A famous Highway Robber, who shot dead one of his own Comrades and was executed at York On 7th of April, 1739
This notorious character was for a long time the dread of travellers on the Essex road, on account of the daring robberies which he daily committed; was also a noted house-breaker, and was for a considerable time remarkably successful in his desperate course, but was at length brought to an ignominious end, in consequence of circumstances which, in themselves, may appear trifling. He was apprehended in consequence of shooting a fowl, and his brother refusing to pay sixpence for the postage of his letter occasioned his conviction.
He was the son of a farmer at Thackstead in Essex; and, having received a common school education, was apprenticed to a butcher in Whitechapel; but was distinguished from his early youth for the impropriety of his behaviour, and the brutality of his manners. On the expiration of his apprenticeship, be married a young woman of East Ham, in Essex, named Palmer: but he had not been long married before he took to the practice of stealing his neighbours’ cattle, which he used to kill and cut up for sale.
Having stolen two oxen belonging to Mr. Giles, of Plaistow, he drove them to his own house; but two of Giles’s servants, suspecting who was the robber, went to Turpin’s where they saw two beasts of such size as had been lost: but as the hides were stripped from them, it was impossible to say that they were the same: but learning that Turpin used to dispose of his hides at Waltham-Abbey, they went thither, and saw the hides of the individual beasts that had been stolen.
No doubt now remaining who was the robber, a warrant was procured for the apprehension of Turpin; but, learning that the peace-officers were in search of him, he made his escape from the back window of his house, at the very moment that the others were entering at the door.
Having retreated to a place of security, he found means to inform his wife where he was concealed; on which she furnished him with money, with which he travelled into the hundreds of Essex, where he joined a gang of smugglers, with whom he was for some time successful; till a set of the Custom house officers, by one successful stroke, deprived him of all his ill-acquired gains.
Thrown out of this kind of business, he connected himself with a gang of deer-stealers, the principal part of whose depredations were committed on Epping Forest, and the parks in its neighbourhood: but this business not succeeding to the expectation of the robbers, they determined to commence house-breakers.
Their plan was to fix on houses that they presumed contained any valuable property; and, while one of them knocked at the door, the others were to rush in, and seize whatever they might deem worthy of their notice.
The first attack of this kind was at the house of Mr. Strype, an old man who kept a chandler’s shop at Watford, whom they robbed of all the money in his possession, but did not offer him any personal abuse.
Turpin now acquainted his associates that there was an old woman at Loughton, who was in possession of seven or eight hundred pounds; whereupon they agreed to rob her; and when they came to the door, one of them knocked, and the rest forcing their way into the house, tied handkerchiefs over the eyes of the old woman and her maid.
This being done, Turpin demanded what money was in the house; and the owner hesitating to tell him, he threatened to set her on the fire if she did not make an immediate discovery. Still, however, she declined to give the desired information; on which the villains actually placed her on the fire, where she sat till the tormenting pains compelled her to discover her hidden treasure; so that the robbers possessed themselves of above 400l. and decamped with the booty.
Some little time after this they agreed to rob the house of a farmer near Barking; and knocking at the door, the people declined to open it; on which they broke it open; and having bound the farmer, his wife, his son-in-law, and the servant maid, they robbed the house of above 7001.; which delighted Turpin so much that he exclaimed, “Aye, this will do if it would always be so!” and the robbers retired with their prize, which amounted to above 80l. for each of them.
This desperate gang, now flushed with success, determined to attack the house of Mr. Mason, the keeper of Epping Forest; and the time was affixed when the plan was to be carried into execution; but Turpin having gone to London, to spend his share of the former booty, intoxicated himself to such a degree, that he totally forgot the appointment.
Nevertheless, the rest of the gang resolved, that the absence of their companion should not frustrate the proposed design; and having taken a solemn oath to break every article of furniture in Mason’s house, they set out on their expedition.
Having gained admission, they beat and kicked the unhappy man with great severity. Finding an old man sifting by the fire-side they permitted him to remain uninjured; and Mr. Mason’s daughter escaped their fury, by running out of the house, and taking shelter in a hog-sty.
After ransacking the lower part of the house, and doing much mischief, they went up stairs, where they broke every thing that fell in their way, and among the rest a china punchbowl, from which dropped one hundred and twenty guineas, which they made prey of, and effected their escape. They now went to London, in search of Turpin, with whom they shared the booty, though he had not taken an active part in the execution of the villainy.
