On 23rd October 1783, John Spicer was on the road for London, having left Grays in Essex with the intention of finding a new situation in life. Unfamiliar with the city, Spicer had been glad to make the friendship of two men who offered to direct him to reputable lodgings and travelled with him for a couple of days. However, rather than conduct him safely to a rooming house, the men took their victim to open fields near Bethnal Green and threatened him with a cutlass, leaving him in no doubt that he would die if he did not go along with their demands to hand over his valuables. Despite being outnumbered and unarmed, Spicer fought furiously but Austin and his accomplice were able to wrestle him to the ground, tying his hands tightly and taking all of his possessions.
The attack was interrupted by James Strong, a local man who had been working in his employer's garden. His efforts to apprehend the assailants were unsuccessful but he took the badly wounded Spicer to the infirmary, where his injuries were tended. It appeared then that Austin and his accomplice had made good their escape but the greedy felon returned to the scene of his crime in daylight to see if he had left anything behind. Strong apprehended Austin, who complained that he was an innocent man; he explained that he had been forced to participate in the robbery by a stranger, who threatened him with death if he did not comply. Whilst the men waited for the watch to arrive, Austin was locked in a stable and, when he was released, the takings from the robbery were found concealed in his makeshift prison.
|Industry and Idleness, Plate 11; The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn by William Hogarth|
After hearing the testimonies and defence, the judge, Mr Eyre, passed sentence of death on Austin and just days later he was taken by cart to the Tyburn gallows amid a crowd of spectators. The condemned man apparently passed the journey in a dignified fashion though panic overtook him as the noose was fixed and he told the crowd, "Good people, I request your prayers for the salvation of my departing soul; let my example teach you to shun the bad ways I have followed; keep good company, and mind the word of God." This short speech completed, the cap was put over his head and as he began to speak again the cart started forward and the noose tightened; rather than face a quick death, Austin was slowly strangled for ten minutes.
Austin was the last man to die at Tyburn and from that day hangings moved to Newgate. There are many more stories to tell of this dark place but for now, I hope you pass a restful Sunday and take care on the road to London, no matter how friendly your travelling companions might seem.