1756: John Symmonds, “Spanish Jack”

On this date in 1756,* robber John Symmonds (Symonds, Simmons) aka “Spanish Jack” hanged at Maidstone.

One “Gonzalez” by birth in Alicante, Spain, our man obtained his Anglo-Saxon name by dint of service aboard English privateers during the multifaceted 1740s world war.

Maritime service and a piratical nickname might suggest that he earned his hemp as a buccaneer. Not so: Spanish Jack segued into the lucrative and dangerous smuggling trade, and thence to ordinary landlubber thefts in his adoptive realm.

So well had he adapted to this underworld that in 1751 he turned Crown’s evidence and hung three fellow footpads to save his own life, pocketing a £10 reward into the bargain. His Old Bailey evidence in this case gives some idea of his practices:

we consented to stop the first man we met that had any thing about him; there was one Jonathan Stevens with us, he is not apprehended yet. We had been in Stepney-fields; about nine we stopped the prosecutor at the end of Church-lane; I asked him what it was o’clock; he said he could not tell. I stopped him and said, you must give me what you have about you. He made a little sort of a resistance; I took him and shov’d him against a wall; the other four came up. I held him whilst they took what he had about him; I never saw the stock buckle; Holmes said nothing to us of that. Mandeville took from him a guinea and 4 s. 6 d. and some halfpence; we made the best of our way when we had done to the Blue Anchor in the Back lane; there we had some slip and changed a guinea, and divided every man a share.

But sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander within a very few years, as the Newgate Calendar notes.

The many robberies he had committed in London and its adjacencies having rendered him so notorious that he thought himself in great danger of being apprehended, he determined to go into the country. Having travelled to Rochester, he formed an acquaintance with a fellow named Smith, who was publicly known to live by felonious practices.

Symmonds and Smith went to a public-house in Rochester, and while they were drinking some punch found an opportunity of concealing a silver tankard, which they carried off unperceived. On the following day they were apprehended, and committed to Maidstone Jail — Symmonds to be tried for stealing the tankard, and Smith to appear as evidence for the Crown.

* The Newgate Calendar’s “18th of April” is mistaken; it was the 8th. See CapitalPunishmentUK.org.

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