Date Of Execution: 23 Feb 1723
Execution Place: unknown
Who suffered the Torture for refusing to plead. Executed at Tyburn, 23rd of February, 1723, for Robbery
The Punishment for Refusing to Plead
WILLIAM SPIGGOT and Thomas Phillips were indicted at the Old Bailey for committing several robberies on the highway, but they refused to plead unless the effects taken from them when they were apprehended were returned; but this being directly contrary to an Act —- the 4th and 5th of King William and Queen Mary —-- entitled "An Act for Encouraging the Apprehending of Highwaymen," the Court informed them that their demand could not be complied with.
Still, however, they refused to plead, and no arguments could convince them of the absurdity of such an obstinate procedure; on which the Court ordered that the judgment ordained by law in such cases should be read, which is to the following purpose:-
"That the prisoner should be sent to the prison from whence he came, and put into a mean room, stopped from the light, and shall there be laid on the bare ground, without any litter, straw, or other covering, or without any garment about him, except something to hide his privy members. He shall lie upon his back; his head shall be covered and his feet shall be bare. One of his arms shall be drawn with a cord to one side of the room, and the other arm to the other side, and his legs shall be served in the like manner. Then there shall be laid upon his body as much iron or stone as he can bear, and more. And the first day after he shall have three morsels of barley bread, without any drink; and the second day he shall be allowed to drink as much as he can at three times of the water that is next the prison- door, except running water, without any bread; and this shall be his diet till he dies; and he against whom this judgment shall be given forfeits his goods to the King."
[This Act becoming barbarous to Englishmen, in 1772 it was determined that persons refusing to plead should be deemed guilty, as if convicted by a jury: an alteration that does honour to modern times]
The reading of this sentence producing no effect, they were ordered back to Newgate, there to be pressed to death. But when they came to the press-room Phillips begged to be taken back to plead —- a favour that was granted, though it might have been denied to him —- but Spiggot was put under the press, where he continued half-an-hour with three hundred and fifty pounds' weight on his body; but on the addition of fifty pounds more he likewise begged to plead. In consequence thereof they were again brought back, and again indicted, when, the evidence being clear and positive against them, they were convicted, received sentence of death, and were executed, along with Oakey, Levey and Flood.
William Spiggot, who was about twenty-seven years of age when he suffered, was a native of Hereford, but coming to London, he apprenticed himself to a cabinetmaker. He was a married man, and had three children living at the time of his fatal exit. He and Phillips were hanged for robbing Charles Sybbald on Finchley Common, and were convicted principally on the evidence of Joseph Linsey, a clergyman of abandoned character, who had been of their party. One Burroughs, a lunatic, who had escaped from Bedlam, was likewise concerned with them, but afterwards publicly spoke of the affair, which occasioned their being taken into custody; and when it was known that Burroughs was disordered in his mind, he was sent back to Bedlam.
Thomas Phillips, aged thirty-three years, was a native of Bristol, totally uneducated, and being sent to sea when very young, he served under Lord Torrington, when he attacked and took the Spanish fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, near the harbour of Cadiz. [The unfortunate Admiral Byng, whose case will be given in due course in this work, was the son of this gallant nobleman]
Phillips returning to England, became acquainted with Spiggot and Linsey, in company with whom he committed a great number of robberies on the highway. Phillips once boasted that he and Spiggot robbed above an hundred passengers one night, whom they obliged to come out of different waggons, and having bound them, placed them by each other on the side of the road: but this story is too absurd to be believed.
While under sentence of death, Phillips behaved in the most hardened and abandoned manner; he paid no regard to any thing that the minister said to him, and swore or sung songs while the other prisoners were engaged in acts of devotion; and, towards the close of his life, when his companions became more serious, he grew still more wicked; and yet, when at the place of execution, he said, "he did not fear to die, for he was in no doubt of going to heaven."