The Life of JOHN WINSHIP
Highwayman and Footpad
That idleness in which youths are suffered to live in this kingdom till they are grown to that size at which they are usually put apprentice (a space of time in which they are much better employed, in many other countries of Europe) too often creates an inaptitude to work and allows them opportunity of entering into paths which have a fatal termination.
John Winship, of whom we are now to treat, was born of parents in tolerable circumstances in the parish of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. They gave him an education rather superior to his condition, and treated him with an indulgence by which his future life became unhappy. At about fourteen, they placed him as an apprentice with a carpenter, to which trade he himself had a liking. His master used him as well as he could have expected or wished, yet that inclination to idleness and loitering which he had contracted while a boy, made him incapable of pursuing his business with tolerable application. The particular accident by which he was determined to leave it shall be the next point in our relation.
It happened that returning one day from work, he took notice of a young woman standing at a door in a street not far distant from that in which his master lived. He was then about seventeen, and imagining love to be a very fine thing, thought fit, without further enquiry, to make this young woman the object of his affection. The next evening he took occasion to speak to her, and this acquaintance soon improving into frequent appointments, naturally led Winship into much greater expenses than he was able to support. This had two consequences equally fatal to this unhappy young man, for in the first place he left his master and his trade, and took to driving of coaches and like methods, to get his bread; but all the ways he could think of, proving unable to supply his expenses, he went next upon the road, and raised daily contributions in as illegal a manner as they were spent at night, in all the excesses of vice.
It is impossible to give either a particular or exact account of the robberies he committed, because he was always very reserved, even after conviction, in speaking as to these points.
However, he is said to have been concerned in robbing a Frenchman of quality in the road to Hampstead, who in a two-horsed chaise, with the coachman on his box, was attacked in the dusk of the evening by three highwaymen. They exchanged several pistols and continued the fight, till, the ammunition on both sides being exhausted, the foreigner prepared to defend himself with his sword. The rogues were almost out of all hopes of obtaining their booty, when one of them getting behind the chaise secretly cut a square hole in its back, and putting in both his arms, seized the gentleman so strongly about the shoulders that his companions had an opportunity of closing in with him, disarming him of his sword, rifling and taking a hundred and twenty pistoles. Not content with this they ripped the lace off his clothes, and took from the coachmen all the money he had about him.
Winship had been concerned in divers gangs, and being a fellow of uncommon agility of body, was mighty well received and much caressed by them, as was also another companion of his, whom they called Clean-Limbed Tom, whose true name was never known, being killed in a duel at Kilkenny in Ireland. This last mentioned person had been bred with an apothecary, and sometimes travelled the country in the high capacity of a quack doctor, at others, in the more humble station of a merry-andrew. Travelling once down into the west, with a little chest of medicines which he intended to dispose of in this matter at West Chester, at an inn about twenty miles short of that city he overtook a London wholesale dealer, who had been that way collecting debts. Tom made a shift to get into his company overnight, and diverted him so much with his facetious conversation that he invited him to breakfast with him the next morning. Tom took occasion to put a strong purge into the ale and toast which the Londoner was drinking, he himself pretending never to take anything in the morning but a glass of wine and bitters. When the stranger got on horseback, Tom offered to accompany him, "For", says he, "I can easily walk as fast as your horse will trot." They had not got above two miles before, at the entrance of a common, the physic began to work. The tradesman alighting to untruss a point, Tom leaped at once into his saddle, and galloped off both with his horse and portmanteau. He baited an hour at a small village three miles beyond Chester, having avoided passing through that city, then continued his journey to Port Patrick, from whence he crossed to Dublin with about four score pounds in ready money, a gold watch, which was put up in a corner of a cloak bag, linen, and other things to a considerable value besides.
But to return to Winship. His robberies were so numerous that he began to be very well known and much sought after by those who make it their business to bring men to justice for rewards. There is some reason to believe that he had been once condemned and received mercy. However, on the 25th of May, 1721, he stopped one Mr. Lowther in his chariot, between Pancras Church and the Halfway House, and robbed him of his silver watch and a purse of ten guineas; for which robbery being quickly after apprehended, he was convicted at the Old Bailey, on the evidence of the prosecutor and the voluntary information of one of his companions.
While he lay under sentence, he could not help expressing a great impatience at the miserable condition to which his follies had reduced him, and at the same time to show the most earnest desire of life, though it were upon the terms of transportation for the whole continuance of it; though he frequently declared it did not arise so much from a willingness in himself to continue in this world, as at the grief he felt for the misfortunes of his aged mother, who was ready to run distracted at her son's unhappy fate.
As he was a very personable young man strangers, especially at chapel, took particular notice of him, and were continually inquiring of his adventures; but Winship not only constantly refused to give them any satisfaction, but declared also to the Ordinary that he did not think himself obliged to make any discoveries which might affect the lives of others, showing also an extraordinary uneasiness whenever such questions were put to him. When he was asked, by the direction of a person of some rank, whether he did not rob a person dressed in such a manner in a chaise as he was watering his horse before the church door, during the time of Divine service, Winship replied, he supposed the crime did not consist in the time or place, and as to whether he was guilty of it or no, he would tell nothing.
In other respects he appeared penitent and devout, suffering at Tyburn at the same time with the afore-mentioned Matthew Clark, in the twenty-second year of his age, leaving behind him a wife, who died afterwards with grief for his execution.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals