Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Timothy Benson


a Highwayman

Amongst the number of those unfortunate persons whose memory we have preserved to the world in order that their punishments may become lasting warnings unto all who are in any danger of following their footsteps, none is more capable of affording useful reflections than the incidents that are to be found in the life of this robber are likely to create. He was the son of a serjeant's wife, in the regiment of the Earl of Derby, but who his father was it would be hard to say. His mother having had a long intrigue with one Captain Benson and the serjeant dying soon after this child was born, she thought fit to give him the captain's name, declaring publicly enough, that if it was in her power to distinguish, the captain must be his father. Certain it is that the woman acted cunningly, at least, for Benson, who had never had a child, was so pleased with the boy's ingenuity that he sent him to a grammar school in Yorkshire, where he caused him to be educated as well as if he had been his legitimate son.

Nothing could be more dutiful than Tim was, while a child. The captain was continually vexed with long letters from the gentlewoman where he was boarded, concerning master's fine person, great parts and wonderful improvements, which Benson, being a man of sense, took to be such gross flattery that he came down to Bellerby, the village where the child was, on purpose to take it away. But Mr. Tim, upon his arrival, appeared such a prodigy both in beauty and understanding that the old gentleman was perfectly ravished with him, and whatever he might believe before, vanity now engaged him to think the youth his son. For this reason he doubled his care in providing for him, and when he had made a sufficient progress at the Grammar School, he caused him to be sent over to Leyden, a university of which he had a great opinion.

Timothy lost not any of his reputation in this change of climate, but returned in three years time from Holland as accomplished a young fellow as had been bred there for a long time. He had but just made his compliments to his supposed father, and received thirty guineas from him as a welcome to England, before the old gentleman fell ill of a pleurisy, which in four days' time deprived him of his life; and as he had no will, his estate of L300 a year, and about L700 in money (which he had lent out on securities), descended to his sister's son, as arrant a booby as ever breathed, and deprived Tim both of his present subsistance and future hopes.

In this distressed condition he took lodgings in a little court at the farther end of Westminster. He had a great number of good clothes, and as he then addicted himself to nothing so much as reading, he lived so frugally as to make a very tolerable appearance, and to pay everybody justly for about half a year, which so well established his credit in the neighbourhood that he was invited to the houses of the best families thereabouts, and might undoubtedly, if he had had his wits about him, have married some young gentlewoman thereabouts of a tolerable fortune. But happening to lodge over against a great mantua-maker's, he took notice of a young girl who was her apprentice, and happened to be a chandler's daughter, at Hammersmith. The wench, whose name was Jenny, was really handsome and agreeable, but as things were circumstanced with him, nothing could be more ridiculous than that passion which he suffered himself to entertain for her.

It is very probable that he might have had some transient amours before this, but Jenny was certainly the mistress to whom he made his first addresses, and the real passion of his heart. The girl was quickly tempted by the person and appearance of her lover, and without enquiring too narrowly into his circumstances, would certainly have yielded to his passion, if marriage had been the thing at which he aimed; but he was an obstacle hard to get over. Tim looked upon himself to be irretrievably undone from the hour he entered into that state. At last he conquered that virtue which his mistress had hitherto preserved, and after they had fooled away a month or two together, at the expense of all he had, Tim found himself at last obliged to confess the truth of his circumstances, and by that confession brought a flood of grief upon his fair one, who had hitherto been unaccustomed to misfortunes.

When they first came together it was agreed between them to quit that part of the town where they were both known, and they afterwards lodged in a very pretty little house on the edge of Red Lion Fields. On the morning Tim made this discovery, his cash was reduced to a single crown. It is true he had abundance of things of value, but when once they began to go, he was conscious to himself that starving would be quickly their lot, and what added more to his misfortunes was that his mistress, amidst all her sighs and afflictions, declared she would rather continue with him than go home to her relations, though from the indulgence of a mother she did not doubt of meeting with a good reception.

However, they came to this resolution, that Jenny should go and raise five guineas upon a diamond ring of his, and while she was gone on this errand, poor Benson sat leaning with his head upon his arm in a window that looked towards the fields. Casting up his eyes by chance, he saw a gentleman walking up and down as if for his diversion, whereupon a thought immediately struck him, that it would be an easy matter to rob him, and by his appearance it was not unlikely but that he might prove a good prize. Without reflecting, he resolved upon the thing, and putting on over his nightgown an old great coat which he had in his closet and with a case of pistols in his breast, he slipped out at the garden gate without being perceived, and was up with him in an instant. Then, taking the button of his hat in his teeth, he mumbled out, "Deliver or you're a dead man." The gentleman in great confusion gave him a green purse of gold, and was going to pull his ring off from his finger, and his watch out of his pocket, but Tim stopped him and said he had enough, only commanded him to turn his back towards him, and not to alter his position for fifteen minutes by his own watch. This the gentleman religiously observed, and Tim made all the haste he could through the garden into his own chamber, where having hid the cloak at the back of the bed, he began to examine the value of the plunder, and found that the purse contained seventy guineas and two diamond rings, one a single stone and a very fine one, the other consisting of seven, but small and of no great value. These he went down and buried in the garden, having first burnt the purse in the fire.

The hurry of the fact being over, he sat down once again in his own room, and had leisure to reflect a little on what he had done, which threw him into such an agony that he was scarce able to sit upon the chair. Shame at the villainy he had committed, the fear of being apprehended, and the apprehensions of Tyburn, gave so many wounds to his imagination that he thought his former uneasiness a state of quiet to the pangs which he now felt, which were much more bitter, as well as of a very different nature from anything he had known before.

In the midst of these terrors, he heard the voices of a great deal of company in his landlady's parlour. The hopes of being a little easy where he had not so much opportunity of affrighting himself with his own thoughts, occasioned his going downstairs, and without well knowing what he did, he knocked at the parlour door, which when opened, the first thing which struck his eyes was the gentleman whom he had robbed, drinking a glass of water. This gave him such a shock that he had much ado to collect spirits enough to tell the gentlewoman of the house that he perceived she had company, and therefore would not intrude. But she, laying her hand upon his arm, said, "Pray, Mr. Benson, walk in; here's nobody but a gentleman who has had the misfortune to be robbed in the field, the fright of which has put him into such a disorder that he desired to step in here that he might have leisure to come a little to himself." Tim saw it was impossible for him to retreat, and so putting on the best face he was able, he came in and sat down.

The landlady began then to enquire the circumstances of the robbery. "Why, madam", replied he, "I was walking there, as I generally do of a fine afternoon, in order to get a little fresh air, when a man came up all of a sudden to me, close muffled up in a green or blue great-coat, in truth I cannot say which. He clapped a pistol to my breast, and I gave him my purse, and my niece's two rings, one of which cost me fourscore guineas, but three weeks ago. And as I was afraid he would murder me, I was going to give him this off my finger, and my watch out of my pocket, but that the fellow said he had enough, and his leaving these, surprised me almost as much as taking the rest. But what sort of a man was he?" said she. "Why, I think he was about that gentleman's height", added he; "but I am so short-sighted that I question whether I should have known his face, even had it not been covered with his hat. Besides I am so much taken with the rogue's generosity that I would not prosecute him if I had him in the room."

This set Tim's heart so much at rest that he began to come to himself a little, and asked the strange gentleman if he would not be so good as to drink a glass of wine. A bottle was sent for, and during the time they were drinking it, Jenny came in, and it being quite dark before they had finished it, a coach was called, and Mr. Benson offered to see the gentleman home, in order to which he was going upstairs to put on his clothes. But this the stranger would not permit, begging him to go as he was, upon which Jenny said, "Then, my dear, I'll fetch your great-coat." He had much ado to desire the gentleman to walk to the coach and he'd go as he was, which he did accordingly, and after drinking a glass of citron water with the lady whose rings he had stolen, he came home again as fast as the coach could carry him.

Jenny was very melancholy at his return, and giving him three guineas, told him that it was all the pawnbroker would lend, and she had much ado to get that, as she was not known. Tim bid her be of good cheer, and said he hoped things would mend, and so they went to bed. Two or three days after, he took an opportunity of going out pretty early, and returning about dinner time, told her, with much seeming joy, that he had met with a gentleman whom he had been acquainted with at Leyden, and who hearing of his father's death, had begged him to accept of twenty guineas as a mark to his esteem. Jenny was in raptures at their good fortune, and went that afternoon and fetched the ring home, returning, poor creature, with as much satisfaction as if she had received ever so much money; for the hopes of living quietly a month or two with the man she loved, dispelled all the apprehensions of poverty which she was before under.

Tim considering that this supply would not last always, and resolving with himself never to run such a hazard again, he began to beat his brains about the best method to be taken of getting money in an honest way. As he had been bred to no profession, notwithstanding the excellent education he had had, never was a man more at his wits' end. After a thousand schemes had offered themselves to his mind, and were rejected, it came at last into his head that as he was tolerably versed in physic, it might not be impossible for him to get his bread by that. But how to get into practice, there was the difficulty. A little recollection helped him here. He had seen a quack doctor exhibit his medicines, with a panegyric on their good qualities, on his journey to London; he resolved, scandalous as the profession was, to venture upon it, rather than run the risk he had done before.

This scheme doubtless cost him some trouble before he brought it to bear so as to give him any hopes of his putting it into execution, but having at last settled it as well as he could, he determined with himself to go down into some distant county and undertake it. In order to have his thoughts at greater liberty to resolve about it, he took a walk into the fields, and being very dry after his perambulation, he stepped into a little alehouse, and called for a mug of drink. While he sat there he heard two men discoursing upon the vast sums of money that was got by one Smith, a practitioner in the very art which he was going to set up, and he found by them that the chief scene of Smith's adventures had lain in Lincolnshire and thereabouts; so without more ado, as all places were alike to him, he settled his intentions to go down to the same place, where he understood by the man that his "quondam" doctor had done some great cures and got a tolerable reputation.

When he came home, he could not avoid appearing very thoughtful, and Jenny fearful of some new disaster, would not let him rest until he had acquainted her fully with his design, which he would not consent to do until she promised to comply with a proposal he was to make her, after he had revealed the secret she was so desirous to know. When he had told her his project, she next demanded what the condition was to which she had bound herself to yield. Benson replied that it was to remain at some place thirty or forty miles distant from where he intended to go, that she might not be exposed to any inconveniences from that unhappy figure he saw himself obliged to make. It was with great reluctance that she ratified the consent he had given, but at length, after much persuasion, she again acknowledged he was in the right, and promised to do as he would have her. Things being thus adjusted, nothing remained for him to do but to get ready for his journey, and that his mate might be the less timorous of the event, he told her he had procured another supply of twenty-five guineas.

His cloak-bag was soon stored with such medicines as he thought proper, and having packed up a few practical books he thought he might have occasion for, he took a place for himself and Jenny, who passed for his wife, in the stage coach for Huntingdon, at a village near which, paying the people for a month's board, he left his consort, and having hired horses to Boston, he took a young fellow from Huntingdon with him thither.

As Benson had a very smooth tongue, so he set off the wonderful properties of his drugs in so artful a manner that in the space of a fortnight he had cleared L10 besides his expenses. As he had left Jenny five guineas in her pocket, he wrote to her to pay the people another month's board, and assured her that he would return within that space. Hiring accordingly visited Sleaford, and some other great towns thereabouts, in seven weeks' time he set out for his return into Huntingdonshire, with fifty guineas, all clear gain, in his pockets. This good luck encouraged him to run through the greatest part of the North of England in the same manner, and within the compass of three years he cleared upwards of L500. At the time of his making this calculation he was set down at Bristol, in order to exercise his talent in that great city; but an unexpected accident broke all his measures. Just as his stage was set up, and he mounted, and opening his harangue which was now become familiar to him, a constable stepped up upon the stage, and told him that a gentleman had sworn a robbery directly against him, and he must go immediately before the mayor. This put him into a lamentable confusion. He knew himself innocent, but the character of a mountebank was sufficient to make the thing believed at first, and therefore he could not be blamed for his apprehensions, especially considering he took it as a just return for that robbery which he had committed in town, and for which he made no satisfaction when it was so fully in his power.

Upon his prosecutor's appearing before the mayor, and swearing flatly to his face as to his robbing him of seven guineas, a silver watch, and a snuff box, Tim had his "Mittimus" made for Newgate; but upon his desiring the mayor that his effects might be searched, but not plundered, he had leave given him to return with the officer and see them looked over at the inn. As many of them were valuable of themselves, as the drugs were of the best sorts, and as he had several letters from persons of good character, in the several counties through which he had passed, and bank notes and bills to the value of L400, they thought fit to report all this to the mayor, before they did anything. The mayor thereupon resolved to act very cautiously, and having first looked over everything himself, he then ordered the effects to be delivered up to Mr. Benson, himself, who, however, was obliged to undergo a confinement of eight weeks, till the assizes. The prosecutor not appearing, and Mr. Benson, by permission of the Court, examining two gentlemen of undoubted credit, who proved to his being at the time when the robbery was sworn in another place, he was acquitted, and a copy of his indictment ordered him. It seems a person under condemnation at Hertford acknowledged the fact for which Tim had been committed, and produced both the snuff-box and watch; which though the gentleman who lost them got again, yet it proved an affair of very ill-consequence to him, for he was obliged to give Benson one hundred guineas to obtain a general release, and Tim fearing the noise of the thing had undone his reputation, resolved to go over to America and settle there.

A gentleman at Bristol who traded largely to the plantations offered him his assistance in the affair, and matters being quickly adjusted between them, Tim, to show himself grateful, and a man of honour, was married privately to Jenny, whom he resolved should be the companion of his future fortunes, as she had hitherto been the constant solace of all his sorrows. But before they set out, he thought it proper to make a journey to London, as well as to provide some necessary articles in the profession he intended to follow, as to make an end of a little affair which we have before related, and which lay very hard upon his conscience. To town then came Jenny and he, and took a lodging near Tower Street, where in about a fortnight's time, Mr. Benson had put everything in order for his voyage. The day before he sat out on his return for Bristol, he wrote the following letter to the old gentleman he had robbed, and who as he informed himself, was still living at the same place.


Under the pressure of severe necessity my misfortunes tempted me to commit so great a piece of villainy as the robbing you in Red Lion Fields. You may remember, sir, that I took from you a green purse, in which was seventy guineas, and two diamond rings, the one of a large, the other of a less value. The first comes to you enclosed in this, the latter, the same necessity which urged me so far as to take them, obliged me some months after to dispose of, which I did for fourteen pounds. As a satisfaction for the injury I did you, be so good, sir, as to accept of the enclosed note of one hundred pounds, which I hope will amount to the whole value of those things I took from you, and may I flatter myself, procure your pardon, the only thing wanting to making him easy, who is,

Sir, Your most obedient Humble Servant.

This he took care to convey by a ticket-porter of whose fidelity he was well assured, and having despatched this affair, he let slip nothing to make his intended voyage successful. His skill in his profession was such that he soon had as much business in the plantation where he settled, as he knew what to do with, and in seven or eight years' practice, acquired such an estate as was sufficient to furnish him with all the necessaries of life, upon which he lived when he gave this account to the gentleman who communicated it to me. And as it is an instance of a return of virtue not often to be met with, I thought it might be as useful as any other relation which hitherto had a place in this confession.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals