An audacious young Thief who robbed the Tent of King William in Flanders and stabbed a Newgate Turnkey. Executed 13th Of June, 1690
THOMAS KELSEY was born in Leather Lane, in the parish of St Andrew, Holborn; but his mother being a Welsh woman, and she having an estate of about forty pounds per annum, left her by an uncle at Wrexham, in Denbighshire, the whole family —- which consisted only of the two old people, and this their son —- went down thither to live upon it.
Tom was from his infancy a stubborn, untoward brat, and this temper increased as he grew up; so that at fourteen years of age he was prevailed on by one Jones, who has since been a victualler in London, to leave his father and come up to town, in order to seek his fortune. Having neither of them any money, they were obliged to beg their way along in the best English they were masters of. Going one day to a gentleman's house with their complaint, he took a liking to the boys, and received them both into his house: Kelsey in the quality of a horsekeeper and Jones as a falconer. It may be supposed they were both awkward enough in their callings, but Tom's place was the least difficult, so that he kept it the longest, the gentleman being soon weary of his falconer, and glad to send him about his business again.
It was not a great while after, before Tom Kelsey was detected in some little pilfering tricks, and turned out of doors after his companion, whom he could not find when he came to London. His being out of place till he could subsist no longer, and his natural inclination to dishonesty, soon brought him forward in the course of life for which he was afterwards so infamous. He fell into company with thieves, and was as bold and as dexterous in a little time as the best of them, if not even beyond them all.
Going one day by the house of Mr Norton, a silversmith in Burleigh Street, near Exeter 'Change, a couple of his companions came by him like strangers, and one of them snatched off his hat, and flung it into the goldsmith's chamber window, which stood open, running away as fast as they could. Tom, who had a look innocent enough to deceive anybody, made a sad complaint to Mr Norton, who stood at his door and saw all that passed. It happened that at that time there was nobody at home but himself, of which Tom had got intelligence before. "Poor lad!" says Mr Norton, "you shall not lose your hat; go upstairs and fetch it yourself, for I cannot leave the shop." This was just what Tom wanted; he went up and took his hat, and with it a dozen of silver spoons that lay in his way, coming down in a minute, and making a very submissive bow to Mr Norton for his civility, who let him go without suspicion. This prize was divided between him and his two associates, as is common in such-like cases.
Tom was not, however, so successful in his villainies but that he was condemned to be hanged before he was sixteen years of age. The fact was breaking open the house of one Mr Johnson, a grocer in the Strand, and stealing from thence two silver tankards, a silver cup, six silver spoons, a silver porringer, and forty pounds in money. But he got off this time on account of his youth, and the interest his father made at court; for, hearing of his son's condemnation, the old gentleman came directly up to town, and arrived before the day appointed for his execution, procuring a full pardon by the mediation of some powerful friends.
To prevent his following the same courses again, and exposing himself afresh to the sentence of the law, the old gentleman put his son apprentice to a weaver, but before he had served half-a-year of his time he ran away from his master, and took to his old courses again. It was his pride to make all whom he conversed with as bad as himself, an instance of which appeared in what he did by one David Hughes, a cousin of his by the mother's side. This youth, going to Kingston Assizes along with Tom a few days after he came to town, was prevailed upon by him to pick a pocket in the court; in which action being apprehended, he was immediately tried, and condemned to be hanged upon a gibbet within sight of the Bench, as a terror to others. This week was fatal enough to young Hughes; for he came to London on the Monday, on Tuesday and Wednesday spent and lost ten pounds, which was all the money he had, along with whores and sharpers, on Thursday in the evening picked a pocket, was condemned on Friday morning, and hanged on Saturday. This was the end of one of Kelsey's hopeful pupils, who had the impudence to boast of it.
Another of the actions of this extravagant was his robbing the Earl of Feversham's lodgings. This nobleman was General of the Forces in the reign of King James II., and consequently had a sentinel always at his door. Tom dressed himself in a foot-soldier's habit one evening, and went up to the fellow who was then on duty, asking him a great many questions, and offering at last to stand a drink, if he knew where to get a couple of pots of good beer. The soldier told him there was very good a little beyond Catherine Street, but he durst not leave his post so long as to fetch it. "Can't I take your place, brother soldier?" quoth Tom. "I am sure if somebody be at the post there can be no danger." The soldier thanked him, took the sixpence, and went his way; meanwhile Tom's associates got into the house, and were rifling it as fast as they could. They had not quite done when the soldier came back; whereupon Tom gave him twopence more, and desired him to get a little tobacco also. While the poor fellow was gone for this the villains came out, and Tom went with them, carrying off not only above two hundred pounds worth of plate, but even the soldier's musket. The next day the sentinel was called to account, and committed to prison. At the ensuing court martial he was ordered to run the gauntlet for losing his piece, and then was sent to Newgate, and loaded with irons, on suspicion of being privy to the robbery, where, after nine months' confinement, he miserably perished. Kelsey, after this, broke open the house of the Lady Grace Pierpont, at Thistleworth, and stole from thence a great many valuable things. But soon after one of his companions impeached him for this fact; whereupon, being informed that the officers were in search after him, he fled to the camp of King William in Flanders. Here he got a considerable booty out of his Majesty's tent, and from other general officers, with which he got to Amsterdam, and sold it to a Jew; whom he also robbed afterwards, and sold what he had gotten to another Jew at Rotterdam, from whence he re-embarked for England.
He had not been long returned to his native country before he was detected in breaking open the house of a linen-draper in Cheapside, which put a final end to his liberty, though not to his villainy, for, being sent to Newgate, and having no hopes of ever getting out any more, unless to go to Tyburn, he grew desperate, and resolved to do all the mischief he could there. Mr Goodman, one of the turnkeys of that jail, being one day drinking in the common-side cellar, Kelsey privately stabbed him in the belly with a knife, of which wound he instantly died. For this murder he received sentence of death at the next session in the Old Bailey, and a gibbet being erected in Newgate Street, near the prison, he was thereon executed, on Friday, the 13th of June, 1690, being then no more than twenty years of age. As a terror to the other prisoners who were then in confinement, his body was suffered to hang on the gibbet the space of three hours.