Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Thomas Smith


a Highwayman

There is a certain commendable tenderness in human nature towards all who are under misfortunes, and this tenderness is in proportion to the magnitude of those evils which we suppose the pitied person to labour under. If we extend our compassion to relieving their necessities, and feeling a regret for those miseries which they undergo, we undoubtedly discharge the duties of humanity according to the scheme both of natural religion and the laws laid down in the Gospel. Perhaps no object ever merited it from juster motives than this poor man, who is the subject of the following pages. His parents were people in tolerable circumstances in Southwark; his father was snatched from him by death, while he was yet a child, but his mother, as far as she was able, was very careful that he should not pass his younger days without instruction, and an uncle he then had, being pleased with the docile temper of the youth, was at some expense also about his education. By this means he came to read and write tolerably well, and gained some little knowledge of the Latin tongue; and having a peculiar sweetness in his behaviour, it won very much upon his relations, and encouraged them to treat him with great indulgence.

But unfortunately for him, by the time he grew big enough to go out apprentice, or to enter upon any other method of living, his friends suddenly dropped off, and, by their death becoming in great want of money, he was forced to resign all the golden hopes he had formed and for the sake of present subsistance submit to becoming footman to a gentleman, who was, however, a very good and kind master to him, till in about a year's time he died also, and poor Smith was again left at his wits' end. However, out of this trouble he was relieved by an Irish gentleman, who took him into his service, and carried him over with him to Dublin. There he met with abundance of temptations to fall into that loose and lascivious course of life which prevails more in that city, perhaps, than in any other in Europe. But he had so much grace at that time as to resist it, and after a stay there of twenty months, returned into England again, where he came into the service of a third master, no less indulgent to him than the two former had been. In this last service an odd accident befell him, in which, though I neither believe myself, nor incline to impose on my readers that there was anything supernatural in the case of it, yet I fancy the oddness of the thing may, under the story I am going to tell, prove not disagreeable.

In a journey which Thomas had made into Herefordshire, with his first master, he had contracted there an acquaintance with a young woman, daughter to a farmer, in tolerable circumstances. This girl without saying anything to the man, fell it seems desperately in love with him, and about three months after he left the country, died. One night after his coming to live with this last master, he fancied he saw her in a dream, that she stood for some time by his bedside, and at last said, "Thomas, a month or two hence you will be in danger of a fever, and when that is over of a greater misfortune. Have a care, you have hitherto always behaved as an honest man; do not let either poverty or misfortunes tempt you to become otherwise;" and having so said, she withdrew. In the morning the fellow was prodigiously confounded, yet made no discovery of what had happened to any but the person who lay with him, though the thing made a very strong impression on his spirits, and might perhaps contribute not a little to his falling ill about the time predicted by the phantom he had seen.

This fever soon brought him very low, and obliged him to make away with most of his things in order to support himself. Upon recovery he found himself in lamentable circumstances, being without friends, without money, and out of business. Unfortunately for him, coming along the Haymarket one evening, he happened to follow a gentleman somewhat in liquor, who knowing him, desired that he would carry him home to his house in St. Martin's Lane, to which Thomas readily agreed. But as they were going along thither, a crowd gathered about the gentleman, who became as quarrelsome as they, and took it into his head to box one of the mob, in order to do which more conveniently, he gave Smith his hat and cane, and his wig. Smith held them for some time, the mob forcing them along like a torrent, till the gentleman, whose name was Brown, made up a court near Northumberland House, and Smith thereupon marched off with the things, the necessity he was under so far blinding him that he made no scruple of attempting to sell them the next day; by which means Mr. Brown hearing of them, he caused Smith to be apprehended as a street-robber, and to be committed to Newgate, though he had the good luck, notwithstanding, to get all his things again. It seems he visited the poor man in prison, and if he did not prevaricate at his death, made him some promises of softening at least, if not of dropping the prosecution, which, as Smith asserted, prevented his making such a preparation for his defence as otherwise he might have done; which proved of very fatal consequence to him, since on the evidence of the prosecutor he was convicted of the robbery and condemned.

Never poor creature suffered more or severer hardships in the road of death than this poor man did, for by the time sentence was passed, all that he had was gone, and he had scarce a blanket to cover him from downright nakedness, during the space he lay in the hold under sentence. As he was better principled in religion than any of the other malefactors, he had retained his reading so well as to assist them in their devotions, and to supply in some measure the want of somebody constantly to attend them in their preparation for another world. So he picked up thereby such little assistances from amongst them as prevented his being starved before the time appointed for their execution came.

As this man did not want good sense, and was far from having lost what learning he had acquired in his youth, so the terrors of an ignominious death were quickly over with him, and instead of being affrighted with his approaching fate, he considered it only as a relief from miseries the most piercing that a man could feel, under which he had laboured so long that life was become a burden, and the prospect of death the only comfort that was left. He died with the greatest appearance of resolution and tranquillity on the 3rd August, 1726, being then about twenty-three years of age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals