Housebreakers and Burglars.
The expert burglar is
generally, very ingenious in his devices, and combines manual dexterity with
courage. In his own sphere the burglar in manual adroitness equals the
accomplished pickpocket, while in personal daring he rivals our modern ruffians
of the highway, who perpetrate garotte robberies, or plunder their victims with
Many of our London burglars have been trained from their boyhood. Some are the children of convicted thieves; some have for a time lived as sneaks, committing petty felonies when residing in low lodginghouses; others are the children of honest parents, mechanics and tradesmen, led into bad company, and driven into criminal courses.
In treating of sneaks we alluded to the area-sneak, and lobby-sneak, watching a favourable opportunity and darting into the kitchen and pantry, and sometimes entering the apartments on the first floor and stealing the plate. We alluded to the lead-stealer finding his way to the housetop, and to the attic-thief adroitly slipping downstairs to the apartments below, and carrying away valuables, jewellery, plate, and money. Here we see the points of transition, from the petty felon to the daring midnight robber plundering with violence.
We shall in the outset offer a few general remarks on the manner in which housebreaking and burglaries are effected in London, and then proceed to a more detailed account of the various modes pursued in the different districts.
Breaking into houses, shops, and warehouses is accomplished in various ways, such as picking the locks with skeleton keys; inserting a thin instrument between the sashes and undoing the catch of the windows, which enables the thieves to lift up the under sash; getting over the walls at the back, and breaking open a door or window which is out of sight of the street, or other public place; lifting the cellar-flap or area-grating; getting into an empty house next door, or a few doors off, and passing from the roof to that of the house they intend to rob; entering by an attic window, or trap-door, and if there are neither window nor door on the roof, taking off some of the tiles and entering the house. Sometimes the thieves will make an entry through a brick wall in an adjoining building, or climb the waterspout to get in at the window. These are the general modes of breaking into houses.
Sometimes when doors are fastened with a padlock outside, and no other lock on the door, thieves will get a padlock as near like it as possible. They will then break off the proper lock, one of them will enter the house, and an accomplice will put on a lock as like it as possible to deceive the police, while one or more inside will meantime pack up the goods. Sometimes a well-dressed thief waylays a servant-girl going out on errands in the evening, professes to fall in love with her, and gets into her confidence, till she perhaps admits him into the house when her master and mistress are out. Having confidence in him she shows him over the house, and informs him where the valuables are kept. If the house is well secured, so that there will be difficulty of breaking in by night, he manages to get an accomplice inside to secrete himself till the family has gone to bed, when he admits one or more of his companions into the house. They pack up all they can lay hold of, such as valuables and jewels. On such occasions there is generally one on the outlook outside, who follows the policeman unobserved, and gives the signal to the parties inside when it is safe to come out.
In warehouses one of the thieves frequently slips in at closing-time, when only a few servants are left behind, and are busy shutting up. He secretes himself behind goods in the warehouse, and when all have retired for the night, and the door locked, he opens it and lets in his companions to pack up the booty. Should it consist of heavy goods, they generally have a cart to take it away. They are sometimes afraid to engage a cabman unless they can get him to connive at the theft, and, besides, the number of the cab can be taken. They get the goods away in the following manner. If consisting of bulky articles, such as cloth, silks, &c., they fill large bags, similar to sacks, and get as much as they think the cart can conveniently hold, placed near the door. When the policeman has passed by on his round, the watch stationed outside gives the signal; the door is opened, the cart drives up, and four or five sacks are handed into it by two thieves in about a minute, when the vehicle retires. It is loaded and goes off sooner than a gentleman would take his carpet-bag and portmanteau into a cab when going to a railway-station. The cart proceeds with the driver in one way, while the thieves walk off in a different direction. They close the outer door after them when they enter a shop or warehouse, most of which have spring locks. When the policeman comes round on his beat he finds the door shut, and there is nothing to excite his suspicion. The cart is never seen loitering at the door above a couple of minutes, and does not make its appearance on the spot till the robbery is about to be committed, when the signal is given.
Lighter goods, such as jewellery, or goods of less bulk, are generally taken away in carpet bags in time to catch an early train, often about five or six o‘clock, and the robbers being respectably-dressed, and in a neighbourhood where they are not known, pass on in most cases unmolested. Sometimes they pack up the goods in hampers, as if they were going off to some railway-station. When there is no one sleeping on the premises, and when they have come to learn where the party lives who keeps the keys, they watch him home at night after locking up, and set a watch on his house, that their confederates may not be disturbed when rifling the premises. If they are to remove the goods in the morning they do it about an hour before the warehouse is usually opened, so that the neighbours are taken off their guard, supposing the premises are opened a little earlier than usual in consequence of being busy. Sometimes they stand and see the goods taken out, and pay no particular attention to it. In the event of the person who keeps the keys coming up sooner than usual, the man keeping watch hastens forward and gives the signal to his companions, if they have not left the warehouse.
It often happens when they have got an entry into a house, they have to break their way into the apartments in the interior to reach the desired booty, such as wrenching open an inner door with a small crowbar they term a jemmy, cutting a panel out of a door, or a partition, with a cutter similar to a centre-bit, which works with two or three knives; this is done very adroitly in a short space of time, and with very little noise. At other times, when on the floor above, they cut through one or more boards in the flooring, and frequently cut panes of glass in the windows with a knife or awl.
They get information as to the property in warehouses from porters and others unwittingly by leading them into conversation regarding the goods on the premises, the silks they have got, &c., and find out the part of the premises where they are to be found. Sometimes they go in to inspect them on the pretence of looking at some articles of merchandise.
It occasionally happens servants are in league with thieves, and give them information as to the hour when to come, and the easiest way to break in. Sometimes servants basely admit the thieves into the premises to steal, and give them impressions of the keys, which enables them to make other keys to enter the house. Thieves sometimes take a blank key without wards, cover it with wax, work it in the keyhole against the wards of the lock, and by that means the impression is left in the wax. They then take it home and make a similar key. When looking into the lock they frequently strike a match on the doorway, and pretend to be lighting a pipe or cigar, which prevents passers by suspecting their object.
These are the general modes of housebreaking and burglary over the metropolis, but in order that we may have a more vivid and thorough conception of the subject, we shall give a more graphic detail of these felonies. We shall first advert to breaking into shops and warehouses, and then proceed to describe burglaries in various parts of the metropolis.
It frequently occurs that a thief enters a warehouse, or large shop, and secretes himself behind some goods, or in the cellar, or up the chimney. This could be done at any hour of the day, but is frequently managed when the servants or shopmen are out dining at mid-day, or towards evening, when the places of business are about to be closed. The thief may be respectably dressed, or not, according to the nature of the place of business. A person may call with some fictitious message, and keep one or more of the servants or shopmen in conversation while a confederate could meantime slip into the shop or warehouse, and if detected would seldom be suspected of being connected with this party. They sometimes hover for days in the neighbourhood of shops and warehouses they intend to plunder, and watch the most favourable opportunity to effect this object.
Towards evening when the servants are all gone, and the place of business closed, the rest of his companions come to the spot, consisting of one or more men, a woman being occasionally employed. While they are aware that one of their gang is secreted on the premises, as a precaution they sometimes knock at the door or ring the bell to ascertain if the servants or shopmen are gone. Should they be lingering in the premises, arranging the goods, engaged with their business-books, accounts, or otherwise, they ask for Mr. So-and-so, or have some other fictitious message.
On the departure of the people belonging to the shop, the thief inside generally opens the door to his companions on the given signal, when they proceed to rifle the premises of Manchester goods, cottons, silks, shawls, satins, or otherwise, and to store them into large bags they bring with them, which they place beside the door, when filled, to be conveniently carried away. They wrench open the desks, money-drawers, and other lockfasts with a jemmy, chisel, or screw-driver, as well as any doors which may be locked, occasionally using the cutter and saw, or other tools, and pierce through brick and other partition walls with an auger or other instrument. In many cases the doors of the apartments in warehouses are left open so that the thief has free access to the property.
Meantime a man or woman is watching outside while the thieves are busy plundering within, keeping a special look-out for the policeman proceeding on his beat. They have many ingenious expedients to decoy him away, by conversation or otherwise. The policeman is generally from fifteen to twenty minutes in going round his beat, so that they have ample time to carry off the booty.
While the thieves are busy collecting their spoil, the door is shut with a spring lock, or fastened with a padlock by means of a key they may have made for the purpose, so that the policeman has no suspicion of what is passing within. The former frequently remain for several hours on the premises, while a person outside is keeping watch, waiting to hear their signal when they have got the booty packed and ready. Should the coast be clear outside, notice is conveyed to the cart or cab, loitering somewhere in the vicinity, or which drives up at a certain hour, when the door opens. The plunder is quickly handed into the vehicle, which drives smartly away. The door is then shut, and the robbers walk off, possibly in a different direction to that in which the conveyance is gone.
Burglaries from jewellers’ shops are frequently effected by means of skeleton keys, or otherwise, by one or more men. A woman often carries the tools to the shop, and keeps watch. So soon as a favourable opportunity occurs they unlock the door and enter the premises, while a man or woman watches outside, the woman perhaps walking along the street as though she were a common prostitute, or familiarly accosting the policeman or other persons she meets, and decoying them away from the shop. In some cases, when she has not succeeded in getting the policeman away, she pretends to fall down in a fit, when he has possibly to take her to the nearest surgeon. Sometimes the woman feigns to be drunk, and is taken to the police station, which takes him off his beat. In the meanwhile the parties inside, with jemmy, chisel, saw, or other tools, and with silent lights and taper or dark lantern, break open the glass cases and boxes, and steal gold and silver watches, gold chains, brooches, pins, and other jewellery, which they deposit in a small carpet-bag, as well as rifle money from the desk.
Jewellers’ shops are sometimes entered by the thief getting into an unoccupied house next door, or two or three houses off, and proceeding along the roofs to the attic or roof of the house to be robbed, and going in by the attic window, or removing a few of the slates. The thieves then go downstairs and cut their way through the door or partition, and effect an entry into the shop.
Most of the robberies in jewellers’ shops have of late years been committed by means of false keys, or by cutting out a hole in the door or shutter with a cutter, which is done in a short space of time, and when the instrument is moistened it makes very little noise. This hole is covered with a piece of paper painted of the same colour as the door, and is pasted on, which prevents the police having any suspicion.
Sometimes jewellers’ shops are entered by persons lodging in the floor above, or having access to it, and then cutting through the flooring and descending into the jeweller‘s shop by means of a ropeladder they attach to the floor. At other times they are entered by cutting through the solid brick wall at the back of the shop.
Several years ago a very remarkable burglary took place at Mr. Acutt‘s large linen-drapery establishment in the Westminster Road. About four o‘clock in the morning the policeman on duty heard a man give the signal at a shop-door. The constable believing thieves to be on the premises sprung his rattle, roused up the inmates, and got the assistance of several other constables. When they entered the shop they found upwards of 30l. worth of silks and satins, and other valuables packed up in bundles ready to be carried off. They found two thieves who had gained an entrance by getting over some closets, scaling a wall by means of the rain-spout, and walking along a high wall about nine inches thick. They then removed the skylight at the back, and let themselves down into the shop by a rope-ladder. By this means they got into the shop of Mr. Acutt.
On being scared by the police they jumped from one house to another, eight feet apart, over a height of about fifty feet, and there concealed themselves behind a stack of chimneys. Several policeman mounted to the roofs, but could not find them; and no one would venture to leap to the adjoining houses, whither the thieves had gone. An inspector of police ordered two men in plain clothes to be on the watch, believing they must be concealed somewhere on the housetops.
About eight o‘clock in the morning a man of the name of Fitzgerald was out in a back court of an adjoining house washing himself, when the thieves came down by a spout twenty feet long communicating with the water cistern. On getting down one of them jumped on the back of Fitzgerald. He shouted out “murder and police,” when two constables came up and took both of the thieves into custody.
On the trial it was said the prisoners’ women had given several pounds to bribe this man, and he pretended he could not identify them, and they were acquitted. They have since been transported for other burglaries.
One of them was a man of thirty years of age, about five feet nine inches high, slim made, with a most daring countenance. The other was of middle stature, about twenty-six years of age, with pleasing appearance.
Another burglary took place in a silk warehouse in Cheapside in 1842. The burglars were admitted into an adjoining carpet warehouse by one of the warehousemen on a Saturday night, and broke through a brick-wall eight or nine inches thick, and made an entry into the silk warehouse. They did not steal any carpets, as they were too bulky. Goods were seen to be taken away by a cab on the Sunday afternoon. The padlock was meantime secure on the outdoor, so that the police had no suspicion.
The robbery was discovered on the Monday morning, when it was found from 1500l. to 2000l. had been carried off, and that a 100l. bank note had also been taken from the desk of the carpet warehouse.
Soon after the foreman of the latter business establishment absconded, and has not since been heard of, and there is strong suspicion he had connived with the burglars.
Number of cases of breaking into shops, &c., in the Metropolitan districts for 1860 .. .. .. .. 104
Ditto ditto in the City .. 20
TOTAL --- 124
Value of property thereby abstracted in the Metropolitan districts .. £ 1,899 0s
Ditto ditto in the City .. £461 10s
TOTAL £ 2,360 10s
We shall now treat of the burglaries in the metropolis, commencing with the lower, and proceeding to notice the higher burglars, termed the “cracksmen.”
Burglaries in the working districts of the metropolis are effected in various ways--by one man mounting the shoulders of another and getting into a first-floor window, similar to acrobats, by climbing over walls leading to the rear of premises, cutting or breaking a pane of glass, and then unfastening the catch; or by pushing back the catch of the window with a sharp instrument, or by cutting a panel of a door with a sharp tool, such as an American “auger.” Frequently they force the lock of the door with a jemmy. The lower class of burglars who have not proper tools sometimes use a screw-driver instead of a jemmy. In the forcing of the locks of drawers or boxes, in search of property, they use a small chisel with a fine edge, and occasionally an old knife.
There are frequently three persons employed in these burglaries--two to enter a house, and one to keep watch outside, to see that there is no person passing likely to detect. This man is generally termed a “crow.” Sometimes a woman, called a “canary,” carries the tools, and watches outside.
These low burglars carry off a booty of such small value that they are necessitated frequently to commit depredations. They steal male and female wearing apparel, and small articles of plate or jewellery, such as teaspoons or a watch.
They are from seventeen years of age and upwards, and reside in the Borough, Whitechapel, St. Giles, Shoreditch, and other low localities.
There is another kind of burglary committed by persons concealing themselves on the premises, which is often done in public-houses. The parties enter before the house is closed, by concealing themselves in the coal-cellar, skittle-ground, or other place where they are unobserved by those in charge of the house. These burglaries are done by low people, with whose previous mode of living the police are generally not acquainted. Very frequently they steal cigars, money in the till or on the shelves of the bar, left to give change to customers in the morning. There is another mode of entering public-houses, by the cellar flaps from the pavement in front of the house, or by going through the fanlight, and stealing property as before described, and returning the same way, sometimes letting themselves out by the front door, which has often a spring lock.
These burglaries are generally done at midnight, or between 1 and 5 o‘clock.
There is a higher class of burglaries committed at fashionable residences over the metropolis, and at the mansions of the gentry and nobility, many of them in the West-end districts.
The houses to be robbed are carefully watched for several weeks, sometimes for months, before the burglary is attempted. The thieves take great precautions in such cases. They glean information secretly as to the inmates of the house; where they sleep, and where valuable property is kept. Sometimes this is done by watching the lights over the house for successive nights. These burglaries are often “put up” by the persons who execute them. They frequently get some of their more engaging companions to court one of the servant girls, give her small presents, and gain her favour, with the ultimate object of gaining access to the house and plundering it. At other times, though more rarely, they endeavour to become acquainted with the male servants of the house--the butler, valet, coachman, or groom. Sometimes they try to learn from the servants through other parties becoming acquainted with them, if they cannot succeed themselves. At other times they gather information from tradesmen who are called to the house on jobbing work, such as painters, plumbers, glaziers, bell-hangers, tinsmiths, and others, some of whom live near the burglars in low neighbourhoods, or are frequently to be seen in the evenings in their company. We can point our finger at three of these base wretches. One of them lives in Whitefriars, Fleet Street, another in Tottenham-court Road, and a third in Newell Street, Wardour Street, Oxford Street. These three persons get up many of the burglaries in the West-end and other parts of the metropolis, where they have work to do, when they find a suitable place. Some of them have put up burglaries for thirteen or fourteen years, and none of them have been detected, though suspected by the police. They never have a hand in the burglaries themselves, but secure a part of the booty. These “putters up” are from thirty to thirty-five years of age, and one of them has been convicted of a felony.
If the burglars cannot enter by the back of the premises, they go to the first-floor window in front, where there are no shutters. It matters not whether it be public or not; they will enter in a couple of minutes the premises by cutting the glass and undoing the catch.
The dwelling-houses in the West-end have often been entered by the first-floor window; and servants have many times been wrongfully charged with these burglaries, and lost their places in consequence.
Burglars generally leave their haunts to plunder about twelve o‘clock at midnight, often driving up in a cab to a short distance from the spot where the burglary is to be attempted; but they frequently do not enter the house till one or two in the morning. In general, they take some liquor, such as gin and brandy, to keep up their spirits, as they call it. The one who is to watch outside generally takes up his position first, and the others follow. This is arranged so that the persons who enter --generally two, sometimes three--should not be seen by the policeman or others near the house.
When the latter come up, and find their companion at his post, and see the coast clear, they instantly proceed to enter the house, in front or behind, by the door or windows. Expert burglars go separate, to avoid suspicion.
On entering the house, they go about the work very cautiously and quietly, taking off their shoes, some walking in their stockings, and others with India-rubber overalls. If disturbed they very seldom leave their shoes or boots behind them.
Their chief object is to get plate, jewellery, cash, and other valuables. The drawing- room is usually on the first-floor in front; sometimes the whole of the first-floor is a drawing-room. They often find valuables in the drawing-room. They search parlour, kitchen, and pantry, and even open the servant‘s workbox for her small savings.
When they cannot get enough jewellery and plate they carry off wearing apparel. They often take money in the drawing-room from writing-desks and ladies workboxes. Experienced burglars do not spare time and trouble to look well for their plunder.
This is the general course adopted on entering a dwelling-house. In entering a shop, if they can find sufficient money to satisfy them, they do not carry off bulky property, but if there is no money in the desk or tills they rifle the goods, if they are of value.
In West-end robberies there are often two good cracksmen, one to keep watch outside, while another is busy at his work of plunder within. The person outside has to be on the alert, as he has generally to keep watch over an experienced officer, and to let his companions know when it is safe for them to work or to come out.
When a catch is in the centre of the window it is opened with a knife. If there should be one on each side they will cut a pane of glass in less than fifteen seconds, and undo them. The burglars seldom think of carrying a diamond with them, but generally cut the glass with a knife, as the starglazers do.
The shutters behind the window frame are often cut with what the burglars term a cutter. It cuts with two knives, with a centrebit stock, and makes a hole sufficiently large to admit the burglar‘s arm.
When the shutters are opened there are often iron bars to guard the window. The burglars tie a piece of strong cord or rope about two of the bars, and insert a piece of wood about a foot in length between this rope, and twist the wood. The bar is thereby bent sufficient to allow them to eater, or it gives way in the socket. These bars are sometimes forced asunder by a small instrument called a jack, by which a worm worked by a small handle displaces them. The rope and stick are used when they have not a jack. The latter can be conveniently carried in the trousers pocket.
Woodwork, such as shutters, doors, and partitions, is often cut in late years with the cutter, instead of the jemmy, as the former is a more effective tool, and makes an opening more expeditiously. With this instrument a door or shutter can be pierced sufficiently large to admit the arm in a few minutes.
A brick wall requires more time. If there are no persons within hearing, an opening can be made sufficiently large for a man to pass through, in an hour. If there are people near the apartment, it requires to be more softly done, and frequently occupies two or three hours, even when done by an expert burglar. They generally pierce one brick with an auger, and displace it; after the first brick is out, they work with a jemmy, and take the mortar out, then pierce a brick on the other side of the wall.
Burglars cannot pick Chubb‘s patent locks. The best way to secure premises where no person sleeps is to have a good patent lock on the outer door, with an iron bar outside fastened by a patent Chubb lock. This acts with double safety. If they break it off on the outside, the policeman easily detects it when he comes round on his beat, which he is sure to do before they have got the other lock opened, and this prevents them getting in that way. If they break in from the roof, or from the back, by cutting round the lock of an inside door, they do not get the outside door opened, and cannot get away any bulky goods. By this means the warehouse is more safe than if it were fastened any other way.
Common locks on doors are so easily picked by thieves that no warehouse ought to be left fastened in this way, unless there is a watchman over it.
Some cracksmen have what is called a petter-cutter, that is, a cutter for iron safes; an instrument made similar to a centrebit, in which drills are fixed. They fasten this into the keyhole by a screw with a strong pressure outside. The turning part is so fixed that the drills cut a piece out over the keyhole sufficiently large to get to the wards of the lock. They then pull the bolt of the lock back and open the door.
Chubb‘s locks on iron safes are now made drill proof, so that they cannot be pierced.
Any person sleeping in a room, with valuable property in his possession, ought to have a chain on the door, like a streetdoor chain, as the common locks are so easily picked, and the masked thief, with dark lantern, can creep into the room without being heard. The rattling of the chain is sure to awaken the person sleeping.
Expert burglars are generally equipped with good tools. They have a jemmy, a cutter, a dozen of betties, better known as picklocks, a jack to remove iron bars, a dark lantern or a taper and some silent lights, and a life-preserver, and sometimes have a cord or rope with them, which can be easily converted into a rope ladder. A knife is often used in place of a chisel for opening locks, drawers, or desks. They often carry masks on their face, so that they might not be identified. The dark lantern is very small, with oil and cotton wick, and sometimes only shows a light about the size of a shilling, so that the reflection is not seen on the street without. Burglars often use the jemmy in place of picklocks. When they go out with their tools, they usually carry them wrapped up with list, so that they can throw them away without making a noise, should a policeman stop them, or attempt to arrest them. These are easily carried in the coat pocket, as they are not bulky. There are parties-- sometimes old convicts--who lend tools out on hire.
When discovered by the inmates they are generally disposed to make their escape rather than to fight, and try to avoid violence unless hotly pursued. If driven to extremity, they are ready to use the lifepreserver, jemmy, or other weapon.
Sometimes they carry a life-preserver of a peculiar style, consisting of a small ball attached to a piece of gut, that fastens round the wrist. With this instrument, easily carried in the palm of the hand, they can strike the persons who oppose them senseless, and severely injure them.
In going up and down stairs, they often creep up not in the centre but the side of the stair, to avoid being heard, as it is apt to creak beneath the footstep, and they generally take off their shoes to move more stealthily along.
They often use the cutter to make an opening in the middle of the panel sufficiently large to admit the arm, to undo locks or bolts they cannot reach outside.
Sometimes when the key is inside, and the door locked, they open it with a small pair of plyers; others use a long piece of wire, with a hoop put through the keyhole to lay hold of the bowl of the key. When the hook is fastened in it, they can as easily undo the lock as if they turned the key from the inside. Some burglars prefer the wire, others use the plyers. They generally prefer the cutter to the centre-bit in removing any woodwork. It resembles the centre-bit, but takes a much larger piece out, and does so more speedily. The cutter costs from 15s. to 1l. In the absence of a cutter, they sometimes work with a couple of gimlets and a knife, but this requires more time and makes more noise, though not sufficient to disturb the inmates of the house, if used expertly.
At the back of the house they enter through the kitchen window on the basement, or by the parlour window above it on the first floor, or by the window of the staircase alongside of the latter.
If experienced burglars, they listen at the doors of the apartments, and know by the breathing in general if the inmates are sound asleep. They sometimes begin their operations by going up to the highest floor, and work their way down, carrying off the plunder. After having finished what they call their work, they await the signal from the “watch” set outside. These signals are sometimes given by one or more coughs; some give a whistle, or sing a certain song, or tap on the door or shutter, or make a particular cry, understood between the parties.
Should the plunder be bulky, they will have a cart or a cab, or a costermonger‘s barrow, ready on a given signal to carry it away. They in general wait for the time when the police are changed, if the inmates are not getting up, sometimes coming out at the front door, but oftener at the back.
A remarkable case of burglary was committed in a dwelling-house in a fashionable square in the West-end about twelve months ago, and was effected in this manner. One day a well-dressed young man passed by an area and took special notice of the cook, who happened to be looking out of the window. Another day the same young man in passing by accosted this servant, and made an appointment to meet her on a certain occasion to go out to walk. This correspondence lasted for a short time, when the young man was invited to tea at the house, to spend a social evening. He was accompanied by a “pal” of his, a young Frenchman, who courted the housemaid, while the other made love to the cook. During their visit to the house, the family being then absent, one of the young men pretended to be very unwell, and thought a walk in the garden at the back of the house would be beneficial to him, and was accompanied there by one of the servant girls.
Meanwhile the housemaid and her friend had adjourned to one of the upper rooms. It was proposed by the Frenchman that his lady-love should partake of some gin or brandy as refreshment, to which she consented. He went out for the purpose of purchasing it, while she went down stairs to the kitchen. On his going out he left the front-door open, by which one of his confederates, a third party, entered the house, and passed upstairs, broke open several lockfasts, and stole the whole of the plate.
The Frenchman, meanwhile, returned with the liquor, and went downstairs to the kitchen, where he made merry with his fair lady and her companions. When they were seated regaling themselves over this liquor the door-bell rang. One of the girls went to the door and found no person there. This was a signal agreed on between the thieves. One of the young men still pretending to feel unwell proposed to go home with his companion, promising to call on a future occasion, when they would be able to spend a more comfortable evening than they had done on account of his illness.
One of the servants, on going upstairs after their departure, found the plate stolen. Information was given to the police, when these agreeable young men and their unknown friend were found to belong to a gang of most expert thieves. They were tried at Westminster Sessions for this offence, and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude.
About eighteen months ago, two desperate burglars attempted to enter a fashionable dwelling-house at Westbourne Park, Paddington, belonging to a merchant in the City. One of them was a tall, raw-boned, muscular man, of about twenty-five years of age, dressed in a blue frock-coat, dark cord trousers, black vest and beaver hat. The other was a man of thirty years of age, short and stout, nearly similarly attired. The first had the appearance of a blacksmith, with a determined countenance; the other had a more pleasing aspect, yet resolute. They were armed with a long chisel and heavy crowbar.
They got over several walls, and came up along the back to this dwelling-house in the centre of these villas, situated on the edge of the Great Western Railway. On reaching the garden they went direct to the window of the dining-room on the groundfloor.
As there had been several burglaries committed in the neighbourhood of those villas about this time, an experienced and able detective officer was sent out to watch.
While the detective, a tall, powerful, resolute man, was sitting alone in the dusk under a tree in an adjoining garden, and another criminal officer was stationed a short distance off, at about two o‘clock in the morning the former officer heard the shutters crash in the windows of an adjoining house nearly in front of where he stood. The burglars had approached so softly he did not hear their footsteps, and was not aware of their presence till then. On hearing this noise he drew close to the house, and was seen by one of the thieves--the shortest one called Jack. The detective officer immediately sprung his rattle, rushed on this man and seized him. His companion on this ran from the end of the house and struck the officer across the back with a heavy crowbar. By a sudden movement of his body the latter partially avoided the force of the blow. Had it struck him on the head it would have killed him on the spot; and being a strong muscular man he knocked the shorter man down with a heavy walking-stick he had in his hand, and at the same time rushed on his taller companion, seized him by the throat, and endeavoured to wrench the iron bar from his grasp.
The other burglar had meantime made his escape into an adjoining garden, and was captured, after a desperate struggle, by the other criminal officer, who had come up.
During the scuffle between the officers and burglars the proprietor of the house, in a panic, threw up his bedroom window looking into the garden at the back of the house, and, without giving any call, fired off a pistol. He did this to alarm the neighbourhood, not being aware that the officers were so near him, and supposing that the burglars were in his house.
The other burglar was secured after a determined struggle, and both were with difficulty conveyed to the Marylebone police station by five strong officers. They were next day taken before the magistrates, and charged with attempting to enter this house, and with assaulting the officers in the execution of their duty. They were sentenced to three months each in Clerkenwell prison, with hard labour for the former offence, and with a similar punishment for the latter.
About two years ago a burglary was committed in Charles Street, Gloucester Terrace, Paddington, opposite the Cleveland Arms, by two men and a woman. One of the men was about forty-six years of age, an old desperate burglar, who had been twice transported, and was then on ticket-of-leave. Shortly before, he had been apprehended in St. George‘s burying-ground, at the rear of some houses in the Bayswater road, with a screw-driver, jemmy, and dark lantern, when he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment as a rogue and vagabond.
He was a stout man, with very bushy whiskers, of a coarse appearance. The other was a young man about nineteen, dressed as a mechanic, of a cheerful countenance, with brown hair and moustache. The woman was about twenty-three years of age, short and stout, with an engaging appearance.
During the night, they had forced open an iron grating in front of a house in Charles Street, Paddington, and had let themselves down into the area. They bored three holes with a centre-bit in the door of the house, then cut the panel, and put their arm through, and undoing the fastening of the door, got into the kitchen. From this they went up to a door leading to the staircase, which was locked. They cut several holes with the centre-bit, and made an opening in this door in like manner. They then went upstairs to the first-floor, and stole a quantity of wearing apparel, and some jewellery, such as rings, studs, &c., and also a watch.
The inmates were sleeping at the top of the house, and had not been disturbed by these operations. The property rifled amounted to about 15l.
One of the burglars left his hat behind him and a pair of old boots. The detective officer sent after them knew the hat to belong to this old-returned convict; went to Lisson Grove and arrested both the men, who happened to be together, and found part of the wearing apparel upon them. The remaining part of the property was traced as having been pledged by the woman, who was also apprehended. They were committed for trial for the burglary, and tried at the Old Bailey. The old man being an inveterate offender was sentenced to fifteen years’ penal servitude; the others, who had been previously convicted, to four years’; and the girl to twelve months’ imprisonment.
In the month of October, 1850, a burglary was committed by three men in the Regent‘s Park, which attracted considerable attention. One of them, named William Dyson, called the Galloway Doctor, was five feet six inches high, pockpitted, with pale face and red whiskers, and about thirty-two years of age; James Mahon, alias Holmsdale, five feet ten inches high, was robust in form, and aged thirty-four years; John Mitchell was five feet six inches high, stout made, with a pug nose, and aged forty years. They entered the house of Mr. Alford, an American merchant, in Regent‘s Park, at two o‘clock in the morning. They climbed over a back wall into the garden, and got in through a back parlour window by pushing back the catch with a knife. They then forced the shutters open with a jemmy, got into the back-parlour where the butler was lying asleep, and unlocked the door to go through the house, as it was known that Mr. Alford was very wealthy. When they got on the staircase one of their feet slipped, which awoke the butler, who jumped up, and seized Dyson and Mahon, and wrestled with them, at the same time alarming the other inmates of the house. He was knocked down by a blow from a life-preserver, on which the burglars made their escape by jumping out of the backparlour window again. The butler, on getting up, seized his fowling-piece, which lay loaded beside him, and told them as they were running away to stop, or he would fire upon them. He fired, and shot Mitchell in the back near the shoulder with goose shot, as he was getting over a back wall to make his escape.
The police, on hearing the report of the gun, came up and secured Holmsdale and Dyson in the garden, when they were taken to Marylebone police office.
Soon after an anonymous letter was sent to the police-station of the M division stating there was a man in Surrey Street, Blackfriars Road, lying in bed in a certain house, who had been shot in the back when attempting a burglary in Regent‘s Park. He had on a woman‘s nightcap and nightgown, so that if any one went into the room they would fancy him to be a female. Inspector Berry of the M division went to the above house, and found Mitchell in bed in female disguise. He was taken into custody, and made to dress in his own clothes. On examining them there were holes in his fustian frock-coat where the shot had passed through. He was taken to Marylebone police court and put alongside the other two prisoners, and identified as having been seen in the neighbourhood of the Regent‘s Park on the morning before the burglary was committed. He had been seen by the police to leave a notorious public-house frequented by burglars, at the Old Mint in the Borough. They were committed at the Central Criminal Court, tried on 25th November, 1850, convicted, and sentenced to be transported for life. Holmsdale having been previously transported for ten years, and Mitchell and Dyson also having been formerly convicted.
We took the particulars of the following burglary from the lips of a man who was a few years ago one of the most experienced and expert burglars in the metropolis, and give it as an instance of the ingenuity and daring of this class of London brigands:--
In the year 1850 a burglary was attempted to be committed at a furrier‘s at the corner of Regent Street near Oxford Street by three cracksmen. One of them, Henry Edgar, was about five feet seven inches high, of fair complexion, with large features, brown hair, and gentlemanly appearance, dressed in elegant style, with jewellery, rings, and chain, and frilled shirt. A second party, Edward Edgar Blackwell, was the son of a respectable cutler in Soho, about five feet two inches high, of fair complexion, teeth out in front, with sullen look, also fashionably dressed, though inferior to the other. The third person was slim made, about five feet six inches high, dark complexion, with dark whiskers and genteel appearance, a gentle, but keen dark eye, and elegantly dressed.
They went to a public-house between ten and eleven o‘clock, when the two former went back into a yard with the pretence of going to the water-closet. The publican did not miss them. The house was closed at twelve o‘clock, and they were not discovered. The third party went out to give them their signals at the time formerly arranged between them. He did not give them any signal, but they, being impatient and accustomed to the work, thought they would try it themselves. They went up by a fire-escape, and got on to the parapet of the furrier‘s house, at the corner of Regent Street. Here they cut two panes of glass in a garret window, with a knife, at the same time removing the division between them. The servant going to bed in the dark, discovered the two men. Giving no alarm, she went down stairs to her master. The master came up, with two loaded pistols in his hand, presented them at the garret window, telling them if they attempted to escape he would shoot them. Edward Edgar Blackwell was so frightened that he lost his presence of mind, and fell from the parapet into the yard, a height of three storeys, and was killed on the spot. Henry Edgar, being more courageous, made a desperate leap to the top of a house in Regent Street, and got through a trapdoor, and made his way into a second floor front in Argyle Street, where people were sleeping, and alarmed them. To prevent their taking him, he leaped from a second floor window. Some people, passing-by, saw him jump from the window, and gave information to the police. He was, thereupon, arrested, and conveyed in a cab, with the dead body of his “pal,” to Vine Street police station.
It was afterwards ascertained that his ankle was dislocated, and he was removed to Middlesex Hospital, where he was watched eight hours by successive police- men. His friends were allowed to see him, and by ingenious means one of them contrived to effect his escape. They conveyed him from the hospital in a cab to Green Street, Friars Street, Blackfriars Road; then removed him in a cab to the Commercial Road near Whitechapel. Soon after, his companions took a house for him in Corbett‘s Place, Spitalfields, when he was given into the hands of the police by a brother of one of his “pals,” who went to Vine Street station, and lodged information. He was arrested before he could lay his hand on his pistols, committed for trial, and sentenced to penal servitude.
We give the following as an illustration of the ingenuity and perseverance of the cracksmen of the metropolis--
A burglary was committed some years since, at a warehouse in the City, where the premises were securely fastened in front, and the servants were let out by a strong door at the back, secured by three strong locks. There was no one sleeping on the premises. The burglars had first to make keys to get through the outer door into the premises, and had then to get a key to a patent lock for an iron door into a private counting-house. They made another key for a very strong safe which, when opened, had a recess at the bottom enclosed with folding doors also secured by a patent lock. Before they got to the booty they had to make six keys of patent locks.
Not satisfied with this, they made a key for the patent lock of another iron door, leading to another portion of the premises where there was a second iron safe.
They were occupied four months getting the whole of these keys to fit, and had to watch favourable opportunities when the police were absent from that portion of their beat.
The thieves, during the night, carried off two iron boxes containing railway-shares, bills, and similar property to the extent of 13,000l., besides other valuable articles.
Through the ingenuity of certain police officers employed to trace the robbery, the whole of the scrip and documents were recovered while certain unprincipled Jews were negotiating to purchase them.
Some burglars, after they have secured valuable booty, do not attempt another burglary for a time. Others go out the very next night, and commit other depredations, as they are avaricious for money. Some of them lose it by keeping it loosely in the house, or placing it in the bank, when the women they cohabit with reap the benefit. These females often try to induce them to save money and place it in their name in the bank, so that if their paramour gets apprehended, they have the pleasure of spending his ill-gotten wealth.
Some cracksmen succeed occasionally in rifling large quantities of valuable property or money. In such instances they live luxuriously, and spend large sums on pleasure, women, wine, and gambling. Some of them keep their females in splendid style, and live in furnished apartments in quiet respectable streets. Others are afraid to keep women, as the latter are frequently the cause of their being brought to justice.
There are some old burglars at present, keeping cabs, omnibuses, and public houses, whose wealth has been secured chiefly from plunder they have rifled from premises with their own hands, or received from burglars since they have abandoned their midnight work. They had the self-command to abandon their criminal courses after a time, while the most of the others have been more shortsighted. Some of these persons, though abounding in wealth, receive stolen goods, and are ready to open their houses at any hour of the night.
There are great numbers of expert cracksmen known to the police in different parts of the metropolis. Many of these reside on the Surrey side, about Waterloo Road and Kent Road, in the Borough, Hackney and Kingsland Roads, and other localities. Some of them have a fine appearance, and are fashionably dressed, and would not be known, except by persons personally acquainted with them.
A number of most expert cracksmen belonging to the felon class of Irish cockneys, have learned no trade, and have no fixed occupation. Others come to their ranks who have been carpenters and smiths, brass-finishers, shoemakers, mechanics, and even tailors. Sometimes fast young men have taken to this desperate mode of life. Some pickpockets, daring in disposition, or driven to extremity have become burglars. In a short time they learn to use their tools with great expertness; great numbers have been trained by a few leading burglars; some are as young as sixteen or seventeen years; others as old as forty or forty-five--incorrigible old convicts.
Tools are secretly made for them in London, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, and other places. Some burglars keep a set of fine tools of considerable value. Others have indifferent instruments, and are not so expert.
They find very convenient agents in some of the cab-drivers of the metropolis, who for a piece of money are very ready to assist in conveying them at night to the neighbourhood of the houses where they perpetrate their burglaries, and in carrying off the stolen property, and some of the employers of these cab-drivers are as willing to receive it at an underprice.
They have no difficulty in finding unprincipled people to open their houses to receive the stolen property temporarily or otherwise. There are many houses of well-known receivers; then there are hundreds of low public-houses, beer-shops, coffee-shops, brothels, and other places of bad character, where they can leave it for a few hours, or for days, placing one of their gang in the house for a time, until they have arranged with the receivers to purchase it. There are certain well-known beer-shops and public-houses where the burglars meet with the receivers. They meet them in beer-shops in the purlieus of Whitechapel, and in the quieter publichouses and splendid gin-palaces of the West-end.
There are a number of French burglars in London, who are as ingenious, daring, and expert as the English. There are also some Germans and a few Italians, but who are not considered so clever.
Few of the cracksmen in the metropolis are married--though some are. They often live with prostitutes, or with servants, and other females they have seduced. Some have children whom they send to school, but many of them have none. They frequently train up some of their boys to enter the fanlights or windows, and to assist them in their midnight villanies.
While most of the burglars are city trained, a number come from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Bristol. These occasionally work with the London thieves, and the London thieves go occasionally to the provinces to work with them. This is done in the event of their being well known to the police.
For example, a gang of Liverpool thieves might know a house there where valuable property could be conveniently reached. Their being in the neighbourhood might excite suspicion. Under these circumstances they sometimes send to thieves they are acquainted with in London, who proceed thither and plunder the house. Sometimes, in similar circumstances, the London burglars get persons from the provinces to commit robberies in the metropolis--both parties sharing in the booty. In a place where they are not known, they do it themselves.
The burglars in our day are not in general such desperate men as those in former times. They are better known to the police than formerly, and are kept under more strict surveillance. Many of the cracksmen have been repeatedly subjected to prison discipline, and have their spirits in a great measure subdued. The crime of our country is not so bold and open as in the days of the redoubtable men whose dark deeds are recorded in the Newgate Calendar. It has assumed more subtle forms, instead of bold swagger and defiance--and has more of the secret, restless, and deceitful character of our great arch-enemy.
Number of burglaries in the Metropolitan districts for 1860 192
Ditto ditto in the City 12
Value of property abstracted in the Metropolitan districts £ 2,852
Ditto ditto in the City £332
TOTAL £ 3,184
Narrative of a Burglar.
THE following narrative was given us by an expert burglar and returned convict we met one evening in the West-end of the metropolis. For a considerable number of years he had been engaged in a long series of burglareis connected with several gangs of thieves, and had been so singularly cunning and adroit in his movements he had never been caught in the act of plunder; but was at last betrayed into the hands of the police by one of his confederates, who had quarrelled with him while indulging rather freely in liquor. He was often employed as a putter up of burglaries in various parts of the metropolis, and was generally an outsider on the watch while some of his pals were rifling the house. We visited him at his house in one of the gloomiest lanes in a very low neighbourhood, inhabited chiefly by thieves and prostitutes, and took down from his lips the following recital. In the first part of his autobiography he was very frank and candid, but as he proceeded became more slow and calculating in his disclosures. We hinted to him he was “timid.” “No,” he replied, “I am not timid, but I am cautious, which you need not be surprised at.” He was then seated by the fire beside his paramour, a very clever woman, whose history is perhaps as wild and romantic as his own. He is a slim-made man, beneath the middle size, with a keen dark intelligent eye, and about thirty-six years of age. He is good-looking, and very smart in his movements, and was in the attire of a well-dressed mechanic.
I was born in the city of London in the year 1825. My father was foreman to a coach and harness-maker in Oxford Street. My mother, before her marriage, was a milliner. They had eleven children, and I was the youngest but two. I had six brothers and four sisters. My father had a good salary coming in to support his family, and we lived in comfort and respectability up to his death. He died when I was only about eight years old. My mother was left with eleven children, with very scanty means. Having to support so large a family she soon after became reduced in circumstances. My eldest brother was subject to fits, and died at the age of twenty-four years. He occupied my father‘s place while he lived. My second brother went to work at the same shop, but got into idle and dissipated habits, and was thrown out of employment. He afterwards got a situation in a lace-maker‘s shop, and had to leave for misconduct. He then went to a druggist‘s, and had to leave for the same cause. After this he got a situation as potman to a public-house, which completed his ruin. He took every opportunity to lead his younger brothers astray instead of setting us a good example.
My brother next to him in age did not follow his bad courses, but I was not so fortunate. I went to school at Mr. Low‘s, Harp Alley, Farringdon Street, but I did not stay there long. At nine years of age I was sent out to work, to help to support myself. I went to work at cotton-winding, and only got 3s. a week. I sometimes worked all night, and had 9d. for it, in addition to my 3s., and often gained 3s. a week besides the six days’ wages. I was very happy then to think I could earn so much money, being so young. At this time I was only nine years of age. My brother tried to tempt me to pilfer from my master, but he failed then. I afterwards got a better situation at a trunkmaker's in the City. There my mistress and young master took a liking to me. I was earning 7s. a week, and was only ten years of age. At this time my brother succeeded in tempting me to rob my employers after I had been two months in their service. I carried off wearing apparel and silver plate to the value of several pounds, which my brother disposed of, while he only gave me a few halfpence. I was suspected to be the thief, and was discharged in consequence. I got another situation in a bookbinder‘s shop, and was not eleven years old then.
My brother did not succeed for two or three months to get me to plunder my master, although he often tried to prevail on me to do so. My master had no plate to lose.
I used to take out boards of books; one night my brother met me coming from the binder‘s with a truck loaded with books, stopt me, and pretended to be very kind by giving me money to go and buy a pie at a pie-shop. When I came out I found the books were gone and the truck empty. My brother was standing at the door waiting me, but he had companions who meantime emptied the truck of the whole of the contents. I told him he must know who had taken them, but he told me he did not. He desired me to say to my master that a strange man had sent me to get a pie for him and one for myself, and when I came back the books and the man had both disappeared. He told me if I did not say this I would get myself into trouble and him too. I went and told my master the tale my brother had told me. He sent for a policeman, and tried to frighten me to tell the truth. I would not alter from what I had told him, though he tried very hard to get me to do so. He kept me till Saturday night and discharged me, but endeavoured in the meanwhile to get me to unfold the truth, so I was thrown out of employment again.
I then went to work at the blacking trade, and had a kinder master than ever. My wages were 7s. a week. I then made up my mind that my brother should not tempt me to steal another time. I was in this situation a year and nine months before my brother succeeded in inducing me to commit another robbery. My master was very kind and generous to me, increased my wages from 7s. to 16s. a week as I was becoming of more service to him.
We made the blacking with sugarcandy and other ingredients. I was the only lad introduced into the apartment where the blacking was made and the sugarcandy was kept. My brother tempted me to bring him a small quantity of sugarcandy at first. I did so, and he threatened to let my mother know if I did not fetch more. At first I took home 71bs. of candy, and at last would carry off a larger quantity. I used to get a trifle of money from my brother for this. Being strongly attached to him, up to this time he had great influence over me.
One day, after bringing him a quantity of sugar-candy, I watched him to see where he sold it. He went into a shop in the City where the person retailed sweets. After he came out of the shop I went in and asked the man in the shop if he would buy some from me, as I was the brother of the young man who had just called in, and had got him the sugar-candy. He told me he would buy as much as I liked to bring.
I used to bring large quantities to him, generally in the evening, and carried it in a bag. The sugar-candy I should have mixed in the blacking I laid aside till I had an opportunity of carrying it to the receiver. My master continued to be very fond of me, and had strong confidence in me until I got a young lad into the shop beside me, who knew what I had been doing, and informed him of my conduct. He wanted to get me discharged, as he thought he would get my situation, which he did. He told my master I was plundering him; but my master would not believe him until he pointed out a low coffee-house where I used to go, which was frequented by bad characters. My master came into this den of infamy one evening when I was there, and persuaded me to come away with him, which I did. He told me he would forget all I was guilty of, if I would keep better company and behave myself properly in future. I conducted myself better for about a week, but I had got inveigled into bad company through my brother. These lads waited about my employer‘s premises for me at meal-times and at night. At last they prevailed on me again to go to the same coffee-house. The young lad I had got into the shop beside me soon found means to acquaint my master. He came to see me in the coffee-house again; but I had been prevailed on to drink that evening, and was the worse of intoxicating liquor, although I was not fourteen years of age. My master tried all manner of kind means to persuade me to leave that house, but I would not do so, and insulted him for his kindness.
On the following morning he paid a visit to my mother‘s house while I was at breakfast. My mother and he tried to persuade me to go back and finish my week‘s work, but I was too proud, and would not go back. He then paid my mother my fortnight‘s wages, and said if I would attend church twice each week he would again take me back into his service. I never attended any church at all, for I had then got into bad habits, and cared no more about work.
I lived at home with my mother for a short time, and she was very kind to me, and gave me great indulgence. She wished me to remain at home with her to assist in her business as a greengrocer, and used to allow me from 1s. to 1s. 3d. of pocketmoney a day. My old companions still followed me about, and prevailed on me to go to the Victoria Theatre. On one of these occasions I was much struck with the play of Oliver Twist. I also saw Jack Sheppard performed there, and was much impressed with it.
Soon after this I left my mother‘s house, and took lodgings at the coffeehouse, where my master found me, and engaged in an open criminal career. About this time ladies generally carried reticules on their arm. My companions were in the habit of following them and cutting the strings, and carrying them off. They sometimes contained a purse with money and other property. I occasionally engaged in these robberies for about three months. Sometimes I succeeded in getting a considerable sum of money; at other times only a few shillings.
I was afterwards prevailed on to join another gang of thieves, expert shoplifters. They generally confined themselves to the stationers’ shops, and carried off silver pencil-cases, silver and gold mounted scent-bottles, and other articles, and I was engaged for a month at this.
Being well-dressed, I would go into a shop and price an article of jewellery, or such like valuable, and after getting it in my hand would dart out of the shop with it. I carried on this system occasionally, and was never apprehended, and became very venturesome in robbery.
I was then about sixteen years of age. A young man came from sea of the name of Philip Scott, who had in former years been a playmate of mine. He requested me to go to one of the theatres with him, when Jack Sheppard was again performed. We were both remarkably pleased with the play, and soon after determined to try our hand at housebreaking.
He knew of a place in the City where some plate could be got at. We went out one night with a screw-driver and a knife to plunder it. I assisted him in getting over a wall at the back of the house. He entered from a back-window by pushing the catch back with a knife. He had not been in above three quarters of an hour when he handed me a silver pot and cream-jug from the wall. I conveyed these to the coffee-shop in which we lodged, when we afterwards disposed of them. The young man was well acquainted with this house, as his father was often employed jobbing about it.
After this I cohabited with a female, but my ‘pal’ did not, although we lived in the same house.
Soon after we committed another burglary in the south-side of the metropolis, by entering the kitchen window of a private house at the back. I watched while my comrade entered the house. He cut a pane of glass out, and drew the catch back. After gathering what plate he could find lying about, he went up-stairs and got some more plate. We sold this to a receiver in Clerkenwell for about 9l. 18s. From this house we also carried off some wearing apparel. Each of us took three shirts, two coats and an umbrella.
Some time after this we made up our minds to try another burglary in the city. We secreted ourselves in a brewer‘s yard beside the house we intended to plunder, about eight o‘clock in the evening, before it was shut up. We cut a panel out of a shutter in the dining-room window on the first floor, but were disturbed when attempting this robbery. I ran off and got away. My companion was not so fortunate; he was captured, and got several months’ imprisonment.
A week after I joined two other burglars. We resolved to attempt a burglary in a certain shop in the East-end of the metropolis. There happened to be a dog in the shop. As usual I kept watch outside, while the other two entered from the first-floor window, which had no shutters. So soon as they got in the dog barked. They cut the dog‘s throat with a knife, and began to plunder the shop of pencil cases, scent-bottles, postage-stamps, &c., and went up-stairs, and carried off pieces of plate. The inmates of the house slept in the upper part of the house. The property when brought to the receiver sold for about 42l.
Another burglary was committed by us at a haberdasher‘s shop in the West end. While I kept watch, the other two climbed to the top of a warehouse at the back of the shop, wrenched open the window on the roof, and having tied a rope to an iron bar, they lowered themselves down, broke open the desks and till, and got a considerable sum of money, nearly all in silver. They then went to the first-floor drawing-room window over the shop, and entered. The door of this room being locked, they cut out a panel, put their arm through and forced back the lock. They found only a small quantity of plate along with a handsome gold watch and chain. The few articles of plate sold for 38s., and the watch and chain for 7l. 15s.
The thieves entered about one o‘clock at midnight, and went out about a quarter past five in the morning.
These are the only jobs I did with these two men, until my comrade came out of prison, when we commenced again. We committed burglaries in different parts of London, at silk-mercers, stationers’ shops, and dwelling-houses--some of considerable value; in others the booty was small.
In these burglaries numbers of other parties were engaged with us--some of them belonging to the Borough, others to St. Giles‘s, Golden Lane, St. Luke‘s, and other localities.
In 1850 I took a part in a burglary in a shop in the south-side of the metropolis along with two other parties. One went inside, and the others were on the watch without. We got access to the shop by the back-yard of a neighbouring public house, which is usually effected in this way. One person goes to the bar, and gets into conversation with the barmaid, while one or more of their ‘pals’ takes a favourable opportunity of slipping back into the yard or court behind the house. This is often done about a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, before the house is shut up. The party who kept the barmaid in conversation, would go to the back of the house, and assist the other burglar who was to enter the house in getting over the wall. So soon as this is effected, his other ‘pal’ comes out again. If the wall can be easily climbed, the party who enters lurks concealed in the water-closet, or some of the outhouses, till the time of effecting the burglary.
The house intended to be entered is sometimes five or six houses away from this public-house, and sometimes the next house to it.
When all is ready, the outside man gives the signal. The signal given from the front, such as a cough or otherwise, can be heard by his confederate behind the house. On hearing it the latter begins his work. In this instance the burglar entered the premises by cutting open the shutters of a window in the first floor to the back. He then cut a pane of glass, and removed the catch, and went down stairs into the shop, and took from a desk about 60l. in money, with several valuable snuff-boxes and other articles. He had to wait till the morning before he could get out. The police seemed to have a suspicion that all was not right, but he got out of the shop about the time when the police were changed.
I was connected with another bur- glary, committed in the same year in the West-end in a linendraper‘s shop. It was entered from a public-house in the same manner as in the one described. The same person was engaged inside, while the others were stationed outside. The signal to begin work was given about one o‘clock. He had first to remove an iron bar at the first floor landing window to the back, which he did with his jack. (The bars had been seen in the day-time, and we bought this instrument to remove them.) He removed the bar in ten minutes, cut a pane of glass, and removed the two catches. By this means he effected an entry into the house, and to his surprise found the drawing-room was left unlocked. He proceeded there, and got nearly a whole service of plate. After he had gathered the plate up, he made his way toward the shop, cutting through the door which intercepted him. He went to the desk and found 72l. in silver money, and 12l. in gold. He also packed up half a dozen of new shirts and half a dozen of silk handkerchiefs.
He was ready to come out of the house, but a coffee-stall being opposite, and the policeman taking his coffee there, the outside man could not give him the signal for some time. To the great surprise of the burglar in the shop, he heard the servant coming down stairs, when he opened the door, and rushed suddenly out, while the policeman was on the kerb near by. He bade the policeman good morning as he passed along with two large bundles in his hands.
He had not gone fifty yards round the corner of the street, before the servant appeared at the door and asked the policeman as to the person who had just come out. Along with other two constables he gave chase to the burglar, but, being an active, athletic man, he effected his escape.
I was engaged with two others in another burglary in the West-end soon afterwards. Three persons were engaged in it: one to enter, and other two ‘pals’ to keep watch. We got access to the house by a mews, and got on the top of a wall, when I gave the end of a rope to my companion to hold by while he slid down on the other side. The house was entered at the kitchen window by removing two narrow bars with the jack, and sliding back the catch. There was no booty to be found in the kitchen. On going up-stairs our ‘pal’ got several pieces of plate, and other articles. On coming down into the shop, he got a quantity of receipt-stamps with a few postage-stamps.
The putter up of this robbery was a connection of the people of the house.
I was connected with another burglary in the south-side of the metropolis. A man who frequented a public-house there put up a burglary in a stationer‘s shop. Two persons were engaged in it, and got access to the premises to be plundered from the public-house. He then climbed several walls, and got access to the shop by a fanlight from behind. Here we found a large sum of money in gold and silver, which had been deposited in a bureau, some plate, and other articles. His ‘pal’ went to him at half past three, and gave him the signal. He came out soon after, and had only gone a short distance off when he heard a call for the police, and the rattle of the policeman was sprung.
After a desperate struggle with two constables, he was arrested and taken to the station, with the stolen property in his possession. He was tried and found guilty of committing the burglary, and for assaulting the constables by cutting and wounding them, and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation, having been four times previously convicted.
I have been engaged in many depredations from 1840 to 1851, many of which were ‘put up’ by myself.
In the year 1851 I was transported several years for burglary. I returned home on a ticket of leave in 1854, and was sent back in the following year for harbouring an escaped convict. I returned home in 1858, at the expiry of my sentence, and since that time have abandoned my former criminal life.
Narrative of another Burglar.
One evening as we had occasion to be in a narrow dark by-street in St. Giles‘s, we were accosted by a burglar--a returned convict whom we had met on a former occasion in the course of our rambles. We had repeatedly heard of this person as one of the most daring thieves in the metropolis, and were on the look-out for him at the very time when he fortunately crossed our path. He is a fair-complexioned man, of thirty-two years of age, about 5 feet 2 inches in height, slim made, with a keen grey eye. He was dressed in dark trousers, brown vest, and a grey frock coat buttoned up to the chin, and a cap drawn over his eyes. We hesitated at first as to whether this little man was capable of executing such venturesome feats; when he led us along the dark street to an adjoining back- court, took off his shoes and stockings, and ran up a waterspout to the top of a lofty house, and slid down again with surprising agility. Before we parted that evening, he was recommended to us by another burglar, a returned convict, and by another most intelligent young man, whom we are sorry to say has been a convicted criminal. He afterwards paid us a visit, when we were furnished with the following recital:-
I was born in the parish of St. Giles‘s in the Fields, in the year 1828. My father was a soldier in the British service; after his discharge he lived for some time in the neighbourhood of St. Giles‘s. He was an Irishman from the county of Limerick. My mother belonged to Cork. My eldest sister was married to a plasterer in London; my second sister has been sentenced to four years, and another sister to five years’ transportation, both for stealing watches on different occasions. I have another sister, who lately came out of prison after eighteen months’ imprisonment, and is now living an honest life.
I was never sent by my parents to school, but have learned to read a little by my own exertions; I have no knowledge of writing and arithmetic. I was sent out to get my living at ten years of age by selling oranges in the streets in a basket, and was very soon led into bad company. I sometimes played at pitch and toss, which trained me to gamble, and I often lost my money by this means.
I often remained out all night, and slept in the dark arches of the Adelphi on straw along with some other boys--one of them was a pickpocket who learned me to steal. It was not long before I was apprehended and committed at the Middlesex Assizes, and received six months’ imprisonment.
At this time I learned to swim, and was remarkably expert at it: when the tide was out I often used to swim across the Thames for sport. I continued to pick pockets occasionally for two years, and was at one time remanded for a week on a criminal charge and afterwards discharged. I used to take ladies’ purses by myself, and stole handkerchiefs, snuff-boxes, and pocketbooks from the tails of gentlemen‘s coats.
I left my home on the expiry of my six months’ imprisonment for stealing a pocketbook. My parents would gladly have taken me back, but I would not go. At this time I associated with a number of juvenile thieves. I had a good suit of clothes, which had been purchased before I went to prison, and having a respectable appearance I took to shop-lifting. I worked at
this about seven months, when I was arrested for stealing a coat at a shop in the Borough Road, and was sentenced to three months in Brixton Prison.
When I got out of prison I went to St. Giles‘s and cohabited with a prostitute. I was then about seventeen years of age. She was a fair girl, about five feet three inches in height, inclined to be stout,--a very handsome girl, about seventeen years of age. Her people lived in Tottenham Court Road, and were very respectable. She had been led astray before I met her, through the bad influence of another girl, and was a common prostitute. She was very kind-hearted. She was not long with me when I engaged with other two persons in a housebreaking in the West-end of the metropolis. On the basement of the house we intended to plunder was a counting-house, while the upper floors were occupied by the family as a dwelling-house. Our chief object was to get to the counting-house, which could be entered from the back. Our mode of entering was this.- At one o‘clock in the morning, one of the party was set to watch in the street, to give us the signal when no one was near - a young man was on the watch, while I and another climbed up by a waterspout to the roof of the counting-house. There was no other way of getting in but by cutting the lead off the house and making an opening sufficient for us to pass through.
The signal was given to enter the house, but at this time the policeman saw our shadow on the roof and sprung his rattle. The party who was keeping watch and my ‘pal’ on the roof both got away, but I hurt myself in getting down from the house-top to the street. I was apprehended and lodged in prison, and was tried at Middlesex Assizes and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment.
So soon as the time was expired, I met with another gang of burglars, more expert than the former. At this time I lived at Shoreditch, in the East-end of the metropolis. Four of us were associated together, averaging from twenty-two to twenty-three years of age. We engaged in a burglary in the City. It was hard to do. I was one of those selected to enter the shop; we had to climb over several walls before we reached the premises we intended to plunder. We cut through a panel of the back door. On finding my way into the shop I opened the door to my companions. We packed up some silks and other goods, and remained there very comfortable till the change of the policeman in the morning, when a cart was drawn up to the door, and the outside man gave us the signal. We drew the bolts and brought out the bags containing the booty, put them into the cart, and closed the door after us. We drove off to our lodgings, and sent for a person to purchase the goods. We got a considerable sum by this burglary, which was divided among us. I was then about twenty-two years of age. Our money was soon expended in going to theatres and in gambling, and besides we lived very expensively on the best viands, with wines and other liquors.
We perpetrated another burglary in the West-end. Three of us were engaged in it; one was stationed to watch, while I and another pal had to go in. We entered an empty house by skeleton-keys, and got into the next house; we lifted the trap off and got under the roof, and found an undertrap was fastened inside. We knew we could do nothing without the assistance of an umbrella. My comrade went down to our pal on the watch, and told him to buy an umbrella from some passer-by, the night being damp and rainy. We purchased one from a man in the vicinity for 2s.; my comrade brought it up to me under the roof. Having cut away several lathes, I made an opening with my knife in the plaster, and inserted the closed umbrella through it, and opened it with a jerk, to contain the falling wood and plaster. I broke some of the lathes off, and tore away some of the mortar, which fell in the umbrella. We effected an entry into the house from the roof. On going over the apartments we did not find what we expected; after all our trouble we only got 35l., some trinkets, and one piece of plate.
Burglars become more expert at their work by experience. Many of them are connected with some of the first mechanics in the metropolis. Wherever a patent lock can be found they frequently get a key to fit it. In this way even Chubbs and Bramahs can be opened, as burglars endeavour to get keys of this description of locks. They sometimes give 5l. for the impression of a single key, and make one of the same description, which serves for the same size of such locks on other occasions. An experienced burglar thereby has more facilities to open locks--even those which are patented.
I was connected with two pals in another burglary in a dwelling-house at the West-end. It was arranged that I should enter the house. I was lifted to the top of a wall about sixteen feet high, at the back of the premises, and had to come down by the ivy which grew on the garden wall; I had to get across another wall. The ivy was very thick, so that I had to cut part of it away to allow me to get over. I entered the house by the window without difficulty, having removed the catch in the middle with my knife. On a dressing-table in one of the bedrooms I found a gold watch, ring and chain, with 3l. 15s. in money, and a brace of double-barrelled pistols, which I secured. In the drawing-room I found some desert-spoons, a punch-ladle, and other pieces of silver plate--I looked to them to see they had the proper mark of silver; I found them to be silver, and folded them up carefully and put them into my pocket. On looking into some concealed drawers in a cabinet I found a will and other papers, which I knew were of no use to me; I put them back in their place and did not destroy any of them. I also found several articles of jewellery, and a few Irish one-pound notes. I put them all carefully in my pocket and came to the front-door. The signal was given that the cab was ready; I went out, drew the door close after me, and went away with the booty.
I entered about half-past eleven o‘clock at night, and came out at half-past two o‘clock. I saw a servant-girl sleeping in the back-kitchen, and two young ladies in a back-parlour. I did not go up to the top-floors, but heard them snoring. They awoke and spoke two or three times, which made me be careful.
I went along the passage very softly, in case I should have awakened the two young ladies in the back parlour as well as the servant in the kitchen. All was so quiet that the least sound in the world would have disturbed them.
I opened the door gently, and came out when the signal was given by my comrades. It was a cold, wet morning, which was favourable to us, as no one was about the street to see us, and the policeman was possibly, as on similar occasions, standing in some corner smoking his pipe. I jumped into the cab along with my two pals, and went to Westminster. The booty amounted to a considerable sum, which was divided among us. We spent the next three or four weeks very merrily along with our girls. On this occasion we gave the cabman two sovereigns for his trouble, whether the burglary came off or not, and plenty of drink.
A short time after, a person came up to me with whom I had associated, and played cards over some liquor in the West-end. He was a young man out of employment. He thus accosted me, ‘Jim, how are you getting on?’ I answered, ‘Pretty well.’ He asked me if I had any job on hand. I said I had not. I inquired if he had anything for me to do. He said he would give me a turn at the house of an old mistress of his. He told me the dressing-case with jewels lay in a back room on a table, but cautioned me to be very careful the butler did not see me, as he was often going up and down stairs. Two of us resolved to plunder the house. My companion was on the outside to watch, while I had to enter the house.
I got in with a skeleton key while they were at supper, and got up the stairs without any one observing me. On going to the back room I was disturbed by a young lady coming up stairs. I ran up to the second floor above to hide myself, and found a bed in the apartment. I concealed myself underneath the bed, when the lady and her servant came into the room with a light. They closed the door and pulled the curtains down, when the lady began to undress in presence of the servant. The servant began to wash her face and neck. The lady was a beautiful young creature. While lying under the bed I distinctly saw the maid put perfume on the lady‘s under linen. She then began to dress and decorate herself, and told the servant she was going out to her supper. She said she would not be home till two or three o‘clock in the morning, and did not wish the servant to remain up for her, but to leave the lamp burning. As soon as she and the waiting-maid had left the room, I got out of my hiding-place, and on looking around saw but a small booty, consisting of a small locket and gold chain; a gold pencilcase, and silver thimble. As I was returning down stairs with them in my pocket to get to the first floor back, I got possession of a case of jewels, which I thought of great value. I returned to the hall, and came out about twelve o‘clock without any signal from my comrade.
On taking the jewels to a person who received such plunder, he told us they were of small value, and were not brilliants and emeralds as we fancied. They were set in pure gold of the best quality, and only brought us 22l.
To look at them we fancied they would have been worth a much higher sum, and were sadly disappointed.
Soon after we resolved on another burglary in the West-end. One kept watch without while two of us entered the house by a grating underneath the shop window, and descended into the kitchen by a rope. We got a signal to work. The first thing we did was to lift up the kitchen window. When we got in we pulled the kitchen window down, drew down the blind, and lighted our taper. We looked round and saw nothing worth removing. We went to the staircase to get into the shop. As we were wrenching open a chest of drawers, a big cat which happened to be in the room was afraid of us. We got pieces of meat out of the safe and threw them to the cat. The animal was so excited that it jumped up on the mantelpiece, and broke a number of ornaments. This disturbed an old gentleman in the first-floor front. He called out to his servant, ‘John, there is somebody in the house.’ We had no means of getting the door open, and had to go out by the window. The old gentleman came down stairs in his nightgown with a brace of pistols, just as we were going out of the window. He fired, but missed us. I jumped so hastily that I hurt my bowels, and was conveyed by my companions in a cab to Westminster, and lay there for six weeks in an enfeebled condition. My money was spent, and as my young woman could not get any, my companions said you had better have a meeting of our “pals.” A friendly meeting was held, and they collected about 8l. to assist me.
When I recovered, to my great loss, my companion was taken on account of a job he had been attempting in Regent‘s Park. He was committed to the Old Bailey, tried, and transported for life. He was a good pal of mine, and for a time I supported his wife and children. On another occasion, I and another comrade met a potman at the West-end. He asked us for something to drink, as he said he was out of work. We did so, and also gave him something to eat. We entered into conversation with him. He told us about a house he lately served in, and said there could be a couple of hundreds got there or more before the brewer‘s bill was paid. We found out when the brewer‘s bill was to be paid. We asked the man where this money was kept. He told us that we would find it in the second-floor back.
We made arrangements as to the night when we would go. Three of us went out as usual. We found the lady of the house and her daughter serving at the bar. We had to pass the bar to go upstairs. There was a row got up in the tap-room with my companions. While the landlady ran in to see what was the matter, and the daughter ran out for the policeman, I slipped upstairs, and got into the room. The policeman knew one of my companions when he came in, and at once suspected there was some design. He asked if there had been any more besides these two. The landlady said there was another. I was coming down stairs with the cash-box when I heard this conversation. The constable asked leave to search the house. I ran with the cash-box up the staircase, and looked in the back room to see if there was any place to get away, but there was none. I took the cash-box up to the front garret, and was trying to break it open, but in the confusion I could not.
I fled out of the garret window and got on the roof to hide from the policeman. My footsteps were observed on the carpet and on the gutters as I went out and slipped in the mud on the roof. I intended to throw the cash-box to my companions, but they gave me the signal to get away. I had just time to take my boots off, when another constable came out of the garret window of the other house. I had no other alternative but to get along the roof where they could not follow me, and besides I was much nimbler than they. I went to the end of the row of houses, and did not go down the garret window near me. Seeing a waterspout leading to a stable-yard, I slipt down it, and climbed up another spout to the roof of the stable. I lay there for five hours till the police changed.
I managed to get down and went into the stable-yard, when the stable-man cried out, ‘Hollo! here he is.’ I saw there was no alternative but to fight for it. I had a jemmy in my pocket. He laid hold of me, when I struck him on the face with it, and he fell to the ground. I fled to the door, and came out into the main street, returned into Piccadilly, and passed through the Park gates. On coming home to Westminster I found one of my comrades had not come home. We sent to the police-station, and learned he was there. We sent him some provisions, and he gave us notice in a piece of paper concealed in some bread that I should keep out of the way as the police were after me, which would aggravate his case.
I then went to live at Whitechapel. Meantime some clever detectives were on my track, from information they received from the girls we used to cohabit with. We heard of this from a quarter some would not suspect. He told us to keep out of the way, and that he would let us know should he get any further information. At last my companion was committed for trial, tried, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. I did not join in any other burglary for some time after this, as the police were vigilantly looking for me. I kept myself concealed in the house of a cigar-maker in Whitechapel.
Another pal and I went one evening to a public-house in Whitechapel. My pal was a tall, athletic young fellow, of about nineteen years, handsomely dressed, with gold ring and pin, intelligent and daring. We had gone in to have a glass of rum and water, when we saw a sergeant belonging to a regiment of the line sitting in front of the bar. He asked us if we would have anything to drink. We said we would. He called for three glasses of brandy and water, and asked my companion if he would take a cigar. He did so. The sergeant said he was a fine young man, and would make an excellent soldier. On this he pulled out a purse of money and looked at the time on his gold watch. My comrade looked to me and gave me a signal, at the same time saying to the soldier, ‘Sergeant, I‘ll ‘list.’ He took the shilling offered him, and pretended to give him his name and address, giving a false alias, so that he should not be able to trace him.
He called for half a pint of rum and water, and put down the shilling he received from the sergeant. We took him into the bagatelle-room, and tried to get him to play with us, as we had a number of counterfeit sovereigns and forged cheques about us. He would not play except for a pint of half-and-half. On this he left us, and went in the direction of the barracks in Hyde Park. My comrade said to me, ‘We shall not leave him till we have plundered him.’ I was then the worse for liquor. We followed him. When he reached the Park gates I whispered to my companion that I would garotte him if he would assist me. He said he would. On this I sprung at his neck. Being a stronger man than I, he struggled violently. I still kept hold of him until he became senseless. My companion took his watch, his pocket-book, papers, and money, consisting of some pieces of gold, and a 5l. note. We sold the gold watch and chain for 8l.
Along with my pal, I went into a skittle-ground in the City to have a game at skittles by ourselves, when two skittle-sharps who knew us well quarrelled with us about the game. My companion and I made a bet with them, which we lost, chiefly owing to my fault, which irritated him. He said, ‘Never mind; there is more money in the world, and we will have it ere long, or they shall have us.’ One of the skittle-sharps said to us insultingly, ‘Go and thieve for more, and we will play you.’ On this we got angry at them. My pal took up his life-preserver, and struck the skittle-sharp on the head.
A policeman was sent for to apprehend him. I put the life-preserver in the fire as the door was shut on us, and we could not get away. On the policeman coming in my pal was to be given in charge by the landlord and landlady of the house. The skittle-sharp who had been struck rose up bleeding, and said to the landlord and landlady, ‘What do you know of the affair? Let us settle the matter between ourselves.’ The policeman declined to interfere. We took brandy-and-water with the skittle-sharps, and parted in the most friendly terms.
One day we happened to see a gentleman draw a pocket-book out of his coat-pocket, and relieve a poor crossing-sweeper with a piece of silver. He returned it into his pocket. I said to my pal, ‘Here is a piece of money for us.’ I followed after him and came up to him about Regent‘s Park, put my hand into his coat-pocket, seized the pocket-book, and passed it to my comrade. An old woman who kept an apple-stall had seen me; and when my back was turned went up and told the gentleman. The latter followed us until he saw a policeman, while I was not aware of it; being eager to know the contents of the pocket-book I had handed to my comrade, he being at the time in distress. We went into a public-house to see the contents, and called for a glass of brandy-and-water. We found there were three 10l. notes and a 5l. note, and two sovereigns, with some silver. The policeman meantime came in and seized my hand, and at the same time took the pocket-book from me before I had time to prevent him.
The gentleman laid hold of my companion, but was struck to the ground by the latter. He then assisted to rescue me from the policeman. By the assistance of the potman and a few men in the taproom, they overpowered me, but my comrade got away. I was taken to the police court and committed for trial, and was afterwards tried and sentenced to seven years transportation.
On one occasion, after my return from transportation, I and a companion of mine met a young woman we were well acquainted with who belonged to our own class of Irish cockneys. She was then a servant in a family next door to a surgeon. She asked us how we were getting on, and treated us to brandy. We asked her if we could rifle her mistress‘s house, when she said she was very kind to her, and she would not permit us to hurt a hair of her head or to take away a farthing of her property. She told us there was a surgeon who lived next door--a young man who was out at all hours of the night, and sometimes all night. She informed us there was nobody in the house but an old servant who slept up stairs in a garret.
The door opened by a latch-key, and when the surgeon. was out the gas was generally kept rather low in the hall. We watched him go out one evening at eleven o‘clock, applied a key to the door, and entered the house. The young woman promised to give us the signal when the surgeon came in. We had not been long in when we heard the signal given. I got under the sofa in his surgical room; the gas used to burn there all night while he was out. My companion was behind a chest of drawers which stood at a small distance from the wall. As the surgeon came in I saw him take his hat off, when he sat down on the sofa above me.
As he was taking his boots off, he bent down and saw one of my feet under the sofa. He laid hold of it, and dragged me from under the sofa. He was a strong man, and kneeled on my back with my face turned to the floor. I gave a signal to my companion behind him, who struck him a violent blow on the back, not to hurt him, but to stun him, which felled him to the floor. I jumped up and ran out of the door with my companion. He ran after us and followed us through the street while I ran in my stockings. Our female friend, the servant, had the presence of mind and courage to run into the house and get my boots. She carried them into the house of her employer, and then looked out and gave the alarm of ‘Thieves!’ We got a booty of 43l.
One night I went to an Irish penny ball in St. Giles‘s, and had a dance with a young Irish girl of about nineteen years of age. This was the first time she saw me. I was a good dancer, and she was much pleased with me. She was a beautiful and handsome girl--a costermonger, and a good dancer. We went out and had some intoxicating liquor, which she had not been used to. She wished me to make her a present of a white silk handkerchief, with the shamrock, rose, and thistle on it, and a harp in the middle, which I could not refuse her. She gave me in exchange a green handkerchief from her neck. We corresponded after this for some time. She did not know then that I was a burglar and thief. She asked me my occupation, and I told her I was a pianoforte maker. One night I asked her to come out with me to go to a penny Irish ball. I kept her out late, and seduced her. She did not go back to her friends any more, but cohabited with me.
One night after this we went to a public singing-room, and I got jealous by her taking notice of another young man. I did not speak to her that night about it. Next morning I told her it was better that she should go home to her friends, as I would not live with her any more.
She cried over it, and afterwards went home. Her friends got her a situation in the West-end as a servant, but she was pregnant at the time with a child to me. She was not long in service before her young master fell in love with her, and kept her in fashionable style, which he has continued to do ever since. She now lives in elegant apartments in the West-end, and her boy, my son, is getting a college education. I do not take any notice of them now.
One night on my return from transportation I met two old associates. They asked me how I was, and told me they were glad to see me. They inquired how I was getting on. I told them I was not getting along very well. They asked me if I was associated with any one. I told them I was not, and was willing to go out with them to a bit of work. These men were burglars, and wished me to join them in plundering a shop in the metropolis. I told them I did not mind going with them. They arranged I should enter the shop along with another ‘pal,’ and the other was to keep watch. On the night appointed for the work we met an old watchman, and asked him what o‘clock it was. One of our party pretended to be drunk, and said he would treat him to two or three glasses of rum. Meantime I and my companion entered the house by getting over a back wall and entering a window there by starring the glass, and pulling the catch back. When we got in we did not require to break open any lockfast. We packed up apparel of the value of 60l. We remained in the shop till six o‘clock, when the change of officers took place. The door was then unbolted--a cab was drawn up to the shop. I shut the door and went off in one direction on foot, while one ‘pal’ went off in a cab, and the other to the receiver at Whitechapel.
I have been engaged in about eighteen burglaries besides other depredations, some of them in fashionable shops and dwelling-houses in the West-end. Some of them have been effected by skeleton keys, others by climbing waterspouts, at which I am considered to be extraordinary nimble, and others by obtaining an entry through the doors or windows. I have been imprisoned seven times in London and elsewhere, and have been twice transported. Altogether I have been in prison for about fourteen years.
My first wife died broken-hearted the second time I was transported. Since I came home this last time I have lived an honest, industrious life with my second wife and family.
John Binny, in Vol. IV
Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 1851, 1861-2