The Life of Thomas Anderson, a Scotch Thief

From Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals who have been Condemned and Executed for Murder, the Highway, Housebreaking, Street Robberies, Coining or other offences

By Arthur L. Hayward

Amongst a multitude of tragical adventures it is with some satisfaction that I mention the life of a person who was of the number of those few which take warning in time, and having once felt the rod of affliction, fear it ever afterwards.

Thomas Anderson was the son of reputable parents in the city of Aberdeen, in Scotland. His father was of the number of those unhappy people who went over to Darien when the Scots made their settlement there in the reign of the late King William, his son Thomas being left under the care of his mother then a widow. By this his education suffered, and he was put apprentice to a glazier, although his father had been a man of some fashion, and the boy always educated with hopes of living genteelly. However, he is not the first that has been so deceived, though he took it so to heart that at first going to his master his grief was so great as had very nigh killed him. He continued, however, with his master two years, and then making bold with about nine guineas of his, and thirteen of his mother's, he procured a horse and made the greatest speed he could to Edinburgh.

Tom was sensible enough that he should be pursued, and hearing of a ship ready to sail from Leith for London, he went on board it, and in five days' time having a fair wind they arrived in the river of Thames. As soon as he got on shore Tom had the precaution to take lodging in a little street near Bur Street in Wapping, there he put his things; and his stock now being dwindled to twelve guineas, he put two of them in his fob, with his mother's old gold watch, which he had likewise brought along with him, and then went out to see the town. He had not walked far in Fleet Street, whither he had conveyed himself by boat, but he was saluted by a well-dressed woman, in a tone almost as broad as his own. Conscious of what he had committed he thought it was somebody that knew him and would have taken him up. He turned thereupon pale, and started. The woman observing his surprise, said, Sir, I beg your pardon I took you for one Mr. Johnson, of Hull, my near relation; but I see you are not the same gentleman, though you are very like him.

Anderson thereupon taking heart, walked a little way with her, and the woman inviting him to drink tea at her lodgings, he accepted it readily, and away they went together to the bottom of Salisbury Court, where the woman lived. After tea was over, so many overtures were made that our new-come spark was easily drawn into an amour, and after a considerable time spent in parley, it was at last agreed that he should pass for her husband newly come from sea; and this being agreed upon, the landlady was called up, and the story told in form. The name the woman assumed was that of Johnson, and Tom consequently was obliged to go by the same. So after compliments expressed on all sides for his safe return, a supper was provided, and about ten o'clock they went to bed together.

Whether anything had been put in the drink, or whether it was only owing to the quantity he had drunk, he slept very soundly until 11 o'clock in the morning, when he was awakened by a knocking at the door; upon getting up to open it, he was a little surprised at finding the woman gone and more so at seeing the key thrown under the door. However, he took it up and opened it: his landlady then delivered him a letter, which as soon as she was gone he opened, and found it to run in these terms:

Dear Sir,

You must know that for about three years I have been an unfortunate woman, that is, have conversed with many of your sex, as I have done with you. I need not tell you that you made me a present of what money you had about you last night, after the reckoning over the way at The George was paid. I told my landlady when I went out this morning that I was going to bring home some linen for shirts; you had best say so too, and so you may go away without noise, for as I owe her above three pound for lodging, 'tis odds but that as you said last night you were my husband, she will put you in trouble, and that I think would be hard, for to be sure you have paid dear enough for your frolic. I hope you will forgive this presumption, and I am yours next time you meet me.

Jane Johnson

Tom was not a little chagrined at this accident, especially when he found that not only the remainder of the two guineas, but also his mother's gold watch, and a gold chain and ring was gone into the bargain. However, he thought it best to take the woman's word, and so coming down and putting on the best air he could, he told his landlady he hoped his wife would bring the linen home time enough to go to breakfast, and that in the meanwhile he would go to the coffee-house, and read the news. The woman said it was very well, and Tom getting to the waterside, directed them to row to the stairs nearest to his lodging by Bur Street, ruminating all the way he went on the accident which had befallen him.

The rumours of Jonathan Wild, then in the zenith of his glory, had somehow or other reached the ears of our North Briton. He thereupon mentioned him to the watermen, who perceiving that he was a stranger, and hoping to get a pot of drink for the relation, obliged him with the best account they were able of Mr. Wild and his proceedings. As soon, therefore, as Anderson came home, he put the other two guineas in his pocket, and over he came in a coach to the Old Bailey, where Mr. Wild had just then set up in his office, Mr. Anderson being introduced in form, acquainted him in good blunt Scotch how he had lost his money and his watch. Jonathan used him very civilly, and promised his utmost diligence in recovering it. Tom being willing to save money, enquired of him his way home by land on foot, and having received instructions he set out accordingly. About the middle of Cheapside a well-dressed gentleman came up to him. Friend, says he, I have heard you ask five or six people, as I followed you, your way to Bur Street. I am going thither and so if you'll walk along with me, 'twill save you the labour of asking further questions.

Tom readily accepted the gentleman's civility, and so on they trudged, until they came within twenty yards of the place, and into Tom's knowledge. Young man, then says the stranger, since I have shown you the way home you must not refuse drinking a pint with me at a tavern hard by, of my acquaintance. No sooner were they entered and sat down, but a third person was introduced into their company, as an acquaintance of the former. A good supper was provided, and when they had drunk about a pint of wine apiece, says the gentleman who brought him thither to Anderson, You seem an understanding young fellow. I fancy your circumstances are not of the best. Come, if you have a tolerable head and any courage, I'll put you in a way to live as easy as you can wish.

Tom pricked up his ears upon this motion, and told him that truly, as to his circumstances, he had guessed very right, but that he wished he would be so good as to put him into any road of living like a gentleman. For to say the truth, sir, says he, it was with that view I left my own country to come up to London.

Well spoken, my lad, says the other, and like a gentleman thou shalt live. But hark ye, are you well acquainted with the men of quality's families about Aberdeen? Yes, sir, says he. Well then, replied the stranger, do you know none of them who has a son about your age? Yes, yes, replied Tom, My Lord J sent his eldest son to our college at Aberdeen to be bred, and he and I an much alike, and not above ten days difference in our ages. Why then, replied the spark, it will do, and here's to your honour's health. Come, from this time forward, you are the Honourable Mr. , son and heir apparent to the Right Honourable, the Lord .

To make the story short, these sharpers equipped him like the person they put him upon the town to be, and lodging him at the house of a Scotch merchant who was in the secret, with no less than three footmen all in proper livery to attend him. In the space of ten days' time, they took up effect upon his credit to the amount of a thousand pounds. Tom was cunning enough to lay his hands on a good diamond ring, two suits of clothes, and a handsome watch, and improved mightily from a fortnight's conversation with these gentlemen. He foresaw the storm would quickly begin, the news of his arrival under the name he had assumed, having been in the papers a week; so to prevent what might happen to himself, he sends his three footmen on different errands, and making up his clothes and some holland shirts into a bundle, called a coach and drove off to Bur Street, where having taken the remainder of his things that had been there ever since his coming to town, he bid the fellow drive him to the house of a person near St. Catherine's, to whom he had known his mother direct letters when in Scotland.

Yet recollecting in the coach that by this means he might be discovered by his relations, he called to the coachman before he reached there, and remembering an inn in Holborn, which he had heard spoken of by the Scotch merchant, where he had lodged in his last adventure, bid the fellow drive thither, saying he was afraid to be out late, and if he made haste he would give him a shilling. When he came thither and had had his two portmanteaus carried into the inn, pretending to be very sick he went immediately upstairs to bed, having first ordered a pint of wine to be burnt and brought upstairs.

Reflecting in the night on the condition he was in and the consequence of the measures he was taking, he resolved with himself to abandon his ill-courses at once and try to live honestly in some plantation of the West Indies. These meditations kept him pretty much awake, so that it was late in the morning before he arose. Having ordered coffee for his breakfast, he gave the chamberlain a shilling to go and fetch the newspapers, where the first thing he saw was an account of his own cheat in the body of the paper, and at the end of it an advertisement with a reward for apprehending him. This made him very uneasy, and the rather because he had no clothes but those which he had taken up as aforesaid; so he ordered the chamberlain to send for a tailor, and pretended to be so much indisposed that he could not get out. When the tailor came, he directed him to make him a riding suit with all the expedition he could. The tailor promised it in two days' time. The next day, pretending to be still worse, he sent the chamberlain to take a place for him in the Bristol coach, which being done, he removed himself and his things early in the morning to the inn where it lay, and set out the next day undiscovered for Bristol.

Three days after his arrival he met with a captain bound for the West Indies, with whom having agreed for a passage, he set sail for Jamaica. But a fresh gale at sea accidentally damaging their rudder, they were obliged to come to an anchor in Cork, where the captain himself and several other passengers went on shore. Anderson accompanied him to the coffee-house, where calling for the papers that last came in, he had like to have swooned at the table on finding himself to have been discovered at Bristol, and to have sailed in such a ship the day before the persons came down to apprehend him in order to his being carried back to London.

As soon as he came a little to himself, he stepped up to the man of the house and asked him for the vault [privy], which being shown him, he immediately threw the paper down; and as soon as he came out, finding the captain ready to go, he accompanied him with great satisfaction on board again, where things being set to rights, by the next day at ten o'clock they sailed with a fair wind, and without any further cross accident arrived safe at Jamaica. There Tom had the good luck to pick up a woman with a tolerable fortune, and about three years later remitted 300 home to the jeweller who had been defrauded of the watch and the ring, and directed him to pay what was over, after deducting his own debt, to the people who had trusted him with other things, and who upon his going off had recovered most of them, and were by this means made a tolerable satisfaction.

He resided in the West Indies for about five years in all, and in that time, by his own industry acquired a very handsome fortune of his own, and therewith returned to Scotland.

I should be very glad if this story would incline some people who have got money in not such honest ways (though perhaps less dangerous) to endeavour at extenuating the crimes they have been guilty of, by making such reparation as in their power, by which at once they atone for their fault, and regain their lost reputation; but I am afraid this advice may prove both unsuccessful and unseasonable and therefore shall proceed in my narrations as the course of these memoirs directs me.

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