Illustration: Morgan at the club
This malefactor was a native of Ellesmere, in Shropshire, descended of poor parents, whose virtuous characters were the greatest part of their possession. They bestowed on him as good an education as their circumstances would admit, and were careful to instruct him in the duties of religion. When he grew towards years of maturity he entered into the service of a farmer in the neighbourhood, with whom he lived near three years with an unblemished reputation. After this he engaged to serve other farmers in different parts of England, continuing to labour as a husbandman till he became almost two-and-twenty years of age, and then repaired to London, in order to obtain subsistence by his honest endeavours. He had not been long in town before he entered into the service of Mr. Hotchkin, a capital linen-draper near Smithfield Bars. His principal business was to carry out parcels, and his behaviour was such, for a considerable time, as entitled him to the approbation of his master.
At length he was unfortunate enough to become acquainted with the servant of a distiller in the neighbourhood, who introduced him into a set of company which led to his ruin. Morgan had been hitherto remarkable for his sobriety; but a fatal change soon took place. The distiller's servant was one of a low alehouse club, of which Morgan became a member: and each of the company paid fourpence halfpenny for his evening's expenses in beer and tobacco. It was in this club that the first taint appears to have been given to Morgan's morals. Some of the company, who were chiefly porters, used to boast how considerably they defrauded their masters, and even mentioned the names of the parties to whom they sold the stolen effects. For some time Morgan appeared shocked at the idea of obtaining money by such a violation of the laws of duty and integrity, and actually absented himself from the club; but at length the servant of the distiller prevailed on him to rejoin the company, which he did, but with a reserve in his own mind that he would not be concerned in any of their iniquitous transactions. These good resolutions, however, did not last any considerable time; for his companions, wishing him to enter into their practices, artfully took him to the house of the man who received the stolen goods, where he saw such various articles which porters had stolen from their masters, and remained undetected, that he was but too easily induced to commence the illicit practice.
His mind being thus prepared for acts of dishonesty, he soon began to purloin his master's effects, which he stole in considerable quantities; and as Mr. Hotchkin had a very large stock, and dealt in the wholesale trade, the articles could not be easily missed, so that he had an opportunity of continuing his de predations for a considerable space of time; and, indeed, when the articles were at length missed, no one suspected Morgan to be the thief, as his character had been hitherto irreproachable, and his behaviour such as to entitle him to general respect. His custom was to convey the stolen goods to a stable in Durham Yard, Chick Lane, where they were deposited till the usual purchaser came, and bought them, and carried them off. Morgan's practices in this way were so considerable, that his companions of the club began to look on him as a proper agent for disposing of such goods as should be stolen by others; but this plan was defeated almost as soon as it was formed.
Mr. Hotchkin at length discovering that he had been robbed, and that the depredations had been frequently renewed, and observing that not any person had broken into his house, he concluded that the robber must be one who lived in the family. In consequence hereof a person was appointed to watch the motions of Morgan; and on his going out he was followed to a house, whence he took several parcels to an inn, to be carried by the Birmingham waggon. Inquiry being made into the affair, it was discovered that Morgan had a considerable quantity of goods destined for the same place; and these, being examined, were found to be the property of Mr. Hotchkin, whose marks were on the several pieces; on which the offender was taken into custody, and carried before a magistrate. On his examination he denied having been guilty of the crime alleged against him; but, as the presumptive evidence of the fact was too strong to allow of his being dismissed, he was committed to Newgate, till the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey, that his guilt or innocence might abide the award of a jury.
On his trial the evidence against him was so conclusive that no hesitation could be made to find him guilty, and judgment of death passed of course. After conviction he acknowledged to the Ordinary of Newgate the justice of his sentence, and owned that he had defrauded his master of goods to a considerable amount. He was constant and regular in his devotions, both in the chapel and in his cell; nor did he seem to entertain a hope of that mercy which he had no right to expect. When he was told that his name was included in the warrant for execution, he received the dreadful news with great composure; and confessed that he had merited the shocking fate that awaited him. He behaved even with pious resignation, and acknowledged that faith in the merits of Christ by which poor sinners arc to expect salvation. He was visited after conviction by a number of people who had known him in the former part of life, and who kindly assisted him in his solemn preparations for eternity. He received the sacrament on the morning of his death, and repeated the declarations he had formerly made of his guilt. At the fatal tree he addressed himself to the surrounding multitude, earnestly desiring servants not to defraud their employers. He prayed in the most earnest manner, and so audibly as to be heard by great numbers who attended his fatal exit. After the body had hung the customary time it was delivered to his friends, in order to its being buried as they might think proper. Richard Morgan suffered at Tyburn on the 27th of May, 1772.
From the case of this unfortunate man persons in a dependent situation should principally learn two things; viz. never to injure their masters; and by all means to avoid any connexion with low company at alehouses, as the keeping such company may insensibly involve them in expenses which may lead to the commitment of acts of dishonesty. Honest countrymen are generally too fond of repairing to London, in the vain hope of making that fortune which very few of them ever acquire; and perhaps those who do might be more happy in their native fields, undisturbed with the cares of the busy world. It is not every man that grows rich that becomes happy of course; and perhaps the contrary is more generally the case. Upon the whole, we should learn resignation to the will of Providence, and be taught the great doctrine of being content in any station in which we may be placed:—
'Life's but a short chase; our game's consent
Which most pursued is most compelled to fly
And he that mounts him on the swiftest hope
Shall often run his courser to a stand;
While the poor peasant, on some distant hill,
Undangered, and at ease, views all the sport,
And sees content take shelter in his cottage.'
(sic—actually these lines are by Colley Cibber)