Date Of Execution: 1 Apr 1749
Execution Place: unknown
A Man of extraordinary Violence and Inhumanity. Executed at Canterbury with his Accomplice, John Stone, for setting fire to a Barn
IN the history of Collington, we find an uncommon share of depravity of mind united to cruelly and vice of every description.
The father of John Collington was Rector of Pluckley, near Sandwich, in Kent; and the youth was qualified, by a most liberal education and his great natural talents, to have made a very respectable figure in life; but his passions were so violent, and his revenge so implacable, that all who knew him beheld him with horror. He used to declare that he would be a sincere friend but an inveterate foe; and even while at school created such dissensions among the other scholars that he was held in universal contempt, and was discharged from more schools than one with marks of ignominy.
At length his father apprenticed him to a grocer, in Newgate Street, London; but he behaved in such a manner as to become an object of terror to his fellow-servants. The following circumstance, trifling as it is, will serve to mark his disposition: One of the maid-servants desiring him to fetch some mustard, he went out for that purpose; but calling a coach at the door, he drove to Cheapside, purchased the mustard, and on his return, paid the fare out of his master's money in the till. The master, astonished at his behaviour, demanded the reason of it: when he gave for answer, that "his parents had not bound him apprentice to be an errand boy."
On another occasion he asked his master's permission to visit his relations for a fortnight, and his request was complied with. When the time of his departure arrived, his master being absent, he asked his mistress to give him leave to stay three weeks, to which she consented. But he returned not till the end of five weeks; and his master enquiring why he had been so long absent, Collington replied that he had allowed him a fortnight, and his mistress three weeks, so that he had not out-staid his time. This duplicity of conduct incensed the master so, that he gave up his indentures and discharged him. Having served the remainder of his apprenticeship with a grocer of Maidstone, he opened a shop at Rye, in Sussex, where he lived for some years; but his temper was so bad that he fomented perpetual discord among his neighbours. From this place he went to Charing, in Kent, where he likewise kept a shop a considerable time; but the same conduct which had rendered him an object of contempt at Rye made him equally obnoxious to the inhabitants of this latter place.
Collington had not been long in business before he married a young lady, with whom he received a considerable fortune, and by whom he had ten children, four of whom were living at the time of their father's fatal exit. The conduct of this man towards his wife and children was the most extravagant that can be imagined. The six children who died he buried in his own garden, nor would he permit any of them to be baptized. He frequently beat his children in a barbarous manner, and when the mother interposed on their behalf he used to confine her whole nights in a saw-pit.
Being remarkably fond of sporting, his wife, when big with child, requested that he would procure her a partridge; in consequence of which he went out, and shot several: but when the birds were dressed, and ready for the table, one of the children happening to offend him, he corrected it in so severe a manner, as to endanger its life; and the mother interposing for the preservation of the child, he was so enraged that he cut the partridges in pieces, and threw them to the cats and dogs.
This instance of worse than savage ferocity so affected his wife, that she fell into fits, and miscarried: but she had not long been recovered, when on her interposing, in behalf of one of the children, whom he was treating with severity, he threw her down stairs, and stamped on her breast, which gave rise to a cancer that occasioned her death.
Collington's father dying soon after this event, he succeeded to a good estate at Throwleigh, in Kent, to which place he removed, and took to the practice of exporting wool contrary to law; for which he was prosecuted in the Court of Exchequer, and ordered to pay a large penalty. But he avoided payment by having previously conveyed his estate to another and then swearing that he was not worth five pounds.
Notwithstanding the treatment his first wife had received from him, he soon married a second, by whom he had six children; and four of these, besides the same number by the former marriage (as we have mentioned), were living at the time of his death. Being fond of hunting, his offences against the laws made for the preservation of game became so numerous that the Dowager Countess of Rockingham built a cottage, in which she placed one of her servants as a spy upon his conduct. Collington, incensed by this circumstance, tempted a poor countryman to set fire to the cottage; but the man had courage and honesty enough to resist the temptation. Thereupon Collington took one of his servants, named Luckhurst, to Faversham, in Kent, at the time of the fair; and on their way thither told him he would give him half-a-guinea to fire the said cottage; which the man received, promising to comply.
On the following day, when Luckhurst recollected the nature of the contract he had been making, his mind was so disturbed that he went to Collington and offered back the money, declaring that he would have no share in the transaction. Collington was so enraged that he threatened to destroy him unless he kept the money and did as he had agreed; the consequence of which was, the man fired the cottage at midnight, by which it was reduced to the ground.
Collington was so neglectful of his children that he would not buy them necessary apparel, so that they appeared like beggars; nor would he even pay for their learning to read. The following is a striking proof of his want of humanity. One of his sons, a boy twelve years old, having offended him, he confined him in a saw-pit, where he must have been starved but that he was occasionally supplied with food by the humanity of the servants; and for this conduct their brutal master turned them out of the house without paying what was due to them. This inhuman father then refused to maintain his son, so that the child absolutely begged his bread in the neighbourhood; but he had not wandered long in this manner when Mr Clarke, the churchwarden, received him into his house, and provided for him till the Quarter Sessions, when he submitted the case to the consideration of the magistrates.
These gentlemen, having reflected that Mr Collington was in affluent circumstances, gave directions that the child should be properly provided for; and issued a warrant for seizing part of the father's effects to defray the charge. This warrant was executed by a constable, whom Clarke attended: a circumstance which gave such offence to Collington that he vowed revenge, and bade Clarke make his will. After this he hired five fellows to go to Mr Clarke's house and demand the child, on pretence that he belonged to a ship; but Mr Clarke, having the magistrates' order for his proceedings, said he was willing to answer for his conduct before any Justice of the Peace. No sooner had he thus expressed himself than they beat him in the most violent degree, and threatened his instant destruction unless he consented to accompany them. These threats had such an effect that he mounted a horse behind one of them, but as they were riding along he jumped off, and ran into the courtyard of a gentleman whose gate happened to stand open, while the other parties fired at him; but he escaped unhurt. Here he remained till the following day, when he went to his own house, and thence to a magistrate, before whom he swore the peace against Collington; on which the magistrate granted his warrant for the apprehension of the offender, who, refusing to give bail for his good behaviour, was lodged in the jail of Canterbury.
During his confinement he continually threatened vengeance against Clarke; and to execute his purpose he sent for a labouring man, named Stone, and the above-mentioned Luckhurst, and offered them a guinea each, on the condition of their setting fire to Mr Clarke's barn, in which a considerable quantity of corn was deposited. The villains, agreeing to this bargain, fired the barn at midnight, and likewise a number of hayricks, all of which were destroyed. Mr Clarke, suspecting that Collington was the contriver of this horrid scheme, made application to a magistrate, who issued an order that the prisoner should be more closely confined, and that the jail-keeper should take particular notice of his visitors. This precaution led to a discovery of the offenders; for on Luckhurst coming to procure more money of Collington he was taken into custody, and conducted before a Justice of the Peace, to whom he confessed the affair; and being admitted an evidence, Stone was soon taken up as one of the principals.
At the following assizes, held at Maidstone, Collington and Stone were brought to trial; when the former turned his back on the Court with an air of such utter contempt that the judge declared he had never been witness to such a scene of insolence. The prisoners, being convicted on the fullest evidence, were carried back to Canterbury, where the debtors commiserated their unhappy circumstances; but Collington made a jest of his situation, and swore he did not regard it, as he was certain of obtaining the Royal mercy.
This hardened villain likewise encouraged Stone to hope for mercy, as he could get him included in the pardon; but the event proved how much he was mistaken in his conjecture.
Collington's wife, coming to visit him, was so affected with grief as to be unable to speak to him for a considerable time; yet he was so hardened as not to feel for her situation, but bade her not give herself the least concern, as he was certain of getting a reprieve, and hoped to live to revenge himself on his enemies, even if he should be transported.
He frequently expressed himself in the most revengeful terms against his prosecutor; and appeared, in other respects, so destitute of all the feelings of humanity that his conduct surprised everyone who was witness to it. Thus he spent his time without preparing for the sentence that he was to suffer, still boasting to his visitors that the rank of life he held as a gentleman would secure him a reprieve.
Luckhurst, who had been evidence against him, being apprehended for committing a robbery on the highway, Collington thought this a fair opportunity to solicit a reprieve, for which purpose he dispatched an express to the Duke of Newcastle; but the answer he received was that he must not expect any favour, for that the gentlemen of the county had exerted their influence that the law might be permitted to take its course. On being informed that the warrant for his execution was arrived, his boasted courage left him for a short time; but recollecting himself he inquired if Stone was included in the warrant; and being answered in the affirmative, said he lamented his situation more than his own. After this he soon recovered his spirits, and still flattered himself with the hope of being pardoned. The day preceding his execution he was visited by his wife and several relations, who advised him to make a serious preparation for his approaching death, and asked him where he would be buried. This question inflamed all his passions, so that he swore he would not be hanged; but soon afterwards, calling for a glass of wine, he drank it, saying: "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
On the following day Collington was conveyed to the place of execution in a mourning-coach, and Stone in a cart; and both of them being placed under the gallows, Collington prayed with the minister, but declined making any speech to the surrounding multitude.