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

The Life of JOHN DYKES

a Thief and Highwayman

It is a reflection almost too common to be repeated that of all the vices to which young people are addicted, nothing is so dangerous as a habit and inclination to gaming. To explain this would be to swell a volume. Instances which are so numerous do it much better. Perhaps this unhappy person John Dykes is as strong a one as is anywhere to be met with. His parents were persons in middling circumstances, but he being their eldest child, they treated him with great indulgence, and to the detriment of their own fortune afforded him a necessary education. When he grew up and his friends thought of placing him out apprentice, he always found some excuse or other to avoid it, which arose only from his great indolence of temper, and his continual itching after gaming. When he had money, he went to the gaming tables about town, and when reduced by losses sustained there, would put on an old ragged coat and get out to play at chuck, and span-farthing, amongst the boys in the street, by which, sometimes he got money enough to go to his old companions again. But this being a very uncertain recourse, he made use more frequently of picking pockets; for which being several times apprehended and committed to Bridewell, his friends, especially his poor father, would often demonstrate to him the ignominious end which such practices would necessarily bring on, entreating him while there was yet time, to reflect and to leave them off, promising to do their utmost for him, notwithstanding all that was past. In the course of this unhappy life the youth had acquired an extraordinary share of cunning, and an unusual capacity of dissembling; he employed it more than once to deceive his family into a belief of his having made a thorough resolution of amendment.

Once, after having suffered the usual discipline of the horsepond, Dykes was carried before a Justice of Peace, and committed to Tothill Fields Bridewell[1]. Here he became acquainted with one Jeddediah West, a Quaker's son, who had fallen into the like practices, and for them shared the same punishment with himself. They were pretty much of a temper, but Jeddediah was the elder and much the more subtle of the two, and in this unhappy place they contracted a strict and intimate friendship. Out of shame Jeddediah forbore for two or three days to acquaint his relations, and during that time for the most part subsisted out of what Dykes got from home. But at last West picked up courage enough to send to his brother, a very eminent man in business, and by telling him a plausible story, procured not only pity and relief, but even prevailed on him to believe that he was innocent of the fact for which he was committed. He so well tutored his friend Dykes that though he could not persuade his parents into the same degree of credulity, yet his outward appearance of penitence induced them not only to pardon him but to take him home, give him a new suit of clothes, and to promise him, if he continued to do well, whatever was in their power to do for him.

Dykes and his companion being in favour with their friends, and having money in their pockets, continued their correspondence and went often to the gaming tables together. At first they had a considerable run of luck for about three weeks, but Fortune then forsaking them, they were reduced to be downright penniless, without any hopes of relief or assistance from their friends sufficient to carry on their expenses. West at last proposed an expedient for raising money, which lay altogether upon himself, and which he the next day executed in the following manner.

About the time that he knew his brother was to come home from the Exchange to dinner, he went to his house equipped in a sailor's pea-jacket, his hair cropped short to his ears, his eyebrows coloured black, and a handkerchief about his neck. As soon as he saw him in the counting-house, his brother started back, and cried, "Bless me! Jeddediah, how came you in this pickle?" With all signs of grief and confusion, he threw himself at his brother's feet, and told him with a flood of tears that two coiners who had accidentally seen him in Bridewell had sworn against him and three others on their apprehension, in order on the merit thereof to be admitted evidences to get off themselves. "So that, dear brother", he continued, "I have been obliged to take a passage in a vessel that does down next tide to Gravesend, for I have ran the hazard of my life to come and beg your charitable assistance."

The poor honest man was so much amazed and concerned at this melancholy tale, that bursting out into tears, and hanging about his brother's neck, he begged him to take a coach and begone to Billingsgate, giving him ten guineas in hand and telling him that his bills should not be protested if he drew within the compass of a hundred pounds from Dieppe, whither he said the ship was bound. West was no sooner out of the street where his brother lived, but he ordered the coach to drive to a certain place where he had appointed Dykes to meet him, and there they expressed a great deal of mutual satisfaction at the trick West had played his brother. However, the latter was no great gainer in the end, for Mr. West, senior, soon finding out the contrivance, forever renounced him, and Jeddediah being soon after arrested for twelve pounds due to his tailor, was carried to prison and remained there without the least assistance from his brother, till after his friend Dykes was hanged.

The last mentioned malefactor, unmoved by all the tender entreaties of his friends, and the glaring prospect before him of his own ruin, went still on at the old rate, and whenever gaming had brought him low in cash, took up with the road, or some such like dishonest method to recruit it. At last he had the ill-luck to commit a robbery in Stepney parish, in the road between Mile End and Bow, upon one Charles Wright, to whose bosom clapping a pistol, he commanded him to deliver peacefully, or he would shoot him through the body. The booty he took was very inconsiderable, being only a penknife, an ordinary seal, and five shillings and eightpence in money. A poor price for life, since two days after he was apprehended for this robbery, committed to Newgate and condemned the next sessions.

His behaviour under these unhappy circumstances was very mean, and such as fully showed what difference there is between courage and that resolution which is necessary to support the spirits and calm our apprehensions at the certain approach of a violent death. I forbear attempting any description of those unutterable torments which the exterior marks of a distracted behaviour fully showed that this poor wretch endured. And as I have nothing more to add of him, but that he confessed his having been guilty of a multitude of ill acts, he submitted at last with greater cheerfulness than he had ever shown during his confinement to that shameful death which the Law had ordained for his crimes, on the 23rd of October, 1721, when he was about twenty-three years of age.


[1] This Bridewell occupied the site adjoining the north side of the Green Coat School, on the west: side of Artillery Place. Although originally intended for vagrants, early in the 18th century it was turned into a house of detention for criminals.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals