From the Newgate Calendar:
A century since highwaymen were as common as insolvent debtors are now.
Public vehicles were then little known. The roads were covered with night travellers, either on horse or foot, who became the easy prey of one or two armed and desperate ruffians. Turpin, Sixteen-String-Jack, and others of less notoriety, almost made these criminals fashionable; for, strange to say, there is a fashion even in crime.
Their daring was great; and in a country where personal prowess and high courage were so much prized, it was not to be wondered at that such characters should obtain a sort of fame. Now that our roads are covered with stage coaches, the race of highwaymen is extinct; solitary individuals of the species may be now and then met with, but the “calling” has decidedly fallen into disuse; pickpockets have succeeded them, and robberies are thus achieved with greater facility, less danger of personal violence, and with less dread of legal punishment.
The callosity of London thieves is dreadful. The Rev. Mr. Cotton is ordinary of Newgate, and in allusion to that gentleman’s spiritual consolation on the fatal platform, they call hanging, “dying with your ears stuffed with cotton.”
A pickpocket lately gave it as his reason for following his profession, “That it didn’t hurt above the arm pits;” i.e. that if discovered, the punishment was transportation, not hanging.
None of the numerous depredators we have already noticed, can excel in villainy, the subject of the present memoir. He was one of the most fierce, depraved, and infamous of the human race.
From early life he exhibited in his disposition a combination of the worst feelings of our nature, which, as the period of manhood approached, settled into a sort of prerogative of plunder and depredation, by which he seemed to consider himself as entitled to prey on the property, and sport with the lives, of his fellow creatures, with the most heartless impunity.
He attached himself to gangs of the most notorious thieves, and imposters, over whom, by a kind of supererogatory talent for all sorts of villainy, he very soon acquired unlimited influence and command, and by whose aid he committed such numerous and daring acts of highway-robbery, house-breaking, and plunder, as made him the dread and terror of the metropolis and its vicinity.
Kennington Common, Hounslow Heath, Bagshot Heath, and indeed all the commons and roads for several miles round London, were the scenes of the predatory depredations of Avershaw and his associates; and such a degree of terror had his repeated acts of robbery and brutality inspired, that the post-boys, coachmen, and all whose duty compelled them frequently to travel over the theatre of his exploits, trembled at his name and dreaded his visitation.
Although the peculiar features of the criminal laws of our country for a long time operated to the impunity of this abandoned ruffian and desperado, the cup of his iniquities was gradually filling, and he at length fell under the hand of outraged justice; but not till, unhappily, he had added a new act of murder to the long and black catalogue of his unatoned crimes: and it is lamentable to record that so base, so villainous, and so bloody a being, should have found creatures, bearing the form and name of men, so entirely forgetful of their duties to society and to God, as not only to become the admirers and apologists of what they misnamed the valour of Avershaw, but who absolutely affected to trace something prophetic in the fiendlike declarations he had too often made, that “he would murder the first ****** who attempted to deliver him into the hands of justice,” because, in the spirit of his diabolical declarations, he did actually shed the blood of a fellow-creature, who in the performance of his duty as a police officer, essayed the arrest of this most notorious of culprits.
Jerry Avershaw was the son of a laboring man who worked at one of the dye houses at Bankside — his father having met with a severe accident, was rendered incapable of following his usual employment — the support of the family consequently devolved upon the mother who took in washing, and was very indulgent to her family.
Jerry was educated in the parochial school of St. Saviour’s, Southwark — and at an early age resorted to places of public amusement which were then established in the neighborhood of St. George’s fields, where he soon became distinguished by his extravagant style of dress and profuse expenditure.
He associated at that time with many respectable young men, who were unacquainted with his real character, and way of living. This however became at length so notorious that he was obliged to seek associates in the lowest pot-houses, where from his superior address and appearance — and the liberal manner in which he spent his money — he was always welcome. Without reference to his other crimes, we shall proceed to give an account of his remarkable trial.
Jeremiah Avershaw, alias Abershaw, was tried before Mr. Baron Perryn, at Croydon, July 30th, 1795.
The prisoner was charged on two indictments; one for having, at the Two Brewers Public-house,* Southwark, feloniously shot at and murdered D. Price, an Officer belonging to the Police-Office, held at Union-hall, in the Borough. The other indictment was for having, at the same time and place, fired a pistol at Bernard Turner, another officer attached the office at Union-hall, with an intent to murder him.
Mr. Garrow, the leading counsel for the prosecution, opened the case to the Court and jury, by stating, that the prisoner at the bar, being a person of very ill fame, had been suspected of having perpetrated a number of felonies. The Magistrates of the Police-Office in the Borough of Southwark, having received information against the prisoner, sent, as was their duty, an order for his apprehension.
To execute the warrant, the deceased Price, and another officer of the name of Turner, went to the Two Brewers, a public-house, in Maid Lane, where they understood he was then drinking, in company with some other persons.
At the entrance of a parlour in the house, the prisoner appeared in a posture of intending to resist. Holding a loaded pistol in each of his hands, he with threats and imprecations desired the officers to stand off, as he would otherwise fire at them.
The officers, without being intimidated by those menaces, attempted to rush in and seize him, on which the prisoner discharged both the pistols at the same instant of time, lodging the contents of one in the body of David Price, and with the other wounded Turner very severely in the head. Price after languishing a few hours died of the wound.
Mr. Garrow was very pathetic and animated in his description of the several circumstances composing the shocking barbarity. To prove it, he would call four witnesses, whose evidence, he said, would be but too clear to establish the prisoner’s guilt.
