His Father and Brother were hanged, and he suffered a similar Fate on Slendon Common, Sussex, 12th of August, 1749
Mills and his companions whipping Hawkins to death
THIS monster was another son of Richard Mills, who was executed for murder. He was concerned in the murder of the custom-house officers, but escaped for a time the slow but unerring hand of justice. He was also one of that gang of villains who most daringly broke open the custom-house at Poole; and yet was he reserved to make atonement for a fresh murder, equally as cruel as that with which his father and brothers had imbrued their hands.
John Mills and some associates, travelling over Hindheath, saw the judges on their road to Chichester to try the murderers of Chater and Galley; on which young Mills proposed to rob them; but the other parties refused to have any concern in such an affair. Soon after his father, brother and their accomplices were hanged, Mills thought of going to Bristol, with a view to embarking for France; and having hinted his intentions to some others they resolved to accompany him, and stopping at a house on the road they met with one Richard Hawkins, whom they asked to go with them; and when the poor fellow hesitated, they put him on horseback behind Mills, and carried him to the Dog and Partridge, on Slendon Common, which was kept by John Reynolds.
They had not been long in the house when complaint was made that two bags of tea had been stolen, and Hawkins was charged with the robbery. He steadily denied any knowledge of the affair; but this not satisfying the villains, they obliged him to pull off his clothes; and, having likewise stripped themselves, they began to whip him with the most unrelenting barbarity; and Curtis, one of the gang, said he did know of the robbery, and if he would not confess he would whip him till he did; for he had whipped many a rogue, and washed his hands in his blood. These bloodthirsty villains continued whipping the poor wretch till their breath was almost exhausted; while he begged them to spare his life, on account of his wife and child. Hawkins drawing up his legs to defend himself in some measure from their blows, they kicked him on the groin in a manner too shocking to be described, continually asking him what was become of the tea. At length the unfortunate man mentioned something of his father and brother; on which Mills and one Curtis said they would go and fetch them; but Hawkins expired soon after they had left the house.
Rowland, one of the accomplices, now locked the door; and, putting the key in his pocket, he and Thomas Winter (who was afterwards admitted evidence) went out to meet Curtis and Mills, whom they saw riding up a lane leading from an adjacent village, having each a man behind him. Winter desiring to speak with his companions, the other men stood at a distance while he asked Curtis what he meant to do with them, and he said to confront them with Hawkins. Winter now said that Hawkins was dead, and begged that no more mischief might be done; but Curtis replied: "By G--! we will go through it now." But at length they permitted them to go home, saying that when they were wanted they should be sent for.
The murderers now coming back to the public-house, Reynolds said, "You have ruined me"; but Curtis replied that he would make him amends. Having consulted how they should dispose of the body, it was proposed to throw it into a well in an adjacent park; but this being objected to, they carried it twelve miles, and having tied stones to it, in order to sink it, they threw it into a pond in Parham Park, belonging to Sir Cecil Bishop; and in this place it lay more than two months before it was discovered.
This horrid and unprovoked murder gave rise to a Royal proclamation, in which a pardon was offered to any persons, even outlawed smugglers -- except those who had been guilty of murder, or concerned in breaking open the custom-house at Poole -- on condition of discovering the persons who had murdered Hawkins, particularly Mills, who was charged with having had a concern in this horrid transaction. Thereupon William Pring, an outlawed smuggler, who had not had any share in either of the crimes excepted in the proclamation, went to the Secretary of State and informed him that he would find Mills if he could be assured of his own pardon; and added that he believed he was either at Bath or Bristol. Being assured that he need not doubt of the pardon, he set out for Bristol, where he found Mills, and with him Thomas and Lawrence Kemp, brothers, the former of whom had broken out of Newgate, and the other was outlawed by proclamation. Having consulted on their desperate circumstances, Pring offered them a retreat at his house near Beckenham, in Kent, whence they might make excursions and commit robberies on the highway.
Pleased with this proposal, they set out with Pring, and arrived in safety at his house, where they had not been long before he pretended that, his horse being an indifferent one, and theirs remarkably good, he would go and procure another, and then they would proceed on the intended expeditions. Thus saying, he set out, and they agreed to wait for his return; but instead of going to procure a horse he went to the house of Mr Rackster, an officer of the excise at Horsham, who, taking with him seven or eight armed men, went to Beckenham at night, where they found Mills and the two brothers Kemp just going to supper on a breast of veal. They immediately secured the brothers, by tying their arms; but Mills, making resistance, was cut with a hanger before he would submit. The offenders were conducted to the county jail for Sussex, and, being secured till the assizes, were removed to East Grinstead, where the brothers Kemp were tried for highway robberies, convicted, sentenced and executed.
Mills, being tried for the murder of Hawkins, was capitally convicted, and received sentence of death, and to be hanged in chains near the place where the murder was committed.
After conviction he mentioned several robberies in which he had been concerned, but refused to tell the names of any of his accomplices, declaring that he thought he should merit damnation if he made any discoveries by means of which any of his companions might be apprehended and convicted.
The country being at that time filled with smugglers, a rescue was feared; wherefore he was conducted to the place of execution by a guard of soldiers; and when there prayed with a clergyman, confessed that he had led a bad life, acknowledged the murder of Hawkins, desired that all young people would take warning by his untimely end, humbly implored the forgiveness of God, and professed to die in charity with all mankind.
After execution he was hanged in chains on Slendon Common.