Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Stephen Gardiner


a Highwayman and Housebreaker

Stephen Gardiner was the son of parents of middling circumstances, living at the time of his birth in Moorfields. This, perhaps, was the immediate cause of his ruin, since he learnt there, while a boy, to idle away his time, and to look on nothing as so great a pleasure as gaming and cudgel playing. This took up equally his time and his thoughts, till he grew up to about fourteen years old, when his friends placed him out as an apprentice to a weaver.

While he was with his master he did so many unlucky tricks as occasioned not only severe usage at home, but incurred also the dislike and hatred of all the neighbours; so that instead of interposing to preserve him from his master's correction, they were continually complaining and getting him beaten; nay, sometimes when his master was not ready enough to do it, would beat him themselves. Stephen was so wearied out with this kind of treatment, notwithstanding it arose solely from his own fault, that he determined to run away for good and all, thinking it would be no difficult matter for him to maintain himself, considering that dexterity with which he played at ninepins, skittles, etc. But experience quickly convinced him of the contrary, so in one month being much reduced after betaking himself to this life, by those misfortunes which were evident enough (though his passion for liberty and idleness hindered him from foreseeing them) that he had not so much as bread to eat.

In this distressed condition he was glad to return home again to his friends, imploring their charity, and that, forgetting what was passed, they would be so kind as to relieve him and put him in some method of providing for himself. Natural affection pleading for him, notwithstanding all his failings they took him home again, and soon after put him as a boy on board a corn vessel which traded to Holland and France; but the swearing, quarrelling and fighting of the sailors so frightened him, being then very young and unable to cope with them, that on his return he again implored the tenderness of his relations to permit his staying in England upon any terms, promising to live in a most sober and regular manner, provided that he might get his bread by hard labour at home, and not be exposed to the injuries of wind and weather and the abuses of seamen more boisterous than both. They again complied and put him to another trade, but work, it seems, was a thing no shape could reconcile to him, and so he ran away from thence, too, and once more put himself for a livelihood upon the contrivance of his own brain.

He went immediately to his old employment and old haunt, Moorfields, where as long as he had any money he played at cards, skittles, etc., with the chiefs of those villainous gangs that haunt the place; and when reduced to the want both of money and clothes, he attempted to pick pockets, or by playing with the lads for farthings to recruit himself. But pocket-picking was a trade in which he had very ill-luck, for taking a wig out of a gentleman's pocket at the drawing of the state lottery,[1] the man suffered him totally to take it out, then seized him and cried out "Pickpocket." The boy immediately dropped it, and giving it a little kick with his foot protected his innocence which induced a good-natured person there present to stand so far his friend that he suffered no deeper that bout. But a month after, being taken in the same manner, and delivered over to the mob, they handled him with such cruelty as scarce to leave him life, though he often upon his knees begged them to carry him before a Justice and let him be committed to Newgate. But the mob were not so to be prevailed on, and this severity, as he said, cured him effectually of that method of thieving.

But in the course of his rambling life, becoming acquainted with two young fellows, whose names were Garraway and Sly, they invited him to go with them upon some of their expeditions in the night. He absolutely refused to do anything of that kind for a long time, but one evening, having been so unlucky as to lose not only his money but all his clothes off his back, he went in search of Sly and Garraway, who received him with open arms, and immediately carried him with them upon those exploits by which they got their living. Garraway proposed robbing of his brother for their first attempt, which succeeded so far as to their getting into the house; but they found nothing there but a few clothes of his brother and sister, which they took away. But Garraway bid them not be discouraged at the smallness of the booty, for his father's house was as well furnished as most men's, and their next attack should be upon that. To this they agreed, and plundered it also, taking away some spoons, tankards, salts and several other pieces of plate of considerable value; but a quick search being made, they were all three apprehended, and Gardiner being the youngest was admitted an evidence against the other two, who were convicted.

