Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 18 December 2014), May 1725, trial of Jonathan Wilde (t17250513-55).

Jonathan Wilde, Theft > shoplifting, Miscellaneous > perverting justice, 13th May 1725.

Jonathan Wilde , of S. Andrew's Holborn , was indicted for privately stealing, in the Shop of Katharine Stetham, 50 Yards of Lace, value 40 l. the Goods of Katharine Stetham , on the 22d of January last.

He was a 2d time indicted, for that whereas 50 Yards of Lace, value 40 l. was privately stoln in the Shop of Katharine Stetham, by Persons unknown, on the 22d of January last; he the said Jonathan Wilde, on the 10th of March last, did feloniously receive of the said Katharine Stetham Ten Guineas, on Account and under Colour of helping the said Katharine Stetham to the said Lace again; and did not then, nor any time since, discover or apprehend, or cause to be apprehended and brought to Justice, the Persons that committed the said Felony .

The Prisoner, in the Morning before his Tryal came on, dispersed about the Court a considerable Numbers of printed Lists of the Felons that he had apprehended, which concluded in these Words; In regard therefore of the Numbers above Convicted, some that have yet escaped Justice are endeavouring to take away the Life of the said Jonathan Wilde, This extraordinary Proceeding gave Occasion to the King's Counsel to observe, That such Practices were unwarrantable, and not to be suffer'd in any Court of Justice: That this was apparently intended to take off the Credit of the King's Witnesses, and to prepossess and influence the Jury. But as he believed them to be Men of Integrity, he was under no Apprehensions that it would have such an Effect: Nor, on the contrary, could he suppose that they would give any other than a conscientious Verdict, according to Evidence, tho' the indirect Management of the Prisoner was far from making his Cause appear favourable. That it was impossible that a Man that has carry'd on a Trade of Felony for so many Years past; a Man that has bred up and erected a Corporation of Felons; a Man, whose constant known Practice has been to procure Goods that have been lost in any Part of the Town; that it was impossible that such a Man should not have it in his Power to detect those Felons: And yet that there was good Reason to believe, that (to the great Scandal of publick Justice) he has on the contrary terrify'd many from Reformation, and prevented them from making such Discoveries as might have been of Public Advantage. That if a strict Enquiry was to be made after the Motives of his apprehending those Criminals named in his List, we should find that they were private Interest, old Grudges, or fresh Quarrels, and not the least Regard to Justice and his Country, &c. The Prisoner pray'd that the Witnesses against him might be examin'd apart; which the Court granted.

Henry Kelly thus deposed: In January last I went to see Mrs. Johnston, who then lived at the Prisoner's House: Her Husband brought me over from Ireland; upon which Account I wanted to speak with her. I found her at home, and we drank a Quartern of Holland's Gin together. By and by in comes Mrs. Murphy with a Pair of Brocaded Shoos and Clogs, and makes a Present of them to Mrs. Wilde. The Prisoner was in Company. We drank two or three Quarterns more, and then I and Mrs. Murphy got up to go away together. The Prisoner ask'd me which way I was going? I told him to my Lodgings at the Seven Dials. I suppose you go Holborn Way, says he. We answer'd, Yes. Why then, says he, I'll tell ye what; - There's an old Blind Bitch that sells fine Flanders Lace just by Holborn-Bridge; her Daughter is as blind as herself; and if ye call there, you may speak with a Box of Lace, (that is, steal a Box) - I'll go along with ye, and shew ye the Door. So the Prisoner and I and Murphy went together, till we came within Sight of the Door: He pointed and shew'd us which it was, and said he would wait for us, and bring us off, if any Disturbance should happen. Murphy and I went to, and turn'd over a great deal of Lace, but could see none that would please us, not a Piece that was broad enough, and fine enough, for it was our Business to be very nice and difficult. At last, the old Woman stept up Stairs to fetch another Piece: And as People of our Profession are seldom guilty of losing an Opportunity, I made use of this. I took a Tin Box of Lace, gave it to Mrs. Murphy, and she hid it under her Cloak. The old Woman came down with another Box, and shew'd us several Pieces, for which she asked 6 s. a Yard. We offer'd her 4 s. and not being likely to agree about the Price, we came way, and found the Prisoner waiting where we left him. We told him what Success we had had, and so went back with him to his House. There we open'd the Box, and found Eleven Pieces in it. He ask'd us if we would have ready Money, or stay till an Advertisement came out. Stock being pretty low with us at that time, we chose the first, and so he gave us three Guineas and four Broad Pieces. I took for my Share three Guineas and a Crown, and Mrs. Murphy had the rest. I can't afford to give you any more, (says he); for tho' I have got some Influence over her, by helping her to Goods two or three times before, yet I know her to be a stingey hard-mouth'd old Bitch, and I shan't get above Ten Guineas out of her. Margaret Murphy deposed the same; and Katharine Stetham Corroborated that Part of their Depositions which related to their being in her Shop, and added, that she miss'd the Lace in about half an Hour after they were gone. The Evidence was full and positive against the Prisoner. But here his Counsel (who waited in readiness if any Point of Law should arise) stood up, and beg'd Leave to declare it as their Opinion, that the Defendant, according to the Evidence given against him, could not be guilty of the Indictment; and their Reason for it was, that the Indictment sets forth, That HE did privately steal this Lace [IN] the Shop; when it was certain that he did not enter the Shop: That he might indeed be guilty of a simple Felony, in being Accessary before the Fact, or in Receiving the Goods after; but could not be guilty of the Capital Offence, except (according to the Act) it had been inserted in the Indictment, that He did Assist, Here or Command. The Court, in summing up the Evidence, observed to the Jury, that in Felonies, Burglaries, and Robberies on the Highway, every Accessary before the Fact is a Principal; he that stands by, or watches at a Distance, being as guilty, and as liable to the same Punishment, as the very Man that enters the House, or steals the Money or Goods. But as it was not remembered that there had yet been any Precedent, of the like Construction being put upon Indictments of this Nature, it remained as a Matter of Doubt; and therefore, in such Cases, it was most eligible to incline to the Side of Mercy.

The 2d Indictment against Jonathan Wilde was upon the following Clause in an Act passed in the 4th Year of the Reign of his present Majesty; which was read in Court, viz.

'' And whereas there are several Persons who have secret '' Acquaintance with Felons, and who makes it their Business '' to help Persons to their stoln Goods, and by that means '' gain Money from them, which is divided between them and '' the Felons, whereby they greatly encourage such Offenders: '' Be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That '' where ever any Person taken Money or Reward, directly '' or indirectly, under Pretence or upon Account of helping '' any Person or Persons to any stoln Goods or Chattels, '' every such Person so taking Money or Reward as aforesaid, '' (unless such Person do apprehend, or cause to be apprehended, '' such Felon who stole the same, and cause such '' Felon to be brought to his Tryal for the same, and give '' Evidence against him) shall be guilty of Felony, and suffer '' the Pains and Penalties of Felony, according to the '' Nature of the Felony committed in stealing such Goods, '' and in such and the same Manner as if such Offender had '' himself stole such Goods and Chattels, in the Manner and '' with such Circumstances as the same were stoln.''

Katharine Stetham thus deposed: On the 22d of January, between Three and Four in the Afternoon, a Man and Woman came into my Shop, under a Pretence of buying some Lace: They were so very difficult, that I had none below that would please them; and so, leaving my Daughter in the Shop, I slept up Stairs, and brought down another Box. We could not agree about the Price, and so they went away together; and in about half an Hour after I miss'd a Tin Box of Lace, that I valu'd at 50 l. The same Night, and the next, I went to Jonathan Wilde's House; but not meeting with him, I advertised the Lace that I had lost, with a Reward of 15 Guineas, and no Questions ask'd. But hearing nothing of it, I went to Jonathan's House again, and then met with him: He desired me to give him a Description of the Persons that I suspected, which I did as near as I could; and then he told me that he'd make Enquiry, and bade me call again in two or three days. I did so; and then he said, that he had heard something of my Lace, and expected to know more of the Matter in a little time. I came to him again on that day that he was apprehended, (I think 'twas the 15th of February.) I told him, that tho' I had advertised but 15 Guineas Reward yet I'd give 20 or 25 rathe than not have my Goods. Don't be in such a Hurry, says her I don't know but I may help you to it for less; and if I can, I will. The Persons that have it, are gone out of Town, I shall set them to quarrelling about it, and then I shall get it: the cheaper. On the 10th of March, he sent me word, that if I would come to him in Newgate, and bring 10 Guineas in my Pocket, he could help me to my Lace. I went: He desired me to call a Porter; but I not knowing where to find one, he sent a Person who brought one that appeared to be a Ticket-Porter. The Prisoner gave me a Letter, which he said was sent him as a Direction where to go for the Lace; but I could not read, and so I deliver'd it to the Porter. Then he desired me to give the Porter Ten Guineas, or else (he said) the Persons that had the Lace would not deliver it. I gave the Porter the Money; he went away, and in a little time return'd, and brought me a Box that was seal'd up, but not the same that was lost. I open'd it, and found all my Lace but one Piece. Now, Mr. Wilde, (says I) what must you have for your Trouble? Not a Farthing, says he, not a Farthing for me. I don't do these things for Worldly Interest, but only for the Good of poor People that have met with Misfortunes. As for the Piece of Lace that is missing, I hope to get it for you e'er be long; and I don't know but that I may help you not only to your Money again, but to the Thief too; and if I can, much good may't do you. And as you're a good Woman and a Widow, and a Christian, I desire nothing of you but your Prayers, and for them I shall be thankful. I have a great many Enemies, and God knows what may be the Consequence of this Imprisonment.

The Prisoner said nothing in his Defence, but that he had Convicted a great Number of Criminals; only he desired that Murphy and Kelly might be called in again, which was granted. Then (this Indictment being laid for helping Kat. Stretham to Goods that had been stole from her by Persons UNKNOWN) he pray'd, that Murphy might be ask'd who stole the Lace? In expectation, that she would unwarily swear, that herself and Kelly were the Persons; (for tho' such Evidence was given in the former Tryal, the Law could take no Notice of it in this, except it had been sworn over again.) But the Court inform'd him, that as Murphy was an Evidence upon Oath, nobody could require her to answer any Questions to accuse herself. Then he pray'd the Court would ask her, if he (the Prisoner) stole the Lace? To which she answer'd, No; but he was concern'd with those that did steal it, and he received it after it was stolen. From hence the Counsel for the Prisoner beg'd Leave to observe, That as Murphy had sworn that the Prisoner was guilty of Felony, they presum'd that the Act upon which he was now indicted, was never intended to affect him, or any other Felon, but only such Persons that were not Felons themselves, but hold a Correspondence with Felons. For as there were old Laws in Force for the Punishment of Felons, it would have been altogether unnecessary that a new Law should be made to the same Purpose, - that is, to no Purpose at all - That the very Preamble to that Clause of the Act upon which the Prisoner is indicted, intimates, by a plain Distinction, that Felons are not in that Place intended. The Words are thus: '' Whereas '' there are several Persons who have secret Acquaintance '' with Felons and who make it their Business to '' help Persons to their Stoln Goods, and by that means '' gain Money from them, which is divided between THEM '' and the FELONS.'' - That by a Proviso in the said Clause, it could not be supposed that felons were there intended, without making Contradictions and Inconsistencies in the Act itself. For the Words are, '' Unless such Person doth apprehend, '' or cause to be apprehended, such Felon who stole '' the same, and cause such Felon to be brought to a Tryal '' for the same, and give Evidence against him.'' Suppose now that there was but one Person concern'd in such a Case; can it be thought that ever the Legislature intended that this Person should apprehend himself, bring himself to Tryal, give Evidence against himself, convict himself, and hang himself? No, certainly. To this the Counsel for the Crown reply'd to the following Effect, That it was no Absurdity or Contradiction to say, that that Act was intended to affect Felons, even in a Case where there was but one Felon concern'd: For that a Man's being a Felon, did not any way hinder him from discovering his Accomplices, if he had any; and if he had none, but committed the Offence by himself, it would be impossible to try him for taking Money upon Account of restoring Goods that were stolen, till he was first convicted of stealing those Goods: And this first Conviction would then be sufficient. There would be no Necessity for trying him for the other Offence, for if> he was found guilty, it would make no Alteration in his Punishment: But that this was not the Case of the Prisosoner: That it was evident that he had Accomplices, and had not discover'd them. The Court farther observ'd, that Felons were so far from being excepted in that Act, that it was principally intended against them; for it particularly mentions, '' Those that make it their Business to help People to '' stolen Goods.'' And it was certain, that such Persons must be Receivers of stolen Goods, knowing them to be stolen, and such are Felons. That the Case of the Prisoner came within almost every Circumstance of the Act; it being evident that he was a Person that had secret Acquaintance with Felons, who made it his Business to help People to stolen Goods, and by that means gain'd Money from them; which was divided betwixt him and the Felons, and thereby greatly encouraged such Offenders, and had not apprehended them. That it was a very surprizing Plea for a Man to say, I am more guilty than you are aware of, and therefore I ought to suffer less. And that it could not be thought that the Parliament ever intended by this Act to excuse a Man meerly because he was a Felon, and more Criminal than another.

The Jury acquitted the Prisoner of the first Indictment, and found him guilty of the other. Death .