Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Vincent Davis


a Murderer

It is an observation made by some foreigners (and I am sorry to say there's too much truth in it) that though the English are perhaps less jealous than any nation under the heavens, yet more men murder their wives amongst us than in any other nation in Europe.

Vincent Davis was a man of no substance and who for several years together had lived in a very ill correspondence with his wife, often beating and abusing her, until the neighbours cried out shame. But instead of amending he addicted himself still more and more to such villainous acts, conversing also with other women. And at last buying a knife, he had the impudence to say that that knife should end her, in which he was as good as his word; for on a sudden quarrel he slabbed her to the heart. For this murder he was indicted, and also on the Statute of Stabbing,[1] of both of which on the fullest proof he was found guilty.

When Davis was first committed, he thought fit to appear very melancholy and dejected. But when he found there was no hopes of life, he threw off all decency in his behaviour and, to pass for a man of courage, showed as much vehemence of temper as a madman would have done, rattling and raving to everyone that came in, saying it was no crime to kill a wife; and in all other expressions he made use of, behaved himself more like a fool or a man who had lost his wits than a man who had lived so long and creditably in a neighbourhood as he had done, excepting in relation to his wife. But he was induced, with the hopes of passing for a bold and daring fellow, to carry on this scene as long as he could, but when the death warrant arrived, all this intrepidity left him, he trembled and shook, and never afterwards recovered his spirits to the time of his death.

The account he gave of the reason of his killing his wife in so barbarous a manner was this; that a tailor's servant having kept him out pretty late one night, and he coming home elevated with liquor abused her, upon which she got a warrant for him and sent him to New Prison. After this, the prisoner said, he could never endure her; she was poison to his sight, and the abhorrence he had for her was so great and so strong that he could not treat her with the civility which is due to every indifferent person, much less with that regard which Christianity requires of us towards all who are of the same religion. So that upon every occasion he was ready to fly out into the greatest passions, which he vented by throwing everything at her that came in his way, by which means the knife was darted into her bosom with which she was slain.

Notwithstanding the barbarity which seemed natural to this unhappy man, the cruelty with which he treated his wife in her last moments, the spleen and malice with which he always spoke of her, and the little regret he showed for having imbrued his hands in her blood, he yet had an unaccountable tenderness for his own person, and employed the last days of his confinement in writing many letters to his friends, entreating them to be present at his execution in order to preserve his body from the hands of the surgeons, which of all things he dreaded. And in order to avoid being anatomised, he affronted the court at the Old Bailey, at the time he received sentence of death, intending as he said to provoke them to hang him in chains, by which means he should escape the mangling of the surgeon's knives, which to him seemed ten thousand times worse than death itself. Thus confused he passed the last moments of his life, and with much ado recollected himself so as to suffer with some kind of decency, which he did on the 30th of April, at the same time with the last-mentioned malefactor.


[1] 1 Jac. I, cap. 8, "When one thrusts or stabs another, not then having a weapon drawn, or who hath not then first stricken the party stabbing, so that he dies thereof within six months after, the offender shall not have the benefit of clergy, though he did it not of malice aforethought." Blackstone.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals