Commissary of Musters in the War Office. Executed at Tyburn, 7th of November, 1759, for Forgery
THE father of John Ayliffe lived several years as an upper servant with Gerrard Smith, Esq., a gentleman of large fortune near Tockenham, in Wiltshire. After young Ayliffe had been instructed in the first rudiments of learning he was sent to the celebrated academy at Harrow-on-the Hill, where he became very proficient in Latin and Greek. On his quitting the academy he acted in the capacity of usher to a boarding school at Lineham, in Wiltshire, where, unknown to her parents, he married the daughter of a clergyman, who had a fortune of five hundred pounds. On receipt of this money he became so extravagant that he spent the whole in the course of two years, when, being in circumstances of distress, a widow lady, named Horner, took him into her service as house steward.
In a short time he was appointed land steward to another lady, who recommended him as a man of abilities to the Honourable Mr Fox (afterwards Lord Holland), who gave him the place of one of the commissaries of musters in the War Office; by which he acquired the right of adding the title of "Esquire" to his name.
The profits of Ayliffe's new office were so considerable that he was induced to purchase an elegant house in Dorsetshire, which he furnished in a style far too expensive for his rank of life. In other instances he gave proofs of a strange extravagance of disposition, for he ran into debt to a number of people, though his income was sufficient to have satisfied the wishes of anY reasonable man.
At length, when his creditors became urgent, he had recourse, for a present supply, to some irregular and very dangerous practices; amongst others, he forged a presentation to the valuable rectory of Brinkworth, in Wiltshire, which he sold to a young clergyman for a considerable sum. This living being in Mr Fox's gift, he forged his handwriting and that of two subscribing witnesses, with admirable dexterity; but, soon after Ayliffe's affairs became desperate, a discovery was made of this infamous fraud. The effect was that the clergyman took to his bed, and literally died in consequence of that oppression of spirits which is commonly called a broken heart; for the purchase of the presentation had ruined his circumstances. After his death the following short note was found in his drawer, directed to John Ayliffe SATAN, ESQ.:--
I am surprised you can write to me, after you have robbed and most barbarously murdered me.
Ayliffe, being arrested for debts to the amount of eleven hundred pounds, took refuge in the Fleet Prison. Mr Fox being upon a visit to his brother, Lord Ilchester, Mr Calcraft called at Holland House, according to his usual custom, to inquire, before he wrote to his patron, whether there were any letters for him, or any other business to inform him of. One day, as he called, he found Fanning (whom Mr Fox had now made his steward) in conversation with a man who had the appearance of a farmer. Just as Mr Calcraft entered he heard Fanning say: "I'm sure 'tis not my master's hand; but here comes a gentleman who can inform you better than I can." Saying this, he delivered into Mr Calcraft's hand a lease. When Mr Calcraft had looked over it he declared that the signature was not Mr Fox's. "Nor," continued he, "can there be such a lease really existing, for the late Mrs Horner discharged Ayliffe from her service upon account of his having married a person whom she did not approve of. And it is not to be supposed she would grant him a lease for the life of himself, his son, and that very wife for the imprudent choice of whom she had dismissed him." The farmer no sooner heard this than he exclaimed: "Then I am undone; the villain has robbed me of what I had saved for my daughter's portion." Upon a further investigation of the affair, Mr Calcraft found that the lease given to the farmer had been forged, purposely to raise money upon.
Mr Fox had made this Ayliffe a riding commissary. The income arising from this employment was alone more than sufficient to support such a family as his; but he had, in addition to it, adopted the profession of buying estates. As he was supposed to be a good judge of the value of land, Mr Calcraft had empowered him to purchase estates for him in Dorsetshire; and Ayliffe had already received the sum of eleven thousand pounds from him for that purpose, else, in all probability, he would have continued his depredations for some time longer.
Mr Calcraft no sooner discovered, by this accident, what Ayliffe had been doing, than he set out in pursuit of him. He found him at Salisbury, where, under pretext of the forgery, he had him taken, by proper persons, into custody. This had the desired effect. In the first emotions of his terror he refunded the whole of the eleven thousand pounds. Mr Calcraft had him then immediately secured by Justice Fielding's men, who had come in pursuit of him, in consequence of an application from the farmer. They clapped a pair of handcuffs on him and brought him to town, when he was committed. An express was sent to Mr Fox, who still continued at Lord Ilchester's, to inform him of the transaction; and the first knowledge that that gentleman had of it was after Ayliffe stood committed for trial.
Mr Fox was unjustly censured upon this occasion, as indeed he was upon many others, where his commissaries had all the emoluments and he all the odium. The unhappy man, solicitous for his life, wrote to Mr Fox, who was then in town, and greatly shocked at the affair. In his letter he requested that gentleman's forgiveness, and, acknowledging himself the most unworthy of men, promised, if he would but save him from his merited sentence, his whole life should be employed in endeavouring to deserve the mercy, and to atone for the enormities he had been guilty of. But in the very same hour he wrote to Mr Pitt, who was then Minister, to inform him that, if he would rescue him from his approaching fate, he would discover such iniquitous practices of his late employer as should fully repay the saving him. Mr Pitt, with a liberality of sentiment which does honour to his memory, sent the wretch's letter immediately to Mr Fox. That gentleman received it as he was preparing to go to court on purpose to solicit the prisoner's pardon; but this discovery of his baseness now rendered it impossible, as such an application would have carried with it a declaration of his being in the villain's power, and that he was apprehensive of his putting his threats into execution. No intercession was of course made for him, and he suffered the due reward of his crime.
Ayliffe seems to have been much unprepared for death, possibly flattering himself with the hopes of a pardon. He was in the utmost agonies during the greater part of the night previous to his execution, but slept about two hours. towards the approach of morning. His agitation of mind, brought on a fever, producing an intolerable thirst, which he endeavoured to allay by drinking large and repeated draughts of water. After execution his body was put into a hearse and conveyed into Hertfordshire, for interment agreeable to his own request.