Executed on 5th of August, 1723, for many Murders on the High Seas and Piracy
Riche and his Villainous Companions Throwing their Victims Overboard
WE have already commented upon the foul crime of piracy. The account now to be given of this atrocious offender will show to what a horrid pitch it has been carried; and happy should we feel ourselves if we could add that this was a singular case. In latter years we find that murder, foul as that committed by Roche, was practised on board of one of our men-of-war, in which Captain Pigot, her commander, was barbarously killed; and the mutinous crew seized the frigate, and delivered her to the enemy.
This detested monster, Philip Roche, was a native of Ireland, and, being brought up to a seafaring life, served for a considerable time on board some coasting vessels, and then sailed to Barbados on board a West Indiaman. Here he endeavoured to procure the place of a clerk to a factor, but failing in this he went again to sea, and was advanced to the station of a first mate.
He now became acquainted with a fisherman named Neale, who hinted to him that large sums of money might be acquired by insuring ships and then causing them to be sunk, to defraud the insurers. Roche was wicked enough to listen to this horrid tale, and becoming acquainted with a gentleman who had a ship bound for Cape Breton he got a station on board, next in command to the captain, who, having a high opinion of him, trusted the ship to his management, directing the seamen to obey his commands.
If Roche had entertained any idea of sinking the ship, he seemed now to have abandoned it; but he had brought on board with him five Irishmen, who were concerned in the shocking tragedy that ensued.
When they had been only a few days at sea the plan was executed as follows. One night, when the captain and most of the crew were asleep, Roche gave orders to two of the seamen to furl the sails, which being immediately done, the poor fellows no sooner descended on to the deck than Roche and his hellish associates murdered them and threw them overboard. At this instant a man and a boy at the yard-arm, observing what had passed, and dreading a similar fate, hurried towards the topmast-head, when one of the Irishmen, named Cullen, followed them, and seizing the boy threw him into the sea. The man, thinking to effect at least a present escape, descended to the main deck, where Roche instantly seized him, murdered him, and then threw him overboard. The noise occasioned by these transactions alarming the sailors below, they hurried up with all possible expedition; but they were severally seized and murdered as fast as they came on deck, being first knocked on the head, and then thrown into the sea. At length the master and mate came on the quarterdeck, when Roche and his villainous companions seized them and, tying them back to back, committed them to the merciless waves.
These execrable murders being perpetrated, the murderers ransacked the chests of the deceased, then sat down to regale themselves with liquor; and while the profligate crew were carousing they determined to commence as pirates, and that Roche should be the captain, as the reward of his superior villainy.
They had intended to have sailed up the Gulf of St Lawrence, but as they were within a few days' sail of the British Channel when the bloody tragedy was acted, and finding themselves short of provisions, they put into Portsmouth, and giving the vessel a fictitious name they painted her afresh, and then sailed for Rotterdam. At this city they disposed of their cargo and took in a fresh one. Here they were unknown; and an English gentleman, named Annesley, shipped considerable property on board, and took his passage with them for the Port of London; but the villains threw this unfortunate gentleman overboard after they had been only one day at sea.
When the ship arrived in the River Thames, Mr Annesley's friends made inquiry after him, in consequence of his having sent letters to England describing the ship in which he proposed to embark; but Roche denied any knowledge of the gentleman, and even disclaimed his own name. Notwithstanding his confident assertions it was rightly presumed who he was, and a letter which he sent to his wife being stopped, he was taken into custody. Being carried before the Secretary of State for examination, he averred that he was not Philip Roche, and said that he knew no person of that name. Hereupon the intercepted letter was shown him, on which he instantly confessed his crimes, and was immediately committed to take his trial at the next Admiralty Sessions.
It was intimated to Roche that he might expect a pardon if he would impeach any three persons who were more culpable than himself, so that they might be prosecuted to conviction; but not being able to do this he was brought to his trial, and found guilty. Judgment of death was awarded against him.
After conviction he professed to be of the Roman Catholic faith, but was certainly no bigot to that religion, since he attended the devotions according to the Protestant form. He was hanged at Execution Dock, on the 5th of August, 1723, but was so ill at the time, that he could not make any public declaration of the abhorrence of the crime for which he suffered.
It is impossible to read this shocking narrative without execrating the memory of the wretches whose crimes gave rise to it. History has not furnished us with any account of what became of the wicked accomplices of Roche; but there can be little doubt of their having dragged on a miserable existence, if they did not end their lives at the gallows.
The mind of the guilty must be perpetually racked with torment; and the murderer who is permitted to live does but live in wretchedness and despair. His days must be filled with anxiety, and his nights with torture.
From the fate of the miserable subject of this narrative, let our sailors be taught that an honest pursuit of the duties of their station is more likely to ensure happiness to them than the possession of any sum of money unlawfully obtained. Our brave tars are not, from their situation in life, much accustomed to the attendance on religious duties: but it can cost them no trouble to recollect that to "do justice and love mercy" is equally the character of the brave man and the Christian.