Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: John Doyle

The Life of JOHN DOYLE

a Highwayman

When once men have plunged themselves so far into sensual pleasures as to lose all sense of any other delight than that arises from the gratification of the senses, there is no great cause of wonder if they addict themselves to illegal methods of gaining wherewith to purchase such enjoyments; since the want of virtue easily draws on the loss of all other principles, nor can it be hoped from a man who has delivered himself over to the dominion of these vices that he should stop short at the lawful means of obtaining money by which alone he can be enabled to possess them.

Common women are usually the first bane of those unhappy persons who forfeit their lives to the Law as the just punishment of their offences; these women, I say, are so far from having the least concern whether their paramours run any unhappy courses to obtain the sums necessary to supply their mutual extravagance, that on the contrary they are ever ready, by oblique hints and insinuations, to put them upon such dangerous exploits which as they are sure to reap the fruits of, so sometimes when they grow weary of them, they find it an easy method to get rid of them and at the same time put money in their own pockets. Yet so blind are these unhappy wretches, that although such things fall out yearly, yet they are never to be warned, but run into the snare with as much readiness as if they were going unto the possession of certain and lasting happiness.

But to come to the adventures of the unhappy person whose life we are going to relate. John Doyle was born in the town of Carrough, in Ireland, and of very honest parents who gave him as good education as could be expected in that country, instructing him in writing and accounts, and made some progress in Latin. When he was fit for a trade, his friends agreed to put him out, and not thinking they should find a master good enough for him in a country place, they sent him to Dublin, and bound him to a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler in St. Thomas's Street, whom he faithfully served seven years, and his master gave him a good character. Being out of his time, his master prevailed with him to work journey-work for him, which he did for nine months; but having got acquainted by that time with some of the town ladies and pretending to his friends that he was in hopes of better business, his friends remitted him fifty pounds to help him forward.

He lived well while that money lasted, but when it was almost spent, he knew not what to turn himself to, for working did not agree with him. He took a resolution to come to England, and on the 19th of April, 1715, he came over in a packet-boat. Having no more money left than three pounds ten shillings, and not seeing which way he could get a further supply unless he went to work, which he could not endure, he resolved to rob on the highway; and to fit him for it, he bought a pair of pistols at West Chester which cost him forty shillings. He continued in that city till the Chester coach was to go for London. At four miles distant from the town he attacked it, and robbed four passengers that were in it of fourteen pounds, six shillings and ninepence, two silver watches and a mourning ring, which was the first attempt of that kind that ever he made in his life; then he went off a by-way undiscovered.

Having got a pretty good booty, he travelled across the country to Shrewsbury, and having stayed there about two days, he happened to meet a man that had been formerly a collector on the road, who had a horse to sell. He bought the horse for seven guineas, though indeed it was worth twenty, as it proved afterwards; no man soever was master of a better bred horse for the highway. He was not willing to stay long at Shrewsbury, so he went from thence and going along the country, met two ladies in a small chaise, with only one servant and a pair of horses. He robbed them of a purse with twenty-nine half guineas, nine shillings in silver and twopence brass, and two gold watches. The servant who rode by had a case of pistols which he took from him, and then made off undiscovered. His horse at that time was much better acquainted with coming up to a coach door than he was. Sometime afterwards he passed across the country, and came to Newbury, in Berkshire, where he remained for about fourteen days, during which time he was very reserved and kept no company. But growing weary, he departed from that place the same morning that the Newbury coach was to set out for London: and when it was about five miles distant from the town of Newbury, he came up to the coach door, and making a ceremony, as became a man of business, demanded their all, which they very readily consented to deliver, which proved to be about twenty-nine pounds in money, a silver watch, a plain wedding ring, a tortoiseshell snuff box, and a very good whip.

There was also a family ring which a gentleman begged very hard for, whereupon by his earnest application he gave it back, and the man assured him he would never appear against him. He was a man of honour, for he happened to meet him some time after at the Rummer and Horseshoe in Drury Lane, where he treated Doyle handsomely, and showed him the ring, and withal declared that he would not be his enemy on any account whatsoever.