The Jury would be enabled to judge from the facts to be submitted to them, and would undoubtedly decide on the issue joined between the Crown and the prisoner at the bar.
The learned counsel accordingly called Turner, the landlord of the house, a surgeon, and a fourth witness; but as the substance of their evidence is comprised in Mr. G’s opening of the indictment, it would be superfluous to repeat it. Turner said positively, he saw the prisoner discharge the pistols, from one of which he himself received his wound, and the contents of the other were lodged in the body of Price, who died very shortly after. The surgeon proved that the death was in consequence of the wound.
Mr. Knowles and Mr. Best were counsel for the prisoner, but the weight of evidence against him was too strong to be combatted by any exertions.
Mr. Baron Perryn summed up the evidence, on every essential part of which his lordship made several apposite, pointed, and accurate observations. The counsel for the prisoner, he remarked to the jury, had principally rested his defence on the circumstances of several other persons being present when the pistols were discharged, by some of which they contended the death wound might possibly have been inflicted. But, with respect to that part of the transaction, it would be proper for the jury to observe, that the witness Turner, had sworn positively to his having seen the prisoner in the act of discharging the contents of the pistol.
The jury, after a consultation of about three minutes, pronounced the dreadful verdict of — Guilty.
Through a flaw in the indictment for the murder, an objection was taken by the counsel. The indictment did not state that Price died in St. Saviour’s parish. This was argued nearly two hours, when Mr. Baron Perryn intimating a wish to take the opinion of the Twelve Judges of England, the counsel for the prosecution, waiving [sic] the point for the present, insisted on the prisoner’s being tried on the another [sic] indictment, for feloniously shooting at Barnaby Windsor, the officer who apprehended him after he had shot Price, which the learned counsel said, would occupy no great portion of time, as it could be sufficiently supported by the testimony of a single witness. He was accordingly tried and found guilty on a second capital indictment.
The prisoner, who, contrary to expectation, had in a great measure refrained from his usual audacity, began with unparalelled insolence of expression and gesture, to ask his lordship if he “was to be murderd by the evidence of one witness?” several times repeating the question, till the jury returned him Guilty.
When Mr. Baron Perryn put on the judicial cap, the prisoner, unconscious, and regardless of his dreadful situation, at the same time put on his hat, observing the judge with contemptuous looks while he was passing the sentence. When the constables were removing him from the dock to a coach, he continued to vent torrents of abuse against the judge and jury, whom, he charged with, as he styled it, his murder.
As his desperate dispostion was well known, he was, to prevent resistance, hand-cuffed, and his thighs and arms also bound strongly together, in which situation he was conveyed back to prison.
So callous was this ruffian to every degree of feeling, that on his way to be tried, as he was passing near the usual place of execution on Kennington Common, he put his head out of the coach window, and with all the sang froid imaginable, asked some of those who guarded him, if they did not think he would be twisted on that pretty spot by Saturday.
He was executed on Kennington Common, on the 3rd of August, 1795, with James [John] Little for the murder of Mr. Macevoy and Mrs. King at Richmond, and Sarah King for the murder of her new born bastard, at Nutfield, Surrey, in the presence of an immense multitude of spectators, among whom he recognized many acquaintances and confederates, to whom he bowed, nodded, and laughed with the most unfeeling indifference.
He had a flower in his mouth, and his waistcoat and shirt were unbuttoned, leaving his bosom open in the true style of vulgar gaiety: and, talking to the mob, and venting curses on the officers, he died, as he had lived, a ruffian and a brute! He was afterwards hung in chains upon Wimbledon Common.
The infamy of his life, and the atrocity of his deeds, rendered him a fit object for the posthumous punishment of hanging in chains on the arena of his crimes, and (painful as is the record, the truth must be told,) while the disgusting carcass of this malefactor, devoured by the birds and withered by the elements, gradually disappeared, the spot on which he had been gibbetted was converted into a temple of infamy, to which the thieves and vagabonds of London resorted in a sort of pilgrimage; and while the leading ruffians of the flash school, of which Avershaw was the child and champion, procured from his decaying and piece-meal carcass the bones of his fingers and toes to convert into stoppers for their tobacco-pipes, the tyro villains contented themselves with tearing the buttons from his clothes, as mementos of the estimation in which they held their arch prototype.
The newsmen effected horror that “Abershaw continued to the last moment of his existence in the same hardened state” (Telegraph, Aug. 4, 1795) and “took no notice either of his fellow-sufferers, or what the clergyman endeavoured to say to him” — then “when the executioner took the whip and touched the horse, made a spring from the cart, and was heard to repeat a horrid curse the last word he spoke.”
Avershaw’s larger-than-death performance of “dying game” would in subsequent years be a much-honored exemplar among kindred spirits who would not occasionally be required to attempt to outdo him in dramatic contempt of the gallows.
On this day..
- 1928: Jim Moss, former Negro League ballplayer - 2020
- 1151: Konrad von Freistritz, ruined - 2019
- 1599: Elisabeth Strupp, Gelnhausen witch - 2018
- 1829: John Stacey, in Portsmouth town - 2017
- 1546: Etienne Dolet, no longer anything at all - 2016
- 1530: Francesco Ferruccio, victim of Maramaldo - 2014
- 1949: Jacob Bokai, the first Israeli spy executed - 2013
- 1788: Not Jean Louschart, rescued by the crowd - 2012
- 1573: William Kirkcaldy of Grange, former king's man - 2011
- 1976: Valery Sablin, Hunt for Red October inspiration - 2010
- 1726: Mary Standford, shunning convict transportation - 2009
- 1916: Sir Roger Casement - 2008