The Life of ROBERT PERKINS
I should never have undertaken this work without believing it might in some degree be advantageous to the public. Young persons, and especially those in a meaner state, are, I presume, those who will make up the bulk of my readers, and these, too, are they who are more commonly seduced into practices of this ignominious nature. I should therefore think myself unpardonable if I did not take care to furnish them with such cautions as the examples I am giving of the fatal consequences of vice will allow, at the same time that I exhibit those adventures and entertaining scenes which disguise the dismal path, and make the road to ruin pleasing. They meet here with a true prospect of things, the tinsel splendour of sensual pleasure, and that dreadful price men pay for it--shameful death. I hope it may be of use in correcting the errors of juvenile tempers devoted to their passions, with whom sometimes danger passes for a certain road to honour, and the highway seems as tempting to them as chivalry did to Don Quixote. Such and some other such like, are very unlucky notions in young heads, and too often inspire them with courage enough to dare the gallows, which seldom fails meeting with them in the end.
As to the particulars of the person's life we are now speaking of, they will be sufficient to warn those who are so unhappy as to suffer from the ill-usage of their parents not to fall into courses of so base a nature, but rather to try every honest method to submit rather than commit dishonest acts, thereby justifying all the ill-treatment they have received, and by their own follies blot out the remembrance of their cruel parents' crimes. For though it sometimes happens that they are reduced to necessities which force them, in a manner, on what brings them to disgrace, yet the ill-natured world will charge all upon themselves, or at most will spare their pity till it comes too late; and when the poor wretch is dead will add to their reflections on him, as harsh ones as on those from whom he is descended.
Robert Perkins was the son of a very considerable innkeeper, in or near Hempsted, in Hertfordshire, who during the life-time of his wife treated him with great tenderness and seeming affection, sending him to school to a person in a neighbouring village, who was very considerable for his art of teaching, and professing his settled resolution to give his son Bob a very good education.
But no sooner had death snatched away the poor woman by whom Mr. Perkins had our unhappy Robin, then his father began to change his measures. First of all the unfortunate lad experienced the miseries that flow from the careless management of a widower, who forgetting all obligations to his deceased wife, thought of nothing but diverting himself, and getting a new helpmate. But Robin continued not long in this state; his hardships were quickly increased by the second marriage of his father, upon which he was fetched home and treated with some kindness at first. But in a little time perceiving how things were going, and perhaps expressing his suspicions too freely, his mother-in-law soon prevailed to have him turned out, and absolutely forbidden his father's house, the ready way to force a naked uninstructed youth on the most sinful courses. Whether Robin at that time did anything dishonest is not certain, but being grievously pinched with cold one night, and troubled also with dismal apprehensions of what might come to his sister, he got a ladder and by the help of it climbed in at his mother's window. This was immediately exaggerated into a design of cutting her throat, and poor Bob was thereupon utterly discarded.
A short time after this, old Mr. Perkins died and left a fortune of several thousand pounds behind him, for which the poor young man was never a groat the better, being bound out 'prentice to a baker, and left, as to everything else, to the wide world. His inclination, joined to the rambling life which he had hitherto led, induced him to mind the vulgar pleasures of drinking, gaming, and idling about much more than his business, which to him appeared very laborious. There are everywhere companions enough to be met with who are ready to teach ignorant youths the practice of all sorts of debauchery. Perkins fell quickly among such a set, and often rambled abroad with them on the usual errands of whoring, shuffle-board, or skittle-playing, etc. The thoughts of that estate which in justice he ought to have possessed, did not a little contribute to make him thus heedless of his business, for as is usual with weak minds, he affected living at the rate his father's fortune would have afforded him, rather than in the frugal manner which his narrow circumstance actually required; methods which necessarily pushed him on such expeditions for supply as drew on those misfortunes which rendered his life miserable and his death shameful.
One day, having agreed with some young lads in the neighbourhood to go out upon the rake, they steered their course to Whitechapel, and going into a little alehouse, began to drink stoutly, sing bawdy songs, and indulge themselves in the rest of those brutal delights into which such wretches are used to plunge under the name of pleasure. In the height, however, of all their mirth, the people of the house missing out of the till a crown piece with some particular marks, they sent for a constable and some persons to assist him, who caused all the young fellows instantly to be separated and searched one by one; on which the marked crown was found in Robert Perkin's pocket, and he was thereupon immediately carried before a Justice, who committed him to Newgate. The sessions coming on soon after, and the case being plain, he was cast and ordered for transportation, having time enough, however, before he was shipped, to consider the melancholy circumstances into which his ill-conduct had reduced him, and to think of what was fitting for him to do in the present sad state he was in. At first nothing ran in his head but the cruelties which he had met with from his family, but as the time of his departure drew nearer he meditated how to gain the captain's favour, and to escape some hardships in the voyage.
Robin had the good luck to make himself tolerably easy in the ship. His natural good nature and obliging temper prevailing so far on the captain of the vessel that he gave him all the liberty and afforded him whatever indulgence it was in his power to permit with safety. But our young traveller had much worse luck when he came on shore at Jamaica, where he was immediately sold to a planter for ten pounds, and his trade of baker being of little use there, his master put him upon much the same labour as he did his negroes, Robin's constitution was really incapable of great fatigue; his master, therefore, finding in the end that nothing would make him work, sold him to another, who put him upon his own employment of baking, building an oven on purpose. But whether this master really used him cruelly or whether his idle inclinations made him think all labour cruel usage, is hard to say, but however it was, Bob ran away from this master and got on board a ship which carried him to Carolina, from whence he said he travelled to Maryland and shipped himself there, in a vessel for England. After being taken by the Spaniards, and enduring many other great hardships, he at last with much difficulty got home, as is too frequently the practice of these unhappy wretches who are ready to return from tolerable plenty to the gallows.
After his arrival in England, he wrought for near two years together at his own business, and had the settled intention to live honestly and forsake that disorderly state of life which had involved him in such calamities; but the fear he was continually in of being discovered, rendered him so uneasy and so unable to do anything, that at last he resolved to go over into the East Indies. For this purpose he was come down to Gravesend, in order to embark, when he was apprehended; and being tried on an indictment for returning from transportation, he was convicted thereon, and received sentence of death. During the time he lay under conviction, the principles of a good education began again to exert themselves, and by leading him to a thorough confidence in the mercies of Christ weaned him from that affection which hitherto he had for this sinful and miserable world, in which, as he had felt nothing but misery and affliction, the change seemed the easier, so that he at last began not only to shake off the fear of death, bur even to desire it. Nor was this calmness short and transitory, but he continued in it till the time he suffered, which was on the 5th of July, 1721, at Tyburn. He said he died with less reluctance because his ruin involved nobody but himself, he leaving no children behind him, and his wife being young enough to get a living honestly.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals