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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: John Larkin
Posted on Nov 04, 2002 - 12:33 AM by Bill McCann

A successful schoolmaster but quite unable to manage his accounts and live within his means. He turned to forgery to supply his deficits and aimed high. He soon became an expert in forging the signatures of bishops and members of the aristocracy. He was imprisoned for debt, became involved with a group of coiners and Newgate and was sentenced to death. Probably innocent of the charge of coining, he committed so many successful forgeries and frauds that he had not time to confess them all before he was executed at Tyburn in 1700.


John Larkin was born at Antrim, in Ireland, of very creditable parents, who, observing that their son possessed a very considerable share of genius, took some pains to cultivate it by a liberal education. When he had been some years at school, and obtained a competent knowledge of several arts and sciences, he was entered as a student in the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, where he went through his studies with applause, and then, returning to Ireland, commenced as schoolmaster, in which station he behaved himself so well that he met with the greatest success; but being of an unsettled disposition he left his school, and taking upon him the gown visited the remotest parts of the kingdom and officiated in several places as a clergyman.

After some time he came to England, and was made master of a free school in Lancashire, where he had about a hundred scholars under his care; but he was so bad an economist that he could by no means live within the bounds of his income, and was therefore frequently contriving some new methods by which he might support his extravagance. At length he came to a resolution to forge bonds and other papers, in which pernicious practices he became so great a proficient that he said he could forge almost any hand so artfully that it would be difficult for a person to know his own handwriting from the forgery.

He acknowledged that he had frequently affixed the hand of a bishop and several other eminent divines to letters testimonial, by which he had collected considerable sums of money, under pretence of redeeming poor Christian captives who were in slavery. He used also to forge goldsmiths' notes and bills of exchange, and continued these practices for a considerable time, but being at length detected he was pilloried, and committed to Newgate till such time as he should discharge a fine which was imposed on him, and which was so large that he had little or no hopes of regaining his liberty.

While he remained in prison some persons, who were afterwards evidences against him at his trial, used to coin money, and endeavoured to prevail upon him to assist them; but he declared that he constantly refused to do it, that he never shared any money with them, and had no further concern than merely as a spectator. But as the contrary to this had been so positively sworn, the ordinary of Newgate suspected his sincerity, and urged him to make an ingenuous confession. To which he replied that he knew his duty extremely well, though he had acted contrary to it; but if it should be his fate to die, he would, at the place of execution, discover something which might be a warning to several persons who had been concerned in the like wicked practices with himself.

At the place of execution he informed the ordinary that being confined in Newgate with one Charles Newey, who was convicted of felony, and had been fined and pilloried for suborning an evidence to swear falsely, he was prevailed upon by Newey, in consideration of a sum of money, to write a scurrilous libel, called "The Case of Captain Charles Newey", containing very notorious falsehoods and scandalous reflections on the Lord Chief Baron, the Recorder, and other judges who tried the said Newey; for which he now sincerely begged pardon of those gentlemen. He took a decent leave of the spectators, and having returned thanks to the ordinary for his charitable visits to him while under condemnation, he delivered him a paper in which he said that though he was not guilty of the crime of coining (for which he died), yet that he had committed so many forgeries, cheats, etc., that it was almost impossible to recount them.

He thought it his duty to make all the reparation in his power, by leaving the world a true narrative of all his irregular proceedings, but not having sufficient time to complete such a work, he mentioned only certain circumstances, which included a pretended plot, supposed to have been carried on by the Earls of Marlborough (whose hand he counterfeited with so much dexterity that it was very difficult to discern the true from the false) and Salisbury, the Bishop of Rochester, and several others. This malefactor was executed at Tyburn, on the 19th of April, 1700.

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