Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Nicholas Gilburn


a Most Notorious Highwayman

This unfortunate person was born at Ballingary, near Limerick, in the west of Ireland, of parents in very tolerable circumstances, who gave him a very good education; but perceiving that he had a martial disposition, they resolved not to cross it, and therefore, though he was not above fourteen years of age, got him recommended to an officer, who received him as a dragoon. He served about four years with a very good reputation in the army; but he had a brother who then rode in a regiment of horse, who wrote to him from London, and encouraged him to come over into England, which occasioned his writing to his officer to desire his discharge. To this his officer readily agreed.

He went thereupon from the north of Ireland to the west, to his friend, where having equipped himself with clothing, linen and other necessaries, he then came to London, expecting to meet his brother. But on his arrival here he was disappointed, and that disappointment, together with his want of money, made him very uneasy. At last, in order to procure bread, he resolved to list himself in the Foot Guards. He did so, and continued in them for about two years, during which time, he says in his dying declaration, that he did duty as well, and appeared as clean as any man in the company; nay, in all that time, he avers that he never neglected his guard but once, which was very fatal to him, for it brought him into the acquaintance of those who betrayed him to measures which cost him his life. For being taken up and carried to the Savoy for the afore-mentioned offence, he had not been long in prison before Wilson, who had been concerned with Burnworth, alias Frazier, and the rest in the murder of Mr. Ball in the Mint; and one Mr. G----, an old highwayman, though he had never conversed with him before, came to pay him a visit.

They treated him both with meat and drink, seemed to commiserate his condition very much, and promised him that he should not want twelvepence a day, during the time in confinement. This promise was very well kept, and Gilburn in a few days obtained his liberty. The next day he met Wilson in St. James's Park, who after complimenting him upon his happy deliverance, invited him to a house in Spring Gardens to drink and make merry together. Gilburn readily consented, and after discoursing of courage, want of money, the miseries of poverty, and some other preparatory articles, Wilson parted with him for that time, appointing another meeting with him at eleven o'clock the next morning. There Wilson pursued his former topic, and at last told him plainly that the best and shortest method to relieve their wants was to go on the highway; and when he had once made this step, he scrupled not to make a further, telling Gilburn that there was no such danger in those practices as was generally apprehended, for that with a little care and circumspection the gallows might be well enough avoided, which he said was plain enough from his own adventures, since he had lived several years in the profession, and by being cautious enough to look about him, had escaped any confinement.

Gilburn heard this account with terror. He had never committed anything of this kind hitherto, and knew very well that if he once engaged he could never afterwards go back. Wilson seemed not at all uneasy at his pause, but artfully introducing discourse on other subjects, plied him in the meanwhile with liquor, until he saw him pretty warm, and then resumed the story of his own adventures and of the facility of acquiring money when a man is but well stored with courage and has ever so little conduct. This artifice unfortunately had its effect, Wilson's conversation and the fumes of liquor prevailing so far upon Gilburn that, as he himself phrased it, he resolved at last upon business.

The day following, Gilburn provided himself with pistols, and removed his quarters to go and live with Wilson, who encouraged him with all the arguments he was able to stick to his new profession, and Gilburn in return swore he would live and die with him. So at night they went out together in quest of adventures. The road they took was towards Paddington. A little after they were come into the fields, they attacked a gentleman and took from him eight shillings, with which Gilburn was very much pleased, though they had little luck after, so that they returned at last to their lodgings, weary and fatigued, and were obliged to mount guard the next morning. When their guard was over, they were, as Mr. Gilburn expresses it in his last speech, as bare as a bird's arse, so no time was to be lost, and accordingly that very night they made their second expedition. Nobody coming in their way, Gilburn began to fret, and at last falling into a downright passion, swore he would rob the first man he met. He was as good as his word, and the booty he got proved a tolerable provision for some days.

But guard-day drawing nigh again, Wilson told him there was no mounting without money, and the same methods were taken as formerly; but as the leagues by which men are united in villainy are liable to a thousand inconveniencies which are uneasily born, and yet hard to be remedied, so Wilson's humours being very different from that of Gilburn, they soon began to differ about the money they acquired by plunder. At last, coming one night very much tired and fatigued to a public-house where Wilson was acquainted, they called for some drink to refresh themselves, which when they had done, Gilburn was for dividing the money, himself standing in need of linen and other necessaries. Wilson, on the other hand, was for having a bowl of punch, and words thereupon arose to such a height that at last they fell to fighting. This quarrel was irreconcilable, and they absolutely parted company, though Gilburn unfortunately pursued the same road; and having robbed a gentleman on horseback of several yards of fine padusoy, he was shortly after apprehended and committed to Newgate.

At first he absolutely denied the fact, but when he was convicted, and saw no hopes of pardon, he acknowledged what had been sworn against him by the prosecutor to be true, attended with much gravity at chapel, and seemed to be greatly afflicted through a due sense of those many sins which he had committed. Wilson, his companion, had a little before been executed at Kingston, and Gilburn with all outward signs of contrition, suffered the same death at Tyburn, at the same time with the before-mentioned malefactor, being at the time of his death about twenty-two years of age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals