The Life of THOMAS NEEVES
Street-Robber and Thief
There are some persons so amazingly destitute of reason, so exceedingly stupid, and of so sleepy a disposition of mind, that neither advice, nor danger, nor punishment are capable of awaking them; they pass through life in a continual lethargy of wickedness, nor can they be obliged to open their eyes even when at the point of death.
How shocking, how horrid soever such a character may be, certain it is that the criminal Neeves, of whom we are now speaking, deserved no better. His parents, though mean, had not omitted the care of his education so far but that he had learned to read and write, which they thought qualification sufficient for the business in which they intended to breed him, viz., a cane chair-maker, to which employment they put him apprentice. He did not serve out his time with his master, for having got into an acquaintance with some lewd, debauched persons, he, whose inclination from his youth turned that way, went totally into all their measures, and quitting all thoughts of an honest livelihood, thought of nothing but picking and stealing.
He associated himself with a woman of the same calling, who probably furthered him in all his attempts, in consideration of which he married her, and they were both together in Newgate for their several offences. In the former part of this volume we have mentioned his becoming a witness against several street-robbers, who were executed upon his evidence; of whom George Gale, alias Kiddy George, Thomas Crowder, James Toon, and John Hornby, denied the commission of those particular facts which he swore upon them, and Richard Nichols (who was a grave sober man) went to death and took it upon his salvation, that he was never concerned either in that act for which he died, or in any other of the same kind during the course of his life.
As the town naturally abhors perjuries which affect men's lives, and are not very well affected towards evidences even when they do not exceed the truth, so the misfortune of Neeves being a second time apprehended, instead of creating pity, gave the public a general satisfaction. At the sessions following his confinement he was indicted for privately stealing out of the shop of Charles Lawrence a corduroy coat value thirteen shillings. In respect of this robbery, the prosecutor deposed that Thomas Neeves, about seven in the evening, came into his shop, he being a salesman, and enquired for a dimity waistcoat; one accordingly was shown him, but they not at all agreeing in the price, Neeves on a sudden turned towards the door, and having with some earnestness cursed the prosecutor, snatched up a coat and ran away. Upon which Mr. Lawrence followed him, crying out, "Stop Thief!" which Neeves himself also bawled out as loud as he could until he was taken. Upon this evidence the jury found him guilty.
Under sentence of death his behaviour was much of a piece with what it was before. As to his confession, he would make none, saying he would give no occasion for books or ballads to be made about him. Even in chapel he behaved himself so rudely that he occasioned great disturbance, and put the keepers under a necessity of treating him with more severity than was usual to persons under his miserable condition. When alone in his cell he expressed great diffidence of the mercy of God, seemed to be in a slate of despair, and though he was often pressed to declare whether depositions he had given against the afore-mentioned street robbers were true or not, he either waived making an answer, or used so much evasion or equivocation that it still remained doubtful whether he swore truth or no.
As his end drew yet nearer, he appeared more and more confused and uneasy, but not a bit more penitent or ready to confess, notwithstanding that several persons, and some of them of distinction had applied to him in the cells and earnestly exhorted him to that purpose. He also drank excessively, though so near his end, and his conscience so loaded with such a weight of horrible offences.
Yet it is very probable that he would have been much more tractable in his temper and ingenuous in his confessions, if he had not been continually visited and kept warm by a certain bad woman he at that time owned for his wife. This wretched creature was employed by some persons who thought themselves in danger if Neeves should once become truly penitent, to keep him full of idle thoughts and delusive promises to the very hour of his death, in which (from the temper of the fellow), they flattered themselves his cowardice would make them safe. In which wicked design both they and she succeeded but too well, for he continued careless, obstinate and impenitent to the last moment of his life, and at the place of execution staggered and was scarce able to stand, bawling out to a man in a coach who was to carry away his body, until the Ordinary reprimanded him and told him he believed he had drunk too much that morning; to which Neeves answered, "No indeed, Sir, I only took a dram." He then besought him that a Psalm might be sung, which request of his being complied with, he yet could not forbear smiling while they were singing.
The father and wife of Mr. Nichols, the barber so often mentioned, got into the cart and earnestly enquired whether the deposition he had given against him was the truth or not. Neeves, thereupon, with tears in his eyes owned that it was not, and thence fell into a greater agony than he had ever been perceived in before, beseeching God to have mercy on him for shedding innocent blood, into which he had been induced by the persuasion of others, who represented it to him as a means for getting money both for them and him, owning that he never saw Nichols in his life before they were at the justices together. After this he cried two or three times unto God to forgive him, and so was turned off with the rest on the 27th of February, 1729, being then about twenty-eight years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals