“Under the Shop-lifting Act” (said Sir William Meredith, addressing the House of Commons in 1777), “one Mary Jones was executed, whose case I shall just mention.
“It was at the time when press-warrants were issued on the alarm about the Falkland Islands. The woman’s husband was pressed, their goods seized for some debt of his, and she, with two small children, turned into the streets a begging. ‘Tis a circumstance not to be forgotten that she was very young (under 19), and remarkably handsome.
She went to a linen-draper’s shop, took some coarse linen off the counter, and slipped it under her cloak. The shopman saw her, and she laid it down. For this she was hanged. Her defence was “that she had lived on credit, and wanted for nothing, till the press-gang came and stole her husband from her; but since then she had no bed to lie on – nothing to give her children to eat, and they were almost naked; and perhaps she might have done something wrong, for she scarcely knew what she did.”
The parish officers testified to the truth of this story. But it seems there had been a good deal of shop-lifting about Ludgate. An example was thought necessary (by the judges), and this woman was hanged for the comfort and satifaction of some shopkeepers in Ludgate-street.
tyburn_treeWhen brought to receive sentence, she behaved in tyburn_treesuch a frantic manner as proved her mind to be in a desponding and distracted state, and the child was sucking at her breast when she set out for Tyburn.”