Garret Lawler, 1725-1751

Member of a Gang of Irish Thieves

To trace the short but active criminal career of Garret Lawler is to discover a violent and complicated world of accomplices, criminal loyalties and betrayals, aliases, perjury, and false alibis, which led not only to his own execution but also to that of his brother.

Early Life

Garret Lawler was born in 1725 in Dublin. He had a brother named Laurence, who was born roughly a year later. There is no mention of their mother, so she must have died soon after their births or abandoned them. Garret was brought up by his father who was, by all accounts, a respectable man who earned a living as a butcher.

When Garret was old enough, he was apprenticed to his father for seven years. For the first three years he worked well, and, according to the Ordinary, he "encreased the Business by his Diligence and good Behaviour".

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His Descent Into Crime

Around 1748 Garret fell into trouble. He got into a dispute with some neighbours, and "he had recourse to some unlawful means of being revenged". He was sent to Newgate Prison in Dublin while awaiting his trial, where he became acquainted with "a notorious set of sharpers". His father managed to get him bail, but Garret was nonetheless indicted at the next sessions, convicted, and imprisoned for six months. This affair cost his father financially and emotionally, and he fell ill and died shortly after.

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Move to England

With nothing to keep him in Ireland, Garret moved to England as soon as he was released, arriving in Liverpool in early 1749. He won a considerable sum gambling and "went on board a privateer" until he finally reached London.

In London he met up with some of the people he knew from prison in Dublin, and started thieving, especially house-breaking. His first crime was stealing from a house in Bloomsbury Square, but Garret and his confederates were disturbed by the watch who noticed an open door to the house. The watchmen ordered the thieves to surrender, but were attacked. In the resulting melée Garret was wounded in the head, but his accomplices beat off their pursuers and helped him escape.

Soon Garret resumed stealing, committing highway robbery, burglary and petty larceny in "nightly expeditions". He also made money by cheating people in a game called "Old Nobb".

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Encounters with the Law

Not long after this initial foray into crime, an expedition went wrong when, one of Garret’s accomplices, Thomas Jones alias Harpur, was caught and incarcerated in the Gatehouse Prison. In a violent attack, the gang managed to rescue him, but one of them decided to turn king’s evidence and inform on the others.

The gang were warned, and Garret managed to escape back to Ireland, but a "hue and cry" followed him. He was apprehended and committed to Newgate in Dublin, and transferred back to London in October 1749.

Two months later he, together with an accomplice not apprehended, was indicted for two burglaries which had taken place a year earlier. But he was found innocent as the only evidence against them was the testimony of an accomplice. The keeper of the Marshalsea Prison in Dublin, Thomas Stanley, swore that Garret had been incarcerated when the crime had allegedly occurred.

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Garret's Brother

One of the defence witnesses for Garret was his brother, who had gave his name as Laurence Savage. He had reason to attempt to hide. Unfortunately for him, a man in the public gallery recognised him as the man who had robbed him of a watch. Laurence was found to be Garret’s brother, and was indicted for the robbery, convicted and executed on the 7th of February 1750. As the Ordinary commented, "'Twas indeed a brotherly Kindness to run the Risque of losing his own Life to save his Brother's".

That same month Garret and seven others were also tried for rescuing Harpur from the Gatehouse, who had been committed there for stealing a watch. Thomas Stanley once again offered an alibi for Garret, but another witness, the keeper of Newgate Prison in Dublin, contradicted his evidence. Punishment was respited, but in April 1750 he was sentenced to be branded and imprisoned for one year.

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Conviction and Execution

Garret was discharged in April 1751, and immediately returned to his life of crime with a former accomplice named Thomas Masterson. On May 26th the two were arrested by the watch and some soldiers after committing a violent assault on William Couty with a cutlass and stick and stealing his hat and periwig. Under the alias of John Tompson, Lawler was tried for highway robbery on July 7th 1751. Once again, he found witnesses to provide an alibi, but the alibi was contradicted by another witness and Garret was convicted and sentenced to death.

While in prison a man came to see Garret and Masterson, claiming that he could, and would, swear that they had stolen from him too. Garret grew angry and hit him on the head with a bottle, which knocked him out.

Prior to the execution, Lawler's wife, who was under an accusation of shoplifting, was moved from the Gatehouse Prison to Newgate, so she could see her husband before his execution.1 On July 29th Garret, with eight others, was taken in a cart to Tyburn and executed. According to the Ordinary's Account he and his fellow condemned prisoners "behaved as became their circumstances". When their friends crowded around the gibbet pressing to obtain their corpses for burial (in order to prevent the bodies from being taken away by the surgeons for anatomy lessons), the under sheriff forced them to wait in turn until each of their bodies was cut down and handed over to the friends. This "prevented a good deal of hurry and disturbance".

But Lawler's name continued to appear in the Old Bailey Proceedings. In October, Anne Lewis was indicted for perjury for her testimony at Lawler's trial in May, when she had attempted to provide the alibi. Given Garret's criminal record, and the behaviour of his accomplices, this was not an implausible accusation, but the evidence against her was insufficient and she was acquitted.

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External Sources

  • London Morning Penny Post. 26 July 1751.


1 London Morning Penny Post, 26 July 1751.

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About this Biography

Created by

Sarah Marriott

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker