We give a place to this case from its presenting a singular extension of the royal mercy in the crime of forgery. The greatest interest since this instance has been made in vain for pardon to forgers, particularly for the two brothers, Robert and Daniel Perreau, Dr. William Dodd, and William Wynne Ryland, whose cases we shall hereafter give, and many others.
Michael Sampson was not, in fact, arrived at the estate of man when he committed a forgery, without, perhaps, being aware of the enormity of the crime, and for which he was tried at the Old Bailey, and found guilty. He had received a good education, was brought up to the sea service, and already commanded a merchant vessel; and, young as he was, he was distinguished by the appellation of Captain Sampson. When brought up to the bar, May the 5th, 1764, to receive judgment, on being asked by the clerk of the arraigns, in the usual form, 'Why sentence of death should not be passed upon him?' he thus addressed the Court:—
'After having voluntarily pleaded guilty, I humbly wait to receive the sentence of the law. Great as my crime is, his majesty's mercy is still greater; and if, in my past conduct, any circumstances have happily appeared, by which I have (under God) been the means of saving the lives of any of his majesty's subjects (and with truth I can say that I have saved above two hundred from perishing), I hope those circumstances will, in some measure, recommend me, a truly sincere penitent, to his royal mercy; and, if it should be his gracious pleasure to save that forfeited life, which before had been the means of saving so many others, the remainder of it shall be spent in a manner becoming the situation of one sensible of that inestimable blessing.
'My lords, I applied to the Court last sessions to put off my trial, in order that I might be able to lay many favorable circumstances before this Court that might incline your lordships to mercy; but, being advised that those circumstances were more proper to be laid before his royal majesty, I confessed that guilt which in conscience I could not deny.
'Your lordships are men; you feel as men; and, perhaps, may now feel some compassion for an unhappy youth, truly penitent, and not yet twenty years of age.
'Permit me, my lords, to add, that, if your lordships, who are now proceeding according to strict law, shall be pleased to render me any compassionate services, that obligation to myself and my worthy relations, now involved in my sufferings, but not in my guilt, will never be forgotten. But, my lords, if, after all, the bitter cup of justice is not to be removed from me, I humbly submit to thy will, O God, in whom I trust.'
A certain nobleman, high in office, several of whose domestics were among the number whom Sampson had been the principal cause of saving from drowning, used all his influence in favour of the wretched youth; and succeeded in first obtaining a respite, and eventually a pardon. The consideration which moved the royal breast to mercy was, doubtless, his having saved the lives of so many fellow. creatures from perishing in the Dublin packet, bound for Ireland; yet still it opened a door to pardon for an offence which never can be endured in a commercial country like Britain. When the conditional pardon reached Newgate it was found to include eight unhappy culprits, then under sentence of death, on condition of transportation for life to America; viz. Michael Sampson, William Brown, Richard Bevas, William Bellet, James Wharton, John Boylan, Richard Gray, and John Faulkner; and the following pardoned on condition of transportation for seven years; viz. Richard Jewes, William Manning, William Smith, and Elizabeth Osborne. Sampson being asked in the usual manner, as well as all the rest, whether he would accept his majesty's favour on the above condition, he thus replied:—
'It is entirely above my comprehension to express the gratitude and thanks I owe for such extraordinary mercy to an unfortunate young man, whose life was forfeited to public justice. I most humbly accept of the proffered terms, and will never cease to pray for the eternal happiness of my most benevolent king, through whose most gracious mercy 1 now exist.
'Words cannot, my lord, yet my future conduct shall demonstrate, that it may not be amiss sometimes to temper justice with mercy. And I most humbly return your lord ship, and this honourable Court, my most grateful thanks for the trouble they have been at, and for their generous behaviour towards me.'
This unfortunate young man was sent to Virginia, pursuant to his sentence of transportation.