Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: William Colthouse


a Thief and Highwayman

William Colthouse was born in Yorkshire, had a very good education for a person of his rank and especially with regard to religious principles, of which he retained a knowledge seldom to be met with among the lower class of people; but he was so unhappy as to imbibe in his youth strange notions in regard to civil government, hereditary rights having been much magnified in the latter end of the late Queen's reign. William amongst others was violent attached thereto, and fancied it was a very meritorious thing to profess his sentiments, notwithstanding they were directly opposite to those of persons then in power. Some declarations of this sort occasioned his being confined in Newgate, and prosecuted for speaking seditious words in the beginning of King George the First's reign. His Newgate acquaintances taught him quickly their arts of living, and he was no sooner at liberty than he put them into execution, he and his brother living like gentlemen on their expeditions on the road; till unfortunately committing a robbery on Hounslow Heath together, they were both closely pursued, the other taken, and William narrowly escaped by creeping into a hollow tree.

After the execution of his brother, Colthouse being terribly affected therewith, retired to Oxford, and there worked as a journeyman joiner, determining with himself to live honestly for the future, and not by a habit of ill-actions go the same way as one so nearly related to him had done before. But as his brother's death in time grew out of his remembrance, so his evil inclinations again took place, and he came up to London with a full purpose of getting money at an easier rate than working.

Soon after his arrival his Jacobite principles brought him into a great fray at an alehouse in Tothill Fields, Westminster, where some soldiers were drinking, and who on some disrespectful words said of the Prince, caught up Colthouse and threw him upon a red-hot gridiron, thereby making a scar on his cheek and under his left eye. By this he came to be taken for a person who murdered a farmer's son in Philpot Lane, in Hampshire, when he was charged with which he not only denied, but by abundance of circumstances rendered it highly probable that he did not commit it, there being, indeed, no other circumstance which occasioned that suspicion but the likeness of the scar in his face, which happened in the manner I told you.

While he lay under condemnation, a report reached his ear that his two brothers in the country were also said to be highwaymen; he complained grievously of the common practice that was made by idle people raising stories to increase the sorrows of families which were so unhappy as to have any who belonged to them come to such a death as his was to be. As to his brothers, he declared himself well satisfied that the younger was a sober and religious lad, and as for the elder, though he might have been guilty of some extravagance, yet he hoped and believed they were not of the same kind with those which had brought him to ruin. However, that he might do all the good which his present sad circumstance would allow, he wrote the following letter to his brethren in the country.

Dear Brothers,

Though the nearness of my approaching death ought to shut out from my thoughts all temporal concerns, yet I could not compose my mind into that quietness with which I hope to pass from this sinful world into the presence of the Almighty, before I had thus exorted you to take particular warning from my death, which the intent of the Law to deter others from wickedness hath decreed to be in a public and ignominious manner. Amidst the terrors which the frailty of human nature (shocked with the prospect of so terrible an end) makes my afflicted heart to feel, even these sorrows are increased, and all my woes doubled by a story which is spread, I hope without the least grounds of truth, that ye, as well as I, have lived by taking away by force the property of others.

Let the said examples of my poor brother, who died by the hand of Justice, and of me, who now follow him in the same unhappy course, deter you not only from those flagrant offences which have been so fatal unto us, but also from those foolish and sinful pleasures in which it is but too frequent for young persons to indulge themselves. Remember that I tell you from a sad experience, that the wages of sin, though in appearance they be sometimes large and what may promise outward pleasure, yet are they attended with such inward disquiet as renders it impossible for those to have received them to enjoy either quiet or ease. Work, then, hard at your employments, and be assured that sixpence got thereby will afford you more solid satisfaction than the largest acquisitions at the expense of your conscience. That God may, by His grace, enable you to follow this my last advice, and that He may bless your honest labour with plenty and prosperity is the earnest prayer of your dying brother

William Colthouse

Till the day of his execution he had denied his being accessory to the intended escape by forcing the prison, but when he came to Tyburn, he acknowledged that assertion to be false, and owned that he caused the two pistols to be provided for that purpose. He was about thirty-four years of age at the time he suffered, which was on the 8th of February, 1722, with Burgess, Shaw and Smith.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals