Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Captain Stanley


a Murderer

There cannot be a greater misfortune than to want education, except it be the having a bad one. The minds of young persons are generally compared to paper on which we may write whatever we think fit, but if it be once blurred and blotted with improper characters, it becomes much harder to impress proper sentiments thereon, because those which were first there must be totally erased. This seems to have been too much the case with the unhappy person of whom the thread of these narrations requires that I should speak, viz., Captain Stanley.

This unhappy young gentleman was the son of an officer in the army who married the sister of Mr. Palmer, of Duce Hill, in Essex, where she was brought to bed of this unfortunate son John, in the year 1698. The first rudiments he received were those of cruelty and blood, his father at five years old often parrying and thrusting him with a sword, pricking him himself and encouraging other officers to play with him in the same manner, so that his boy, as old Stanley phrased it, might never be afraid of a point--a wretched method of bringing up a child and which was highly likely to produce the sad end he came to.

He served afterwards in the army with his father in Spain and Portugal, where he suffered hardships enough, but they did not very much affect him, who acquired by his hopeful education so savage a temper as to delight in nothing so much as trampling on the dead carcasses in the fields after an engagement.

Returning into England with his father, old Stanley had the misfortune to slab a near relation of my Lord Newbury's, in the Tilt Yard,[1] for which he was committed prisoner to Newgate. Afterwards being released and commanded into Ireland, he carried over with him this son John and procured for him an ensign's commission in a regiment there. Poor young Stanley's sprightly temper gained him abundance of acquaintance and (if it be not to profane the name) of friends amongst the young rakes in Ireland, some of whom were persons of very great quality, and had such an affection for him as to continue their visits and relieve his necessities when under his last misfortunes in Newgate. But such company involving him at that time in expenses he was no way able to support, he was obliged shortly to part for ready money with his ensign's commission, which gave his father great pain and uneasiness.

Not long after, he came again into England and to London, where he pursued the same methods, though his father importuned him to apply to General Stanhope, as a person he was sure would assist him, having been always a friend to their family, and particularly to old Stanley himself. But Jack was become a favourite with the ladies, and had taken an easier road to what he accounted happiness, living either upon the benevolence of friends, the fortune of the dice, or the favours of the sex. A continual round of sensual delights employed his time, and he was so far from endeavouring to attain any other commission or employment in order to support him, that there was nothing he so much feared as his being obliged to quit that life he loved; for old Stanley was continually soliciting for him, and as he had very good interest, nothing but his son's notorious misbehaviour made him not prevail. In the current of his extravagancies Jack fixed himself often upon young men coming into the world, and under pretence of being their tutor in the fashionable vices of the town, shared in their pleasures and helped them squander their estates.

Of this stamp was a gay young Yorkshire squire, who by the death of an uncle and by the loss of his father while a boy, had had so little education as not to know how to use it. Him Stanley got hold of, and persuaded him that nothing was so advantageous to a young gentleman as travel, and drew him to make a tour of Flanders and Holland in his company. Though a very wild young fellow, Stanley gave a very tolerable account of the places, especially the fortifications which he had seen, and sufficiently demonstrated how capable he might have been of making an exalted figure in the world, if due care had been taken to furnish him with any principles in his youth. But the neglect of that undid him, and every opportunity which he afterwards had of acquiring anything, instead of making him an accomplished gentleman, did him mischief. Thus his journey to Paris in company with the afore-mentioned gentleman helped him to an opportunity of learning to fence to the greatest perfection, so that the skill he was sensible he had in the sword made him ever ready to quarrel and seek occasions to use it.

Amongst the multitude of his amours he became acquainted and passionately fond of one Mrs. Maycock, whose husband was once an eminent tradesman upon Ludgate Hill. By her he had a child of which also he was very fond. This woman was the source of the far greater part of his misfortunes, for when his father had procured him a handsome commission in the service of the African Company, and he had received a considerable sum of money for his voyage, appearing perfectly satisfied himself, and behaving in so grave and decent a manner as filled his family and relations with very agreeable hopes, they were all blasted by Mrs. Maycock's coming with her child to Portsmouth, where he was to embark. She so far prevailed upon his inclinations as to get him to give her one half of the Company's money and to return to town with the other half himself. On his coming up to London he avoided going to his father's, who no sooner heard how dishonourably his son had behaved, but laying it more to heart than all the rest of his misfortunes, grief in a short time put an end to them all by his death.

When the news of it came to young Stanley, he fell into transports of grief and passion, which as many of his intimate companions said, so disturbed his brain that he never afterwards was in a right temper. This, indeed, appeared by several accidents, some of which were sworn at his trial, particularly that while he lodged in the house of Mr. Underhill, somebody having quoted a sentence of Latin in his company, he was so disturbed at the thoughts of his having had such opportunities of acquiring the knowledge of that language and yet continuing ignorant thereof, through his negligence and debauchery, that it made at that time so strong an impression on his spirits, that starting up, he drew a penknife and attempted to stab himself, without any other cause of passion. At other times he would fall into sudden and grievous rages, either at trifles, or at nothing at all, abuse his best friends, and endeavour to injure himself, and then coming to a better temper, begged them to forgive him, for he did not know what he did.

During the latter part of his life, his circumstances were so bad that he was reduced to doing many dirty actions which I am persuaded otherwise would not have happened, such as going into gentlemen's select companies at taverns, without any other ceremony than telling them that his impudence must make him welcome to a dinner with them, after which, instead of thanking them for their kindness, he would often pick a quarrel with them, though strangers, drawing his sword and fighting before he left the room. Such behaviour made him obnoxious to all who were not downright debauchees like himself, and hindered persons of rank conversing with him as they were wont.

In the meantime his favourite Mrs. Maycock, whom he had some time lived with as a wife and even prevailed with his mother to visit her as such, being no longer able to live at his rate, or bear with his temper, frequented a house in the Old Bailey, where it was supposed, and perhaps with truth, that she received other company. This made Stanley very uneasy, who like most young rakes thought himself at liberty to pursue as many women as he pleased, but could not forgive any liberties taken by a woman whom he, forsooth, had honoured with his affections.

One night therefore, seeing her in Fleet Street with a man and a woman, he came up to her and gently tapped her on the shoulder. She turning, cried, "What! My dear Captain!" And so on they went walking to his house in the Old Bailey. There some words happened about the mutual misfortunes they had brought upon one another. Mrs. Maycock reproached him with seducing her, and bringing on all the miseries she had ever felt; Stanley reflected on her hindering his voyage to Cape Coast, the extravagant sums he had spent upon her, and her now conversing with other men, though she had had three or four children by him. At last they grew very high, and Mrs. Maycock, who was naturally a very sweet-tempered woman, was so far provoked, as Stanley said, that she threw a cup of beer at him; upon which some ill-names passing between them, Stanley drew his sword and stabbed her between the breasts eight inches deep; immediately upon which he stopped his handkerchief into the wound.

He was quickly secured and committed to Wood Street Compter,[2] where he expressed very little concern at what had happened, laughing and giving himself abundance of airs, such as by no means became a man in his condition. On his commitment to Newgate, he seemed not to abate the least of that vivacity which was natural to his temper, and as he had too much mistaken vice for the characteristic of a fine gentleman, so nothing appeared to him so great a testimony of gallantry and courage as behaving intrepidly while death was so near its approach. He therefore entertained all who conversed with him in the prison, and all who visited him from without, with the history of his amours and the favours that had been bestowed on him by a multitude of fine ladies. Nay, his vanity and impudence was so great as to mention some of their names, and especially to asperse two ladies who lived near Cheapside Conduit.[3] But there is great reason to believe that part of this was put on to make his madness more probable at his trial, where he behaved very oddly, and when he received sentence of death, took snuff at the bar, and put on abundance of airs that were even ridiculous anywhere, and shocking and scandalous upon so melancholy an occasion.

After sentence, his carriage under his confinement altered not so much as one would have expected; he offering to lay wagers that he should never be hanged, notwithstanding his sentence, for he was resolved not to die like a dog on a string, when he had it in his power always to go out of the world a nobler way, by which he meant either a knife or opium, which were the two methods by one of which he resolved to prevent his fate. But when he found that all his pretences of madness were like to produce nothing, and that he was in danger of dying in every respect like a brute, he laid aside much of his ill-timed gaiety, and began to think of preparing for death after another manner.

These gentlemen who assisted him while in Newgate, were so kind as to offer to make up a considerable sum of money, if it could have been of any use; but finding that neither that nor their interest could do anything to save him, they frankly acquainted him therewith and begged him not to delude himself with false hopes. All the while he was in Newgate, a little boy whom he had by Mrs. Maycock, continued with him, and lay constantly in his bosom. He manifested the utmost tenderness and concern for that poor child, who by his rashness had been deprived of his mother, and whom the Law would, by its just sentence, now likewise deprive of its father. Being told that Mr. Bryan, Mrs. Maycock's brother on Tower Hill was dead, merely through concern at his sister's misfortunes and the deplorable end that followed them, Stanley clapped his hands together and cried, "What, more death still? Sure I am the most unfortunate wretch that was ever born."

Some few days before his execution, talking to one of his friends, he said, "I am perfectly convinced that it is false courage to avoid the just sentence of the Law, by executing the rash dictates of one's rage by one's own head. I am heartily sorry for the rash expression I have been guilty of, of that sort, and am determined to let the world see my courage fails me no more in my death than it has done in my life; and, my dear friend", added he, "I never felt so much ease, quiet and satisfaction in all my life, as I have experienced, since my coming to this resolution."

But though he sometimes expressed himself in a serious and religious manner yet passion would sometimes break in upon him to the last and make him burst out into frightful and horrid speeches. Then again he would grow calm and cool, and speak with great seeming sense of God's providence in his afflictions.

He was particularly affected with two accidents which happened to him not long before his death, and which struck him with great concern at the time they happened. The first of these was a fall from his horse under Tyburn, in which he was stunned so that he could not recover strength enough to remount, but was helped on his horse again by the assistance of two friends. Not long after which, he had as bad an accident of the same kind under Newgate, which he said, made such an impression on him, that he did not go abroad for many mornings afterwards, without recommending himself in the most serious manner to the Divine protection.

Another story he also told, with many marks of real thankfulness for the narrow escape he then made from death, which happened thus. At a cider-cellar in Covent Garden he fell out with one Captain Chickley, and challenging him to fight in a dark room, they were then shut up together for some space. But a constable being sent for by the people of the house, and breaking the door open, delivered him from being sent altogether unprepared out of the world, Chickley being much too hard for him, and having given him a wound quite through the body, himself escaping with only a slight cut or two.

As the day of execution drew near, Mr. Stanley appeared more serious and much more attentive to his devotions than hitherto he had been. Yet could he not wholly contain himself even then, for the Sunday before he died, after sermon, at which he had behaved himself decently and modestly, he broke out into this wild expression, that he was only sorry he had not fired the whole house where he killed Mrs. Maycock. When he was reproved for these things he would look ashamed, and say, 'twas true, they were very unbecoming, but they were what he could not help, arising from certain starts in his imagination that hurried him into a short madness, for which he was very sorry as soon as he came to himself.

At the place of execution, to which he was conveyed in a mourning coach, he turned pale, seemed uneasy, and complained that he was very sick, entreating a gentleman by him to support him with his hand. He desired to be unbound that he might be at liberty to pray kneeling, which with some difficulty was granted. He then applied himself to his devotions with much fervency, and then submitted to his fate, but when the cap was drawn over his eyes he seemed to shed tears abundantly. Immediately before he was turned off he said his friends had provided a hearse to carry away his body and he hoped nobody would be so cruel as to deny his relations his dead limbs to be interred, adding, that unless he were assured of this, he could not die in peace.

Such was the end of a young man in person and capacity every way fitted to have made a reputable figure in the world, if either his natural principles, or his education had laid any restraint upon his vices; but as his passions hurried him beyond all bounds, so they brought a just end upon themselves, by finishing a life spent in sensual pleasures with an ignominious death, which happened at Tyburn in the twenty-fifth year of his age, on the 23rd of December, 1722.


[1] This was an open space, facing the banquetting-house of old Whitehall, and included part of what is now Horse Guards' Parade.

[2] This was one of the sheriff's compters--the other was in the Poultry--and served for debtors as well as criminals. It stood about half-way up Wood Street, on the east side.

[3] There were two conduits in Cheapside; the Great, which stood in the middle of the street, near its junction with the Poultry, and the Little, which was at the other end, facing Foster Lane and Old Change.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals