The Newgate Calendar - JOHN MEFF

JOHN MEFF

Executed for Returning from Transportation

 THIS offender had been taken into custody for committing a robbery near London; but, as it happened at a time within the limits of an Act of Grace passed in the reign of King George the First, it was not thought necessary to indict him, and he would have been discharged without further ceremony; but it appeared that he had been transported for another crime, and returned before the expiration of his time: wherefore he was indicted for this offence, on an act then lately made, "For the effectual Transportation of Felons"; and his person being identified, he was found guilty, received sentence of death, and was executed at Tyburn on the 11th of September, 1721.

 The following is an account which he wrote between his condemnation and the day of his execution:

 "I was born in London of French parents, who fled hither for protection when the French Protestants were driven out of France by Louis XIV.

 "I was put apprentice to a weaver: my father, having continued about twelve years in England, went with the rest of his family to Holland. I served my time faithfully, and with the approbation of my master. Soon after I came to work for myself I married; but my business not being sufficient to maintain myself, my wife, and children, I was willing to try what I could at thieving.

 "I followed this practice until I was apprehended, tried, and condemned, for housebreaking; but, as I was going to the place of execution, the hangman was arrested, and I was brought back to Newgate. It was thought this was my contrivance, to put a stop to public justice; but I was so far from being any ways concerned in it, that I knew nothing of it till it was done. This might have been a happy turn for me, if I had made a right use of it: for my sentence of death was changed for that of transportation. And indeed I took up a solemn resolution to lead an honest and regular course of life, and to resist all the persuasions of my comrades to the contrary. But this resolution continued but a short time after the fear of death vanished.

 "I believe, however, that if I had been safe landed in America, my ruin might have been prevented: but the ship which carried me and the other convicts was taken by the pirates. They would have persuaded me and some others to sign a paper, in order to become pirates; but we refusing, they put me and eight more ashore on a desert uninhabited island, where we must have perished with hunger, if by good fortune an Indian canoe had not arrived there. We waited till the Indians had gone up the island, and then, getting into the vessel, we sailed from one small island to another, till we reached the coast of America.

 "Not choosing to settle in any of the plantations there, but preferring the life of a sailor, I shipped myself on board a vessel that carried merchandise from Virginia and South Carolina to Barbadoes, Jamaica, and other of his majesty's islands. And thus I lived a considerable time; but at last, being over-desirous to see how my wife and children fared in England, I was resolved to return at all adventures.

 "Upon my arrival here, I quickly fell into my former wicked practices, and it was not long before I was committed to Newgate on suspicion of robbing a person near London; but, by the assistance of a certain bricklayer, I broke out of prison and went to Hatfield, where I lay concealed for some time; but was at last discovered, and taken again by the same bricklayer who had procured my escape. Some evil genius attended me. I was certainly infatuated, or I had never continued in a place where I was so likely to be discovered.

 "My father is now a gardener at Amsterdam. 'Tis an addition to my misfortune that I cannot see him and my mother before I die; but, I hope, when he hears of my unhappy end, he will keep my children by my first wife from starving. My present wife is able, by her industry, to bring up her own offspring; for she has been an honest careful woman, during the nine months I have been married to her, and has often pressed me to go over to Ireland, and lead a regular and sober life. It had been well for me if I had taken her advice.

 "I have had enough of this restless and tumultuous world, and hope I am now going to a better. I am very easy and resigned to the will of Providence, not doubting but I have made my Peace with Heaven. I thank God that I have not been molested by my fellow-prisoners with the least cursing or swearing in the condemned hole; but have had an opportunity of employing every moment of my time in preparing for a future state."

 The case of this malefactor is very extraordinary, and perhaps may never be equalled by that of any other. The narrow escape he had experienced from the gallows ought to have taught him more wisdom than to have returned from transportation before the expiration of his time; but one would think there is a fatality attending the conduct of some men, who seem resolutely bent on their own destruction.

 One truth, however, is certain. It is easy, by a steady adherence to the rules of virtue, to shun that ignominious fate which is the consequence of a breach of the laws of God and our country.

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