Highwayman, guilty of unparalleled Butchery. He murdered his Aunt, Wife and Seven Children. Executed in August, 1694
THOMAS Austin was born at Columpton, in Devonshire, of very honest parents, who at their death left him a farm of their own, worth about eighty pounds per annum, which is a pretty estate in that country; and as his land was without encumbrances, and he had a good character at that time, he soon got a wife with a suitable fortune, she having no less than eight hundred pounds to her portion. But this increase of his riches, and the thought of having so much ready money by him, made him neglect the improvement of his living and take to an idle, extravagant course, by means of which, in less than four years' time, he had consumed all that his wife had brought him and mortgaged his own estate.
Being now reduced to pinching circumstances, and not knowing which way to turn himself for a livelihood, the devil so far got the upper hand of him as to excite him to the commission of all manner of unlawful actions for the support of himself and his family. Several frauds he was detected in, which his neighbours were so good as to forgive, out of respect to his family and to what he had once been. At last he was so desperate as to venture on the highway, where, assaulting Sir Zachary Wilmot on the road between Wellington and Taunton Dean, that unfortunate gentleman was murdered by him for making some attempts to save his money.
The booty he got from Sir Zachary was forty-six guineas and a silver-hilted sword, with which he got home undiscovered and unsuspected. This did not, however, last him long, for he followed his old riotous course. When it was all spent he pretended a visit to an uncle of his, who lived at about a mile from his own habitation, and it was one of the bloodiest visits that ever was made.
When he came to the house he found nobody at home but his aunt and five small children, who informed him that his uncle was gone out on business and would not be at home till evening, and desired him to stay a little and keep them company. He seemingly consented to stay; but had not sat many minutes before he snatched up a hatchet that was at hand and cleaved the skull of his aunt in two; after which he cut the throats of all the children and laid the dead bodies in a heap, all weltering in their gore. Then he went upstairs and robbed the house of sixty pounds. He made all the haste he could home to his wife, who, perceiving some drops of blood on his clothes, asked him how they came there. "You bitch," says he, "I'll soon show you the manner of it!" pulling at the same time the bloody razor which he had before used out of his pocket and cutting her throat from ear to ear. When he had gone thus far, to complete the tragedy he ripped out the bowels of his own two children, the elder of whom was not three years of age.
Scarcely had he finished all his butcheries before his uncle, whom he had been to visit, came accidentally to pay him the same compliment on the way home; when, entering the house, and beholding the horrid spectacle, he was almost thunderstruck with the sight, though as yet he little thought the same tragedy had been acted on all his family too, as he soon after fatally found. What he saw, however, was enough to point out the offender, whom he immediately laid hold of, and carried him before a magistrate, who sent him to Exeter Jail.
In the month of August, 1694, this inhuman wretch suffered the punishment provided by the law, which appears much too mild for such a black unnatural monster.