The Lives of WILLIAM RUSSELL, ROBERT CROUCH and WILLIAM HOLDEN
Although the insolency of those street-robbers to whose gang the malefactors we are now speaking of belong be at present too recent a fact to be questioned, yet possibly in future times 'twill be thought an exaggeration of truth to say that even at noon-day, and in the most open places in London, persons were stopped and robbed. The offenders for many months escaped with impunity, until those crimes became so frequent and the terrors of passengers so great that the Government interposed in an extraordinary manner, a royal proclamation being issued offering one hundred pounds reward for apprehending any offender, and also promising pardon to any who submitted and revealed their accomplices. This brought numbers of young rash youths who had engaged in this wicked course of life to a violent and ignominious death.
William Russell was descended from persons of honourable family and unblemished reputation. In his youth he had received a tolerable education, which even in his misfortunes rendered him more civilized than any of his companions. He was a young fellow of tolerable good sense, ready wit, and great courage; he always spoke frankly of the wickedness of his own life and acknowledged that sensual pleasures were only what he aimed at in the course of life he led; yet he had never been able to reap any satisfaction in them, but had been always miserable in his own mind, from the time he pursued those base methods of gaining money. His father being gone over to Ireland, and he left at liberty to pursue what methods he thought best, evil women and bad company soon prevailed with him to fall into those methods which afterwards led him to the gallows.
Robert Crouch, the second of these criminals, was born at Dunstable, of very honest parents who afforded him as good an education as it was in their power to give; and then, upon his own inclination to follow the business of a butcher, bound him to one in Newgate Market, with whom he served his time. But as soon as he was out of it he addicted himself to gaming, drinking and whoring, and all the other vices which are so natural to abandoned young fellows in low life. Dalton, who was an evidence against him, was one of the chief persons of his gang, and specially persuaded Crouch to join with him, though he had very little occasion to fall into such ways of getting money, since his father was a man in very good circumstances, who designed to set his son in his trade in a short time, having not the least suspicion that this melancholy accident would intervene.
William Holden, the third of these unhappy persons, was born of very mean parents, had little education, and had followed no particular trade, but had sometimes gone to sea, and at other times driven a hackney coach; so that throughout the whole course of his life he had been continually plunged in the grossest debaucheries, whereby he became ripe for such practices as he and his associates afterwards went upon.
It does not appear, from the papers that I have, that any of these criminals had followed that infamous course of life for above a year, when Dalton, to save his own life, surrendered and made a confession by which these and the rest of ms associates were quickly apprehended and committed dose prisoners to Newgate. At the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey they were all indicted for assaulting one Martha Hide on the highway, and taking from her a broad-cloth coat, value forty shillings; a looking-glass, value thirty shillings; a woman's nightgown; and other goods, to the value of thirty shillings more. To prove this charge James Dalton was produced, who swore that about nine o'clock at night himself and the prisoners overtook the prosecutor, Martha Hide, in Fleet Street; and observing that she had a bundle they resolved to take it from her. In order to accomplish their design they followed her into Lincoln's Inn Fields, where Robert Crouch, alias Bob the Butcher, knocked her down and Russell took up the bundle and ran away with it. Upon their opening thereof the looking-glass fell out and was broke all to pieces. The rest of the things they sold to one Sarah Watts, who made it her business to buy stolen goods and kept what in their cant is called a 'lock', that is a place for the receipt of such things. Dalton swore, moreover, that not having carefully examined the things, they were extremely mortified to hear afterwards that there was forty shillings in specie wrapped up in a rag, which the woman that bought them got into the bargain.
Martha Hide, herself, deposed that crossing Lincoln's Inn Fields she was knocked down and the bundle taken from her as Dalton had before related. One Solomon Nicholas deposed that not long after, Russell and Crouch quarrelling between themselves at a brandy-shop, Russell said to his companion, "If you offer to meddle with Nicholas I'll cut the coat off your back, for it's the woman's coat that we knocked down in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and I have as much right to it as you have." It appeared, also, by another witness, that Crouch pawned an old coat to pay for the altering of this, and after taking off a cloth cape which it had at the time of its being stolen, he caused a velvet one to be sewn on in its room. Mr. Willis, the constable, was the last witness called for by the prosecutor. He swore that at the time that he apprehended the prisoner Russell, he acknowledged that the goods before-mentioned were stolen and sold for one pound two shillings, but said he did not value it, since he should die in the company of such brave fellows.
The jury withdrawing after hearing this evidence, returned soon after and found them guilty, and sentence of death was passed upon them, at one of the fullest sessions which had happened for many years at the Old Bailey, there being twenty-two men and seven women capitally convicted.
As these unhappy men could have little hope of life, considering the nature and notoriety of their offences; they ought certainly to have laid aside all other thoughts and have applied themselves strictly, beseeching pardon of God for their numberless offences against Him. Instead of this, there appeared too much affectation of unconcernedness in all of them, especially in Russell, who, being confined in the same cell with Holden, said to his companion a day or two before his death, with an air of indifference, "I'll undertake, Will, to procure a coach to carry off our bodies from the place of execution; but I must leave it to the care of your fraternity" (meaning the hackney coachmen) "to prevent their being seized on by the surgeons." Holden heard all this very gravely, assented to the proposition without altering his countenance or giving any other mark of his concern for that infamous death which shortly they were both to suffer.
Russell also took a certain pleasure in speaking of the state of street-robbing at the time they left the world. He averred that the town was much mistaken in imagining that the king's proclamation had effectually crushed their fraternity, into which opinion they perhaps might be drawn by seeing so many of them perish in so short a time; which, he said, did not lessen their society, but would, notwithstanding that, put all that remained of them upon bolder exploits than ever, to show that they were yet unhanged. In which conjecture he was not very much out. However, he said, gentlemen might now safely walk the streets without fear of having their pockets picked, for that Benjamin Branch, who died the last sessions, and Isaac Ashley, who was to suffer with him, were the two neat masters in that way, and were capable of earning fifteen or sixteen shillings by it in two or three hours' time; sorting the fruits of their industry into several parcels, from the value of sixpence to half a crown apiece as dexterously as any milliner in London.
After the coming out of the death warrant Russell laid aside much of his boldness, appeared with more gravity at prayers and expressed greater sorrow for his misspent life than he had done before. Crouch carried himself very quietly all along, but could not forbear being unseasonably merry and jocose upon several occasions, smiling at chapel and affecting to talk with greater gaiety than became his condition. He himself owned that this was very unbecoming in a person so near an ignominious death, but he said it was in his temper, and he could not help it. He frankly acknowledged the enormity of that course of life which for some years past he had led, acknowledged that on the coming out of the king's proclamation he had resolved on a four years' voyage to sea, but was prevented from putting it in execution by Dalton's information. As the time of their death drew near he became more and more sensible of his miserable condition and the danger there was of losing his soul as well as his body.
William Holden at first denied very strongly his being in any degree guilty of the fact for which he died; but when he heard that Russell had owned it and at the same time confessed that he was concerned in it, thinking it no further use to adhere to that denial he retracted it and acknowledged that he had been a great sinner, and had committed several thefts before that for which he died. In a word, these three, as they had been companions together in wickedness and fellow-sufferers in the punishment which their crimes had drawn upon them, so they appeared to be all of them sensibly touched with sorrow and remorse for that multitude of crimes which they had committed, endeavouring to merit the pardon of God by hearty prayers and a sincere repentance. Russell, however, declared but a day or two before his execution that Dalton, the evidence, had proposed to him to join in that information he gave against their companions, but that he scorned to save his life by so mean a practice as betraying those who had received him into their friendship.
Their deportment at the place of execution was resolute without obstinacy or impenitence, and the last moments of their lives were full of seriousness, without any marks of timorousness or confusion. Russell was about twenty-five, Crouch about twenty, and Holden somewhat more than twenty-eight years of age at the time they suffered, which was on Monday, 20th of May, 1728.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals