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The Douglas family has its fair share of rogues and vagabonds, and some of their stories can be found in the Douglas Archives. 

Thomas Douglas



This article forms part of our Rogues and Vagabonds section.



Thomas Douglas killing his ShipmateThomas Douglas was indicted at the Old Bailey, for the murder of William Sparks, a seaman, at a public house in Wapping.

It appeared, in the course of the evidence that the parties had been drinking together, till they were inflamed with liquor, when the prisoner took up a knife, and stabbed the other in such a manner that he died on the spot. The atrociousness of the offence was such that Douglas was immediately taken into custody, and, being convicted on the clearest evidence, received sentence of death.

This criminal was born in the county of Berwick, in Scotland, and, having been educated by his parents according to the strictly religious plan prevailing in that country, he was bound apprentice to a sea-faring person at Berwick; and, when he was out of his time, he entered on board a ship in the royal navy, and in this station acquired the character of an expert and valiant seaman.


Having served Queen Anne during several engagements in the Mediterranean and other seas, he returned to England, with Sparks, who was his shipmate, on whom he committed the murder we have mentioned.


After conviction, it was a difficult matter to make Douglas sensible of the enormity of the crime that he had committed; for he supposed that, as he was drunk when he perpetrated the fact, he ought to be considered in the same light as a man who was a lunatic.


This unhappy malefactor suffered at Tyburn, on the 27th of Oct. 1714.


From his fate and sentiments we may learn the following useful instructions. We see that drunkenness is a crime of a very high nature, since it may lead to the commission of the highest. If this man had not been in a state of intoxication, he would probably never have been guilty of murder. We should remember that the bounties of Providence were sent for our use and sustenance, not to be abused. It is a judicious observation of the ingenious authors of the Spectator, that If a m an commits murder when he is drunk, he must be hanged for it when he is sober.' It is no excuse for any one to say he was guilty of a crime when drunk, because drunkenness itself is a crime; and what he may deem an excuse is only an aggravation of his offence; since it is acknowledging that he has been guilty of two crimes instead of one.


The conclusion to be drawn from this sad story is, that temperance is a capital virtue; and that drunkenness, as it debauches the understanding, reduces a man below the level of the ' beasts that perish.' The offender before us acknowledged, in his last moments, that it was but the forerunner of other crimes: and' as what happened to him may be the case with others, as drunkenness produces quarrels, and quarrels lead to murder, we hope the case of this unhappy man will impress on the minds of our readers the great importance of temperance and sobriety. We see that Douglas had received a very religious education; yet even this was inadaquate to preserve him from the fatal effects of a casual intoxication!

When men drink too much, and in consequence thereof assault and wound their companions, we may say, in the words of the poet, that

'Death is in the bowl'


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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024