Son of a Clergyman, and a Notorious Burglar. Executed on Shooter's Hill, near London, 1809
GEORGE WEBB was born near Bromsgrove, in Worcestershire, and, though the son of a clergyman, became a most notorious depredator. He went to London, and there got acquainted with Richard Russel, John Leonard White and Edward Egerton, men of infamous character. He then went to Woolwich and worked as a lumper, and there married a young woman of the name of Cocks, and commenced as smuggler. About Deptford he was known by the name of Smith. He was committed for an assault, and tried at the Quarter Sessions at Maidstone, where he received sentence of imprisonment, to pay a fine of five pounds, and to find bondsmen for his good behaviour. He lay there six months after his sentence had expired for want of sureties, and then volunteered his services to the justices to serve in the West Kent Militia. His services were accepted, and he was sworn in at Tonbridge.
He joined the regiment, remained with it five or six months, and then deserted. He was taken up and brought back to Maidstone as a deserter, and was discharged by order of the Secretary of War, taken to the regiment, and punished.
Soon after this he again deserted, and took an apartment on Blackheath, in the neighbourhood of which, many depredations having been committed, he was apprehended and taken to Bow Street, with Richard Russel and Sarah Russel, on suspicion of feloniously and burglariously breaking into and entering the dwelling-house of Thomas Ebenezer Taylor, situated at New Cross, and stealing a pair of pistols, an opera-glass and divers other articles.
They also stood charged with breaking into and entering the dwelling-house of William Shadbolt, in the parish of Deptford, and stealing divers articles of plate, several silver coins, seven shirts, etc. Also with breaking into and entering the dwelling-house of Joseph Warner, in the parish of Eltham, and stealing six window-curtains and divers other articles. When taken into custody it was discovered Webb had been at Birmingham. He had sent his mother a letter, a copy of which is as follows:--
MY DEAR MOTHER,--
Ingratitude, mingled with shame, almost dares me to either write or see you again: however, I have this assurance and full determination of seeing you, please God, and with your approbation, on Wednesday next, at the Hen and Chickens, New Street, Birmingham, with my sister or sisters. It is my intention, please the Almighty nothing happens, to be there on the before-mentioned day, and I hope you will give me the meeting there, if possible you can make it convenient. Do not let the expense be a hindrance, as that's of no consequence. I will defray the whole. So you will, I hope, excuse this short epistle, and forward an answer by return of post, to oblige your ungrateful son,
P.S.-- Direct for Mr Webb, near the Hare and Billet, Blackheath, Kent.
The magistrates at Bow Street now thought it advisable to dispatch William Adkins, an officer, to Bordesley, near Birmingham, the residence of his mother, who, on his arrival there, searched her house for silver tablespoons and other goods stolen from the house of General Twiss, of Southend, near Eltham, in Kent. Mr Payn and Mr Eagle, constables, assisted him in the search. When he entered Mrs Webb's house he found therein Mrs Webb and her two daughters, Mrs Knot, a lodger, and the servant-girl. He asked Mrs Webb if she had a son who lived in Blackheath. She said she believed she had. He then asked her if he had not been down to see her lately. She said he had. He then asked her if he had not brought a box or trunk with plated goods in it. She replied he had brought a box, but there was nothing but clothes in it; and what he had brought he had taken away with him. He then told Mrs Webb he was an officer from Bow Street; that he and Mr Payn and Mr Eagle had a warrant to search the house; that her son was in custody on a very serious charge, and if he had left anything with her, or if there was anything in her house which he had brought down with him, he begged her to mention them, as otherwise, if anything were found, it might be of serious consequence to her; for, as to him (her son), no evidence was wanting to convict him. Mrs Webb said there was nothing left there at all. He again begged of her, if there was anything, to inform him of it. She hesitated a while, and then said there was a pair of pistols, which were in a box in the back kitchen. The witness took possession of them, and also a pair of patent silver clasps or latchets, and wrote his initials on them. He then asked her if there was anything more, and she positively said there was not. Miss Ann Webb came up to him in the passage, and he asked her if there was anything more, and she said there was; that she had a purse and a smelling-bottle in her pocket; and she immediately gave him a silver-net purse, a smelling-bottle and an opera-glass. He then asked her if there was not something else; and she said yes there was: her sister had a purse also and a pocket-book. He then went to Mrs M'Gaa, and she acknowledged to have received from her brother a purse and a pocket-book, and went upstairs and fetched a silver-net purse, a pocket-book, a pencil and pencil-case, and gave them to the officer. He then asked Miss Ann Webb if there were not some plated goods. She replied: " Why, has not my mother told you?" He said: "Yes, but not where they are." Mrs M'Gaa then took him to a shed in the garden and showed him where they were; and out of a rabbit-pen in that shed he took four plated stands and two silver saltspoons, which were covered with hay in the pen. He then asked her if there was anything else. She said: "Has my mother mentioned a table-cloth?" Adkins said: "No." Mrs M'Gaa then took him upstairs and showed him a drawer, out of which he took a large damask table-cloth. He then said he must search them; and on that Mrs Webb pulled out of her pocket a shagreen mathematical instrument case and instruments, which she said she had forgotten, and a pocket-book of yellow leather, mounted with silver, which she gave to him. Mrs M'Gaa afterwards gave him another pair of silver salt-spoons. All these goods Mrs Webb said her son had given to them. He also took from Miss Ann Webb seven pieces of old silver coin and one piece of gold coin; also a silver cross set with garnets, and an enamelled trinket mounted with brass. He likewise found in the cupboard in the parlour a silver pepper-box.
The next morning he found in a drawer, in the front chamber, a red morocco writing-case, which Mrs Webb and her daughters said they had no knowledge of. The widow, on examination, afterwards confessed that her son, George Webb, about twenty-eight years old, came to see her that day fortnight, in order to sign a conveyance of his interest in an estate to her, which she had contracted to sell to Sir Harry Featherstone Haugh; that he told her he resided at Blackheath, had married a wife with a fortune of nine hundred and fifty pounds, was in the wholesale tea trade, and doing very well; that he should have it in his power to assist her if she wanted it, and to allow her fifty pounds a year; that he brought his clothes in a box; and when he first came into the house he told her he had brought her a small present, and went upstairs with his box, and brought down two pairs of plated bottle-stands and two pairs of silver saltspoons, and a silver-net purse and a table-cloth, which he gave to her; that soon after he gave to his sister, Mrs M'Gaa, a silver-net purse and a silver pencil-case and penknife; and to his sister Ann he gave a smelling-bottle, a yellow leather purse mounted with silver, and an opera-glass. That as soon as his brother Robert came home from work he gave him, in her presence, a pair of brass pistols, which he said he had designed for his brother Charles; that he also gave Robert a pair of patent silver latchets, and a mathematical instrument case, as he thought Robert was in a way of trade in which they might be of service to him; that he said he had given five guineas for the pistols and two pounds, ten shillings for the mathematical instrument case; that she (the mother) was proud of these articles as a present from her son, and showed them to Mr Allen and Mr Dickenson, and many other neighbours; that in return she gave her son George, before he left Birmingham, a silver watch of his father's, a gold seal and a silver cup. She, however, confessed that, a little before the officers came and searched her house, she had received a letter by the London post, without a signature, and ill spelt, dated 1st of July, 1809, desiring her to put everything out of the house. Fearing from this that her son had done something wrong, she was distressed to the utmost, and put the two pairs of bottle-stands and pair of salt-spoons in the rabbit-pen; and that from the same fears, and under the same alarm, she was induced to give the false account she did to Mr Adkins respecting the things her son George had brought to her house.
The stolen property being thus ascertained, the suspected housebreakers-viz. Webb, Russel, White, Egerton and Sarah Russel, Russel's wife, aged thirty-five-were removed from London to Maidstone, and there tried for the same. Webb and Russel were found guilty, and White, Egerton and Russel's wife were acquitted.
When sentence of death was pronounced, Webb did not appear the least affected.