A Highwayman who boxed an Earl's Chaplain for Twenty Guineas. Executed 12th of March, 1690
THIS notorious malefactor was born at Stainford in Lincolnshire, of very honest parents, by whom, after he had been at school to learn reading, writing and ac- counts, he was put apprentice to a baker at Godmanchester, near Huntington. He had not served three years before he ran away from his master, came to Lincoln, and enlisted in the foot-guards. While he was in the army he was at the Siege of Maestricht, under the command of the Duke of Monmouth, who was General of the English Forces in the Low Countries.
Here he was reduced to such necessities as are common to men who engage themselves to kill one another for a groat or fivepence a day. This occasioned him to run away from his colours, and fly to Amsterdam, where he stole a piece of silk off a stall; for which fact he was apprehended and dragged before a magistrate. The effect of this was a commitment to the rasp-house, where he was put to hard labour, such as rasping logwood, and other drudgeries, for a twelvemonth.
As Jack had never been used to work, he fainted under the sentence, though to little purpose; for his taskmasters, imputing it to a stubborn laziness, inflicted a severer punishment upon him, the manner of which was as follows. He was chained down to the bottom of a dry cistern by one foot; immediately upon which, several cocks were set a-running into it, and he was obliged to pump for his life. The cistern was much deeper than he was high; so that if the water had prevailed he must inevitably have been drowned, without relief or pity. Jack was very sensible of his danger, which occasioned him to labour with all his might for an hour, which was as long as the sentence was to continue. Having overcome this difficulty, he plied his business very well the remaining part of the year, when being released he returned into England, with a resolution to try his fortune on the highway. Near St Edmundsbury he stole a horse, and he had before provided half-a-dozen good pistols and a sword. Success attended him in his three or four first robberies, but an unlucky adventure soon brought about a turn in his affairs.
In the road between Gravesend and Chatham he met with one Mr Joseph Pinnis, a pilot of Dover, who had lost both his hands in an engagement. He had been at London to receive ten or twelve pounds for carrying a Dutch ship up the river. When Bird accosted him with the salutation common to gentlemen of his profession, "You see, sir," quoth Pinnis, "that I have never a hand; so that I am not able to take my money out of my pocket myself. Be so kind, therefore, as to take the trouble of searching me." Jack soon consented to this very reasonable request; but while he was very busy in examining the contents of the pilot's purse the boisterous old tar suddenly clapped his arms about his neck, and spurring his own horse pulled our adventurer from his; then falling directly upon him, and being a very strong man, he kept him under, and mauled him with his stirrups, which were plated. In the midst of the scuffle some passengers came by, and inquired the occasion of it. Mr Pinnis replied with telling them the particulars and desiring them to supply his place, and give the villain a little more of the same, adding that he was almost out of breath with what he had done already. When the company understood what was the reason of the pilot's labouring so hard upon the bones of our ruffian they apprehended him, and carried him before a justice, who committed him to Maidstone jail, where he continued till the assizes, and then was condemned to be hanged.
This time Jack had the good fortune to receive mercy, and afterwards to obtain his liberty. The remembrance of his being so heartily thumped by a man without hands stuck so much in his stomach that he had almost a mind to grow honest; and indeed he continued pretty orderly till he was again reduced to necessitous circumstances for want of employment. He had no trade that he was master of, nor learning enough to secure him a maintenance in a genteel way; so that when he found himself in the utmost straits, he could see no other method of supporting himself than what he had formerly followed. The first that he met with, after he had resolved to set out in pursuit of new enterprises, was a Welsh drover, about a mile beyond Acton. The fellow, being almost as stout as Mr Pinnis, would not obey the usual precept, but began to lay about him with a good quarter-staff, which he had in his hands. Jack, when he saw Taffy's courage, leaped nimbly out of the way of his staff, and told him that he had been taken once by a son of a whore without hands; "and for that trick," says he, "I shall not venture my carcass within reach of one that has hands, for fear of something worse." While he was speaking he pulled out a pistol, and instantly shot him through the head. Rifling his pockets, and finding but eighteen-pence, he said ironically: "This is a prize worth killing a man for at any time." He then rode away about his business, as little concerned as if he had done no mischief at all.
Being again encouraged by a series of successful adventures, and having remounted himself on a very good horse, he was resolved to venture on higher exploits. An opportunity for putting this resolution into practice soon fell in his way, by his meeting the mad Earl of P —-, and his chaplain, who was little better than himself, in a coach, with no more attendants than the coachman and one footman. "Stand and deliver!" was the word. His lordship told him that he did not trouble himself about losing the small matter he had about him. "But then," says he, "I hope you will fight for it." Jack, upon this, pulled out a brace of pistols, and let off a volley of imprecations. "Don't put yourself into a passion, friend," says his honour, "but lay down your pistols, and I will box you fairly for all the money I have, against nothing." "That's an honourable challenge, my Lord," quoth Jack, "provided none of your servants be near us." The Earl immediately ordered them to keep at a distance.
The chaplain, like Withrington in the old ballad of Chevy Chase, could not bear to see an earl fight on foot while he stood looking on; so he desired the honour of espousing the cause of his lordship. To which both parties readily agreeing, off went the divinity in a minute, and to blows and bloody noses they came.
Though Jack had once the ill-fortune to be stumped out of his liberty by a sturdy old sailor, he was nevertheless too hard for his Reverence in less than a quarter of an hour. He beat him in such a manner that he could not see, and had but just breath enough to cry: "I'll fight no more." About two minutes after this victory (which he took for a breathing time) Jack told his lordship that now, if he pleased, he would take a turn with him. "By no means," quoth the Earl, "for if you beat my chaplain, you will beat me, he and I having tried our manhood before." So giving our hero twenty guineas, his honour rode off in a whole skin.
While Jack resided in town he married a young woman who had been servant to a dyer near Exeter Exchange, in the Strand. But though Bird was married, he did not confine himself to any one woman; for we are told that he was continually. in company with whores and bawds. One night in particular, having a woman with him, he knocked down a man, between Dutchy Lane and the Great Savoy Gate in the Strand, and, having robbed him, made off safely; but the woman was apprehended, and sent to Newgate. Jack went to her, in hopes to make up the affair with the prosecutor, and was thereupon taken, on suspicion, and confined with her.
At his trial he confessed the fact, and took it wholly upon himself; so that the woman was acquitted, and he condemned to suffer death; which sentence was inflicted on him at Tyburn, on Wednesday, the 12th of March, 1690, he being forty-two years of age. After execution his body was conveyed to Surgeons' Hall, and there anatomised. He spoke but very little at the gallows; what he did say consisted chiefly of invectives against lewd women, and advice to young men not to be seduced by their conversation from the rules of virtue and morality.