, that he chose rather to rob than to labour; and leaving the farmer in whose service he was, used to skulk about Bushey Heath, and watch all opportunities to rob passengers.
Matthew was a perfect composition of all the vices that enter into low life. He was idle, inclined to drunkenness, cruel and a coward; nor would he have had spirit enough to attack anybody on the road had it not been to supply him with money for merry meetings and dancing bouts, to which he was carried by his prevailing passion for loose women. And these expeditions keeping him continually bare, robbing and junketting, desire of pleasure and fear of the gallows were the whole round of both his actions and his thoughts.
At last the matrimonial maggot bit his brain, and alter a short courtship, he prevailed on a young girl in the neighbourhood to go up with him to London, in order to their marriage. When they were there, finding his stock reduced so low that he had not even money to purchase the wedding ring, he pretended that a legacy of fifteen pounds was just left him in the country, and with a thousand promises of a quick return, set out from London to fetch it. When he left the town, full of uneasy thoughts, he travelled towards Neasden and Willesden Green, where formerly he had lived. He intended to have lurked there till he had an opportunity of robbing as many persons as to make up fifteen pounds from their effects. In pursuance of this resolution, he designed in himself to attack every passenger he saw, but whenever it came to the push, the natural cowardice of his temper prevailed and his heart failed him.
While he loitered about there, the master of an alehouse hard by took notice of him and asked him how he came to idle about in haytime, when there was so much work, offering at the same time to hire him for a servant. Upon this discourse Clark immediately recollected that all the persons belonging to this man's house must be out haymaking, except the maid, who served his liquors and waited upon guests. As soon, therefore, as he had parted from the master and saw he was gone into the fields, he turned back and went into his house, where renewing his former acquaintance with the maid, who as he had guessed, was there alone, and to whom he formerly had been a sweetheart, he sat near an hour drinking and talking in that jocose manner which is usual between people of their condition in the country. But in the midst of all his expressions of affection, he mediated how to rob the house, his timorous disposition supposing a thousand dangers from the knowledge the maid had of him.
He resolved, in order absolutely to secure himself, to murder her out of the way; upon which, having secretly drawn his knife out of his sheath, and hiding it under his coat, he kissed her, designing at the same time to dispatch her; but his heart failed him the first time. However, getting up and kissing her a second time, he darted it into her windpipe; but its edge being very dull, the poor creature made a shift to mutter his name, and endeavoured to scramble after him. Upon which he returned, and with the utmost inhumanity cut her neck to the bone quite round; after which he robbed the house of some silver, but being confounded and astonished did not carry off much.
He went directly into the London Road, and came as far as Tyburn, the sight of which filled him with so much terror that he was not able to pick up courage enough to go by it. Returning back into the road again, he met a waggon, which, in hopes of preventing all suspicion, he undertook to drive up to town (the man who drove it having hurt his leg). But he had not gone far before the persons who were in pursuit of the murderer of Sarah Goldington (the maid before mentioned) came up with him, and enquired whether he had seen anybody pass by his waggon who looked suspicious, or was likely to have committed the fact. This enquiry put him into so much confusion that he was scarce able to make an answer, which occasioned their looking at him more narrowly and thereby discovering the sleeve of his shirt to be all bloody. At first he affirmed with great confidence that a soldier meeting him upon the road had insulted him, and that in fighting with him he had made the soldier's mouth bleed, which had so stained his shirt. But in a little time perceiving this excuse would not prevail, but that they were resolved to carry him back, he fell into a violent agony and confessed the fact.
At the next sessions at the Old Bailey he was convicted, and after receiving sentence of death, endeavoured all he could to comfort and compose himself during the time he lay under condemnation. His father, who was a very honest industrious man came to see him, and after he was gone Matthew spoke with great concern of an expression which his father had made use of, viz., That if he had been to die for any other offence, he would have made all the interest and friends he could to have served for his life, but that the murder he had committed was so cruel, that he thought that nothing could atone for it but his blood. The inhumanity and cruel circumstances of it did indeed in some degree affect this malefactor himself, but he seemed much more disturbed with the apprehension of being hanged in chains, a thing which from the weakness of vulgar minds terrifies more than death itself, and the use of which I confess I do not see, since it serves only to render the poor wretches uneasy in their last moments, and instead of making suitable impressions on the minds of the spectators, affords a pretence for servants and other young persons to idle away their time in going to see the body so exposed on a gibbet.
At the place of execution, Clark was extremely careful to inform the people that he was so far from having any malice against the woman whom he murdered that he really had a love for her. A report, too, of his having designed to sell the young girl he had brought out of the country into Virginia had weight enough with him to occasion his solemn denying of it at the tree, though he acknowledged at the same time that he had resolved to leave her. He declared also, to prevent any aspersions on some young men who had been his companions, that no person was ever present with, or privy to any of the robberies he had committed; and having thus far discharged his conscience, he suffered on the 28th of July, 1721, in the twenty-fourth year of his age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals