COLONEL JAMES TURNER
A Spendthrift London Merchant, against whom three Robberies from other Merchants were proved. Executed 21st of January, 1663
THIS gentleman was born in the city of Worcester, in the year 1609, of very wealthy parents, who placed him with a goldsmith of reputation in London as soon as of years for a trade. With this man he served his apprentice- ship very faithfully, and had the character of being a young man well qualified for business.
When his father thought proper to put him into trade for himself he gave him a stock of no less than three thousand pounds, to which he soon added two thousand pounds more by marriage. He had great success in business for some years, and was esteemed the wealthiest man in his neighbourhood, so that his word would have passed for almost any sum.
Mr Turner had always a considerable inclination for pleasure and company, taking peculiar delight in associating himself with the gentlemen who were officers of the city Militia. Among these he was complimented with a captain's commission, then a major's, then a lieutenant-colonel's, and at last with the command of one of the regiments, in which he continued till the unhappy action that brought him to his end was discovered, to the surprise of all the world.
The colonel's temper was very generous and noble, which, it is thought, in some measure brought on him that decay of his fortune which he afterwards laboured under. In his post, particularly, whenever he marched out with his regiment, he was very liberal in his entertainments, and commonly ran himself to four times the expense that was necessary. It was the same on every other occasion; no man was more free with his money, or more ambitious of living in splendour and reputation, than Colonel Turner.
This disposition had with him the same effect as it commonly has with others who ruin themselves by their generosity. He had no notion of retrenching his expenses when he perceived his substance waste, but was resolved to support himself with the same pomp as usual, however he came by the money. It was easy for such a man to commit a great many little secret actions that were in themselves dishonourable, before he lost his character, on account of his great business.
Several of these things discovered themselves after he was convicted, which even the persons who were wronged did not suspect before. One instance in particular will be well worth relating, and was as follows.
He applied himself one day to a merchant, and bought of him as much train oil and rice as came to three hundred and sixty pounds, which he promised to pay for as soon as the goods were delivered. Accordingly the day after he went to the merchant's house, and gave him the full sum in money and notes; for which the merchant wrote a receipt while it all lay on the desk. Two of Turner's accomplices (for he made use of assistants) came just at this time, and pretended some urgent business with the merchant, and, in short, played their part so well that one of them got off with the greatest part of Turner's payment while the other kept the innocent man in discourse. Neither of them took any more notice of the colonel than if they had not known him, nor did the merchant imagine he had any concern in the matter till he was found guilty of another crime, of which take this short account.
There was one Mr Francis Tryon, a great merchant, who lived in Lime Street, whom Colonel Turner knew to be very rich. In order to rob this man, one of the above- mentioned fellows conveyed himself into his cellar in the dusk of the evening, and as soon as Mr Tryon was abed and, as he thought, asleep, he let the colonel in at the door. They went up together to his bedchamber, bound him, gagged him, and used him in a very barbarous manner; and then, going into his warehouse, they took from thence a large quantity of diamonds, sapphires, rubies, etc., which Turner knew where to find.
Then they took all the money in the house, which amounted to a very large sum; so that the whole booty was reputed to be of the value of five thousand nine hundred and forty-six pounds four shillings and threepence. They made off with all this quietly.
Mr Tryon had a man and a maidservant, but they both lay abroad this night by permission, of which the colonel had before received information.
Strict inquiry was made after the thieves, and all such jewels as were remarkable were particularly described. Turner thought himself secure in his character, which had so long screened him, but some of the things described were seen in his house, and the discoverers were resolved to examine further.
Whereupon the colonel, his wife and three sons, John, William and Ely, were apprehended, and upon search almost all the jewels were found, There was now no room for evasion; the whole family were carried before Sir Thomas Allen, Knight and alderman, and all committed to Newgate.
At the next sessions they were all indicted for the said robbery; but after a full examination of what evidence they had, and considering what the colonel himself said in his defence, it was thought proper by the Court to acquit the wife and sons, and to bring the colonel in guilty. Where upon the usual sentence of death was passed on him, and he was executed on the 21st of January, 1663, when he was drawn in a cart from Newgate to the end of Lime Street in Leadenhall Street, and there hanged on a gibbet erected for that purpose, being fifty-three years old.
The colonel left a paper behind him full of expressions of piety and contrition, too long to be inserted here. We would only observe that though all who knew him wondered at the fact, yet everyone believed him guilty, because the proofs were so clear.
There was a robbery in his lifetime which nobody could then find out, but after his death it was generally thought he was the manager. A letter was sent to a wealthy dealer at Chichester, signed with the name of a merchant his acquaintance in London, informing him of a profitable purchase in his way, and inviting him to town. The Chichester man had before received advices of this kind from the same friend, and found them of service, therefore scrupled not, but set out the next day with what money and notes he had in the house; but before he got half-way to London he was robbed of all by two men in disguise. He soon found his correspondent had not sent to him, and was astonished. Colonel Turner's death cleared all, he knowing both their circumstances.