The first-mentioned of these offenders was a native of Essex, descended from honest but poor parents, who gave him as good an education as consisted with their circumstances, and then bound him apprentice to a smith, with whom he served his time with fidelity, after which he laboured as a journeyman in his own profession. Quitting the county of Essex, he repaired to Edmonton, near London, where he married, and commenced business on his own account.
For a considerable time be was as successful in trade as could be reasonably expected, but at length sustained a loss to which he attributed all his future misfortunes. Guyant, having been out receiving money from several people who employed him, was stopped on his return to his own house by two footpads, who robbed him of above sixty pounds, and then bound him to a tree. This loss was a matter of great importance to him; but it was much aggravated by the consequences that followed it: for, as the robbery happened, in the day time, he was advised to sue the county, to indemnify him for the loss; but, failing to adduce the necessary proofs, he lost his suit, and was involved in still farther difficulties by the consequence. The expense of the suit being considerable, Guyant was arrested, and sought refuge in a prison. In consequence of a subscription among his friends, he removed himself to the Fleet, where he continued till an act for the relief of insolvent debtors enabled him to obtain his liberty. He had at this time a family which was in want of the necessaries of life; but, during his imprisonment, he had acquired such a habit of idleness that he was still less disposed to provide for them than before.
It will be now proper that we say something of Joseph Allpress, the person concerned with Guyant in robbing the mail. Allpress was a native of St. Ives, in Huntingdonshire, and, like his accomplice, had served his apprenticeship to a smith. After his time was expired he laboured a considerable time in draining the fens in the Isle of Ely; and then his ill fortune led him to Edmonton, where he contracted an acquaintance with Guyant, which ended in the most fatal consequences; for Guyant, having now lost all relish for a life of industry, persuaded the other to be concerned with him in deer-stealing. This proposal was but too well relished by Allpress, who, without reflecting on the dangerous tendency of such a practice, embarked in the scheme with Guyant, and they robbed the parks of several gentlemen in the neighbourhood.
Encouraged by what they deemed success, because they remained undetected, they broke into the church at Edmonton, and carried off some of the communion plate; but it was not known who were the offenders till after they were convicted of robbing the mail. A very little time had passed after the sacrilege, when Guyant proposed to Allpress the fatal scheme which ended in the destruction of them both; intimating, at the same time, that their fortunes might be made by the putting off the bank-notes. Allpress declared that he had never seen a bank-note in his life, and confessed that he was very illiterate; but, overborne by the persuasions of the other, he at length agreed to be concerned in robbing the mail. This shocking resolution being made, they lost no time in the attempt to carry it into execution, the first step to which was the preparing an axe, hardened to such a degree as to cut iron. Having thus resolved on their plan, they waited in the road, at a place called Houndsfield, for the arrival of the northern mail. At length the post-boy arrived, and had with him a person named John Thomas, to whom he had given a lift on the road. Guyant stopped the horses of the mail-cart, and threatened instant destruction to Thomas and the driver, unless they immediately got down. This threat was too terrible not to be complied with; on which the post-boy was ordered to drive his carriage into an adjacent field, and Thomas was compelled to attend him. The robbers now bound the other parties to a tree, and then demanded the key of the mail-cart; but, finding that it was not in possession of the driver, they took the cart across the field, broke it open with their axe, and then took out some of the bags, and buried a number of the notes in the earth.[Note: This circumstance first appeared on the examination of the prisoners at Sir John Fielding's, when the writer of this account was present, and saw the notes, discoloured by lying in the ground.]
The driver of the mail-cart, and his companion, remained bound to the tree till morning, when the latter happily freed himself, and then gave liberty to the other. On searching for the horses, they found them grazing in the field, and discovered that the cart had been broken as above mentioned. The post-boy instantly drove to London, and gave proper notice of the injury that had been done. The secretary of the General Post-office immediately advertised a reward of two hundred pounds for the discovery of the offenders; but nothing transpired for some months, till at length Allpress ventured to London, to procure the acceptance of some of the stolen drafts; the worst scheme that could possibly have been devised: for, the payment of these drafts being previously stopped, Allpress was taken into custody; and, being carried before Sir John Fielding, he immediately confessed the fact, on which he was committed to prison, and some officers of justice sent in search of Guyant, who soon found him, and discovered several bags in a yard behind his house, in which were a number of letters which had been stolen from the mail. Both offenders were lodged in Tothill Fields' Bridewell, and at the proper time removed to Newgate, in preparation for their trials at the Old Bailey; where they were convicted on the fullest evidence, and received sentence of death.
After conviction, and indeed long before it, they exhibited the truest penitence that perhaps was ever observed by illiterate men in their unhappy situation. They were exceedingly attentive to the instructions of the Ordinary of Newgate, and made the devoutest preparations for their fatal exit. On the morning of execution they received the sacrament with every mark of the sincerest contrition, and made a solemn declaration of their hope of eternal bliss through the merits of the Redeemer of mankind. On their way to the place of execution they behaved with the utmost decency, and, when arrived at the fatal spot, Guyant was so weak that it was necessary for two men to support him while the executioner fixed the halter round his neck; yet he was fervent in his devotions, notwithstanding his weakness. Both the malefactors begged the spectators to take warning by their fatal exit, and, having finished their devotions, suffered the sentence of the law; after which their bodies were cut down, and carried to Finchley Common, where they were hung in chains. Joseph Guyant and Joseph Allpress were hanged at Tyburn on the 8th of July, 1772.
In the case of the malefactors before us we see a remarkable in stance of the progressive nature of vice. Guyant and Allpress were first deer-stealers, then guilty of sacrilege, and at length ventured on the horrid plan of robbing the mail. Those who do not see, in this instance, the absurdity of encouraging the first emotions to vice, will not be convinced by any arguments that we can offer. We shall, therefore, drop the subject, to make a remark which is new in a work of this kind. When these unhappy men were examined at the public office in Bow Street, there appeared a degree of contrition in their countenances and behaviour, that no language can describe. They solicited it as a favour of Sir John Fielding that they might be re-committed to Tothill Fields' Bridewell; alleging as a reason, that the devotions at that place were more regularly performed than at other prisons; and this we have good reason to believe to be the fact. The governor of that prison is a religious man, and laudably exerts himself in the instruction and edification of the unhappy people who fall under his care. This is a rare instance, which cannot be sufficiently applauded, and we trust that Mr. Smith (the governor) will pardon the liberty we have now [Note: in February, 1779] taken in mentioning his name on an occasion which is intended, and ought, to do him honour. Happy would it be if every keeper of a prison was equally zealous to promote the eternal welfare of the unhappy persons committed to his care. But, while we say this, we must in common justice remark, that the prisons throughout England were never managed with a stricter regard to the laws of decency and regularity than at present.