Commonly called "Sixteen-String Jack." Executed at Tyburn, 30th of November, 1774, for Highway Robbery
Rann on his trial before Judge Henry Fielding
THIS fellow was entitled to be classed among the impudent and arrogant self-created gentlemen who levied arbitrary contributions on the highway: he was also of considerable notoriety in acts of such species of depredations, having been regularly initiated, from the humble pickpocket.
John Rann was born at a village a few miles from Bath, of honest parents, who were in low circumstances, and incapable of giving him any kind of education. For some time he obtained a livelihood by vending goods, which he drove around the city and adjacent country on an ass.
A lady of distinction, who happened to be at Bath, took Rann into her service when he was about twelve years of age; and his behaviour was such, that he became the favorite of his mistress and fellow servants.
At length he came to London, and got employment as a helper in the stables at Brooke's Mews, in which station he bore a good character. He then became the driver of a postchaise, after which he was servant to an officer, and in both these stations he was well spoken of.
About four years before his execution he was coachman to a gentleman of fortune near Portman Square, and it was at this period that he dressed in the manner which gave rise to the appellation of "Sixteen-string Jack," by wearing breeches with eight strings at each knee.
After living in the service of several noblemen he lost his character, and turned pickpocket, in company with three fellows, named Jones, Clayton, and Colledge, the latter of whom, a mere boy, obtained the name of "Eight-stringed Jack."
At the sessions held at the Old Bailey in April, 1775, Rann, Clayton, and one Shcpherd, were tried for robbing Mr. William Somers on the highway, and acquitted for want of evidence. They were again tried for robbing Mr. Langford, but acquitted for the same reason.
For some time past Rann had kept company with a young woman named Roche, who, having been apprenticed to a milliner, and being seduced by an officer of the guards, was reduced to obtain bread by the casual wages of prostitution; and, at length associating with highwaymen, received such valuable effects as they took on the road.
"A woman's honour is a woman's all,
You're lost for ever if perchance you fall;
In this, wit, beauty, fortune, form, and mind,
You give like atoms to the whistling wind;
All worth, all pleasure, is with honour lost,
A truth which thousands witness to their cost.
The fate of woman deeply we deplore,
They fall like stars that set to rise no more."
On the 30th of May Rann was taken into custody, and, being brought to Bow Street on the following Wednesday, was charged with robbing John Devall, Esq., near the nine-mile stone on the Hounslow road, of his watch and money. This watch he had given to Miss Roche, who had delivered it to Catherine Smith, by whom it was offered in pledge to Mr. Hallam, a pawnbroker, who, suspecting that it was not honestly obtained, caused all the parties to be taken into custody.
Miss Roche was now charged with receiving the watch, knowing it to have been stolen; and Miss Smith, being sworn, deposed that on the day Mr. Devall was robbed, Roche told her that "she expected Rann to bring her some money in the evening"; that he accordingly came about ten at night, and, having retired some time with Miss Roche, she, on her return, owned that she had received a watch and five guineas from him, which he said he had taken from a gentleman on the highway; and that she, Miss Smith, carried the watch to pawn to Mr. Hallam, at the request of Miss Roche.
Sir John Fielding asked Rann if he would offer anything in his defence; on which the latter said, "I know no more of the matter than you do, nor half so much neither." On this occasion Rann was dressed in a manner above his style of life and his circumstances. He had a bundle of flowers in the breast of his coat almost as large as a broom; and his irons were tied up with a number of blue ribands.
For this offence Rann was tried at the sessions held at the Old Bailey, in July, 1774, and acquitted.
Two or three days after this acquittal Rann engaged to sup with a girl at her lodgings in Bow Street; but, not being punctual to his appointment, the girl went to bed, and Rann, not being able to obtain admittance at the door, attempted to get in at the window on the first floor, and had nearly accomplished his purpose, when he was taken into custody by the watchman.
For this burglarious attempt he was examined at Bow Street on the 27th of July, when the girl, whose apartments he had attempted to break open, declared that he could not have had any felonious intention, as he knew that he would have been a welcome guest, and have been readily admitted, if she had not fallen asleep. On this he was dismissed, after Sir John Fielding had cautioned him to leave his dangerous profession, and seek for some more honest means of support.
On the Sunday following Rann appeared at Bagnidge Wells, dressed in a scarlet coat, tambour waistcoat, white silk stockings, laced hat, &c., and publicly declared himself to be a highwayman. Having indulged pretty freely, he became extremely quarrelsome, and several scuffles ensued, in one of which he lost a ring from his finger, and when he discovered his loss, he said it was but a hundred guineas gone, which one evening's work would replace. He be came at length so troublesome that part of the company agreed to turn him out of the house; but they met with so obstinate a resistance that they were obliged to give up their design; when a number of young fellows, possessed of more spirit than discretion, attacked this magnanimous hero, and actually forced him through the window into the road. Rann was not much injured by this severe treatment; but he complained bitterly against those who could so affront a gentleman of his character.
Rann, being arrested for a debt of fifty pounds, which he was unable to pay, was confined in the Marshalsea prison, where he was visited by a number of men and women of bad character, some of whom paid his debt, and produced his discharge.
At another time, Rann being with two companions at an alehouse in Tottenham Court Road, two sheriff's officers arrested Rann, who, not having money to pay the debt, deposited his watch in the hands of the bailiffs, and his associates advanced three guineas, which together made more than the amount of the debt; and, as a balance was to be returned to Rann when the watch should be redeemed, he told the bailiffs that, if they would lend him five shil lings, he would treat them with a crown bowl of punch. This they readily did; and, while they were drinking, Rann said to the officers, "You have not treated me like a gentleman. When Sir John Fielding's people come after me they use me genteelly; they only hold up a finger, beckon me, and I follow them as quietly as a lamb."
When the bailiffs were gone, Rann and his companions rode off; but our hero, soon returning, stopped at the turnpike, and asked if he had been wanted. "No," said the tollman. "Why," replied the other, "I am Sixteen-string Jack, the famous highwayman -- have any of Sir John Fielding's people been this way?" "Yes," said the man, "some of them are but just gone through." Rann replied, "If you see them again, tell them I am gone towards London"; and then rode off with the utmost unconcern.
Soon afterwards Rann appeared at Barnet races, dressed in a most elegant sporting style, his waistcoat being blue satin, trimmed with silver; and he was followed by hundreds of people, who were eager to gratify their curiosity by the sight of a man who had been so much the subject of public conversation.
A very short time before Rann was capitally convicted he attended a public execution at Tyburn, and, getting within the ring formed by the constables around the gal lows, desired that he might be permitted to stand there, "for," said he, "perhaps it is very proper that I should be a spectator on this occasion."
On the 26th of September, 1774, Rann and William Collier went on the Uxbridge road, with a view to commit robberies on the highway; and on the Wednesday following they were examined at the public office in Bow Street, when Dr. William Bell, chaplain to the Princess Amelia, deposed that, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon of Monday, the 26th of September, as he was riding near Ealing, he observed two men of rather mean appearance, who rode past him; and that he remarked they had suspicious looks; yet neither at that time, nor for some little time afterwards, had he any idea of being robbed: that soon afterwards one of them, which he believed was Rann, crossed the head of his horse, and, demanding his money, said "Give it to me, and take no notice, or I'll blow your brains out." On this the doctor gave him one shilling and sixpence, which was all the silver he had, and likewise a common watch in a tortoise-shell case.
On the evening of the day on which the robbery was committed Eleanor Roche, who was kept by Rann, and her maid-servant, carried a watch to pledge with Mr. Cordy, pawnbroker, in Oxford Road, who, suspecting that it had not been honestly acquired, stopped it, and applied to Mr. Gregnion, watchmaker, in Russell Street, Covent Garden, who had made the watch for Dr. Bell.
Mr. Clark swore that, on going to Miss Roche's lodgings on the Monday night, he found two pair of boots wet and dirty, which had evidently been worn that day; and Mr. Haliburton swore that he waited at Miss Roche's lodgings till Rann and Collier came thither; in consequence of which they were taken into custody.
On the 5th of October, John Rann, William Collier, Eleanor Roche, and Christian Stewart (servant to Roche), were brought to Bow Street; when Dr. Bell deposed in substance as he had done the proceeding week: and William Hills, servant to the Princess Amelia, swore that he saw Rann, whom he well knew, ascend the hill at Acton about twenty minutes before the robbery was committed -- a circumstance which perfectly agreed with Dr. Bell's account of the time he was robbed.
John Rann and William Collier were therefore committed to Newgate, to take their trials for the highway robbery; Miss Roche was sent to Clerkenwell Bridewell, and Christian Stewart, her servant, to Tothill Fields' Bridewell, to be tried as accessories after the fact.
The evidence given on this trial was, in substance, the same as that which had been given at Bow Street; but, some favorable circumstances appearing in behalf of Collier, he was recommended to mercy, and afterwards respited during the king's pleasure. Miss Roche was sentenced to be transported for fourteen years; her servant was acquitted; and Rann was left for execution.
When Rann was brought down to take his trial he was dressed in a new suit of pea-green clothes; his hat was bound round with silver strings; he wore a ruffled shirt; and his behaviour evinced the utmost unconcern.
Rann was so confident of being acquitted that he had ordered a genteel supper to be provided for the entertainment of his particular friends and associates on the joyful occasion; but their intended mirth was turned into mourning, and the madness of guilty joy gave way to the sullen melancholy of equally guilty grief.
When Rann received his sentence he attempted to force a smile, but it was evident that his mind was racked with pains that no language can express.
After conviction the behaviour of this malefactor was, for some time, very improper for one in his unhappy circumstances. On Sunday, the 23rd of October, he had seven girls to dine with him. The company were remarkably cheerful; nor was Rann less joyous than his companions. His conduct was expressive of great unconcern till the time that the warrant for his execution arrived; after which he began to be somewhat serious in his preparation for a future state.
On the morning of execution he received the sacrament in the chapel of the prison, and at the fatal tree behaved with great decency, but did not appear so much affected by his approaching fate as some printed accounts have represented him. When he came near the gallows he turned round, and looked at it as an object which he had long expected to see, but not as one that he dreaded, as might reasonably have been expected.
He was turned off November the 30th, 1774, and having hung the usual time, his body was delivered to his friends for interment.