HERE shall we find verified the old proverbs, that, "Honesty is the best policy," and that "Idleness is the root of all evil." This unfortunate man, who possessed the most gentlemanly appearance and address, and was connected with several families of respectability and fortune, was a native of Boston, in Lincolnshire, where his father, being a man of credit and easy fortune, was enabled to gratify the strong ambition which he felt, to give his son a polite and liberal education. Mr. Finlay passed through the rudiments of his education with éclat, and executed the tasks assigned him by his masters with a promptitude and accuracy, that seemed to justify the most sanguine expectations of his delighted parents and friends. At a very early age he betrayed a strong attachment to a military life. The father, though with the greatest reluctance, at last was persuaded to indulge the ruling passion of his son; and accordingly, at the commencement of the last war, procured him an ensign's commission in a marching regiment. This regiment was soon after ordered abroad, where his bravery and good conduct gained him the esteem and affection of his companions, and caused him to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant. When his regiment returned to England, Mr. Finlay was ordered upon the recruiting service; and from this period may be dated the commencement of that career of vice which at last rendered him amenable to the laws of his country.
Idleness, that rock upon which so many have been wrecked, called forth his latent propensities with irresistible violence. Possessing an uncommon flow of animal spirits, he was extremely alive to the pleasures of society; and, having contracted an intimacy with several persons of a dissipated turn of mind, he entered into all their excesses with eagerness. It may be easily imagined, that his lieutenant's pay was very inadequate to support a life of excess and libertinism. But the force of habit became unconquerable: his commission was disposed of to recruit his finances, and to enable him a little longer to indulge a violent propensity to gaming, which he had contracted in the society of his fellow libertines. This could not hold out long, and he was at last hurried to the adoption of the most unjustifiable and desperate measures to maintain his credit with his associates. About this period he married the daughter of a respectable shopkeeper; but his wife's fortune was inconsiderable, and was, therefore, soon dissipated in his favourite pursuits. Deprived of every honest resource of supplying his ruined finances, he was at length, in a moment of desperation, driven to the commission of forgery; for which he was apprehended, and brought to trial at the Old Bailey, December 3, 1802, before Lord Alvanley.
He was indicted for feloniously forging and uttering the same, knowing it to be forged, a certain paper, purporting to be a bill of exchange, drawn by Capt. W. Foote, of the Royal Navy, on James Sykes, Navy Agent, of Arundel street, and accepted by him. It appeared in evidence, that the prisoner went to a Mr. Earnshaw, a watch-maker in High Holborn, on the 26th of September, and bespoke a gold time piece, which was to be got ready for him in the course of a week, and for which he agreed to pay sixty-five guineas: accordingly, on the 16th of October, he called again, when the time piece being ready, it was delivered to him, and he paid for it with two bills, one of which was that laid in the indictment. Soon after Mr. Earnshaw sent the bill to Mr. Sykes, when it was instantly discovered to be a forgery. The next day (which was on the 17th of October) the prisoner offered the time-piece as a pledge to a pawnbroker, William Burkitt, who seeming to doubt its value, the prisoner produced Earnshaw's receipt; and in consequence of Burkitt intimating that he would advance the money, if upon enquiry he found it to be of that value, the prisoner agreed to call again in an hour. Burkitt sent to Earnshaw's in the meantime; consequently the forgery was detected, and the prisoner, on his return, was taken into custody.
The prisoner, in his defence, set up the plea of insanity, and called one witness, the Chevalier Ruspini, who gave him a good character. There being no evidence in support of a deranged mind, the jury pronounced him guilty; but, on account of his excellent character and meritorious services, recommended him to the mercy of the sovereign: there were, however, fourteen other similar indictments against him. Finlay's demeanour, during his trial, was not marked with that impudent levity which distinguish the Bond-street bucks, nor tinctured with that despondency to which weak minds are generally subject in such a situation: it was a demeanour of modest dignity, which bespoke a consciousness of his crime, without any appearance of being appalled at the fate to which he was consigned by the violated laws of his country. When his sentence was pronounced, he listened with a degree of calm resignation, and the air of a man who was prepared to suffer deserved punishment for a crime of which he was conscious to himself he was guilty.
This unhappy man was only 57 years of age, and was both a husband and a father. After his death-warrant was signed by his majesty, the little time that intervened between that and his execution, was employed in a manner the most exemplary, in preparing for that awful and ignominious crisis when he should be separated from everything that was dear to him on this side eternity. He never attempted to palliate his crime, but displayed the deepest contrition for his guilt, and the most penitent resignation. He was attended almost constantly by the Rev. Mr. Crowther, rector of Christ Church, Newgate-street, and in the absence of that gentleman, by one of his fellow-prisoners, of the name of John Manley, who humanely administered all the consolation his unfortunate situation admitted of, read to him, and joined him in prayer. A gentleman, who did not disdain to be considered as the friend of the unfortunate man, visited him daily, and assisted him with money, and other necessaries.
On the morning previous to his execution, he was visited by his wife and child in prison, along with the gentleman to whom we have just now alluded, and the prisoner Manley. The scene that passed may be more easily imagined than described. The reader may picture to himself the anguish of a wife and mother, who had been nurtured in all that delicacy and tenderness that gives double acuteness to the feelings, upon the eve of losing a beloved husband, by the hands of the common executioner. She was then about the age of thirty-two, a woman of the most elegant manners, and handsome form. The child was about eight months old. The sensations of the unfortunate criminal, were of the most agonizing sort, when he reflected upon that infatuated course of life, which had not only brought himself to an ignominious end, but had also left his beloved wife exposed to all the horrors of poverty and disgrace. Upon a promise from the gentleman beforementioned, to protect this wife and child, and screen them from the miseries of want, and the sneers of an unpitying world, he became more composed. She lingered with him till four o'clock, when it became absolutely necessary to separate. Unable to bear the emotions of agony by which she was agitated, she fainted in her husband's arms, and was carried by two men to a hackney coach, in a state of insensibility. Even the turnkeys, "albeit unused to the melting mood," did not behold this scene unmoved. Mr. Finlay, for a few minutes after his wife's departure, seemed to be agitated, but at the same time resigned. He walked about his cell with hurried steps, clinched his hands, turned his eyes towards Heaven, and at last overcome by his feelings, exclaimed, "She is gone, and I shall never see her more on earth!" But soon recovering his composure, "I am now happy," he said, "and prepare to die, my friends cannot look coolly upon her; alas! she will have no friends but them."
The Rev. Mr. Crowther, as usual, passed a few hours with him in earnest supplication to the Divine Mercy for the pardon of his sins, and particularly the crime for which he was to suffer.
On the morning of his execution, February 9, 1803, he seemed to look forward to his fate, not only with resignation, but satisfaction. He dressed with the same neatness and attention to cleanliness as usual. He eat his breakfast with the utmost composure, at five o'clock in the morning, with his faithful friend Manley. About six o'clock Mr. Crowther appeared, who passed an hour with him in fervent devotion. At seven o'clock he took the sacrament, and his irons being knocked off, the sheriff came, to whom he was delivered by the keeper of the prison. At half past eight o'clock he mounted the scaffold, with his hat and gloves on. He wore his hair cropped, half-boots, grey stockings, web pantaloons, brown coat, and waistcoat, with an outside coat of the same colour. He appeared calm and collected, and spoke for about a minute to the clergyman. The executioner then stepping forward, took off his hat, unloosed his neck-handkerchief, and fastened the fatal noose. The cap being pulled over his eyes, after he had remained about five minutes on the scaffold, he was launched into eternity. No man ever behaved with more resignation and manly fortitude in such a situation. He seemed to be in agony for the space of three minutes, after he was turned off, during which time he held a white pocket-handkerchief in his hand, but afterwards dropped it.
The body was cut down after it had hung the usual time, and carried to Newgate prison. At one o'clock, a hearse attended to convey it away; but, upon being inspected by the Sheriffs, it was found to be still warm, though it had been cut down three hours before. The sheriffs thought it their duty to keep it for some time longer, on account of this extraordinary circumstance, and ordered that it should be called for at four o'clock, which was accordingly done.
Yet o'er his fall, may pity drop a tear,
Rememb'ring the wretchedness of the times;
O think on his disgrace! his dying fear!
And in his punishment forget his crimes.