JOHN ADSHEAD AND BENJAMIN ALSWORTH
Hanged for housebreaking, 8th July, 1772
THE former of these malefactors was a native of Northamptonshire, and trained up to the business of husbandry, which he followed till he approached nearly to manhood, when he repaired to London, and lived in the service of different persons in quality of a footman.
By an attention to the rules of frugality he became possessed of a sum of money, ten guineas of which he gave to a person to instruct him in the art of a gunsmith; and, having acquired the knowledge of the art, he for some time laboured industriously to support himself; but, getting into bad company, he was prevailed on to commence the dangerous practice of housebreaking. Becoming, at length, too well known in London, he was afraid of being discovered, and therefore repaired to Bristol, to commit his depredations in that city.
Soon after he arrived at Bristol he broke into the house of a watchmaker, and carried off effects to the amount of one hundred and fifty pounds. These he conveyed to London, where be disposed of them, and with the produce took a public house in Princes Street, Drury Lane; but, no success attending him in this situation, he quitted business, and recommenced the practice of housebreaking, which ended in his destruction, as will be seen in the course of this narrative.
Alsworth (the other criminal) was a native of Birmingham, and followed the profession of gunmaking. After practising his trade some time, he repaired to London, and, enlisting in the army, became a drummer in the 85th regiment of foot. He served in Portugal during the last war, in the reign of King George II. and was likewise present at the siege of Belleisle; but when the peace came on be returned to his original profession.
During his military life his behaviour was consistent with his duty. On his return to England he married a young woman, who bore him two children; but, happening to become acquainted with Adshead, his ruin soon followed. These men were frequently in company; and Alsworth, observing that Adshead dressed in a style of gentility which he presumed to be above his circumstances, asked bow he afforded to make such an appearance; to which the other replied, that an uncle, who was lately dead, had left him several articles of considerable value.
Their intimacy now daily increased; and Alsworth's children being indisposed, and himself deficient of employment, he asked the other to lend him three or four guineas, which he would not fail to return on a happier change in his circumstances.
Adshead said that he was not then in possession of so much money; but, if the other would take his advice, he would instruct him how to 'obtain a hundred pounds in an hour.'
Alsworth thought lie spoke jestingly, but begged to know his real meaning; on which the other confessed that he subsisted by housebreaking, and invited his acquaintance to come to his lodgings that evening. This invitation was complied with, a co- partnership in iniquity was agreed on, and they committed several burglaries; but that, of which we are now about to relate the particulars, brought them to their fatal end.
About one o'clock in the morning of the 18th of May, 1772, they broke into the house of Mrs. Bellamy, a widow lady, in Newman Street, Oxford Road, whence they carried off silk, wearing apparel, and other effects, to a considerable amount.
They packed the goods in two parcels, and proceeded towards Tottenham Court Road, where they were observed by two watchmen, who followed them towards Russell Street, Bloomsbury, where they were noticed by another watchman, belonging to the parish of St. Giles, who seized on Alsworth; on which the other threw down his parcel and ran off, but was soon taken into custody.
Being conveyed to the watch-house, they were searched by the constable of the night, who likewise examined the parcels of stolen goods. On the following morning they were carried before Justice Cox, to whom they asserted that the things were their own property, and that they were removing them from their lodgings, to prevent their landlord seizing on them for rent.
This story did not seem to be at all plausible; and, as they refused to give an account of their place of residence, a well-grounded suspicion arose that they were thieves; on which they were committed for re-examination, when the persons who had been robbed could be found.
When Mrs. Bellamy's family arose in the morning, the servants discovered that the house had been robbed, as above mentioned. Hereupon hand-bills were instantly printed, and circulated through London; the consequence of which was that Justice Cox sent for Mrs. Bellamy and her servants, and, the prisoners being brought to a re-examination, the stolen effects were identified, and the two men were committed to Newgate for trial.
(Note: The immediate circulation of hand-bills is the readiest method of detecting thieves. This has been proved in a thousand instances that have occurred at the public office in Bow Street, Thieves generally carry stolen goods immediately to the pawnbrokers; but, when they do not, the bills frequently fall into the hands of peace-officers, and a discovery follows of course.)
At the sessions held at the Old Bailey in the month of June, 1772, the prisoners were indicted for breaking and entering the dwelling- house of Mary Bellamy, widow, and stealing a gauze sack and petticoat, with silk and gold flowers, three silk sacks and petticoats, a brocaded silk night-gown, a chased gold outside watchcase, and a variety of other valuable articles, the property of Mrs. Bellamy and her daughter.
Adshead pleaded guilty to the indictment, begging for mercy on account of his youth; and the evidence against his accomplice was so conclusive, that the jury could not hesitate to convict him; in consequence of which they both received sentence of death.
After conviction their behaviour was very various. On some occasions they appeared hardened in a very high degree, and at others were free to confess the crime of which they bad been guilty; but, when they found that their names were included in the warrant for execution, their behaviour was more regular, consistent, and penitent; and the Ordinary of Newgate, forming a favourable opinion of their sincerity, administered the sacrament to them, and gave them such advice as he deemed proper in their unhappy situation; he cautioned them not to trust to their own penitence, but to rely on the merits of Christ for eternal salvation.
On the day appointed for their execution the Ordinary attended them early in the morning, renewed his good advice, and besought them to fix their minds on a better world than that to which they were so soon to bid a final adieu. On being put into the cart they shed many tears, and lifted up their eyes to heaven in the hope of that mercy whence alone, in their situation, it could be expected.
At the fatal tree they confessed that they were guilty of the crime of which they had been convicted, and cautioned their auditors never to be guilty of a similar violation of the laws of justice. An immense concourse of people attended this execution; and, when the bodies had hung the usual time, they were delivered to the friends of the deceased, in order for interment.
John Adshead and Benjamin Alsworth suffered at Tyburn on the 8th of July, 1772.
The reflections arising from the case of these men can but little deviate from those we have made on that of former housebreakers; but we see that a co-partnership in iniquity is no bar to the inevitable consequences of guilt. Adshead's confession of his crime amounted to little less than an accusation of his accomplice, since they were both taken into custody almost immediately after the commission of the fact.
Upon consideration of the whole matter, it will appear evident that nothing can so effectually secure our peace of mind as a strict adherence to the laws of honesty, and a regular and constant attendance on the duties of religion.