A Highwayman who took to cheating the Citizens of London. Executed 30th of May, 1690
THIS man was born at Ramsey, in Hampshire, which continued to be the place of his habitation, when he resided anywhere under his right name, till the day of his apprehending; and he had a wife and five children, besides grandchildren, living there at the time of his shameful death.
We have no particular account of his education and private life, from whence we may conclude there was nothing remarkable in either. His adventures on the road we shall relate in the order which we have received them, which is the only method we can follow. Riding one time between Honiton and Exeter, he met with Sir Bartholomew Shower, whom he immediately called to account for the money he had about him. Sir Bartholomew gave him all he had without any words, which proved to be but a very little. Old Mobb looked upon his prize, and finding it infinitely short of his expectations readily told him that there was not enough to answer his present demands, which were very large, and very pressing. "And therefore, sir," says he, "as you are my banker in general, you must instantly draw a bill upon somebody at Exeter for one hundred and fifty pounds, and remain in the next field, as security for the payment, till I have received it." The Knight would fain have made some evasion, and protested that there was nobody in Exeter who would pay such a sum at a moment's warning; but Old Mobb so terrified him with holding a pistol to his breast that his worship at last consented, and drew upon a rich goldsmith.
As soon as Old Mobb had got the note, he made Sir Bartholomew dismount, and walk far enough from the road to be out of everybody's hearing, then bound him hand and foot and left him under a hedge, while he rode to Exeter, and received the money, which was paid without any scruple, the goldsmith knowing the handwriting perfectly well. When he returned, he found the poor Knight where he left him. "Sir," says he, "I am come with a Habeas Corpus to remove you out of your present captivity "; which he accordingly did by untying him and sending him about his business. But Sir Bartholomew was obliged to walk home, which was fully three miles, for our adventurer had cut the girths and bridle of his horse, and turned him stray, ever since he went to Exeter with the note.
Mr John Gadbury, the astrologer, was another who fell into the hands of Old Mobb, who, notwithstanding his familiarity with the stars, was not wise enough to foresee his own misfortune, which has been a common case with men of his profession. This rencounter was on the road between Winchester and London. Poor Gadbury trembled, and turned as white as a clout, when Old Mobb told him what he wanted, professing that he had no more money about him than just enough to bear his expenses to London; but our highwayman was not at all moved with compassion at what he said. "Are not you a lying son of a whore," quoth he, "to pretend you want money when you hold twelve large houses of the planets by lease parole, which you let out again to the Stationers' Company at so much per annum? You must not sham poverty upon me, sir, who know as good things as yourself, and who have a pistol that may prove as fatal as Sirius in the dog days, if you stand trifling with me." Mr Gadbury was at this time, indeed, more apprehensive of Old Mobb's pistol than of any star in the firmament; for he was sensible the influence of it, if discharged, would be much more violent and sudden; so that he looked like one out of his senses. He was now even afraid to deliver his money, lest he should suffer for telling a lie. However, as he saw there was no remedy, he pulled out a bag, in which was about nine pounds in gold and silver, which he gave with a few grumbling expressions. Old Mobb told him he should take no exception at what he said, for it was but just that the loser should have leave to speak, so, setting spurs to his horse, he left the star-gazer to curse the disastrous constellations.
One day Old Mobb overtook the stage-coach going for Bath, with only one gentlewoman in it. When he had commanded the coachman to stop, and was come to the door to raise contribution after his usual manner, the passenger made a great many excuses, and wept very plentifully, in order to move him to pity; she told him she was a poor widow, who had lately lost her husband, and therefore she hoped he would have some compassion on her. "And is your losing your husband then," says he, "an argument that I must lose my booty? I know your sex too well, madam, to suffer myself to be prevailed on by a woman's tears. Those crocodile drops are always at your command; and no doubt but that dear cuckold of yours, whom you have lately buried, has frequently been persuaded out of his reason by their interposition in your domestic debates. Weeping is so customary to you, that everybody would be disappointed if a woman was to bury her husband and not weep for him; but you would be more disappointed if nobody was to take notice of your crying; for according to the old proverb, the end of a husband is a widow's tears; and the end of those tears is another husband."
The poor gentlewoman upon this ran out into an extravagant detail of her deceased husband's virtues, solemnly protesting that she would never be married again to the best man that wore a head, for she should not expect a blessing to attend her afterwards; with a thousand other things of the same kind. Old Mobb at last interrupted her, and told her he would repeat a pleasant story in verse which he had learned by heart, so, first looking round him to see that the coast was clear on every side, he began as follows: -- "A widow prude had often swore No bracelet should approach her more; Had often proved that second marriage Was ten times worse than maid's miscarriage, And always told them of their sin, When widows would be wives agen: Women who'd thus themselves abuse, Should die, she thought, like honest Jews Let her alone to throw the stones; If 'twere but law, she'd make no bones. Thus long she led a life demure; But not with character secure: For people said (what won't folks say?) That she with Edward went astray: (This Edward was her servant-man) The rumour through the parish ran, She heard, she wept, she called up Ned, Wiped her eyes dry, sighed, sobbed, and said: 'Alas! what sland'rous times are these! What shall we come to by degrees! This wicked world! I quite abhor it! The Lord give me a better for it! On me this scandal do they fix? On me? who, God knows, hate such tricks! Have mercy, Heaven, upon mankind, And grant us all a better mind!
My husband -- Ah that dearest man! Forget his love I never can; He took such care of my good name, And put all sland'rous tongues to shame. --
But, ah! he's dead --' Here grief amain, Came bubbling up, and stopped the strain. Ned was no fool; he saw his cue, And how to use good fortune knew: Old Opportunity at hand, He seized the lock, and bid him stand; Urged of what use a husband was To vindicate a woman's cause, Exclaimed against the sland'rous age; And swore he could his soul engage That madam was so free from fault She ne'er so much as sinned in thought; Vowing he'd lose each drop of blood To make that just assertion good. This logic, which well pleased the dame, At the same time eludes her shame: A husband, for a husband's sake, Was what she'd ne'er consent to take. Yet, as the age was so censorious, And Ned's proposals were so glorious, She thought 'twas best to take upon her, A second guardian of her honour."
"This," says Old Mobb, "is an exact picture of woman-kind, and as such I committed it to memory; you are very much obliged to me for the recital, which has taken me up more time than I usually spend in taking a purse; let us now pass from the dead to the living, for it is these that I live by. I am in a pretty good humour, and so will not deal rudely by you. Be so kind, therefore, as to search yourself, and use me as honestly as you are able; you know I can examine afterwards, if I am not satisfied with what you give me." The gentlewoman found he was resolute, and so thought it the best way to keep him in temper, which she did by pulling out forty guineas in a silk purse, and presented them to him. It is fifty to one but Old Mobb got more by repeating the verses above than the poor poet that wrote them ever made of his copy. Such is the fate of the sons of Apollo.
Scarce was Old Mobb parted from this gentlewoman before he saw the appearance of another prize at some distance. Who should it be but the famous Lincoln's Inn Fields mountebank, Cornelius a Tilburgh, who was going to set up a stage at Wells. Our adventurer knew him very well, as indeed did almost everyone at that time, which occasioned his demanding his money in a little rougher language than usual. The poor quacksalver was willing to preserve what he had; and to that end used a great many fruitless expostulations, pretending that he had expended all the money he had brought out with him, and was himself in necessity. But Old Mobb soon gave him to understand that he would not be put off with fine words; and that he had more wit than to believe a mountebank, whose profession is lying. "You get your money," says he, "as easily as I do, and it is only fulfilling an old proverb if you give me all you have: 'Lightly come, lightly go.' Next market-day, doctor, will make up all, if you have any luck. It will excite people to buy your packets if, as an instance of your great desire to serve them, you tell them what you suffered upon your journey, which nevertheless could not hinder your coming to exercise your bowels of compassion among them, and to restore such as are in a languishing condition."
The empiric could scarce forbear laughing to hear Old Mobb hold forth so excellently well, and lay open the craft of his occupation with so much dexterity. He was, notwithstanding, very unwilling to part with his money, and began to read a lecture of morality to our desperado, upon the unlawfulness of his actions, telling him that what he did might frequently be the ruin of poor families, and oblige them afterwards to follow irregular courses, in order to make up what they had lost. "And then," says he, "you are answerable for the sins of such people." "This is the devil correcting sin with a witness," quoth Old Mobb. "Can I ruin more people than you, dear Mr Theophrastus Bombastus? You are a scrupulous, conscientious son of a whore, indeed, to tell me of ruining people. I only take their money away from them; but you frequently take away their lives: and what makes it the worse you do it safely, under a pretence of restoring them to health; whereas I should be hanged for killing a man, or even robbing him, if I were taken. You have put out more eyes than the smallpox, made more deaf than the cataracts of Nile; in a word, destroyed more than the pestilence. It is in vain to trifle with me, doctor, unless you have a remedy against the force of gunpowder and lead. If you have any such excellent specific, make use of it instantly, or else deliver your money." Our itinerant quack still continuing his delays, Old Mobb made bold to take a portmanteau from his horse, and put it upon his own, riding off with it, till he came to a convenient place for opening it. Upon examining the inside, he found five and twenty pounds in money and a large golden medal, which King Charles II. had given him for poisoning himself in his Majesty's presence; besides all his instruments and implements of quackery.
Another time Old Mobb met with the Duchess of Portsmouth, on the road between Newmarket and London, attended with a very small retinue. He made bold to stop the coach, and ask her Grace for what she had about her; but madam, who had been long used to command a monarch, did not understand the meaning of being spoken to in this manner by a common man. Whereupon she briskly demanded if he knew who she was. "Yes, madam," replied Old Mobb, "I know you to be the greatest whore in the kingdom; and that you are maintained at the public charge. I know that all the courtiers depend on your smiles, and that even the K -- himself is your slave. But what of all that? A gentleman collector is a greater man upon the road, and much more absolute than his Majesty is at Court. You may now say, madam, that a single highwayman has exercised his authority where Charles II. of England has often begged a favour, and thought himself happy to obtain it at the expense of his treasure, as well as his breath." Her Grace continued to look upon him with a superior lofty air, and told him he was a very insolent fellow; that she would give him nothing, and that he should severely suffer for this affront. Adding that he might touch her if he durst.
"Madam," says Old Mobb, "that haughty French spirit will do you no good here. I am an English freebooter; and insist upon it as my native privilege to seize all foreign commodities. Your money indeed is English, and the prodigious sums that have been lavished on you will be a lasting proof of English folly; nevertheless, all you have is confiscated to me by being bestowed on such a worthless b ---h. I am king here, madam, and I have a whore to keep on the public contributions as well as King Charles. It is for this that I collect of all that pass, and you shall have no favour from me." As soon as he had spoken he fell on board her in a very boisterous manner, so that her Grace cry out for quarter, telling him she would deliver all she had. She was as good as her word; for she surrendered two hundred pounds in money, which was in the seat of the coach, besides a very rich necklace, which her royal cully had lately given her, a gold watch and two diamond rings. Not long after the committing of this robbery, Old Mobb met with Sir George Jeffreys, at that time Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, as he was going to his country seat. My Lord Chief Justice upon the road was no more than another man; for Old Mobb disabled two servants that attended him, by shooting one through the arm, and the other through the thigh, and then stopped the coach, and demanded his Lordship's money. Jeffreys had before this made himself sufficiently famous, by his Western Assizes, and other very severe proceedings, so that he imagined his name carried terror enough in it to intimidate any man; but he was mistaken in Old Mobb, who had courage to speak his mind without any respect to persons, and when his Lordship told him his name only said he was glad he could be revenged on him in any manner for putting him in bodily fear at Hertford Assizes a few months before.
"According to law, my Lord," says he, "I might charge a constable with you, and bind you over to the Quarterly Sessions, for threatening to take away my life. However, if you please, as I don't love to be spiteful, I will make up the matter with you for what money you have in the coach, which, I think, is as easy as you can desire, and easier than you deserve." Jeffreys expostulated with him upon the great hazard he ran, both of soul and body, by following such wicked courses, telling him that he must expect justice to follow his crimes if he believed there was any such thing as a Providence that governed the world. "I don't doubt," says Old Mobb, "but that when justice has overtaken us both, I shall stand at least as good a chance as your Lordship; who have already written your name in indelible characters of blood, by putting to death so many hundred innocent men, for only standing up in defence of our common liberties, that you might secure the favour of your Prince. It is enough for you to preach morality upon the Bench, where nobody dares to contradict you; but your lessons can have no effect upon me at this time; for I know you too well not to see that they are only calculated to preserve money." This speech of Old Mobb was followed with fifty oaths and imprecations against the poor Judge, which threatened him with nothing but immediate death if he did not deliver his money. Jeffreys saw his authority would now stand him in no stead; so he gave what money he had, which amounted to about fifty-six guineas.
We took notice at the beginning of this life of Old Mobb that he sometimes was engaged with the Golden Farmer; the reader may therefore justly expect an account of some of their actions in concert; two stories, the most remarkable and diverting that we have seen concerning them, now follow. Having both of them a pretty deal of ready cash, and being willing to retire a little while from the highway, where they had lately made a great noise, and were now very much sought after, they came to London, in order to make use of their wits, of which they had both as great shares as they had of strength and courage. Here their first work was to observe the humours and manners of the citizens, which neither of them was well acquainted with before, that they might know the better how to proceed, and impose upon them in their own way.
Everyone knows that London is all hurry and noise; every man there is a man of business, and those who make good appearances never want credit. All people there live by mutual dependence upon one another, and he who has dealt for two or three hundred pounds, and made good his payments, may afterwards be trusted for five. Our adventurers soon perceived all this, and what advantages many designing men made of the general confidence that people reposed in each other. They saw that nobody could teach them how to cheat a citizen so well as a citizen himself, and thereupon they concluded that the best way they could take was, to both turn tradesmen.
Each of them now takes a large handsome house, hires two or three servants, and sets up for a great dealer. The Golden Farmer's habitation was in Thames Street, where he passed for a corn chandler, which occupation he had the most knowledge in of any. Old Mobb took up his residence somewhere near the Tower, and called himself a Holland trader, he having been abroad when a boy, and knowing pretty well what commodities were exported to that country, of the language of which he had also a small smattering. They went for near relations, of the name of Bryan, and said they were North Country men.
They now employ all their time in inquiring after goods in their several ways, buying whatever comes to their hands, and either paying ready money themselves, or drawing upon each other for one, two or three days; at which time payment was always punctually made. This constant tide of money was kept up by their continually selling privately what they bought (sometimes, perhaps, not a little to loss) to such persons as are glad to make use of their cash in this manner; and always wink at things which they can't comprehend, while they find their interest in it. As they dealt in very different ways, the chapmen of the one had no knowledge of those of the other; so that though every one of them had been sent at one time or another, by his respective customer, to receive money off his kinsman, none of them had any notion that the correspondence was mutual, and consequently no suspicion of a fraud at the bottom.
Thus they continued till they both found their characters thoroughly established. Perhaps in this time they may each of them have lost a hundred or two pounds, but they very well knew that this loss would get them as many thousands. When they saw that all who dealt with them were ready to send in what goods they required, and not in the least care about their money, they thought their project ripe for execution. Accordingly a day was appointed for that purpose.
They now ordered all their customers to bring them in goods on such a day, as much, at least, in quantity, as they had ever before received at one time of the respective sorts, confining them all to particular hours for the delivery of what they brought, that they might not interfere with one another, and so suspect that some unfair design was on foot. At the same time they informed those who usually bought everything off their hands that they should have such-and-such quantities of so many sorts to dispose of, naming the next day to that when they were to receive them; that they would sell them cheap, because they were obliged to make up a large sum of ready money; that therefore they desired them to be punctual, and bring only cash for what they designed to buy. The whole scheme succeeded as well as they could wish: on one side there was no suspicion; and on the other, if there was any, it was not the interest of the parties to discover what they thought, because every one of them promised himself some advantage.
The goods were all delivered according to order, at the day and hour appointed, and notes were mutually drawn by the kinsman in Thames Street upon him by the Tower, and by the kinsman by the Tower upon him in Thames Street, for the several sums, to be paid at three days after date. Never were men better satisfied than these poor dupes, not one of them doubting but he should have all his money the moment he went for it, as usual. They went home and slept soundly that night, and the two nights succeeding. Next day came the buyers, and entirely cleared both houses, paying down ready money for all they carried off. These too were as well pleased as the rest, and with much better reason. They imagined indeed that their chapmen were going to break, but what was that to them? No matter how the poor men were to live for the future, so long as they could have good bargains at present.
There was now time enough before the day of payment for our two merchants to take care of themselves, and the money they had raised, which they did very effectually. When they came to computation they found that by this one bold stroke they had got clear into their pockets about sixteen hundred and thirty pounds -- a pretty considerable sum for three months, which was the longest time they were in trade. When the creditors came to receive their money they were surprised at both places to see the doors fast, and the windows shut, till they were informed by the neighbours that the birds were flown the day before, and that all their furniture was either carried off in the night, or seized for rent. How the men now looked upon one another! Every one began to suspect that the rest who were attending came about the same business as himself, and indeed, when they came to examine the matter, they found themselves not mistaken. Those who were earliest in Thames Street, and had heard the melancholy news, went forthwith to the Tower to complain that Mr Cousin was gone; and those at the Tower set out for Thames Street. Now was the whole plot unravelled, when they saw both were departed quietly, and had learned of each other how they had been mutually imposed upon by the pretended relations, when they told their several cases.
One such trick as this is enough for a man's whole life, and as much as he can safely play in the same kingdom. Our two Bryans now, therefore, resumed their old names and habits, taking to the highway again for some time, till fresh danger of being apprehended put them once more to their shifts. There was not less art in what they now did than in what we have just related, only they acted in a lower sphere, not daring to aspire so high as to be merchants, after they had brought so much scandal upon the name. Men whose thoughts are all turned upon money have no regard to the manner in which they get what they desire -- nor need they, provided they come off with impunity; for all people honour the rich, without inquiring how they came to be so.
There were two wealthy brothers of the name of Seals, Philip and Charles, both jewellers. Philip lived in London, and Charles resided at Bristol. The Golden Farmer and Old Mobb knew every circumstance of the family from which these men were descended, and were moreover particularly instructed in the private history of our brothers. This made our desperadoes fix on them for their next prize, now they were again reduced to extremity. The brothers were sickly, consumptive men, which inclined these arch-villains to undertake and perform what will be as diverting in the relation as it was unparalleled in itself, and worthy of the men who acted in it. Having contrived and ordered the whole affair, the first step they took towards executing it was writing, and copying, the following letter, making only the alteration of the place and name, as they saw necessary: --
March 26,1686. DEAR BROTHER, -- This comes to bring you the sorrowful news that you have lost the best of brothers, and I the kindest of husbands, at a time when we were in hopes of his growing better, as the spring advanced, and continuing with us at least one summer longer. He died this morning, about eleven of the clock, after he had kept his bed only three days. I send so hastily to you, that you may be here before we prepare for the funeral, which was the desire of my dear husband, who informed me that he had made you joint-executor with me. The will is in my hands, and I shall defer opening it till you arrive here. I am too full of grief to add any more; the messenger, who is a very honest man, and a neighbour of mine, shall inform you of such particulars as are needful from, your sorrowful sister, -- SEALS. P.S.-I employed a friend to write for me, which I desire you to excuse; for I was not able to do it myself, nor indeed to dictate any more.
These letters being sealed and properly directed, our two adventurers dressed themselves according to the characters they were to bear, and parted from each other; one of them riding towards London, and the other towards Bristol, having so ordered it beforehand that they might both come to the end of their journey at the same time. They arrived, they delivered their credentials, and were kindly received. It is not to our purpose to declare how many tears were shed upon opening the letters, and how many eulogies each of the living brothers bestowed upon him whom he supposed to be dead. Much less shall we pretend to describe the secret joy which they both concealed under a sorrowful countenance; but which naturally arose in their breasts when they understood that an addition would now accrue to their fortunes by the death of a brother. It is true they both loved one another; but of all love, self-love is the strongest.
The evening at each place was spent in talking over several particulars of the family, subjects that at such a time as this always come in the way. Our messengers were both very expert, and each brother was convinced that the man whom his sister had sent had been long conversant in the family, by the exact account which he gave of things. They moreover added of their own heads a great deal of stuff concerning the manner of the respected Mr Seals' death, and what he said in his last moments, which at this time was doubtless very moving. In a word, the best bed in both houses was made ready for our two sharpers, who were to depart the next morning, and tell the sisters- in-law that their brothers would come two days after, which was as soon as their mourning could be made, and other things prepared for the journey.
It may be proper to observe that Old Mobb went to Bristol, and the Golden Farmer to London. The first of these found means in the evening to secure jewels to the value of two hundred pounds, which was all the booty he had any opportunity to make. But the Golden Farmer, having well observed the position of Mr Philip Seals' shop, arose in the night, came silently downstairs, and took to a much greater value; among other things a diamond necklace -- which was just made for a lady of the first quality, but not to be delivered till some days after -- three very large diamond rings, and five small ones. In the morning both our adventurers set out, one from Bristol, and the other from London. They met at a place before appointed, and congratulated one another upon their success.
But we must leave them together, and return to the brothers, who were both getting ready for their journey. Such was the hurry and confusion which our messengers had put the two families in, that nobody in either of them took any notice of the shops, so that nothing of the robberies was discovered in time enough to prevent the masters setting out, and let them see that they were imposed on.
The shops were well furnished out, and what was carried off took up but little room; wherefore it was not surprising that such a thing should be overlooked, at a time when no business was thought of but the preparations for travelling, and appearing decently at the funeral.
The merriest part of the whole story was our two brothers setting out the same morning, and coming the same evening to Newbury, where they took up their lodging also at the same inn. He from London came in first, and being fatigued went to bed before the other arrived. The Bristol man, about two hours after, passed through his brother's room, and a companion with him, whom he had engaged to attend him, and reposed themselves where but a thin partition was between the two chambers. Philip, the Londoner, was asleep when his brother went by him, but the discourse between Charles and his friend surprised him; he could not tell what they talked off; but was certain one of the tongues was his brother's, whom he was going to see buried. By and by Charles had occasion to go to the necessary house; upon which he rises, and attempts to go through Philip's chamber again, who by the moonlight was still more convinced that he had not been deceived in the voice. Upon this he screamed out, and Charles was now as much surprised as his brother; so that he ran back to bed half dead with fear. In a word, they both continued sweating, and frightening themselves, till morning, when they arose and dressed themselves in their mourning apparel. Below stairs for some time they shunned one another, till they were taken notice of by the people of the house, who with some difficulty brought them together, after they had heard both their stories. They now saw themselves imposed on, but could not imagine the reason of it, till, after spending two days together at the inn, they both returned, and found themselves robbed. Now was the plot unravelled.
Old Mobb was at last apprehended in Tuthill Street, Westminster, committed to Newgate, and tried at the Old Bailey, on thirty-six indictments, of thirty-two of which he was found guilty.
On Friday, the 30th of May, 1690, he was executed at Tyburn, without making any speech or confession, but continuing to act with his usual intrepidity.