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

The Life of JOHN LEVEE

a Highwayman, Footpad, etc.

There is a certain busy sprightliness in some young people which from I know not what views, parents are apt to encourage in hopes of its one day producing great effects. I will not say that they are always disappointed in their expectations, but I will venture to pronounce that where one bold spirit has succeeded in the world, five have been ruined, by a busy turbulent temper.

This was the case with this criminal, John Levee, who, to cover the disgrace his family suffered in him, called himself Junks. His father was a French gentleman, who came over with King Charles II at the Restoration, taught French to persons of distinction in court, and particularly to some of that prince's natural children. For the convenience of his scholars, he kept a large boarding-school in Pall Mall, whereby he acquired such a fortune as enabled him to set up for a wine merchant. In this capacity he dealt with France for many years to the amount of thousands "per annum." His children received the best education that could be given them and never stirred out of doors but with a footman to attend them.

But Mr. Levee, the merchant, falling into misfortunes by some of his correspondents' failures, withdrew from his family into Holland; and this son John being taken by the French Society, in order to be put out apprentice and provided for, being induced thereto by the boy's natural vivacity and warmth of temper in which he had been foolishly encouraged, they sent him to sea with a captain of a man-of-war. He was on board the "Essex" when Sir George Byng, now Viscount Torrington, engaged the Spaniards at Messina. He served afterwards on board the squadron commanded by Sir John Norris in the Baltic, and when he returned home, public affairs being in a more quiet state, his friends thought it better for him to learn merchants' accounts than to go any more voyages, where there was now little prospect of advantage.

But book-keeping was too quiet an employment for one of Levee's warm disposition, who far from being discouraged at the hardships of sea, only complained of his ill-luck in not being in an engagement. And so, to amuse this martial disposition, he with some companions went upon the road, which they practised for a very considerable time, robbing in a very genteel manner, by putting a hat into the coach and desiring the passengers to contribute as they thought proper, being always contented with what they gave them, though sometimes part of it was farthings. Nay, they were so civil that Blueskin and this Levee, once robbing a single gentlewoman in a coach, she happening to have a basket full of buns and cakes, Levee took some of them, but Blueskin proceeded to search her for money, but found none. The woman in the meanwhile scratched him and called him a thousand hard names, giving him two or three sound slaps in the face, at which they only laughed, as it was a woman, and went away without further ill-usage, a civility she would hardly have met with from any other gentlemen of their profession.

In October, he and his great companion Blueskin,[1] met a coach with two ladies and a little miss riding between their knees, coming from the Gravel Pits at Kensington.[2] Levee stopped the coach and without more ado, ordered both the coachmen and footman to jump the ditch, or he'd shoot them. They then stripped the ladies of their necklaces, cut a gold girdle buckle from the side of the child, and took away about ten shillings in money, with a little white metal image of a man, which they thought had been solid silver, but proved a mere trifle.

At a grand consultation of the whole gang, and a report of great booties that were to be made (and that, too, with much safety) on Blackheath, they agreed to make some attempts there. Accordingly they set out, being six horsemen well armed and mounted; but after having continued about six hours upon the Heath, and not meeting so much as one person, and the same ill luck being three or four times repeated, they left off going on that road for the future. In December following, he and another person robbed a butcher on horseback, on the road coming from Hampstead. He told them he had sold two lambs there. Levee's companion said immediately, "Then you have eight-and-twenty shillings about you, for lambs sold to-day at fourteen shillings apiece." After some grumbling and hard words they made him deliver and by way of punishment for his sauciness, as they phrased it, they took away his great coat into the bargain, and had probably used him worse had not Levee seen a Jew's coach coming that way, and been conscious to himself that those within it knew him; whereupon he persuaded his associates to go off without robbing it.

Levee never used anybody cruelly in any of his adventures, excepting only one Betts, who foolishly struck him three or four blows on the head, whereupon Levee with one blow of his pistol struck his eye out. One night, upon the same road, Blake and Matthew Flood being in company with this unhappy youth, they stopped the chariot of Mr. Young, the same person who hanged Molony and Carrick. Blake calling out to lay hold, and Flood stopping the horses, Levee went into the coach and took from Mr. Young a gold watch and chain, one Richard Oakey also assisting, who died likewise for this fact. They robbed also Col. Cope, who was in the same chariot, of his gold watch, chain and ring, and twenty-two shillings in money. Levee said it would have been a very easy matter for the gentleman to have taken him, he going into the coach without arms, and his companions being on the other side of the hedge; but they gave him the things very readily, and it was hard to say who behaved themselves most civilly one towards the other, the gentlemen or he. One of them desired to have a cornelian ring returned, which Levee inclined to do, but that his companions would not permit him.

As they were going home after taking this booty, they met a poor man on horseback. Notwithstanding the considerable sum they had taken just before, they turned out of the road, carried him behind two haycocks because the moon shone light, and there finding that he had but two shillings in the world, the rest of his companions were for binding and beating him, but upon the man's saying that he was very sick and begging earnestly that they would not abuse him, Levee prevailed with them not only to set him on his horse again, but to restore him his two shillings, and lead him into the road where they left him.

Levee, Flood and Oakey were soon apprehended and Blake turning evidence, they were convicted the next sessions at the Old Bailey, and ordered for execution. Levee behaved himself while under condemnation very seriously and modestly, though before that time, he had acted too much the bravo, from the mistaken opinion that people are apt to entertain of courage and resolution. But when death approached near, he laid aside all this, and applied himself with great seriousness and attention to prayers and other duties becoming a person in his condition.

At the place of execution he fell into a strange passion at his hands being to be tied, and his cap pulled over his face. Passion signifying nothing there, he was obliged to submit as the others did, being at the time of his execution, aged about twenty-seven.


[1] His real name was Joseph Blake.

[2] This was a portion of what is now the Bayswater Road, roughly between Petersburgh Place and the Notting Hill Tube Station. Swift had lodgings there and it was a fairly fashionable residential spot.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals