Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Nathaniel Hawes


a Thief and a Robber

Amongst many odd notions which are picked up by the common people, there is none more dangerous, both to themselves and unto others, than the idea they get of courage, which with them consists either in a furious madness, or an obstinate perseverence, even in the worst cause.

Nathaniel Hawes was a very extraordinary instance of this, as the following part of his life will show. He was, as he said himself, the son of a very rich grazier in Norfolk, who dying when he was but a year old, he afterwards pretended that he was defrauded of a greater part of his father's effects which should have belonged to him. However, those who took care of his education put him out apprentice to an upholsterer, with whom having served about four years, he then fell into very expensive company, which reduced him to such straits as obliged him to make bold with his master's cash, by which he injured him for some time with impunity. But proceeding, at last, to the commission of a downright robbery, he was therein detected, tried and convicted, but being then a very young man, the Court had pity on him, and he had the good luck to procure a pardon.

Natt made the old use of mercy, when extended to such sort of people, that is, when he returned to liberty he returned to his old practices. His companions were several young men of the same stamp with himself, who placed all their delight in the sensual and brutal pleasures of drinking, gaming, whoring and idling about, without betaking themselves to any business. Natt, who was a young fellow naturally sprightly and of good parts, from thence became very acceptable to these sort of people, and committed abundance of robberies in a very small space of time. The natural fire of his temper made him behave with great boldness on such occasions, and gave him no small reputation amongst the gang. Seeing himself extravagantly commended on such occasions, Hawes began to form to himself high notions of heroism in that way, and from the warmth of a lively imagination, became a downright Don Quixote in all their adventures. He particularly affected the company of Richard James, and with him robbed very much on the Oxford Road, whereon it was common for both these persons not only to take away the money from passengers, but also to treat them with great inhumanity, which for all I might know might arise in a great measure from Hawes's whimsical notions.

This fellow was so puffed up with the reputation he had got amongst his companions in the same miserable occupation, that he fancied no expedition impracticable which he thought fit to engage, and indeed the boldness of his attempts had so often given him success that there is no wonder a fellow of his small parts and education should conceive so highly of himself. It was nothing for Hawes singly to rob a coach full of gentlemen, to stop two or three persons on the highway at a time, or to rob the waggons in a line as they came on the Oxford Road to London, nor was there any of the little prisons or Bridewells that could hold him.

There was, however, an adventure of Natt's of this kind that deserves a particular relation. He had, it seems, been so unlucky as to be taken and committed to New Prison,[1] on suspicion of robbing two gentlemen in a chaise coming from Hampstead. Hawes viewed well the place of his confinement, but found it much too strong for any attempts like those he was wont to make. In the same place with himself and another man mere was a woman very genteelly dressed, who had been committed for shoplifting. This woman seemed even more ready to attempt something which might get her out of that confinement than either Hawes or her other companion. The latter said it was impracticable, and Natt that though he had broken open many a prison, yet he saw no probability of putting this in the number.

"Well", said the woman "have you courage enough to try, if I put you in the way? Yes", quoth Hawes, "there's nothing I won't undertake for liberty;" and said the other fellow, "If I once saw a likelihood of performing it, there's nobody has better hands at such work than myself. In the first place", said this politician in petticoats, "we must raise as much money amongst us as will keep a very good fire. Why truly", replied Hawes, "a fire would be convenient in this cold weather, but I can't, for my heart, see how we should be nearer our liberty for it, unless you intend to set the gaol in flames. Tush! Tush!" answered the woman, "follow but my directions, and let's have some faggots and coals, and I warrant you by to-morrow morning we shall be safe oat of these regions." The woman spoke this with so much assurance that Hawes and the other man complied, and reserving but one shilling, laid out all their money in combustibles and liquor. While the runners of the prison were going to and fro upon this occasion, the woman seemed so dejected that she could scarce speak, and the two men by her directions sat with the same air as if the rope already had been about them at Tyburn. At last, as they were going to be locked up; "Pray", says the woman, with a faint voice, "Can't you give me something like a poker? Why, yes", says one of the fellows belonging to the gaol, "if you'll give me twopence, I'll bring you one of the old bars that was taken out of the window when these new ones were put in." The woman gave him the halfpence, he delivered the bar, and the keepers having locked them up, barred and bolted the doors, and left them until next morning.

As soon as ever the people of the gaol were gone, up starts madam. "Now, my lads", says she, "to work"; and putting her hands into her pockets and shaking her petticoats, down drops two little bags of tools. She pointed out to them a large stone at the corner of the roof which was morticed into two others, one above and the other below. After they had picked all the mortar from between them, she heated the bar red hot in the fire, and putting it to the sockets into which the irons that held the stones were fastened with lead, it quickly loosened them, and then making use of the bars as of a crow, by two o'clock in the morning they had got them all three out, and opened a fair passage into the streets, only that it was a little too high. Upon this the woman made them fasten the iron bar strongly at the angle where the three stones met, and then pulling off her stays, she unrolled from the top of her petticoats four yards of strong cord, the noose of which being fastened on the iron, the other end was thrown out over the wall, and so the descent was rendered easy. The men were equally pleased and surprised at their good fortune, and in gratitude to the female author of it, helped her to the top of the wall, and let her get safe over before they attempted to go out themselves.

It was not long after this that Hawes committed a robbery on Finchley Common, upon one Richard Hall, from whom he took about four shillings in money; and to make up the badness of the booty, he took from him his horse, in order to be the better equipped to go in quest of another which might make up the deficiency. For this robbery, being shortly after detected and apprehended, he was convicted and received sentence of death. When first confined, he behaved himself with very great levity, and declared he would merit a greater reputation by the boldness of his behaviour than any highwayman that had died these seven years. Indeed, this was the style he always made use of, and the great affectation of intrepidity and resolution which he always put on would have moved anybody (had it not been for his melancholy condition) to smile at the vanity of the man.

At the time he was taken up, he had, it seems, a good suit of clothes taken from him, which put him so much out of humour, because he could not appear, as he said, like a gentleman at the sessions-house, that when he was arraigned and should have put himself upon his trial, he refused to plead unless they were delivered to him again. But to this the Court answered that it was not in their power, and on his persisting to remain mute, after all the exhortations which were made to him, the Court at last ordered that the sentence of the press should be read to him, as is customary on such occasions; after which the Judge from the Bench spoke to him to this effect

Nathaniel Hawes,

The equity of the Law of England, more tender of the lives of its subjects than any other in the world, allows no person to be put to death, either unheard or without the positive proof against him of the fact whereon he stands charged; and that proof, too, must be such as shall satisfy twelve men who are his equals, and by whose verdict he is to be tried. And surely no method can be devised fuller than this is, as well of compassion, as of Justice. But then it is required that the person to be tried shall aver his innocence by pleading Not Guilty to his indictment, which contains the charge. You have heard that which the grand jury have found against you. You see here twelve honest men ready to enquire impartially into the evidence that shall be given against you. The Court, such is the humanity of our constitution, is counsel for you as you are a prisoner. What hinders then, that you should submit to so fair, so equal a trial; and wherefore will you, by a brutish obstinacy, draw upon you that heavy judgement which the Law has appointed for those who seem to have lost the rational faculties of men?

To this Hawes impudently made answer, that the Court was formerly a place of Justice, but now it was become a place of injustice; that he doubted not but that they would receive a severer sentence than that which they had pronounced upon him; and that for his part, he made no question of dying with the same resolution with which he had often beheld death, and would leave the world with the same courage with which he had lived in it.

Natt thought this a most glorious instance of his courage, and when some of his companions said jestingly, that he chose pressing because the Court would not let him have a good suit of clothes to be hanged in, he replied, with a great deal of warmth, that it was no such thing, but that as he had lived with the character of the boldest fellow of his profession he was resolved to die with it, and leave his memory to be admired by all the gentlemen of the road in succeeding ages. This was the rant which took up the poor fellow's head, and induced him to bear 250 pound weight upon his breast for upwards of seven minutes, and was much the same kind of bravery as that which induced the French lacquey to dance a minuet immediately before he danced his last upon the wheel, an action which made so much noise in France as engaged the Duke de Rochefoucauld to compare it with the death of Cato.

Hawes, indeed, did not persist quite so long, but submitted to that justice which he saw was unavoidable, after he had endured, as I have said before, so great a weight in the press. The bruises he received on the chest pained him so exceedingly during the short remainder of his life that he was hardly able to perform those devotions which the near approach of death made him desirous to offer up for so profligate a life. He laid aside, then, those wild notions which had been so fatal to him through the whole course of his days, and so remarkably unfortunate to him in this last age of life. He confessed frankly what crimes he could remember and seemed very desirous of acquitting some innocent persons who were at that time imprisoned, or suspected, for certain villainies which were committed by Hawes and his gang; particularly a footman, then in the Poultry Compter, and a man's son at an alehouse, who, though Hawes declared he knew no harm of him, yet at the place of execution he said that as he desired his death might be a warning to all in general, so he wished it might be particularly considered by him. Though, as I have said, he was fully convinced of the folly of those notions which he had formerly entertained, yet he did not, as most of those braves do, go from one degree of extravagance to the other, that is, from daring everything to sinking into the meanest cowardice, for Hawes went to his death very composedly, as he had received the Sacrament the day before, with all the outward marks of devotion. He suffered on the 22nd day of September, 1721, at which time he was scarce twenty years of age.


[1] This was the Clerkenwell House of Detention, where prisoners were sent after being sentenced, pending their disposal at a House of Correction. It was originally intended for the overflow from Newgate. The prison stood in Clerkenwell Close.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals