Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

5 articles on this Page



THE TRIAL OF JOSEPH BLAKE, ALIAS BITJESfilX. When about one quarter of the eighteenth century had expired London and its vicinity were infested1 by a. gang of villains of thtj most desperate character, of whom this crimi- nal, whose name stands above, was the cap- tam. With his name are associated those of offenders whose exploits, though they may be better known, were not more daring or more villainous. The notorious Jonathan Wil d, whose system of atrocity elevated him into, perhaps, the greatest and most villainous of these heroes of the Newgate calendar; and his no less notorious victim and coadjutor. Jack Sheppard, were both intimately connected with the proceedings of Blake, while others of equal celebrity filled up the number of his followers. The Mint, in Southwark, was, during the early part of the life of those offenders, a place which, being by a species of charter freed from the intrusion of the bailiffs, formed an admirable hiding-place and retreat for criminals, as well as debtors. A system of watch and ward was maintained among them, and like the "Alsatia" of Sir Walter Scott's novel of "The Fortunes of Nigd," which is now known by the name of 'Whitefriars," its privacy was seldom intruded upon by the appearance of the officers of justice. The salutary laws of the commence- ment of the reign of the Hanover family, however, soon caused these dens of infamy I to be rooted out; and the district's referred to are now known only by repute as having been privileged in the manner which has been described. To return to the subject of our present, narrative, he was a native of London, and, having been sent to school at the age of six years, he displayed more intelligence in acquiring a proficiency in The Various Arts of Roguery than in becoming acquainted with those points of decent instruction with which his parents desired he should make himself intimate. While at school lie formed an acquaintance with a lad of the name of Blewitt, who after- wards, with himself, became a member of Jonathan Wild's gang. No sooner bad they left school than they started in life as pick- pockets, and our hero, before he attained the age of fifteen years, had been in half the prisons in the Metropolis. From this they turned street robbers; and, forming connec- tions with others, their proceedings became notorious, and they were apprehended. Blake, however, was admitted evidence against his companions, who were convicted; I "Suddenly drew a cla.sp knife." and, having by that means obtained his own acquittal, he claimed a part of the reward offered by the (Government. He was informed by the court that his demand could not be granted, because his was not voluntary evi- dence', since, so far from having surrendered, lie ha.d made an obstinate resistance, and was severely wounded before he was taken and, instead of rewarding him. they ordered him to find security for his good behaviour or to be transported. Not being able to give the requisite* bail. he was lodged in Wood-street Compter, and there he remained for a con- siderable period, during which his patron, Wild, allowedf him three and sixpence pe" week. At length he prevailed upon two gardeners to enter into the necessary sureties and, their recognisances having been taken by Sir John Fry for his good behaviour for seven years, he once more regained his liberty. This object was. however, no sooner attained) than he was concerned in several robberies with Jack Sheppard, and they at length committed that offence for which Blueskin was executed. We have already said that he had become notorious for the daring which he displayed, and the frequency of his attacks upon the property of other- and he had become no leAs celebrated among his companions, who had favoured him with The Appellation of Blueskin from the darkness of his complexion, and had, besides, honoured him by dubbing him "captain." At the October Sessions of the oid Bailey, 1'723, he was indicted, under the name of Joseph Blake, aliaSJ Blueskin, for breaking and entering the dwelling-110use of William Knee bone, in St. Clement's Church- yard, and stealing one hundred and eight yards of woollen cloth, value thirty-six pounds, and other property. It was sworn by the prosecutor that the entry was effected by cutting the bars of his cellar window, and by subsequently breaking open the cellar- door, which had b(en bolted and padlocked and "hat afterwards, on his going to Jonathan Wild and acquainting him with what had occurred, he was conducted to Blake's lodgings for the purpose of procuring his ap- prehension. The prisonei refusing to open the door, yuilt Arnold, one of Wild's men, broke it opeu. On this Blake drew a pen- knife and swore that he would kill the first man that entered, in answer to which Arnoid said, "Then, I am the first man, and Mr. I Wild is not fai behind; and, if you don't deliver your penknife immediately, I will chop your arm off." Hereupon the prisoner dropped the knife, and', Wild entering, he was taken into custody. It further appeared that, as the parties were conveying Blake to Newgate, they came by the house of the prosecutor, on which Wild said to the pri- soner, "There's the ken," and the latter re- plied, "Say no more of that. Mr. Wild, for I know I am a dead man but what I fear is that I shall after be carried to Sur- geon's-hall and anatomiserl," to 'which Wild replied, "No I'll take care to prevent that, for I'Ji give you a coffin." William Field, an accomplice, who gave evidence on the trial, swore ;ha,t the robbery was committed by Blake, Sheppard, and himself, and the jury brought in a, verdict of "Guilty." As soon as the verdict was given, Blake addressed the court in the following terms:—"On Wednesday morning last Jonathan WiTd said to Simon Jacobs (then a prisoner): 'I believe you will not brisg forty pounds this time (alluding to the reward paid by the Govern- ment) I wish Joe (meaning me) was in your case, but I'll do my endeavour to bring you off as A single felon.' And then, turning to me, he said, 'I believe you must Die. I'll send you a good book or two, and provide you with a coffin, and you shall not be anatomised.' The prisoner having been convicted, it was impossible that this revela- tion of the circumstances under which he was impeached could be noticed; but subsequent discoveries distinctly showed that Wild's system was precisely that which was pointed out, namely, to lead on those who chose to submit themselves to his guidance to the full extent to which they could go, so as to be useful to him, and then to deliver them over to justice for the offences in which he had been the prime mover, securing to himself the reward payabie upon their conviction. His position screened him from punishment, while his pow^r ensured the sacrifice of the victims Mho had so long been his slaves. It appears that Wild was near meeting his end in this case. He was to have given evidence against Blake; but, going to visit him in the bail-dock previous to his trial, the latter suddenly drew a clasp penknife, with which he cut Jonathan's throat. The knife was blunt, and the wound, though dangerous, did not prove mortal, but the informer was prevented from giving the evidence which had been expected from him. While under sen- tence of death Blake did not show a concern proportioned to his calamitous situation. When asked if he was advised to commit the violence on Wild, he said, "No" but that a. sudden thought entered his mind. Had it been premeditated, he would have provmed a knife which would have cut off his head at one-; On the nearer approach of death he appeared still less concerned, and it was thought that his mind was chiefly bent on meditating means of escaping; but. seeing no prospect of getting away, he took to drinking, which he continued to the day of his death, and he was observed to be intoxicated even while he was under the gallows. He was executed at Tyburn on the 11th of November, 1723.



[No title]