The Project Gutenberg EBook of Devonshire Characters and Strange Events, by 
Sabine Baring-Gould

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most
other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of
the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at  If you are not located in the United States, you'll have
to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.

Title: Devonshire Characters and Strange Events

Author: Sabine Baring-Gould

Release Date: March 16, 2015 [EBook #48507]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Chris Curnow, Reiner Ruf, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)





Maria Foote

G. Clint, A.R.A., pinxt.

Thos. Lupton. sculpt.


(Click here to see the original title page)



O Jupiter!
Hanccine vitam? hoscine mores? hanc dementiam?
TERENCE, Adelphi (Act IV).




In treating of Devonshire Characters, I have had to put aside the chief Worthies and those Devonians famous in history, as George Duke of Albemarle, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Coleridges, Sir Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh, and many another; and to content myself with those who lie on a lower plane. So also I have had to set aside several remarkable characters, whose lives I have given elsewhere, as the Herrings of Langstone (whom I have called Grym or Grymstone) and Madame Drake, George Spurle the Post-boy, etc. Also I have had to pretermit several great rascals, as Thomas Gray and Nicholas Horner. But even so, I find an embarras de richesses, and have had to content myself with such as have had careers of some general interest. Moreover, it has not been possible to say all that might have been said relative to these, so as to economize space, and afford room for others.

So also, with regard to strange incidents, some limitation has been necessary, and such have been selected as are less generally known.

I have to thank the kind help of many Devonshire friends for the loan of rare pamphlets, portraits, or for information not otherwise acquirable—as the Earl of[Pg vi] Iddesleigh, Lady Rosamond Christie, Mrs. Chichester of Hall, Mrs. Ford of Pencarrow, Dr. Linnington Ash, Dr. Brushfield, Capt. Pentecost, Miss M. P. Willcocks, Mr. Andrew Iredale, Mr. W. H. K. Wright, Mr. A. B. Collier, Mr. Charles T. Harbeck, Mr. H. Tapley Soper, Miss Lega-Weekes, who has contributed the article on Richard Weekes; Mrs. G. Radford, Mr. R. Pearse Chope, Mr. Rennie Manderson, Mr. M. Bawden, the Rev. J. B. Wollocombe, the Rev. W. H. Thornton, Mr. A. M. Broadley, Mr. Samuel Gillespie Prout, Mr. S. H. Slade, Mr. W. Fleming, Mrs. A. H. Wilson, Fleet-Surgeon Lloyd Thomas, the Rev. W. T. Wellacott, Mr. S. Raby, Mr. Samuel Harper, Mr. John Avery, Mr. Thomas Wainwright, Mr. A. F. Steuart, Mr. S. T. Whiteford, and last, but not least, Mr. John Lane, the publisher of this volume, who has taken the liveliest interest in its production.

Also to Messrs. Macmillan for kindly allowing the use of an engraving of Newcomen’s steam engine, and to Messrs. Vinton & Co. for allowing the use of the portrait of the Rev. John Russell that appeared in Bailey’s Magazine.

I am likewise indebted to Miss M. Windeatt Roberts for having undertaken to prepare the exhaustive Index, and to Mr. J. G. Commin for placing at my disposal many rare illustrations.

For myself I may say that it has been a labour of love to grope among the characters and incidents of the past in my own county, and with Cordatus, in the Introduction to Ben Jonson’s Every Man out of his Humour, I may say that it has been “a work that hath[Pg vii] bounteously pleased me; how it will answer the general expectation, I know not.”

I am desired by my publisher to state that he will be glad to receive any information as to the whereabouts of pictures by another “Devonshire Character,” James Gandy, born at Exeter in 1619, and a pupil of Vandyck. He was retained in the service of the Duke of Ormond, whom he accompanied to Ireland, where he died in 1689. It is said that his chief works will be found in that country and the West of England.

Jackson of Exeter, in his volume The Four Ages, says: “About the beginning of the eighteenth century was a painter in Exeter called Gandy, of whose colouring Sir Joshua Reynolds thought highly. I heard him say that on his return from Italy, when he was fresh from seeing the pictures of the Venetian school, he again looked at the works of Gandy, and that they had lost nothing in his estimation. There are many pictures of this artist in Exeter and its neighbourhood. The portrait Sir Joshua seemed most to value is in the Hall belonging to the College of Vicars in that city, but I have seen some very much superior to it.”

Since then, however, the original picture has been taken from the College of Vicars, and has been lost; but a copy, I believe, is still exhibited there, and no one seems to know what has become of the original.

Not only is Mr. Lane anxious to trace this picture, but any others in Devon or Ireland, as also letters, documents, or references to this artist and his work.


DR. J. W. BUDD 754


From an engraving by Thomas Lupton, after a picture by G. Clint, A.R.A.
From the original painting in the collection of the Earl of Iddesleigh
From an old print
By a Cyder Merchant, of South-Ham, Devonshire. Dedicated to Jack Ketch
From a lithograph
Lithographed by P. Gauci. Pub. Ed. Cockrem
From an engraved portrait in the collection of A. M. Broadley, Esq.
From an engraving by Henry Meyer, after a picture by E. Bird
Drawn and engraved by N. Branwhite
From the picture by J. Northcote, R.A.
Reproduced from the frontispiece to The Life and Surprizing Adventure of James Wyatt, Written by Himself, 1755
REV. W. DAVY 124 [Pg xiv]
From an engraving by R. Cooper, after a picture by Wm. Sharland
From an oil painting by A. B. Collier, 1855
From an engraving by G. Virtue, after a picture by E. Gouge
From a lithograph
From a painting by William Widgery, in the Free Library, Bideford
From a drawing by Bailey
From the portrait at Exeter College, Oxford
From a drawing by Wm. Jeit
Drawn from life by Wm. Sharp
From the original in the collection of A. M. Broadley, Esq.
Reproduced from the original print in the collection of A. M. Broadley, Esq.
MR. GAY 414
From an old print
From an engraving by Maddocks
From an engraving by R. H. Cromek, after a picture by I. Hoppner, R.A.
B. R. HAYDON 458
From a drawing by David Wilkie
CAPTAIN COOKE, 1824, AGED 58 [Pg xv] 478
Drawn, from nature, on the stone by N. Whittock
From a lithograph by Geo. Rowe
THE STEAM ENGINE, NEAR DUDLEY CASTLE. Invented by Capt. Savery and Mr. Newcomen. Erected by ye later, 1712 496
From a drawing by Barney. Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. Macmillan & Co.
Reproduced by kind permission from a print in the possession of Dr. Brushfield
From a drawing
Reproduced by permission of the Editor of Bailey’s Magazine
Purchased at the sale of his effects in 1883 by Mrs. Arnull and presented by her to Mr. John Lane, in whose possession they now are
From a drawing in the possession of Samuel Gillespie Prout, Esq.
From the original portrait by Opie in the possession of Edward Harrison, Esq., of Watford
From an engraving after J. Walker
From an engraving by F. Bartolozzi, after a picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds
From an old print
From a photograph by his brother Dr. Richard Budd, of Barnstaple



Hugh Stafford, Esq., of Pynes, born 1674, was the last of the Staffords of Pynes. His daughter, Bridget Maria, carried the estate to her husband, Sir Henry Northcote, Bart., from whom is descended the present Earl of Iddesleigh. Hugh Stafford died in 1734. He is noted as an enthusiastic apple-grower and lover of cyder.

He wrote a “Dissertation on Cyder and Cyder-Fruit” in a letter to a friend in 1727, but this was not published till 1753, and a second edition in 1769. The family of Stafford was originally Stowford, of Stowford, in the parish of Dolton. The name changed to Stoford and then to Stafford. One branch married into the family of Wollocombe, of Wollocombe. But the name of Stowford or Stafford was not the most ancient designation of the family, which was Kelloway, and bore as its arms four pears. The last Stafford turned from pears to apples, to which he devoted his[Pg 2] attention and became a connoisseur not in apples only, but in the qualities of cyder as already intimated.

To a branch of this family belonged Sir John Stowford, Lord Chief Baron in the reign of Edward III, who built Pilton Bridge over the little stream of the Yeo or Yaw, up which the tide flows, and over which the passage was occasionally dangerous. The story goes that the judge one day saw a poor market woman with her child on a mudbank in the stream crying for aid, which none could afford her, caught and drowned by the rising flood, whereupon he vowed to build the bridge to prevent further accident. The rhyme ran:—

Yet Barnstaple, graced though thou be by brackish Taw,
In all thy glory see that thou not forget the little Yaw.

Camden asserts that Judge Stowford also constructed the long bridge over the Taw consisting of sixteen piers. Tradition will have it, however, that towards the building of this latter two spinster ladies (sisters) contributed by the profits of their distaffs and the pennies they earned by keeping a little school.

Hugh Stafford

From the original painting in the collection of the Earl of Iddesleigh

I was travelling on the South Devon line some years ago after there had been a Church Congress at Plymouth, and in the same carriage with me were some London reporters. Said one of these gentry to another: “Did you ever see anything like Devonshire parsons and pious ladies? They were munching apples all the time that the speeches were being made. Honour was being done to the admirable fruit by these worthy Devonians. I was dotting down my notes during an eloquent harangue on ‘How to Bring Religion to Bear upon the People’ when chump, chump went a parson on my left; and the snapping of jaws on apples, rending off shreds for mastication, punctuated the periods of a bishop who spoke next. At an[Pg 3] ensuing meeting on the ‘Deepening of Personal Religion’ my neighbour was munching a Cornish gilliflower, which he informed me in taste and aroma surpassed every other apple. I asked in a low tone whether Devonshire people did not peel their fruit before eating. He answered leni susurro that the flavour was in the rind.”

Cyder was anciently the main drink of the country people in the West of England. Every old farmhouse had its granite trough (circular) in which rolled a stone wheel that pounded the fruit to a “pummice,” and the juice flowed away through a lip into a keeve. Now, neglected and cast aside, may be seen the huge masses of stone with an iron crook fastened in them, which in the earliest stage of cyder-making were employed for pressing the fruit into pummice. But these weights were superseded by the screw-press that extracted more of the juice.

In 1763 Lord Bute, the Prime Minister, imposed a tax of 10s. per hogshead on cyder and perry, to be paid by the first buyer. The country gentlemen, without reference to party, were violent in their opposition, and Bute then condescended to reduce the sum and the mode of levying it, proposing 4s. per hogshead, to be paid, not by the first buyer, but by the grower, who was to be made liable to the regulations of the excise and the domiciliary visits of excisemen. Pitt thundered against this cyder Bill, inveighing against the intrusion of excise officers into private dwellings, quoting the old proud maxim, that every Englishman’s house was his castle, and showing the hardship of rendering every country gentleman, every individual that owned a few fruit trees and made a little cyder, liable to have his premises invaded by officers. The City of London petitioned the Commons, the Lords,[Pg 4] the throne, against the Bill; in the House of Lords forty-nine peers divided against the Minister; the cities of Exeter and Worcester, the counties of Devonshire and Herefordshire, more nearly concerned in the question about cyder than the City of London, followed the example of the capital, and implored their representatives to resist the tax to the utmost; and an indignant and general threat was made that the apples should be suffered to fall and rot under the trees rather than be made into cyder, subject to such a duty and such annoyances. No fiscal question had raised such a tempest since Sir Robert Walpole’s Excise Bill in 1733. But Walpole, in the plenitude of his power and abilities, and with wondrous resources at command, was constrained to bow to the storm he had roused, and to shelve his scheme. Bute, on the other hand, with a power that lasted but a day, with a position already undermined, with slender abilities and no resources, but with Scotch stubbornness, was resolved that his Bill should pass. And it passed, with all its imperfections; and although there were different sorts of cyder, varying in price from 5s. to 50s. per hogshead, they were all taxed alike—the poor man having thus to pay as heavy a duty for his thin beverage as the affluent man paid for the choicest kind. The agitation against Lord Bute grew. In some rural districts he was burnt under the effigy of a jack-boot, a rustic allusion to his name (Bute); and on more than one occasion when he walked the streets he was accused of being surrounded by prize-fighters to protect him against the violence of the mob. Numerous squibs, caricatures, and pamphlets appeared. He was represented as hung on the gallows above a fire, in which a jack-boot fed the flames and a farmer was throwing an excised cyder-barrel into the conflagration, whilst a Scotch[Pg 5]man, in Highland costume, in the background, commented, “It’s aw over with us now, and aw our aspiring hopes are gone”; whilst an English mob advanced waving the banners of Magna Charta, and “Liberty, Property, and No Excise.”

The Roasted Exciseman

I give one of the ballads printed on this occasion: it is entitled, “The Scotch Yoke, and English Resentment. To the tune of The Queen’s Ass.”

Of Freedom no longer let Englishmen boast,
Nor Liberty more be their favourite Toast;
The Hydra Oppression your Charta defies,
And galls English Necks with the Yoke of Excise,
The Yoke of Excise, the Yoke of Excise,
And galls English Necks with the Yoke of Excise.
In vain have you conquer’d, my brave Hearts of Oak,
Your Laurels, your Conquests are all but a Joke;
Let a rascally Peace serve to open your Eyes,
And the d—nable Scheme of a Cyder-Excise,
A Cyder-Excise, etc.
What though on your Porter a Duty was laid,
Your Light double-tax’d, and encroach’d on your Trade;
Who e’er could have thought that a Briton so wise
Would admit such a Tax as the Cyder-Excise,
The Cyder-Excise, etc.
I appeal to the Fox, or his Friend John a-Boot,
If tax’d thus the Juice, then how soon may the Fruit?
Adieu then to good Apple-puddings and Pyes,
If e’er they should taste of a cursed Excise,
A cursed Excise, etc.
Let those at the Helm, who have sought to enslave
A Nation so glorious, a People so brave,
At once be convinced that their Scheme you despise,
And shed your last Blood to oppose the Excise,
Oppose the Excise, etc.
Come on then, my Lads, who have fought and have bled,
A Tax may, perhaps, soon be laid on your Bread;
Ye Natives of Worc’ster and Devon arise,
And strike at the Root of the Cyder-Excise,
The Cyder-Excise, etc.
[Pg 6]
No longer let K—s at the H—m of the St—e,
With fleecing and grinding pursue Britain’s Fate;
Let Power no longer your Wishes disguise,
But off with their Heads—by the Way of Excise,
The Way of Excise, etc.
From two Latin words, ex and scindo, I ween,
Came the hard Word Excise, which to Cut off does mean.
Take the Hint then, my Lads, let your Freedom advise,
And give them a Taste of their fav’rite Excise,
Their fav’rite Excise, etc.
Then toss off your Bumpers, my Lads, while you may,
To Pitt and Lord Temple, Huzza, Boys, huzza!
Here’s the King that to tax his poor Subjects denies,
But Pox o’ the Schemer that plann’d the Excise,
That plann’d the Excise, etc.

The apple trees were too many and too deep-rooted and too stout for the Scotch thistle. The symptoms of popular dislike drove Bute to resign (8 April, 1763), to the surprise of all. The duty, however, was not repealed till 1830. In my Book of the West (Devon), I have given an account of cyder-making in the county, and I will not repeat it here. But I may mention the curious Devonshire saying about Francemass, or St. Franken Days. These are the 19th, 20th, and 21st May, at which time very often a frost comes that injures the apple blossom. The story goes that there was an Exeter brewer, of the name of Frankin, who found that cyder ran his ale so hard that he vowed his soul to the devil on the condition that his Satanic Majesty should send three frosty nights in May annually to cut off the apple blossom.

And now to return to Hugh Stafford. He opens his letter with an account of the origin of the Royal Wilding, one of the finest sorts of apple for the making of choice cyder.

“Since you have seen the Royal Wilding apple, which is so very much celebrated (and so de[Pg 7]servedly) in our county, the history of its being first taken notice of, which is fresh in everybody’s memory, may not be unacceptable to you. The single and only tree from which the apple was first propagated is very tall, fair, and stout; I believe about twenty feet high. It stands in a very little quillet (as we call it) of gardening, adjoining to the post-road that leads from Exeter to Oakhampton, in the parish of St. Thomas, but near the borders of another parish called Whitestone. A walk of a mile from Exeter will gratify any one, who has curiosity, with the sight of it.

“It appears to be properly a wilding, that is, a tree raised from the kernel of an apple, without having been grafted, and (which seems well worth observing) has, in all probability, stood there much more than seventy years, for two ancient persons of the parish of Whitestone, who died several years since, each aged upwards of the number of years before mentioned, declared, that when they were boys, probably twelve or thirteen years of age, and first went the road, it was not only growing there, but, what is worth notice, was as tall and stout as it now appears, nor do there at this time appear any marks of decay upon it that I could perceive.

“It is a very constant and plentiful bearer every other year, and then usually produces apples enough to make one of our hogsheads of cyder, which contains sixty-four gallons, and this was one occasion of its being first taken notice of, and of its affording an history which, I believe, no other tree ever did: For the little cot-house to which it belongs, together with the little quillet in which it stands, being several years since mortgaged for ten pounds, the fruit of this tree alone, in a course of some years, freed the house[Pg 8] and garden, and its more valuable self, from that burden.

“Mr. Francis Oliver (a gentleman of the neighbourhood, and, if I mistake not, the gentleman who had the mortgage just now mentioned) was one of the first persons about Exeter that affected rough cyder, and, for that reason, purchased the fruit of this tree every bearing year. However, I cannot learn that he ever made cyder of it alone, but mix’d with other apples, which added to the flavour of his cyder, in the opinion of those who had a true relish for that liquor.

“Whether this, or any other consideration, brought on the more happy experiment upon this apple, the Rev. Robert Wollocombe, Rector of Whitestone, who used to amuse himself with a nursery, put on some heads of this wilding; and in a few years after being in his nursery, about March, a person came to him on some business, and feeling something roll under his feet, took it up, and it proved one of those precious apples, which Mr. Wollocombe receiving from him, finding it perfectly sound after it had lain in the long stragle of the nursery during all the rain, frost, and snow of the foregoing winter, thought it must be a fruit of more than common value; and having tasted it, found the juices, not only in a most perfect soundness and quickness, but such likewise as seemed to promise a body, as well as the roughness and flavour that the wise cyder drinkers in Devon now begin to desire. He observed the graft from which it had fallen, and searching about found some more of the apples, and all of the same soundness; upon which, without hesitation, he resolved to graft a greater quantity of them, which he accordingly did; but waited with impatience for the experiment, which you know must be the work of some years. They came at length, and[Pg 9] his just reward was a barrel of the juice, which, though it was small, was of great value for its excellency, and far exceeded all his expectations.

Tyburn Interview

(Click here to see a larger image)


By a CYDER MERCHANT, of South-Ham, Devonshire.

Dedicated to JACK KETCH.

To the Tune A Cobler there was, &c.

As Sawney from Tweed was a trudging to Town,
To rest his tir’d Limbs on the Grass he sat down;
When growsing his Oatmeal, he turn’d up his Eyes,
And kenn’d a strange Pile on three Pillars arise.
Derry down, &c.
Amaz’d he starts up, “Thou Thing of odd Form,
That stand’st here defying each turbulent Storm;
What art thou? Thy Office declare at my Word,
Or thou shalt not escape this strong Arm and broad Sword.”
Derry down, &c.
Quoth the Structure, “Altho’ I’m not known unto thee,
Thy Countrymens Lives have been shorten’d by me;
To strike thee at once, know that Tyburn’s my Name,
In Scotland, no doubt, you have heard of my Fame.
Derry down, &c.
When arm’d all rebellious, like Vultures you rose,
A Set of such Shahrags, you frighten’d the Crows;
To rid the tir’d land of such Vermin as you,
I groan’d with receiving but barely my Due.
Derry down, &c.
And still I’m in Hopes of another to come,
For Tyburn will certain at last be his Home;
He’ll come from the Summit of Honour’s vast Height,
With a Star and a Garter to dubb me a Knight.”
Derry down, &c.
His Passion now Sawney no more could contain,
“My Sword shall strait prove all thy Hopes are in vain”;
So saying; he brandish’d it high in the Air,
When strait a Scotch Voice cry’d out—Sawney forbear!
Derry down, &c.
The Phantom that spoke now appear’d in a trice,
And to the fear’d Scotsman thus gave his Advice:
“Calm thy Breast that now boils with Vexation and Rage,
And let what I speak thy Attention engage.
Derry down, &c.
No longer with Fury pursue this old Tree,
His Back shall bear Vengeance for you and for me;
For know, my dear Friend, the Time is at Hand,
When with Englishmen, Tyburn shall thin half the Land.
Derry down, &c.
The Case is revers’d by a good Friend of ours,
All Treason is English, and Loyalty yours:
Posts, Honour, and Profit all Scotsmen await,
While the Natives shall tremble and curse their hard Fate.
Derry down, &c.
The War is no more, and each Soldier and Tar,
The Strength and the Bulwark of England in War,
Are coming to prove our Friend’s deep Penetration,
As the first Sacrifice to our Scotch Exaltation.”
Derry down, &c.
Here ended the Phantom, and sunk in the Ground,
While the blue Flames of Hell glar’d terrible round;
When for London young Sawney around turn’d his Eyes,
Where he march’d for a Place in the new-rais’d EXCISE.
Derry down, &c.
Ye National Schemers, come tell me, I pray,
Your Intention in this. To bring more Scotch in play!
For this must the Tax be enforc’d with all Speed,
For Thousands are coming between here and Tweed.
Derry down, &c.
Ah! hapless Old England, no longer be merry,
Since B— has thus tax’d your Beer, Cyder and Perry;
Look sullen and sad, for now this is done,
No doubt in short Time they’ll tax Laughing and Fun.
Derry down, &c.
Yet let the Proud Laird, who presides at the Helm,
Extend his Excise to each Thing in the Realm:
A Tax on Spring-Water I think would be right,
For Water, ’tis known, is as common as Light.
Derry down, &c.
Meat, Butter, and Cheese, “By my Saul that will do!
’Twill affect all the Land, and bring Money in too;”
Proceed, my good Laird, and may the H-lt-r or A—e,
Reward you for saying each infamous T—x.
Derry down, &c.

“Mr. Wollocombe was not a little pleased with it, and talked of it in all conversations; it created amusement at first, but when time produced an hogshead of it, from raillery it came to seriousness, and every one from laughter fell to admiration. In the meantime he had thought of a name for his British wine, and as it appeared to be in the original tree a fruit not grafted, it retained the name of a Wilding, and as he thought it superior to all other apples, he gave it the title of the Royal Wilding.

“This was about sixteen years since (i.e. about 1710). The gentlemen of our county are now busy almost everywhere in promoting it, and some of the wiser farmers. But we have not yet enough for sale. I have known five guineas refused for one of our hogsheads of it, though the common cyder sells for twenty shillings, and the South Ham for twenty-five to thirty.

“I must add, that Mr. Wollocombe hath reserved some of them for hoard; I have tasted the tarts of them, and they come nearer to the quince than any other tart I ever eat of.

“Wherever it has been tried as yet, the juices are perfectly good (but better in some soils than others), and when the gentlemen of the South-Hams will condescend to give it a place in their orchards, they will undoubtedly exceed us in this liquor, because we must yield to them in the apple soil. But it is happy for us, that at present they are so wrapt up in their own sufficiency, that they do not entertain any thoughts of raising apples from us; and when they shall, it must be another twenty years before they can do anything to the purpose, though some of their thinking gentlemen,[Pg 10] I am told, begin to get some of them transported thither, (by night you may suppose, partly for shame and partly for fear of being mobbed by their neighbours) and will, I am well assured, much rejoice in the production.

“The colour of the Royal Wilding cyder, without any assistance from art, is of a bright yellow, rather than a reddish beerish tincture; its other qualities are a noble body, an excellent bitter, a delicate (excuse the expression) roughness, and a fine vinous flavour. All the other qualities you may meet with in some of the best South-Ham cyder, but the last is peculiar to the White-Sour and the Royal Wilding only, and you will in vain look for it in any other.”

Mr. Stafford goes on to speak of his second favourite, the White Sour of the South Hams.

“The qualities of the juices are precisely the same with those of the Royal Wilding, nay, so very near one to the other, that they are perfectly rivals, and created such a contest, as is very uncommon, and to which I was an eye-witness. A gentleman of the South-Hams, whose White-Sour cyders, for the year, were very celebrated, (for our cyder vintages, like those of clarets and ports, are very different in different years) and had been drank of by another gentleman, who was a happy possessor, an uncontested lord, facile princeps, of the Royal Wilding, met at the house of the latter gentleman a year or two after: the famed Royal Wilding, you may be sure, was produced, as the best return for the White-Sour that had been tasted at the other gentleman’s; and what was the effect? Each gentleman did not contend, as is usual, that his was the best cyder; but such was the equilibrium of the juices, and such the generosity of their breasts (for finer gentlemen we have not in our country) that each affirmed his[Pg 11] own was the worst; the gentleman of the South-Hams declared in favour of the Royal Wilding, and the gentleman of our parts in favour of the White-Sour.”

As to the sweet cyder, Mr. Stafford despises it. “It may be acceptable to a female, or a Londoner, it is ever offensive to a bold and generous West Saxon,” says he.

Mr. Stafford flattered himself one year that he had beaten the Royal Wilding. He had planted pips, and after many years brewed a pipe of the apples of his wildings in 1724. Mr. Wollocombe was invited to taste it. “The surprise (and even almost silence) with which he was seized at first tasting it was plainly perceived by everyone present, and occasioned no small diversion.” But, alas! after it was bottled this “Super-Celestial,” as it had been named, as the year advanced, appeared thin compared with the cyder of the Royal Wilding, and Hugh Stafford was constrained after a first flush of triumph to allow that the Royal Wilding maintained pre-eminence.

According to our author, the addition of a little sage or clary to thin cyder gives it a taste as of a good Rhenish wine; and he advises the crushing to powder of angelica roots to add to cyder, as is done in Oporto by those who prepare port for the English market. It gives a flavour and a bouquet truly delicious.

At the English Revolution, when William of Orange came to the throne, the introduction of French wines into the country was prohibited, and this gave a great impetus to the manufacture of cyder, and care in the production of cyder of the best description. But the imposition of a duty of ten shillings a hogshead on cyder that was not repealed, as already said, till 1830, killed the industry. Farmers no longer cared to keep up their orchards, and grew apples only for home consumption. They gave the cyder to their labourers, and[Pg 12] as these were not particular as to the quality, no pains were taken to produce such as would suit men’s refined palates. The workman liked a rough beverage, one that almost cut his throat as it passed down; and this produced the evil effect that the farmers, who were bound by their leases to keep up their orchards, planted only the coarsest sort of apples, and the higher quality of fruit was allowed to die out. The orchards fell into, and in most cases remain still in a deplorable condition of neglect. Hear what is the report of the Special Commissioner of the Gardeners’ Magazine, as to the state of the orchards in Devon. “They will not, as a rule, bear critical examination. As a matter of fact Devonshire, compared with other counties, has made little or no progress of late years, and there are hundreds of orchards in that county that are little short of a disgrace to those who own or rent them. The majority of the orchards are rented by farmers, who too often are the worst of gardeners and the poorest of fruit growers, and they cannot be induced to improve on their methods.” The writer goes on to say, that so long as the farmers have enough trees standing or blown over, to bear fruit that suffices for their home consumption, they are content, and with complete indifference, they suffer the cattle to roam about the orchards, bite off the bark, and rend the branches and tender shoots from the trees.

“If you tackle the farmers on the subject, and in particular strongly advise them to see what can be done towards improving their old orchards and forming new ones, they will become uncivil at once.”

It is sad to have to state that the famous “Royal Wilding” is no longer known, not even at Pynes, where it was extensively planted by Hugh Stafford.

Messrs. Veitch, the well-known nurserymen at[Pg 13] Exeter and growers of the finest sorts of apples, inform me that they have not heard of it for many years. Mr. H. Whiteway, who produces some of the best cyder in North Devon, writes to me: “With regard to the Royal Wilding mentioned in Mr. Hugh Stafford’s book, I have made diligent inquiry in and about the neighbourhood in which it was grown at the time stated, but up to now have been unable to find any trace of it, and this also applies to the White-Sour. I am, however, not without hope of discovering some day a solitary remnant of the variety.”

This loss is due to the utter neglect of the orchards in consequence of the passing and maintenance of Lord Bute’s mischievous Bill. This Bill was the more deplorable in its results because in and about 1750 cyder had replaced the lighter clarets in the affections of all classes, and was esteemed as good a drink as the finest Rhenish, and much more wholesome. Rudolphus Austen, who introduced it at the tables of the dons of Oxford, undertook to “raise cyder that shall compare and excel the wine of many provinces nearer the sun, where they abound with fruitful vineyards.” And he further asserted: “A seasonable and moderate use of good cyder is the surest remedy and preservative against the diseases which do frequently afflict the sedentary life of them that are seriously studious.” He died in 1666.

Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the advantage or disadvantage of cyder for those liable to rheumatism. But this difference of opinion is due largely, if not wholly, to the kinds of cyder drunk. The sweet cyder is unquestionably bad in such cases, but that in which there is not so much sugar is a corrective to the uric acid that causes rheumatism. In Noake’s Worcestershire Relics appears the following extract from the journal of a seventeenth-century parson.[Pg 14] “This parish (Dilwyn), wherein syder [sic] is plentiful, hath and doth afford many people that have and do enjoy the blessing of long life, neither are the aged here bed-ridden or decrepit as elsewhere, but for the most part lively and vigorous. Next to God, wee ascribe it to our flourishing orchards, which are not only the ornament but the pride of our country, yielding us rich and winy liquors.” At Whimple, in Devon, the rectors, like their contemporary, the Rev. Robert Wollocombe, the discoverer of the Royal Wilding a century or so later than the Dilwyn parson, were both cyder makers and cyder drinkers. The tenure of office of two of them covered a period of over a century, and the last of these worthy divines lived to tell the story of how the Exeter coach set down the bent and crippled dean at his door, who, after three weeks ‘cyder cure’ at the hospitable rectory, had thrown his crutches to the dogs and turned his face homewards “upright as a bolt.”[1]

The apple is in request now for three purposes quite distinct: the dessert apple, to rival those introduced from America; that largely employed for the manufacture of jams—the basis, apple, flavoured to turn it into raspberry, apricot, etc.; and last, but not least, the cyder-producing apple which is unsuited for either of the former requirements.

In my Book of the West I have given a lengthy ballad of instruction on the growth of apple trees, and the gathering of apples and the making of cyder, which I heard sung by an old man at Washfield, near Tiverton. The following song was sung to me by an aged tanner of Launceston, some twenty years ago, which he professed to have composed himself:—

[Pg 15]

In a nice little village not far from the sea,
Still lives my old uncle aged eighty and three;
Of orchards and meadows he owns a good lot,
Such cyder as his—not another has got.
Then fill up the jug, boys, and let it go round,
Of drinks not the equal in England is found.
So pass round the jug, boys, and pull at it free,
There’s nothing like cyder, sparkling cyder, for me.
My uncle is lusty, is nimble and spry,
As ribstones his cheeks, clear as crystal his eye,
His head snowy white as the flowering may,
And he drinks only cyder by night and by day.
Then fill up the jug, etc.
O’er the wall of the churchyard the apple trees lean
And ripen their burdens, red, golden, and green.
In autumn the apples among the graves lie;
“There I’ll sleep well,” says uncle, “when fated to die.”
Then fill up the jug, etc.
“My heart as an apple, sound, juicy, has been,
My limbs and my trunk have been sturdy and clean;
Uncankered I’ve thriven, in heart and in head,
So under the apple trees lay me when dead.”
Then fill up the jug, etc.


During the forties of last century, every visitor to Torquay noticed two young ladies of very singular appearance. Their residence was in one of the two thatched cottages on the left of Tor Abbey Avenue, looking seaward, very near the Torgate of the avenue. Their chief places of promenade were the Strand and Victoria Parade, but they were often seen in other parts of the town. Bad weather was the only thing that kept them from frequenting their usual beat. They were two Misses Durnford, and their costume was peculiar. The style varied only in tone and colour. Their shoes were generally green, but sometimes red. They were by no means bad-looking girls when young, but they were so berouged as to present the appearance of painted dolls. Their brown hair worn in curls was fastened with blue ribbon, and they wore felt or straw hats, usually tall in the crown and curled up at the sides. About their throats they had very broad frilled or lace collars that fell down over their backs and breasts a long way. But in summer their necks were bare, and adorned with chains of coral or bead. Their gowns were short, so short indeed as to display about the ankles a good deal more than was necessary of certain heavily-frilled cotton investitures of their lower limbs. In winter over their gowns were worn check jackets of a “loud” pattern reaching to their knees, and of a different[Pg 17] colour from their gowns, and with lace cuffs. They were never seen, winter or summer, without their sunshades. The only variation to the jacket was a gay-coloured shawl crossed over the bosom and tied behind at the waist.

Alphington Ponies


From a Lithograph

The sisters dressed exactly alike, and were so much alike in face as to appear to be twins. They were remarkably good walkers, kept perfectly in step, were always arm in arm, and spoke to no one but each other.

They lived with their mother, and kept no servant. All the work of the house was done by the three, so that in the morning they made no appearance in the town; only in the afternoon had they assumed their war-paint, when, about 3 p.m., they sallied forth; but, however highly they rouged and powdered, and however strange was their dress, they carried back home no captured hearts. Indeed, the visitors to Torquay looked upon them with some contempt as not being in society and not dressing in the fashion; only some of the residents felt for them in their solitude some compassion. They were the daughters of a Colonel Durnford, and had lived at Alphington. The mother was of an inferior social rank. They had a brother, a major in the Army, 10th Regiment, who was much annoyed at their singularity of costume, and offered to increase their allowance if they would discontinue it; but this they refused to do.

When first they came to Torquay, they drove a pair of pretty ponies they had brought with them from Alphington; but their allowance being reduced, and being in straitened circumstances, they had to dispose of ponies and carriage. By an easy transfer the name of Alphington Ponies passed on from the beasts to their former owners.

[Pg 18]

As they were not well off, they occasionally got into debt, and were summoned before the Court of Requests; and could be impertinent even to the judge. On one occasion, when he had made an order for payment, one of them said, “Oh, Mr. Praed, we cannot pay now; but my sister is about to be married to the Duke of Wellington, and then we shall be in funds and be able to pay for all we have had and are likely to want!” Once the two visited a shop and gave an order, but, instead of paying, flourished what appeared to be the half of a £5 note, saying, that when they had received the other half, they would be pleased to call and discharge the debt. But the tradesman was not to be taken in, and declined to execute the order. Indeed, the Torquay shopkeepers were very shy of them, and insisted on the money being handed over the counter before they would serve the ladies with the goods that they required.

They made no acquaintances in Torquay or in the neighbourhood, nor did any friends come from a distance to stay with them. They would now and then take a book out of the circulating library, but seemed to have no literary tastes, and no special pursuits. There was a look of intelligence, however, in their eyes, and the expression of their faces was decidedly amiable and pleasing.

They received very few letters; those that did arrive probably contained remittances of money, and were eagerly taken in at the door, but there was sometimes a difficulty about finding the money to pay for the postage. It is to be feared that the butcher was obdurate, and that often they had to go without meat. Fish, however, was cheap.

Alphington Ponies (Back)


Lithographed by P. Gauci. Pub. Ed. Cockrem

A gentleman writes: “Mr. Garrow’s house, The Braddons, was on my father’s hands to let. One day[Pg 19] the gardener, Tosse, came in hot haste to father and complained that the Alphington Ponies kept coming into the grounds and picking the flowers, that when remonstrated with they declared that they were related to the owner, and had permission. ‘Well,’ said father, ‘the next time you see them entering the gate run down and tell me.’ In a few days Tosse hastened to say that the ladies were again there. Father hurried up to the grounds, where he found them flower-picking. Without the least ceremony he insisted on their leaving the grounds at once. They began the same story to him of their relationship to the owner, adding thereto, that they were cousins of the Duke of Wellington. ‘Come,’ said father, ‘I can believe one person can go mad to any extent in any direction whatever, but the improbability of two persons going mad in identically the same direction and manner at the same time is a little too much for my credulity. Ladies, I beg you to proceed.’ And proceed they did.”

After some years they moved to Exeter, and took lodgings in St. Sidwell’s parish. For a while they continued to dress in the same strange fashion; but they came into some money, and then were able to indulge in trinkets, to which they had always a liking, but which previously they could not afford to purchase. At a large fancy ball, given in Exeter, two young Oxonians dressed up to represent these ladies; they entered the ballroom solemnly, arm in arm, with their parasols spread, paced round the room, and finished their perambulation with a waltz together. This caused much amusement; but several ladies felt that it was not in good taste, and might wound the poor crazy Misses Durnford. This, however, was not the case. So far from being offended at being caricatured, they[Pg 20] were vastly pleased, accepting this as the highest flattery. Were not princesses and queens also represented at the ball? Why, then, not they?

One public ball they did attend together, at which, amongst others, were Lady Rolle and Mr. Palk, son of the then Sir Lawrence Palk. Owing to their conspicuous attire, they drew on them the attention of Lady Rolle, who challenged Mr. Palk to ask one of the sisters for a dance, and offered him a set of gold and diamond shirt studs if he could prevail on either of them to be his partner. Mr. Palk accepted the challenge, but on asking for a dance was met in each case by the reply, “I never dance except my sister be also dancing.” Mr. Palk then gallantly offered to dance with both sisters at once, or in succession. He won and wore the studs.

A gentleman writes: “In their early days they made themselves conspicuous by introducing the bloomer arrangement in the nether latitude.[2] This, as you may well suppose, was regarded as a scandal; but these ladies, who were never known to speak to any one, or to each other out of doors, went on their way quite unruffled. Years and years after this, you may imagine my surprise at meeting them in Exeter, old and grey, but the same singular silent pair. Then, after an interval of a year or two, only one appeared. I assure you, it gave me pain to look at that poor lonely, very lonely soul; but it was not for long. Kind Heaven took her also, and so a tiny ripple was made, and there was an end of the Alphington Ponies.”


If there was ever a creature who merited the sympathy of the world, it is Maria Foote. If there was ever a wife who deserved its commiseration, it is her mother.” With these words begins a notice of the actress in The Examiner for 1825.

About the year 1796 an actor appeared in Plymouth under the name of Freeman, but whose real name was Foote, and who claimed relationship with Samuel Foote, the dramatist and performer. He was of a respectable family, and his brother was a clergyman at Salisbury. Whilst on a visit to his brother, he met the sister of his brother’s wife, both daughters of a Mr. Charles Hart; she was then a girl of seventeen, in a boarding-school, and to the disgrace of all parties concerned therein, this simple boarding-school maid was induced to marry a man twenty-five years older than herself, and to give great offence to her parents, who withdrew all interest in her they had hitherto shown. Foote returned to Plymouth with his wife, a sweet innocent girl. He was at the time proprietor and manager of the Plymouth Theatre; and as, in country towns, actors and actresses were looked down upon by society, no respectable family paid Mrs. Foote the least attention, and although the whole town was interested in her appearance, it regarded her simply with pity.

Deserted by the reputable of one sex, she threw[Pg 22] herself into the society of the other; and in Plymouth, her good humour, fascinating manner, long silken hair, and white hat and feather made havoc among the young bloods. The husband was too apathetic to care who hovered about his wife, with whom she flirted; and she, without being vicious, finding herself slighted causelessly, became indifferent to the world’s opinion. Her elderly husband, seeing that she was not visited, began himself to neglect her.

The produce of this ill-assorted union was Maria Foote, ushered into the world without a friend on the maternal, and very few on the paternal side, who took any interest in her welfare, and she was brought up amid scenes little calculated to give her self-respect, sense of propriety, or any idea of domestic love and happiness.

From the disappointment and weariness of mind that weighed on the slighted wife, Mrs. Foote sought relief in attending the theatre nightly and acting on the stage. Daily and hourly seeing, hearing, and talking of little else but the stage, as might be expected, a wish to become an actress took possession of the child’s mind at an early age.

When Maria was twelve years of age, her mother was so far lost to all delicacy of feeling, and her father so insensible to the duties of a father, that he suffered his only daughter to act Juliet to the Romeo of his wife.

Plymouth was disgusted, thoroughly disgusted, and whatever claims Mr. Foote had before to the notice of some private friends, they now considered these as forfeited for ever. From this moment a sort of reckless indifference seemed to possess the whole family. Nothing came amiss, so that money could be obtained; and Foote, who had been brought up as a gentleman,[Pg 23] and his wife as a lady, took a small inn in Exeter, in 1811, lost his wife’s fortune, became the dupe of rogues, and was ruined.

Maria Foote


From an engraved portrait in the collection of A. M. Broadley, Esq.

The fame of Maria Foote’s beauty and charm of manner had reached London, and in May, 1814, she made her first appearance at Covent Garden Theatre, and personated Amanthis in “The Child of Nature” with such grace and effect that the manager complimented her with an immediate engagement. Young, beautiful, intelligent, and with natural refinement, she was almost the creature she represented. A liberal salary was assigned to her, and the managers always considered the announcement of her name as certain of obtaining for them a crowded house. That she had no pretensions to a rank higher than that of a second-rate actress must, perhaps, be allowed. “I was never a great actress,” she used to say in later life, “though people thought me fascinating, and that I suppose I was.”

She was always dressed tastefully, looked charming, and was a universal favourite among the lobby loungers. A writer in The Drama for 1825 says: “To those who know nothing of a theatre, it may be new to tell them that an interesting girl is in the jaws of ruin, who enters it as an actress, unless watched and protected by her family and friends. Constantly exposed to the gaze of men—inflaming a hundred heads, and agitating a thousand hearts, if she be as Maria was, fascinating and amiable—surrounded by old wretches as dressers, who are the constant conveyers of letters, sonnets and flattery—dazzled by the thunders of public applause, and softened by the incense of a thousand sighs, breathed audibly from the front of the pit or the stage boxes—associating in the green-room with licensed married[Pg 24] strumpets, because she must not be affected! Or supping on the stage, after the curtain is dropped, with titled infamy or grey-headed lechery!—Let the reader fancy an innocent girl, from a country town, plunged at once into the furnace of depravity—let him fancy her father sanctioning her by his indifference or helping her by his example, and then let him say, if she be ultimately seduced and abandoned, whether it ought not to be a wonder she was innocent so long.”

In spite of an education that never cherished the best feelings of a child, Maria had a far sounder understanding than her parents, and an instinctive modesty that withstood the evil with which she was surrounded.

In the summer of 1815, Maria Foote was engaged as a star to perform at Cheltenham, and there attracted the attention of Fitzharding Berkeley, better known as Colonel Berkeley. This gentleman was the son of Frederick Augustus, fifth Earl of Berkeley, by Mary Cole, the beautiful daughter of a butcher at Gloucester, to whom he was married in 1796. The Colonel was born in 1786. The Earl, indeed, affirmed that a private marriage had taken place in 1785; the House of Lords disallowed the proofs, in consequence of which one of the Colonel’s younger brothers, born after 1796, became entitled to the earldom; he, however, always refused to assume the title. Colonel Berkeley was an enthusiastic amateur of the stage, and he offered his services to perform at the benefit of Miss Foote, and she accepted his offer. The house was full to the ceiling, and Maria, of course, felt grateful for the aid thus lent her. After thus ingratiating himself, he seized the opportunity to plead the passion with which she had inspired him. The old Earl, his father, had died in 1810, and the Colonel was endeavouring to establish his claim to the earldom. He pleaded with her, that[Pg 25] till his claim was allowed he could not well marry her, as such a marriage, he asserted, would prejudice his suit to recover the forfeited earldom of Berkeley, but he solemnly vowed his intention to make her his wife the moment that he could do so without injuring his cause. By this means he deluded the unfortunate girl into a connexion with him that lasted for five years, and during all that time he made her no allowance beyond the payment of those expenses which he himself had led her to incur, and the presents he made to her did not in all that time amount to £100. In 1821, Maria bore the Colonel a child, and had again expectations of becoming a mother in 1824, and in the June of that year all connexion ceased between them.

In the spring of 1823, Mr. Joseph Hayne, a young man of fortune, commonly known, from the colour of his coat, as “Pea-green” Hayne, saw Maria Foote at Covent Garden Theatre, was struck with her beauty, called at her house in Keppel Street, and invited Mr. Foote to spend some days with him at Kitson Hall in Staffordshire, one of his seats. The invitation was accepted, and there Hayne informed the father that he desired to pay his addresses to his charming daughter. Mr. Foote hurried back to town, and as Maria was expecting her confinement, sent off his wife with her into the country under the feigned name of Forbes, to remain in concealment till after that event.

In the following January, Hayne again called at Keppel Street, and announced to Mrs. Foote that he seriously desired to be united in marriage to her daughter. Mrs. Foote informed him that Maria was engaged to be married to Colonel Berkeley, and that her daughter could not listen to his suit unless the Colonel failed to fulfil his promise. Hayne then said[Pg 26] that he was about to go into the country, and asked permission to escort Mrs. and Miss Foote to the opera, and to tender to them his private box. To this the lady consented. As it happened, Colonel Berkeley with a Mr. Manse happened to be in the pit that evening, and the Colonel at once dispatched his friend to the box to request Hayne to speak with him in the pit. When the young buck came to him, Berkeley asked him for an explanation of his conduct with respect to Miss Foote, and desired a meeting on the following day. When they met the Colonel disclosed to Hayne everything relative to his connexion with Maria Foote, and told him that he was the father by her of two children. On hearing this Mr. Hayne at once wrote to the lady to withdraw his proposal of marriage. She, in reply, requested an interview with him in order to explain the circumstances. This took place at Marlborough in the presence of Mrs. Foote. The young man (he was aged only twenty-two) was moved by her sad story, and on his return to town found that his flame had not been quenched by the revelation. So he penned a letter to Maria, stating that his feelings remained unaltered, and begging her to marry him. After some negotiation she agreed to this, and at Hayne’s advice the children were sent to Colonel Berkeley, who had asked for them. Hayne proposed to settle £40,000 on Miss Foote, for himself and her to receive the dividends during their joint lives, and after the death of the survivor of them, to be distributed equally among the children of the marriage, if any; and if, at the death of Mr. Hayne, his wife should survive him, but have no children, then £20,000 was to become the absolute property of the widow. The day for the wedding was fixed to take place on the ensuing 4th September, and “May God strike me[Pg 27] dead,” asseverated the young man, “if ever I consent to separate myself from you, dearest Maria.”

A few days later, Mr. Bebb, “Pea-green” Hayne’s solicitor, called in Keppel Street, at Mr. Foote’s house, and left a verbal message to the effect “that Mr. Hayne would never see Miss Foote again.” Great consternation was produced in the family, and the young actress at once wrote to her new lover to entreat an interview and an explanation. The bearer of the letter encountered Hayne in Bond Street, and he returned with the servant in a coach to Keppel Street. Hayne informed Maria that it was not his fault that he had acted in so strange a manner towards her; that it had been his firm intention to fulfil his engagement, but that, on his return home on Sunday, some persons had first plied him with liquor, so as to make him in such a beastly state of intoxication that he knew not what he did; that they afterwards locked him up in a little back room, from which he had only that moment made his escape, which his exhausted appearance would prove, and that when he met the servant with the letter he was on his way to see his dearest Maria. The explanation was received, a reconciliation was effected, and as “Pea-green” was so evidently a weak young man, liable to be swayed this way or that according to whom he was with, it was resolved that a special licence should at once be procured, and that the marriage should take place on the following morning at nine o’clock.

The night passed anxiously enough on the part of Miss Foote, who realized that there was many a slip between the cup and the lip. At length the morning arrived, everything was prepared, the bride’s maid was in attendance, as were also Mr. Gill, the lawyer with the marriage settlement, and Mr. Robins, the trustee;[Pg 28] but the bridegroom did not turn up, or send any notice that he was kept away. The parties waited till three o’clock, and then a note was dispatched to him at Long’s Hotel, where he was staying. The servant who took it was ushered into a private room, and was there detained, under one pretext or another, for a considerable time, and was finally informed that Joseph Hayne, Esq., had gone into the country, to his seat at Burdeson Park, Wiltshire. For six days did the young lady wait in anxious expectation of receiving some communication from the defaulting bridegroom. At length, on the sixth day, she wrote to him a distressed and piteous appeal. To this she received an answer: “My dearest Maria, you are perfectly correct when you say that my heart and thoughts are still with you.” Hayne then stated that the world was censorious, that he was divided between love for her and esteem for his friends and dread of their disapproval. The letter then went on to state, “I am resolved to sacrifice friends to affection; I cannot, will not lose you.”

After a short interval, Hayne returned to London and called on Miss Foote, at her father’s residence, and they became perfectly reconciled, and the 28th September was finally fixed for the day of their marriage. This fell on the Tuesday, and Monday was appointed for the execution of the marriage settlement. On Saturday, Hayne, accompanied by Mr. Foote, went to Doctors’ Commons, and there procured the marriage licence, which Hayne himself delivered into the hands of his intended bride, and solicited leave to wait on her the following morning. But instead of calling himself, a gentleman named Manning appeared at the house of the Footes, and brought a letter from Mr. Hayne to the father of Maria, which stated that poor Joseph was so wretched as to be unable himself to call, but that the[Pg 29] bearer would explain everything, and finally concluded by breaking off the match.

After this, Miss Foote received another letter from Hayne: “My dearest Maria,—We know each other well; but with all my faults, you have a regard for my honour,—my attachment to you is unabated. I entreat you to grant me an interview in any other place than Keppel Street.”

To this letter the fair Maria replied: “Is this the way of proving your love and regard for me? To my honour and your shame be it spoken, that I am now suffering under a painful illness, brought on entirely by your conduct; but that you are actuated by the advice of bad counsels, I have no doubt. I will, however, once more consent to see you, but it must be in the presence of my family: if I am well enough, on Saturday, at one o’clock, it will be convenient to me to grant you an interview.” In reply “Pea-green” wrote: “Farewell for ever.—Hayne.”

For his breach of promise, Miss Foote brought an action for damages. The Attorney-General was retained on behalf of the plaintiff; and Mr. Scarlett on behalf of the defendant. The case was heard on 21 December, 1824.

It then transpired that Mr. Foote, the father, had been given by Mr. Hayne, to secure his goodwill, the sum of £1150; that Miss Foote had received presents from the defendant to the value of £1000. It was shown that gross deception had been practised on Hayne, at the time of Maria’s expected confinement, to conceal from him her condition, and it had been represented to him that she had been taken into the country as suffering from a pulmonary complaint.

However, after he had learned all the circumstances, and knew that she had been “under the protection” of[Pg 30] Colonel Berkeley and had borne him two children, he renewed his offer of marriage. Miss Foote demanded £20,000 damages. The jury, after a brief consultation, agreed to accord her £3000; a large slice of which sum, if not the largest portion of it, was eaten up by the lawyers employed in the case by her.

None came out well in the matter. As the Attorney-General remarked: “He could not trust himself in using language he thought sufficient to express his detestation of Colonel Berkeley’s conduct.” Joseph Hayne appeared as a public fop who did not know his own mind from one day to another.

Mrs. Foote was revealed to be a scheming unprincipled woman, but Mr. Foote came out worst of all. As The Examiner said of him: “There is scarcely a family living, or a family dead, that he has not treated with the dirtiest selfishness, whatever were his obligations—spunging till he was insulted, lying till he was discovered, puffing till he was the butt of the town. The people of Plymouth can relate a thousand instances of this description.”

Maria Foote came out best of all. She, brought up by such detestably mean parents, without protection, exposed to temptation at every turn, was more to be pitied than blamed. This the town felt, and when, on 5 February, 1825, her benefit was given at Covent Garden Theatre, the house was packed. The Drama, or Theatrical Magazine, says: “The fullest house of this season, indeed of any season within our experience, assembled this evening. The performance was not the attraction; the overruling anxiety was to be present at the reappearance of Miss Foote. A more intense interest could not have been displayed; it was without parallel in the records of theatrical history. For many weeks past every seat in the boxes[Pg 31]—in the dress circle—of the first circle—in the slips—all were engaged, and would have been engaged had the theatre been double its dimensions. Even part of the orchestra was appropriated to the accommodation of visitors with guinea tickets; and an additional douceur was in the course of the evening given even for tolerable sight-room. Not the fraction of a seat was to be had; and before the rising of the curtain the whole interior of the theatre was crowded almost to suffocation. During the first scenes of the performance (The Belle’s Stratagem) little else was heard than the din and bustle consequent on the adjustment and regulation of places. At length, at an advanced period of the first act, Miss Foote appeared. The utmost stillness prevailed in the house immediately previous to her expected entrée; she at length appeared, and was received with a burst of loud, continued, and enthusiastic acclamation, such as we never remember to have heard or known to have been equalled at any theatre. All the persons in the pit and, with scarcely an exception, in the boxes and other parts of the house, stood up and welcomed her return to the stage with the most marked and emphatic kindness. The waving of hats, handkerchiefs, was resorted to. There was something, too, in the manner of her appearance, which contributed greatly to enhance, while it seemed to entreat, the indulgent consideration with which the audience were inclined to receive her. She advanced with downcast look and faltering step to the front of the stage, and became affected even to tears. There was a diffidence, a timidity, and a truly distressing embarrassment in her mode of coming forward, which, together with her beauty and the recollection of her sufferings, was calculated to compel pity. It was a scene which did equal honour to the[Pg 32] audience, who duly appreciated the distress of her situation, and to the object of their sympathy, who gave such a pathetic attestation of her consciousness of it. Many ladies—and there were many present—could not refrain from tears. Those parts, and there were several throughout the play, capable of being applied to Miss Foote’s peculiar situation, were seized on by the audience, and followed by loud plaudits. At the delivery of the lines

What is your fortune, my pretty maid?
My face is my fortune, sir, she said,

a burst of acclamation was sent forth, almost equal to that which greeted her entrance. The two lines which succeeded were, if possible, still more applicable to recent events, which have occupied so much of the attention of the Bar and of the public.

Then I’ll not marry you, my pretty maid.
There’s nobody asking you, sir, she said.

The good-humoured approval that followed these lines, which was in no degree abated by the arch air with which Miss Foote gave them, cannot be conveyed by verbal description. At the expression of the sentence, ‘This moment is worth a whole existence,’ Miss Foote bowed to the audience in grateful acknowledgment of the reception she had met with. Altogether Miss Foote’s reappearance has been most gratifying. She has been hailed as a favourite of the public, who has been basely lured from virtue, but who is not on that account treated as an alien from its path.”

The total receipts that evening amounted to £900. 16s. At the latter end of 1830, Madame Vestris took the Olympic Theatre, and opened it, on 3 January of the following year, with a drama on the subject of Mary[Pg 33] Queen of Scots, in which Miss Foote, who appears for a time to have been in partnership with her, played the heroine. But she soon after quitted the stage, and on 7 April, 1831, was married to the eccentric Charles Stanhope, eighth Earl of Harrington and Viscount Petersham. He was aged fifty-one and she aged thirty-three. They had one daughter; he died in 1851, and she, as Dowager Countess of Harrington, lived until 27 December, 1867.

Mrs. Bancroft, in On and Off the Stage (London, 1888), gives us a pleasant recollection of Maria Foote in her old age as Dowager Countess of Harrington.

“My father had known her slightly when she was in her zenith, and would often speak of her as one of the loveliest and most amiable of women. He would often recall not only the charm she possessed as an accomplished actress, but her good-nature to everybody, high and low, in the theatre.... My mother had never met Lady Harrington, but she soon grew much attached to one who became a true friend to me, and as time went on seemed more and more endeared to me. She must have been very beautiful when young, being still extremely handsome as an old lady. She was as good, too, as she was handsome; and I can never forget her kindness to me. When I was once seriously ill with an attack of bronchitis, Lady Harrington was unwearying in her attention to me, and would, day after day, sit by my bedside reading to me, and would bring with her all the delicacies she could think of. When I had sufficiently recovered my strength, she sent me to the seaside to recruit my health. To record all the kindnesses she bestowed on me and mine would fill up many pages, but my gratitude is indelibly written on my heart. She gave me a portrait of herself, as Maria Darlington in[Pg 34] A Roland for an Oliver, and by it one can see how lovely she must have been. Among her other gifts was a beautiful old-fashioned diamond and ruby ring, which she told me was given to her by the Earl when he was engaged to be married to her.... Lady Harrington was much attached to (her old butler) Payne, and also to her maid, who, I believe, had been in her service since she was quite young, and often spoke of them as Romeo and Juliet. I recall many a happy visit to Richmond Terrace, and until her last illness I had no better friend than Lady Harrington.

“On the afternoon of Friday, 27 December, 1867, my mind was unaccountably full of thoughts about her. I had been making some purchases in Regent Street, and on my way home in a cab was wondering, as I was driven through the crowd of vehicles, if I should ever see her in her well-known carriage again, with its snuff-coloured ‘Petersham brown’ body, the long brown coats, the silver hat cords of the coachman and footman, the half-crescents of white leather which formed part of the harness across the foreheads of the horses.

“On the following day I received the sorrowful news that Lady Harrington was dead at the time I had thought so much of her, and that I had lost a friendship for which Time can never lessen my gratitude.”


On Thursday evening, 3 April, 1817, the overseer of the parish of Almondsbury, in Gloucestershire, called at Knole Park, the residence of Samuel Worall, Esq., to inform him that a young female had entered a cottage in the village, and had made signs to express her desire to sleep there; but not understanding her language, the good folk of the cottage communicated with the overseer, and he, as perplexed as the cottagers, went for counsel to the magistrate. Mr. Worall ordered that she should be brought to Knole, and presently the overseer returned with a slim damsel, dressed poorly but quaintly, with a sort of turban about her head, not precisely beautiful, but with very intelligent speaking eyes.

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Worall could make heads or tails of what she said. He had a Greek valet who knew or could recognize most of the languages spoken in the Levant, but he also was at fault; he could not catch a single word of her speech that was familiar to him. By signs she was questioned as to whether she had any papers, and she produced from her pocket a bad sixpence and a few halfpence. Under her arm she carried a small bundle containing some necessaries, and a piece of soap wound up in a bit of linen. Her dress consisted of a black stuff gown with a muslin[Pg 36] frill round her neck, a black cotton shawl twisted about her head, and a red and black shawl thrown over her shoulders, leather shoes, and black worsted stockings.

The general impression produced from her person and manners was favourable. Her head was small, her eyes black, hair also black; the forehead was low, nose short, in complexion a brunette. The cheeks were faintly tinged with red. The mouth was rather wide, teeth pearly white, lips large and full, the underlip slightly projecting. The chin small and round. Her height was 5 ft. 2 in. Her hands were clean and small and well cared for. Obviously they had not been accustomed to labour. She wore no ear-rings, but the marks of having worn them remained. Her age appeared to be twenty-five.

