Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 William Burridge


a Highwayman

In the course of these lives I have more than once observed that the vulgar have false notions of courage, and that applause is given to it by those who have as false notions of it as themselves, and this it was in a great measure which made William Burridge take to those fatal practices which had the usual termination in an ignominious death. He was the son of reputable people, who lived at West Haden in Northamptonshire, who after affording him a competent education, thought proper to bind him to his father's trade of a carpenter. But he, having been pretty much indulged before that time, could not by any means be brought to relish labour, or working for his bread.

Burridge was a well-made fellow, and of a handsome person, as well as great strength and dexterity, which he had often exercised in wrestling and cudgel-playing which gained him great praise amongst the country fellows at wakes and fairs, where such prizes are usually given. Therefore giving himself up almost wholly to such exercises, he used frequently to run away from his parents, and lie about the country, stealing poultry, and what else he could lay his hands on to support himself. His father trying all methods possible to reclaim him and finding them fruitless, as his last refuge turned him over to another master, in hopes that having there no mother to plead for him, a course of continued severities might perhaps reclaim him. But his hopes were all disappointed, for instead of mending under his new master, William gave himself over to all sorts of vices, and more especially became addicted to junketting with servant-wenches in the neighbourhood, who especially on Sundays when their masters were out, were but too ready to receive and entertain him at their expense.

But these adventures made him very obnoxious to others, as well as his master, who no longer able to bear his lying out of night, and other disorderly practices, turned him off, and left him to shift for himself. He went home to his friends, but going on still in the same way, they frankly advised him to ship himself on board a man-of-war in order to avoid that ill-fate which they then foresaw, and which afterwards overtook him. William, though not very apt to follow good counsel, yet approved of this at last when he saw some of his companions had already suffered for those profligate courses to which they were addicted.

He shipped himself, therefore, in a squadron then sailing for Spain under the command of Commodore Cavendish, on board whose ship he was when an engagement happened with the Spaniards in Cadiz Bay. The dispute was long and very sharp, and Burridge behaved therein so as to meet with extraordinary commendations. These had the worst effect upon him imaginable, for they so far puffed him up, that he thought himself worthier of command than most of the officers on the ship, and therefore was not a little uneasy at being obliged to obey them. This hindered them from doing him any kindness, which they would otherwise perhaps have done in consideration of his gallant behaviour against the enemy. At his return into England he was extremely ambitious of living without the toil of business, and therefore went upon the highway with great diligence, in order to acquire a fortune by it, which when he had done, he designed to have left it off, and to have lived easily and honestly upon the fruits of it. But, alas! these were vain hopes and idle expectations, for instead of acquiring anything which might keep him hereafter, he could scarce procure a present livelihood at the hazard both of his neck and his soul, for he was continually obliged to hide himself, through apprehension, and not seldom got into Bridewell or some such place, for brawls and riots.

This William Burridge was the person who with Nat Hawes made their escape out of New Prison, by the assistance of a woman, as the life of that malefactor is before related.[1] And as he saved himself then from the same ignominious death which afterwards befell him, so he escaped it another time by becoming evidence against one Reading, who died for the life offences. As to Burridge, he still continued the same trade, till being taken for stealing a bay gelding belonging to one Mr. Wragg, he was for that offence finally condemned at the Old Bailey. While under sentence, as he had been much the greatest and oldest offender of any that were under the same fate, so he seemed to be by much the most affected and the most penitent of them all; and with great signs and sorrow for the many crimes he had committed, he suffered on the 14th of March, 1722, with five other persons at Tyburn, being then about thirty-four years of age.


[1] See page 59.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals