Illustration: Grant and his Companions attacked by the Military.
THE exploits of this celebrated Irish freebooter were fully equal to those of the accomplished robber Duvell. Captain Grant was the son of a poor peasant in the Queen's County, and early evinced a predilection for the bread of idleness. His progress in literature was very trifling; indeed it has been stated that he could neither read nor write. His fertile genius, however, obviated this misfortune, and his daring spirit triumphed over minor obstacles. He sallied out, before the age of twenty, to levy contributions on the highway, and before he was twenty-one a chosen band of followers hailed him Captain.
His depredations for several years were confined to his native county, where his improvident liberality secured him the esteem and blessings of the lower orders, while the terror of his name, and dread of his vengeance, kept those of a higher rank in complete subjection to his authority.
Like Rob Roy, he levied an annual tax on the farmers, which they cheerfully paid, as it secured them from the nocturnal visits of his followers; for Grant was a man of strict honour and a rigid disciplinarian, who punished with severity any dereliction of duty in his band.
Notwithstanding the offer of reward for his apprehension, Captain Grant, as the country people called him, was to be seen at every fair and pattern in the country, and had a more numerous acquaintance than the village doctor. At every farmer's table he was welcome, and the cottages that gave him shelter were sure of reward; for he freely shared the contributions he obtained with danger.
With the ladies he was a second Macheath, and more wives than one claimed him for their husband; and no wonder, for he was frequently complimented, on his person and manner, by the mistresses of those houses which he visited without the formality of an invitation. But it must be observed that Grant never forgot his accustomed humanity and politeness; and, unless when attacked by the police, he never did an individual a personal injury. His behaviour always evinced a degree of refinement above his education and birth; so much so, that even those who suffered from his depredations never spoke of him but as an accomplished villain.
His person was of the most elegant symmetry, and his agility surprising. At rural games he had no rival; and he danced with so much grace, that the country girls were often heard to wish he had not been a robber.
His character at length grew so notorious in the Queen's County, that a consultation of magistrates was held for the purpose of devising means for his apprehension. In consequence of the measures they adopted several of Grant's followers were brought to justice, and they died, as their Captain expressed it, of the 'gallows fever.' . For some time his knowledge of the country and the partiality of the peasantry towards him, aided him in evading the pursuit which was made after him; but a traitor was found, and Grant was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.
The gentry of the country, and ladies of the first rank, crowded to the gaol of Maryborough to see the 'bold outlaw,' which, it was supposed, so much affected his sensibility, that he took his departure, one night, from prison, through a window, having first contrived to cut the bars that guarded it.
Dreading another specimen of the rudeness of the Irish aristocracy, he prudently resolved to leave the Slieve-Bloom mountains, and, with the remnant of his banditti, he removed to the wood of Killoughran, in the county of Wexford, within four miles of the town of Enniscorthy. Here he continued for some time, and made frequent visits to the neighbouring towns, where he was known by the name of Cooney.
In the March of 1816 he made a journey to his native county, where he robbed the house of Thom Cambie, Esq. of money and plate to a large amount. Mrs. Cambie .was at home, and he behaved with so much politeness, that she ordered him supper and wine. The captain, being impatient of delay, applied his teeth to extract a cork from a bottle; upon which the mistress observed 'it was a pity to spoil his fine white teeth,' and immediately stood up and procured him a cork-screw. Grant, on his departure, took the liberty to borrow Cambie's horse and gig, in which he rode to his retreat in the wood of Killoughran.
The captain's occasional depredations in the county of Wexford excited great alarm, for a robbery there then was a thing of very rare occurrence. Notice was given of the banditti retreat, and Archibald Jacob marched the military out of Enniscorthy and surrounded the wood. Some of the soldiers and yeomanry penetrated the fastness, and in the thickest part of the shade they discovered the 'Robber Chief,' and five of his followers, on a bed of straw, situated in a romantic cave. The freebooters defended themselves with desperate valour, and, ere they surrendered, wounded five of the military. In the cave were found all the utensils of housebreaking, and abundance of arms.
The captain was committed to Wexford gaol by the name of Cooney; but. the evidence against him being doubtful, it was apprehended he would be acquitted, when fortunately it was discovered that he was the celebrated Captain Grant. The gaoler of Maryborough now claimed his body, and he was forthwith transmitted to his former abode. This was fortunate for the ends of justice; for it was discovered that on the night of his removal he had matured a scheme of escape from the Wexford gaol.
His trial came on at Maryborough August the 16th, 1816, when he was found Guilty of the burglary in Mr. Cambie's house. To the question 'What reason he had why judgment and sentence of death should, not be passed on him?' he replied in the most firm, collected, and, indeed, feeling manner,-- 'My lord, I only beg of the Court some short time to arrange things before my departure for another place; not in the idle hope of escape or pardon, but to make restitution to the persons who have suffered by my had line of life. I have been visited in my cell by some blessed people, who have, thank God. given this turn to my mind, and to which I implore your lordship's attention.'
Grant's conduct throughout the trial was firm and collected, and was spoken of by the judge in terms of melancholy approbation.
Sufficient time was allowed him to make the arrangements he wished, after which he met his fate with decent fortitude and pious resignation, at Mary borough, August the 29th, 1816.