Doyle being at this time a young beginner, thought what he got for the preceding time to be very well, and in a few days after this arrived at Windsor, where he stayed one night, and there being a gentleman's family bound for London, that lay that night at the Mermaid Inn in the town, he changed his lodging and removed to the inn; and having stayed there that night, he minded where they put their valuable baggage up. The next morning he paid his reckoning and came away, and got about four miles out of the town before them; then coming up and making the usual ceremony, he demanded their money, watches and rings. The gentleman in the coach pulled out a blunderbuss, but Doyle soon quelled him by clapping a pistol to his nose, telling him that if he stirred hand or foot he was a dead man. Then he made him give his blunderbuss first, then his money which was fifty guineas, fifteen shillings in silver, and five-pence in brass, a woman's gold watch and a pocket book in which were seven bank-notes, which the gentleman said he took that day in order to pay his servants' wages. After this he made the best of his way to London and got into James's Street, Westminster, where he drank a pint of wine, and then crossed over to Lambeth, and put up his horse at the Red Lion Inn, and stayed there that night.

The next morning he came to the Coach and Horses in Old Palace Yard, Westminster, where he dined, and about seven at night departed from thence and went to the Phoenix gaming-house in the Haymarket, to which place, he said, he believed a great many owe their ruin. He remained some time at the Phoenix, and seeing them gaming hard, he had a mind to have a touch at it; when coming into the ring he took the box in his turn, and in about thirty minutes lost thirty-seven pounds, which broke him. But having some watches about him, he went immediately to the Three Bowls in Market Lane, St. James, and pawned a gold watch for sixteen guineas; and returning back to the Phoenix went to gaming a second time, and in less than an hour recovered his money and forty-three pounds more. And seeing an acquaintance there he took him to the Cardigan's Head tavern, Charing Cross, and made merry. That night he lay at the White Bear in Piccadilly, and stayed there until the next evening, after which, having paid his reckoning, he went to Lambeth to his landlord who had his horse in his care, and remained there that night. The next morning he went away having discharged the house.

Having then a pretty sum of money about him, he had an inclination to see the country of Kent, and accordingly went that day to Greenwich, and put up his horse while he went to see the Hospital; and having baited the horse he parted from thence, and going over Blackheath, he happened to meet a gentleman, who proved to be Sir Gregory Page. Doyle took what money he had about him, which was about seventy guineas in a green purse, a watch, two gold seals and eighteen pence in silver. That night he rode away to Maidstone, and from thence to Canterbury.

In a few days he returned to London, and was for a long time silent, even for about six months, and never robbed or made an attempt to rob any man, but kept his horse in a very good order, and commonly went in an afternoon to Hampstead, sometimes to Richmond, or to Hackney. In short, he knew all the roads about London in less than six months as well as any man in England. His money beginning now to grow short, not having turned out so long, and the keeping his horse on the other hand being costly, he resolved that his horse should pay for his own keeping, and turned out one evening and robbed a Jew of seventy-five pounds, and of his and his lady's watches, a gold box and some silver, and returned to town undiscovered. The next day Doyle went Brentford way, and coming to Turnham Green stayed some time at the Pack Horse, where he saw two Quakers on horseback. He rode gently after them till they got to Hounslow Heath, where he secured what money they had, which was something above a hundred pounds. They begged hard for some money back, when he gave them a guinea, taking from them their spurs and whips, and at some distance threw them away. Those two men, as he found some days after by the papers, were two meal factors that were going to High Wycombe market in Buckinghamshire, to buy either wheat or flour.

This last being a pretty good booty, he had a mind afterwards to go for Ireland and accordingly set out for his journey thither. He took shipping at King's Road near Bristol, on board a small vessel bound to Waterford, where he arrived and stayed at the Eagle in Waterford three days, and from thence went directly to Dublin. Doyle was not long in Dublin before he became acquainted with his wife, whom he courted for some time and was extravagant in spending his money on her. He also soon got acquainted with one N. B., a man now alive, and they turned out together. None was able to stand against them, for they had everything that came in their way, and in plain terms, there was not a man that carried money about him, within eight miles of Dublin, but if they met him they were sure to get what he had.

Being grown so wicked Doyle was at length taken for a robber and committed to Newgate, then kept by one Mr. Hawkins, who used him so barbarously that he wished himself out of his hands. Accordingly he got his irons off and broke out of the gaol. Hawkins knowing all the bums[1] in Dublin, sent them up and down the city to take him, but to no purpose. However, they rooted him fairly out of that neighbourhood.

Then he returned to Waterford, where he appointed his wife and friend should meet him, which they did; and in about four hours after he came there he found them out, and there being a ship bound for Bristol, he sent them on board, agreed with the captain and went himself on board the same night. They hoisted their sails and got down to the Passage near Waterford, but the wind proving contrary, they were obliged to return back, and then concluded it was determined for Doyle to be taken; which he had been had he kept on board, but he luckily got on shore, when it was agreed to go to Cork. There they met with an honest cock of a landlord, and he kept himself very private, making the poor man believe that his companion and he were two that were raising men for the Chevalier's[2] service, and that their keeping so private proceeded from a fear of being discovered. The poor man had then a double regard for them, he being a lover in his heart of ----. Doyle then sent his wife to seek for a ship; but Hawkins having pursued him from Dublin, happened to see her, and dogged her to the ship where she went on board, sending officers to search, for he was sure he should find him there. He was mistaken, but they took his poor wife up to see if they could make her discover where he was, and ordered a strong guard to bring her to Cork gaol. A boat was provided to bring her on shore, but she telling the men some plausible stories that her husband was not the man they represented him to be, one of the watermen having stripped off his clothes in order to row, and there being a great many honest fellows in the boat, they assisted her in putting on waterman's clothes, which as soon as done, she fairly got away from them, and came and acquainted Doyle that Hawkins was in town, and how she had been in danger. They then concluded on leaving Cork, hired horses that night, and came to a place called Mallow, within ten miles of Cork. The next day they travelled to Limerick, where Doyle bought a horse, bridle, etc., and went towards Galloway, and in all his journey round about got but two prizes, which did not amount to above fifteen pounds.

Sometime after, his wife was transported, which gave him a great deal of concern, and he could not be in any way content without her. So getting some money together he went to Virginia, and having arrived there soon met with her, having had intelligence where to enquire for her. The first house be came into was one William Dalton's, who had some days before bought the late noted James Dalton, who was then his servant, whom he very often used to send along with Doyle in his boat to put him on board a ship. Then he thought it his best way to buy his wife's liberty, which he did, paying fifteen pounds for it.

He had then a considerable deal of money about him, and removed from that part of the country where she was known and went to New York. Being arrived there he soon got acquainted with some of his countrymen, with whom be had used to go a-hunting and to the horse races; so be spent some time in seeing the country. By chance he came to hear of a namesake of his, that lived in an island a little distant from New York, and being willing to see any of his name, he sent for him, and according to Doyle's request, he wrote to him that he would come the next day, which he did, and proved to be his uncle. The old man was overjoyed to see Doyle, and carried him home with him, where he stayed a long time, and spent a great deal of money.

His uncle was very much affronted at Doyle's ill-treatment of the natives, whom he severely beat, insomuch that the whole place was afraid of him, and all intended to join and take the Law of him. Soon after he departed from New York and went to Boston, where he remained some time, and at length he resolved within himself to settle and work at his trade, thinking it better to do so than to spend all his money, and be obliged to return to England or Ireland without a penny in his pocket. He did so, and having agreed with a master he went to work, and was very saving and frugal.

He remained with that man till by his wife's industry he had got, including what was his own, about two hundred pounds English money. Then he advised his wife to go for Ireland in the first ship that was bound that way, laying all her money out to twenty pounds, and shipped the goods which he had brought on board for her account. She then went to Ireland and Doyle for England, promising to go over to her as soon as he could get some money, for he had then an inclination to leave off his old trade of collecting.

Being arrived at London, he met with a certain person with whom he joined, and as he himself terms it, never had man a braver companion, for let him push at what he would, his new companion never flinched one inch. They turned out about London for some time, and got a great deal of money, for nothing hardly missed them. They used a long time the roads about Hounslow, Hampstead, and places adjacent, until the papers began to describe them, on which they went into Essex, and robbed several graziers, farmers and others. Then they went to Bishop's Stortford, in Hertfordshire, where they robbed one man in particular who had his money tied up under his arm in a great purse. Doyle says that he had some intelligence from a friend that the man had money about him, he made him strip in buff, and then found out where he lodged it, and took it, but he did not use him in any way ill, for he says it was the man's business to conceal it, as much as his to discover it.

Doyle and his partner hearing of a certain fair which was to be held a few days after, they resolved to go to it, and coming there took notice who took most money. In the evening they took their horses, and about three miles distant from the town there was a green, over which the people were obliged to come from the fair. There came a great many graziers and farmers, whom they robbed of upwards of eight hundred pounds. At this time Doyle had in money and valuable things, such as diamonds, rings, watches, to the amount of about sixteen hundred pounds. His partner had also a great deal of money, but not so much as Doyle, by reason that he (D) had got some very often which he had no right to have a share of.

Doyle went again for Ireland, and carried all his money with him, and having a great many poor relations, distributed part of it amongst them; some he lent, which he could never get again, and in a little his money grew short, having frequented horse races and all public places. However, before all was spent he returned to England. Following his old course of life, he happened into several broils, with which a little money and a few friends he got over. In a short space of time he became acquainted with Benjamin Wileman. They two, with another person concerned with them, committed several robberies. At length they were discovered, apprehended and committed to Newgate. Wileman, it seems, had an itching to become an evidence against Doyle and W. G. But Doyle made himself an evidence, being really, as he said, for his own preservation and not for the sake of any reward.

Doyle's wife being for a second time transported, he went with her in the same ship, and having arrived in Virginia, slaved there some time, until he began to grow weary of the place. But as he was always too indulgent to her, he bought her her liberty, and shipped her and himself on board the first ship that came to England, when in seven weeks time they arrived in the Downs. Soon after they came up to England, but were not long in town before his wife was taken up for returning from transportation, and committed to Newgate, where she remained until the sessions following, and being brought upon her trial, pleaded guilty.

When they came to pass sentence upon her, she produced his Majesty's most gracious pardon, and was admitted to bail to plead the same, and thereupon discharged. Doyle, a short time after, went to the West of England, where he slaved some time, following his old way of life; and associating himself with a certain companion, got a considerable sum of money, and came to Marlborough. And having continued some time in that neighbourhood, they usually kept the markets, where they commonly cleared five pounds a day. Going from Marlborough they came to Hungerford, and put up their horses at the George Inn; and having ordered something for dinner, saw some graziers on the road, but one of them being an old sportsman, and a brother tradesman of Doyle's formerly, he knew the said Doyle immediately, by the description given of him, and very honestly came to him, and told him that he had a charge of money about him, and withal begged that he would not hurt him, since he had made so ingenuous a confession, desiring Doyle to make the best of his way to another part of the country, telling him at the same time where he lived in London, and that if he should act honourably by him, he would put a thousand pounds in his pocket in a month's time. According to the grazier's directions, Doyle and his companions departed, but having met, as Doyle phrases it, with a running chase in their cross way, which they had taken for safety, they were obliged to return back into the main road again, and by accident put up at the same inn where the grazier and his companions were that evening. The grazier, as soon as he saw Doyle, came in and drank a bottle with him, and then retired to his companions, without taking any manner of notice of him.

As they came for London, they took everything that came into their net, and in three days time Doyle paid his brother sportsman, the grazier, a visit, who received him handsomely, and appointed him to meet him the next market day at the Greyhound in Smithfield, in order to make good part of his promise to him. Doyle and his companion went to him, put up their horses at the same inn and passed for country farmers. This grazier, who formerly had been one of the same profession being now grown honest and bred a butcher, was then turned salesman in Smithfield, and sold cattle for country graziers, and sent them their money back by their servants who had brought the cattle to town. Having drunk a glass of wine together, they began to talk about business, and the grazier being obliged to go into the market to sell some beasts, desired Doyle and his companion to stay there until he returned. When he came he gave them some little instructions how they should proceed in an affair he had then in view to serve then in, and having taken his advice, they rode out of town; and it being a West Country fair they rode Turnham Green way.

They had not time to drink a pint of wine before the West Country chapman came ajogging along. They took two hundred and forty pounds from him, making (as D. terms it) a much quicker bargain with him than he had done with the butcher at Smithfield. The chapman begged hard for some money to carry him home to his family, and after they had given him two guineas, he said to them that he had often travelled that road with five hundred pounds about him, and never had been stopped. To which Doyle replied, that half the highwaymen who frequented the road were but mere old women, otherwise he would never have had that to brag of, and then parted. Doyle says that the honest man at Smithfield had poundage of him as well as from the grazier, so that he acted in a double capacity.

That night they came to London, and having put up their horses, put on other clothes and went to Smithfield, where not finding the butcher at home, they write a note and left it for an appointment to meet him at the Horn Tavern in Fleet Street, where they had not stayed long before he came. After taking a cheerful glass they talked the story over, and out of the booty Doyle gave turn fifty guineas, after which the butcher promised to be his friend upon a better affair. After paying the reckoning they parted and appointed to meet the next market day at Smithfield.

They went at the time appointed, and having drank a morning glass, stepped into the market and stayed some time. Their brother sportsman being very busy, he made excuse to Doyle and his companion, telling them there was nothing to be done in their way till the evening, desiring them to be patient. They remained in and about Smithfield till then, and market being entirely over, their friend came up to the place appointed, and showed them a man on horseback to whom he had just paid fifty pounds. Doyle and his companion immediately called for their horses, took leave of their friend, and kept in sight of the countryman until he was out of town. And when he was got near the Adam and Eve, at Kensington, they came up to him, and made a ceremony, as became men of their profession. He was very unwilling to part from his money, making an attempt to ride away, but they soon overtook him, and after some dispute took every penny that he received in Smithfield, and for his residing gave him back only a crown to bear his charges home. In his memoirs Doyle makes this observation, that they always robbed between sun and sun, so that the persons robbed might make the county pay them that money back if they thought fit to sue them for it.[3] Next morning Doyle and his companion came to the place appointed, and not meeting with their brother sportsman sent for him, where they drank together, and talked as usual about business, paying him poundage out of what money they had collected on his information (for they usually dealt with him as a custom-house officer does by an informer); after which they parted for that time, and did not meet for a month after.

Afterwards they went up and down Hertfordshire, but got scarce money enough to bear their expenses; but where there were small gettings they lived the more frugally, for Doyle observed that if the country did not bear their expenses wherever he travelled, he thought it very hard, and that if he failed of gaming one day, he commonly got as much the next as he could well destroy.

Hitherto we have kept very close to those memoirs which Mr. Doyle left behind him, which I did with this view, that my readers might have some idea of what these people think of themselves. I shall now bring you to the conclusion of his story, by informing you that finding himself beset at the several lodgings which he kept by way of precaution, he for some days behaved himself with much circumspection; but happening to forget his pistols, he was seized, coming out of an inn in Drury Lane, and though he made as much resistance as he was able, yet they forced him unto a coach and conveyed him to Newgate. It is hard to say what expectations he entertained after he was once apprehended, but it is reasonable to believe that he had strong hopes of life, notwithstanding his pleading guilty at his trial, for he dissembled until the time of the coming down of a death warrant, and then declared he was a Roman Catholic, and not a member of the Church of England, as he had hitherto pretended.

He seemed to be a tolerably good-natured man, but excessively vicious at the same time that he was extravagantly fond of the woman he called his wife. He took no little pleasure in the relations of those adventures which happened to him in his exploits on the highway, and expressed himself with much seeming satisfaction, because as he said, he had never been guilty of beating or using passengers ill, much less of wounding or attempting to murder them. In general terms, he pretended to much penitence, but whether it was that he could not get over the natural vivacity of his own temper, or that the principles of the Church of Rome, as is too common a case, proved a strong opiate in his conscience, however it was, I say, Doyle did not seem to have any true contrition for his great and manifold offences. On the contrary, he appeared with some levity, even when on the very point of death.

He went to execution in a mourning coach; all the way he read with much seeming attention in a little Popish manual, which had been given him by one of his friends. At the tree he spoke a little to the people, told them that his wife had been a very good wife to him, let her character in other respects be what it would. Then he declared he had left behind him memoirs of his life and conduct, to which he had nothing to add there, and from which I have taken verbatim a great part of what I have related. And then, having nothing more to offer to the world, he submitted to death on the first of June, 1730, but in what year of his age I cannot say.

However, before I make an end of what relates to Mr. Doyle, it would be proper to acquaint the public that the vanity of his wife extended so far as to make a pompous funeral for him at St. Sepulchre's church, whereat she, as chief mourner assisted, and was led by a gentleman whom the world suspected to be of her husband's employment.


[1] i.e., bailiffs, informers and spies.

[2] The Pretender, whose name was only to be mentioned with baited breath.

[3] Passengers robbed on the highway between sunrise and sunset, could sue the county for the amount of their loss, it being the duty of the officials to keep the roads safe.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals