Robbed his Uncle by Forgery, and then turned Footpad. Was executed at Tyburn in April, 1715
WILLIAM CHANCE was born of mean parents, near Colchester, in Essex, by whom he had not the least learning at all bestowed upon him, though he was from his very infancy a child who showed a promising genius.
When he came to be about sixteen years of age he was put out apprentice by the parish to a weaver, where he was so unlucky that at the end of three years his master gave him his indentures and sent him packing; when, to support himself, he took to thieving.
Surprising Sir Jonathan Thornicroft, Bart., he unawares knocked him off his horse and rifled him of a diamond ring worth one hundred and twenty pounds, a gold watch worth fifty pounds, and two hundred and ninety guineas. A great noise of this robbery being made all over the country, with the promise of a reward of one hundred pounds for any who could discover this bold robber, Will fled to a rich uncle's at Thetford, to lie there incognito till this hubbub was all over. His uncle was a grazier, who caressed and received him with all the tokens of respect that could possibly be shown a near relation. While he was here he bargained with his uncle for twenty oxen, signing an obligation for the money, which he promised to pay within a month or two; then taking leave of his uncle, he hired one to drive the oxen to Norwich. After two or three months had expired, the old gentleman, not hearing from him, turned to his writings, where he found the nest, but the birds flown; for Will had tempered the ink with saltpetre and other corrosive ingredients which eat through the paper. This startled the old man so, that he suddenly took pen in hand and wrote a very severe letter to his kinsman, threatening him with a course of law.
He pretended to be greatly concerned at the matter, and summoned his uncle to appear at the assizes at Norwich, having in the meantime suborned a false witness or two to give evidence to a forged paper wherein his uncle was found to confess himself indebted to his father in the sum of six hundred pounds, payable, in case of his decease, to this his unlucky son. The usual hand and mark of the uncle were artificially counterfeited with a different ink from the body of the obligation, both tempered with soot to make them seem of such standing as the date would require. Besides this, he had also forged a certain discharge, the tenor whereof was that he had received twenty oxen for two hundred pounds of the said six hundred.
This acquittance was cunningly sealed up and sent to a countryman near Colchester, whom he had also hired to be an assistant; and he delivered it to the uncle in the presence of the Court. Will, as soon as he saw him begin to open it, prayed the Court to examine his papers, which they did, and the discharge made so much for him that judgment was passed in his favour, and the defendant constrained not only to renounce his pretence but also condemned to pay the remainder of the sum that was mentioned in the obligation, which was four hundred pounds.
At last, having exhausted all his ill gotten money, Will betook himself to housebreaking, for which he had been twice committed to Newgate and tried at the Old Bailey, but had the good luck to escape hanging because the witnesses were defective in their evidence. This success in his roguery did so harden him that there was scarce a jail throughout London but what he was more than once a tenant in. He was once condemned at Hertford Assizes as a footpad, but his time not being yet come he was reprieved, and after an imprisonment of two years and a half he pleaded his pardon granted by Queen Anne, and obtained his liberty once more. But not making good use of his freedom, and the Royal mercy he received, he pursued his old courses and went upon the footpad, till he and another, being apprehended for robbing a gentleman near Paddington of a silver-hilted sword and forty-two shillings in money, were committed to Newgate, where, his comrade making himself an evidence to secure his own neck, Will was convicted, and received sentence of death.
Whilst he was in the condemned hold he was at first very profligate, swearing, cursing, drinking, singing and dancing, to the great hindrance of the other condemned malefactors from their devotion. But when the death warrant was brought to the lodge of Newgate his countenance changed at the fatal news, and he began to employ the little time he was to live in serious meditation of his approaching end, which was on Wednesday, the 21st of April, 1715, when he was hanged at Tyburn, aged thirty five years.