WILLIAM TOWNLEY was a native of Winchcomb and at the age of twenty-nine exhibited a remarkable instance to what extent human depravity may be carried. In 1779, when only seventeen years of age, he was, with an elder brother, convicted of burglary, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in the Penitentiary House. He had not long regained his liberty when he was brought a second time to the gaol, charged with a capital offence, found guilty, and sentenced to transportation for seven years, which period he served on board the hulks at Woolwich; from whence he was only discharged three months when he was a third time committed for the crime for which he justly suffered.
In the last interval he had entered as a substitute in the Worcestershire militia, for forty guineas, ten of which he had received: he soon squandered the money, and then perpetrated a burglary, for which he was tried at Gloucester, and received sentence of death.
He persisted in declaring the witnesses against him perjurers, until within a short time of the execution, when, it is said, just before he received the sacrament, he admitted his full share in the crime for which his life became forfeited to the offended laws of his country.
Saturday, the 23d of March, 1811, he was executed at the new drop before Gloucester gaol, and had been suspended about twenty minutes when a reprieve arrived! Is the life of man of so little value, that those intrusted with important power will not study correctness? Some stupid clerk in office directed it to the sheriff of Herefordshire instead of Gloucestershire, by mistake! On Friday night it arrived, but was not opened till next morning, when immediately the importance of its contents to the wretched object of intended mercy was ascertained, and an express sent off, by Mr. Bennett, of the hotel, at his own expense; but, alas! the messenger was twenty minutes too late to arrest the fatal hand of the executioner; and he whom he came to save was gone to that 'bourn from whence no traveller returns.' What must have been the feelings of the clerk who misdirected the letter?