A Wealthy Quaker, who committed a Series of Forgeries in the City of London, and was executed 8th of December, 1828
THE case of this criminal excited considerable attention from the circumstance of his having been long known in the City of London as being a person of good repute, and also from the fact of his being a Quaker.
It appeared that a considerable number of forged bills of exchange had been put in circulation, and the result of the inquiries which were made by the Committee of Bankers for the Prevention of Frauds and Forgeries clearly fixed the offence upon Hunton. The bills were for the most part accepted in the name of Mr Edward Wilkins, of Abingdon, and purported to be drawn by the firm of Dickson & Co., of Ironmonger Lane, warehousemen, in which Hunton was a partner. It so happened, however, that intelligence was received in town, before several of them became due, that Mr Wilkins was dead; and upon inquiry it turned out that the whole of the acceptances in the name of that person were forgeries. Hunton received speedy information of the discovery of the frauds of which he had been guilty, and when inquiry was made for him he was found to have absconded. Officers were immediately dispatched in all directions to secure his person, and he was at length traced by Forrester, the city constable, to the neighbourhood of Plymouth. He directly started in pursuit with some others who were employed on the same errand, and, upon inquiry there, they learned that the object of their search was upon the point of sailing for New York in the Leeds packet, on board which he passed under the assumed name of Wilkinson. The officers immediately proceeded to board that vessel, and, under pretence of having a letter to deliver, they were introduced to the forger. When they informed him of the nature of their mission he was not able to utter a word, but rose and followed them, and was immediately conveyed to the shore. It is rather extraordinary that the first paper taken from his pocket was a letter directed to the editor of The Times, stating that the amount of the forgeries ascribed to him in a paragraph in that journal was considerably exaggerated, and requesting that an acknowledgment to that effect should be inserted in justice to the party accused, who would return as soon as possible and pay off all his pecuniary obligations. There was also found in his pockets the copy of a letter directed to the house of Curtis & Co., informing them that, as it was not convenient for the firm to discount any more bills for him, he should absent himself for a short time from London. These were both directed from Deal, and were no doubt intended to mislead, as the writer never went near Deal in his route. He had entered the packet in his Quaker dress; but in the course of a few hours he had put on a light green frock, a pair of light grey pantaloons, a black stock and a foraging cap. It was ascertained that he had previously entered a French steamboat on the river, with the intention of proceeding to Boulogne, and that he had been actually in that boat at the time of its being searched by some officers who were endeavouring to procure his apprehension.
Upon his arrival in town he underwent an examination before the Lord Mayor, upon the charges which were preferred against him; and several cases having been substantiated he was fully committed for trial.
At the Old Bailey sessions, on the 28th of October, 1828, the prisoner was put upon his trial, and he was found guilty upon a charge of forging a bill for one hundred and sixty-two pounds, nine shillings, with intent to defraud Sir William Curtis & Co. On the following Tuesday, the 4th of November, he was again indicted for a similar offence, for forging a bill for ninety-four pounds, thirteen shillings, when a similar verdict was returned; and at the conclusion of the sessions, notwithstanding the recommendation of the jury to mercy, he received sentence of death.
A considerable time elapsed before the case of this unfortunate prisoner was reported to the Crown, in accordance with the custom which then prevailed; and it was not until the 8th of December that his sentence was carried into effect. Before we describe the circumstances which attended the execution we must allude to a most extraordinary delay which took place in the report of the Recorder of London of the cases of no less than forty-nine prisoners confined in Newgate on various capital charges. It appeared that, his Majesty being at Windsor, the recorder proceeded to the Castle on Monday, the 24th of November, for the purpose of making his report, when three wretched prisoners were ordered for execution. In accordance with the usual practice it would have been the duty of the recorder to proceed forthwith to London to communicate the result of the deliberation of the Privy Council at Newgate, in order that the unhappy criminals, whose cases had been under consideration, might be at once relieved from the dreadful suspense in which, situated as they were, they would necessarily be placed. Monday night passed, however, and no intelligence was received of the learned gentleman, or of the decision which had been arrived at; and the greater part of Tuesday was permitted also to elapse before their dreadful anxiety was relieved. At five o'clock on that afternoon the clerk of the learned gentleman reached Newgate with the death warrant; and then only was it that the fate of the prisoners could be disclosed to them. The subject was brought under the consideration of the court of aldermen at the earliest possible period, with a view to the recorder giving some explanation of the very singular conduct of which he had been guilty; and he then stated that, the Council not having terminated until after eight o'clock on the evening of Monday, he was at that time too fatigued to return to town on the same night, and that though he started from Windsor on the following morning he was so long delayed on the road that he did not arrive in town until half-past three o'clock. This excuse, however plausibly it may have been put by the learned gentleman, was at least a lame one, and the remarks which were made upon his conduct at the time by the public, and by the Press, were confined to no very measured terms.
Although so many prisoners had been reported on this occasion, it was found that Hunton was not among the number -- a circumstance which gave him undue hopes and expectations that he would be spared an ignominious death. A second report, however, was made on Monday, the 1st of December, when the wretched criminal, with three others, was ordered for execution on the 8th of the same month.
Hunton bore the intelligence that he "was certainly to die" with apparent fortitude. He was lying on his pallet when the ordinary entered his cell at a little after eleven on Monday night. Upon hearing the cell door open at so extraordinary an hour he turned round slowly and said
"Well, I suppose I know the news thou bringest?" "Yes," replied the ordinary, "Mr Hunton: you are, I hope, prepared for that which you have expected -- you are to be executed." Hunton said: "Indeed I have been expecting that intelligence: it is no surprise, and yet my case has many palliatives which should operate with grace at the seat of mercy. Pray tell me who are doomed to die with me." The ordinary mentioned the other names enumerated in the report, and Hunton observed that he should submit with calmness to his fate. "But," said he, "if wilt thou do me the great favour, friend Cotton, to permit my wife to come and stay with me alone before the time arriveth for the change?" The ordinary replied that he had not the power to grant any favour, but the request should be communicated to the proper authority, and no doubt every indulgence of a reasonable kind would be granted. During this conversation Hunton seemed to be perfectly resigned to his fate. It is singular that he never asked on what day he was to be executed. After the ordinary had assured him that he should be treated with kindness he turned about, and said, "Goodnight, friend," and appeared to resign himself to sleep. In the morning he rose, evidently in a state of the most wretched dejection: his eyes were filled with tears, and he deplored the inhumanity of the laws, by which a man who had committed an act which did not deserve the name of fraud was to suffer death. The spirits by which he had been supported ever since his committal to Newgate altogether abandoned him: he wrung his hands in agony, and complained of the bitter aggravation of delay. When he first entered Newgate he said: "I wish, after this day, to have communication with nobody; let me take leave of my wife and family and friends. I have already suffered an execution; my heart has undergone that horrible penalty." A few days afterwards a person called upon him to request that he would explain some document relating to certain bills not yet due. In an instant he gave the required explanation, fully to the satisfaction of the person interested; and when asked by the same individual what opinion he entertained of his own case -- "Why," said he, "my case resembles the condition of this paper" (holding the letter upon his finger): "a breeze of wind will turn it either way. Caprice may save or destroy me; but I rather think I shall live longer." On the Tuesday he was visited by his wife and several of the Society of Friends, and he told them he knew that to hope would be to court deception. He was, during the whole day, a most painful object to those who went to console him. He groaned as if his heart were bursting within him, and seemed to consider this life all that a human being could wish for.
The execution of a man who was known to have moved in so respectable a sphere of life as the unfortunate Hunton failed not to attract an immense crowd of persons to the vicinity of the jail of Newgate on the morning upon which it was determined that his life should be forfeited. From the extraordinary efforts which had been made to save this unfortunate culprit, a very general belief was entertained that a respite would most certainly arrive for him even so late as on the morning fixed for his death. His safety was considered almost certain, and many were scarcely persuaded that he would really suffer even at the moment when the fatal cord encompassed his neck. The unfortunate man had, however, calmly composed his mind to meet his fate, and seemed to contemplate its approach without dread. He was on Sunday visited by several ladies and gentlemen of the Society of Friends, who were accommodated with an apartment, in which they remained in their peculiar devotions for several hours. Afterwards the unhappy man was attended by two gentlemen, elders of the congregation, who sat up with him in the press-room all night, during which time Hunton composed a very long prayer, appropriate to his situation and approaching death. He committed his thoughts to paper, and after he had completed the prayer he copied it, and directed it to his "dearly beloved wife." At halfpast seven the two elders left the miserable man, after they had "kissed," and their absence was supplied by the attendance of Mr Sparks Moline, of Leadenhall Street.
Fifteen minutes before the awful hour of eight the under-sheriffs arrived at the prison, preceded by their tipstaffs, and were conducted by Mr Wontner to the press-room. At the end of this gloomy apartment was observed, sitting at a long table which was strewn with pieces of paper and books, the ill-fated Hunton; immediately opposite sat his "friend," Mr S. Moline. Hunton, on turning his head and observing the group of officers as they entered the room, said: "I pray thee stop a minute; I'll not be long." He then concluded reading, in a distinct voice, the prayer he had composed in the night; it was couched in the most impressive and devout language that could be imagined. In it he expressed his dependence on the merits of Jesus Christ, and a hope that when the spirit was separated from the body it would join the angelic host above in singing praises to the Son of God, and to the Almighty. Hunton had a very peculiar kind of voice, somewhat shrill and effeminate; he, however, spoke with firmness. There was nothing in his manner to condemn, but it showed a perfect self-possession. Mr Moline, when the unhappy man had finished reading, bowed his head, and responded: "Amen!" Hunton then rose and, folding up the paper in a hurried manner, said: "I am quite ready now." Mr Wontner approached him, and said he might remain seated for a short time longer; he thanked the worthy governor and resumed his seat at the table, and occupied his time by perusing some religious work before him. During this time John James, aged nineteen, who was condemned for a burglary in the house of Mr Witham, the barrister, in Boswell Court, and two others were brought into the room, attended by the reverend ordinary.
The wretched Hunton, during the pinioning of his fellow-convicts, conducted himself with the greatest calmness and devotion. He repeatedly addressed those who were to suffer with him, urging them to repentance.
All having at last been properly secured, it only remained for the unfortunate Hunton to undergo the same ordeal as his fellow- sufferers. The unhappy man was indulging in a sort of reverie when Mr Wontner tapped him upon the shoulder. He instantly stood up, and deliberately took a white stock from his neck and approached the officers. He stood firmly, and when the man was in the act of tying his wrists he said: "Oh dear, is there any necessity to tie the cord so fast?" The officer made no reply; upon which Hunton said: "Well, well, thou knowest best." He again complained of the cord being too tight about his arms, which was slackened a little, and the unhappy man said: "Thank thee, thank thee." After he had been thus secured he said: "Wilt thou allow me to wear my gloves?" "Yes, certainly, sir," was the reply, and with some difficulty he put them on, and still kept the prayer addressed to his wife in his hand, All being now in readiness, the mournful procession moved towards the scaffold.
Before Hunton left the room he said to Mr Moline: "Thou will not leave me, friend?" "No," said Mr Moline, "I will see thee to the scaffold." Mr Moline then supported the unhappy man along the passage to the lobby at the foot of the scaffold, where he sat down by the side of his friend, still holding the prayer to his breast.
Hunton was the last to be summoned by the officers. When his name was pronounced he turned round and delivered the prayer to Mr Moline, when each shook the other's hand and kissed lips, the unhappy man observing: "You may say I am quite happy and comfortable -- fare thee well." He then quickly ascended the steps with the same unshaken firmness and deliberation which had marked his conduct throughout the trying period. He took his station under the fatal beam, and requested that a blue handkerchief, to which he seemed fondly attached, might be fastened over his eyes, which was accordingly done.
When the preparations of the hangman for the deaths of these unhappy men were completed, the Rev. Mr Cotton commenced reading a portion of the burial service, and at a given signal the drop fell, and the four unfortunate beings were suspended. A loud shriek from some persons in the crowd followed the close of the melancholy scene.
The sufferings of the unhappy men were but brief. The rope by which Hunton suffered was longer than the rest, on account of his remarkably low stature; it soon reached its full tension, and he appeared to die instantly.
After the bodies had remained suspended for an hour they were cut down and removed into the interior of the jail, preparatory to their interment.
The unfortunate Hunton, it appeared, commenced business at Yarmouth as a slop-seller, and, having been exceedingly prosperous, he opened a concern of some magnitude at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, He also engaged in business as a sugar-baker in the metropolis. He had previously married a lady, a member of the Society of Friends, to which sect it will be perceived that he also belonged, and was supposed to be possessed of property to the amount of thirty thousand pounds. He then relinquished these concerns and entered into partnership with Messrs Dickson & Co., of Ironmonger Lane, who soon discovered that he was engaged to no small extent in speculations on the Stock Exchange, in which, as it turned out, he was particularly unsuccessful. A dissolution of partnership was the consequence, and then the unhappy man, driven to want and despair, committed those frauds which cost him his life. Up to the time of his absenting himself from London he had a large establishment at Leytonstone, in Essex, where he was always looked upon as an eccentric but highly honourable and respectable person. The appearance and demeanour of the unhappy man at the time of his apprehension were such as to excite the greatest commiseration amongst those who saw him. Although it would appear that the forgeries of which he had been guilty were of no trifling extent, at that period one hundred sovereigns only were found in his possession.