Themed Set: The creation of a Newgate Calendar legend 1689: William Davis

1689: William Davis, the Golden Farmer

December 20th, 2015 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

The Golden Farmer was so called from his occupation and from paying people, if it was any considerable sum, always in gold; but his real name was William Davis, born at Wrexham, in Denbighshire, in North Wales, from whence he removed, in his younger years, to Salisbury, in Gloucestershire, where he married the daughter of a wealthy innkeeper, by whom he had eighteen children, and followed the farmer’s business to the day of his death, to shroud his robbing on the highway, which irregular practice he had followed for forty-two years without any suspicion among his neighbours.

He generally robbed alone, and one day, meeting three or four stage-coaches going to Salisbury, he stopped one of them which was full of gentlewomen, one of whom was a Quaker. All of them satisfied the Golden Farmer’s desire excepting this precisian, with whom he had a long argument to no purpose, for upon her solemn vow and affirmation she told him she had no money, nor anything valuable about her; whereupon, fearing he should lose the booty of the other coaches, he told her he would go and see what they had to afford him, and he would wait on her again. So having robbed the other three coaches he returned, according to his word, and the Quaker persisting still in her old tone of having nothing for him it put the Golden Farmer into a rage, and taking hold of her shoulder, shaking her as a mastiff does a bull, he cried: “You canting bitch! if you dally with me at this rate, you’ll certainly provoke my spirit to be damnably rude with you. You see these good women here were so tender-hearted as to be charitable to me, and you, you whining whore, are so covetous as to lose your life for the sake of mammon. Come, come, you hollow-hearted bitch, unpin your purse-string quickly, or else I shall send you out of the land of the living.”

Now the poor Quaker, being frightened out of her wits at the bullying expressions of the wicked one, gave him a purse of guineas, a gold watch and a diamond ring, and they parted then as good friends as if they had never fallen out at all.

Another time this desperado, meeting with the Duchess of Albemarle in her coach, riding over Salisbury Plain, was put to his trumps before he could assault her Grace, by reason he had a long engagement with a postilion, a coachman and two footmen before he could proceed in his robbery; but having wounded them all, by the discharging of several pistols, he then approached to his prey, whom he found more refractory than his female Quaker had been, which made him very saucy, and more eager for fear of any passengers coming by in the meanwhile; but still her Grace would not part with anything.

Whereupon by main violence he pulled three diamond rings off her fingers, and snatched a rich gold watch from her side, crying to her at the same time, because he saw her face painted: “You bitch incarnate, you had rather read over your face in the glass every moment, and blot out pale to put in red, than give an honest man, as I am, a small matter to support him on his lawful occasions on the road,” and then rode away as fast as he could, without searching her Grace for any money, because he perceived another person of quality’s coach making towards them, with a good retinue of servants belonging to it.

Not long after this exploit, the Golden Farmer meeting with Sir Thomas Day, a Justice of Peace living at Bristol, on the road betwixt Gloucester and Worcester, they fell into discourse together, and riding along he told Sir Thomas, whom he knew, though the other did not know him, how he was like to have been robbed but a little before by a couple of highwaymen; but as good luck would have it, his horse having better heels than theirs, he got clear of them, or else, if they had robbed him of his money, which was about forty pounds, they would certainly have undone him for ever. “Truly,” quoth Sir Thomas Day,” that would have been very hard; but nevertheless, as you would have been robbed between sun and sun, the county, upon your suing it, would have been obliged to have made your loss good again.”

But not long after this chatting together, coming to a convenient place, the Golden Farmer, shooting Sir Thomas’s man’s horse under him, and obliging him to retire some distance from it, that he might not make use of the pistols that were in his holsters, presented a pistol to Sir Thomas’s breast, and demanded his money of him. Quoth Sir Thomas: “I thought, sir, that you had been an honest man.” The Golden Farmer replied: “You see your Worship’s mistaken, and had you had any guts in your brains you might have perceived by my face that my countenance was the very picture of mere necessity; therefore deliver presently, for I am in haste.” Then, Sir Thomas Day giving the Golden Farmer what money he had, which was about sixty pounds in gold and silver, he humbly thanked his Worship, and told him, that what he had parted with was not lost, because he was robbed betwixt sun and sun, therefore the county, as he told him, must pay it again.

One Mr. Hart, a young gentleman of Enfield, who had a good estate, but was not overburdened with wit, and therefore could sooner change a piece of gold than a piece of sense, riding one day over Finchley Common, where the Golden Farmer had been hunting about four or five hours for a prey, he rides up to him and, giving the gentleman a slap with the flat of his drawn hanger over his shoulders, quoth he: “A plague on you! How slow you are, to make a man wait on you all this morning. Come, deliver what you have, and be poxed to you, and go to hell for orders!” The gentleman, who was wont to find a more agreeable entertainment betwixt his mistress and his snuff-box, being surprised at the rustical sort of greeting, began to make several sorts of excuses, and say he had no money about him; but his antagonist, not believing him, made bold to search his pockets himself, and finding in them above a hundred guineas, besides a gold watch, he gave him two or three slaps over the shoulder again with his hanger; and at the same time bade him not give his mind to lying any more, when an honest gentleman desired a small boon of him.

Another time this notorious robber had paid his landlord above forty pounds for rent, who going home with it, the goodly tenant, disguising himself, met the grave old gentleman, and bidding him stand, quoth he: “Come, Mr. Gravity from head to foot, but from neither head nor foot to the heart, deliver what you have in a trice.” The old man, fetching a deep sigh, to the hazard of losing several buttons of his waistcoat, said that he had not above two shillings about him; therefore he thought he was more of a gentleman than to take a small matter from a poor man. Quoth the Golden Farmer: “I have not the faith to believe you; for you seem by your mien and habit to be a man of better circumstance than you pretend; therefore open your budget or else I shall fall foul about your house.” “Dear sir,” replied his landlord, “you cannot be so barbarous to an old man. What! Have you no religion, pity or com- passion in you? Have you no conscience? Have you no respect for your own body and soul, which must be certainly in a miserable condition, if you follow unlawful courses?”

“Damn you!” said the tenant to him, “don’t talk of age and barbarity to me; for I show neither pity nor compassion to any. Damn you, don’t talk of conscience to me! I have no more of that dull commodity than you have; nor do I allow my soul and body to be governed by religion, but interest; therefore, deliver what you have, before this pistol makes you repent your obstinacy.” So, delivering his money to the Golden Farmer, he received it without giving the landlord any receipt for it, as his landlord had him.

Not long after committing this robbery, overtaking an old grazier at Putney Heath, in a very ordinary attire, but yet very rich, he takes half-a-score guineas out of his pocket, and giving them to the old man he said there were three or four persons behind them who looked very suspicious, therefore he desired the favour of him to put that gold into his pocket; for in case they were highwaymen, his indifferent apparel would make them believe he had no such charge about him. The old grazier, looking upon his intentions to be honest, quoth: “I have fifty guineas tied up in the fore-lappet of my shirt, and I’ll put it to that for security.” So riding along, both of them check by jowl, for above half-a- mile, and the coast being clear, the Golden Farmer said to the old man: “I believe there’s nobody will take the pains of robbing you or me today; therefore, I think I had as good take the trouble of robbing you myself; so instead of delivering your purse, pray give me the lappet of your shirt.” The old grazier was horridly startled at these words, and began to beseech him not to be so cruel in robbing a poor old man. “Prithee,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “don’t tell me of cruelty; for who can be more cruel than men of your age, whose pride it is to teach their servants their duties with as much cruelty as some people teach their dogs to fetch and carry?” So being obliged to cut off the lappet of the old man’s shirt himself, for he would not, he rode away to seek out another booty.

Another time this bold robber, lying at an inn in Uxbridge, happened into company with one Squire Broughton, a barrister of the Middle Temple, which he understanding, pretended to him that he was going up to London to advise with a lawyer about some business; wherefore, he should be much obliged to him if he could recommend him to a good one. Counsellor Broughton, thinking he might be a good client, bespoke him for himself. Then, the Golden Farmer telling his business was about several of his neighbours’ cattle breaking into his grounds and doing a great deal of mischief, the barrister told him that was very actionable, as being damage feasant. “Damage feasant,” said the Golden Farmer; “what’s that, pray, sir?” He told him that it was an action brought against persons when their cattle broke through hedges, or other fences, into other people’s grounds, and did them damage. Next morning, as they both were riding toward London, says the Golden Farmer to the barrister: “If I may be so bold as to ask you, sir, what is that you call ‘trover’ and ‘conversion’?” He told him it signified in our common law an action which a man has against another that, having found any of his goods, refuses to deliver them upon demand, and perhaps converts them to his own use also.

The Golden Farmer being now at a place convenient for his purpose — “Very well, sir,” says he, “and so, if I should find any money about you, and convert it to my use, why then that is only actionable, I find.” “That’s a robbery,” said the barrister, “which requires no less satisfaction than a man’s life.” “A robbery!” replied the Golden Farmer. “Why then, I must e’en commit one for once and not use it; therefore deliver your money, or else behold this pistol shall prevent you from ever reading Coke upon Littleton any more.” The barrister, strangely surprised at his client’s rough behaviour, asked him if he thought there was neither heaven nor hell, that he could be guilty of such wicked actions. Quoth the Golden Farmer: “Why, you son of a whore, thy impudence is very great, to talk of heaven or hell to me, when you think there’s no way to heaven but through Westminster Hall. Come, come, down with your rhino this minute; for I have other guess customers to mind, than to wait on you all day.” The barrister was very loath to part with his money, still insisting on the injustice of the action, saying it was against law and conscience to rob any man. However the Golden Farmer, heeding not his pleading, swore he was not to be guided by law and conscience any more than any of his profession, whose law is always furnished with a commission to arraign their consciences; but upon judgment given they usually had the knack of setting it at large. So putting a pistol to the barrister’s breast, he quickly delivered his money, amounting to about thirty guineas, and eleven broad-pieces of gold, besides some silver, and a gold watch.

Thus the Golden Farmer, having run a long course in wickedness, was at last discovered in Salisbury Court; but as he was running along, a butcher, endeavouring to stop him, was shot dead by him with a pistol; being apprehended nevertheless, he was committed to Newgate, and shortly after executed, at the end of Salisbury Court, in Fleet Street, on Friday the 20th of December, 1689; and afterwards was hanged in chains, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, on Bagshot Heath.

This is quite a fine adventure and not unlike many of the Newgate Calendar chronicles we have featured here — especially its earliest subjects, from the 17th and early 18th century, where historicity shades easily into legend.

It is obvious that our Golden Farmer has a good deal of the legendary about him; as related by the Calendar, which would scarcely have been in a position to observe the various vignettes alleged, he is through his crimes little more than a cutout for voicing social resentments — utterly ignoring the remarkable Jekyll-and-Hyde feat hinted in the lead of maintaining a decades-long career on the road while passing as a respectable farmer.

Outlaw biographies, a stock template for this period, often exist for the very purpose of satirizing such putative respectability. No surprise, the Golden Farmer excoriates a Whitman’s sampler of characters who might attract a scornful snort down at ye olde tavern: lawyers, landlords, nobles … even the elderly and a suspicious religious minority. In another version, we have an added episode that shows our man posterizing tricky wandering tinkerers.

One time overtaking a tinker on Blackheath, whom he knew to have seven or eight pounds about him, quoth he, “well overtaken, brother tinker, methinks you seem very devout; for your life is a continual pilgrimage, and in humility you almost go bare-foot, thereby making necessity a virtue.”

“Aye master,” replied the tinker. “Needs must when the devil drives, and had you no more than I, you might go without boots and shoes too.”

“That might be,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “and I suppose you march all over England with your bag and baggage?”

“Yes,” said the tinker, “I go a great deal of ground, but not so much as you ride.”

“Well,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “go where you will, it is my opinion your conversation is unreproveable, because thou art ever mending.”

“I wish,” replied the tinker, “that I could say as much by you.”

“Why, you dog of Egypt,” quoth the other, “you don’t think that I am like you in observing the statutes; and, therefore, had rather steal than beg in spite of whips or imprisonment.”

Said the tinker again, “I’ll have you to know that I take a great deal of pains for a livelihood.” “Yes,” replied the Golden Farmer, “I know thou art such a strong enemy to idleness, that mending one hole you make three, rather than want work.” “That’s as you say,” quoth the tinker, “however, sir, I wish you and I were farther asunder; for i’faith I don’t like your company.” “Nor I yours,” said the other, “for though thou art entertained in every place, yet you enter no farther than the door to avoid suspicion.”

“Indeed,” replied the tinker, “I have a great suspicion of you.” “Have you so,” replied the Golden Farmer, “why then it shall not be without a cause; come, open your wallet forthwith, and deliver that parcel of money that’s in it.”

Here their dialogue being on a conclusion, the tinker prayed heartily that he would not rob him; for if he did, he must be forced to beg his way home, from whence he was above a hundred miles. “I don’t care if you beg your way two hundred miles,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “for if a tinker escapes Tyburn and Banbury, it is his fate to die a beggar.” So taking money and wallet too from the tinker, he left him to his old custom of conversing still in open fields and low cottages.

A pub called the Golden Farmer and subsequently the Jolly Farmer — named in honor of this knight of field and road — stood in Surrey from the late 17th century until it closed in 1996.

Part of the Themed Set: The Creation of a Newgate Calendar legend.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Public Executions

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