Executed for murder, 28th July, 1721
THIS offender was the son of poor persons at St. Albans, and brought up as a plough-boy; but, being too idle to follow his business, be sauntered about the country, and committed frequent robberies, spending among women the money he obtained in this illegal manner.
Clarke had art enough to engage the affections of a number of young women, to some of whom he promised marriage; and he seems to have intended to have kept his word with one of them, and went with her to London to tie the nuptial knot; but, going into a goldsmith's shop to buy the ring, he said he had forgot to supply himself with money, but would go into the country and fetch it.
The young woman staid in town while he went to Wilsden Green, with a view to commit a robbery, that he might replenish his pocket. As it was now the season of hay-making, he met a man, who, wondering that he should be idle, gave him employment. Besides the business of farming, his employer kept a public house, and had a servant maid, whom Clarke had formerly courted.
The villain, leaving his fellow-labourers in the field, went to the house, and, finding only the girl at home, conversed with her some time; but, having determined to rob his employer, he thought he could not do it securely without murdering her; and, while she was gone to draw him some beer, he pulled out his knife for this horrid purpose; and, when she entered the room, he got up to kiss her, thinking to have then perpetrated the deed, but his conscience prevented him: on this he sat down, and talked with her some time longer; when he got up, and, again kissing her, cut her throat in the same instant.
Hereupon she fell down, and attempted to crawl to the door, while the blood streamed from her throat; on which the villain cut her neck to the bone, and, robbing the house of a small sum, ran off towards London, under all the agonizing tortures of a wounded conscience.
Tyburn being in his way to town, he was so terrified at the sight of the gallows, that he went back a considerable distance, till, meeting a waggon, he offered his service in driving, thinking that his being in employment might prevent his being suspected in case of a pursuit. But he had not gone far before some persons rode up, and asked him if he had seen a man who might be suspected of a murder. He seemed so terrified by the question that the parties could not help noticing his agitation, and, on a close inspection, they found some congealed blood on his clothes, to account for which be said be had quarrelled and fought with a soldier on the road.
Being taken into custody, be soon acknowledged his crime, and, being carried before a magistrate, he was committed to Newgate; and, when brought to trial, he pleaded guilty: in consequence of which he was executed at Tyburn on the 28th of July, 1721, and then hung in chains near the spot where be committed the murder.
There is something dreadfully enormous in the crime for which this man suffered. When under sentence of death he was one of the most miserable wretches that ever endured a situation so calamitous. Nor is this to be wondered at; for the murder he committed was one of the most unprovoked imaginable. It is probable, from the affection the poor girl had for him, that she would have lent him a greater sum than he obtained by cutting her throat.
His terrors at the sight of the gallows should teach those who are prompted to iniquity to avoid all crimes that may lead to a fatal end. The wicked can never be happy; and it is only by a life of integrity, virtue, and piety, that we can hope for the blessing of God, the applause of a good conscience, and 'that peace of mind which passeth all understanding.'