22nd October 1788
Reference Numbert17881022-19
VerdictGuilty > with recommendation

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626. JOSHUA SOFTLY was indicted for feloniously assaulting Godfrey Thornton , Esq . on the king's highway, on the 26th day of March last, and putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and feloniously taking from his person and against his will, one gold watch, value 10 l. a gold watch chain, value 40 s. a brown chrystal seal set in gold, value 40 s. a cornelian pump seal set in gold, value 40 s. a tasset seal, value 5 s. a watch key, value 1 d. a silk purse, value 2 d. one guinea, and two shillings, and two copper half-pence, his property .

(The witnesses examined separate, by desire of Mr. Garrow, Prisoner's Counsel.)


I was robbed on the 26th of March between nine and ten in the evening; I was coming from Barnet to London, two men passed me on a light easy canter; I was in a post chaise; they overtook, and past me just by the seven mile stone on Finchley Common ; in a very short time after they had rode past me, one of them come back, stopped the postillion, and came to the post-chaise, and let down the window, and he asked me for my money; I gave him a green silk purse, it might contain about two pounds; as far as I can recollect, there was a guinea and a few shillings, and a few halfpence; he then asked me for my watch, I told him I had no watch; I had laid it on one side; he then said, speaking rather stronger, and with more violence, that he insisted on having more money; I told him I had no more money; upon which, he put his hand to his breast, and was drawing out a pistol, the but end I saw; he spoke strong, I believe he might swear an oath, and said, he would have more money.

Court. He did not present a pistol when he first came up? - No; then I gave him my watch; driving on, at a small distance on the left hand, I perceived immediately another man on horseback standing by, which I supposed to be the man that rode in company with him; the other man was near the chaise, he was on horseback standing still, seeming to be looking on.

Was it a moon-light night? - No, I think not, it was not so light for me to ascertain the person; I cannot ascertain the person; I described the prisoner and the other man as to his dress, which I drew out the next day, but not to speak to his face; I gave information the next morning to Bow-street, and had this handbill printed, (handed up to the Court) the hand-bill was taken from my instructions; on and the 4th of October, I had notice that the prisoner was taken; it was on the Saturday; and on Monday the 6th, according to appointment, I went to Sir Sampson's, the prisoner was at the office, at the bar there; I described one man that robbed me, rode a light bay or man horse, with a blue surtout, and buttons of the same colour; and another man of shorter stature, who rode a bay horse, with light coloured clothes and metal buttons, they had both round hats; another man was produced to me of the name of Barret, who was shewn to me as the accomplice of this man, and my watch which was taken from me, at that time was produced, which watch I swore to, it is the same I lost; it is not exactly in the same state, the outside case is gone, and one seal, but the chain and two other seals, and the rest are the same; they correspond exactly.

Mr. Garrow. Mr. Thornton, you gave the information to Bow-street the very next day? - Yes.

And of course to publish the hand-bill as effectually as they thought necessary? - Yes.

That was the 27th of March? - Yes.

From that time till the 4th of October, you never heard any thing of your watch? - No.

Was there any advertisement in the newspapers? - I believe not; not as far as I know.


The prisoner and John Barrett came to

the stables together; I cannot say what time; it was in the long days, when it was not dark much before nine or ten; they came to Mr. Hartley's stables; Barrett was coachman to Hartley.

Court. Then it was some time in the summer? - Yes, between six and seven o'clock; Mr. Barrett in the presence of the prisoner told me to saddle Mr. Hartley's two saddle horses.

Court. How long have you lived with Mr. Hartley? - I have been there six or seven months; I came there just after they went out of town, which is about nine weeks ago, and it was a month or six weeks before that.


