Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Robert Wilkinson


Murderers and Footpads

Robert Wilkinson, like abundance of other unhappy young men, contracted in his youth a liking to idleness, and an aversion to all sorts of work and labour, and applied himself for a livelihood hardly to anything that was honest. The only employment he ever pretended to was that of a prize fighter or boxer at Hockley-in-the-Hole,[1] where, as a fellow of prodigious dexterity, though low in stature, and very small limbed, he was much taken notice of. And as is usual for persons who have long addicted themselves to such a way of living, he had contracted an inhumanity of temper which made him little concerned at the greatest miseries be saw others suffer, and even regardless of what might happen to himself. The set of villains into whose society he had joined himself, viz., Carrick who was executed, Carrol who made his escape into Ireland, Lincoln of whom we shall speak afterwards, Shaw and Burridge before mentioned, and William Lock, perpetrated together a prodigious number of villainies often attended with cruel and bloody acts.

Some of these fellows, it seems, valued themselves much on the ferocity they exerted in the war they carried on against the rest of mankind, amongst which Wilkinson might be justly reckoned, being ever ready to second any bloody proposal, and as unwilling to comply with any good-natured one. An instance of this happened in the case of two gentlemen whom Shaw, he and Burridge attacked near Highgate. Not contented with robbing them of about forty shillings, their watches and whatever else about 'em was valuable, Wilkinson, after they were dismounted, knocked one of them into a ditch, where he would have strangled him with his hand if one of his comrades had not hindered him. The man pleaded all the while the other held him, that he was without arms, incapable of making any resistance, and that it was equally base and barbarous to injure him, who neither could, nor would attempt to pursue him. Though this fact was very fully proved, yet Wilkinson strongly denied it, as indeed he did almost everything, though nothing was more notorious than that he had lived by these wicked courses for a very considerable time.

Having had occasion to mention this gang with whom Wilkinson was concerned, it may not be improper to acquaint my readers with an adventure of one Calhagan and Disney, two Irish robbers of the same crew. One of them had persuaded a gentleman's housekeeper, of about thirty-five, that he was extremely in love with her, passing at the same time for a gentleman of fortune in the kingdom of Ireland, the brogue being too strong upon his tongue for him to deny his country. He met her frequently, and made her not a few visits, even at her master's house, taking care all the while to keep up the greatest form of ceremony, as though to a person whom he designed to make his wife. His companion attended on him with great respect as his tutor or gentleman, appearing at first very much dissatisfied with his making his addresses to a woman so much beneath him, but as the affair went on pretending to be so much taken with her wit, prudence and genteel behaviour, that he said his master had made an excellent choice, and advised him to delay his marriage no longer than till he had settled his affairs with his guardian, naming as such a certain noble lord of unquestioned character and honour. These pretences prevailing on the credulity of an old maid, who like most of her species was fond of the company of young fellows, and in raptures at the thoughts of a lover, she thought it a prodigious long while till these accounts were made up, enquiring wherever she went, when such a lord would come to town. She heard, at last, with great satisfaction, that he would certainly come over from Ireland that summer.

The family in which she lived, going out of town as usual, left her in charge of the house; as there was nobody but herself and an under maid, her lover often visited her, and at last told her that on such a day my Lord had appointed to settle his affairs and to deliver up all his trust. The evening of this day, the gentleman and his tutor came and brought with them a bundle of papers and parchments, which they pretended were the instruments which had been signed on this occasion. After making merry with the housekeeper and the maid on a supper which they had sent from the tavern, the elder of them at last pulls out his watch, and said, "Come, 'tis time to do business, 'tis almost one o'clock." Upon which the other arose, seized the housekeeper, to whom he had so long paid his addresses, and clapped an ivory gag into her mouth, while his companion did the same thing by the other. Then putting out all the candles, having first put one into a dark lanthorn they had brought on purpose, they next led the poor creatures up and down the house, till they had shown them the several places where the plate, linen, jewels and other valuable things belonging to the family were laid. After having bundled up these they threw them down upon the floor, tied their ankles to one another, and left them hanging, one on one side, and the other on the other side of the parlour door; in which posture they were found the next day at noon, at the very point of expiring, their blood having stagnated about their necks, which put them into the greatest danger.

But to return to Wilkinson. One night, he with his companions Lincoln and William Lock came up with one Peter Martin, a poor pensioner of Chelsea College, whom they stopped. Wilkinson held him down and Lincoln knocked him down on his crying out for help; afterwards taking him up, he would have led him along, and Wilkinson pricked him with his sword in the shoulders and buttocks for some time, to make him advance, till William Lock cried out to them, "How should ye expect the man to go forward when he is dead."

For this murder and for a robbery committed by them with Carrick and Carrol they were both capitally convicted. Wilkinson behaved himself to the time of his execution very morosely, and when pressed, at the place of execution, to unburden his conscience as to the crime for which he died, he answered peremptorily that he knew nothing of the murder, nor of Lincoln who died with him, until they were apprehended; adding, that as to hanging in chains he did not value it, but he had no business to tell lies, to make himself guilty of things he never did. Three days and three nights before the time of his death, he abstained totally from meat and drink, which rendered him so faint that he had scarce strength enough to speak at the tree.

James Lincoln, who died with him for the aforesaid cruel murder, was a fellow of a more docile and gentle temper than Wilkinson, owned abundance of the offences he had been guilty of, and had designed, as he himself owned, to have robbed the Duke of Newcastle of his gaiter ornaments, as he returned from the instalment. Notwithstanding these confessions, he persisted, as well as Wilkinson, in utterly denying that he knew anything of the murder of the pensioner, and saying that he forgave William Lock who had sworn himself and them into it. Wilkinson was at the time of his execution about thirty-five years old, and James Lincoln somewhat under. They died at the same time with the afore-mentioned malefactor, Wilson, at Tyburn.


[1] This was near Clerkenwell Green. It was a famous Bear Garden and the scene of various prize-fights to which public challenges were issued. Cunningham quotes a curious one for the year 1722:--"I, Elizabeth Wilkinson, of Clerkenwell, having had some words with Hannah Hyfield, and requiring satisfaction, do invite her to meet me on the stage and box with me for three guineas, each woman holding half-a-crown in each hand, and the first woman that drops her money to lose the battle" (this was to prevent scratching). The acceptance ran, "I, Hannah Hyfield, of Newgate Market, hearing of the resoluteness of Elizabeth Wilkinson, will not fail, God willing, to give her more blows than words, desiring home blows and from her no favour."

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals