Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Joseph Blake


a Footpad and Highwayman

As there is impudence and wickedness enough in the lives of most malefactors to make persons of a sober education and behaviour wonder at the depravity of human nature, so there are sometimes superlative rogues who, in the infamous boldness of their behaviour, as far exceed the ordinary class of rogues as they do honest people; and whenever such a monster as this appears in the world, there are enough fools to gape at him, and to make such a noise and outcry about his conduct as is sure to invite others of the gang to imitate the obstinacy of his deportment, through that false love of fame, which seems inherent to human nature. Amongst the number of these, Joseph Blake, better known by his nickname of Blueskin, always deserves to be remembered as one who thought wickedness the greatest achievement, and studiously took the paths of infamy in order to become famous.

By birth he was a native of this City of London. His parents being persons in tolerable circumstances kept him six years at school, where he did not learn half as much good from his master as he did evil from his schoolfellow, William Blewitt, from whose lessons he copied so well that all his education signified nothing. When he came from school he absolutely refused to go to any employment, but on the contrary set up for a robber when he was scarce seventeen, but from that time to the day of his death was unsuccessful in all his undertakings, hardly ever committing the most trivial fact but he experienced for it, either the humanity of the mob, or of the keepers of Bridewell, out of which or some other prison, he could hardly keep his feet for a month together.

He fell into the gang of Lock, Wilkinson, Carrick, Lincoln and Daniel Carroll, which last having so often been mentioned, perhaps my readers may be desirous to know what became of him. I shall therefore inform them that after Carrick and Molony were executed for robbing Mr. Young, as has been before related, he fled home to his own native country of Ireland, where for a while making a great figure till he had exhausted what little wealth he had brought over with him from England, he was obliged to go again upon the old method to supply him. But street-robbing being a very new thing at Dublin, it so alarmed that city that they never ceased pursuing him, and one or two more who joined with him, till catching them one night at their employment, they pursued Carrol so closely that he was obliged to come to a close engagement with a thief-taker, so he was killed upon the spot.

But to return to Blake, alias Blueskin. Being one night out with his gang, they robbed one Mr. Clark of eight shillings and a silver hilted sword, just as candles were going to be lighted, and a woman looking accidentally out of a window, perceived it, and cried out, "Thieves." Wilkinson fired a pistol at her which, very luckily, upon her drawing in her head, grazed upon the stone of the window, and did no other mischief. Blake was also in the company of the same gang when they attacked Captain Langley, at the corner of Hyde Park Road, as he was going to the Camp[1]; but the Captain behaved himself so well that notwithstanding they shot several times through and through his coat, yet they were not able to rob him.

Not long after this Wilkinson being apprehended impeached a large number of persons, and with them Joseph Blake and William Lock. Blake hereupon made a fuller discovery than the other before Justice Blackerby; in which information there was contained no less than seventy robberies, upon which he also was admitted a witness. And having named Wilkinson, Lincoln, Carrick, Carrol, and himself to have been the five persons who murdered Peter Martin the Chelsea pensioner, by the Park wall, Wilkinson was apprehended, tried and convicted, notwithstanding the information he had before given (which was thereby totally set aside); so that Blake himself became now an evidence against the rest of his companions, and discovered about a dozen robberies which they had committed.

Amongst these there was one very remarkable one. Two gentlemen in hunting caps were together in a chariot on the Hampstead Road, and they took from them two gold watches, rings, seals and other things to a considerable value. Junks, alias Levee, laid his pistol down by the gentleman all the while he searched him, yet he wanted either the courage or the presence of mind to seize and prevent their losing things of so great value. Not long after this, Oakey, Junks and this Blake, stopped a single man with a link before him in Fig Lane; and he not surrendering so easily as they expected, Junks and Oakey beat him over the head with their pistols, and then left him wounded in a terrible condition, taking from him one guinea and one penny. A very short time after this, Junks, Oakey and Flood were apprehended and executed for robbing Colonel Cope and Mr. Young of that very watch for which Carrick and Molony had been before executed, Joseph Blake being the evidence against them.

After this hanging work of his companions, he thought himself not only entitled to liberty but reward. Herein, however, he was mightily mistaken, for not having surrendered willingly and quietly, but being taken after long resistance and when he was much wounded, there did not seem to be the least foundation for this confident demand, he still remaining a prisoner in the Wood Street Compter, obstinately refusing to be transported for seven years, but insisting that as he had given evidence he ought to have his liberty. However, the magistrates were of another opinion, until at last by procuring two men to be bound for his good behaviour, he was carried before a wealthy alderman of the City and there discharged. At which time, somebody there present asking how long time might be given him before they should see him again at the Old Bailey, a gentleman made answer in about three sessions, in which time it seems he guessed very right, for the third session from thence, Blake was indeed brought to the Bar.

For no sooner were his feet at liberty but his hands were employed in robbing, and having picked up Jack Shepherd for a companion, they went out together to search for prey in the fields. Near the half-way house to Hampstead they met with one Pargiter, a man pretty much in liquor, whom immediately Blake knocked down into the ditch, where he must have inevitably perished if John Shepherd had not kept his head above the mud with great difficulty. For this fact, the next sessions after it happened the two brothers Brightwell in the Guards were tried, and if a number of men had not sworn them to have been upon duty at the time the robbery was committed, they had certainly been convicted, the evidence of the prosecutor being direct and full. Through the grief of this the elder Brightwell died a week after he was released from his confinement, and so did not live to see his innocence fully cleared by the confession of Blake.

A very short space after this, Blake and his companion Shepherd committed the burglary together in the house of Mr. Kneebone, where Shepherd getting into the house, let in Blake at the back door and stripped the house of a considerable value. For this, both Shepherd and he were apprehended, and the sessions before Blake was convicted his companion received sentence of death; but at the time Blake was taken up, he had made his escape out of the condemned hold.

He behaved with great impudence at his trial, and when he found nothing would save him, he took the advantage of Jonathan Wild coming to speak with him, to cut the said Wild's throat, making a large gash from the ear beyond the windpipe.[2] Of this wound Wild languished a long time, and happy had it been for him if Blake's wound had proved fatal, for then Jonathan had escaped death by a more dishonourable wound in the throat than that of a penknife; but the number of his crimes and the spleen of his enemies procured him a worse fate. Whatever Wild might deserve of others, he seems to have merited better usage from this Blake, for while he continued a prisoner in the Compter, Jonathan was at the expense of curing his wound, allowing him three shillings and sixpence a week, and after his last misfortune promised him a good coffin, actually furnishing him with money to support him in Newgate, and several good books, if he would have made any use of them; but because he freely declared to Blueskin that there was no hopes of getting him transported, the bloody villain determined to take away his life, and was so far from showing any signs of remorse when he was brought up again to Newgate, that he declared if he had thought of it before, he would have provided such a knife as should have cut his head off.

At the time that he received sentence there was a woman also condemned, and they being placed as usual in what is called the Bail Dock at the Old Bailey, Blake offered such rudeness to the woman that she cried out and alarmed the whole Bench. All the time he lay under condemnation he appeared utterly thoughtless and insensible of his approaching fate. Though from the cutting of Wild's throat, and some other barbarities of the same nature, he acquired amongst the mob the character of a brave fellow, yet he was in himself but a mean-spirited timorous wretch, and never exerted himself but either through fury and despair. His cowardice appealed manifestly in his behaviour at his death; he wept much at the chapel in the morning he was to die, and though he drank deeply to drive away fear, yet at the place of execution he wept again, trembled and showed all the signs of a timorous confusion, as well he might, who had lived wickedly and trifled with his repentance to the grave.

There was nothing in his person extraordinary. A dapper, well-set fellow of great strength, and great cruelty, equally detested by the sober part of the world for his audacious wickedness of his behaviour, and despised by his companions for the villainies he committed even against them. He was executed in the twenty-eighth year of his age, on the 11th of November, 1724.


[1] An encampment was formed in Hyde Park, about 1714. Writing to Martha Blount, Pope says "The tents are carried there this morning, new regiments with new clothes and furniture, far exceeding the late cloth and linen designed by his Grace (the Duke of Marlborough) for the soldiery."

[2] See also the Life of Jonathan Wild, subsequently related.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals