CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON AND JOHN STOCKDALE
Executed at Tyburn, 3rd of July, 1753, and their Bodies hanged in Chains, for Murder
CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON was born in Newgate, both his parents being convicted of fraud. Having imbibed false ideas of gentility, he procured some elegant clothes and frequented the gaming-houses, where he soon made the most dangerous connections and arrived at the head of his profession.
From the practice of gaming he took to that of forgery, at which he was remarkably expert in imitating the hands of other people to notes payable to himself; by which he repeatedly acquired money, but still escaped detection.
His daring was such that he sometimes arrested persons on whom he had committed forgeries and compelled the payment of the money, by having people ready to swear that the handwriting was that of the party whose name was subscribed to the draft.
The following is one specimen of his devices. He forged a note on a lady of considerable fortune, and signed her name to it so like her writing that she almost discredited her own sight when she read it. Johnson arrested her. But as she knew she had given no such note, she bailed the action and prepared to stand trial; but the guilty man declined all further proceedings.
After this Johnson took to picking pockets and other low practices of defraud; but a miserable poverty still attended him, for what he got dishonestly was soon spent in dissipation. At length he met John Stockdale, at Sadler's Wells, and agreed to see him the next evening at a house in Holborn.
Stockdale was born at Leicester, where his father was a reputable proctor, who gave him an excellent education, but was too fond of him to keep that strict guard over his conduct which might have been essential to his future welfare. He very soon showed a disposition to idleness, which was not properly checked by his parents, who would not permit his schoolmaster to chastise him for his faults. When the father saw his error he determined, in pursuance of the advice of some friends, to send him to a proctor in Doctors' Commons, where he hoped to hear of a speedy reformation in his manners. Stockdale, however, was of too idle a disposition to brook confinement. His extravagance exceeded the bounds of his father's allowance, and he borrowed of his acquaintances to supply his immediate wants. In this way he went on frequenting places of public diversion, till those who had lent him money teased him for a return of it; and he was at a loss for further resources when he met Johnson at Sadler's Wells.
On the following day these ill-fated youths met at the appointed place and made a contract for their mutual destruction. At this time Johnson was under twenty and Stockdale not eighteen years of age. Stockdale agreed to accompany Johnson, and the next day they hired horses and rode towards Romford, near which the party lived whom they intended to rob; and having wasted the time till night, they tied their horses to a hedge and, being armed with pistols, knocked at the door, which was opened by the old gentleman. Johnson presented a pistol to his breast, and then they bound him and his two servants, and told the master that he must expect immediate death if he did not discover where his money was concealed.
Terrified by this threat, he told them to take a key from his pocket which would open a bureau, where they would find a bag containing all the cash then in his possession. The robbers having seized the property, Johnson put the bag into his pocket and then remounted and rode to London, where they found the booty to consist of one hundred and fifty pounds; but this they soon dissipated in acts of extravagance, and then proceeded to commit a number of robberies on the roads of Essex and Kent.
They took horses in Holborn, and, having ridden to Edmonton, turned up a lane, where they met a postman, who was carrying letters round the neighbourhood. The man good-naturedly opened the gate for them to pass, when Johnson demanded his money and watch, which he held out to them, and at that instant was shot dead by Stockdale.
The murder was no sooner committed than they hastened to London; and, though the country was alarmed by what had happened, they rode on the following day to Hounslow, where they dined. After dinner they called for their horses, but Stockdale was so intoxicated that he at first fell from the horse, but was replaced.
The magistrates having by this time sent out a number of constables, the murderers were taken into custody and carried before a magistrate, when Stockdale acknowledged his guilt; but by this time Johnson was so drunk that he was insensible of his confinement to Newgate.
When brought up to receive sentence of death, Johnson was so unwell that he was indulged with a chair. Stockdale kept up his spirits with decent fortitude until his eyes met those of a gentleman near him with whom he had lived, when he burst into tears, and continued in great agitation the remainder of the awful time, frequently beating his head and breast in a violent manner.
Johnson was so extremely debilitated that he could pay no attention at the place of execution to the preparation of his soul for another life; but Stockdale prayed fervently, and made a pathetic address to the populace at the fatal tree. After hanging the usual time their bodies were taken to Surgeons' Hall for dissection; and preparations for that purpose were being made when an order came from the office of the Secretary of State that they should be hung in chains on Winchmore Hill, where they were accordingly placed.