Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Philip Roche


a Pirate, etc.

As in the life of Captain Massey, my readers cannot but take notice of those great evils into which men are brought by over-forwardness and inconsideration, so in the life of the malefactor we are now to speak of, they will discern what a prodigious pitch of wickedness, rapine and cruelty, human nature is capable of reaching unto, when people abandon themselves to a desire of living after their own wicked inclinations, without considering the injuries they do others while they gratify their own lusts and sensual pleasures.

Philip Roche[1] was the son of a person of the same name in Ireland. His father gave him all the education his narrow circumstances would permit which extended however to reading and writing a tolerable good hand, after which he sent him to sea. Philip was a lad of ingenious parts, and instead of forgetting, as many do, all they have learnt, he on the contrary took all imaginable care to perfect himself in whatsoever he had but a slight notion of before he went to sea. He made abundance of coasting voyages about his native island, went once or twice to Barbadoes, and being a saving and industrious young fellow, picked up money enough to become first mate in a trading vessel to Nantes in France, by which being suffered to buy goods himself, he got considerably, and was in a fair way to attaining as great a fortune as he could reasonably expect. But this slow method of getting money did by no means satisfy Roche; he was resolved to grow rich at once, and not wait till much labour and many voyages had made him so.

When men once form to themselves such designs, it is not long before they find companions fit for their purpose. Roche soon met with one Neal, a fisherman of no education, barbarous but very daring, a fellow who had all the qualities that could conspire to make a dangerous villain, and who had already inured himself to the commission of whatever was black or bloody, not only without remorse but without reluctance. Neal recommended him to one Pierce Cullen, as a proper associate in those designs they were contriving; for this Cullen, as Neal informed him, was a fellow of principles and qualifications much like himself, but had somewhat a better capacity for executing them, and with Neal had been concerned in sinking a ship, after insuring her both in London and Amsterdam. But Providence had disappointed them in the success of their wicked design for Cullen having been known, or at least suspected of doing such a thing before, those with whom they had insured at London, instead of their paying the money, caused him to be seized and brought to a trial, which demolished all their schemes for cheating insurance offices.

Cullen brought in his brother to their confederacy, and after abundance of solicitation induced Wise to come in likewise. The project they had formed was to seize some light ship, and turn pirates in her, conceiving it no difficult matter afterwards to obtain a stronger vessel, and one better fitted for their purpose.

The ship they pitched on to execute this their villainous purpose was that of Peter Tartoue, a Frenchman of a very generous disposition, who on Roche and his companions telling him a melancholy story, readily entertained them; and perceiving Roche was an experienced sailor, he entrusted him upon any occasion with the care and command of the ship. Having done so one night, himself and the chief mate with the rest of the French who were on board went to rest, except a man and a boy, whom Roche commanded to go up and furl the sails. He then called the rest of his Irish associates to him upon the quarter-deck. There Roche, perceiving that Francis Wise began to relent, and fearing he should persuade others in the same measures, he told them that if every Irishman on board did not assist in destroying the French, and put him and Cullen in a capacity of retrieving the losses they had had at sea, they would treat whoever hesitated in obeying them with as little mercy as they did the Frenchmen; but if they would all assist, they should all fare alike, and have a share in the booty.

Upon this the action began, and two of them running up after the Frenchman and boy, one tossed the lad by the arm into the water, and the other driving the man down upon the deck he there had his brains dashed out by Roche and his companions. They fell next upon those who were retired to their rest, some of whom, upon the shrieks of the man and boy who were murdered, rising hastily out of their beds and running up upon deck to see what occasioned those dismal noises, were murdered themselves before they well knew where they were. The mate and the captain were next brought up, and Roche went immediately to binding them together, in order to toss them overboard, as had been consulted. 'Twas in vain for poor Tartoue to plead the kindness he had done them all and particularly Roche. They were deaf to all sentiments, either of gratitude or pity, and though the poor men entreated only so much time as to say their prayers, and recommend themselves to God, yet the villains (though they could be under no apprehensions, having already murdered all the rest of the men) would not even yield to this, but Cullen hastened Roche in binding them back to back, to toss them at once into the sea. Then hurrying down into the cabin, they tapped a little barrel of rum to make themselves good cheer, and laughed at the cries of the two poor drowned men, whom they distinctly heard calling upon God, until their voices and their breaths were lost in the waves.

After having drunk and eaten their fill, with as much mirth and jollity as if they had been at a feast, they began to plunder the vessel, breaking open the chests, and taking out of them what they thought proper. Then to drinking they went again, pleasing themselves with the barbarous expedition which they resolved to undertake as soon as they could get a ship proper to carry them into the West Indies, intending there to follow the example the buccaneers had set them, and rob and plunder all who fell into their hands. From these villainies in intention, the present state of their affairs called upon them to make some provision for their immediate safety. They turned therefore into the Channel, and putting the ship into Portsmouth, there got her new painted and then sailed for Amsterdam, Roche being unanimously recognised their captain, and all of them promising faithfully to submit to him through the course of their future expeditions.

On their arrival in Holland, they had the ship a second time new painted, and thinking themselves now safe from all discovery began to sell off Captain Tartoue's cargo as fast as they could. No sooner had they completed this, but getting one Mr. Annesley to freight them with goods to England (himself also going as a passenger) they resolved with themselves to make prise of him and his effects, as they had also done with the French captain. Mr. Annesley, poor man, little dreaming of their design, came on board as soon as the wind served; and the next night a brisk gale blowing, they tore him suddenly out of his bed and tossed him over. Roche and Cullen being with others in the great cabin, he swam round and round the ship, called out to them, and told them they should freely have all his goods if they would take him in and save his life, for he had friends and fortunes enough in England to make up that loss. But his entreaties were all vain to a set of wretches who had long ago abandoned all sentiments of humour and mercy. They therefore caroused as usual, and after sharing the booty, steered the vessel for England.

Some information of their villainies had by that time reached thither, so that upon a letter being stopped at the post office, which Roche, as soon as they had landed, had written to his wife, a messenger was immediately sent down, who brought Philip up in custody. Being brought to the Council table, and there examined, he absolutely denied either that himself was Philip Roche, or that he knew of any one of that name. But his letters under his own hand to his wife being produced, he was not able any longer to stand in that falsehood.

Yet those in authority knowing that there was not legal proof sufficient to bring these abominable men to justice, offered Roche his life, provided he gave such information that they might be able to apprehend and convict any three of his companions more wicked than himself; but he was so far from complying therewith that he suffered those of his crew who were taken to perish in custody rather than become an evidence against them. This was the fate of Neal, who perished of want in the Marshalsea, having in vain petitioned for a trunk in which was a large quantity of money, clothes and other things to a considerable value, which had been seized in Ireland by virtue of a warrant from the Lord Justice of that Kingdom, on the account of the detention of which, while he perished for want of necessaries and clothes, Neal most heavily complained, forgetting that these very things were the plunder of those unhappy persons whom they had so barbarously murdered, after having received so much kindness and civility from them.

In the meanwhile Roche, being confined in Newgate, went constantly to the chapel and appeared of so obliging a temper that many persuaded themselves he could not be guilty of the bloody crimes laid to his charge; and taking advantage of these kind thoughts of theirs, he framed a new story in defence of himself. He said that there happened a quarrel on board the ship between an Irishman and a Frenchman, and that Tartoue taking part with his own nation, threatened to lash the Irishman severely, though he was not in any way in the wrong. This, he pretended, begat a general quarrel between the two nations, and the Irish being the stronger, they overpowered and threw the French overboard in the heat of their anger, without considering what they did.

Throughout the whole time he lay in Newgate, he very much delighted himself with the exercise of his pen, continually writing upon one subject or other, and often assisting his fellow prisoners in writing letters or whatever else they wanted in that kind. When he was told that Neal, who died in the Marshalsea, gushed out at all parts of his body with Wood, so that before he expired he was as if he had been dipped in gore, Roche replied, it was a just judgment that he who had always lived in blood, should die covered with it.

Sometime afterwards, being told that one of his companions had poisoned himself he said, Alas! that so evil an end should follow so evil a life; for his part he would suffer Providence to take its course with him, and rather die the most ignominious death than to his other crimes add that of self-murder. The rest who had been apprehended dying one by one in the same dreadful condition with Neal, that is, with the blood gushing from every part of their body, which looked so much like a judgment that all who saw it were amazed, he (Roche) began to think himself perfectly safe after the death of his companions, supposing that now there was nobody to bear any testimony against him; and therefore, instead of appearing in any way dismayed, he most earnestly desired the speedy approach of an Admiralty sessions. It was not long before it happened and when he found what evidence would be produced against him, he appeared much less solicitous about his trial than anybody in his condition would have been expected to be, for he very well knew it was impossible for them to prove him guilty of the murders and as impossible for him to be acquitted of the piracy.

After receiving sentence of death, he declared himself a Papist, and said that he could no longer comply with the service of the Church of England, and come to the chapel. He did not, however, think that he was in any danger of death, but supposed that the promises which had been made him on this first examination would now take place and prevent the execution of his sentence. When, therefore, the messenger returned from Hanover[2], and brought an express order that he should die, he appeared exceedingly moved thereat, and without reflecting at all on the horrid and barbarous treatment with Which he had used others, he could not forbear complaining of the great hardship he suffered in being put into the death warrant, after a promise had been made him of life, though nothing is more certain than that he never performed any part of those conditions upon which it was to have taken place.

At the place of execution he was so faint, confused, and in such a consternation that he could not speak either to the people, or to those who were nearer at hand, dying with the greatest marks of dejection and confusion that could possibly be seen in any criminal whatever. He was about thirty years old at the time of his execution, which was at high-water mark, Execution Dock, on the 14th of August, 1723.


[1] A detailed account of this villain is given in Johnson's "History of the Pirates."

[2] Where the warrant had evidently been taken for the signature of the king or a minister.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals