British Executions

William Smith

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: stealing sheep

Date Of Execution: 13 Apr 1731

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


A notorious horse-stealer, executed at Chelmsford, April 13,1731

   In the former part of the last century, horse-stealing was a very common theft. Thieves could then dispose of their stolen booty with much more facility than at present; the laws being better maintained and carried into execution than formerly.

   The subject of the present enquiry was not only a horse but a cattle-stealer of every description. Smith was born in Cambridge, bred a clothier, had been a soldier, then degraded to the post of footman to a private family; and from that lazy, saucy kind of life became connected with horse-stealers. Owing to his person, not yet known in the scenes of their depredations, he for some time acted as the receiver of the gang. He returned some of the stolen property for the reward offered, cut out or altered the marks of others, and drove the remainder to a distance for sale. From a rich farmer in Essex, he stole four fine large colts, and gave them to a colonel in the French service, hoping to be rewarded by a commission in his regiment; but Monsieur, though he liked the young horses, despised the thief; and Smith found that he had been outwitted. In revenge, he defrauded a farmer of six horses, pretending to purchase them.

   Becoming now known in Essex, he changed his depredations to Surrey, and soon cheated a farmer's widow of two cows. Having next stolen a horse and a mare, he was about to drive the whole off for sale, when, on the 27th of May, 1731, he was apprehended. The cows were were found yoked together, and tied to the horses tails and he was in the very act of cutting off the ears of the former, in order to deface them, having already altered the marks of the horses.

   He was tried for the offences committed in Essex, at Chelmsford, and found guilty of felony, in horse-stealing. In the interim between his condemnation and execution, he gave out that he could inform persons how to recover their property of which he had robbed them, and cheated many out of sums of money by false tales, and other deceitful acts; and the produce of this shocking depravity he wasted in drinking and gaming, which shameful practice he continued to the day of his execution. He suffered at Chelmsford, along with Thomas Willer; another horse-stealer, on the 18th of August, 1731.

   At the next assize for the same county another horse-stealer was convicted and executed. This man's name was John Doe, against whom thirty-nine bills of indictment were found by the grand jury. He belonged to a numerous gang of depredators, who stole cattle of every description, and drove them to Smithfield market, in London, where he had the effrontery to sell them.