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


a Highwayman

There cannot, perhaps, be a greater misfortune to a man than his having a woman of ill-principles about him, whether as a wife or otherwise. When they once lay aside principles either of modesty or honesty, women become commonly the most abandoned; and as their sex renders them capable of seducing, so their vices tempt them not often to persuade men to such crimes as otherwise, perhaps, they would never have thought of. This was the case of the malefactor, the story of whose misfortunes we are now to relate.

Joseph Picken was the son of a tailor in Clerkenwell, who worked hard at his employment and took pleasure in nothing but providing for, and bringing up his family. This unhappy son, Joseph, was his darling, and nothing grieved him so much upon his death-bed, as the fears of what might befall the boy, being then an infant of five years old. However, his mother, though a widow, took so much care of his education, that he was well enough instructed for the business she designed him, viz., that of a vintner, to which profession he was bound at a noted tavern near Billingsgate.

He served his time very faithfully and with great approbation, but falling in love, or to speak more properly, taking a whim of marriage in his head, he accepted of a young woman in the neighbourhood as his partner for life. Soon after this, he removed to Windsor, where he took the tap at a well-accustomed inn, and began the world in a very probable way of doing well. However, partly through his own misfortunes, and partly through the extravagance of his wife, in a little more than a twelve months' time he found himself thirty pound in debt, and in no likelihood from his trade of getting money to pay it. This made him very melancholy, and nothing added so great a weight to his load of affliction as the uneasiness he was under at the misfortunes which might befall his wife, to whom as yet this fall in his circumstances was not known.

However, fearing it would be soon discovered in another way, at last he mentioned it to her, at the same time telling her that she must retrench her expenses, for he was now so far from being able to support them that he could hardly get him family bread. Her mother and she thereupon removed to a lodging, where by the side of the bed, poor Picken used to slumber upon the boards, heavily disconsolate with the weight of his misfortunes. One day after talking of them to his wife, he said: "I am now quite at my wits' end. I have no way left to get anything to support us; what shall I do? Do", answered she, "why, what should a man do that wants money and has any courage, but go upon the highway."

The poor man, not knowing how else to gain anything, even took her advice, and recollecting a certain companion of his who had once upon a time offered the same expedient for relieving their joint misfortunes, Picken thereupon found him out, and without saying it was his wife's proposal, pretended that his sorrows had at last so prevailed upon him that he was resolved to repair the injuries of Fortune by taking away something from those she had used better than him. His comrade unhappily addicted himself still to his old way of thinking, and instead of dissuading him from his purpose, seemed pleased that he had taken such a resolution. He told him that for his part he always thought danger rather to be chosen than want, and that while soldiers hazarded their lives in war for sixpence a day, he thought it was cowardice to make a man starve, where he had a chance of getting so much more than those who hazarded as much as they did.

Accordingly Picken and his companion provided themselves that week with all necessaries for their expedition, and going upon it in the beginning of the next, set out and had success, as they called it, in two or three enterprises. But returning to London in the end of the week, they were apprehended for a robbery committed on one Charles Cooper, on Finchley Common, for which they were tried the next sessions, and both capitally convicted.

Through fear of death and want of necessaries, Joseph Picken fell into a low and languishing state of health, under which, however, he gave all the signs of penitence and sorrow that could be expected for the crimes he had committed. Yet though he loaded his wife with the weight of all his crimes, he forebore any harsh or shocking reproaches against her, saying only that as she had brought him into all the miseries he now felt, so she had left him to bear the weight of them alone, without either ever coming near him, or affording him any assistance. However, he said he was so well satisfied of the multitude of his own sins, and the need he had of forgiveness from God, that he thought it a small condition to forgive her, which he did freely from his heart.

In these sentiments he took the Holy Sacrament, and continued with great calmness to wait the execution of his sentence. In the passage to execution and even at the fatal tree, he behaved himself with amazing circumstances of quietness and resignation, and though he appeared much less fearful than any of those who died with him, yet he parted with life almost as soon as the cart was drawn away. He was about twenty-two years of age, or somewhat more, at the time he suffered, which was on the 24th of February, 1724-5, much pitied by the spectators, and much lamented by those that knew him.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals