A Book of Remarkable Criminals HTML version

The Life of Charles Peace
"Charles Peace, or the Adventures of a Notorious Burglar," a large volume
published at the time of his death, gives a full and accurate account of the career
of Peace side by side with a story of the Family Herald type, of which he is made
the hero. "The Life and Trial of Charles Peace" (Sheffield, 1879), "The Romantic
Career of a Great Criminal" (by N. Kynaston Gaskell, London 1906), and "The
Master Criminal," published recently in London give useful information. I have
also consulted some of the newspapers of the time. There is a delightful sketch
of Peace in Mr. Charles Whibley's "Book of Scoundrels."
Charles Peace told a clergyman who had an interview with him in prison shortly
before his execution that he hoped that, after he was gone, he would be entirely
forgotten by everybody and his name never mentioned again.
Posterity, in calling over its muster-roll of famous men, has refused to fulfil this
pious hope, and Charley Peace stands out as the one great personality among
English criminals of the nineteenth century. In Charley Peace alone is revived
that good- humoured popularity which in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries fell to the lot of Claude Duval, Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard. But
Peace has one grievance against posterity; he has endured one humiliation
which these heroes have been spared. His name has been omitted from the
pages of the "Dictionary of National Biography." From Duval, in the seventeenth,
down to the Mannings, Palmer, Arthur Orton, Morgan and Kelly, the bushrangers,
in the nineteenth century, many a criminal, far less notable or individual than
Charley Peace, finds his or her place in that great record of the past
achievements of our countrymen. Room has been denied to perhaps the greatest
and most naturally gifted criminal England has produced, one whose character is
all the more remarkable for its modesty, its entire freedom from that vanity and
vain-gloriousness so common among his class.
The only possible reason that can be suggested for so singular an omission is
the fact that in the strict order of alphabetical succession the biography of
Charles Peace would have followed immediately on that of George Peabody. It
may have been thought that the contrast was too glaring, that even the
exigencies of national biography had no right to make the philanthropist Peabody
rub shoulders with man's constant enemy, Peace. To the memory of Peace these
few pages can make but poor amends for the supreme injustice, but, by giving a
particular and authentic account of his career, they may serve as material for the
correction of this grave omission should remorse overtake those responsible for
so undeserved a slur on one of the most unruly of England's famous sons.
From the literary point of view Peace was unfortunate even in the hour of his
notoriety. In the very year of his trial and execution, the Annual Register, seized