British Executions

John Gammell

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: robbery

Date Of Execution: 22 Aug 1749

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


Executed on Kennington-common, August 22, 1749.

   THE repeated comments we have made on the effects of idleness, extravagance, and drunkenness, in bringing such numbers to the gallows, would render repetition tedious and unnecessary. For this reason we pass over many cases without observation; but there are crimes resulting from some of those vices, without any particular circumstances arising in the short career of villainy to an untimely fate.

   If this description of criminals are those we are now about to bring forward; yet in the character of Dawson there is a wicked attempt to brave his fall, but which the more immediate approach of death happily turned to the fear of God.

   Dawson was an Irishman, and born of respectable parents, his father having been a bookseller in Londonderry. Gammell was a Scotchman, of Greenock, and both were lazy worthless fellows.

   The father of Dawson, finding his son would settle to no business in his own country, sent him to sea. After the first voyage he remained some time at home, and did not seem to entertain any further thoughts of going to sea; but, falling in love with a young woman in the neighbourhood, she promised him marriage, but advised him to follow his former occupation some time longer.

   In consequence of this advice he went again to sea, and on his return from each voyage visited his favourite girl; but at length it was discovered by her parents that she was pregnant by her lover. Alarmed by this circumstance, they proposed to Dawson's father to give him a fortune proportioned to what they would bestow on their girl; but this the old man obstinately refused, though the son earnestly entreated him to accede to the proposal.

   Hereupon young Dawson left his parents, swore he would never again return home, and went once more to sea. Having made some voyages, the vessel in which he sailed put into the harbour of Sandwich; on which Dawson quitted a sea-faring life, and married a girl of fortune, who bore him two children, which were left to the care of her relations at her death which happened six years after the marriage.

   On this event Dawson went again to sea, and was in several naval engagements. When his ship was paid off he went to Bristol, where he was arrested for a debt he had contracted. At this period he heard of the death of his father, and that his mother's affection for him was in no degree diminished; on which he wrote her an account of his situation; and she sent him fifty pounds, which relieved him from his embarrassments.

   Having procured his liberty, he went to London, and marrying the widow of a seaman, who possessed some money, they lived in harmony a considerable time, till, making a connexion with dissolute companions, he commenced the practices which led to his ruin.

   Gammell, who had been a ship-mate with Dawson, was one of these companions, add, being now out of employment, advised him to go on the highway. He hesitated for some time; but, having drank freely, his resolution failed him, and he agreed to the fatal proposal.

   These accomplices dressed themselves as sailors, and, concealing bludgeons under their jackets, knocked down the persons they intended to rob, and stripped them of their effects.

   The robbery which cost them their lives was committed near New-cross turnpike, on a gentleman named Outridge, from whom they took his money, and watch, and treated him with great barbarity. Being pursued by some people whom Mr. Outridge informed of the robbery, Dawson was overtaken and confined; and, having given information where Gammell lodged, he likewise was apprehended; and both of them being conveyed to the New Gaol, Southwark, they mutually recriminated on each other.

   On the approach of the assizes for Surrey, the prisoners were carried to Croydon, where they were both tried, and capitally convicted. After passing sentence, Dawson was visited by a Roman Catholic priest, who intimated that he had heard he was of the Romish religion; but the, other said he would die in the Protestant faith, in which he had been educated: but notwithstanding this declaration, and his regular attendance on the forms of the Protestant mode, there was reason to conclude that he was a Catholic, from a paper that was found in his cell after his death.

   On the night preceding the execution the behaviour of Dawson evinced the distraction of his mind. He was visited by his wife, who had been sitting some time with him, when the turnkey came, and intimated that he must retire; on which he refused to go, and knocked the fellows down; but, others of the keepers coming, he was secured. His wife would now have taken a final leave of him; and he said if she did not depart he would murder her.

   As the keepers were conducting him through the courtyard to his cell, he called to the other prisoners, saying, Holla! my boys! Dawson is to be hanged to-morrow."

   The prisoners were conveyed to the place of execution in the same cart; and, when there, Dawson expressed his hope of salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ, and declared he died in charity with all men: Gammell addressed the surrounding multitude, particularly hoping. that his brother seamen would avoid the commission of such crimes as led to his deplorable end, He hoped forgiveness from all whom he had injured, and acknowledged that he fell a victim to the equity of the laws.