Resourceful Thief, Coiner and Trickster. Executed in Long Acre on 22nd September, 1704
THOMAS SHARP was born at Reigate, in Surrey, where he served his time to a glover. But he had not been long out of his apprenticeship ere, by the influence of bad company, he was so hardened in villainy as not to be reclaimed either by wholesome advice, threats, or the examples of his companions, who were executed before him. Nothing could put an end to his roguery but the halter that put an end to his life.
To prove that this fellow was not only Sharp by name but also sharp by nature, we need only relate the following adventure. Dressing himself one day in an old suit of black clothes and an old tattered canonical gown, he went to an eminent tavern in the city, where at that time was kept a great feast of the clergymen, and humbly begged one of the drawers to acquaint some of the ministers above-stairs that a poor scholar was waiting below who craved their charity. Accordingly the drawer acquainted one of the divines that there was a poor scholar below in a parson's habit. The gentleman going down, and commiserating his seeming poverty, introduced him into the company of all the clergymen, who made him eat and drink very plentifully, and gathered him betwixt four and five pounds, which he thankfully put into his pocket. One of the divines then, after asking pardon for making so free, desired to know of him at what university he was bred. Tom Sharp told them he was never bred at any. "Can you speak Greek?" the divine asked again. "No," replied Tom. "Nor Latin?" the divine asked. "No, Sir," said Tom. "Can you write then?" quoth the divine. "No, nor read neither," replied Tom. At which they fell a-laughing, and said he was a poor scholar indeed. "Then I have not deceived you, gentlemen," quoth Tom, and so he brushed off with their charitable benevolence, thinking himself not fit company for such learned sophists.
This poor scholar afterwards used the Vine ale-house at Charing Cross, which was then kept by a rich old man, who knew not that he was a thief, and brought several of his gang there once a week, to keep a sort of a club, up one pair of stairs, with a design to rob the victualler. Accordingly they had several times struck all the doors above-stairs with a dub —- that is, a pick-lock —- but could never light on his mammon; whereupon one night Tom Sharp puts the candle to the old rotten hangings that were in the club-room and setting them in a blaze he and his company cries out "Fire!" The alarm brings up the old man in a trice, who in a great fright runs up to secure his money. Tom runs softly after him at a distance to espy where his hoard is, and in the meantime his associates, with two or three pails of water, have quenched the flame, which has done no great damage. The old man, at the news, returned down with a great deal of joy, leaving his money where it was before. With this information, the night following, Tom and two of his companions, having a great supper there, each with his lass, took the opportunity of taking away five hundred pounds in money; which, when the old cove missed, he was ready to hang himself in his own garters.
Sharp's chiefest dexterity lay in robbing wagons, which in their canting language they call tumblers. They who follow this sort of thieving do generally wait on a dark morning in the roads betwixt London and Bow, Blackheath, Newington, Islington, Highgate, Kensington Gravel Pits or Knightsbridge, and going in at the tail of a wagon they take out packs of linen or woollen cloth, boxes, trunks or other goods. One time, though, Tom Sharp and his accomplices, after following a wagon along Tyburn Road to St Giles's Pound, had no convenience at all of entering by reason a man drove the team before and the master and his son, a lad of about thirteen years of age, rode behind, on one horse. Still they followed the wagon till it came just under Newgate, when Tom Sharp, who was a lusty, hale fellow, snatching the boy off the horse, ran down the Old Bailey with him under his arm, at which the father cried out to his man to stop the wagon, for a rogue had stolen away his son. So whilst the master rode after Tom Sharp, and the man ran after his master, one of Tom's comrades slipped two pieces of woollen cloth out of the wagon. The old man got his son again, for Tom dropped him at the sessions-house gate.
Under this sort of thieving is also comprehended the robbing of coaches in the night-time in London, by cutting off trunks and boxes which are tied sometimes behind them; and also the chiving of bags or portmanteaux from behind horses —- that is, cutting them off, for chive, among thieves, signifies a knife. For offences of this nature Tom Sharp was in Newgate no less than eighteen times before the last fatal time.
Among many other arts peculiar to persons of his profession Tom learned that of making "black dogs," which are shillings or other pieces of money made only of pewter, double-washed, by means of which he maintained himself for some time. It may not be amiss to observe here that what the professors of this hellish art call "George Plateroon" is all copper within, with only a thin plate about it; and what they call "Compositum" is a mixed metal, which will both touch and cut, but not endure the fiery test. Tom had not been a great while at the trade of coining before several of his gang were apprehended and sent post to the gallows for their wicked ingenuity, which obliged him to employ all the powers of his wit and invention in the search of something else that might conduce to supply him in his manifold extravagances.
In the next place he went to picking of pockets, being detected at which, he was committed to New Prison, where, having a great many loose women coming after him, who supplied him with a great deal of money, he had all the privileges imaginable in the jail; and going to take his trial at Hicks's Hall for his fact, one John Lee, a turnkey, conducting him thither, gave him the liberty of being shaved by the way in a barber's shop. The keeper also having a pretty long beard, quoth Tom Sharp: "Come, we are time enough yet; sit down, and I'll pay for taking your beard off too." Whilst he was being trimmed, Tom talked of one thing and another to hold him in discourse, till at last the barber cried: "Shut your eyes or else my ball will offend them." The man did as he was bid, and Tom took this occasion to slip out, the barber not taking him for a prisoner, and hid himself in an ale-house hard by. The turnkey, not hearing him talk, opened his eyes, and not seeing him in the shop rose up so hastily that he overthrew Cut-beard, basin, water, and all upon him, and ran out into the street with the barber's cloth about him, and the napkin on his head. The people seeing him thus, with the froth about his face, concluded him mad, and as he ran gave him the way. The barber, with his razor in his hand, ran after the turnkey, crying, "Stop thief! Stop thief!" but he, never minding the outcry, still ran, staring up and down, as if his wits had lately stolen away from him and be was in pursuit of them. Some durst not stop him, and others would not; till the barber seized him at last, and getting his cloth and napkin from him, made him pay sixpence besides, for being but half shaved, while Tom, in the time of this hurly-burly, got clear off.
Tom's last fact was shooting a watchman who opposed him in breaking open a shoemaker's shop at the corner of Great Wild Street, facing up Great Queen Street. He was apprehended and condemned for this murder; but such was his impiety, whilst under sentence of death, that instead of thanking such as had so much Christianity in them as to bid him prepare for his latter end, he would bid them not to trouble his head with the idle whimsies of heaven and hell, for he was more a man than to dread or believe any such matter after this life. But when he came to the place of execution, which was at the end of Long Acre, in Drury Lane, and the halter was put about his neck, he then changed his tone, and began to call out for mercy with a sorrowful voice, which could not but awake the most lethargic conscience that ever the devil lulled asleep. In this manner he was turned off the cart on Friday, the 22nd day of September, 1704, aged twenty-nine years.