On a view of our Calendar, now brought down in chronological order for the last one hundred and twelve years, it would almost seem that methods of robbing, as well as fashion, undergo an alteration. The mode of hustling the unwary passenger, was not in use a century ago; when every well-dressed man wore his enormous wig, and a long sword. In the present enlightened days men are exposed to be blinded, through the fashionable assault of pugilism, or overpowered by a gang of hustlers, and rifled of the contents of their pockets. London is now invested with numerous gangs of thieves, who appear in the streets unconnected, from their keeping at a little distance from each other, but are always at hand or within sight of each other. One of these coalesced villains having marked the object of his attack, gives the concerted signal to the others, and then runs against the passenger, as by accident. This is the pretext of the robber in charging him whom he assaulted with an assault—words arise—passengers stop—the gang collects upon the spot—and raise a riot, while they pick the pockets of all around them. This is a common practice in the day time; and, in the confusion, they contrive to make their escape. After dark, they are less ceremonious in their attacks. Two or three can execute a hustle, by first jostling, and then knocking down, their object, swearing he was the aggressor. Sometimes two of the gang, adepts in the boxing art, pretend a quarrel—challenge—strip—and exchange a few rounds. This is esteemed a superior kind of hustle, as the gang being more numerous, they crowd and trample upon the people, searching each pocket of the gaping spectators.
A short time previous to the conviction of M'Cormick, a most daring hustle took place at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket.
Major Morrison and Mr. Wilkins of Red Lion-square, were met and hustled, in the passage on the King's side of the Opera-house, by five pickpockets, as they were going to the Masquerade. Major Morrison received a blow on the head, which knocked his hat off; and, while he was endeavouring to save it, the villains attempted to force his watch out of his pocket; they did not succeed, but broke his gold chain, and made off with that and the seals. Mr. Wilkins also received a violent blow on his temple. On the company retiring from the supper room, several suspected persons were apprehended; among them was James Mackay, whom Townsend recognized as a very old offender, and conducted to St. Martin's watch house. In the forenoon, the watch-house keeper having business out of doors, left the keys of the cell with his wife, when Mackay took an opportunity to knock her down, and effected his escape from the watch-house; but being stopped by the gate at the bottom of the court, which he found a difficulty in opening, he was taken by a butcher, who happened to be passing at the time. At twelve o'clock he was conveyed to Bow-street, where he underwent an examination. Wm. Petherick said he saw the prisoner throw away a watch, as he was passing through the lobby, in custody of some gentlemen who had seized him; and very soon after he saw the prisoner throw away another watch, which was produced.
T. Robins, Esq. stated, that at the general bustle about pickpockets, he discovered that he had lost his watch, and observed the prisoner close to him, and, as he supposed, in the act of taking his watch: he endeavoured in vain to secure him; and, while in this act, he supposed the prisoner put the watch into his waistcoat-pocket.
Captain Samson, in the East-India service, said, that he saw the prisoner running downstairs, pursued by several people, and observed him throw or drop a watch close to him, which he picked up, having hold of the prisoner at the same time.
Mr. J. Henbury, of Devonshire-street, Queen-square, identified the gold-watch, chain, and seals, produced by the last witness, and said, he missed them between twelve and one o'clock at the Masquerade. The prisoner called himself James Smith; but Townsend begged leave to remind him that his name was James Mackay, by which name he had been convicted in the year 1797, and transported. He then admitted the fact, and that he had returned from Botany Bay about nine months ago. He was found a fit subject to be returned to the same place of transportation.
A system of foot-pad robbery, was at this time also carried to a great length in and about London nightly, and supposed to be one gang, consisting of about thirty of the most desperate villains that ever infested the metropolis. Mr. Elsden, a builder, was attacked near his own house in Thornhaugh-street, Bedford-square. One of this daring gang stopped Mr. Elsden's mouth, while another presented a pistol close at his head, which Mr. Elsden caught at, and wrested it from him—he grappled and fell with them, and they ran off without robbing him, leaving the pistol in the possession of Mr. Elsden. Mr. Guise, of Acton-lane, was stopped by two of the gang, in a foot-path called the Shrubbery, near Kensington Toll-bar, and robbed of 2l. 16s. The same gang have committed several depredations in the neighbourhood of Chelsea.
At the October Sessions for Surrey, held the 18th of October 1811, William M'Cormick was charged with hustling Wm. Hill and attempting to steal his hat and handkerchief. The prosecutor stated that he was coming down Tooley-street about half-past ten o'clock, when he was stopped by the prisoner and another person. The prisoner knocked him down and took his hat off, and attempted to run off with it. The prosecutor, however, caught him by the coat, stopped him, and took the hat from him. The prisoner then made a snatch at the prosecutor's handkerchief, and had nearly got it off; the prosecutor, however, seized him, a scuffle ensued, and both fell; the prosecutor then called out the Watch, and the prisoner's companion ran off. The prosecutor succeeded in securing the prisoner, and taking him to the Watch-house. Verdict—-Guilty.
The Court, after animadverting on the increase of this species, of depredation, expressed its determination, to punish it with severity. The prisoner was then sentenced to be transported for seven years.
ROBERT CROWLEY and SAMUEL BROWN were put to the Bar, charged with stealing a quantity of oil, the property of Mr. Barrett, proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens. The prisoners were both found Guilty. Mr. Simpson, who prosecuted on behalf of Mr. Barrett, after the jury had delivered their verdict, addressed the Court, observing, that in consequence of the sorrow expressed by Crowley for his offence, and the readiness he shewed to give all the information in his power towards leading to the detection of the other depredators, he begged leave to recommend him to the mercy of the Court. Crowley was then sentenced to be confined, and kept to hard labour in the House of Correction for three ca lendar months; and Brown to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for twelve months, and during that time to be once publicly whipped for 150 yards on the Vauxhall road.
At the same Sessions JOHN LOUBON was charged with stealing 53lbs. of rope yarn from the yard of Mr. Hill, rope-maker, at Bermondsey. The fact was fully proved against the prisoner. The jury found him guilty, and the Court sentenced him to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for three months, and during that time to be once publicly whipped.