Convicted for Murder and Highway Robberies. Executed at St Michael's Hill in September, 1713
JOHN SHRIMPTON was born of good and reputable parents living at Penns, near High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, who, bestowing so much education upon him as might qualify him for a tradesman, put him out an apprentice, when he was between fifteen and sixteen years of age, to a soap-boiler in Little Britain, in London; but not serving out his apprenticeship there, he was turned over to another soap-boiler in Ratcliff Highway. When he was out of his time he went into the army, where he was some time in the troop of horse commanded by Major-General Wood; but, not finding such preferment as he expected by being a soldier, he came into England and took to the highway.
He did always the most damage betwixt London and Oxford, insomuch that scarce a coach or horseman could pass him without being robbed.
Some time after committing one robbery, Mr Shrimpton, being in London, accidentally lit into the company of the common hangman, where he was taking a glass of wine; and coming to the knowledge of his occupation he asked him this question "What is the reason, when you perform your office, that you put the knot just under the ear? For, in my opinion, was you to fix it in the nape of the neck it would be more easy to the sufferer."
The hangman replied: "If one Christian may believe another, I have hanged a great many in my time, but upon my word, sir, I never had any complaint as yet. However, if it should be your good luck to make use of me, I shall, to oblige you, be so civil as to hang you after your own way." But Shrimpton, not approving of the hangman's civility, told him that he desired none of his favours, because they generally proved of a very dangerous consequence.
Another time, Jack Shrimpton, who also called himself Parker, meeting a couple of bailiffs beyond Wycombe carrying a poor farmer to jail, desired to know what the debt might be; and being told six pounds odd money, he requested them to go with him to the next ale-house and he would pay it. They went along with him, where, taking a bond of the farmer, whom he knew very well, he paid the bailiffs their prisoner's debts and fees, and then parted. But Jack Shrimpton, waylaying the bailiffs, had no more mercy on them than they had on the farmer, for he took away what money he paid them, and about forty shillings besides; after which he rode back again to the farmer and, regaling him with a treat of a guinea, cancelled his bond, and then went in pursuit of new adventures.
A little while after, Shrimpton, travelling on the road, met with a poor miller who was going to turn highwayman himself. Thus roving along, and meeting (as above said) with Shrimpton, he held up an oaken plant, for he had no other arms, and bade him stand, thinking that word was sufficient to scare any man out of his money. Shrimpton, perceiving the simplicity of the fellow, fired a pistol at him, which (though he purposely missed him) put our new robber into such an agony that he surrendered himself to Shrimpton's mercy; who presently said: "Surely, friend, thou art but a young highwayman, or else you would have knocked me down first and bade me stand afterwards."
The poor miller told him his misfortunes; on which Shrimpton took some compassion, and quoth he: "I am a highwayman myself, and am now waiting on this road for a certain neighbour of yours, who I expect will come this way by and by with six-score pounds; therefore if you will be assisting in the robbery of him, you shall have half the booty." The miller was very thankful for this kind offer, and resolved to stand by him to the very utmost.
Then Shrimpton, having told him again that it was not long since he had robbed one of his neighbours of one hundred and fifty pounds, further said: "Honest friend, whilst I ride this way, you go that way, and if you should meet him whom I have told you of, be sure to knock him down and take all he has from him, without telling him why or wherefore; and in case I should meet him, I'll serve him with the same sauce."
They both separated, and went in search of their prey, till at last, upon the joining of two roads, they met together again. Shrimpton, wondering why the person he wanted did not yet come, ordered the miller to follow him still, saying: "Without doubt we shall catch the old cuff anon." But as he was thus encouraging his new companion, who was just at his horse's heels, he took up his stick and gave Shrimpton such a smart blow betwixt neck and shoulders that he felled him to the ground; being then able to deal with him, he robbed him of about fourscore guineas, and bade him go quietly about his business, or otherwise he would have him hanged, according to his own confession, for lately robbing his neighbour.
Thus the biter was bitten; but Shrimpton swore he would never more take upon him to teach strangers how to rob on the highway.
This notorious malefactor pursued his wicked courses a long while, till at last, being in Bristol, where he resided for some months, he was drinking one night very late at a bawdy-house in St James's Churchyard, when a watch-man, going his rounds, and hearing a great noise of swearing and cursing in the house, compelled Shrimpton to go along with him to the watch-house. As they were going together through Wine Street he shot the watch- man through the body and flung his pistol away, that it might not be found; but some men, happening to go by at the same time, apprehended Shrimpton, and the watch-man dying on the spot, they secured him till morning, when, carrying him before a magistrate, he was committed to Newgate, in Bristol, where he behaved himself very audaciously.
At length, being brought to a trial, he was convicted not only for wilful murder but also for five robberies on the highway. When he came to the place of execution at St Michael's Hill he was turned off without showing any signs of repentance, on Friday, the 4th of September, 1713.