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Newgate Calendar - WILLIAM HAWKE


Executed for Highway Robbery, 1st July, 1774

            This was another depredator of considerable notoriety, and of so desperate a mind as to appear dauntless of death. He was born at Uxbridge, in Middlesex, in the neighbourhood of which town he committed many highway robberies. His father dying when he was but a boy, he came to London, without any friend to direct his steps, and hired himself as a pot-boy—that is, a drawer of porter to a low public house—where were constantly before him examples which might lead any unprotected youth from the paths of virtue. He soon connected an acquaintance with abandoned people who frequented an alehouse in St. Giles's, and was persuaded to join them in committing depredations upon the public. Hawke at length commenced highwayman, and became an accomplice of William Field, the particulars of whose life we have already mentioned. Field and Hawke were transported to America; and, returning to England nearly at the same period, they again became associates in committing robberies upon the highway. Hawke and Field being apprehended together, the former escaped from Tothill Fields' Bridewell, and got over to France; but the other suffered the sentence of the law.

            Upon his return to England he committed a surprising number of most daring robberies; and several months elapsed before the thief-takers knew him to be the man by whom the roads about London were so dangerously infested. Information being given to Mr. Smith, the keeper of Tothill Fields' Bridewell, that Hawke's wife had been to Uxbridge on a party of pleasure, he sought the driver of the coach in which she was conveyed, and learnt from him that Hawke lodged in Shoe Lane. The following morning Mr. Smith, Mr. Bond, Mr. Leigh, and some other persons in the service of Sir John Fielding, went to Shoe Lane. Bond, going up two pair of stairs, entered the front room, and there discovering Hawke slumbering in bed, threw himself across the highwayman, who, twisting the sheet round Bond's head, reached at a pistol that was under the pillow, at which instant Smith entered, and caught hold of his hand. With much difficulty Hawke was secured; and, being put into a coach, he said that his misfortunes were in some measure alleviated by the consideration that no life was lost, for he was provided with several loaded pistols, and had formed the resolution of firing upon every man who should attempt to take him into custody. Being conveyed to the public office in Bow Street, a great number of persons were bound to prosecute, and he was committed to Newgate.

            At the next sessions at the Old Bailey he was arraigned on an indictment for robbing Mr. Hart of a small sum of money; and the following are the most remarkable circumstances adduced in evidence:—

            Mr. Hart and Captain Cunningham were stopped in the Fulham stage, a little beyond Knightsbridge, by the prisoner, who demanded their money. The captain refused to resign his property; and Hawke threatened to fire, and, pointing his pistol at the captain, he said 'Fire away, and be damned!' on which the robber discharged his pistol, and the ball passed between the captain's shoulder and his coat. Mr. Hart then delivered a few shillings; and Captain Cunningham, getting out of the coach in the interim, seized the bridle of the highwayman's horse, when he discharged a second pistol. He then remounted, but did not ride away for some minutes, during which interval the captain employed himself in picking up stones, and throwing them at him. At the time of Hawke's trial Captain Cunningham was abroad; but Mr. Hart's evidence was so positive, clear, and circumstantial, that no doubt remained as to the guilt of the prisoner, who was therefore sentenced to be executed. While Hawke was under sentence of death, in Newgate, his behaviour was such as may be called decent, rather than penitential. While his irons were knocking off, on the morning of execution, one of his acquaintance addressed him thus: 'How do you do, Billy? will you have some flowers?'—Hawke replied, 'I am pretty well, I thank you. How is Harry Wright? he has been ill of late, I hear,' meaning one of the turnkeys of Tothill Fields' Bridewell. And then, while the man held the nose gay, he picked out a flower, and, with great composure, placed it in a button-hole of his coat. When the cart was preparing to be driven from under the gallows he threw off both his shoes; and, when he found it move, he collected his utmost strength, and leaped up, so that his neck was instantly dislocated. He suffered at Tyburn, July the 1st, 1774.


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