JOHN AUSTIN, Violent Theft > highway robbery, 29th October 1783.

Reference Number: t17831029-4
Offence: Violent Theft > highway robbery
Verdict: Guilty
Punishment: Death; Death
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723. JOHN AUSTIN was indicted for feloniously assaulting John Spicer , in a certain field and open place, near the King's highway, on the 23d of October last, and putting him in fear and danger of his life, and feloniously taking from his person and against his will, one silver watch, value 30 s. a steel chain, value 1 s. a steel key, value 2 d. two silk handkerchiefs, value 4 s. two pair of worsted stockings, value 4 s. one linen shirt, value 12 d. one man's hat, value 12 d. the property of the said John Spicer .


I was robbed last Thursday was week, about six o'clock in the evening; I came to town from Grays, in Essex, to get me a place, and the prisoner and another man whom I do not know, said they would go with me and get me a good lodging; they persuaded me to go out with them, and they took me into some fields, and one of them took me to a ditch, he said, we cannot well get over here, then he took me to the corner; the other, which is the prisoner, had stopped to do his occasions; I said, this is a comical place to look for a lodging, as I saw nothing but lights in the great road, upon that the other man drew a cutlass, from under his smock frock, and he said, if I did not give him what I had, he would cut me down, I got hold of him, and made a good deal of resistance, he chopped at me several times, and cut away as hard as he could, the prisoner who had pretended to be my friend, and shew me about the town, staid behind, for he said, he wanted to easc himself; the prisoner had slept with me on Tuesday and Wednesday night, and on Thursday he went out to get some thing for breakfast, and did not return till the afternoon: before he returned another man (which was the man that cut me in this manner) came to me, and said, the prisoner was his friend, and they were like brothers, and that he was ashamed of leaving me so long, but he would return presently, and soon after the prisoner returned, and said he and the other man would go and gets me a good lodging.

What did the prisoner do during the time the other man was cutting you? - The other man called out to the prisoner who was stopped behind, under pretence of doing his occasions, the prisoner had one of my bundles with him.

Did the prisoner come when he called him? - Yes.

What did the prisoner do or say? - I cannot say that the prisoner struck me, when he came, I said John, you will not be against me, and he laid hold of the handkerchief round my neck, and laid hold of my leg, and threw me down on my back, he said nothing to me, if he had not thrown me down, I believe I could have got away; the other man struck me several times, he cut me across both hands, and a very bad cut over my wrist, and two or three on my head, and one on my leg.

You say the prisoner assisted in throwing you down after the other man had wounded you in the manner you have mentioned? - Yes.

The prisoner was behind when the other cut you with the cutlass? - Yes, he was doing his occasions, as he made believe.

Had you any thing in your hand to defend yourself? - No, they then tied both my hands with a cord.

How near was the prisoner from you when the other man cut you? - About four or five rods.

Did he see the other cut you? - I do not know but he saw him cut me after the prisoner came up to me.

And did the prisoner at the same time assist in throwing you down? - Yes, the other man gave me a great many cuts before the prisoner came up, and some after.

The other man cut at you while the prisoner was assisting to throw you down? - Yes.

What became of them afterwards? - I do not know.

What did they take from you? - My watch and shirt, and two pair of worsted stockings, and two silk handkerchiefs and my hat; a person came up or else I think they would have killed me.

Did they continue to use violence after you was down? - No, Sir, in the space of five minutes, a man came up, I said, for the Lord's sake come and help me, and then they ran away; then the man came and untied me.

You had been some time with the prisoner before you went out with him? - Yes.

You are sure that is the man? - Oh! I am sure that is the man.

You have no doubt at all? - None at all.

Did you ever get any of your things again? - Some of them are in Court.

How soon after was the prisoner taken? - The next morning, this was on a Thursday.

Were you by when he was taken? - I was in the hospital, I was carried to the hospital that night.

Did you receive any wounds except upon the hands and wrists? - Yes, I received one or two on my neck.

Had the prisoner any weapon? - A stick, he had no other as I saw.

Prisoner. The man and I travelled two or three days together.

Court. Was the prisoner one of those that concured in inticing you out to the fields? - Yes.


This matter happened in a field adjoining to Bethnall-green , I was at work in Mr. Wells's garden, I had just put the lights on the hot bed, I heard this man say, O John, why will not you take my part; I went to his assistance over into the field, the man was down and I saw two men upon him, and I directly said halloo, and they both got up and run away as fast as they could; I run after them and overtook them.

Had you a fight of them before they got up? - Yes, I saw them upon the man, they appeared to be searching his clothes what I could see of them, I overtook them both; when they found I came up so fast they both turned round and stood, one with a cutlass, and the other with a stick which I thought was a cutlass at first, to make a defence against me; indeed it was a wonder they had not chopped me; then I run back and I came and picked the man up.

In what situation did you find the man? - With both his hands tied together all over blood almost.

You untied him then? - I took him home to my master's and we untied him and washed him, and took him to the infirmary.

Did he appear to be much hurt and wounded? - Yes, he did indeed Sir, we expected he would have died.

Had you an opportunity of seeing both or either of the men so as to know them again? - No, it was too dark.

Do you know any thing of the apprehending the prisoner afterwards? - Yes, my Lord, I took him the next morning within ten yards of the place, he came back to see whether there was any money lost, the next morning I went out early with my barrow into the fields, and when I came into the field this prisoner was coming down to the place where the prosecutor's hat laid all night, and I took hold of him, I had seen the hat before the prisoner came, the prisoner was alone when I saw him come up to the hat, I took him before he came to the hat, and he told me after I took him, that he came to see whether there was any money lost, this was while we were taking him to the watch-house.

What did he say to the charge? - He said at first he was innocent of it, and he afterwards

confessed and told us where to find the other man, as well as he could.

Was any body with you when you took him at first? - No, I took him to my master, he confessed to my master he was concerned in the robbery, and told me he was coming to see if there was any money lost, the other man could not be found though he gave us directions after him.

Did he say who the other man was? - Yes, he said that he had been with him, he said he had not been in company with him above three or four hours before the action was done, but he knew nothing of him before.

What directions did he give you to find him? - He gave us directions to the Bladebone near Mile-end turnpike, and there we were to ask the servant maid that lived there whether she had seen any thing of such a man.

Did he name the man? - No, he said he could not name the man, my master and I went there, but we could get no intelligence of the man, otherwise than they had been there the day before, these two men had left this man at another house, while they were there together two or three hours.

Court to Prosecutor. Was the other man in company with this man before that afternoon? - Not that I know off, this man and I came into London of a Thursday morning, and he pretended to be my friend, then we went to the White Swan, and he borrowed a guinea of me to get change to get some meat for breakfast, I was not mighty willing to let him have it, and he went away about nine, and did not return till three or four, and he brought this man with him; the prisoner told me the other man was bred and born in the same place with him, and that they were all the same as brothers.

When did you first see this man the prisoner, and where? - On Tuesday night at the Coach and Horses on this side Ilford, he joined company with me there, and came to town with me.

Was the other man there at all? - No, I never saw the other till I came into London

Then you did not see the other man till the Thursday afternoon? - No.

Court to Strong. Did you find any of the things in the possession of the prisoner? - We put him into my master's stable, we did not think to search his pockets before we put him into the stable; when we took him out again, we found the handkerchief and the pair of stockings, I was not present when my master found them, he is here.

When the prisoner confessed to your master that he was concerned in the robbery, was there any promise made him? - I was not there, he told me he came to look if there was any money.


The evening that this matter happened, I was from home, I saw the prosecutor just as he was brought to my house, the next morning we supposed they might have dropped the watch, so I desired my man to go by daylight and look, and he brought back the prisoner in a very little time.

What did the prisoner say for himself? - We secured him in the stable, I asked him how he came to be such a cruel man to behave in such a manner to a man that he had been acquainted with; he first of all denied it, and said he knew nothing of the matter; I told him he was a very remarkable man, that no person could mistake him, I said if you tell me the truth we will beg for you, and recommend you to mercy as far as we can; but if you mean to deceive us, it will be worse for you; I found these things hid in the stable, I supposed he might be shifting something out of his pockets, he went back and made me no answer either way; we delivered him to the watch-house, and I set a man to clean the stable, I had looked but could find. nothing; and while I stood by the man, he put his hand on the rack, and among some straw that was on the rack there, he pulled out these stockings and this handkerchief; these are the things that were found there, I have had them in my possession ever since.

Court. Were any other things found but these.

Strong. I found the shirt and the stockings, and hat in the field, and the string was found that they tied the prosecutor with.

(The stockings and handkerchief, the hat and shirt shewn to the prosecutor, and deposed to, the hat bloody in the lining.)

Court to Spicer. Were both your hands wounded? - Yes, both my hands.

Wells. He was the most deplorable figure, my Lord, that ever was seen, he frightened all my family, that they are not themselves yet, he was all over covered with wounds and blood.


I only know what the prisoner told me; his clothes were allover blood when I took him.

Court to Wells. Did you observe the prisoner's clothes bloody? - Yes, my Lord, I did, and fresh blood.

Court to Strong. Did you observe the prisoner's clothes bloody in the morning? - Yes, very bloody.

Court to Yardley. Do you know any thing of the other man? - Yes, the prisoner told me they were both on board the Ballast Lighter together, and I have made enquiry, he is a weaver by trade.


I have no other defence to make, as for assisting to hurt him, I did not know the other man's intention, I met with the other man at the Bladebone, he came in there and asked the servant-girl to let me have a glass of rum and brandy, or shrub, and he would pay for it, he said, he had seen me at Brentford fair, and he said, he would drink with me, he put his pint of beer into mine, says I, I am going, for I have got a partner that has been about with me for a day or two to seek for work, with that he said, he would go along with me, I said, he might if he would, I had no thought he would do such a thing as that, when he came up in the place I was easing myself, when I went up to him, he said, damn you, if you will not assist me, I will blow your brains out, the other man was a stranger to me, I did not know him, that he made himself known to me; I have no witnesses, I have never a friend in the world, I am far from friends.

GUILTY Death .

Tried by the Second Middlesex Jury before Mr. RECORDER.

Mr. Reynolds. John Austin , you stand convicted of a robbery on the highway, what have you to say for yourself, why this Court should not give you judgement to die according to law?

Prisoner. I am innocent, and I do not think much of dying.

Mr. RECORDER immediately passed sentence on the prisoner as follows.

John Austin , you have been convicted by the verdict of a very merciful Jury upon the clearest and most satisfactory evidence, of a crime so attrocious as to demand the most severe and immediate interposition of Justice; our sovereign has publickly declared his determination to afford no mercy to those wretches, whose wickedness leads them to add the crimes of cruelty and violence to that of robbery; and to endanger the lives as well as the properties of his unoffending subjects; every body must applaud the wisdom and humanity of that determination, and I find it peculiarly my duty in the situation in which I am placed, to lend every assistance in my power towards effectuating his Majesty's intentions. The case that has been proved against you appears to be attended with every aggravation; you were not only a partaker in the cruelty and violence that was used by your companion on this occasion, in treating this unfortunate man in a manner that indangered his life, and was likely to bring you to this bar for murder: but by your extreme treachery you seduced this unfortunate man under the expectation of receiving kindness at your hands, into a

situation which gave you an opportunity of perpetrating this shocking cruelty which is a farther aggravation of your crime. There is therefore no circumstance of favour to be found in your case, and for the protection of the innocent and for an example to others, it is necessary you should be brought to speedy and exemplary justice; your case comes so full within his Majesty's declaration, that I shall think it necessary to make a report to his Majesty on Monday, or so soon after as he shall receive the same, and you must therefore prepare for a speedy execution, as soon as his Majesty's pleasure is known; at present it is my duty to pronounce upon you the dreadful sentence of the law, which is, that you be carried from hence to the place from whence you came and from thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead , and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.

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