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The hanging of Dr. William Dodd

Doctor of Divinity, Prebendary of Brecon, Chaplain-in-
Ordinary to his Majesty, and Minister to the
Magdalen Hospital. Executed at Tyburn,
27th of June, 1777, for Forgery

   THE apprehending of such a man as Doctor Dodd, on
a charge of forgery, was a matter of surprise and con-
jecture among all ranks of people. He stood high in estima-
tion as a divine, a popular preacher and an elegant scholar.
He was the promoter of many public charities, and of some
others he may be said to have been the institutor. The
Magdalen for reclaiming Young Women who had swerved
from the Path of Virtue, the Society for the Relief of Poor
Debtors, and that of the Humane Society for the Recovery
of Persons apparently Drowned, owed their institution to
Dr Dodd. He was patronised by the King, and more im-
mediately by Lord Chesterfield; and his Church preferments
were lucrative. It, however, appeared that his expenses
outran his income, and for a supply of cash he committed
a forgery on his late pupil, the Earl of Chesterfield.
   Another singular circumstance in the life of Dr Dodd
was his publication, a few years previous to his execution,
of a sermon, entitled The Frequency of Capital Punish-
ment inconsistent with Justice, Sound Policy and Religion.
This, he said, was intended to have been preached at
the Chapel Royal, at St James’s; but omitted on account
of the absence of the Court during the author’s month of
   The method adopted in this forgery was remarkable.
He pretended that the noble lord had urgent occasion to
borrow four thousand pounds, but did not choose to be his
own agent, and begged that the matter might be secretly
and expeditiously conducted.


Dr Dodd and Joseph Harris at the place of execution

   The Doctor employed one Lewis Robertson, a broker, to
whom he presented a bond, not filled up or signed, that he
might find a person who would advance the requisite sum
to a young nobleman. who had lately come of age. After
applying to several persons who refused the business, because
they were not to be present when the bond was executed,
Mr Robertson, absolutely confiding in the Doctor’s honour,
applied to Messrs Fletcher & Peach, who agreed to lend
the money. Mr Robertson returned the bond to the Doctor,
in order to its being executed; and on the following day the
Doctor produced it as executed, and witnessed by himself.
Mr Robertson, knowing Mr Fletcher to be a particular man,
and who would consequently object to one subscribing wit-
ness only, put his name under the Doctor’s. He then went
and received the money, which he paid into the hands of
Dr Dodd --- four thousand pounds --- and produced the bond.
   Lord Chesterfield was surprised, and immediately dis-
owned it. Upon this Mr Manly went directly to Mr Fletcher
to consult what steps to take. Mr Fletcher, a Mr Innes and
Mr Manly went to the Guildhall, to prefer an information
respecting the forgery against the broker and Dr Dodd.
Mr Robertson was taken into custody, while Fletcher, Innes,
Manly and two of the Lord Mayor’s officers went to the
house of the Doctor in Argyle Street.
   They opened the business, and the Doctor was very much
affected. Manly told him that if he would return the money
it would be the only means of saving him. He instantly
returned six notes of five hundred pounds each, making
three thousand pounds. He drew on his banker for five
hundred pounds, the broker returned one hundred pounds,
the Doctor gave a second draft on his banker for two hundred
pounds and a judgment on his goods for the remaining four
hundred pounds. All this was done by the Doctor in full
reliance on the honour of the parties that the bond should
be returned to him cancelled; but, notwithstanding this
restitution, he was taken before the Lord Mayor, and
charged. The Doctor declared he had no intention to de-
fraud Lord Chesterfield or the gentleman who advanced


the money. He hoped that the satisfaction he had made in
returning the money would atone for his offence. He was
pressed, he said, exceedingly for three hundred pounds to
pay some bills due to tradesmen. He took this step as a
temporary resource, and would have repaid it in half-a-year.
"My Lord Chesterfield," added he, "cannot but have some
tenderness for me, as my pupil. I love him, and he knows
it. There is nobody wishes to prosecute. I am sure my
Lord Chesterfield does not want my life. I hope he will
show clemency to me. Mercy should triumph over justice."
Clemency, however, was denied; and the Doctor was com-
mitted to the compter, in preparation for his trial. On the
19th of February Dr Dodd was put to the bar at the Old
Bailey. When the evidence was gone through, the Court
called upon the Doctor for his defence, which was as
follows -

evidence which has been this day produced against me I
find it very difficult to address your Lordships; there is no
man in the world who has a deeper sense of the heinous
nature of the crime for which I stand indicted than myself.
But, my Lords, I humbly apprehend, though no lawyer, that
the moral turpitude and malignancy of the crime always,
both in the eye of the law and of religion, consists in the
intention. I am informed, my Lords, that the Act of Parlia-
ment on this head runs perpetually in this style, with an
intention to defraud. Such an intention, my Lords and gentle-
men of the jury, I believe, has not been attempted to be
proved upon me, and the consequences that have happened,
which have appeared before you, sufficiently prove that a
perfect and ample restitution has been made. I leave it,
my Lords, to you, and the gentlemen of the jury, to consider
that if an unhappy man ever deviates from the law of right,
yet if in the single first moment of recollection he does all
that he can to make full and perfect amends, what, my
Lords and gentlemen of the jury, can God and man desire


   I must observe to your Lordships that though I have
met with all candour in this court, yet I have been pursued
with excessive cruelty: I have been prosecuted after the
most express engagements, after the most solemn assurances,
after the most delusive, soothing arguments of Mr Manly; I
have been prosecuted with a cruelty scarcely to be paralleled.
Oppressed as I am with infamy, loaded as I am with distress,
sunk under this cruel prosecution, your Lordships and the
gentlemen of the jury cannot think life a matter of any
value to me. No, my Lords, I solemnly protest that death of
all blessings would be the most pleasant to me after this pain.
I have yet, my Lords, ties which call upon me -- -ties which
render me desirous even to continue this miserable existence.
I have a wife, my Lords, who for twenty-seven years has
lived an unparalleled example of conjugal attachment and
fidelity, and whose behaviour during this trying scene would
draw tears of approbation, I am sure, even from the most
inhuman. My Lords, I have creditors, honest men, who
will lose much by my death. I hope, for the sake of justice
towards them, some mercy will be shown to me. If, upon
these whole, the considerations at all avail with you, my
Lords, and you gentlemen of the jury -- if, upon the most im-
partial survey of matters, not the slightest intention of injury
can appear to anyone -- and I solemnly declare it was in my
power to replace it in three months -- of this I assured Mr
Robertson frequently, and had his solemn assurances that
no man should be privy to it but Mr Fletcher and himself
-- and if no injury was done to any man upon earth, I
then hope, I trust, I fully confide myself in the tenderness,
humanity and protection of my country.

   The jury retired for about ten minutes and then returned
With a verdict that the prisoner was guilty; but at the
same time presented a petition humbly recommending the
Doctor to the Royal mercy.
   The opinion of the judges was that he had been legally
   Here he sunk down overcome with mental agony; and


some time elapsed before he was sufficiently recovered to
hear the dreadful sentence of the law, which the recorder
pronounced upon him in the following words:--

   "Dr William Dodd, you have been convicted of the
offence of publishing a forged and counterfeit bond, know-
ing it to be forged and counterfeited; and you have had the
advantage which the laws of this country afford to every man
in that situation -- a fair, an impartial and an attentive trial.
The jury, to whose justice you appealed, have found you
guilty; their verdict has undergone the consideration of
the learned judges, and they found no ground to impeach
the justice of that verdict. You yourself have admitted the
justice of it; and now the very painful duty that the necessity
of the law imposes upon the Court, to pronounce the sentence
of that law against you, remains only to be performed. You
appear to entertain a very proper sense of the enormity of
the offence which you have committed; you appear, too, in
a state of contrition of mind, and I doubt not have duly
reflected how far the dangerous tendency of the offence you
have been guilty of is increased by the influence of example,
in being committed by a person of your character, and of the
sacred function of which you area member. These sentiments
seem to be yours. I would wish to cultivate such sentiments,
but I would not wish to add to the anguish of a person in
your situation by dwelling upon it. Your application for
mercy must be made elsewhere: it would be cruel in the
Court to flatter you. There is a power of dispensing mercy,
where you may apply. Your own good sense and the con-
trition you express will induce you to lessen the influence
of the example by publishing your hearty and sincere de-
testation of the offence of which you are convicted; and that
you will not attempt to palliate or extenuate, which would
indeed add to the degree of the influence of a crime of this
kind being committed by a person of your character and
known abilities. I would therefore warn you against any-
thing of that kind. Now, having said this, I am obliged
to pronounce the sentence of the law, which is, that you,
Dr William Dodd, be carried from hence to the place from


whence you came; that from thence you are to be carried
to the place of execution, when you are to be hanged by the
neck until you are dead."

   To this Dr Dodd replied: "Lord Jesus receive my soul."
   Great exertions were now made to save Dr Dodd: the
newspapers were filled with letters and paragraphs in his
favour; individuals of all ranks exerted themselves on his
behalf; parish officers went in mourning from house to
house to procure subscriptions to a petition to the King;
and this petition, which, with the names, filled twenty-three
sheets of parchment, was actually presented. Even the
Lord Mayor and common council went in a body to St
James’s to solicit mercy for the convict.
   As clemency, however, had been denied to the unfortunate
Perreaus, it was deemed unadvisable to extend it to Dr Dodd.
This unhappy clergyman was attended to the place of execu-
tion, in a mourning-coach, by the Rev. Mr Willette, ordinary
of Newgate, and the Rev. Mr Dobey. Another criminal,
named John Harris, was executed at the same time. Just
before the parties were turned off the Doctor whispered to the
executioner, and it was observed that the man had no sooner
driven away the cart than he ran immediately under the
gibbet and took hold of the Doctor’s legs, as if to steady the
body, and the unhappy man appeared to die without pain.


Text excerpted from The Complete Newgate Calendar, Volume IV, Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin, 2003.


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