On the 11th of January, 1735, Turpin and five of his companions went to the house of Mr. Saunders, a rich farmer at Charlton in Kent, between seven and eight in the evening, and having knocked at the door, asked if Mr. Saunders was at home. Being answered in the affirmative, they rushed into the house, and found Mr. Saunders, with his wife and friends, playing at cards in the parlour. They told the company that they should remain uninjured, if they made no disturbance. Having made prize of a silver snuff-box which lay on the table a part of the gang stood guard over the rest of the company, while the others attended Mr. Saunders through the house, and breaking open his escritoires and closets, stole about 100l. exclusive of plate.
During these transactions the servant maid ran up stairs, barring the door of her room, and called out, “Thieves!” with a view of alarming the neighbourhood; but the robbers broke open the door of her room, secured her, and then robbed the house of all the valuable property they had not before taken. Finding some minced-pies, and some bottles of wine, they sat down. to regale themselves; and meeting with a bottle of brandy, they compelled each of the company to drink a glass of it.
Mrs. Saunders fainting through terror, they administered some drops in water to her, and recovered her to the use of her senses. Having staid in the house a considerable time, they packed up their booty and departed, having first declared, that if any of the family gave the least alarm within two hours, or advertised the marks of the stolen plate, they would return and murder them at a future time.
The division of the plunder having taken place, they, on the 18th of the same month, went to the house of Mr. Sheldon, near Croydon, in Surrey, where they arrived about seven in the evening. Having got into the yard, they perceived a light in the stable, and going into it, found the coachman attending his horses. Having immediately bound him, they quitted the stable, and meeting Mr. Sheldon in the yard, they seized him, and compelling him to conduct them into the house, they stole eleven guineas, with the jewels, plate, and other things of value, to a large amount. Having committed this robbery, they returned Mr. Sheldon two guineas, and apologized for their conduct.
This being done, they hastened to the Black Horse, in the Broad-way, Westminster, where they concerted the robbery of Mr. Lawrence, of Edgware, near Stanmore, in Middlesex, for which place they set out on the 4th of February, and arrived at a public-house in that village, about five o’clock in the evening. From this place they went to Mr. Lawrence’s house, where they arrived about seven o’clock, just as he had discharged some people who had worked for him.
Having quitted their horses at the outer gate, one of the robbers going forwards, found a boy who had lust returned from folding his sheep; the rest of the gang following, a pistol was presented and instant destruction threatened if he made any noise. They then took off his garters, and tied his hands, and told him to direct them to the door, and when they knocked, to answer, and bid the servants open it, in which case they would not hurt him; but when the boy came to the door he was so terrified that he could not speak; on which one of the gang knocked, and a man servant, imagining it was one of the neighbours, opened the door, whereupon they all rushed in, armed with pistols.
Having seized Mr. Lawrence and his servant, they threw a cloth over their faces, and taking the boy into another room, demanded what fire-arms were in the house; to which he replied, only an old gun, which they broke in pieces. They then bound Mr. Lawrence and his man, and made them sit by the boy; and Turpin searching the old gentleman, took from him a guinea, a Portugal piece, and some silver; but not being satisfied with this booty, they forced him to conduct them up stairs, where they broke open a closet, and stole some money and plate: but that not being sufficient to satisfy them, they threatened to murder Mr. Lawrence, each of them destining him to a different death, as the savageness of his own nature prompted him. At length one of them took a kettle of water from the fire, and threw it over him; but it providentially happened not to be hot enough to scald him.
In the interim, the maidservant who was churning butter in the dairy, hearing a noise in the house, apprehended some mischief; on which she blew out her candle to screen herself; but being found in the course of their search, one of the miscreants compelled her to go up stairs, where he gratified his brutal passion by force. They then robbed the house of all the valuable effects they could find, locked the family in the parlour, threw the key in the garden, and took their ill-gotten plunder to London.
The particulars of this atrocious robbery being represented to the king, a proclamation was issued for the apprehension of the offenders, promising a pardon to any one of them who would impeach his accomplices; and a reward of 501. was offered, to be paid on conviction. This, however, had no effect; the robbers continued their depredations as before; and, flushed with the success they had met with, seemed to bid defiance to the laws.
On the 7th of February, six of them assembled at the White Bear Inn, in Drury-lane, where they agreed to rob the house of Mr. Francis, a farmer near Mary-le-bone. Arriving at the place, they found a servant in the cow-house, whom they bound fast, and threatened to murder, if he was not perfectly silent. This being done, they led him into the stable, where finding another of the servants, they bound him in the same manner.
In the interim Mr. Francis happening to come home, they presented their pistols to his breast, and threatened instant destruction to him, if he made the least noise or opposition. Having bound the master in the stable with his servants, they rushed into the house, tied Mrs. Francis, her daughter, and the maidservant, and beat them in a most cruel manner. One of the thieves stood as a sentry while the rest rifled the house, in which they found a silver tankard, a medal of Charles the First, a gold watch, several gold rings, a considerable sum of money, and a variety of valuable linen and other effects, which they conveyed to London.
Hereupon a reward of 100l. was offered for the apprehension of the offenders: in consequence of which two of them were taken into custody, tried, convicted on the evidence of an accomplice, and hanged in chains: and the whole gang being dispersed, Turpin went into the country to renew his depredations on the public.
On a journey towards Cambridge, he met a man genteelly dressed, and well mounted: and expecting a good booty, he presented a pistol to the supposed gentleman, and demanded his money. The party thus stopped happened to be one King, a famous highwayman, who knew Turpin; and when the latter threatened destruction if he did not deliver his money, King burst into a fit of laughter, and said, “What, dog eat dog? —- Come, come, brother Turpin; if you don’t know me, I know you, and shall be glad of your company.”
These brethren in iniquity soon struck the bargain, and immediately entering on business, committed a number of robberies; till at length they were so well known, that no public-house would receive them as guests. Thus situated they fixed on a spot between the King’s-Oak and the Loughton Road, on Epping Forest, where they made a cave, which was large enough to receive them and their horses.
This cave was inclosed within a sort of thicket of bushes and brambles, through which they could look and see passengers on the road, while themselves remained unobserved.
From this station they used to issue, and robbed such a number of persons, that at length the very pedlars who travelled the road, carried fire-arms for their defence: and, while they were in this retreat, Turpin’s wife used to supply them with necessaries, and frequently remained in the cave during the night.
Having taken a ride as far as Bungay, in Suffolk, they observed two young women receive fourteen pounds for corn, on which Turpin resolved to rob them of the money. King objected, saying it was a pity to rob such pretty girls: but Turpin was obstinate, and obtained the booty.
Upon their return home on the following day, they stopped a Mr. Bradele, of London, who was riding in his chariot with his children. The gentleman, seeing only one robber, was pre paring to make resistance, when King called to Turpin to hold the horses. They took from the gentleman his watch, money, and an old mourning ring; but returned the latter, as he declared that its intrinsic value was trifling, yet he was very unwilling to part with it.
Finding that they readily parted with the ring, he asked them what he must give for the watch: on which King said to Turpin, “What say ye, Jack? —- Here seems to be a good honest fellow; shall we let him have the watch?” —- Turpin replied, “Do as you please;” on which King said to the gentleman, “You must pay six guineas for it: we never sell for more, though the watch should be worth six and thirty.” The gentleman promised that the money should be left at the Dial, in Birchin-lane.
On the 4th of May, 1737, Turpin was guilty of murder, which arose from the following circumstance: A reward of 1001. having been offered for apprehending him, one Thomas Morris, a servant of Mr. Thompson, one of the keepers of Epping Forest, accompanied by a higgler, set out in order to apprehend him. Turpin seeing them approach near his dwelling, Mr. Thompson’s man having a gun, he mistook them for poachers; on which he said, there were no hares near that thicket: “No, (said Morris) but I have found a Turpin;” and presenting his gun required him to surrender.
Hereupon Turpin spoke to him, as in a friendly manner, and gradually retreated at the same time, till having seized his own gun, he shot him dead on the spot, and the higgler ran off with the utmost precipitation.
This murder being represented to the Secretary of State, the following proclamation was issued by government, which we give a place to, from its describing the person of this notorious depredator.
“It having been represented to the King, that Richard Turpin did, on Wednesday, the 4th of May last, barbarously murder Thomas Morris, servant to Henry Thompson, one of the keepers of Epping Forest, and commit other notorious felonies and robberies, near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of 200l. to any person or persons that shall discover him, so that he may be apprehended and convicted. Turpin was born at Thackstead, in Essex, is about thirty, by trade a butcher, about five feet nine inches high, very much marked with the small-pox, his cheek-bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom; his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders.”
Turpin, to avoid the proclamation, went further into the country in search of his old companion King: and in the mean time sent a letter to his wife, to meet him at a public-house at Hertford. The woman attended according to this direction; and her husband coming into the house soon after she arrived, a butcher, to whom he owed five pounds, happened to see him; on which he said, “Come, Dick, I know you have money now; and if you will pay me, it will be of great service.”
Turpin told him that his wife was in the next room; that she had money, and that he should he paid immediately; but while the butcher was hinting to some of his acquaintance, that the person present was Turpin, and that they might take him into custody after he had received his debt, the highwayman made his escape through a window, and rode off with great expedition.
Turpin having found King, and a man named Potter, who had lately connected himself with them, they set off towards London, in the dusk of the evening; but when they came near the Green Man, on Epping Forest, they overtook a Mr. Major, who riding on a very fine horse, and Turpin’s beast being jaded he obliged the rider to dismount, and exchange horses.
The robbers now pursued their journey towards London, and Mr. Major going to the Green Man, gave an account of the affair; on which it was conjectured that Turpin had been the robber, and that the horse which he exchanged must have been stolen.
It was on a Saturday evening that this robbery was committed; but Mr. Major being advised to print hand-bills immediately, notice was given to the landlord of the Green Man, that such a horse as Mr. Major had lost, had been left at the Red Lion, in Whitechapel. The landlord going thither, determined to wait till some person came for it; and, at about eleven at night, King’s brother came to pay for the horse, and take him away: on which he was immediately seized, and conducted into the house.
Being asked what right he had to the horse, he said he had bought it; but the landlord examining a whip which he had in his hand, found a button at the end of the handle half broken off, and the name of Major on the remaining half. Hereupon he was given into the custody of a constable; but as it was not supposed that he was the actual robber, he was told, that he should have his liberty, if he would discover his employer.
Hereupon he said, that a stout man, in a white duffel coat, was waiting for the horse in Red Lion-street; on which the company going thither, saw King, who drew a pistol attempted to fire it, but it flashed in the pan; he then endeavoured to draw out another pistol, but he could not, as it got entangled in his pocket.
At this time Turpin was watching at a small distance and riding towards the spot, King cried out, “Shoot him, or we are taken;” on which Turpin fired, and shot his companion, who called out, “Dick, you have killed me;” which the other hearing, rode off at full speed.
King lived a week after this affair, and gave information that Turpin might be found at a house near Hackney-marsh; and, on inquiry, it was discovered that Turpin had been there on the night that he rode off, lamenting that he had killed King, who was his most faithful associate.
For a considerable time did Turpin skulk about the forest, having been deprived of his retreat in the cave since he shot the servant of Mr. Thompson. On the examination of this cave there were found two shirts, two pairs of stockings, a piece of ham, and a part of a bottle of wine.
Some vain attempts were made to take this notorious offender into custody; and among the rest, the huntsman of a gentleman in the neighbourhood went in search of him with blood-hounds. Turpin perceiving them, and recollecting that King Charles II. evaded his pursuers under covert of the friendly branches of the oak, mounted one of those trees under which the hounds passed, to his inexpressible terror, so that he determined to make a retreat into Yorkshire.
Going first to Long Sutton, in Lincolnshire, he stole some horses, for which he was taken into custody, but he escaped from the constable as he was conducting him before a magistrate, and hastened to Welton, in Yorkshire, where he went by the name of John Palmer, and assumed the character of a gentleman.
He now frequently went into Lincolnshire, where he stole horses, which he brought into Yorkshire, and either sold or exchanged them.
He often accompanied the neighbouring gentlemen on their parties of hunting and shooting; and one evening, on a return from an expedition of the latter kind, he wantonly shot a cock belonging to his landlord. On this Mr. Hall, a neighbour, said, “You have done wrong in shooting your landlord’s cock;” to which Turpin replied, that if he would stay while he loaded his gun, he would shoot him also.
Irritated by this insult, Mr. Hall informed the landlord of what had passed; and application being made to some magistrates, a warrant was granted for the apprehension of the offender, who being taken into custody, and carried before a bench of justices, then assembled at the quarter-sessions, at Beverley, they demanded security for his good behaviour, which he being unable, or unwilling to give, was committed to Bridewell.
On inquiry it appeared that he made frequent journeys into Lincolnshire, and on his return always abounded in money, and was likewise in possession of several horses; so that it was conjectured he was a horse-stealer and highwayman.
On this the magistrates went to him on the following day, and demanded who he was, where he lived, and what was his employment? He replied in substance, “that about two years ago he had lived at Long Sutton, in Lincolnshire, and was by trade a butcher, but that having contracted several debts, for sheep that proved rotten, he was obliged to abscond, and come to live in Yorkshire.”
The magistrates not being satisfied with this tale, commissioned the clerk of the peace to write into Lincolnshire, to make the necessary inquiries respecting the supposed John Palmer. The letter was carried by a special messenger, who brought an answer from the magistrate in the neighbourhood, importing that John Palmer was well known, though he had never carried on trade there: that he had been accused of sheep-stealing for which he had been in custody but had made his escape from the peace officers: and that there were several informations lodged against him for horse-stealing.
Hereupon the magistrates thought it prudent to remove him to York Castle, where he had not been more than a month, when two persons from Lincolnshire came and claimed a mare and foal, and likewise a horse, which he had stolen in that county.
After he had been about four month in prison, he wrote the following letter to his brother in Essex:
York, Feb. 6, 1739.
“I am sorry to acquaint you, that I am now under confinement in York Castle, for horse-stealing. If I could procure an evidence from London to give me a character, that would go a great way towards my being acquitted. I had not been long in this county before my being apprehended, so that it would pass off the readier. For Heaven’s sake dear brother, do not neglect me; you will know what I mean, when I say,
I am yours,
This letter being returned, unopened, to the Post-Office in Essex, because the brother would not pay the postage of it, was accidentally seen by Mr. Smith, a school-master, who having taught Turpin to write, immediately knew his hand, on which he carried the letter to a magistrate, who broke it open; by which it was discovered that the supposed John Palmer was the real Richard Turpin.
Hereupon the magistrates of Essex dispatched Mr. Smith to York, who immediately selected him from all the other prisoners in the castle. This Mr. Smith, and another gentle man, afterwards proved his identity on his trial.
On the rumour that the noted Turpin was a prisoner in York Castle, persons flocked from all parts of the country to take a view of him, and debates ran very high whether he was the real person or not. Among others who visited him, was a young fellow who pretended to know the famous Turpin, and having regarded him a considerable time with looks of great attention, he told the keeper he would bet him half a guinea that he was not Turpin; on which the prisoner, whispering the keeper, said, “Lay him the wager, and I’ll go your halves.”
When this notorious malefactor was brought to trial, he was convicted on two indictments, and received sentence of death.
After conviction he wrote to his father, imploring him to intercede with a gentleman and lady of rank to make interest that his sentence might be remitted; and that he might be transported. The father did what was in his power: but the notoriety of his character was such, that no persons would exert themselves in his favour.
This man lived in the most gay and thoughtless manner after conviction, regardless of all considerations of futurity, and affecting to make a jest of the dreadful fate that awaited him.
Not many days before his execution, he purchased a new fustian frock and a pair of pumps, in order to wear them at the time of his death: and, on the day before, he hired five poor men, at ten shillings each, to follow the cart as mourners: and he gave hatbands and gloves to several other persons: and he also left a ring, and some other articles, to a married woman in Lincolnshire, with whom he had been acquainted.
On the morning of his death he was put into a cart, and being followed by his mourners, as above-mentioned, he was drawn to the place of execution, in his way to which he bowed to the spectators with an air of the most astonishing indifference and intrepidity.
When he came to the fatal tree, he ascended the ladder; when his right leg trembling, he stamped it down with an air of assumed courage, as if he was ashamed of discovering any signs of fear, Having conversed with the executioner about half an hour, he threw himself off the ladder, and expired in a few minutes.
The spectators of the execution were affected at his fate, as he was distinguished by the comeliness of his appearance. The corpse was brought to the Blue Boar, in Castle-Gate, York, where it remained till the next morning, when it was interred in the church-yard of St. George’s parish, with an inscription on the coffin, with the initials of his name, and his age. The grave was dug remarkably deep, but notwithstanding the people who acted as mourners took such measures as they thought would secure the body: it was carried off about three o’clock on the following morning; the populace, however, got intimation whither it was conveyed, and found it in a garden belonging to one of the surgeons of the city.
Having got possession of it they laid it on a board, and carried it through the streets in a kind of triumphal manner, they then filled the coffin with unslacked lime, and buried it in the grave where it had been before deposited.