Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: William Burk


a Footpad and Highwayman

As indulgence is a very common parent of wickedness and disobedience, so immoderate correction and treating children as if they were Stocks is as likely a method as the other to make them stubborn and obstinate, and perhaps even force upon them taking ill methods to avoid usage which they cannot bear.

William Burk, the unfortunate criminal whose enterprises are to be the subject of our present narration, was born towards Wapping of parents honest and willing to give him education, though their condition in the world rendered them not able. He was thereupon put to the charity school, the master of which being of a morose temper and he a boy of very indifferent disposition, the discipline with which he was treated was so severe that it created in him an aversion towards all learning; and one day, after a more severe whipping than ordinary, he determined (though but eleven years of age) to run away.

He sought out, therefore, for a captain who might want a boy, and that being no difficult matter to find in their neighbourhood, he went on board the "Salisbury", Captain Hosier, then lying at the Buoy in the Nore, bound for Jamaica. His poor mother followed him in great affliction, and endeavoured all she could to persuade him to return, but her arguments were all in vain, for he had contracted so great an antipathy to school, from his master's treatment, that instead of being glad to go back, he earnestly intreated the captain to interpose his authority and keep him on board. His request was complied with, and the poor woman was forced to depart without her son.

It was the latter end of Queen Anne's War when they sailed to Jamaica, and during the time they were out, took two Spanish galleons very richly laden. Their first engagement was obstinate and bloody, and he, though a boy, was dangerously hurt as he bustled about one way or another as the captain commanded him. The second prize carried 74 guns and 650 men, yet the "Salisbury" (but a 60-gun ship) took her without the loss of a single man; only a woman, who was the only one on board, going to peep at the engagement, had her head and shoulders shot off. Burk said the prize money of each sailor came but to L15, but some of the officers shared so handsomely as never to be obliged to go to sea again, being enabled to live easily on shore.

Three years he continued in the West Indies, and there (especially in Jamaica) he learned so much wickedness that when he came home, hardly any of the gangs into which he entered were half so bad, though inured to plunder, as he when he came amongst them a fresh man. From this voyage he went another in the slave trade to the coast of Guinea. Here he endured very great hardships, especially when he had the misfortune to be on board where the negroes rose upon the English, and had like to have overcome them; but at last having been vanquished, and tied down in a convenient place, they were used with severity enough. Upon his return into England from this voyage, he went into the Baltic in the "Worcester" man-of-war, in which he suffered prodigious hardships from the coldness of the climate and other difficulties he went through.

The many miseries he had experienced in a life at sea might possibly have induced him to the resolution he made of never going on ship-board any more. How he came to take to robbing does not very clearly appear, further than that he was induced thereto by bad women; but he behaved himself with very great cruelty, for going over the first field from Stepney, armed with a hedging-bill, he attacked one William Fitzer, and robbed him of his jacket, tobacco-box, a knife and fork, etc. He robbed, also, one James Westwood, of a coat and ten shillings in money; last of all, attacking John Andrews and Robert his son, coming over the fields, he dove the old man down. His son taking up the stick boldly attacked Burk, and a neighbour, one Perkinson, coming in at the noise, he was overpowered and apprehended. As the fact was very plainly proved, he was on a short trial convicted, and the barbarity of the fact being so great, left no room for his being omitted in the warrant for execution.

As he lay a long time under condemnation, and had no hopes of life, from the moment of his confinement he applied himself to make his peace with that Being whom he had so much offended by his profligate course of life. On all occasions he expressed his readiness to confess anything which might be for the promoting of justice or public good, in all respects manifesting a thorough sorrow and penitence for that cruelty with which he had treated poor old Andrews. At the tree he stood up in the car, beckoned for silence, and then spoke to the multitude in these terms.

Good People,

I never was concerned but in four robberies in my life. I desire all men who see my fatal end to let my death teach them to lead a sober and regular life, and above all to shun the company of ill-women, which has brought me to this shameful end and place. I desire that nobody may reflect upon my wife after my decease, since she was so far from having any knowledge of the ills I committed, that she was continually exciting me to live a sober and honest life. Wherefore I hope God will bless her, as I also pray He may do all of you.

This malefactor, William Burk, was in the twenty-second year of his age when executed at Tyburn, April the 8th, 1723.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals