A City Stockbroker, executed at Tyburn, 4th of May, 1763, for Forgery
THOUGH extravagance brought this man to an untimely end, and though the amount of the forgery for which he suffered was immense, few criminals have excited more pity.
The fatal consequences of living beyond our income, are so strongly marked in the life of Mr. Rice, that it must surely serve as a caution to every one. Until the discovery of this forgery, his character was unimpeached; and his name was good to any reasonable amount.
He was the son of Mr. Rice, of Spital-square, a considerable stock-broker, whose behaviour had rendered him esteemed by all who knew him, and the profits of whose profession enabled him to support his family in a style of great gentility.
Unhappily for himself, he lived in too gay a manner, having a country house at Finchley, an elegant town house in John Street, near Gray's Inn, and keeping a coach, chaise, chariot, and several livery-servants: yet still it is probable that he might have supported his credit, but that, flushed with success, he wished to grow still richer than he was, which led him on to that species of gaming called speculating in the stocks, by which he suffered so greatly at different times that he was said to be a loser to the amount of sixty thousand pounds.
In the vain hope of recovering his circumstances he was tempted to the commission of forgery. Among others of his clients was Mrs Ann Pierce, a Yorkshire lady, who had a very considerable property in South Sea stock; and, in her name, Rice was rash enough to forge letters of attorney, by which he received upwards of nineteen thousand, nine hundred pounds.
Mrs Pierce having occasion to come to town soon after these transactions, Rice, hearing of the intended journey, thought it necessary to consult his safety in flight. Thereupon he took a post-chaise for Dover, and embarked in the packet-boat for Calais, where he soon landed.
Thence he travelled to Cambrai, a city in French Flanders, and the seat of an archbishop, which he had been taught to consider as a privileged place, where he could remain unmolested. It appears, however, that this was not the case, for the Archbishop of Cambrai, though a Prince of the Empire, was subject to the Parliament of Tournai, and had therefore no power to protect a criminal fugitive.
Whether Mrs Rice knew of her husband's design previous to his departure, or by letter from him, is uncertain, but she determined to follow him, and taking a post-chaise reached Harwich, where she embarked in the packet for Holland, designing to travel thence to Cambrai, But the wind proving contrary, the vessel was obliged to put back to Harwich, whence Mrs Rice returned to London, proposing to re-embark on a future occasion.
It is probable that Mrs Rice now apprehended herself in security; but she had no sooner arrived in London than she was taken into custody, and, being carried before the Lord Mayor, bank-notes to the amount of four thousand, seven hundred pounds were found sewn up in her stays.
On her examination she acknowledged whither her husband had retired; and the crime with which he was charged being thought to affect public credit, our Ministry dispatched a messenger to the English ambassador at Paris, desiring he would use his interest with the people in power in France to have the culprit delivered up to the justice of the laws of his native country.
This requisition was instantly complied with; and orders being sent to Cambrai to secure Mr Rice, notice was transmitted to London that he was in custody; on which one of the clerks of the bank and another of the South Sea House went over with one of the King's Messengers, to bring the unhappy man to England.
On their arrival at the prison of Cambrai they found the presumed culprit in a state of great dejection. They were proceeding to handcuff him, but he fell on his knees and, in tears, implored that they would dispense with this disgraceful circumstance. They generously complied; and Rice was placed in one post-chaise, with the Messenger, the gentlemen preceding them in another.
Having embarked for Dover, they landed, and proceeded immediately towards London. The newspapers having mentioned what had happened respecting Mr Rice, the public curiosity was so much excited that crowds of people attended at every place where they stopped to take a view of the unfortunate prisoner.
On his arrival in London he was carried before the Lord Mayor, who, remarking the utmost candour, even to generosity, in his answers to the questions that were proposed to him, committed him to the Poultry Compter instead of sending him to Newgate, presuming that his situation might be rendered less disagreeable in the former prison than in the latter.
On his way from the compter to the Old Bailey he fainted several times, and when brought to the bar he sank down, without any signs of life; and it was a considerable time before he could be recovered. He was brought to the inner bar, and being languid, pale and trembling was indulged with a chair; but even then it was not without assistance that he was kept up while arraigned. He forged four letters of attorney, but was tried on only one, empowering, him to sell five thousand pounds, and for fraudulently selling five hundred pounds, part of that sum, to Thomas Brooksbank, His general appearance and extreme distress touched all present on the awful occasion with compassion.
The praticulars of his trial consist chiefly of official proof of the forgery; in short, the unhappy man had himself acknowledged the forgery before the lord-mayor. When he heard the fatal verdict pronounced, he looked up to lord Mansfield, who presided, with a countenance which bespoke the bitterness of his heart, and with eyes overflowing with tears, implored the intercession of the court with his majesty to spare his life. In answer to this lord Mansfield advised him not to flatter himself with hope of that mercy which there was no probability of being extended to. him. His lordship farther said, 'Considering your crime, and its consequences, in a nation where there is so much paper credit, I must indeed tell you, I think myself bound in duty and conscience to acquaint his majesty that you are no object of his mercy.' His lordship farther observed, 'that all public companies should take warning, by the present instance, carefully to examine all letters of attorney, for the more effectual prevention of fraud.'
After conviction as well as before, Mr. Rice gave every sign of the most sincere contrition. While under sentence of death, he made the most serious preparation for the important change that awaited him. He expected the warrant for his execution some days before it arrived, and when it came the fatal news was concealed from him till his wife, who was then present, had retired.
It is recorded, to the credit of Mr. Rice, that before he quitted the kingdom, he sent for his tradesmen's bills, and discharged all those that were delivered.
Mr. Rice's friends petitioned that he might be allowed a coach to the place of execution; but this favour was denied, and he was placed in a cart, and attended by a faithful friend, who was too generous to leave him till the last fatal moment.
After conviction, as well as before, Mr Rice gave every sign of the most sincere contrition. At Tyburn, the place of execution, he attended alone to prayers, where he expressed himself with ardour and fervency, suffering the pains of death with a placid hope of a happy immortality; and, perhaps, no mn ever expiated his crimes at the fatal tree, more universally lmented.
The mother of Mr Rice was living at the time his misfortunes commenced; and her friends, anxious to alleviate her distress, told her that her son was taken ill at Cambrai. They then added that his life was despaired of, and at length said that he was dead. The old lady lived at Stoke Newington; and when, on the day after execution, the criers of dying speeches made their perambulations, the inhabitants of Newington, with a generosity that will ever do them honour, gave the poor people money not to cry the speeches near the house.