Convicted at the OLD BAILEY on Saturday, Nov. 1st, 1783, of a
Cruel Highway Robbery on JOHN SPICER, a Poor Man.
This robbery was so peculiarly inhuman and aggravated, that the circumstances attending it are too interesting to the public not to be given in detail; nor perhaps can the Old Bailey afford an instance more odious, or more reflecting on the depravity of human nature.
John Spicer, the prosecutor, of Cray, in Kent, a poor labouring man, was coming to town on the Tuesday before, with his bundle, where he was a total stranger, in order to get into work, and met with the prisoner at Ilford, where they joined company, and travelled to town together. The prisoner, during their travelling together, sifted the prosecutor, and got out of him the nature of his journey, and what little property he was possessed of, undertook to get him a lodging, provide him a master, and to show him about London. After eating, drinking, and sleeping together on the road at different places, they arrived in town on the Thursday, when the prisoner took Spicer to a public house in Whitechapel, and left him there, pretending to go out after a lodging.
Under this specious shew of friendship, Spicer was left for three or four hours, when a man whose name is Patrick Bowman (who also stands indicted, but is not yet taken) came to Spicer with a plausible apology for Austin's leaving him so long, and desired Spicer to go with him to Austin, who had got him a lodging. This the credulous prosecutor assented to, and Bowman took him to another public-house, where they joined Austin, and from thence they all went out, as Spicer thought, towards the lodging; but when he found himself in the middle of a field, out of the high road, by the side of a ditch, no house near, nor anything to be seen but the lights of some distant lamps, he observed that it was a very comical place to look after a lodging; upon which Austin retired a little, and Patrick Bowman drew a cutlass, with which he kept chopping at the hands, wrists, arms, body, and head of the prosecutor, and mangled him in a most shocking manner. Spicer resisted this attack, and would have got the better of Bowman, if Austin had not come up to Bowman's assistance; for when the poor wretch, thinking he had a firm friend in Austin, called out, "O John, won't you come and help me!" Austin immediately seized him by the collar with one hand the inside of his handkerchief, and with the other caught hold of his legs, and threw him down, when they rifled him of the things mentioned in the indictment, Spicer crying out, "0 John, I hope you won't be against me."
This cruel attack on the prosecutor happened to be overheard by one James Story, a servant to Mr. Wells, a gardener, who rushing out to the poor man's assistance, Austin and Bowman made off, and Story ran after to apprehend them, and overtook them, but Bowman and Austin facing about, one with a stick, the other with a cutlass, in order to attack him, he retreated to Spicer, whom be found in a most mangled condition, and took him to his master, from whence he was sent to the hospital, without hopes of recovery.
This was confirmed by Mr. Wells, who did everything in his power to comfort, assist, and stop the bleeding and wounds. Early the next morning, Story saw the prisoner coming towards the spot where this brutal scene took place, and looking about him; Story asked him what he was looking for, to which Austin replied, for some money that had been lost there; upon which Story, who before had some suspicions, apprehended Austin, and secured him in his master's stables; he was observed by Mr. Wells to secret a silk handkerchief and a pair of stockings in the rack, which turned out to he the prosecutor's property, and on Austin being shown to Spicer, was fixed on by him. This was the evidence, except the prisoner's cloaths being wet with blood when apprehended, which was proved by Story and Mr. Wells, and one Yardly, a constable, proved that Bowman and Austin had been companions on board the lighters together.
Being called on for his defence, he said, that he acted from the impulse of fear, and that he should not have assisted in the robbery but for the dread and threats of Bowman. The Jury without hesitation found him guilty; and the Recorder, who tried the prisoner, first consulting with Baron Eyre and Judge Nares, said he thought the case of such a nature that he should immediately pass sentence of death. Austin being asked the usual question of what he had to say why judgement of death should not be pronounced against him, replied, "I don't fear death, as I am not guilty, and shall die innocent.''
The Recorder then addressed the prisoner as follows:-
John Austin, you have been tried and convicted by a just and yet merciful jury, upon the most clear and satisfactory evidence. So horrid a crime as you have been guilty of, in its nature so audacious and inhuman, calls aloud for the very severe and immediate interposition of justice. It has been the declared intention of our merciful Sovereign, that he will never shew any compassion to such wretches as you, who add cruelty to robbery, and whose attacks on the property of his peaceable and honest subjects are accompanied with acts, whereby the crime of murder may he added to that of robbery. Everybody must applaud a resolution founded on the strictest justice and necessity. It is peculiarly my duty to further his royal intentions, by making my report of such criminals as you the first opportunity after conviction; and, therefore, to carry his Majesty's purpose into effect, I shall report you as a fit object of punishment with all possible speed. Your crime has been accompanied with every speices of aggravation. Under the mask of friendship you have robbed a poor innocent man, deluded by your treacherous designs, and your false friendship : it is further aggravated by the baseness and inhumanity of your deceit, which cannot entitle you to any instance of mercy, but requires that you may be made an example of immediate justice. On Monday, therefore, I shall make the report of you to his Majesty. I advise you to prepare your soul for that fate which I am now about to pronounce against you.
The Recorder then pronounced the usual sentence, and the prisoner was taken from the bar.
Yesterday morning was executed, at Tyburn, John Austin, convicted last Saturday of robbing John Spicer in a field adjoining the highway at Bethnal green, and cutting and wounding him in a cruel manner. From Newgate to Tyburn the convict behaved with great composure. While the halter was tying the unhappy wretch trembled in a very extraordinary manner, his whole frame appearing to be violently convulsed. The Ordinary having retired from the cart, the convict addressed himself to the surrounding populace in the following words, "Good people, I request your prayers for the salvation of my departing soul; let my example teach you to shun the bad ways I have followed; keep good company, and mind the word of God." The cap being drawn over his face, be raised his hands, and cried, "Lord have mercy on me, Jesus look down with pity on me, Christ have mercy on my poor soul;" and while uttering these exclamations, the cart was driven away. The noose of the halter having slipped to the back part of his neck, it was full ten minutes before he was dead.
SOURCE: Curiosities of Street Literature, London, Reeves and Turner, 196, Strand, 1871.