The Life of JOHN HEWLET
There are several facts which have happened in the world, the circumstances attending which, if we compare them as they are related by one or other, we can hardly fix in our own mind any certainty of belief concerning them, such an equality is there in the weight of evidence of one side and of the other. Such, at the time it happened, was the case of the malefactor before us.
John Hewlet was born in Warwickshire, the son of Richard Hewlet, a butcher, and though not bred up with his father, he was yet bred to the same employment at Leicester, from which, malicious people said he acquired a bloody and barbarous disposition. However, he did not serve his time out with his master, but being a strong, sturdy young fellow, and hoping some extraordinary preferment in the army, with that view he engaged himself in the First Regiment of the Guards, during the reign of the late King William.
In the war he gained the reputation of a very brave, but a very cruel and very rough fellow, and therefore was relied on by his officers, yet never liked by them. Persons of a similar disposition generally live on good terms with one another. Hewlet found out a corporal, one Blunt, much of the same humour with himself, never pleased when in safety, nor afraid though in the midst of danger.
At the siege of Namur, in Flanders, these fellows happened to be both in the trenches when the French made a desperate sally and were beaten off at last with much loss and in such confusion that their pursuers lodged themselves in one of the outworks, and had like to have gained another, in the attack on which a young cadet of the regiment in which Blunt served was killed. Blunt observing it, went to the commanding officer and told him that the cadet had nineteen pistoles in his pocket, and it was a shame the French should have them. "Why, that's true, corporal", said the Colonel, "but I don't see at present how we can help it. No", replied Blunt, "give me but leave to go and search his pockets, and I'll answer for bringing the money back. Why, fool", said the Colonel, "dost thou not see the place covered with French? Should a man stir from hence they would pour a whole shower of small shot upon him. I'll venture that", says Blunt. "But how will you know the body?" added the Colonel. "I am afraid we have left a score besides him behind us. Why, look ye, sir", said the Corporal, "let me have no more objections, and I'll answer that, he was clapped, good Colonel, do you see, and that to some purpose; so that if I can't know him by his face, I may know him by somewhat else. Well", said the Colonel, "if you have a mind to be knocked on the head, and take it ill to be denied, you must go, I think."
On which Blunt, waiting for no further orders, marched directly in the midst of the enemy's fire to the dead bodies, which law within ten yards of the muzzle of their pieces, and turning over several of the dead bodies, he distinguished that of the cadet, and brought away the prize for which he had so fairly ventured.
This action put Hewlet on his mettle. He resolved to do something that might equal it, and an opportunity offered some time after, of performing such a service as no man in the army would have undertaken. It happened thus: the engineer who was to set fire to the train of a mine which had been made under a bastion of the enemy's, happened to have drank very hard over night, and mistaking the hour, laid the match an hour sooner than he ought. A sentinel immediately came out, called out aloud, "What, have you clapped fire to the train? There's twenty people in the mine who will be all blown up; it should not have been fired till 12 o'clock."
On hearing this Hewlet ran in with his sword drawn, and therewith cut off the train the moment before it would have given fire to all the barrels of powder that were within, by which he saved the lives of all the pioneers who were carrying the mines still forward at the time the wild fire was unseasonably lighted by the engineer.
At the battle of Landau he had his skull broken open by a blow from the butt end of a musket. This occasioned his going through the operation called trepanning, which is performed by an engine like a coffee-mill, which being fixed on the bruised part of the bone, is turned round, and cuts out all the black till the edges appear white and sound. After this cure had been performed upon him, he never had his senses in the same manner as he had before, but upon the least drinking fell into a passion which was but very little removed from madness.
He returned into England after the Peace of Ryswick, and being taken into a gentleman's service, he there married a wife, by whom he had nine children. Happy was it for them that they were all dead before his disastrous end.
How Hewlet came to be employed as a watchman a little before his death, the papers I have give me no account of, only that he was in that station at the time of the death of Joseph Candy, for whose murder he was indicted for giving him a mortal bruise on the head with his staff.
On the 26th of December, 1724, upon full evidences of eye-witnesses, the jury found him guilty, he making no other defence than great asservations of his innocence, and an obstinate denial of the fact. After his conviction, being visited in the condemned hold, instead of showing any marks of penitence or contrition, he raved against the witnesses who had been produced to destroy him, called them all perjured, and prayed God to inflict some dreadful judgment on them. Nay, he went so far as to desire that he ought himself have the executing thereof, wishing that after his death his apparition might come and terrify them to their graves. When it was represented to him how odd this behaviour was, and how far distant from that calmness and tranquillity of mind with which it became him to clothe himself before he went into the presence of his Maker, these representations had no effect; he still continued to rave against his accusers, and against the witnesses who had sworn at his trial. As death grew nearer he appeared not a bit terrified, nor seemed uneasy at all at leaving this life, only at leaving his wife, and as he phrased it, some old acquaintance in Warwickshire. However, he desired to receive the Sacrament, and said he would prepare himself for it as well as he could.
He went to the place of execution in the same manner in which he had passed the days of his confinement till that time. At Tyburn he was not satisfied with protesting his innocence to the people, but designing to have one of the Prayer Books which was made use of in the cart, he kissed it as people do when they take oath, and then again turning to the mob, declared as he was a dying man, he never gave Candy a blow in his life. Thus with many ejaculations he gave way to fate in an advanced age at Tyburn, at the same time with the malefactors last mentioned.