Joseph Guyant, c. 1738-72

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Victim turned Postal Thief

Victim turned criminal, the story of Joseph Guyant highlights one of the possible causes of theft in the eighteenth century.

Early Life

Joseph was born in approximately 1738 in Essex to "industrious and hardworking parents". According to the Ordinary of Newgate, he was given as much education as his parents could afford before being apprenticed to a smith. No further details are available as to the occupation of his parents or whether he had any siblings, although a John Guyant (possibly his Grandfather) from Edmonton is cited as being the victim of a theft in February 1700.

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Marriage and Work

Guyant completed his apprenticeship and went on to become a master smith and farrier, settling in the town of Edmonton with his wife. The Ordinary alludes to his having children, although no names or details are given. At this time he appears to have been well settled and a law-abiding citizen: indeed, in 1769, he helped to apprehend a horse thief in the area, and appeared as a witness at the trial. As such, there was little to suggest his later criminal actions.

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The Turning Point

At some point during this period, Guyant became the victim of a crime. One night, after receiving a large sum of money ("sixty guineas and an half in gold, eight shillings and six-pence in silver, and nine-pence in copper"), he was stopped by two men, tied to a tree and robbed. In his endeavours to sue the county to regain the lost money, he became bankrupt and ended up in the Fleet Prison as a debtor. When released, he returned a changed man, and began to live a life of crime.

After his release, he began to collaborate with his journeyman, Joseph Allpress, and began committing various thefts, ranging from deer stealing to robbing the church at Edmonton. When the Ordinary asked him why he robbed, he replied "to pay his debts to the full--and to have money to carry on his business".

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Theft from the Post

The most serious of Guyant's crimes, and the one for which he would eventually be convicted and hanged, was the theft of mail from a postal cart on October 13, 1771. Along with his journeyman Allpress, he stopped the cart as it made its way out of London at four in the morning. With one of the pair threatening to "blow [the] brains out" of the coachmen, the cart was diverted into a field, and the drivers tied up. Unable to find a key for the contents of the cart, one of the pair broke open the door with an axe before loading the bags onto their horses. The two left, leaving the coachmen tied up, and unable to break free until morning.

It took quite some time before Guyant and Allpress were arrested - indeed, it was not until the discovery of correspondence between the two in March of the following year that they were apprehended. A warrant was issued for Guyant's arrest on March 13, 1772, when he was taken by the Bow Street Runners. The trial took place on 3rd of June, with Guyant and Allpress charged "that they on the king's highway, on Thomas Eversage, did make an assault putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and stealing from his person sixty leather bags, value 20s the property of our Sovereign Lord the King." A wide array of witnesses were called, including post-office clerks, neighbours, and the constables who made the arrests. Guyant said nothing in his defence except "I desire the mercy of the court". Witnesses for Allpress attempted to prove he had not gone out on the night of the crime. But both defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. The trial account is particularly detailed, and gives a good insight into both the crime and the procedures followed at a criminal trial at the time.

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Guyant and Allpress were executed on the 8th of July 1772. Guyant was ill on the morning of the execution, but apparently repentant. While on the scaffold he confessed to the Ordinary where he had hidden one of the mail bags. He and Allpress "acknowledged the justice of their sentence, and confessed, that they well deserved the death they were going to die". Guyant was 34 years old and Allpress was 27. Their bodies were hung in chains on Finchley Common, near the place where the robbery took place. The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser reported that "a great concourse of people assembled on Finchley Common, to see the bodies of Guyant and Allpress". This did not have the desired effect of deterring crime, however, as three pickpockets were detected among the crowd.1 The placement of the bodies proved controversial, as a gentleman living nearby asked for them to be removed a mile away, only for another gentlemen to demand that they be moved back to their original place.2

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External Sources

  • Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser. 14 July 1772.
  • Public Advertiser. 24 July 1772.


1 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 14 July 1772.

2 Public Advertiser, 24 July 1772.

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About this Biography

Created by

Chris Haynes

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker