Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Peter Kelley

The Life of PETER KELLEY, alias OWEN, alias NISBET

a Murderer

Whether there be really any gradation in crimes, or whether we do not mistake in supposing the transgression of one Law of God more heinous than that of another, would be a point too difficult and too abstract for us to enter into, but as human nature is more shocked at the shedding of blood than at any other offence, we may be allowed to treat those who are guilty of it as bloody and unnatural men, who besides their losing all respect towards the laws of God, show also a want of that compassion and tenderness which seems incident to the human species.

The unhappy person of whom we are now to speak, was by birth an Irishman, and his true name Mackhuen, but upon his coming over into England he thought fit to change it for Owen, thereby inclining to avoid being taken for any other person than an Englishman. His parents were, it seems, persons so low in the world that they could not afford him any education, so that he was unable either to write or read at the time of his death. However, they put him out apprentice to a weaver, with whom having served his time, he came over to England, and worked for a little time at his trade. But growing idle, and being always inclined to sotting, he chose rather to go errands, or to do anything rather than work any longer.

It seems he played with great dexterity upon two jews' harps at a time, and this serving to entertain people of as loose and idle a disposition as himself, he thereby got a good deal of money, or least drink (which was to him all one, for without it he could not live), and his delight in an alehouse was so great that he seldom cared to be out of it. People in such houses finding they got money by his playing upon the jews' harp, and thereby keeping people longer at the pot than otherwise they were inclined to stay, used to encourage Peter by helping him to errands; but amongst all the persons who were so kind as to supply his necessities, there was one Nisbet, an old joiner in the neighbourhood, who was never weary of doing him kindnesses. Having repeated these often and for a long time together, Kelley at last began to call the old man father, and there seemed to be an inviolable friendship between them, Peter always preserving some respect towards him, though he seemed to have lost it towards everybody else.

One night, however, or rather morning, for it was near two o'clock, Kelley came with many signs of terror and confusion to the watch-house, and there told the constable and attendants that old Nisbet was murdered and lay weltering in his bed and a razor by him. The watch, knowing Peter to be a wild, half-witted drunken fellow, gave little heed to his discourse, and so far they were from crediting it that they turned him out of the watch-house, and bid him get about his business. In the morning old Nisbet's lodgers not hearing him stir at his usual hour, went to the door, and there made a noise in order to awake him. Having no answer upon that, they sent for a proper officer and broke the door open, where they found the old man with his throat cut in a most barbarous fashion, overflowed with the torrent of his own blood, which was yet warm. No sooner did the particulars of this horrid murder begin to make a noise, but the watch calling to mind what Kelley had told them, immediately suspected him for the murder, and caused him quickly to be apprehended and committed to Newgate.

On the trial the strongest circumstances imaginable appeared against him, so much that the jury, without much hesitation, found him guilty, and he, after a pathetic speech from the Bench, of the nature and circumstances of his bloody crime, received sentence of death with the rest. Under conviction he appeared a very stupid creature, though as far as his capacity would give him leave he showed all imaginable signs of penitence and sorrow, and attended with great gravity and devotion at the public service in the chapel, notwithstanding he professed himself to be in the communion of the Church of Rome. He acknowledged the deceased Mr. Nisbet to have been extraordinarily kind and charitable to him, even to as great a degree as if he had been his own child, but as to the murder, he flatly denied his committing it, or his having any knowledge of its being committed; and though he was strongly pressed as to the nature of those circumstances on which the jury had found him guilty, and which were so strong as to persuade all mankind that their verdict was just, yet he continued still in the same mind, protesting his own clearness from that bloody and detestable crime. In this disposition of mind he suffered at Tyburn, being at that time about forty years of age or somewhat under.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals