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1-177 (Raw)

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author,male,Vaux, James Hardy,37 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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McLachlan, 1964
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Having withdrawn myself from my late companions, I now became very circumspect in my proceedings; and as Bromley had neither the appearance nor the manners of a gentleman, I only made use of him occasionally in the course of my practice, keeping him in the back ground to receive and carry any articles which I purloined, and never suffering him to converse with, or approach me except in private. I generally spent the mornings, that is, from about one o'clock to five P. M. (which are the fashionable hours for shopping) in visiting the shops of jewellers, Watchmakers, Pawnbrokers, &C. Having conceived hopes that this species of robbery would turn to a good account, and depending upon my own address and appearance, I determined to make a circuit of the town, and not to omit a single shop in either of those branches: and this scheme I actually executed so fully, that I believe I did not leave ten untried in all London, for I made a point of commencing every day in a certain street and went regularly through it on both sides the way.
My practice was to enter a shop and request to look at gold seals, chains, broaches, rings, or any other small articles of value; and while examining them, and looking the shopkeeper in the face, I contrived by slight of hand to conceal two or three (sometimes more) in the sleeve of my coat, which was purposely made wide. On some occasions I purchased a trifling article to save appearances; at other times I took a card of the shop, promising to call again; and as I generally saw the remaining goods returned to the window, or place from whence they were taken, before I left the shop, there was hardly a probability of my being suspected, or of the property being missed.
In the course of my career I was never once detected in the fact, though on two or three occasions, so much suspicion arose, that I was obliged to exert all my effrontery, and to use very high language, in order, as the cant phrase is, to bounce the tradesman out of it; and my fashionable appearance, and affected anger at his insinuations, had always the effect of convincing him that he was mistaken, and inducing him to apologize for the affronts put upon me. [151] I have even sometimes carried away the spoil notwithstanding what had passed, and I have often gone a second and third time to the same shop, with as good success as at the first. To prevent accidents however, I made it a rule never to enter a second shop with any stolen property about me; for as soon as I quitted the first, I privately conveyed my booty to Bromley, who was attending my motions in the street, and herein I found him eminently useful. By this course of depredation I acquired on the average about ten pounds a week, though I sometimes neglected shopping for several days together.
This was not, indeed, the only pursuit I followed, but was my principal morning's occupation; though if a favourable opportunity offered of getting a guinea by any other means, I never let it slip. In the evenings I generally attended one of the theatres, where I mixed with the best company in the boxes, and at the same time that I enjoyed the amusements of the place, I frequently conveyed pocketbooks, snuff-boxes, and other portable articles, from the pockets of their proprietors into my own. Here I found the inconvenience of wanting a suitable companion, who might have received the articles I made prize of, in the same manner as Bromley did in the streets; but though I knew many of the light-fingered gentry, whose appearance fitted them for any company, yet, their faces being well known to the police-officers, who attend the Theatres, they would not have been suffered to enter the house: and herein I possessed an advantage which many of these gentry envied me; for being just arrived in England, and a new face upon the town, I carried on my depredations under the very noses of the officers, without suspicion. Having, therefore, at first no associate. I was obliged to quit the Theatre and conceal my first booty in some private spot, before I could make (with prudence) a second attempt.
Upon the whole I was very successful in this pursuit also, at least as to the number of articles I filched, and had their value been reasonably proportionate to what I expected, I need not long have followed so hazardous an employment. I have very frequently obtained nine or ten pocket-books, besides other articles, in an evening; and these being taken from gentlemen evidently of fortune and fashion, I had reason to expect I should sometime meet with a handsome sum in Bank-notes; but fortune did not favour me therein, for during near twelve months almost nightly attendance at one or other of the public places, I never found more than twenty pounds in a book, and that only on one occasion. I several times got five, ten, or eleven pounds, but commonly one, two, or three pounds, and most generally four books out of five contained nothing but letters, memorandums, and other papers useless to me. [152] 
At the same time I knew frequent instances of the common street pick-pockets getting a booty of fifty, one hundred and sometimes three or four hundred pounds. However, I never failed to pay the expenses of the night, and if I gained nothing, I enjoyed at least a fund of amusement, which was to me the highest gratification. It sometimes happened that the articles I got (particularly pocketbooks) were advertised by the losers, within a few days, as "Lost," and a reward offered for their restoration: where this reward was worth notice, I frequently restored the property by means of a third person whom I could confide in, and whom I previously tutored for the purpose.
In the mean time, the manner in which I spent my life, abstracted from the disgraceful means by which I supported myself, was (as I have formerly hinted,) perfectly regular and inoffensive. Though I lived by depredation, yet I did not like the abandoned class of common thieves, waste my money, and leisure time in profligate debauchery, but applied myself to the perusal of instructive and amusing books, my stock of which I daily increased. I occupied genteel apartments in a creditable house, the landlord of which understood me to hold a situation under Government, and every part of my conduct at home tended to confirm his opinion of my respectability. I was scrupulously exact in paying my rent, as well as the different tradesmen in the neighbourhood, with whom I had occasion to deal; nor did I ever suffer any person of loose character to visit me, but studiously concealed from those of my acquaintance my place of residence.
I was sometimes, indeed, so imprudent as to resort, for company's sake, to some of those public-houses frequented by thieves and other dissolute characters, the landlord of which is himself commonly an experienced thief, or returned transport. When I had a mind to relax a little, or grew tired of domestication, I disguised my appearance as much as I could, and repaired to a house of this description, sometimes taking my Dulcinea with me, whom I shall shortly introduce to the reader, and whose person and dress I was not a little proud of exhibiting in public.
This fondness for flash-houses, as they are termed, is the rock on which most persons who live by depredation unhappily split, and will be found in the sequel to have brought me to my present deplorable condition; for the police officers, or traps, are in the daily habit of visiting these houses, where they drink with the thieves, &c., in the most familiar manner; and, I believe, often obtaining by various means from sonic parties respecting the names, characters, pursuits, &c., of others. [153] By this imprudent conduct I also became personally known to many of the officers, which was productive of great danger to me in the exercise of my vocation; whereas, had I avoided such houses, I might have remained unknown and unsuspected by them for a series of years.
I ought not to omit what may perhaps gratify the reader, as much as the act did myself, namely, that as soon as I became possessed of a moderate sum, I remembered the kindness shewn me by the good women at Gosport, and wrote her a letter of thanks, enclosing a five pound bank-note, which, no doubt, proved highly acceptable. I also from time to time assisted my aged mother, whose circumstances were extremely narrow, and her support derived solely from the earnings of my two sisters, whose success depending on the caprice of fashion and of milliners, both alike inconstant, was but precarious. They, as well as my other relations in S-shire, were indeed totally ignorant of my unhappy relapse into a life of infamy, but believed my assertion, that I had a liberal salary from Mr. Belt, and was still employed under that gentleman in the Crown-office.
About three months after my return to London, and whilst in the zenith of my success, I was introduced by one of my former dissolute companions to the acquaintance of a young woman, who, like myself, had been well and tenderly brought up, but having been seduced by a young man equally inexperienced with herself, to quit her friends and cohabit with him as his wife, she had thereby forfeited the countenance of her family. and her paramour having died after a year's cohabitation, she had been driven to the usual refuge in such cases, a life of prostitution. At the period of my introduction, however, she had been only a few months upon the town, and I clearly perceived that her mind was yet but very slightly contaminated. As there were many reasons which rendered a female companion in whom I could place confidence, desirable, and in fact necessary to me; and as this young woman's misfortunes had placed her in such circumstances, that I had no obstacle to surmount on the score of delicacy, I proposed to her, after a few days' acquaintance that we should live together; to which, as she was heartily tired of her present course of life, she willingly consented. She knew enough of the world from her late experience, to surmise in what manner I obtained my living, of which, however, to avoid all duplicity, I fully possessed her. Having informed my landlord, that my wife, whom I had not before mentioned to him, was arrived in town from a visit she had been paying in the country, I accordingly took her home; and in a very few days we had arranged a pretty snug system of domestic economy, and provided every requisite for the family life I meant in future to live. [154] 
My companion was the daughter of an industrious mechanic, who, having a numerous offspring, had only been enabled to give her a common education; but her mother had instructed her in the duties of housekeeping, and she was perfectly conversant in all the qualities requisite to form a good wife. She was about nineteen years of age, agreeable in her person, and of the sweetest disposition imaginable; and what was most gratifying, the company she had latterly mixed with, and the disgusting examples before her eyes, had not been able to eradicate an innate modesty which she naturally possessed; so that her manners and conversation were such as fitted her for any company to which I might be inclined to introduce her.
I informed my mother and sisters that I was on the point of contracting a union with this young woman, and having made them personally acquainted, the three young ladies soon became very intimate. As my mother and sisters but rarely called at my lodgings, and then merely en passant, I had no difficulty in concealing the connexion from them until I could with propriety declare my marriage to have taken place.
We had the happiness of finding ourselves mutually pleased with each other, and I considered my meeting with so amiable a friend as one of the greatest blessings of my life. In a few weeks after our junction, my partner discovered evident symptoms of pregnancy, which with her affectionate behaviour, and real attachment to my interest, endeared her still more to me. In a word , I now felt myself as happy as any man daily risking his liberty and life, and exposed to the reproaches of his own conscience, could possibly be. [155] 

Having now settled myself in a manner much to my satisfaction, and happily met with a faithful friend, to whom I might confide my most secret thoughts, who would sincerely participate my joy, when success crowned my pursuits; and who, in the hour of adversity, would condole with, and cherish me, I applied myself with redoubled assiduity to the acquirement of money, with a full resolution in the event of my meeting with one good booty, or realizing by degrees a sufficient sum to quit the hazardous course of life I had embarked in, to establish myself in some honest line of business. To this prudent measure I was also strongly prompted by my companion, who could not hide her fears and anxiety on my account, and was never easy during my absence from home on a depredatory excursion.
I continued to visit the shops as usual in the morning, and the theatres in the evening with tolerable success; and my partner having expressed a desire to accompany me, in the hope of rendering me service, I was induced to gratify her. As her figure and address were both extremely prepossessing, and her air perfectly genteel, I soon found her eminently useful; for she not only received from me the property I purloined, but with much ingenuity would contrive to engross the attention of the shop-keeper while I robbed his counter, or by artful gallanting with a gentleman at a public place, facilitate my design upon his pockets. At all times, when disengaged from these hazardous practices, we lived a life of perfect domestic happiness, our chiefest pleasure being centred in each other's company.
As our mutual affection increased, my companion, whom I had informed of the outlines of my past life, and who was aware of the dangers to which I was daily exposed, being filled with tender fears of losing me for ever, and prompted by sincere affection, suggested the idea of uniting ourselves indissolubly by marriage; in the hope that should I unhappily experience a reverse of fortune, and be again banished from my native country, she might obtain permission to share my misery, and contribute, by her society, to lessen my sufferings. [156] This proposal so fully convinced me of her undisguised attachment, and had so much reason on its side, that I gave into it with ardent pleasure; and the necessary preliminaries being adjusted, we were accordingly married at St. Paul's, Covent-Garden, on the 21st of July, 1808, her mother, to whom she had become reconciled, and who (judging by appearances,) had a favourable opinion of the match, assisting at the ceremony.
Soon afterwards, I communicated the event to my mother, informing her that weighty reasons had rendered it necessary to observe privacy on the occasion; and hinting to the unsuspecting old woman, that I had acquired by this marriage, a considerable pecuniary advantage. This intimation gave my mother great pleasure, and I took care by increased liberality towards her and my sisters, to confirm them in the opinion of my veracity. The behaviour of my wife became every day more exemplary; and had I been free from that remorse which must ever accompany a guilty life, and enabled to procure those necessary comforts which I knew so well how to enjoy, by upright means, I should have considered myself supremely happy.
In the beginning of the month of October, my wife, who was far advanced in her pregnancy, accompanied me one evening to Drurylane theatre; and the performance over, we were descending the stair-case from the box-lobby, when I attempted to possess myself of a gentleman's pocket-book; but by some accident he suspected my design, and publicly accused me therewith. Unfortunately several other gentlemen, who had been robbed in the course of the evening, being on the spot, and beginning to compare notes, agreed unanimously that they recollected my person as being near them about the time they were robbed, and did not scruple to insinuate that I ought to be detained and searched.
This conversation naturally attracted the attention of the company immediately round us; but while it took place, all the parties were obliged by the pressure of the throng behind to continue descending, and we in fact quitted the theatre all together. Being arrived in Little Russell-street, the gentlemen surrounded me to the number of about a score, and our altercation became loud and vehement. Fortunately for me no police-officers happened to be near the spot; for although I had nothing to fear from a search, yet the circumstance would have made me personally known to the latter, and would of course operate to my disadvantage on my future appearance at the theatre. I exerted every art of expostulation, and finally had recourse, on my part, to threats, affecting to feel highly insulted by their insolent insinuations; declared myself a gentleman of character, which I would prove to their cost; offered to give my card of address, or to retire to a coffee-house, and send for respectable persons who knew me, but all my rhetoric proved ineffectual; some were for giving me in charge to an officer; others still more violent were for having me pumped. [157] 
At this moment a person named G-ge W-k-n, now in this colony, who had been himself exercising his vocation in the pit of the theatre, happened fortunately to come up, and, seeing a crowd collected, stopped to ascertain the cause. He immediately perceived the critical situation in which I stood, and having the appearance of a man of fashion, he stepped forward, and hearing the various motions of my persecutors, strongly advised them to forbearance, and caution how they treated a gentleman, as I evidently appeared to be; urging that they must certainly be mistaken in their conjectures, that my proposal of giving my address, or a reference, ought to be sufficient, and particularly dwelt on the impropriety of taking the law into their own hands. These arguments of my friend W-k-n carried so much weight, that the gentlemen began to waver and grow less clamorous; till at length they dropped off one by one; and W-k-n, assuming a haughty tone, said, taking me by the arm, "Come, Sir, you have been sufficiently exposed, and long enough detained on a charge which I am confident there is no foundation for; allow me to conduct you from this spot; if you are going towards St. James's, I shall be glad of your company, and let me see (raising his voice and cane together,) who will dare to insult you further."
So saying, he led me away in triumph, tipping the wink to my poor wife, who had stood all the while at a small distance, much terrified and agitated by various emotions, which so much affected her, that though we lived within two hundred yards of the theatre, she had scarcely power to walk home; and we had no sooner quitted our kind conductor, who attended us to the door, than she fainted away, and was for sometime insensible. The consequences of this untoward event were still more seriously afflicting, for her tender constitution was not proof against the shock, and she was the next day prematurely delivered of a male child, which, however, only lived eight hours, and was a subject of infinite regret to us both.
[158] [159] [160] [161 [162] 
Then addressing me, his worship inquired my name, place of abode, &c. I answered, that my name was James Hardy, but I must beg to decline giving any further account of myself, as it appeared his worship was determined to commit me for trial, and I should therefore not trouble my friends until a future day. Mr. Moser now remarked on some of the articles found upon me, inquiring with a sarcastic grin, how long I had worn barnacles? As to the knife, he said it was evidently a thief's knife; and turning to Armstrong, one of his officers, he asked him, if that was not such a blade as they used for starring a glaze? The knife and scissors, his worship called my working-tools. It was in vain I assured this facetious justice that these things were my own lawful property, and offered to prove where I had purchased them all: he insisted on detaining them, and was hardly persuaded to return the money taken from me.
I was then committed to New Prison, Clerkenwell, to which I was conveyed about nine o'clock at night. Arriving there, I desired to be accommodated between-gates, and after paying the usual fees, &c., I was conducted to a bed in the same room I had occupied on a like occasion, in the year 1800. Having now leisure to reflect on the occurrences of the day, I began to consider my situation hopeless enough; the snuff-box having been traced to me, the circumstance of the pocket being cut, the scissors found, &c., altogether furnished a chain of evidence, too strong, I feared, to be overruled by my bare assertion, that I had found the property; a defence the most flimsy, but the most commonly resorted to. I, therefore, laid my account with being transported at least.
What heightened my present distress was, that my poor wife would be grievously alarmed at my not returning home this night; and it would be a difficult matter, even the next day, to inform her of my situation, as I knew the officers were intent upon discovering, if possible, my place of abode, in order to ascertain my character, and mode of life. The morning being come, I was fortunate enough to meet with an intimate acquaintance, by whom I despatched a message to my wife, requiring her to visit me immediately, and in an hour's time, I had the pleasure of seeing her appear. Her distress may be easily conceived. I comforted and encouraged her as well as I could; and giving her a strict caution not to suffer herself to be followed or watched in her return, desired she would wait with patience, and hope for the approach of the session, which would decide my fate. [163] 
During the interval of my second examination, I read the following advertisement inserted by the officers of Worship-street: Stopped upon a suspicious person now in custody, the undermentioned articles , supposed to be stolen; (here they were all minutely described.) Any persons having lost such goods, are desired to attend at this office on Friday next, when the said person will be brought up for re-examination, &c."
On the 18th of November," I was accordingly reconducted to Worship-street, my wife being permitted to accompany me in the coach. Being again brought before Mr. Moser, that gentleman inquired if any body was in attendance to claim the property found on me; and being answered in the negative, he expressed himself confident that claimants would appear, but said he would, however, finally commit me to Newgate, and, that the articles in question should be detained until the day of my trial; when, if not owned before, the court would no doubt restore them on my application; nor could all my asseverations or arguments convince him of the property being my own, or induce him to alter his decree respecting them. I was accordingly conducted to Newgate, accompanied by my wife, whose uniform attention to me in this and every other distress, proved the sincerity of her attachment.
As the session was to commence on the 30th, I had no time to lose in preparing for my trial. I, therefore, drew up a brief for counsel, in which I dwelt strongly on the open and public manner in which I had acted with Mrs. Andrews; the improbability that I should have taken so much trouble, had I been the thief who stole the box, full of snuff, as the prosecutor described it to have been, and on every other point which I thought might prove of moment, or afford the counsel an opportunity of shewing his wit or ingenuity, but still deceiving even him, by stoutly adhering to my first story of finding the property.
This brief I sent by my wife, with the usual fee, to Mr. Knapp, a gentleman, of whose abilities I entertained a high opinion. Notwithstanding all this, I had at the bottom, very little hopes of escaping conviction; and persons best experienced in such matters, who heard the circumstances, declared nothing but a miracle could save me. I, however, concealed these unpleasing ideas from my wife, and assured her that I felt confident of being acquitted.
The grand jury being met, I soon heard that a true bill had been returned by them; and, on the following Wednesday, the court opening, I was taken down for trial, but was not put to the bar until Friday the 2d of December. [164] Previous to my leaving the ward of the prison in which I lodged, a fellow-prisoner, with whom I had become intimate, knowing the circumstances of my case, and the nature of my intended defence, had in a half-jocular manner, offered to lend me his snuff-box, which he advised me to display to the court, and occasionally to take a pinch from it during my trial; this he observed, would strengthen my assertion that I was in the habit of using snuff, and give a colour to my defence; and, he good-naturedly added, that he hoped it would prove lucky to me. I thankfully accepted the proffered favour, of which I did not fail to make use at the proper season.
Being arraigned at the bar, I stood capitally indicted for stealing a silver snuff-box, value two pounds, the property of Thomas Imeson, privily from his person. Mr. Imeson having given his evidence, my counsel in cross-examining him said, "I take for granted, Sir, you can't take upon yourself to swear, whether you were robbed of your snuff-box, or whether it fell through the hole in your pocket; all you know is, that you found your pocket torn, and the box among other articles missing?" Answer, "Certainly I cannot."
The landlady then stated in a faltering voice, and evidently much embarrassed at being examined before so large an assembly, the manner in which I had applied to her, &c., and in answer to a question from Mr. Knapp, said, that she could never suppose I should have acted in the open manner I did, if I had stolen the box., The constable who searched me was the next witness; and he having described that proceeding, and produced the articles found upon me, the Recorders, who presided on the bench, said, "I suppose, Mr. Bell, there were a great variety of characters attending this meeting, which was held for the purpose of obtaining parliamentary reform?"
Ans. "Certainly, my lord."
Recorder. "No doubt there were many persons, freeholders as well as not freeholders?"
Ans. "Yes, my lord."
Recorder. "I dare say people of all descriptions, tag-rag, and bobtail?"
Ans. "There might, my lord."
I now began to entertain strong hopes, perceiving that the tide of prejudice ran in my favour. I was dressed in a very genteel but becoming manner, and had not the least appearance of a thief. I had put on the most modest air and countenance I could assume, and I thought the court and jury appeared to view me with favourable eyes. [165] I, therefore, took another pinch from my friend's box, and waited the event with patience, being prepared with a good defence, when called upon to make it. But I was not put to that trouble; for the Recorder addressing the jury, said, "Gentlemen, I must in this stage of the trial, deliver it as my opinion, that I cannot see any grounds for charging the prisoner with felony. Gentlemen, the accident of finding a snuff-box might have happened to one of yourselves , to me, or to any other honest man; and, it would be hard indeed if such an accident should subject the finder to a prosecution for felony. If you are of my opinion, it will be unnecessary to recapitulate the evidence, or put the prisoner upon his defence."
His Lordship then paused, and I leave the reader to imagine the state of suspense I was for some moments in. The jury having whispered together, one of them stood up and said, "My lord, we wish to ask a question of Mrs. Andrews, namely, whether at the time the prisoner brought her the box, he delivered it as his own. or said he had found it?" Mr. Knapp eagerly catching at this question, desired Mrs. Andrews to stand up, and said to her, "Mrs. Andrews, the jury wish to ask you whether the young man at the bar told you it was his own snuff-box, or whether he said he had found it?" The poor simple woman, confused and trembling, and not comprehending the drift or importance of the question, answered in a low voice, "He said he had found it, gentlemen."
Mr. Knapp having obtained this answer, with a smile, or rather laugh of satisfaction, turned to the jury, repeating her words, "He said, he had found it. I hope, Gentlemen, you are now satisfied." He then folded up my brief, and handed it to an officer of the court, to whom he made a motion with his hand to return it to me. I received it with a respectful bow of acknowledgment, and Mr. Knapp threw himself back in his seat, and began playing with his watch-chain, as much as to say, "the business is settled, I have successfully done my duty, and saved my client;" and, so indeed he had, for the foreman immediately pronounced the welcome verdict of "Not Guilty."