An “incredibly rare” deathbed confession from an 18th-century highwayman, written just before he was “hung in chains” for robbing the Yarmouth Mail and detailing his enlightened response to a failed gay seduction, has been acquired by Horsham Museum.
The Life of Thomas Munn, alias, the Gentleman Brick-Maker, alias, Tom the Smuggler runs to 24 pages and was printed in 1750. It is part of the once-popular genre of deathbed confessions, a precursor of true crime, and purports to be an autobiography handed by Munn to the Yarmouth gaoler on the morning of his execution on 6 April 1750.
As he was hanged in Chelmsford…..
Horsham Museum curator Jeremy Knight said that it was notable that Munn had this reaction, and that he had also chosen to give a public account of it.
“To give it space in his confession – the only space he had to give a public account of himself – is really interesting,” he said. “The printer also could have taken offence and not included it – after all the author wouldn’t have any recourse … Yet both thought it important enough to recount. And what Munn states is although it is seen as a sin, his immediate reaction was conditioned by his upbringing and social norms. He is not so sure as he was aroused by the lad, and who are we to judge when we ourselves have that reaction? A desire for toleration and acceptance – it’s human nature.”
Rather more likely perhaps is that the entire story – the entire printed confession – was made up. Such entirely made up pamphlets being a thriving industry at the time. So, you know, the acceptance of the gay bit being perhaps in the mind of the scrivener, not the executee?