On the 3d of July in the morning, I believe it was ten, I went with Shallard and a gentleman, and he shewed me John Barret ; we took him there, and kept him till his master came; on the 3d of October I apprehended the prisoner on Barret's information; I did not know any thing then of Mr. Thornton's robbery: on the same evening, I told Sir Sampson I had taken a watch; and he referred to the book, and found the name, seal, and every thing corresponded; I got the watch from the prisoner; in endeavouring to take him we had a scuffle; he was down, and I told him to get up like a man, and we would not hurt him; we took him by the collar and got him up again; it was near dusk; Macmanus says, Archy, he has a knife; I put my other hand to wrest his right hand away from the knife; some man took the knife out; during the scuffle the prisoner by some means whipped his hand behind him, and I got hold of a chain of a watch.

Court. Was the watch in his hand then? - Yes; there was some other person had hold of his hand at the same time, but who he was I do not know; this is the watch I got hold of; it was as it is now, without an outside case; it has been in my possession ever since; I never saw it only during the time I was putting it into my pocket; when Sir Sampson asked him whose watch it was; he said it was his grandfather's; then Sir Sampson asked him how long he had had it, and he said, in March last, that his grandfather had given it to him; we went to the lodging immediately, and on his wife we found this green purse; we watched him out of the house; he acknowledged her as his wife in the publick-house.

Prosecutor. I cannot pretend to swear to the purse, it was such a purse as that, of that shape; it was a close purse; there is one particular circumstance about the watch, which is, the cap is silver; it was a silver watch, and I had it cased with gold; the seals, two of them, and the chain are mine; I can swear to them.

Mr. Garrow. Barrett was in custody for robbing his master? - Yes.

Of a saddle? - Yes.

He was charged with many other robberies? - He was.

When he was under examination, I take it for granted, he was advised to make an ample confession, and become a witness for the crown, to save himself from being hanged? - He was.

Then he charged the prisoner? - Yes.

Barrett appears to have been in a constant course of highway robberies? - Before he was apprehended, for four months back, he had been out of town with his master.

Otherwise, whenever he was at leisure, he used to go on Finchley-common? - Yes.


The prisoner came to me one night about the 26th of March, and proposed to me to go out robbing with him; likewise, we went on Finchley-common almost to the far side; and returning back, we heard a post chaise coming; I went on forward, and Softley staid behind me, and robbed the chaise; I was at a little distance before.

Did you stand still, or go on? - Why, I kept walking on slowly.

You did not stand still then? - No, I kept walking on very slowly; afterwards

the chaise passed me, and he gallopped up to me, and said, he had robbed the post-chaise of so much, but he did not know what he had got; he had got a purse: likewise, when he came home, he looked in the purse and found about twenty-five shillings, what he told me, and some half-pence.

Any gold? - There was a guinea, some shillings and some half-pence; he did not shew me the purse, not then present, and then he gave me eleven or twelve shillings.

Did you see the gentleman that was in the chaise? - I saw him pass me.

Do you know him by sight? - Yes, I think I know him.

What sort of a light was it? - A lightish night.

Moon-light? - It was a little; I could see who there was in the carriage.

How many were there in the carriage? - I could not see hardly who there was in the carriage, but I could see that gentleman very well.

Did you stop to observe who was in the carriage? - I kept walking on, but looked earnest at the carriage as it came by me; I went very slow, as slow as the horse could walk.

Could you know the gentleman again at that time of night? - Yes.

What sort of gentleman was it? - He was a fat gentleman.

What coloured clothes? - I really cannot say what coloured clothes he had on, but I saw his face.

Do you see the gentleman here any where? - Yes, there he sits.

Mr. Garrow. Your Lordship recollects he was in Court when Mr. Thornton began to be examined.

Court. Did the prisoner shew you any thing else he had taken from that gentleman? - No, he did not.

Did he ever? - No.

Did you see the purse that the prisoner had? - Yes, I saw it in his hand the same night, but I never had it in my hand.

What sort of a purse was it? - As near as I can guess, but I will not say for certain; I think it was green.

Mr. Garrow. Mr. Barrett, I think you was in Court when the gentleman was examined to-day, when he began? - Yes.

And you have seen him since the robbery in Bow-street? - Yes.

This was a very fine bright night? - So fine, that I could observe the person of the gentleman.

Was there much moon? - It was not a great deal up, but was visible enough for me to see the gentleman.

Court. Did you see the moon that night or not? - I cannot say I saw the moon, but it was quite light enough to see the moon.

Did you meet the carriage or overtake it? - I overtook it.

Are you sure it was not the 25th? - No, sir, I am sure it was not the 25th.

Nor the 27th? - No, I am sure it was either the 26th or the 27th; I am sure the robbery was done, but I did not take down the time.

That was the first robbery that you and he did? - Yes.

Then you did not say at Bow-street, that it was either the latter end of March, or the beginning of April? - Me! sir.

Aye, me, sir; will you swear that positively? - I swear positively as to the time, I knew the time very well that the robbery was done.

Did you tell the magistrate at Bow-street, it was either the latter end of March or the beginning of April? - I did.

How long did you live with Mr. Hartley? - I lived with him, I believe, about three quarters of a year.

You was his coachman, and you had a helper under you? - Yes.

These were your master's saddle horses, which you used on Finchley-common? - Yes.

Do you remember robbing me on Finchley-common? - No, sir.

In a chaise and four? - No.

Can you venture to swear whether I am

the person you robbed in the chaise and four? - No, sir, I cannot say.

Do you recollect the persons that were in the two chaises that you robbed one night? - There was a man and woman in the first, and in five minutes after we robbed another, with another man and woman.

Upon the whole how many robberies might you have committed? - Four or five, I have quite dropt it.

And have taken only to steal your master's saddles? - The saddles went out of the stable, while I was in the country.

But you was accused of stealing them? - Yes.

You have turned an honest man all at once? - The first time I ever did any thing was going out with Softley.

What Jew did you sell your watches to? - I cannot say who he is, but I did sell a watch for two guineas and a half, I took it from a gentleman upon Finchley-common.

How many months were you in this business? - About four months; I never robbed any where else.

Did you make any confession of this till you was taken up, till they told you, you would be hanged? - They did not tell me that I should be hanged.

Will you swear that now? - Why, yes, they might say so.

Had you said a word about this, or charged Softly with this till after that? - No, I never did.

Court. How were you dressed the night you committed this particular robbery? - I had a brown coat on.

A dark or light one? - A lightish one.

What horse did you ride? - A roan horse.

What sort of horse did the prisoner ride that night? - It was a bay mare.

A light bay or dark? - A lightish bay.

Was yours a darkish roan, or light? - A dark roan.

Had you buttons the same as your coat? - Yes.

A round hat, or a cocked hat? - A round hat.

How was Softly dressed that night? - In a blue coat.

What sort of buttons? - I cannot recollect.

Had he a round hat or a cocked hat? - A round hat.

What arms had you? - A brace of pistols.

Who carried the pistols? - He had one, and I had the other.

You are sure you did not stop at all? - No, I did not stop, I kept walking on.

Mr. Garrow. He heard that part of Mr. Thornton's examination.

Barrett. The chaise was coming on: he called to me, says he, stop a bit; I went forward, he stopt behind, and robbed the chaise; we drew out of the road, and let the chaise pass us; then we overtook the chaise again, I went before, and he stopt.

Did the prisoner stop or turn back again? - He turned his mare round.

Mr. Garrow. Had either of you a grey horse? - I had a roan horse, but he gets rather lighter as he changes his coat.

You called him a grey horse before the magistrate? - He is betwixt the two.

Court. Was the prisoner with you in all the robberies you committed, Mr. Barrett? - No, he was not.

You went by yourself sometimes? - Yes.

Did you always ride the same horses? - No, I rode the bay mare; that was the bay mare; I had had a horse in Tottenham-court-road, that was rather a darkish bay.

Had your master any other horses but this bay mare and grey horse? - No, not besides coach-horses, they were grey.

Do you know John Bates ? - Yes.

How long had he lived with your master? - He was with me about half a year.

Did he live with your master at the time you went out on this business? - He did.

At the time you robbed Mr. Thornton, did he live with you? - Yes.

Let John Bates come in.

Court to Bates. What coloured horses

were they of your master's, that Barrett and Softly used to take out? - One was a chesnut mate, and the other a grey horse; my master had no dark coloured horse.

Nor a roan horse? - A grey horse, he was between white and black, a roan horse.

How came you to think of a roan? do you know what a roan horse is? - I do not know rightly and properly.

Do you know it when you see it? - Yes: a grey horse is a kind of all white partly.

White mixed with what colour? - With black.

Now what is a roan horse? - A roan horse, I believe, is white mixed with red.

Now was this a roan horse or a grey horse? - It was a roan horse.

Why did you call it a grey horse? - I could not tell properly what it was, but the colour of the horse was white and red.

Is your master here? - I do not know.

Court to prosecutor. As far as you recollect, what coloured horse was it? - I wish to refer to the handbill, because that was faithfully taken from my memory.


"a single highwayman, he

"was well mounted on a light coloured

"bay or roan horse." - But I cannot take upon me to swear to the colour of the horse; so it appeared to me at the time; the other man was on a dark horse.

I think you described the other man as standing still like a looker on? - I did; he says he was going slow as he possibly could; I cannot be sure as to that, whether he stood still, or whether he went a foot's pace.

Court. Let Barrett step out a moment.

To Mr. Thornton. When this man left you, did you drive on directly and quickly towards town? - Yes.

The chaise did not stop afterwards? - No.

Did you see the man that robbed you after he had taken your watch? - No, they fell back, I went on.

Is the postilion that drove you here? - No.

Court. Call Barrett in again.

To Barrett. How long might the chaise stop that you robbed? - I cannot say; a very little time.

After the robbery did the chaise come on towards London, or turn back again? - It came on past me to London.

Which way did you and Softly come? - We came all round Tottenham; we did not follow the chaise.

What time of night was it? - Between nine and ten, as I recollect.

Prisoner. I leave my defence to Mr. Garrow.

Court to Ruthwin. Barrett was first taken? - Yes.

And it was on his information that you took the prisoner? - Yes.

The substance of that information was, that the prisoner had committed robberies in his company, I suppose? - Yes.

Well now, did he before the prisoner was taken, particularize any robbery in particular? - Upon my word I cannot tell; Sir Sampson took down all his examination.

Was his examination taken down before Softly was taken? - The examination was taken down, Sir Sampson told us to use our own discretion, in going to seek for Softly.

Was that before Softley was taken? - Yes.

The prisoner called nine witnesses, who gave him a very good character.

GUILTY , Death .

Jury. As this is the first offence, we think from the evidence, there may be some mercy shewn to him.

Prosecutor. I shall be very ready to recommend him.

Court. The circumstance that induces Mr. Thornton and the jury to recommend him is, that there is no circumstance of cruelty; but on the other hand, it is to be considered, that the prisoner had been concerned in several other robberies, and that

at a time when he was under no temptation so to do; for it was at a time when he was actually a servant in place: now the offence of a servant in place, who has a provision made for him, going out on the highway to rob, is one of a very aggravated nature, and very dangerous to the public; therefore it will be my duty, if you persevere in desiring it, to communicate your intentions to the King; but under those circumstances, I cannot expect much from it.

Mr. Justice Heath. The accomplice has told you, that they went out for four months, therefore this can hardly be called the first offence; it is a matter of very dangerous and aggravated nature; the servants of this man had always an opporportunity of commanding their master's horses.

Court. You will judge whether you will persist in making the recommendation to the King.

Jury. You have given a good reason for it; we leave it to your lordship to do as you please.

Court. I shall communicate your recommendation, as there was no circumstance of violence; but the other circumstances will also appear to the King.

Tried by the second Middlesex Jury before Mr. RECORDER.

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