Crime: highway robbery
Date Of Execution: 27 Apr 1733
Execution Place: unknown
THIS malefactor was brought up to the business of a butcher; but for twenty years previous to his execution, had been a reputed highwayman. He was tried at Chelmsford for a desperate attack and robbery on Epping-forest, but escaped conviction by proving an alibi. He brought a number of evidences to prove that he was in Ireland when this robbery was committed.
William Gordon was convicted at the Old Bailey, of a highway robbery on Mr. Peters, under-treasurer. of the Temple, between Knightsbridge and Hyde-park corner, whom he robbed of his hat, wig, watch, and a gold ring; and, being at the time in a state of intoxication, he was soon apprehended, and had no other plea to offer, but that he was drunk.
What rendered this criminal's case sufficiently remarkable to find a place in these volumes, was a report circulated that he had cut his throat, just before he was carried out to execution, and that a surgeon sewed it up. The cause of this report was as follows:
Mr. Chovot, a surgeon, having, by frequent experiments on dogs, discovered, that opening the windpipe, would prevent the fatal consequences of being hanged by the neck, communicated it to Gordon, who consented to the experiment being made on him. Accordingly, pretending to take his last leave of him, the surgeon secretly made an incision in his windpipe; and the effect this produced on the malefactor was, that when he stopt his mouth, nostrils, and ears, air sufficient to prolong life, issued from the cavity. When he was hanged, he was observed to retain life, after the others executed with him were dead. His body, after hanging three quarters of an hour, was cut down, and carried to a house in Edgware road., where Chovot was in attendance, who immediately opened a vein, which bled freely, and soon after the culprit opened his mouth and groaned. He, however, died; but it was the opinion of those present at the experiment, that had he been cut down only five minutes. sooner, life would have returned. He suffered along with James Ward and William Keys, for a highway, and with William Norman, for a street robbery, on the 27th of April, 1733.
A month after the execution of Gordon, John Davis, who had frequently robbed in company with him, was brought to execution on the same tree from which Gordon was hanged. Davis feigned himself sick, and entreated the sheriff that he might not be tied in the cart on his road to Tyburn, and which was humanely granted. When the executioner was fastening the rope round the neck of John Jones, another malefactor to be then executed, Davis jumped out of the cart, made his way through the astonished spectators, and ran over two fields; but being knocked down by a countryman; he was brought back, tied up, and hanged. He confessed having committed various daring robberies, along with the notorious old offender Gordon.
[Note: Alibi: This is a common and dangerous defence, yet it seldom succeeds, from the facility with which the accused can suborn men, hardened like themselves in scenes of iniquity, to swear the prisoner, at the time when the robbery had been stated to have been committed, was elsewhere. Too often, however, have prosecutors erred in the identity of the persons by whom they had been plundered; in which case, nothing short of a. well substantiated alibi can impeach their evidence.
The writer of this article, excited by the case of two unfortunate young men, paid his half-crown (a most disgraceful practice) for a seat in the gallery of the Old Bailey, in order to witness their trial, and to view the effects of an alibi, which he heard would be set up against the evidence of a gentleman of title, and filling a high situation in the law. The prosecutor, in this case, was Sir Thomas Davenport; and the accused, -- Smith, who kept the Assembly Rooms, at Kentish Town, near London, at the time of his apprehension; and -- Brown, the son of a widow, the landlady of a reputable public-house, in Chapel-street, Bedford-row.
In the year 1785, these innocent young men were brought to the bar of that awful tribunal, in heavy irons, charged with robbing on the highway, Sir Thomas and Lady Davenport. Sir Thomas, his head covered with his legal wig, on the top of which was the black patch of the King's Serjeants of the Court of Common Pleas, swore, that on a certain evening, a few weeks before, at about twilight, on the Uxbridge road, the prisoners at the bar, one of them mounted on a brown and the other on a grey horse, stopped his carriage, in which were his lady and himself, and putting them in fear of their lives, presented pistols, and demanded his money, which he immediately gave them. Mr. Garrow, then a young counsel, acting in behalf of the prisoners, with much diffidence to the learned Serjeant, cross-examined Sir Thomas, observing, that human nature was liable to mistake objects injuring them, especially at the time he was robbed, and wished him to be positive as to the identity of the prisoners. The witness, upon this, turned round, and fully viewed them, saying, "As far as a man can swear to another, the prisoners at the bar robbed me, as I have described."
Lady Davenport was next called, and she also swore to the prisoners. Then came forward the coachman and footman of Sir Thomas, who corroborated the evidence of their master and mistress.
Two horses, of the colour described to have been rode by the highwaymen, were brought to the court yard of the Old Bailey, and sworn to be the same, according to the best of the belief of the witnesses, on which the prisoners were mounted.
This was the evidence on the part of the crown, a case so strong, that every casual spectator supposed it would justly warrant the jury in finding the accused guilty. Being called upon for their defence, they handed up a written statement of their case, the import of which was, that on the evening of the supposed robbery, they were at their respective homes. To substantiate this plea, a number of respectable inhabitants of Kentish-town deposed, that the day of the robbery sworn to, was the anniversary dinner of a club, of which they were members, held at the house of the prisoner Smith; that be was attending upon them from the time of dinner until midnight, and never out of their club-room a single half hour at a time. Four or five had already sworn to this, adducing the strongest circumstances to corroborate their testimony, and many more were behind, ready to do the same, when the court interposed, by observing that the alibi, respecting Smith, was clearly substantiated. In behalf of Brown proof was also adduced, that he was, on the same evening, serving in his mother's barroom.
Judge Heath, in summing up the case, observed, that had Sir Thomas remained in court, he would himself have been convinced, that he was mistaken in the identity of the prisoners. No imputation, however, could be, thrown upon the evidence farther, than that all of them were too positive. Sir Thomas, doubtless convinced they were the men who robbed him, was followed by his lady and their servants; and when we are told that Smith and Brown were intimate friends, being both publicans, and that they had sometimes rode out together on horses similar to those sworn to, and which were actually their own property, there is some reason to excuse the mistake; but it should be a most serious caution to prosecutors of men, charged with a crime which affects life, in giving their evidence of the identity of the persons accused.
These young men had borne irreproachable characters, and the miseries entailed upon them in this world, arising from their being thus innocently arraigned, is the most melancholy part of this note. Smith sunk into despondency, and soon died. Brown, also stung with shame, left his aged mother, and went abroad. Had they borne up against their misfortune, a very few years, their minds might have been fully set at ease; for the robbers of Sir Thomas Davenport were convicted of another offence, and in the cells of Newgate, confessed that they, mounted on the same coloured horses, were the men who robbed him!!!