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

John Price appears twice in Hayward's book - once in volume 1 and again in volume 2. The accounts are different but they are both the same man.

The Life of JOHN PRICE

a Housebreaker

A profligate life naturally terminates in misery, and according unto the vices which it has most pursued, so are its punishments suited unto it. Drunkenness besots the understanding, ruins the constitution, and leaves those addicted to it in the last stages of life, in want and misery, equally destitute of all necessaries, and incapable to procure them. Lewdness and lust after loose women enervate both the vigour of the brain and strength of the body, induce weaknesses that anticipate old age, and afflict the declining sinner with so many evils, as makes him a burden to himself and a spectacle to others. But if, for the support of all these, men fall into rapacious and wicked courses, plundering others who have frugally provided for the supply of life, in order to indulge their own wicked inclinations, then indeed the Law of society interposes generally before the Law of Nature, and cuts off with a sudden and ignominious death those who would otherwise probably have fallen by the fruits of their own sins.

This malefactor, John Price, was one of these wretched people who act as if they thought life was given them only to commit wickedness and satiate their several appetites with gross impurities, without considering how far they offend either against the institutions of God or the laws of the land. It does not appear that this fellow ever followed any employment that looked like honesty, except when he was at sea. The terrors of a sick-bed alarmed even a conscience so hardened as Price's, and the effects of an ill-spent life appeared so plainly in the weak condition he found himself in, that he made, as he afterwards owned, the most solemn vows of amendment, if through the favour of Providence he recovered his former health. To this he was by the goodness of God restored, but the resolutions he made on that condition were totally forgotten. As soon as he returned home, he sought afresh the company of those loose women and those abandoned wretches who by the inconveniences into which they had formerly led him, had obliged him to seek for shelter by a long voyage at sea.

What little money he had received when the ship was paid off, was quickly lavished away, so that on the 11th of August, 1725, he with two others named Cliffe and Sparks, undertook, after having well weighed the attempt, to enter the house of the Duke of Leeds by moving the sash, and so plunder it of what was to be got. By their assistance Cliffe got in at the window, and afterwards handed out a cloak, hat, and other things to his companions Sparks and Price, but they were all immediately apprehended. Cliffe made an information by which he discovered the whole fact, and it was fully proved by Mr. Bealin that Price, when first apprehended, owned that he had been with Cliffe and Sparks. Upon the whole the jury found him guilty, upon which he freely acknowledged the justice of their verdict at the bar.

All the time he lay under conviction he behaved himself as a person convinced of his own unworthiness of life, and therefore repined not at the justice of that sentence which condemned him to death, though in his behaviour before his trial there had appeared much of that rough and boisterous disposition usual in fellows of no education, who have long practised such ways of living. Yet long before his death he laid aside all that ferocity of mind, appearing calm and easy under the weight of his sufferings, and so much dissatisfied with the trouble he had met with in the world that he appeared scarce desirous of remaining in it. He was not able himself to give any account of his age, but as far as could be guessed from his looks, he might be about thirty when executed, which was at the same time with the malefactor last mentioned; Cliffe, whose information had hanged him, being reprieved.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals: Volume 1

The Life of JOHN PRICE

a Housebreaker and Thief

Amongst the ordinary kind of people in England, debauchery is so common, and the true principles of honesty and a just life so little understood, that we need not be surprised at the numerous sessions we see so often held in a year at the Old Bailey, and the multitudes which in consequence of them are yearly executed at Tyburn. Fraud, which is only robbery within the limits of the Law, is at this time of day (especially amongst the common people) thought a sign of wit, and esteemed as fair a branch of their calling as their labours. Mechanics of all sorts practise it without showing any great concern to hide it, especially from their own family, in which, on the contrary, they encourage and admire it. Instead of being reproved for their first essays in dishonesty, their children are called smart boys, and their tricks related to neighbours and visitors as proofs of their genius and spirit. Yet when the lads proceed in the same way, after being grown up a little, nothing too harsh, or too severe can be inflicted upon them in the opinion of these parents, as if cheating at chuck, and filching of marbles were not as real crimes in children of eight years old, as stealing of handkerchiefs and picking of pockets, in boys of thirteen or fourteen. But with the vulgar, 'tis the punishment annexed to it, and not the crime, that is dreaded; and the commandments against stealing and murder would be as readily broke as those against swearing and Sabbath-breaking, if the civil power had not set up a gallows at the end of them.

John Price, of whom we are now to speak, has very little preserved concerning him in the memoirs that lie before me; all that I am able to say of him is that by employment he was a sailor. In the course of his voyages he had addicted himself to gratifying such inclinations as he had towards drink or women, without the least concern as to the consequences, here or hereafter; he said, indeed, that falling sick at Oporto, in Portugal, and becoming very weak and almost incapable of moving himself, the fear of death gave him apprehensions of what the Justice of God might inflict on him through the number and heinousness of his sins. This at last made so great an impression on his mind that he put up a solemn vow to God of thorough repentance and amendment, if it should please Him to raise him once more from the bed of sickness, and restore him again to his former health. But when he had recovered, his late good intentions were forgotten, and the evil examples he had before his eyes of his companions, who, according to the custom of Portugal, addicted themselves to all sorts of lewdness and debauchery, prevailed. He returned like the dog to the vomit, and his last state was worse than his first.

On his return into England he had still a desire towards the same sensual enjoyments, was ever coveting debauches of drink, accompanied with the conversation of lewd women; but caring little for labour, and finding no honest employment to support these expenses into which his lusts obliged him to run, he therefore abandoned all thoughts of honesty, and took to thieving as the proper method of supporting him in his pleasures. When this resolution was once taken, it was no difficult thing to find companions to engage with him, houses to receive him, and women to caress him. On the contrary, it seemed difficult for him to choose out of the number offered, and as soon as he had made the choice, he and his associates fell immediately into the practice of that miserable trade they had chosen.

How long they continued to practice it before they fell into the hands of Justice, I am not able to say, but from several circumstances it seems probable that there was no long time intervening; for Price, in company with Sparks and James Cliff, attempted the house of the Duke of Leeds, and thrusting up the sash-window James Cliff was put into the parlour and handed out some things to Price and Sparks. But it seems they were seen by Mr. Best, and upon their being apprehended, Cliff confessed the whole affair, owned that it was concerted between them, and that himself handed out the things to his companions, Price and Sparks.

At the ensuing sessions, Price was tried for that offence, and upon the evidence of Mr. Best, the confession of James Cliff, and Benjamin Bealin deposing that he himself, at the time of his being apprehended, acknowledged that he had been in company with Cliff and Sparks, the jury found him guilty, as they did Cliff also, upon his own confession. Under sentence he seemed to have a just sense of his preceding wicked life, and was under no small apprehensions concerning his repentance, since it was forced and not voluntary. However, the Ordinary having satisfied his scruples of this sort, as far as he was able, recommended it to him without oppressing his conscience with curious fears and unnecessary scruples, to apply himself to prayer and other duties of a dying man. To this he seemed inclinable enough, but complained that James Cliff, who was in the condemned hold, prevented both him and the rest of the criminals from their duty, by extravagant speeches, wild and profane expressions, raving after the woman he had conversed with, and abusing everybody who came near him, which partly arose from the temper of that unhappy person, and was also owing to indisposition of body, as all the while he lay in the hole he was labouring under a high fever. Another great misfortune to Price, in the condition in which he was, consisted in his incapacity to supply the want of ministers through his incapacity of reading; however, he endeavoured to make up for it as well as he could by attending constantly at chapel, and not only behaving gravely at prayers, but listening attentively at sermon, by which means he constantly brought away a great part, and sometimes lost very little out of his memory of what he heard there.

In a word, all the criminals who were at this time under sentence (excepting Cliff) seemed perfectly disposed to make a just use of that time which the peculiar clemency of the English Law affords to malefactors, that they may make their peace with God, and by their sufferings under the hands of men, prevent eternal condemnation. They expressed, also, a great satisfaction that their crimes were of an ordinary kind and occasioned no staring and whispering when they came to chapel, a thing they were very much afraid of, inasmuch as it would have hindered their devotions, and discomposed the frame of their minds.

At the same time with Price, there lay under condemnation one Woolridge, who was convicted for entering the house of Elizabeth Fell, in the night time, with a felonious intent to take away the goods of Daniel Brooks; but it seems he was apprehended before he could so much as open the chest he had designed to rob. The thieves in Newgate usually take upon them to be very learned in the Law, especially in respect to what relates to evidence, and they had persuaded this unhappy man that no evidence which could be produced against him would affect his life. There is no doubt, but his conviction came therefore upon him with greater surprise, and certain it is that such practices are of the utmost ill consequence to those unhappy malefactors. However, when he found that death was inevitable, by degrees he began to reconcile himself thereto; and as he happened to be the only one amongst the criminals who could read, so with great diligence he applied himself to supply that deficiency in his fellow-prisoners. Even after he was seized with sickness, which brought him exceedingly low, he ceased not to strive against the weakness of the body, that he might do good to his fellow-convicts.

In a word, no temptation to drink, nor the desire of pleasing those who vend it[1], circumstances which too often induce others in that condition to be guilty of strange enormities, ever had force enough to obtrude on them more than was necessary to support life, and to keep up such a supply of spirits as enabled them to perform their duties; from whence it happened that the approach of death did not affect them with any extraordinary fear, but both suffered with resignation on the same day with the former criminals at Tyburn.


[1] The gaolers and others in prisons had an interest in furnishing prisoners with liquor and not only looked askance at those who refused but made it highly uncomfortable for all who avoided debauchery.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals: Volume 2