Executed at Tyburn, February 10, 1751, for forgery.
How great the disappointment, and how melancholy the reflection, when men who have passed the probation of truth with credit, sink into idleness and gaming, from thence to thieving, and ending a life well begun, at the gallows!
Of this description of miserable beings was Richard. Butler. He was born at Turlus (sic), in the county of Tipperary, Ireland. His father was a reputable farmer, who bound him apprentice to a baker, in Waterford. He proved so faithful and diligent a servant, that he was held in universal esteem; and, upon the expiration of his apprenticeship, his father gave him a hundred pounds, for the purpose of establishing him in business.
The above sum enabled him to open a shop in Waterford, where he had a favourable prospect of success: but, instead of attending to his business, he frequented horse-races, cock-fighting, and other gaming meetings, and engaged in a variety of expenses greatly beyond what his income could afford; the consequence of which was, that in about six months his affairs were in a most embarrassed situation.
Being unable to continue his business, he returned to Turlus, where he formed a great number of infamous stratagems for extorting money from his relations; and they threatened, that unless he quitted that part of the country, they would cause him to be apprehended, and proceed against him with the utmost rigour of the law.
Butler applied to a clergyman at Turlus, representing his case in a plausible manner, and supplicating that he would use his interest with his father to prevail upon him to grant twenty pounds in addition to his former favours. The worthy divine pleaded in behalf of the young man, and with the desired success. Upon delivering the money, the reverend gentleman exhorted him to apply it to proper use; which he promised to do, adding that he would immediately depart for Cork, and not return to the place of his nativity till, by an unremitting perseverance in a system of integrity, he had made atonement for all the errors of his past conduct.
On his arrival at Cork, he procured employment as a journeyman; and in that capacity he was so industrious and strictly economical, that in a short time he made such addition to his stock, that he was able to open a shop on his own account. He was much encouraged, and his circumstances were supposed to be more flourishing than they were in reality.
Coming into possession of a handsome sum of money, by marrying the widow of a customhouse officer, who lived in the neighbourhood, Butler took a tavern of considerable business, where his circumstances would have been much improved, but for his connexions with maritime people, to whom he gave unlimited credit, and was under the necessity of taking smuggled goods in payment or losing his money.
An information being lodged against him for having smuggled goods in his possession, his effects were seized for the use of the crown, and he was under the necessity of quitting Ireland. Butler and his wife took shipping for Plymouth, and in that town they hired a house, which they let in lodgings to seafaring people. In about three years he was obliged to quit Plymouth, and repaired to the metropolis in a most distressed condition.
He had not been long in London, before the grief consequent on the various scenes of distress he had passed through, produced the death of his wife.
Butler now being in very distressed circumstances, he communicated his case to some of his countrymen; and he yielded to their persuasions for acquiring a livelihood by forging seamen's wills.
Butler, Horne, and a woman named Catherine Gannon, went to the Navy-office: to inquire what wages were due to Thomas Williamson, a foremast man belonging to the Namur, and learnt that the sum was about eight and thirty pounds. They then made application to a proctor, the woman producing a forged will, and declaring herself to be the widow of Williamson. They were desired to call the next day, when a probate would be granted.
Butler and his female accomplice attended according to the appointment; but the proctor having, in the mean time searched the offices, found that the will in question was opposed by four caveats; and having further reason to suspect an intended fraud, he caused them to be apprehended. Being taken before the lord-mayor, Gannon acknowledged that she had received a few shillings from Butler and Horne, who had promised to make the sum up to five pounds; on condition of her swearing herself to be the widow of Thomas Williamson. Butler was committed to Newgate; and Gannon and Horne were admitted evidences for the crown.
At the ensuing sessions at the Old. Bailey, Butler was tried, and sentenced to die. While under sentence of death he regularly attended prayers, in the chapel and employed a great part of his time in private devotions, agreeably to the doctrines of the protestant faith. At the place of execution he prayed with great fervency of zeal, acknowledged the justice of his sentence, and after addressing the populace, was turned off.