The Life of WILLIAM MILLER
a Highwayman, etc.
As necessary correction is often a method by which, when young people begin to stray into the paths of vice, they are deterred and brought back again into the road of virtue; yet when this is incautiously inflicted or done in a violent manner, it frequently excites worse thoughts than would otherwise probably have entered the breasts of young people thus punished; and instead of hindering them from committing trivial offences, puts them on doing the worst things imaginable in order to deliver them from a state more hateful to them than death itself.
This criminal William Miller, was the son of very honest parents who lived at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who took care to give him a good education, and what was much more commendable, a good example. They put him out apprentice to a tradesman at Alnwick, with whom he might have lived tolerably well had it not been for the churlishness of his master's temper, who was continually picking quarrels with him, and thereupon beating him inhumanly. At last an accident happened which supplied a continual fund of anger and resentment and this was on account of William's losing a horse, which, though his friends paid for, yet every time it came into his masters head there was a battle between them; for Miller being now grown pretty big made resistance when he struck him, and not seldom got the better of him, and beat him in his turn. This occasioned such disturbances and falling out between them that at last Miller took a resolution for leaving him for good and all, and determined to live as he could, up and down the country.
At first he was so lucky as to meet with a man who employed him readily, treated him with kindness, and gave him good advice, without accompanying his reproofs with blows; but upon discovering that his man William had not served out his time, but had only five years and a half with his master, he absolutely refused to suffer him to work any longer. It was with great reluctancy that Miller parted with this master, and he became every day after more and more uneasy, because he found no other master would let him work with them, upon the same account; so that by degrees he was reduced to the great necessity in the country, and though he was willing to work, yet could not tell which way to turn his hand.
In the midst of these perplexities, he bethought himself of coming up to London, which he put in execution. On his arrival there he listed himself as a soldier in one of the regiments of Guards, and as it is no very hard matter in this town, got abundance of amorous affairs upon his hands. With one woman he lived a short time after his coming up to London, but her he soon turned off for the sake of another, who was a blacksmith's wife, and whom he married, notwithstanding her first husband was then to his acknowledge alive. This was, indeed, the source of a great part of his misfortunes, since what between the woman's drinking and the money which the husband got out of him for permitting him to live quietly with her, he was (notwithstanding he had learnt a new employment, viz., that of a basket maker) miserably poor; and the woman having brought him a child to increase his expenses, he was at last forced, whether he would or no, to leave her and it both. After this he associated with another woman, and at length married her also, with whom he lived quietly enough until the time of his death. These numerous intrigues drew him in consequence into a multitude of other vices, which both lost him his reputation, and damaged his understanding, especially when he came to drink hard, which he at last did to such a degree that he was seldom or never sober, or if he were, the reflecting on his misfortunes pushed him on getting drunk as fast as he could--a case but too common amongst the meaner sort of people, who as they have no philosophy of learning to support them, endeavour to drown all care by sotting.
Whether Miller really intended to go a-robbing at the time he committed the fact for which he died, or whether drunkenness and the sense, even in that condition which he retained of his misfortune, on a sudden suggested to him the stripping of the old man Nicholas Bourn under the favour of the night, certain it is (though from motives we cannot determine) that he attacked the man and took from him his coat and hat. On the injured person's crying out a watchman ran immediately to his assistance, and with his pole, notwithstanding Miller drew his bayonet, knocked him down, and so seized him and delivered him up to Justice. At the next sessions at the Old Bailey he was indicted for this fact, and the same was very fully and clearly proved against him; yet though he had no friends capable of procuring him either a reprieve or pardon, he had the good luck to remain a considerable space under condemnation, viz., from one sessions to another, before the report was made, and so had the greater leisure left him for repentance.
During the space he lay in the condemned hold he expressed a very hearty sorrow for all his offences and particularly regretted his having addicted himself so much to the company of women, which, as it at first led him into expenses, naturally brought him into narrow circumstances; and his necessities unfortunately put him upon taking the fatal method of supplying himself. Yet in the midst of these tokens of penitence and contrition several women came still about him, so he resolved to send the child he had by the second down to his friends in the country, not doubting, as he said, but that they would take care of it. And for the last of those who went for his wife, he really looked upon her as such, and therefore treated her with more kindness and affection than he did any of the rest. However, doubtless they were no great help to him in his preparations for death. And amongst the other miseries produced, to our view, this is not a small one, that they continue to pursue us even to the last, and fasten so strongly about our thoughts and inclinations that as at first, they defeated all consideration, so in the end they are in danger of preventing a hearty and sincere repentance.
As to the particular fact for which he was to die, he acknowledged himself guilty thereof, but for all that objected to the several circumstances that were sworn against him at his trial; nor could all the arguments that were used towards him persuade him that those trifling variations (for as he himself represented them they were no more) were not now at all material to him, but that as he justly deserved to die according to his own confession, it signified little to him whether the particular steps taken in his apprehension were exactly stated by the Court or not. As the day of his execution drew near, he receded a little from these objections, and began to set himself in earnest to acquire that calmness with which every reasonable man would desire to meet death. The women he forbid visiting him, refused to eat or drink anything but what was absolutely necessary to support Nature, plied himself regularly and constantly to his devotions, and seemed to have nothing at heart but to reconcile himself to that Divine Being, who by the multitude of his crimes he had so much offended. To say truth, it was not a little wonderful that a person after continuing for such a length of time in the practice of wickedness and debauchery, should at last be capable of applying himself with such zeal and attention to the duties of a dying man. He yielded up his life the 13th of February, 1727, at Tyburn, being then twenty-six years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals