A Book of Remarkable Criminals HTML version

with a fit of respectability from which it has never recovered, announced that "the
appetite for the strange and marvellous" having considerably abated since the
year 1757 when the Register was first published, its "Chronicle," hitherto a rich
mine of extraordinary and sensational occurrences, would become henceforth a
mere diary of important events. Simultaneously with the curtailment of its
"Chronicle," it ceased to give those excellent summaries of celebrated trials
which for many years had been a feature of its volumes. The question whether
"the appetite for the strange and marvellous" has abated in an appreciable
degree with the passing of time and is not perhaps keener than it ever was, is a
debatable one. But it is undeniable that the present volumes of the Annual
Register have fallen away dismally from the variety and human interest of their
predecessors. Of the trial and execution of Peace the volume for 1879 gives but
the barest record.
Charles Peace was not born of criminal parents. His father, John Peace, began
work as a collier at Burton-on-Trent. Losing his leg in an accident, he joined
Wombwell's wild beast show and soon acquired some reputation for his
remarkable powers as a tamer of wild animals. About this time Peace married at
Rotherham the daughter of a surgeon in the Navy. On the death of a favourite
son to whom he had imparted successfully the secrets of his wonderful control
over wild beasts of every kind, Mr. Peace gave up lion-taming and settled in
Sheffield as a shoemaker.
It was at Sheffield, in the county of Yorkshire, already famous in the annals of
crime as the county of John Nevison and Eugene Aram, that Peace first saw the
light. On May 14, 1832, there was born to John Peace in Sheffield a son,
Charles, the youngest of his family of four. When he grew to boyhood Charles
was sent to two schools near Sheffield, where he soon made himself remarkable,
not as a scholar, but for his singular aptitude in a variety of other employments
such as making paper models, taming cats, constructing a peep-show, and
throwing up a heavy ball of shot which he would catch in a leather socket fixed
on to his forehead.
The course of many famous men's lives has been changed by what appeared at
the time to be an unhappy accident. Who knows what may have been the effect
on Charles Peace's subsequent career of an accident he met with in 1846 at
some rolling mills, in which he was employed? A piece of red hot steel entered
his leg just below the knee, and after eighteen months spent in the Sheffield
Infirmary he left it a cripple for life. About this time Peace's father died. Peace
and his family were fond of commemorating events of this kind in suitable verse;
the death of John Peace was celebrated in the following lines:
"In peace he lived;
In peace he died;
Life was our desire,
But God denied."