Crime: stealing sheep
Date Of Execution: 30 May 1739
Execution Place: unknown
Executed at Tyburn, May 30, 1739, for horse-stealing.
ALL the accounts which we found of this criminal agree that he was such a dunce, when a boy, that though he had the chance of a common school education, he could not be taught even to read and write; and as a man, he was idle and extravagant. He was the son of an honest man, a carpenter at Enfield, who bound him to a butcher, at his native place, where he engaged in business for himself, and sold considerable quantities of meat by wholesale, at the London markets. He paid his addresses to a widow of some fortune, whom he married; but she prudently reserved a part of her property to her own use.
When Wells had been married some time, he became so uneasy that his wife opposed his extravagance, that, being unhappy at home, he kept bad company, though it was some years before he committed the crime for which he lost his life.
A man being indicted at the Old Bailey for horse-stealing, Wells became an evidence in his favour, but his testimony was of such a nature, that he was committed to Newgate for perjury, and not released till he had suffered six months' imprisonment, and paid a fine.
He had now repeated quarrels with his wife and her relations; in consequence of which he neglected his business, so that he lost the greater part of his customers. Thus distressed in mind and circumstances, he stole a horse from a field near Edmonton, which he took to Smithfield Market, and offered for sale; but the owner of the horse having repaired to London before him, had him taken into custody on the spot, and carried before a magistrate, who committed him to prison.
Previous to his trial he caused some of his relations to be served with subpoenas, to give evidence respecting him, and among the rest two of his wife's brothers; but these men instead of endeavouring to alleviate his distress, represented him to the court as a man of abandoned character, who had long since deserved the severest sentence of the law: nay, so virulent was their malice, that they told the court the circumstance of his having been committed for perjury, as above-mentioned. This conduct was justly censured by the judges, who represented the cruelty of their endeavouring to injure a man whom they were called in to serve: and observed that with regard to the perjury, he had already suffered the sentence of the law, so that it had no reference to the case in hand.
The evidence against him being clear and positive, conviction followed of course, and he received sentence of death.
After conviction he spoke with the utmost bitterness of reproach, respecting the conduct of his wife and relations; and though the former repeatedly went to Newgate, he constantly refused to see her, till within a few days of his death, when the approaching horror of his fate seemed to have made such an impression on his mind, that he consented to receive her visit.
On their first meeting they wrung their hands in an agony of grief, but floods of tears coming to their relief, their affliction in some degree subsided: and when they mutually recriminated on each other; the wife abused the husband for ruining his family; and he said that she had been the occasion of his present misfortunes.
On her next visit he again censured her conduct; on which she charged him with having associated with another woman; but this he solemnly denied, on the word of a dying man; and averred that the affair had no foundation but in the jealousy of her own disposition. The Ordinary of Newgate now interposed, and represented to Mrs. Wells the extreme impropriety of censuring a man in her husband's unhappy circumstances.
On the day before his death his mind was agitated to such a degree, that it was thought he might be guilty of suicide, on which a man was engaged to be with him, to prevent the dreadful consequences: but his mind soon became more composed, and he employed himself in exercises of devotion.
When he arrived at the fatal tree, he lamented the errors of his past life in the most affecting manner: but even, at that solemn period he could not help reflecting on his wife's relations, who, he said, had promoted his ruin.