British Executions

Nathaniel Hawes

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: highway robbery

Date Of Execution: 21 Dec 1721

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown



Highwayman, who underwent Torture for the Sake of his Honour. Executed at Tyburn, 21st of December, 1721.

 NATHANIEL HAWES was a native of Norfolk, in which county he was born in the year 1701. His father was a grazier in ample circumstances, but dying while the son was an infant, a relation in Hertfordshire took care of his education. At a proper age he was apprenticed to an upholsterer in London; but becoming connected with people of bad character, and thus acquiring an early habit of vice, he robbed his master when he had served only two years of his time, for which he was tried at the Old Bailey, and being convicted of stealing to the amount of thirty-nine shillings, was sentenced to seven years' transportation. This sentence, however, was not carried into execution, owing to the following circumstance. A man named Phillips had encouraged the unhappy youth in his depredations, by purchasing, at a very low rate, such goods as he stole from his master; but when Hawes was taken into custody he gave information of this affair, in consequence of which a search warrant was procured, and many effects belonging to Hawes's master were found in Phillips's possession. Hereafter application was made to the King, and a free pardon was granted to Hawes, whereby he was rendered a competent evidence against Phillips, who was tried for receiving stolen goods, and transported for fourteen years. Hawes, during his confinement in Newgate, had made such connections as greatly contributed to the contamination of his morals; and soon after his release he connected himself with a set of bad fellows who acted under the direction of Jonathan Wild, and having made a particular acquaintance with one John James, they joined in the commission of a number of robberies. After an uncommon share of success for some days they quarrelled on the division of the booty, in consequence of which each acted on his own account. Some little time after they had thus separated, Hawes, being apprehensive that James would impeach him, applied to Jonathan Wild, and informed against his old acquaintance, on which James was taken into custody, tried, convicted and executed. Notwithstanding this conviction, the Court sentenced Hawes to be imprisoned in the New Prison, and that jail was preferred to Newgate because the prisoners in the latter threatened to murder Hawes for being an evidence against James. Here it should be observed that, by an Act —- 4th and 5th of William and Mary —- for the More Effectual Conviction of Highwaymen, the evidence of accomplices is allowed, but the evidence cannot claim his liberty unless two or more of his accomplices are convicted, but may be imprisoned during the pleasure of the Court.

 Soon after his commitment Hawes and another fellow made their escape, and entering into partnership committed a variety of robberies, particularly on the road between Hackney and Shoreditch. This connection, like the former, lasted but a short time. A dispute on dividing their ill-gotten gains occasioned a separation; soon after which Hawes went alone to Finchley Common, where, meeting with a gentleman riding to town, he presented a pistol to his breast and commanded him instantly to dismount, that he might search him for his money. The gentleman offered him four shillings, on which Hawes swore the most horrid oaths, and threatened instant death if he did not immediately submit. The gentleman quitted his horse, and in the same moment seized the pistol, which he snatched from the hand of the robber, and presenting it at him told him to expect death if he did not surrender himself. Hawes, who was now as terrified as he had been insolent, made no opposition; and the driver of a cart coming up just at that juncture he was easily made prisoner, conveyed to London, and committed to Newgate.

 When the sessions came on, and he was brought to the bar, he refused to plead to his indictment, alleging the following reason for so doing: that he would die, as he had lived, like a gentleman. "The people," said he, "who apprehended me, seized a suit of fine clothes, which I intended to have gone to the gallows in; and unless they are returned I will not plead, for no one shall say that I was hanged in a dirty shirt and ragged coat." On this he was told what would be the consequence of his contempt of legal authority; but this making no impression on him, sentence was pronounced that he should be pressed to death. Whereupon he was taken from the court, and, being laid on his back, sustained a load of two hundred and fifty pounds' weight about seven minutes; but unable any longer to bear the pain he entreated he might be conducted back to the court, which being complied with, he pleaded "Not guilty"; but the evidence against him being complete, he was convicted and sentenced to die. He was executed at Tyburn, on the 21st of December, 1721.