1816: Marci Zöld, Hungarian outlaw

Add comment December 6th, 2019 Headsman

Legendary Hungarian outlaw Marci Zöld was executed on this date in 1816.

Zöld — Hungarian link, as are most in this post; we’ve inverted the Hungarian surname-first naming convention for ease — followed his father’s footsteps into outlawry; his heyday comprised the months following a Christmas 1815 escape from a previous imprisonment after which he and a confederate “kidnapped and plundered for several months in Sárrét, and in Bihar, Szabolcs, Heves and Szolnok counties.” (Heves was his native soil, so he’s also known as Marci Hevesen.)

By summer he had teamed up with another bandit named Pista Palatinszky and formed a gang that raided promiscuously throughout Transdanubia, escaping justice until he didn’t.

The allure of the road — moreso than any evident virtue distinguishing the brigand’s actual conduct — qualified him to be taken up by poets of the emerging Romantic age, like Sandor Petofi‘s poem which inaccurately portrays Marci doing Robin Hood wealth redistribution. Mor Jokai, Jozsef Gaal, and Lajos Kormendi are among the many other authors who have paid him tribute.

To some extent, his defiance of the Austro-Hungarian empire expressed an inchoate longing for rebellion, like the Balkan hajduks. Even moreso, it was a matter of good timing — for the 18th-19th century pivot was a peak era for romanticizing highwaymen, now that the species was disappearing into the crucible of modernity. This is the same period for the likes of Schinderhannes and Diego Corrientes Mateos; equally, it’s the moment when artists of various nationalities elevated into the cultural canon decades-dead outlaws like Dick Turpin (England) or Juraj Janosik (Slovakia).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Austria,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Hungary,Murder,Myths,Outlaws,Theft

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1713: Edward “Ned” Bonnet, the terror of Cambridge

Add comment March 28th, 2019 Charles Whitehead

(Thanks for the guest post to Charles Whitehead for the guest post — originally an entry in his true crime classic Lives and exploits of the most noted highwaymen, robbers and murderers, of all nations. This Bonnet biography’s mode of pithy episodic adventures cinched by a choice witticism or instructive event is highly characteristic of its genre. -ed.)

Edward Bonnet was born of respectable parents in the isle of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, received an education superior to many of his companions, and when he was only ten years old, gave the following proof of his promising genius. He was sent to the parson with the present of a sparerib of pork, wrapped up in a cloth in a basket. Ned knocked with some degree of importance at the door, which a servant answered, inquiring his business. “I want to speak with your master.” The master came. “Well, my dear, what is your business?” “Why, only my father has sent you this,” said young Ned; and gave him the basket, without moving his hat. “O fie! fie! child, have you no manners? you should pull off your hat, and say, — Sir, my father gives his service to you, and desires you to accept this small token. Come, go you out again with the basket, and knock at the door, and I ‘ll let you in, and see how prettily you can perform it.” The parson waited within until his impatience to receive and examine the contents of the basket incited him to open the door. But Ned was at a considerable distance, walking off with the present. “So ho! so ho, sirrah! where are you going?” “Home, sir,” replied Ned, in an equally loud voice. “Hey, but you must come back and do as I bade you first.” “Thank you for that, sir, I know better than that; and if you teach me manners, I ‘II teach you wit.” The father smiled at the story, and retained his sparerib.

At the age of fifteen, Bonnet was sent apprentice to a grocer, served his time with credit, was afterwards married to a young woman in the neighborhood, and continued in business until he had acquired about six hundred pounds. Unfortunately, however, he was reduced to poverty by an accidental fire. Unable to answer the pressing demands of his creditors, he left the place, and came up to London. Here he soon became acquainted with a band of highwaymen, and began with them to seek from the highway what had been lost by fire.

Nor did he long continue in the inferior walks of his new profession, but providing himself with a horse which he taught to leap over ditch, hedge, or toll-bar, and to know all the roads in the country, whether by day or by night, he quickly became the terror of Cambridgeshire.

Upon this horse, he one day met a Cantabrigian, who was possessed of more money than good sense, morality, or wit, in a calash with a dashing courtesan. Ned commanded the student to “stand and deliver.” Unwilling to show his cowardice before his companion, he refused. Without any respect for the venerable university to which he belonged, Ned by violence took from him about six pounds, and presenting a pair of pistols, constrained the hopeful pair to strip themselves, then bound them together, and giving the horse a lashing, the animal went off at full trot with them to the inn to which he belonged. But no sooner did these Adamites enter the town, than men, women, and children, came hallooing, shouting, and collecting the whole town to behold such an uncommon spectacle. The student was expelled for disgracing the university, and the courtesan was sent to the house of correction.

Humorous Ned next met with a tailor and his son, who had arrested him for five pounds. He commanded him to surrender, and received thirty-five in place of his five. “I wonder,” said the innocent son, “what these fellows think of themselves? Surely they must go to the place below for committing these notorious actions.” “God forbid,” replied the tailor, “for to have the conversation of such rogues there, would be worse than all the rest.”

Ned’s next adventure was with an anabaptist preacher, whom he commanded to deliver up his purse and scrip. The latter began by reasonings, ejaculations, and texts, to avert the impending evil. Ned instantly put himself in a great passion, and replied, “Pray, sir, keep your breath to cool your porridge, and don’t talk of religious matters to me, for I’ll have you to know, that, like all other true-bred gentlemen, I believe nothing at all of religion; therefore deliver me your money, and bestow your laborious cant upon your female auditors, who never scold with their maids without cudgelling them with broken pieces of scripture.” Whereupon, taking a watch and eight guineas, he tied his legs under his horse, and let him depart.

On another occasion, Bonnet and a few associates met a nobleman and four servants in a narrow pass, one side of which was enclosed by a craggy and shattered rock, and the other by an almost impenetrable wood, rising gradually considerably higher than the road, and accosted them in his usual style. The nobleman pretended that he supposed they were only in jest, and said, “that if they would accompany him to the next inn, he would give them a handsome treat.” He was soon informed that they preferred the present to the future. A sharp dispute ensued, but the nobleman and his men were conquered; and the lord was robbed of a purse of gold, a gold watch, a gold snuff-box, and a diamond ring.

Being conducted into the adjacent wood, and bound hand and foot, the robbers left them, saying, “that they would bring them more company presently.” Accordingly, they were as good as their word, for in less than two hours they contrived to increase the number to twelve, on which Ned cried, “There are now twelve of you, all good men and true; so bidding you farewell, you may give in your verdict against us as you please, when we are gone, though it will be none of the best; but to give us as little trouble as possible, we shall not now stay to challenge any of you. So, once more, farewell.”

Ned Bonnet and his comrades now going to the place of rendezvous, to make merry with what they had got, which was at a by sort of an inn standing somewhat out of the high-road between Stamford and Grantham, it happened at night to rain very hard, so that one Mr. Randal, a pewterer, living near Marygold alley in the Strand, before it was burnt down, was obliged to put in there for shelter. Calling for a pot of ale, on which was the innkeeper’s name, which was also Randal, the pewterer asked him, being his namesake, to sit and bear him company.

They had not been long chatting, before Ned and one of his comrades came down stairs and placed themselves at the same table; and understanding the name of the stranger, one of the rogues, fixing his eyes more intently than ordinary upon him, in a fit of seeming joy leaped over the table, and embracing the pewterer, exclaimed, “Dear Mr. Randal! who would have thought to have seen you here? it is ten years, I think, since I had the happiness to be acquainted with you.”

Whilst the pewterer was recollecting whether he could call this spark to mind or not, for it came not into his memory that he had ever seen him in his life, the highwayman again cried out, “Alas! Mr. Randal, I see now I am much altered, since you have forgotten me.” Here, being arrived at a ne plus ultra, up started Ned, and with as great apparent joy said to his companion, “Is this, Harry, the honest gentleman in London, whom you so often used to praise for his great civiIity and liberality to all people? Surely then we are very happy in meeting thus accidentally with him.”

By this discourse they would almost have persuaded Mr. Randal that they perfectly knew him; but being sensible of the contrary, he very seriously assured them that he could not remember that he had ever seen any of them in his life. “No!” said they, struck with seeming astonishment; “it is strange we should be altered so much within these few years.”

But to evade further ill-timed questions, the rogues insisted upon Mr: Randal’s supping with them, which invitation he was by no means permitted to decline.

By the time they had supped, in came four more of Ned’s comrades, who were invited also to sit down, and more provisions were called for, which were quickly brought, and as rapidly devoured.

When the fury of consuming half a dozen good fowls and other victuals was over, besides several flasks of wine, there was not less than three pounds odd money to pay. At this they stared on each other, and held a profound silence, whilst Mr. Randal was fumbling in his pocket. When they saw that he only brought forth a mouse from the mountain of money the thieves hoped to find piled in his pocket, which was only as much as his share, he that pretended to know him started up, and protested he should be excused for old acquaintance sake; but the pewterer, not willing to be beholden, as indeed they never intended he should, to such companions, lest for this civility they should expect greater obligations from him, pressed them to accept his dividend of the reckoning, saying, if they thought it equitable he would pay more.

At last one of them, tipping the wink, said, “Come, come, what needs all this ado? Let the gentleman, if he so pleases, present us with this small treat, and do you give him a larger at his taking his farewell in the morning.” Mr. Randal not liking this proposal, it was started that he and Ned should throw dice to end the controversy; and fearing he had got into ill company, to avoid mischief, Randal acquiesced to throw a main who should pay the whole shot, which was so managed that the lot fell upon Randal. By this means Randal, having the voice of the whole board against him, was deputed to pay the whole reckoning; though the dissembling villains vowed and protested they had rather it had fallen to any of them, that they might have had the honor of treating him.

Mr. Randal concealed his discontent at these shirking tricks as well as he could; and they perceiving he would not engage in gaming, but counterfeited drowsiness, and desired to be abed, the company broke up, and he was shown to his lodgings, which he barricadoed as well as he could, by putting old chairs, stools, and tables against the door. Going to bed and putting the candle out, he fell asleep; but was soon awaked by a strange walking up and down the room, and an outcry of murder and thieves.

At this surprising noise he leaped out of bed, and ran to the door, to see whether it was fast or not: and finding nothing removed, (for the highwaymen came into his chamber by a trap-door which was behind the hangings,) he wondered how the noise should be there in his apartment, unless it was enchanted; but as he was about to remove the barricade to run and raise the house, he was surrounded by a crew, who, tying and gagging him, took away all his clothes, and left him to shift for himself as well as he could.

One day having the misfortune to have his horse shot under him, Bonnet embraced the first opportunity to take a good gelding from the grounds of the man who kept the Red Lion inn. Being again equipped like a gentlemen, he rode into Cambridgeshire, and met with a gentleman, who informed him that he had well nigh been robbed, and requested him to ride along with him for protection. As a highwayman is never out of his way, he complied, and, at a convenient place, levied a contribution, as protector of the gentleman, by emptying his pockets of eighty guineas. He, however, had the generosity to give him half-a-crown to carry him to the next town.

After having, according to computation, committed three hundred robberies, another thief [Zachary Clare -ed.], being apprehended, in order to save his own life, informed against Bonnet, who was apprehended, not upon the highway, but in his own lodgings, and sent to Newgate, and at the next assizes carried down to Cambridge, sentenced and executed before the castle, on the 28th March, 1713, to the great joy of the county, which had suffered severely by his depredations.

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1695: Highwayman Biss

1 comment March 12th, 2019 Headsman

This ballad transmits to posterity via the Pepys collection of late 17th century ephemera stashed by that famed diarist Samuel Pepys. (In these pages, we’ve already met Mr. Pepys lurking about various executions.)

The Penitent Highway-man: Or, The Last Farewel of Mr. Biss, Who was Born at Shaftsbury, in Wiltshire, and was arrain’d and found guilty, and accordingly received Sentence of Death, and was Executed at Salisbury, on the 12th of March, 1695.

To the Tune of, Russel’s Farewel, &c.

Good People all I pray attend,
and listen now to me,
A sad Relation here I send
of Biss in Shaftsbury:
A noted Highway-man he was
who on the Road did ride,
And at the length it came to pass,
he was condemn’d and dy’d.

When he was to his Tryal brought,
and at the Bar did stand,
He for no kind of favour sought,
but there held up his Hand,
Declaring to the pantient Judge,
who was to try him then,
He should not bear him any grudge,
he wan’t the worst of Men.

He said, The Scriptures I fulfill’d,
though I this Life did lead,
For when the Naked I beheld,
I clothed them with speed:
Sometimes in Cloth and Winter-frize,
sometimes in Russet-gray;
The Poor I fed, the Rich likewise
I empty sent away.

What say you now my honour’d Lord,
what harm was there in this?
Rich wealthy Misers was abhorr’d
by brave free-hearted Biss.
I never robb’d nor wrong’d the Poor,
as well it doth appear;
Be pleas’d to favour me therefore,
and be not too severe.

Upon the Road a Man I met,
was posting to a Jayl,
Because he could not pay his Debt,
nor give sufficient Bayl:
A kind and loving Friend he found,
that very day of me,
Who paid the Miser forty Pound,
and set the Prisoner free.

Tho’ he had got the Guinneys bright,
and put them in his Purse,
I follow’d him that very night,
I could not leave him thus;
Mounting my prancing Steed again,
I crost a point of land,
Meeting the Miser in a lane,
where soon I bid him stand:

You borrow’d forty Pounds, you know,
of me this very day,
I cannot trust, before you go
I must have present pay:
With that I seiz’d & search’d him round,
and rifl’d all his store,
Where straight I got my forty Pound,
with twenty Guinneys more.

The Judge he made him this reply,
Your Joaks are all in vain,
By Law you are condemn’d to Dye,
you will no Pardon gain,
Therefore, Repent, repent with speed,
for what is gone and past,
Tho’ you the Poor did clothe and feed,
you suffer must at last.

That word was like a fatal sword,
it pierc’d him to the heart;
The Lord for Mercy he implor’d,
as knowing he must part
With all his Friends and Pleasures too,
to be as I have said,
At Salsbury to Peoples view,
a sad Example made.

His melting Eyes did over-flow
with penitential Tears,
To see his dismal Overthrow,
just in his strength of Years.
O kind and loving Friends, he cry’d,
take warning now by me,
Who must the pains of Death abide,
this day in Salsbury.

In grief and sorrow now I pass
out of the World this day,
The latter minute’s in the glass,
therefore good People pray,
That as this painful Life I leave,
the Lord may pity take,
And in his arms my Soul receive,
even for his Mercies sake.

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1841: The Jewboy’s Gang

Add comment March 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Australian bushranger Edward “Teddy the Jewboy” Davis was hanged in Sydney along with five others of his gang. The reader may guess the chief’s distinguishing demographic characteristic, and some lists mark him the only Jewish bushranger.

He’d been transported from England in 1833 at the age of about 16, for a trifling theft. “Obsessed by the idea that he had been wronged when he was transported and governed by an indomitable desire for freedom,” Davis began repeatedly escaping from his penal assignments only to be repeatedly captured.

Indefatigable as Monty Python’s Swamp Castle King, he just kept trying until he got it right.

By 1839 the young Hebrew had formed a seven-strong outlaw gang plundering New South Wales’s future wine country, the Hunter Valley. Their captain seems to have brought along from the old country the romantic conception of a cavalier-thief, as this charming account of one of their raids suggests, wherein the victim “says he was treated in the most gentlemanly manner by them, and that he never spent a happier night in his life.” The stylish marauders, we find, dressed themselves “rather gaudy, as they wore broad-rimmed Manilla hats, turned up in front with abundance of broad pink ribbons, satin neck-cloths, splendid brooches, [and] all of them had rings and watches.”

They kept by a sage policy of Davis’s to eschew deadly violence for fear of bringing down the authorities’ wrath, but they didn’t quite keep to it well enough. One of their number, John Shea, slew a man in December 1840, and a posse hunted them down the very next day, and interviewed in jail, “Davies said that he would always oppose the shedding of blood, for he knew if they once committed a murder they would not reign a week; whilst saying so he looked at the other four men,* and said, you now see we have not reigned a day.”

Edward Davis, 26, Robert Chitty, 37, James Everett, 25, John Marshall, 27, Richard Glanville, 31, and the 27-year-old Shea were hanged behind Sydney Gaol on the 16th of the following March.

The notoriety which the crimes of these men has attained drew together a large concourse of spectators to witness their execution. The entrance to the Gaol, in George-street, was besieged for admission long before the arrival, at nine o’clock, of a strong military guard from the barracks, and so great was the pressure of the crowd, that it required the unremitting exertions of Captain Innes to preserve order. At ten minutes past nine, the culprits were strongly pinioned, and conducted from the cells to the area in front of the drop, where they knelt down. Chitty, Everett, Marshall, and Glanville, were attended by the Rev. William Cowper and the Rev. John Elder. The Rev. Mr. Murphy, Catholic Priest, accompanied Shea; and Davis (being of the Jewish persuasion), was attended by Mr. Isaacs, Minister of the Jewish congregation in New South Wales. All the culprits (if we except Everett), deeply lamented their having committed the crimes for which they were about to die, and acknowledged the justice of their sentences. Everett ascended the scaffold hurriedly, and in an evident state of excitement. He was followed by Chitty, Marshall, and Glanville, all three of whom, on reaching the scaffold sung the first verse of the Morning Hymn, to be found in many editions of the book of Common Prayer, commencing “Awake my soul, and with the sun.”

This act of devotion, we have since heard was entirely spontaneous, not having been suggested, or even expected by either of the reverend gentlemen, who attended to administer the consolations of religion according to the rites of the Protestant Church. The ropes were speedily adjusted, and the white caps drawn over the faces of the wretched criminals; in the short interval which elapsed before the withdrawal of the fatal bolt, Marshall and Glanville were engaged in loud and apparently fervent prayer, and we observed the culprit Davis (who was attired in a suit of mourning), thank the Jewish Minister for the attention paid him in his last moments. The struggles of all the men were of short duration; the immense crowd dispersed peaceably. It will be remembered that these men were apprehended, chiefly through the active exertions of Mr. Day, Police Magistrate, Maitland.

* A fifth accomplice was captured a short time afterwards and joined his mates on the gallows.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Jews,Mass Executions,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1784: Richard Barrick, Massachusetts highwayman

Add comment November 19th, 2015 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

I then went to Boston, and got in company with one John Sullivan … we went to Winter’s-Hill, and there robbed one Mr. Baldwin, for which crime Sullivan and myself are to suffer Death, as being the just reward of our demerits.

— Richard Barrick, convicted of highway robbery and murder, hanging, Massacusetts. Executed November 18, 1784

Richard Barrick was born in Ireland in February 1763 and brought up in the Foundling Hospital. He was an apprentice to a silk-weaver and lived with him for three years. But during those years, he was treated poorly and so he eventually left the silk-weaver and joined a gang of thieves. When he was caught, the authorities agreed to pardon him if he entered on board one of his Majesty’s ships. After arriving in New York, Barrick and some others robbed many people and became a notorious and wanted man. He was an accomplice to murder of a man they first robbed. He was eventually caught by a British Colonel and convicted.

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1750: James Maclaine

Add comment October 3rd, 2015 Headsman

Gentleman highwayman James MacLaine hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1750.

The debauched son of a Presbyterian minister, MacLaine wasted first an inheritance and later a dowry on expensive clothes, gambling, and ladies of easy virtue; want, however, was his ticket to the immortality of the gallows when he joined fellow penniless gentleman William Plunkett to seek his revenue on the roads. (Inspiring the 1999 film Plunkett & Macleane — which uses one of several alternate spellings available for our man’s surname.)

For several months in 1749-1750 they prowled the environs of a lawless London, and notably Hyde Park, with the exaggerated courtesy demanded by romance of their profession. They found noteworthy prey: once, they stole a blunderbuss from the Earl of Eglington, though Eglington survived to suffer a noteworthy murder years later; in November 1749, they robbed M.P. Horace Walpole, even skimming his face with a pistol-ball that was inches wide from depriving posterity of the gothic novel.*

When caught** by mischance, the mannered† Maclaine became the object of public celebration, much to the bemusement of Walpole — who professed no ill will for his assailant but wondered that “there are as many prints and pamphlets about him as about the earthquake.”

Three thousand people are reported to have turned up on a sweltering summer Sunday to pay their admiration to the rogue, not excluding the very cream of society. Walpole teased his friends, court beauty Lady Caroline Fitzroy (wife of the Earl of Harrington) and her sidekick Miss Elizabeth Ashe, for presenting themselves among these masses to starfuck this latter-day Duval. “I call them Polly and Lucy,” he wrote, alluding to female conquests of the outlaw Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera, “and asked them if he did not sing,”

Thus I stand like the Turk with his doxies around.


(Via the British Museum)

Maclaine did not have to borrow Macheath’s ballads, for he was celebrated with verse dedicated all to him — like this “Jemmie Maclaine”, to the tune of Derry Down:

Ye Smarts and ye Jemmies, ye Ramillie Beaux,
With golden cocked hats, and with silver laced clothes,
Who by wit and invention your pockets maintain,
Come pity the fate of poor Jemmy Maclaine,

Derry down derry, etc.

He robb’d folks genteely, he robb’d with an air,
He robb’d them so well that he always took care
My lord was not hurt and my Lady not frighted,
And instead of being hanged he deserved to be knighted!

Derry down derry, etc.

William Hogarth‘s 1751 print cycle The Four Stages of Cruelty, one skeleton overseeing the operating theater where a hanged criminal is dissected is subtly labeled — Macleane.

* Walpole once remarked of the ubiquity of violent crime in London that “one is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one was going to battle.”

** Plunkett was never apprehended; it’s alleged that he ultimately escaped to North America.

† Although our man “has been called the gentleman highwayman,” the player-hating Ordinary of Newgate wrote, “and his dress and equipage very much affected the fine gentleman, yet to a man acquainted with good breeding, that can distinguish it from impudence and affectation, there was little in his address or behaviour, that could entitle him to that character.”

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1795: Jerry Avershaw, contemptuously

Add comment August 3rd, 2015 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:


A century since highwaymen were as common as insolvent debtors are now.

Public vehicles were then little known. The roads were covered with night travellers, either on horse or foot, who became the easy prey of one or two armed and desperate ruffians. Turpin, Sixteen-String-Jack, and others of less notoriety, almost made these criminals fashionable; for, strange to say, there is a fashion even in crime.

Their daring was great; and in a country where personal prowess and high courage were so much prized, it was not to be wondered at that such characters should obtain a sort of fame. Now that our roads are covered with stage coaches, the race of highwaymen is extinct; solitary individuals of the species may be now and then met with, but the “calling” has decidedly fallen into disuse; pickpockets have succeeded them, and robberies are thus achieved with greater facility, less danger of personal violence, and with less dread of legal punishment.

The callosity of London thieves is dreadful. The Rev. Mr. Cotton is ordinary of Newgate, and in allusion to that gentleman’s spiritual consolation on the fatal platform, they call hanging, “dying with your ears stuffed with cotton.”

A pickpocket lately gave it as his reason for following his profession, “That it didn’t hurt above the arm pits;” i.e. that if discovered, the punishment was transportation, not hanging.

None of the numerous depredators we have already noticed, can excel in villainy, the subject of the present memoir. He was one of the most fierce, depraved, and infamous of the human race.

From early life he exhibited in his disposition a combination of the worst feelings of our nature, which, as the period of manhood approached, settled into a sort of prerogative of plunder and depredation, by which he seemed to consider himself as entitled to prey on the property, and sport with the lives, of his fellow creatures, with the most heartless impunity.

He attached himself to gangs of the most notorious thieves, and imposters, over whom, by a kind of supererogatory talent for all sorts of villainy, he very soon acquired unlimited influence and command, and by whose aid he committed such numerous and daring acts of highway-robbery, house-breaking, and plunder, as made him the dread and terror of the metropolis and its vicinity.

Kennington Common, Hounslow Heath, Bagshot Heath, and indeed all the commons and roads for several miles round London, were the scenes of the predatory depredations of Avershaw and his associates; and such a degree of terror had his repeated acts of robbery and brutality inspired, that the post-boys, coachmen, and all whose duty compelled them frequently to travel over the theatre of his exploits, trembled at his name and dreaded his visitation.

Although the peculiar features of the criminal laws of our country for a long time operated to the impunity of this abandoned ruffian and desperado, the cup of his iniquities was gradually filling, and he at length fell under the hand of outraged justice; but not till, unhappily, he had added a new act of murder to the long and black catalogue of his unatoned crimes: and it is lamentable to record that so base, so villainous, and so bloody a being, should have found creatures, bearing the form and name of men, so entirely forgetful of their duties to society and to God, as not only to become the admirers and apologists of what they misnamed the valour of Avershaw, but who absolutely affected to trace something prophetic in the fiendlike declarations he had too often made, that “he would murder the first ****** who attempted to deliver him into the hands of justice,” because, in the spirit of his diabolical declarations, he did actually shed the blood of a fellow-creature, who in the performance of his duty as a police officer, essayed the arrest of this most notorious of culprits.

Jerry Avershaw was the son of a laboring man who worked at one of the dye houses at Bankside — his father having met with a severe accident, was rendered incapable of following his usual employment — the support of the family consequently devolved upon the mother who took in washing, and was very indulgent to her family.

Jerry was educated in the parochial school of St. Saviour’s, Southwark — and at an early age resorted to places of public amusement which were then established in the neighborhood of St. George’s fields, where he soon became distinguished by his extravagant style of dress and profuse expenditure.

He associated at that time with many respectable young men, who were unacquainted with his real character, and way of living. This however became at length so notorious that he was obliged to seek associates in the lowest pot-houses, where from his superior address and appearance — and the liberal manner in which he spent his money — he was always welcome. Without reference to his other crimes, we shall proceed to give an account of his remarkable trial.

Jeremiah Avershaw, alias Abershaw, was tried before Mr. Baron Perryn, at Croydon, July 30th, 1795.

The prisoner was charged on two indictments; one for having, at the Two Brewers Public-house,* Southwark, feloniously shot at and murdered D. Price, an Officer belonging to the Police-Office, held at Union-hall, in the Borough. The other indictment was for having, at the same time and place, fired a pistol at Bernard Turner, another officer attached the office at Union-hall, with an intent to murder him.

Mr. Garrow, the leading counsel for the prosecution, opened the case to the Court and jury, by stating, that the prisoner at the bar, being a person of very ill fame, had been suspected of having perpetrated a number of felonies. The Magistrates of the Police-Office in the Borough of Southwark, having received information against the prisoner, sent, as was their duty, an order for his apprehension.

To execute the warrant, the deceased Price, and another officer of the name of Turner, went to the Two Brewers, a public-house, in Maid Lane, where they understood he was then drinking, in company with some other persons.

At the entrance of a parlour in the house, the prisoner appeared in a posture of intending to resist. Holding a loaded pistol in each of his hands, he with threats and imprecations desired the officers to stand off, as he would otherwise fire at them.

The officers, without being intimidated by those menaces, attempted to rush in and seize him, on which the prisoner discharged both the pistols at the same instant of time, lodging the contents of one in the body of David Price, and with the other wounded Turner very severely in the head. Price after languishing a few hours died of the wound.

Mr. Garrow was very pathetic and animated in his description of the several circumstances composing the shocking barbarity. To prove it, he would call four witnesses, whose evidence, he said, would be but too clear to establish the prisoner’s guilt.

The Jury would be enabled to judge from the facts to be submitted to them, and would undoubtedly decide on the issue joined between the Crown and the prisoner at the bar.

The learned counsel accordingly called Turner, the landlord of the house, a surgeon, and a fourth witness; but as the substance of their evidence is comprised in Mr. G’s opening of the indictment, it would be superfluous to repeat it. Turner said positively, he saw the prisoner discharge the pistols, from one of which he himself received his wound, and the contents of the other were lodged in the body of Price, who died very shortly after. The surgeon proved that the death was in consequence of the wound.

Mr. Knowles and Mr. Best were counsel for the prisoner, but the weight of evidence against him was too strong to be combatted by any exertions.

Mr. Baron Perryn summed up the evidence, on every essential part of which his lordship made several apposite, pointed, and accurate observations. The counsel for the prisoner, he remarked to the jury, had principally rested his defence on the circumstances of several other persons being present when the pistols were discharged, by some of which they contended the death wound might possibly have been inflicted. But, with respect to that part of the transaction, it would be proper for the jury to observe, that the witness Turner, had sworn positively to his having seen the prisoner in the act of discharging the contents of the pistol.

The jury, after a consultation of about three minutes, pronounced the dreadful verdict of — Guilty.

Through a flaw in the indictment for the murder, an objection was taken by the counsel. The indictment did not state that Price died in St. Saviour’s parish. This was argued nearly two hours, when Mr. Baron Perryn intimating a wish to take the opinion of the Twelve Judges of England, the counsel for the prosecution, waiving [sic] the point for the present, insisted on the prisoner’s being tried on the another [sic] indictment, for feloniously shooting at Barnaby Windsor, the officer who apprehended him after he had shot Price, which the learned counsel said, would occupy no great portion of time, as it could be sufficiently supported by the testimony of a single witness. He was accordingly tried and found guilty on a second capital indictment.

The prisoner, who, contrary to expectation, had in a great measure refrained from his usual audacity, began with unparalelled insolence of expression and gesture, to ask his lordship if he “was to be murderd by the evidence of one witness?” several times repeating the question, till the jury returned him Guilty.

When Mr. Baron Perryn put on the judicial cap, the prisoner, unconscious, and regardless of his dreadful situation, at the same time put on his hat, observing the judge with contemptuous looks while he was passing the sentence. When the constables were removing him from the dock to a coach, he continued to vent torrents of abuse against the judge and jury, whom, he charged with, as he styled it, his murder.

As his desperate dispostion was well known, he was, to prevent resistance, hand-cuffed, and his thighs and arms also bound strongly together, in which situation he was conveyed back to prison.

So callous was this ruffian to every degree of feeling, that on his way to be tried, as he was passing near the usual place of execution on Kennington Common, he put his head out of the coach window, and with all the sang froid imaginable, asked some of those who guarded him, if they did not think he would be twisted on that pretty spot by Saturday.

He was executed on Kennington Common, on the 3rd of August, 1795, with James [John] Little for the murder of Mr. Macevoy and Mrs. King at Richmond, and Sarah King for the murder of her new born bastard, at Nutfield, Surrey, in the presence of an immense multitude of spectators, among whom he recognized many acquaintances and confederates, to whom he bowed, nodded, and laughed with the most unfeeling indifference.

He had a flower in his mouth, and his waistcoat and shirt were unbuttoned, leaving his bosom open in the true style of vulgar gaiety: and, talking to the mob, and venting curses on the officers, he died, as he had lived, a ruffian and a brute! He was afterwards hung in chains upon Wimbledon Common.

The infamy of his life, and the atrocity of his deeds, rendered him a fit object for the posthumous punishment of hanging in chains on the arena of his crimes, and (painful as is the record, the truth must be told,) while the disgusting carcass of this malefactor, devoured by the birds and withered by the elements, gradually disappeared, the spot on which he had been gibbetted was converted into a temple of infamy, to which the thieves and vagabonds of London resorted in a sort of pilgrimage; and while the leading ruffians of the flash school, of which Avershaw was the child and champion, procured from his decaying and piece-meal carcass the bones of his fingers and toes to convert into stoppers for their tobacco-pipes, the tyro villains contented themselves with tearing the buttons from his clothes, as mementos of the estimation in which they held their arch prototype.


The newsmen effected horror that “Abershaw continued to the last moment of his existence in the same hardened state” (Telegraph, Aug. 4, 1795) and “took no notice either of his fellow-sufferers, or what the clergyman endeavoured to say to him” — then “when the executioner took the whip and touched the horse, made a spring from the cart, and was heard to repeat a horrid curse the last word he spoke.”

Avershaw’s larger-than-death performance of “dying game” would in subsequent years be a much-honored exemplar among kindred spirits who would not occasionally be required to attempt to outdo him in dramatic contempt of the gallows.

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1694: James Whitney, highwayman

3 comments December 19th, 2014 Headsman

Dapper highwayman James Whitney was hanged at Smithfield on this date in 1694.

A monument to the allures and the perils of a midlife career change, Whitney threw over a tiresome life as the proprietor of an inn in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire,* purchased with his liquidation the accoutrements of the gentleman thief, and took to the road.

“Captain” Whitney — he had no right to the rank he appropriated for himself — was one of those stickup men who greatly esteemed the pose of honor associated with his new calling. On one occasion, he relieved a gentleman traveler of a large sack of silver on Newmarket Heath, but when his victim pleaded the length of his journey Whitney opened the bag to its former owner with an invitation to take what he would need.

The man plunged his hands in and hauled out as much as they would carry, leading Whitney to remark with a smile, “I thought you would have had more conscience, sir.”

In another fine caper (there are more of them assembled here) Whitney told a man to stand and deliver, only to have the traveler reply that he was about to say the same back to him. The two robbers laughed at their encounter and went their separate ways, but Whitney later chanced to turn up at the same inn as his so-called brother plunderer and overhear him regaling his fellows with the tale of having outwitted a highwayman by pretending to be one of the same profession.

Whitney stalked the man and a companion out of the hostel the next morning and this time robbed them successfully: “You should have kept your secret a little longer, and not have boasted so soon of having outwitted a thief. There is now nothing for you but to deliver or die!” Nobody likes your stories anyway, you blowhard.

True, James Whitney ended his adventure at the gallows: death is the fate of us all. From his day to ours, folk toiling away the ceaseless lonesome days between ashes and ashes have understood the soul’s stirring to exalt their scant mortal hours with deeds of valor and romance and derring-do. And as Whitney himself is said to have remarked to a miser whose lucre he was seizing, “Is it not more generous to take a man’s money from him bravely, than to grind him to death by exacting eight or ten per cent, under cover of serving him?”**

Nobody knows any of James Whitney’s peers in the publican guild, but as Captain Whitney he joined England’s most legendary gentleman outlaw in verse.

When Claude du Val was in Newgate thrown,
He carved his name on the dungeon stone;
Quoth a dubsman, who gazed on the shattered wall,
“You have carved your epitaph, Claude du Val,

Du Val was hanged, and the next who came
On the selfsame stone inscribed his name;
“Aha!” quoth the dubsman, with devilish glee,
Tom Waters, your doom is the triple tree!”

Within that dungeon lay Captain Bew,
Rumbold and Whitney — a jolly crew!
All carved their names on the stone, and all
Share the fate of the brave Du Val!

Full twenty highwaymen blithe and bold,
Rattled their chains in that dungeon old:
Of all that number there ‘scaped not one
Who carved his name on the Newgate Stone.

* The George Inn. A map search does yield a The George in Cheshunt; whether this is actually the same facility where our famous highwayman once earned a lawful keep, I have not been able to establish.

** Parables from this golden age of highwaymen often place in the mouths of outlaws sharp critiques of their targets, who despite putative respectability turn out upon examination to be far more deeply corrupt than the dashing adventurer. See for example Old Mobb.

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1690: An infanticide, a coiner, and a highwayman

Add comment October 24th, 2013 Headsman

Hanging day — and burning day, and drawing-and-quartering day — at Tyburn this date in 1690 saw a dozen souls condemned to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Nine of these were reprieved, mostly various shoplifters and thieves. (One, Constance Wainwright, was just 16 years old: she stole a silver teapot and a petticoat.)

Mercy Harvey — named only M– H– in her Old Bailey indictment — was a domestic servant and “a very Ignorant Silly Girle” who bore a son out of wedlock. A young woman in such a predicament in 1690 London could be liable to lose her position, and in a city swelling up daily with new arrivals there could be very far to fall indeed.

The Ordinary of Newgate devotes the most space in his account to her, suggesting that she was the most amenable of the condemned to his ministry. Mercy Harvey described to him a timeless predicament.

I discoursed with her, and ask’d, Whether she had any Promise of Marriage with him who begat it? She answered no. Or whether he did promise any Maintenance for herself? She replyed no: but by often soliciting her she yielded to his Desires. She said that when she proved with Child, she dispaired how to provide for it, and so Satan tempted her to expose the Child to Death.

The young woman confessed her crime on hanging-day, but in a state of near collapse, and she was “very sick, and unfit for Discourse.”

What added torture Harvey must have experienced with the rough hemp rope around her neck as the Ordinary with “unwearied industry” dilated to volley “all manner of Godly Exhortations” at her two male counterparts.

Thomas Castle and Thomas Rowland both refused to play their part, clinging by their obdurance to a last remnant of dignity or to fleeting extra moments of life.

Castle had suffered the added indignity of being dragged to the fatal tree on a sledge. Condemned a traitor under England’s bloody code for coining 50 counterfeit shillings (coin-clipping materials were found stashed up his chimney in an iron box), Castle was fortunate enough to have the disemboweling-and-quartering part of his sentence remitted.

The last character of the bunch was one of those stock characters of a passing age, the highwayman. Thomas Rowland had skipped out two decades prior on an apprenticeship in the exciting field of bricklaying and taken to the roads, where according to a colorful Newgate Calendar record he “always robbed in women’s apparel, which disguise was the means of his reigning so long in his villainy.” (But he made his getaways, we are assured, riding astride his mounts — not sidesaddle.)

We don’t know if Rowland caught any flak in Newgate for this abrogation of masculinity, but Rowland “was so abominably wicked that the very morning on which he died, lying in the Press Yard, for he wanted for no money whilst under confinement, a common woman coming to visit him, he had the unparalleled audaciousness to act carnally with her, and gloried in the sin as he was going to execution.”

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1686: Jonathan Simpson, merchant turned highwayman

Add comment September 8th, 2013 Headsman

Jonathan Simpson, hanged on this date in 1686, had a good many virtues to judge by the account of his life left by the Newgate Calendar.

He was, first, an enterprising man, who served his apprenticeship “with reputation” and then set up shop as a successful linen-draper in the city of Bristol.

This business enabled him to augment the fortune of his own business by marrying a merchant’s daughter — “but the union proved unhappy, because the young lady was before engaged in affection to a gentleman of less fortune in the neighbourhood, whom her father hindered her from having, and with whom she continued a familiarity that soon displeased her husband.”

Such a scenario has been the germ of many a denizen of this here blog, but Simpson didn’t reach the gallows doing anything as straightforward as murdering his rival or his spouse out of pique.

Instead — and the Calendar leaves the hows and whys of this translation unexplored — he channeled his jealousy into a crime spree. Maybe that’s just the writer’s projection: fella went around the bend, it must’ve been because of a woman. The Newgate Calendar, too, had a home life, and many was the Briton who dreamt of escaping the drudgery of it all for a life of adventure and romance making gentlemen stand and deliver.

At any rate, Simpson managed a career of 18 months on the road, burning through his linen-draper savings (and his highwayman “earnings”) to escape a couple of potential capital prosecutions. (At this time, criminal complaints were initiated by private prosecutions, meaning that a victim prepared to accept direct restitution could potentially be bought off pressing a case.)

This brings us to another of Simpson’s admirable qualities: his silver tongue.

One can only speculate how he wheedled his onetime victims behind closed doors to drop their suits. But the Newgate Calendar attests to the man’s wit under pressure once he was finally hauled to the fatal tree.

It turns out that Simpson did well in business because his family had done well in business before him, and dad staked him to £1,500 when the lad went into business himself. These prosperous burghers accordingly rallied to exert their own wealth and influence behind the scenes to obtain for their kin a timely commutation, delivered only “when he was at Tyburn, with the halter about his neck, and just ready to be turned off in company with several others.” Then bureaucracy happened.

When he was brought to the prison door, the turnkey refused to receive him, telling the officer that, as he was sent to be executed, they were discharged of him, and would not have anything to do with him again, unless there was a fresh warrant for his commitment; whereupon Simpson made this reflection: “What an unhappy cast-off dog am I, that both Tyburn and Newgate should in one day refuse to entertain me! Well, I’ll mend my manners for the future, and try whether I can’t merit a reception at them both the next time I am brought hither.”

That’s kind of funny, right? In a self-destructive braggadocio sort of way?

And then Simpson demonstrated a third quality that (in addition to dad’s money) helped him succeed in commerce before his midlife crisis: his phenomenal industry. Simpson, we are told, committed “above 40 robberies” in Middlesex in the six weeks after his reprieve, a healthy pace of one per day.

He robbed the powerful (our writer credits him with a successful stickup of the king’s own son); he robbed the hoi polloi (“the robberies he committed on drovers, pedlars, market-people, etc., were almost innumerable”); he robbed on ice skates;* when he was finally captured, it was by two captains of the Foot Guards whom he was also attempting to rob.

The man lived to rob. On this date in 1686, he finally died for it.

* The online text versions of the Calendar notice Simpson’s skatebourne pilfering during “the great frost of 1689, which held thirteen weeks,” obviously not chronologically correct relative to his execution date. This is an error, likely on the part of software somewhere along the line; the year in question should be 1684 (computers like to mix up fours and nines). 1684 was one of the longest and deepest winter freezes on record, leaving the iced-over Thames bustling with Londoners at the “Frost Fair”.


“[W]hat unheard of rendezvous is daily kept upon the face of [London’s] navigable river; what long and spacious streets of booths and tents are builded; what throngs of passengers, both horse and foot, do travel; what pyramids of provisions, baked, boiled, and roast; what deluges of wine, coffee, beer, ale, and brandy, for sale; what fleets of vessels sailing upon sledges; what troops of coaches, caravans, and waggons; what games and new invented sports and pastimes, bull-baiting, bear-baiting, &c.; together with shops for the vending of most sorts of manufactures and for working artificers, the account of which alone would require a volume to describe …” (Source)

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