Nathaniel Hawes

Perp: Nathaniel Hawes

Date: 1721

The Crime : Robbery

Victim: A gentleman on Finchley Common

Motive : Money

Punishment: Pressed until confession then executed

Location : Tyburn

The Story : The case of this prisoner may not prove uninteresting, as connected with that last detailed.
Nathaniel Hawes was a native of Norfolk, in which county he was born in the year 1701. His father was a grazier in good circumstances ; but dying while the son was an infant. a relation in Hertfordshire took care of his education.

At a proper age he was apprenticed to an upholsterer in London ; but, becoming connected with people of bad character, he robbed his master when he had served only two years of his time, for which he was tried at the Old Bailey, and, being convicted, was sentenced to seven years' transportation.

His sentence was, however, withdrawn on his becoming evidence against the receiver of the stolen property. But the warning which he had received was of no avail ; and after having been once in custody for a robbery, when he was again admitted king's evidence, he soon joined a fellow with whom he had become acquainted in prison, and meeting a gentleman on Finchley Common, they demanded his money, swearing to murder him, if he did not give it to them.

The gentleman quitted his horse, and at the same moment seized the pistol which was placed at his throat by the robber, and, presenting it to the latter, told him to expect death if he did not surrender himself. His companion having fled, Hawes was now as terrified as he had been insolent, and made no opposition; and the driver of a cart coming up just at the moment, he was easily made prisoner, conveyed to London, and committed to Newgate. When the sessions came on, and he was brought to the bar, he refused to plead to his indictment, alleging as a reason for so doing., that he would die, as he had lived, like a gentleman :—" The people," said he, " who apprehended me, seized a suit of fine clothes, which I intended to have gone to the gallows in ; and unless they are returned, I will not plead ; for no one shall say that I was hanged in a dirty shirt and ragged coat."

On this, sentence was pronounced that he should be pressed to death ; whereupon he was taken from the Court, and, being laid on his back, sustained a load of two hundred and fifty pounds' weight about seven minutes ; but, unable any longer to bear the pain, he entreated he might be conducted back to the Court. He then pleaded not guilty; but the evidence against him being conclusive, he was convicted, and sentenced to die.

He was executed at Tyburn on the 22nd of December, 1721.

The subject of torture may not be inaptly illustrated by an account given by Stedman of, a scene witnessed by him at Surinam, when a young man, a free negro, was tortured for the murder of the overseer of the estate of Altona in the Para Creek. He says, " This man having stolen a sheep to entertain a favourite young woman, the overseer, who burned with jealousy, had determined to see him hanged ; to prevent which; the negro shot him dead among the sugar-canes. For these offences, of course, he was sentenced to be broken alive upon the rack, without the benefit of the coup de grace, or mercy-stroke. Informed of the dreadful sentence, he composedly laid himself down upon his back on a strong cross, on which, with his arms and legs extended, he was fastened by ropes. The executioner, also a black man, having now with a hatchet chopped off his left hand, next took up a heavy iron bar, with which, by repeated blows, he broke his bones to shivers, till the marrow, blood, and splinters flew about the field ; but the prisoner never uttered a groan nor a sigh ! The ropes being next unlashed, I imagined him dead, and felt happy ; till the magistrates stirring to depart, he writhed himself from the cross, when he fell on the grass, and damned them all as a set of barbarous rascals.

At the same time, removing his right hand by the help of his teeth, he rested his head on part of the timber, and asked the by-standers for a pipe of tobacco, which was infamously answered by kicking and spitting on him, till I, with some American seamen, thought proper to prevent it. He then begged his head might be chopped off, but to no purpose. At last, seeing no end to his misery, he declared, that though he had deserved death, he had not expected to die so many deaths : however,' said he, you Christians have missed your aim at last, and I now care not, were I to remain thus one month longer.' After which he sung two extempore songs with a clear voice; the subjects of which were to bid adieu to his living friends, and to acquaint his deceased relations that in a very little time he should be with them, to enjoy their company for ever in a better place. This done, he calmly entered into conversation with some gentlemen concerning his trial, relating every particular with uncommon tranquillity. ' But,' said he abruptly, ' by the sun it must be eight o'clock, and by any longer discourse I should be sorry to be the cause of your losing your breakfast. Then casting his eyes on a Jew, whose name was Deveries, ' Apropos, sir,' said he, won't you please to pay me the ten shillings you owe me ? ' ' For what to do ? ' To buy meat and drink, to be sure : don't you perceive I'm to be kept alive ? ' Which speech, on seeing the Jew stare like a fool, the mangled wretch accompanied with a loud and hearty laugh. Next, observing the soldier that stood sentinel over him biting occasionally a piece of dry bread, he asked him how it came to pass that he, a white man, should have no meat to eat along with it. Because I am not so rich,' answered the soldier. ' Then I will make you a present, sir,' said the negro. First pick my hand that was chopped off, clean to the bones ; next begin to devour my body till you are glutted ; when you will have both bread and meat, as best becomes you : which piece of humour was followed by a second laugh. And thus he continued until I left him. which was about three hours after the dreadful execution."

Subsequently, on proceeding to the spot, the writer discovered that after the poor wretch had lived thus more than six hours, he was knocked on the head by the commiserating sentinel; and that having been raised upon a gallows, the vultures were busy picking out the eyes of the mangled corpse, in the skull of which was clearly discernible the mark of the soldier's musket.