On this date in 1783, highwayman John Austin was hanged at Tyburn for robbing and murdering John Spicer on the road to London.
The village of Tyburn on the outskirts of London had been used for public hangings since the twelfth century. Though not the only site of executions in London, it was certainly the iconic one. Situated at the modern crossroads between between Edgware and Bayswater Roads on the northeast corner of Hyde Park, the distinctive ‘Tyburn tree’ — a triangular gallows capable of hanging over twenty prisoners simultaneously — made a foreboding landmark around which thousands of spectators gathered on execution days. In total, around 1,200 people were executed on this singular device.
Public executions typically began just a few miles away at Newgate Prison, where the condemned were loaded into ox carts for a two or three hour procession through public streets now at the heart of London, perhaps including stops at public houses (pubs!).
John Austin was the last man hanged at Tyburn Tree in Tyburn before the gallows were disassembled. He was convicted ‘for robbery with violence’ on the person of John Spicer and ‘cutting and wounding him in a cruel manner’. More information has been made available about this case on London Ancestor and on Londonist.com.
Austin’s last words were reportedly:
‘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. Lord have mercy on me. Jesus look down with pity on me.Christ have mercy on my poor soul!’