Finding the officers of the law getting a bit too close on the highways Old Mobb turned himself to a different career. He went into partnership with a fellow Knight of the roads, and together they proceeded to defraud the London merchants of a large sum of money in an elaborate scam. They were finally undone after a clever piece of fraud practised on a pair of rich brothers. Old Mobb was executed at Tyburn on May 30th 1690.
Old Mobb now went into partnership with a fellow highwayman, equally ingenious, known as the Golden Farmer; two stories, the most remarkable and diverting that we have seen concerning them, now follow. Having both of them a pretty deal of ready cash, and being willing to retire a little while from the highway, where they had lately made a great noise, and were now very much sought after, they came to London, in order to make use of their wits, of which they had both as great shares as they had of strength and courage. Here their first work was to observe the humours and manners of the citizens, which neither of them was well acquainted with before, that they might know the better how to proceed, and impose upon them in their own way.
Everyone knows that London is all hurry and noise; every man there is a man of business, and those who make good appearances never want credit. All people there live by mutual dependence upon one another, and he who has dealt for two or three hundred pounds, and made good his payments, may afterwards be trusted for five. Our adventurers soon perceived all this, and what advantages many designing men made of the general confidence that people reposed in each other. They saw that nobody could teach them how to cheat a citizen so well as a citizen himself, and thereupon they concluded that the best way they could take was, to both turn tradesmen. Each of them now takes a large handsome house, hires two or three servants, and sets up for a great dealer.
The Golden Farmer's habitation was in Thames Street, where he passed for a corn chandler, which occupation he had the most knowledge in of any. Old Mobb took up his residence somewhere near the Tower, and called himself a Holland trader, he having been abroad when a boy, and knowing pretty well what commodities were exported to that country, of the language of which he had also a small smattering. They went for near relations, of the name of Bryan, and said they were North Country men. They now employed all their time in inquiring after goods in their several ways, buying whatever comes to their hands, and either paying ready money themselves, or drawing upon each other for one, two or three days; at which time payment was always punctually made. This constant tide of money was kept up by their continually selling privately what they bought (sometimes, perhaps, not a little to loss) to such persons as are glad to make use of their cash in this manner; and always wink at things which they can't comprehend, while they find their interest in it.
As they dealt in very different ways, the chapmen [Note 1] of the one had no knowledge of those of the other; so that though every one of them had been sent at one time or another, by his respective customer, to receive money off his kinsman, none of them had any notion that the correspondence was mutual, and consequently no suspicion of a fraud at the bottom. Thus they continued till they both found their characters thoroughly established. Perhaps in this time they may each of them have lost a hundred or two pounds, but they very well knew that this loss would get them as many thousands. When they saw that all who dealt with them were ready to send in what goods they required, and not in the least care about their money, they thought their project ripe for execution.
Accordingly a day was appointed for that purpose. They now ordered all their customers to bring them in goods on such a day, as much, at least, in quantity, as they had ever before received at one time of the respective sorts, confining them all to particular hours for the delivery of what they brought, that they might not interfere with one another, and so suspect that some unfair design was on foot. At the same time they informed those who usually bought everything off their hands that they should have such-and-such quantities of so many sorts to dispose of, naming the next day to that when they were to receive them; that they would sell them cheap, because they were obliged to make up a large sum of ready money; that therefore they desired them to be punctual, and bring only cash for what they designed to buy. The whole scheme succeeded as well as they could wish: on one side there was no suspicion; and on the other, if there was any, it was not the interest of the parties to discover what they thought, because every one of them promised himself some advantage.
The goods were all delivered according to order, at the day and hour appointed, and notes were mutually drawn by the kinsman in Thames Street upon him by the Tower, and by the kinsman by the Tower upon him in Thames Street, for the several sums, to be paid at three days after date. Never were men better satisfied than these poor dupes, not one of them doubting but he should have all his money the moment he went for it, as usual. They went home and slept soundly that night, and the two nights succeeding. Next day came the buyers, and entirely cleared both houses, paying down ready money for all they carried off. These too were as well pleased as the rest, and with much better reason. They imagined indeed that their chapmen were going to break, but what was that to them? No matter how the poor men were to live for the future, so long as they could have good bargains at present.
There was now time enough before the day of payment for our two merchants to take care of themselves, and the money they had raised, which they did very effectually. When they came to computation they found that by this one bold stroke they had got clear into their pockets about sixteen hundred and thirty pounds - a pretty considerable sum for three months, which was the longest time they were in trade. When the creditors came to receive their money they were surprised at both places to see the doors fast, and the windows shut, till they were informed by the neighbours that the birds were flown the day before, and that all their furniture was either carried off in the night, or seized for rent. How the men now looked upon one another!
Every one began to suspect that the rest who were attending came about the same business as himself, and indeed, when they came to examine the matter, they found themselves not mistaken. Those who were earliest in Thames Street, and had heard the melancholy news, went forthwith to the Tower to complain that Mr Cousin was gone; and those at the Tower set out for Thames Street. Now was the whole plot unravelled, when they saw both were departed quietly, and had learned of each other how they had been mutually imposed upon by the pretended relations, when they told their several cases.
One such trick as this is enough for a man's whole life, and as much as he can safely play in the same kingdom. Our two Bryans now, therefore, resumed their old names and habits, taking to the highway again for some time, till fresh danger of being apprehended put them once more to their shifts. There was not less art in what they now did than in what we have just related, only they acted in a lower sphere, not daring to aspire so high as to be merchants, after they had brought so much scandal upon the name. Men whose thoughts are all turned upon money have no regard to the manner in which they get what they desire - nor need they, provided they come off with impunity; for all people honour the rich, without inquiring how they came to be so.
There were two wealthy brothers of the name of Seals, Philip and Charles, both jewellers. Philip lived in London, and Charles resided at Bristol. The Golden Farmer and Old Mobb knew every circumstance of the family from which these men were descended, and were moreover particularly instructed in the private history of our brothers. This made our desperadoes fix on them for their next prize, now they were again reduced to extremity. The brothers were sickly, consumptive men, which inclined these arch villains to undertake and perform what will be as diverting in the relation as it was unparalleled in itself, and worthy of the men who acted in it.
Having contrived and ordered the whole affair, the first step they took towards executing it was writing, and copying, the following letter, making only the alteration of the place and name, as they saw necessary:
"March 26,1686. These letters being sealed and properly directed, our two adventurers dressed themselves according to the characters they were to bear, and parted from each other; one of them riding towards London, and the other towards Bristol, having so ordered it beforehand that they might both come to the end of their journey at the same time. They arrived, they delivered their credentials, and were kindly received. It is not to our purpose to declare how many tears were shed upon opening the letters, and how many eulogies each of the living brothers bestowed upon him whom he supposed to be dead. Much less shall we pretend to describe the secret joy which they both concealed under a sorrowful countenance; but which naturally arose in their breasts when they understood that an addition would now accrue to their fortunes by the death of a brother. It is true they both loved one another; but of all love, self-love is the strongest.
DEAR BROTHER, This comes to bring you the sorrowful news that you have lost the best of brothers, and I the kindest of husbands, at a time when we were in hopes of his growing better, as the spring advanced, and continuing with us at least one summer longer. He died this morning, about eleven of the clock, after he had kept his bed only three days. I send so hastily to you, that you may be here before we prepare for the funeral, which was the desire of my dear husband, who informed me that he had made you joint-executor with me. The will is in my hands, and I shall defer opening it till you arrive here. I am too full of grief to add any more; the messenger, who is a very honest man, and a neighbour of mine, shall inform you of such particulars as are needful from, your sorrowful sister,
P.S.-I employed a friend to write for me, which I desire you to excuse; for I was not able to do it myself, nor indeed to dictate any more."
The evening at each place was spent in talking over several particulars of the family, subjects that at such a time as this always come in the way. Our messengers were both very expert, and each brother was convinced that the man whom his sister had sent had been long conversant in the family, by the exact account which he gave of things. They moreover added of their own heads a great deal of stuff concerning the manner of the respected Mr Seals' death, and what he said in his last moments, which at this time was doubtless very moving. In a word, the best bed in both houses was made ready for our two sharpers, who were to depart the next morning, and tell the sisters-in-law that their brothers would come two days after, which was as soon as their mourning could be made, and other things prepared for the journey.
It may be proper to observe that Old Mobb went to Bristol, and the Golden Farmer to London. The first of these found means in the evening to secure jewels to the value of two hundred pounds, which was all the booty he had any opportunity to make. But the Golden Farmer, having well observed the position of Mr Philip Seals' shop, arose in the night, came silently downstairs, and took to a much greater value; among other things a diamond necklace - which was just made for a lady of the first quality, but not to be delivered till some days after - three very large diamond rings, and five small ones. In the morning both our adventurers set out, one from Bristol, and the other from London. They met at a place before appointed, and congratulated one another upon their success.
But we must leave them together, and return to the brothers, who were both getting ready for their journey. Such was the hurry and confusion which our messengers had put the two families in, that nobody in either of them took any notice of the shops, so that nothing of the robberies was discovered in time enough to prevent the masters setting out, and let them see that they were imposed on. The shops were well furnished out, and what was carried off took up but little room; wherefore it was not surprising that such a thing should be overlooked, at a time when no business was thought of but the preparations for travelling, and appearing decently at the funeral.
The merriest part of the whole story was our two brothers setting out the same morning, and coming the same evening to Newbury, where they took up their lodging also at the same inn. He from London came in first, and being fatigued went to bed before the other arrived. The Bristol man, about two hours after, passed through his brother's room, and a companion with him, whom he had engaged to attend him, and reposed themselves where but a thin partition was between the two chambers. Philip, the Londoner, was asleep when his brother went by him, but the discourse between Charles and his friend surprised him; he could not tell what they talked off; but was certain one of the tongues was his brother's, whom he was going to see buried.
By and by Charles had occasion to go to the necessary house; upon which he rises, and attempts to go through Philip's chamber again, who by the moonlight was still more convinced that he had not been deceived in the voice. Upon this he screamed out, and Charles was now as much surprised as his brother; so that he ran back to bed half dead with fear. In a word, they both continued sweating, and frightening themselves, till morning, when they arose and dressed themselves in their mourning apparel. Below stairs for some time they shunned one another, till they were taken notice of by the people of the house, who with some difficulty brought them together, after they had heard both their stories. They now saw themselves imposed on, but could not imagine the reason of it, till, after spending two days together at the inn, they both returned, and found themselves robbed.
Now was the plot unravelled. Old Mobb was at last apprehended in Tothill Street, Westminster, committed to Newgate, and tried at the Old Bailey, on thirty-six indictments, of thirty-two of which he was found guilty. On Friday, the 30th of May, 1690, he was executed at Tyburn, without making any speech or confession, but continuing to act with his usual intrepidity.
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Note: 1. Chapmen were pedlars or tradesmen. The word is derived from the Old English word, chepe, for market or bargain. The modern word Chap is derived from phrases such as "If you want to buy, I'm your chap(man)".
2. The complete text of the Newgate Calendar is available online here.