This offender was the son of a clergyman in the north of Ireland, and, having received an excellent education, obtained an ensign's commission in the 49th regiment of foot, on the Irish establishment, when he was about twenty years of age. His disposition inclining him to feats of arms, he distinguished himself so greatly at the siege of Ticonderago that he was advanced to be a lieutenant, and likewise made adjutant of a regiment. The regiment being ordered from America to Jamaica, was stationed there some years; and in this island Brett married a gentleman's daughter, and received a considerable fortune with her: and two children were the issue of this mar riage. The regiment remaining in a state of inactivity, Brett was at a loss how to dispose of his time, and thereupon took to a habit of gaming, which incurred the censure of his father-in-law, who blamed him for a conduct so inconsistent with the interest of his family. Recriminations becoming mutual, the family became uneasy, and Brett wished for an opportunity of returning to Europe.
This opportunity soon offered; but, to lead to the occasion, we must mention the following fact:—Deserters from the regiments in Great Britain, and sometimes persons who have been capitally convicted, are sent to serve in regiments in the West Indies; and the officers on duty there go in rotation to England to examine such persons before they are sent over. Now it happened that, at the period of which we are writing, the officer appointed to sail to the port of London wished rather to remain in Jamaica; and Brett making application to go in his stead, his request was complied with; and he sailed in a man of war, which landed him at Portsmouth. Going immediately to London, he associated with a set of gamblers, who soon stripped him of his own money, and likewise of some cash with which he was intrusted on behalf of the regiment to which he belonged Thus distressed by his imprudence, he endeavoured to borrow money to make up his loss; but, failing in all his applications, he determined on the commission of forgery; whereupon he wrote the following letter to Messrs. Frazier, Wharton, and Mullison, merchants in London:
This goes by a St. Eustatia vessel, by one Mr. Richard Horton, a purser of a man of war, whose bills upon you, to the amount of one thousand guineas sterling, I must request the favour of you to honour, and you may depend that I shall soon send you proper remittances on that account. I have no more to add at present, but to desire you will be kind enough to comply with this, as it will not only be of service to him, but to myself likewise; and in so doing you will very much oblige
Your humble servant,
This letter was dated from the West Indies, but not written in Mr. Pringle's hand, a circumstance that gave some suspicion to the gentlemen to whom it was directed; who were surprised that the person in whose favour it was drawn did not deliver the letter himself, but sent it by the post. This occasioned suspicion of a forgery; and the gentlemen resolved not to accept any bills in consequence of the letter. A few days afterwards they received a bill, of which the following is a copy:
"March 18, 1761.
Twenty days after sight please to pay Mr. William Huggins, or order, fifty pounds; and charge the same to the account of Walter Pringle, Esq. of St. Christopher's, merchant, as per advice you will find by a letter of credit in my favour by Walter Pringle.
As it was known that no packet had arrived about that time from the West Indies, little doubt remained but that a forgery had been committed; wherefore the merchants determined to make the most cautious inquiry. On the Monday following a gentleman, named Huggins, called for the bill, on which Mr. Mullison asked him how he came by it. He acknowledged to have received it, in his shop, of a person who would call again. Hereupon a peace-officer was employed to attend at Mr. Huggins's house; and two days afterwards Brett came, and, being carried before Sir John Fielding, he acknowledged the forgery not only of the bill, but of the letter of credit, on which he was committed to Newgate.
Brett, being brought to his trial, pleaded 'Not guilty;' but, when Mr. Mullison had sworn to the facts, he begged leave to retract his former plea, and, having remarked that he had been ill advised by his attorney, said, 'I will not give the Court any trouble to prove the name Richard Horton not to be his handwriting; I have nothing to say but to plead guilty;' and in consequence hereof he received sentence of death. After conviction he behaved in the most contrite and penitent manner. His father made all possible intercession to obtain the royal mercy for his unfortunate son; and in the meantime he wrote to him, to advise him to make proper preparation for that ignominious death which he had but too much reason to expect.
Great interest was made to save him, but in vain: the crime was of such a nature, that it would have been a point of false lenity to pardon it in a commercial kingdom. On the day of execution Brett was conveyed to Tyburn, with three other malefactors, one of whom was David Morgan, who had been convicted of robbing Mr. Dobbison on Finchley Common. When at the place of execution, a respite was brought for Morgan, just as the executioner was on the point of tying him up. This being received by the under-sheriff, he went into the cart, saying 'Which is Morgan?' to which he answered 'My name is Morgan:' on which the under-sheriff said 'Loose him; take him away.' Morgan, now turning to Brett, said 'My reprieve is come; fare you well!' and they took a most affectionate leave of each other, after which Brett earnestly continued his devotions to the last moment. Morgan's reprieve arose from the following circumstance. He had stopped the above-mentioned Mr. Dobbison and Mr. Aukland in a chaise. Dobbison attempted to fire a blunderbuss at him; but it flashed in the pan. On this Dobbison begged his life; to which Morgan replied, 'God forbid I should take, your life: you know what I want; I am in necessity.' Mr. Aukland said, 'All you can desire of a gentleman is to ask your pardon;' to which Morgan replied 'I do not desire even that.' Brett was hanged at Tyburn on the 12th of June, 1761.
After the repeated remarks we have made on the nature, danger, and consequence of the crime of forgery, it will be the less necessary to extend our observations on this particular case of Brett. One observation, however, is too striking to be omitted. He was a military man. Military men universally consider themselves as gentlemen; so, indeed, they ought to be, and as such they ought to behave; but the misfortune is, that the pay of officers, excepting those in the higher ranks, is not equal by the day to what a ticket-porter will get in London. Officers, therefore, of all men, should learn the great lesson of frugality, if they would wish to live with credit in that rank to which their interest or merit may have advanced them.