Some weeks after, Gardiner got his liberty, but being unwarned, he went on still at the same rate. The first robbery he committed afterwards was in the house of the father of one of his acquaintances on Addle Hill, where Gardiner stole softly upstairs into the garret, and stole from thence some men's apparel to a very considerable value. A while after this, he became acquainted with Mr. Richard Jones, and with him went (mounted upon a strong horse) into Wales upon what in the canting dialect is called "the Passing Lay," which in plain English is thus: They get countrymen into an alehouse, under pretence of talking about the sale of cattle, then a pack of cards is found as if by accident, and the two sharpers fall to playing with one another until one offering to lay a great wager on the game, staking the money down, the other shows his hand to the countryman, and convinces him that it is impossible but he must win, offering to let him go halves in the wager. As soon as the countryman lays down the money, these sharpers manage so as to pass off with it, which is the meaning of their cant, and this practice he was very successful in; the country people in Wales, where they travelled, having not had opportunity to become acquainted with such bites as those who live in the counties nearer London have, where the country fellows are often as adroit as any of the sharpers themselves.

It happened that the person with whom Stephen travelled had parted with his wife and at Bristol had received a gold watch and chain, laced clothes and several other things of value. This immediately put it into Gardiner's head that he might make his fortune at once, by murdering him and possessing himself of his goods; knowing also that besides these valuable things, he had near a hundred guineas about him. In order to effect this, he stole a large brass pestle out of a mortar, at the next inn, and carried it unperceived in his boots, intending as he and his companion rode through the woods to dash his brains out with it. Twice for this purpose he drew it, but his heart relenting just when he was going to give the stroke he put it up again. At last it fell out of his boot and he had much ado to get it pulled up unperceived by his companion. The next day it dropped again, and Gardiner was so much afraid of Jones's perceiving it, and himself being thereupon killed from a suspicion of his design, that he laid aside all further thoughts of that matter.

But he took occasion a day or two after to part with him, whereupon the other as Stephen was going away, called out to him, "Hark ye, you Gardiner! I'll tell you somewhat." Gardiner therefore turning back. "You are going up to London?" said Jones. "Yes", replied Gardiner. "Then trust me", said the other, "you're going up to be hanged."

Between Abergavenny and Monmouth, Gardiner took notice of a little house, the windows of which were shut up, but the hens and cocks in the back yard showed that it was inhabited. Gardiner thereupon knocked at the door several times, to see if anybody was at home, but perceiving none, he ventured to break open some wooden bars that lay across the window, and getting in thereat found two boxes full of clothes, and writings relating to an estate. He took only one gown, as not daring to load himself with clothes, for fear of being discovered on the road, being then coming up to London.

A very short space after his return he committed that fact for which he died, which was by breaking open the house of Dorcas Roberts, widow, and stealing thence a great quantity of linen; and he was soon after apprehended in bed with one of the fine shirts upon his back and the rest of the linen stowed under the bed. When carried before the Justice, he said that one Martin brought the linen to him, and gave him two fine shirts to conceal it in his brandy-shop; but this pretence being thought impossible both by the magistrate who committed him, and by the jury who tried him, he was convicted for that offence, and being an old offender he had no hopes of mercy.

He applied himself, therefore, with all the earnestness he was able, to prepare himself sufficiently for that change he was about to make. He said that an accident which happened about a year before gave him great apprehension, and for some time prevented his continuing in that wicked course of life. The accident he mentioned was this: being taken up for some trivial thing or other, and carried to St. Sepulchre's Watch-House, the constable was so kind as to dismiss him, but the bellman[2] of the parish happening to come in before he went out, the constable said, "Young man, be careful, I am much afraid this bellman will say his verses over you"; at which Gardiner was so much struck, he could scarce speak.

Stephen had a very great notion of mortifying his body, as some atonement for the crimes he had committed. He therefore fasted some time while under sentence, and though the weather was very cold, yet he went to execution with no other covering on him but his shroud. At Tyburn he addressed himself to the people and begged they would not reflect upon his parents, who knew nothing of his crimes. Seeing several of his old companions in the crowd, he called out to them and desired them to take notice of his death and by amending their lives avoid following him thither. He died the 3rd of February, 1723-4.


[1] In 1720 a State Lottery was launched, with 100,000 tickets of L10 each. The prizes were converted into 3 per cent. stock. The issue was a failure and a loss of some L7,000 was incurred.

[2] A parishioner of St. Sepulchre's bequeathed a sum of money for paying a bellman to visit condemned criminals in Newgate, on the night before their execution, and having rung his bell, to recite an admonitory verse and prayer. He was likewise to accost the cart on its way to the gallows, the following day, and give its inmates a similar admonition. The bell is still to be seen in the church.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals