Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Griffith Owen


Highwaymen and Footpads

Griffith Owen, the first of these unhappy criminals, was the son of very honest parents who had given him a very good education in respect both of letters and religion. When he was grown up they put him out apprentice to a butcher in Newgate Market, with whom he served his time, though not without committing many faults and neglecting his business in a very marked degree, addicting himself too much to idle company, the usual incitements to those crimes for the commission of which he afterwards suffered.

His companion Harris, if Owen were to be believed, first proposed robbing as an expedient to the supply of their pockets, to which he too readily gave way; and having once ventured to attack he never suffered himself nor his companions to cool. For the space of about six weeks, keeping themselves still warm with liquor, they committed five or six robberies, for which at last they were all apprehended. And as they had been companions together in wickedness, so they shared also in imprisonment and death as the consequences of those offences they had committed.

Samuel Harris, though he had received a very tolerable education as to reading and writing, yet he never applied himself to any business, but served bricklayers as a labourer, in company with his fellow-sufferer Medline. But having been all his life addicted to lust and wickedness, he proposed robbing to his companions as the most feasible method of getting money wherewith to support their debauches and the strumpets who used to partake with them at their houses of resort. He confirmed what Owen had said, and acknowledged that during the time they continued their robberies, never any people in the world led more profligate and more uneasy lives than they did; being always engaged in a continual circle of drunkenness, violence and whoredom; while their minds were continually agitated with the fear of being apprehended, so that they never enjoyed peace or quiet from the time of their betaking themselves to this course of life unto the day of their apprehension and coming to the gallows.

Thomas Medline was born more meanly than either of his companions, and had so little care taken of him in his youth, that he could neither read nor write. However, he applied himself to working hard as a labourer to the bricklayers, and got thereby for some time sufficient wherewith to maintain himself and his family. At last, giving himself over to drink, he minded little of what became of his wife and children, and falling unhappily about the same time into the acquaintance of the before-mentioned malefactor Harris, he was easily seduced by him to become a partner in his crimes and addicted himself to the highway.

It was but a very short space that they continued to exercise this their illegal and infamous calling, for venturing to attack one Mr. Barker, on the Ware Road, and not long after Dr. Edward Hulse,[1] they were quickly apprehended for those facts, and after remaining some time in Newgate, were brought to their trials at the Old Bailey.

There it was sworn by Mr. Barker, that he observed them drinking at an alehouse at Tottenham, the very evening in which he was robbed; and that apprehending them to be loose and disorderly persons he took more than ordinary notice of their faces; that about a mile from Edmonton church they came up with him, and notwithstanding he told them he knew them, they pulled him off his horse and robbed him of five pounds and sixpence; that returning the next day to the place where he was robbed, he found sevenpence, which he supposed they had dropped in their hurry.

On the second indictment it was desposed by one Mr. Hyatt that he suspected the prisoners, from the description given by Mr. Barker and Doctor Hulse, to be the persons who had robbed them; he thereupon apprehended them upon suspicion, and that Mr. Barker, as soon as he saw them, swore to their faces.

Doctor Hulse deposed that they were the persons who robbed him of his watch and money, and that he had particularly remarked Owen as having a scar on his face. Thomas Bennett, the doctor's coachman, swore that Owen was the man who got upon the coach-box and beat him, and afterwards robbed his master; that not contented therewith, they beat the witness again, knocked out one of his teeth, and broke his own whip about him. Henry Greenwood confirmed this account in general, but could not be positive to any of the faces except that of Owen. The jury, in this proof, without any long stay found them all guilty.

While under sentence of death they all behaved themselves with as much penitence and seeming sorrow for their offences as was ever seen amongst persons in their condition. They attended as often as Divine Worship was celebrated in the chapel, and appeared very desirous of instruction as to those private prayers which they thought necessary to put up to God, when carried back to their several places of confinement.

Harris seemed a little uneasy at the Ordinary's remonstrating with him that he was more guilty than the rest, inasmuch as he first incited them to the falling into those wretched methods by which they brought shame and ruin upon themselves. He answered that there was little difference in their dispositions, having been all of them addicted for many years to the greatest wickedness which men could practise; that his companions were no less ready than he to fall upon such means of supporting themselves in sensual delights. As he averred this to their faces they did not contradict it, but seemed to take shame to themselves and to sorrow alike for the evils they had committed.

They ended their lives at Tyburn, on the 11th of September, 1728, with all outward signs of true repentance; Owen being twenty, Harris twenty-nine, and Medline thirty-nine years of age at the time of their execution.


[1] An eminent Whig doctor who was later appointed physician to George II. He was created a baronet in 1739.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals