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

The Life of JOHN YOUNG

a Highwayman

I have more than once remarked in the course of these memoirs that of all crimes, cruelty makes men the most generally hated, and that from this reasonable cause, that they seem to have taken up an aversion to their own kind. This was remarkably the case of the unhappy man of whom we are now speaking.

He was, it seems, the son of very honest and industrious parents, his father being a gardener at Kensington. From him he received as good an education as it was in his power to give him, and was treated with all the indulgence that could be expected from a tender parent; and it seems that after five years' stay at school, he was qualified for any business whatsoever. So after consulting his own inclinations he was put out apprentice to a coach-maker in Long Acre, where he stayed not long; but finding all work disagreeable to him, he therefore resolved to be gone, let the consequence be what it would. When this resolve was once taken, it was but a very short time before it was put into execution. Living now at large, and not knowing how to gain money enough to support himself, and therefore being in very great straits, he complied with the solicitations of some hackney-coachmen, who advised him to learn their trade. They took some pains to instruct him, employed him often, and in about six months time he became perfect master of his business, and drove for Mr. Blunt, in Piccadilly. His behaviour here was so honest that Mr. Blunt gave him a good character, and he thereby obtained the place of a gentleman's coachmen. In a short time he saved money and began to have some relish for an honest life; and continuing industriously to hoard up what he received either in wages or vales [tips] at last by these methods he drew together a very considerable sum of money.

And then it came into his head to settle himself in an honest way of life, in which design his father gave him all the encouragement that was in his power, telling him in order to do it, he should marry an honest, virtuous woman. Whereupon, with the advice and consent of his parents, he married a young woman of a reputable family from Kentish Town, who, as to fortune, brought him a pretty little addition to his own savings, so that altogether he had, according to his own account, a very pretty competency wherewith to begin the world.

For some time after his marriage he indulged himself in living without employment, but finding such a course wasted his little stock very fast, he began to apply his thoughts to the consideration of what course was the most likely to get his bread in. After beating his brains for some little time on this subject he at last resolved on keeping a public-house; which agreeing very well with his father's and relations' notions, he thereupon immediately took the King's Arms, in Red Lion Street, where for some time he continued to have very good business. In all, he remained there about five years, and might in that time have got a very pretty sum of money if he had not been so unhappy as to grow proud, as soon as he had anything in his pocket. It was not long, therefore, before he gave way to his own roving disposition, going over to Ireland, where he remained for a considerable space, living by his wits as he expresses it, or, in the language of honest people, by defrauding others.

But Ireland is a country where such sort of people are not likely to support themselves long; money is far from being plentiful, and though the common people are credulous in their nature, yet tradesmen and the folks of middling ranks are as suspicious as any nation in the world. The county of West Meath was the place where he had fixed his residence for the greatest part of the time he continued in the island, but at last it grew too hot for him. The inhabitants became sensible of his way of living, and gave him such disturbance that he found himself under an indispensable necessity of quitting that place as soon as possibly he could; and so having picked up as much money as would pay for his passage, he came over again into England, out of humour with rambling while he felt the uneasiness it had brought upon him, but ready to take it up again as soon as ever his circumstances were made a little easy, which in his present condition was not likely to happen in haste.

His friends received him very coldly, his parents had it not in their power to do more for him. In a word, the countenance of the world frowned upon him, and everybody treated him with that disdain and contempt which his foolish behaviour deserved. However, instead of reclaiming him, this forced him upon worse courses. His wife, it seems, either died in his absence, or was dead before he went abroad, and soon after his return he contracted an acquaintance with a woman, who was at that time cook in the family of a certain bishop; her he courted and a short time after, married. She brought him not only some ready money, but also goods to a pretty large value. Young being not a bit mended by his misfortunes, squandered away the first in a very short time, and turned the last into ready money. However, these supplies were of not very long continuance, and with much importunity his friends, in order, if it were possible, to keep him honest, got him in a small place in the Revenue, and he was put in as one of the officers to survey candles. In this post he continued for about a twelvemonth, and then relapsing into his former idle and profligate courses, he was quickly suspected and thereby put to his shifts again, though his wife at that time was in place, and helped him very frequently with money.

This, it seems, was too servile a course for a man of Mr. Young's spirit to take, so that he picked up as much as bought him a pair of pistols, and then went upon the highway, to which it seems the foolish pride of not being dependant upon his wife did at that time not a little contribute. In his first adventure in this new employment, he got fifteen guineas, but being in a very great apprehension of a pursuit, his fears engaged him to fly down to Bristol, in order, if it were possible, to avoid them. After staying there some considerable time, he began at last to take heart, and to fancy he might be forgotten. Upon these hopes he resolved with himself to come up towards London again; and taking advantage of a person travelling with him to Uxbridge, he made use of every method in his power to insinuate himself into his fellow traveller's good graces. This he effected, insomuch that at High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, as Young himself told the story, he prevailed on him to lend him three half-crowns to defray his expenses, pretending that he had some friend or relation hard by who would repay him. But unfortunately for the man, he had talked too freely of a sum of money which he pretended to have about him. It thereupon raised an inclination in Young to strip him and rob him of this supposed great prize; for which purpose he attacked him in a lone place, and not only threatened him with shooting him, but as he pretended, by his hand shaking, was as good as his word, and actually wounded him in such a manner as he in all probability at that time took to be mortal; but taking advantage of the condition in which the poor man was, he made the best of his way off, and was so lucky as to escape for the present, although that crime brought him afterwards to his execution.

When he had considered a little the nature of the fact which he had committed, it appeared even to himself of so black and barbarous a nature that he resolved to fly to the West of England, in order to remain there for some time. But from this he was deterred by looking into a newspaper and finding himself advertised there; the man whom he had shot being also said to be dead, this put him into such a consternation that he returned directly to London, and going to a place hard by where his wife lived, he sent for her, and told her that he was threatened with an unfortunate affair which might be of the greatest ill-consequence to him if he should be discovered. She seemed to be extremely moved at his misfortunes, and gave him what money she could spare, which was not a little, insomuch that Young at last began to suspect she made bold now and then to borrow of her mistress; but if she did, that was a practice he could forgive her. At last he proposed taking a lodging for himself at Horsely Down,[1] as a place the likeliest for him to be concealed in. There his wife continued to supply him, until one Sunday morning she came in a great hurry and brought with her a pretty handsome parcel of guineas. Young could not help suspecting she did not come very honestly by them. However, if he had the money he troubled not his head much which way he came by it, and he had so good a knack of wheedling her that he got twenty pounds out of her that Sunday.

A very few days after, intelligence was got of his retreat, and the man whom he had robbed and shot made so indefatigable a search after him, that he was taken up and committed to the New Gaol, and his wife, a very little time after, was committed to Newgate for breaking open her lady's escrutoire, and robbing her of a hundred guineas. This was what Young said himself and I repeat it because I have his memoirs before me. Yet in respect to truth, I shall be obliged to say something of another nature in its due place; but to go on with our narration according to the time in which facts happened.

A "Habeas Corpus" was directed to the sheriff of Surrey, whereupon Young was brought to Newgate, and at the next sessions of the Old Bailey was indicted for the aforesaid robbery, which was committed in the county of Middlesex. The charge against him was for assaulting Thomas Stinton, in a field or open place near the Highway, and taking from him a mare of the value of seven pounds, a bridle value one shilling and sixpence, a saddle value twelve shillings, three broad-pieces of gold and nine shillings in silver, at the same time putting the said Thomas Stinton in fear of his life.

Upon this indictment the prosecutor deposed that meeting with the prisoner about seven miles on this side of Bristol, and being glad of each other's company, they continued and lodged together till they came to Oxford; where the prisoner complaining that he was short of money, the prosecutor lent him a crown out of his pocket, and at Loudwater, the place where they lodged next night, he lent him half a crown more. The next morning they came for London, and being a little on this side of Uxbridge, Young said he had a friend in Hounslow who would advance him the money which he had borrowed from the prosecutor, and thereupon desired Mr. Stinton to go with him thither, to which he agreed; and Young thereupon persuaded him to go by a nearer way, and under that pretence after making him leap hedges and ditches, at last brought him to a place by the river side, where on a sudden he knocked him off his horse, and that with such force that he made the blood gush out of his nose and mouth.

As soon as Young perceived that the prosecutor had recovered his senses a little, he demanded his money, to which Mr. Stinton replied, "Is this the manner in which you treat your friend? You see, I have not strength to give you anything." Whereupon Young took from him his pocket-book and money. And Mr. Stinton earnestly entreating that he would give him somewhat to bear his expenses home, in answer thereto Young said, "Ay, I'll give you what shall carry you home straight", and then shot him in the neck, and pushing him down into the ditch, said, "Lie there." Some time after with much ado, Mr. Stinton crawled out and got to a house, but saw no more of the prisoner, or of either of their mares.

George Hartwell deposed that he helped both the prisoner and the prosecutor to the inn where they lay at Oxford. Sarah Howard deposed that she kept the inn or house where they lodged at Loudwater the night before the robbery was committed. And all the witnesses, as well as the prosecutor being positive to the person of the prisoner, the charge seemed to be as fully proved as it was possible for a thing of that nature to admit.

The prisoner in his defence did not pretend to deny the fact, but as much as he was able endeavoured to extenuate it. He said, that for his part he did not know anything of the mare; that the going off the pistol was merely accidental; that he did, indeed, take the money, and therefore, did not expect any other than to suffer death, but that it would be a great satisfaction to him, even in his last moments, that he neither had or ever intended to commit any murder. But those words in the prosecutor's evidence, "I'll give you something to carry you home", and "Lie there" (that is in the ditch) being mentioned in summing up the evidence to the jury, Young, with great warmth and many asseverations, denied that he made use of them. The jury, after a very short consideration, being full satisfied with the evidence which had been offered, found him guilty.

The very same day his wife was indicted for the robbery of her mistress, when the fact was charged upon her thus: that she on a Sunday, conveyed Young secretly upstairs in her mistress's house, where she passed for a single woman; that he took an opportunity to break open a closet and to steal from thence ninety guineas, and ten pounds in silver; a satin petticoat value thirty shillings, and an orange crepe petticoat were also carried off; and she asking leave of her lady to go out in the afternoon, took that opportunity to go quite away, not being heard of for a long time. Upon her husband being apprehended for the fact for which he died, somebody remembered her and the story of her robbing her mistress, caused her thereupon to be apprehended. Not being able to prove her marriage at the time of her trial, she was convicted, and ordered for transportation. This was a very different story from that which Young told in his relations of his wife's adventure, but when it came to be mentioned to that unhappy man and pressed upon him, though he could not be brought to acknowledge it, yet he never denied it; which the Ordinary says, was a method of proceeding he took up, because unwilling to confess the truth, and afraid when so near death to tell a lie.

When under sentence of death, this unfortunate person began to have a true sense of his own miserable condition; he was very far from denying the crime for which he suffered, although he still continued to deny some of the circumstances of it. The judgment which had been pronounced upon him, he acknowledged to be very just and reasonable, and was so far from being either angry or affrighted at the death he was to die that on the contrary he said it was the only thing that gave his thoughts ease. To say truth, the force of religion was never more visible in any man than it was in this unfortunate malefactor. He was sensible of his repentance being both forced and late, which made him attend to the duties thereof with an extraordinary fervour and application. He said that the thoughts of his dissolution had no other effect upon him than to quicken his diligence in imploring God for pardon. To all those who visited him either from their knowledge of him in former circumstances, or, as too many do, from the curiosity of observing how he would behave under those melancholy circumstances in which he then was, he discoursed of nothing but death, eternity, and future judgment. The gravity of his temper and the serious turn of his thoughts was never interrupted in any respect throughout the whole space of time in which he lay under condemnation; on the contrary, he every day appeared to have more and more improved from his meditations and almost continual devotions, appearing frequently when at chapel wrapped up as it were in ecstasy at the thoughts of heaven and future felicity, humbling himself, however, for the numberless sins he had committed, and omitting nothing which could serve to show the greatness of his sorrow and the sincerity of his contrition.

The day he was to die, the unfortunate old man his father, then upwards of seventy years of age, came to visit him, and saw him haltered as he went out to execution. Words are too feeble to express that impetuosity of grief which overwhelmed both the miserable father and the dying son. However, the old man, bedewing him with a flood of tears, exhorted him not to let go on his hopes in Christ, even in that miserable conjuncture; but that he should remember the mercy of God was over all his works, and in an especial manner was promised to those who were penitent for their sins, which Christ had especially confirmed in sealing the pardon of the repenting thief, even upon the cross.

At the place of execution he appeared scarce without any appearance of terror, much less of obstinacy or contempt of death. Being asked what he did with the pocket-book which he took from Mr. Stinton, and which contained in it things of very great use to him, Young replied ingeniously that he had burnt it, for which he was heartily sorry, but that he did not look into or make himself acquainted with its contents. Just before the cart drew away, he arose and spoke to the people, and said, "The love of idleness, being too much addicted to company, and a too greedy love of strong liquors has brought me to this unhappy end. The Law intends my death for an example unto others; let it be so, let my follies prevent others from falling into the like, and let the shame which you see me suffer, deter all of you from the commission of such sins as may bring you to the like fatal end. My sentence is just, but pray, ye good people, for my soul, that though I die ignominiously here, I may not perish everlastingly."

He was executed the first of June, 1730, being at the time about thirty-nine years of age.


[1] This district, at the Dockhead end of Tooley Street, was at that time a sort of No Man's Land, where horses were grazed and a few poverty-stricken wretches lived in sheds and holes in the ground.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals