|Crime and Punishment: Stephen Gardener|
by Bill McCann
London’s streets have always been crime-ridden. This series presents the tales of some of the individuals convicted of crimes, small and great, at the Middlesex and London assizes, Star Chamber, Court of Aldermen, etc. and their subsequent fate. Tyburn and Newgate are words that are resonant with the extremes of punishment in the 18th and 19th centuries and, naturally, both loom large in the series. However, there will also be articles on some of the more famous crimes in London’s more recent history.
Crime and Punishment: Stephen Gardener
by Bill McCann
Executed at Tyburn, 3rd of February, 1724, for House-breaking, after being warned that the Bellman would say his Verses over him.
THIS malefactor was born in Moorfields, and after associating with blackguard boys in the streets was driven home through sheer hunger. He went to sea on a corn vessel, the master of which traded to France and Holland. Being an idle and useless hand, he was treated so roughly by his shipmates that he grew heartily tired of a seafaring life ; and on his return from the first voyage he promised the utmost obedience if his friends would permit him to remain at home.
This was readily complied with, in the hope of his re- formation, and he was now put to a waterman ; but being impatient of restraint he soon quitted his service and engaged with dissolute fellows in the neighbourhood of Moorfields, with whom he played at cards, dice, etc., till he was stripped of what little money he had, and then commenced as pickpocket.
His first attempt of this kind was at the Guildhall, during the drawing of the lottery, when he took a wig out of a man’s pocket; but though he was detected in the offence, the humanity of the surrounding multitude permitted his escape. This circumstance encouraged him to continue his practice, and about a month afterwards he was detected in picking another pocket, and, notwithstanding his protestations of innocence, underwent the discipline of the horsepond. Soon afterwards he became acquainted with two notorious housebreakers named Garraway and Sly, who offered to take him as a partner; but he rejected their proposals till one night when he had lost all his money and most of his clothes at cards ; then he went to his new acquaintances, and agreed to be concerned in their illicit practices.
Gardener having now been for some time acquainted with a woman who kept a public-house in Fleet Lane, and who was possessed of some money, proposed to marry her, with the view of obtaining her property; and, the woman listening to his offer, they were married by one of the Fleet parsons. The money Gardener obtained with his spouse was soon spent in extravagance, and not long afterwards they were apprehended on suspicion of felony and conducted to St Sepulchre’s watch-house; however, the charge against them not being validated, it was necessary to dismiss them, but before they were set at liberty the constable said to Gardener: ” Beware how you come here again, or this bellman will certainly say his verses over you ” ; for the bellman happened to be at that time in the watch-house. Gardener was greatly affected when the constable told him that the bellman would say his verses over him; but the impression it made on his mind soon wore off, and he quickly returned to his vicious practices. [See The gazette Background Briefings for a note on the significance of the Bellman.]
A short time after this adventure Gardener fell into company with one Rice Jones, and they agreed to go together on the “passing lay,” which is an artifice frequently practised, and though the sharpers are often taken into custody, and their tricks exposed in the newspapers, yet there are repeatedly found people weak enough to submit to the imposition. Our adventurers were very successful at different places, particularly at Bristol ; but in this last place Jones bilked Gardener in such a manner as to prove that there is no truth in the observation of ” honour among thieves ” ; for Jones, after having defrauded a country gentleman of a gold watch and chain, a suit of laced clothes, and about a hundred guineas, gave no share of the booty to Gardener. This induced the latter to think of revenge, but he disguised his sentiments, and they went together to Bath, where they remained some time and then proceeded on their journey; but on the morning on which they set out, Gardener stole an iron pestle from the inn where they lay, and concealed it in his boot, with the intention of murdering his companion when they should come to an unfrequented place.
On their journey Gardener generally kept behind Jones, and twice took out the pestle with the intention of perpetrating the murder; but, his resolution failing him, he at length dropped it in the road, unperceived by his companion. A few days afterwards these companions in iniquity parted; and on this occasion Jones said: ” Hark ye, Gardener, whither are you going? ” ” To London,” said he. “Why, then,” replied Jones, “you are going to be hanged.”
Soon after his arrival in London he robbed a house in Addle Hill, but was not apprehended for it, and a short time after he broke open the house of Mrs Roberts, and carried off linen to the amount of twenty-five pounds. In this robbery he was assisted by John Martin, and both the offenders, being soon afterwards taken into custody, were brought to trial, capitally convicted, and received sentence of death ; but Martin was afterwards reprieved, on condition of transportation for fourteen years.
After sentence of death Gardener resigned himself to his fate and before he quitted Newgate on the day of execution he dressed himself in a shroud, in which he was executed, refusing to wear any other clothes, though the weather was intensely cold.
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