British Executions

William Duce

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 14 Aug 1723

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


A desperate and cruel gang of murderers and footpads. Executed at Tyburn, August 14, 1723.

   THE reader has doubtless observed that this work shews that there are different grades of thieves. The boy, when abandoned to profligacy, commences his career by picking pockets, and a single handkerchief is then the extent of his hopes. Hardening with his years, he advances a step in villainy, and becomes a footpad, the most cruel description of robbers. If success should, for a while, attend his enormities, he proceeds to steal a horse, and throwing away the footpad's bludgeon or knife, he appears mounted on the highway, armed with a brace of pistols. Arrived now at the highest rank of thievery, he despises the lower posts, and stiles himself a gentleman highwayman. To do honour to his post, he scorns to use that violence where there is no show of resistance, which, as a footpad, he exercised often through wantonness. His fame, if industrious, however, sooner reaches the knowledge of the myrmidons of justice, than if he had grovelled as a foot-robber; and his career is happily thus sooner at an end..

   Duce was a native of Wolverhampton, and by trade a buckle-maker, which he followed some time in London; but being imprisoned in Newgate for debt, he there made connexions which greatly tended to the corruption of his manners.

   He was no sooner at large than he commenced pad, and, in company with another man, robbed a gentleman in Chelsea-fields, of four guineas; after this he connected himself with John Dyer and James Butler, in concert with whom he committed a variety of robberies. Their plan was to go out together, but one only to attack the party intended to be robbed; giving a signal for his accomplices to come up if any resistance should be made.

   After committing a variety of robberies in the neighbourhood of London, they joined in a scheme, with four other villains, to rob Lady Chudleigh, between Hyde-Park-Corner and Kensington; but her ladyship's footman shot one of the gang, named Rice, through the head, which prevented the intended depredation.

   Their robberies had now been so numerous, that, the neighbourhood of London became unsafe for them; wherefore they went on the Portsmouth road, where they committed a variety of robberies, and even proceeded to the perpetration of murder, with a view to prevent detection.

   Meeting Mr. Bunch, a farmer, near a wood on the road side, they robbed him of his money, and then dragging him into the wood, they stripped him.

   Darker, Wade, and, Meads, three of the gang, were hanged at Winchester; but Butler was sent to take his trial at the Old Bailey, for robberies committed in the county of Middlesex.

   James Butler was the son of reputable parents, of the parish of St. Ann, Soho, and apprenticed to a silversmith; but being of an ungovernable disposition, his parents were obliged to send him to sea. After making several voyages, as an apprentice to the captain, he ran from the ship at Boston, in New England, and went to New York, where he entered on board another ship, from which he likewise ran away, and embarked in a third vessel bound to Martinique. This he also quitted, in a dispute with the captain, and then sailed to Jamaica, where he was impressed into the royal navy, and served under the celebrated Admiral Vernon.

   On his return to England, he married a girl of Wapping, and having soon spent the little money he brought home with him, he engaged with the gang we have mentioned, with whom he was likewise concerned in several other robberies,

   These appear to have been very desperate villains. On the road to Gravesend, they stopped four gentlemen, who refusing to be robbed, Meads, one of those hanged at Winchester, shot a servant who attended them, in the breast, so that he died in a few days. Disappointed of their booty in this attempt, their passions were so irritated, that, meeting a gentleman on horseback, they fired, and wounded him in the head and breast, and the next day he expired.

   They committed other robberies, attended with circumstances of cruelty, but it will be now proper to mention those for which they suffered. Butler having been acquitted at the Old Bailey of the crime for which he was transmitted from Winchester, he, Duce, and Dyer, immediately renewed their depredations on the road. Meeting Mr. Holmes near Buckingham House, they robbed him of his money, hat, and handkerchief, which laid the foundation of one of the indictments against them.

   On the following evening they stopped a hackney-coachman near Hampstead, and robbed him of nine shillings, after the coachman had told them that the words "stand and deliver," were sufficient to hang a man. Jonathan Wild being informed of these robberies, caused the offenders to be apprehended at a house kept by Duce's sister. Dyer being admitted an evidence, Duce and Butler were brought to their trial, when the latter pleaded guilty to both the indictments; and the former, after spending some time in denying the robberies, and arraigning the conduct of Jonathan Wild, was found guilty, and both of them received sentence of death.

   After conviction their behaviour was more resigned and devout than could have been expected from men, whose repeated crimes might be supposed to have hardened their hearts, and death appeared to them in all its horrors. Butler was a Roman Catholic, and Duce a Protestant. The latter was urged by the ordinary to discover the names of some of his old accomplices, but this he refused to do, because they had left their practices, and lived honest lives.

   A few moments before they were launched into eternity, Butler declared that the circumstances of cruelty with which their crimes had been attended, gave him more pains than the thoughts of death; and Duce acknowledged the enormity of his offences, and begged the forgiveness of all whom he had injured.