THESE men belonged to a gang of desperate villains who frequently committed depredations on the River Thames; but all their previous acts of dishonesty were lost in the enormity of the one we are about recording, which, at the time of perpetration, created a greater notoriety than any case of felony we remember to have heard of.
The brig 'Velocity,' laden with silk and ostrich feathers, sailed in the month of May, 1812, from Gibraltar to London. Coming from a country afflicted with a pestilential disease, the ship was obliged to perform quarantine on her arrival in the mouth of the Thames. Of this circumstance the band of pirates got notice, and having ascertained that a man named Banton, master of the 'Sisters' hoy, was to go down to Stangate Creek to fetch up the silk and feathers, they engaged him -- nothing loath -- to aid them in making away with the cargo. His mate, named Knox, was also in the secret, and approved of the scheme. Winter was also the master of a hoy, and engaged to carry the robbery into execution; for which purpose he followed with his hoy, that when Banton should purposely run his vessel aground, he was to come alongside, and carry off the silk, &c.
Thieves cannot exist without receivers; and these villains had more than one. Cooper, who kept three public houses, and was turning at the rate of seventeen thousand pounds a year, agreed to purchase the silk at a certain price; a man named Ingram was also to receive it; and Ivey, who was a toy-chandler in Artillery Lane, agreed to make sales for them. Cooper and Ingram went down to Dagenham to receive the goods, where it was expected they would have been landed.
On the 14th of July the hoy received the goods, and sailed. Winter followed; but in consequence of Banton having a Custom-house officer on board, who was well acquainted with the river, he refused to fulfil his promise. Thus disappointed, they execrated Banton, and for this time abandoned their intentions; but on the 'Sisters' coming up to the Custom House on Saturday, they entered into a new conspiracy to steal the silk and feathers, there being ten bales of the first, and two of the latter, on board. Allen and Taylor, who were working men on the river, were two of those concerned. On Tuesday night they went on board, when one of the thieves imitated Banton's voice, and told the officers that he should move out in the river, to be ready for the morning's tide, as he wanted to get in the London Docks, and requested of them to go below, and get into bed. The stupid fellows did so, and the villains carried the hoy into a wharf above Blackfriars Bridge, on the Surrey side, where they quickly carried off the cargo. When the officers awoke next morning they found themselves confined; and when, with great difficulty, they broke through the skylight, they found the goods in which they were in charge had been carried off.
The silk and feathers were first removed to a stable in Woolpack Yard, Gravel Lane. The parties afterwards met at several public houses, to concert means to dispose of the property. Ivey refused to be immediately concerned, but promised to sell the feathers when the alarm excited was allayed, and received payment for the part he had already taken. Cooper then agreed to pay for the silk nine hundred pounds, and actually sold a part of it to a Mr. Gibbs, of Cumberland Street, Shoreditch. He then employed one Harris, a clerk, and brother to an attorney, to dispose of more of it; and this man negotiated with some of the trade, pretending that he was employed by men of character, but whose names, from motives of delicacy, he was not at liberty to disclose. The silk being of a peculiar nature, and sent to the purchaser in an unusual state of package, he indignantly rejected it, suspecting that it was part of the stolen silk, then universally advertised.
Several of the party were apprehended on suspicion; but there being no evidence against them, they were acquitted. Harris acted as their professional agent, and supplied them with money. At length a new light was thrown on the affair. A silk-thrower, whose mills were at Bruton, was sent some of this silk to prepare; and suspecting, from its state, that it belonged to that stolen, informed the parties concerned of the circumstance, upon which several of the villains were taken into custody; but the affair being of a complicated nature, it was found necessary to admit some of the accomplices as evidence against the others. For this purpose three men, named Brown, Fenwick, and Banton, were admitted as approvers; and Winter, Allen, Taylor, Ivey, Knox, Cooper, and Harris, were indicted at the Old Bailey, October the 30th, 1812.
Their trial occupied the Court three days, during which time the jury were not permitted to separate. The facts being deposed against them, several witnesses were called as to character; and Cooper had the solicitor of the Customs and Excise examined, to show that he had been frequently prosecuted as a smuggler, with a view to persuade the jury, by inference, that he bought the silk, with the idea that it was smuggled.
The jury, having been charged, retired at twelve o'clock at night, and soon returned with a verdict of Guilty -- Death -- against Winter, Taylor, and Allen:-- Ivey and Cooper Guilty -- transportation; and acquitting Harris and Knox.
Knox, it appeared, knew nothing of the last transaction; and no evidence went to show that Harris was otherwise employed than as a professional agent.
After their conviction several instruments were conveyed to Winter and Allen, with a view to enable them to make their escape; and a similar attempt was made a few days before their final one upon earth. The three unfortunate men suffered the sentence of the law, January 25, 1813.