After consultation, it was thought advisable to send her to the village inn; and as Mrs. Worall was interested in her, she sent her own maid and the footman to attend the stranger to the public-house, it being late in the evening, and to request the landlady to give her a private room and a comfortable bed.

The young woman seemed to be greatly fatigued and walked with difficulty. When shown the room in which she was to sleep, she prepared to lie down on the mat upon the floor; whereupon the landlady put her own little girl into the bed, so as to explain its purport to her guest. The stranger then undressed and went to bed.

Next morning Mrs. Worall went to the inn at seven o’clock and found her sitting dejectedly by the fire. The clergyman of the parish had brought some books of travel and illustrated geographies to show her, so that she might give some clue as to whence she came. She manifested pleasure at the pictures of China and the Chinese.



[Pg 37]

Mrs. Worall now took her to Knole, where by signs, pointing to herself and uttering the word Caraboo, she explained to her hostess that this was her name. At dinner she declined all animal food, and took nothing to drink but water, showing marked disgust at beer, cyder, and meat.

Next day she was conveyed to Bristol and examined before the mayor and magistrates, but nothing was made out concerning her, and she was consigned to St. Peter’s Hospital for Vagrants.

There she remained till the ensuing Monday—three days—refusing food of every description. On that day Mrs. Worall went into Bristol and visited her at the hospital. The friendless situation of the foreign lady had in the interim become public, and several gentlemen had called upon her, bringing with them foreigners of their acquaintance, in the hope of discovering who she was. Caraboo expressed lively delight at seeing Mrs. Worall again, and that lady, deeply touched, removed her from the hospital to the office of Mr. Worall, in Bristol, where she remained for ten days under the care of the housekeeper.

Daily efforts were made to discover her language and country, but without effect. At last a Portuguese of the name of Manuel Eynesso, who happened to be in Bristol, had an interview, and he professed that he was able to interpret what she said. The tale he revealed was that she was a person of consequence in her own country, and had been decoyed from an island in the East Indies, brought to England against her wishes, and then deserted. He further added that her language was not a pure dialect, but was a mixture of several tongues spoken in Sumatra. On this Mrs. Worall removed Caraboo to Knole, and from 3 April[Pg 38] to 6 June her hostess, the whole family, and the domestics treated her with the utmost consideration and regard.

Among the visitors at Knole was a gentleman who had made many voyages in the East Indies, and he took a lively interest in the girl, and conversed with her, partly by word of mouth and partly—when at fault for words—by signs.

It must have been an interesting sight, the travelled gentleman interrogating Caraboo and taking notes of her reply, with an admiring circle around of the family and visitors, wondering at his linguistic acquirements and facility of speech in Oriental tongues. This traveller committed to writing the following particulars obtained from Caraboo.

She was daughter of a person of high rank, of Chinese origin, by a Mandin, or Malay woman, who was killed in war between the Boogoos (cannibals) and the Mandins (Malays). Whilst walking in her garden at Javasu attended by three sammen (women), she was seized by pirates commanded by a man named Chee-ming, bound hand and foot, her mouth covered, and carried off. She herself in her struggles wounded two of Chee-ming’s men with her creese; one of these died, the other recovered by the assistance of a justee (surgeon). After eleven days she was sold to the captain of a brig called the Tappa-Boo. A month later she arrived at a port, presumably Batavia, remained there two days, and then started for England, which was reached in eleven weeks. In consequence of ill-usage by the crew, she made her escape to shore. She had had a dress of silk embroidered and interwoven with gold, but she had been induced to exchange this with a woman in a cottage whose doors were painted green, but the situation of which she could not describe.[Pg 39] The garments she now wore were those she had received from the cottager.

After wandering over the country for six weeks, she had arrived at Almondsbury. She spoke of her mother’s teeth as artificially blackened (i.e. by chewing betelnut); her face and arms were painted, and she wore a jewel in her nose, and a gold chain from it was attached to her left temple. Her father had three more wives, and he was usually borne upon the shoulders of macratoos (common men) in a palanquin.

She described the dress she wore at home. Seven peacock’s feathers adorned the right side of her cap or turban. Upon being furnished with calico, she made herself a dress in the style she had been accustomed to. It was short in the skirt, the sleeves wide and long enough to reach to the ground. A broad embroidered band passed round her waist, and the fringe of the skirt, of the sleeves and the bosom, was embroidered. She wore no stockings, and was furnished with sandals of Roman fashion. She sometimes twisted her hair and rolled it up at the top of her head and fastened it with a skewer.

During the ten weeks she resided at Knole and in Bristol, she was never heard to pronounce a word or syllable that at all resembled a European tongue. Mrs. Worall’s housekeeper, who slept with her, never heard on any occasion any other language, any tone of voice other than those she had employed when she first entered the house.

She was equally constant in her choice of food, and showed great nicety as to her diet. She dressed everything herself, preferring rice to anything else, did not care for bread, rejected meat, and drank only water or tea. She refused a pigeon, which she called a rampue, that had been dressed by the cook; but when given[Pg 40] a bird that was alive, she pulled off the head, poured the blood into the earth and covered it up, then cooked the bird herself and ate it. This was the only animal food she could be induced to touch, except fish, which she treated in the same manner.

On every Tuesday she fasted rigidly, on which day she contrived to ascend to the roof of the house, frequently at the imminent peril of her life. Ablutions she was particularly fond of; she regularly knelt by the pond in Knole Park and washed her face and hands in it.

After three weeks’ residence at Knole, she was one morning missing. But she returned in the evening with a bundle of clothes, her shoes and hands dirty. Then she fell seriously ill.

On Saturday, 6 June, she again took flight. She had not taken with her a pin or needle or ribbon but what had been given to her. She bent her way to Bath, and on the following Sunday, Mrs. Worall received information of the place to which her protégée had flown. She determined to reclaim her, and started for Bath, which she reached on Sunday afternoon.

Here she found the Princess of Javasu, as she was called, at the pinnacle of her glory, in the drawing-room of a lady of the haut ton, one fair lady kneeling at her feet and taking her hand, and another imploring to be allowed the honour of a kiss.

Dr. Wilkinson, of Bath, was completely bewildered when he visited her, and wrote to the Bath Chronicle a glowing account of Caraboo, in full belief that she was all she pretended to be. “Nothing has yet transpired to authorize the slightest suspicion of Caraboo, nor has such ever been entertained except by those whose souls feel not the spirit of benevolence, and wish to convert into ridicule that amiable disposition in others.”

[Pg 41]

Dr. Wilkinson resolved on going to London to consult the Foreign Office, and to obtain funds for the present relief of the Princess, and her restoration to her native land.

Mrs. Worall left Bath, taking Caraboo with her. But the wide circulation of the story led to her detection.

On the following Monday, a Mrs. Neale called on a Mr. Mortimer, and urged him to go to Knole and tell Mrs. Worall that she knew the girl very well, for she had lodged in her house in the suburbs of Bristol. At the same time a youth arrived from Westbury, a wheelwright’s son, who had met her upon her first expedition to Almondsbury, and remembered seeing her at a public-house by the roadside, where a gentleman, feeling compassion for her weariness, had taken her in and treated her to beefsteak and hot rum and water.

Mrs. Worall was much disconcerted, but wisely said nothing to her guest of what she had heard, and took Caraboo next day in her carriage to Bristol under the plea that she was going to have Mr. Bird, the artist, complete the portrait of the princess on which he was engaged, and desired a final sitting. But instead of driving to Mr. Bird’s studio, the princess was conveyed to the house of Mr. Mortimer, where she was shown into a room by herself, whilst Mrs. Worall had an interview with Mrs. Neale elsewhere. This lady was attended by her daughter, and their story both surprised and confounded the kind magistrate’s wife. After a protracted discussion, she returned to Caraboo, and told her plainly that she was convinced that she was an impostor. When Caraboo heard that Mrs. Neale had denounced her, she burst into tears and her fortitude gave way. She made a few feeble attempts to keep up the deception, but finally made a full confession.

[Pg 42]

Her name was Mary Baker. She was born at Witheridge in Devonshire in 1791, and had received no education, being of a wild disposition and impatient of study. At the age of eight she was employed spinning wool during the winter, and in summer she drove her father’s horses, weeded the corn, etc. At the age of sixteen her father and mother procured a situation for her at a farmhouse with a Mr. Moon, at Brushford, near Witheridge. She remained there two years as nurse and general help, but left because paid only tenpence a week, and she demanded that her wage should be raised to a shilling, which Mr. Moon refused.

Her father and mother were highly incensed at her leaving, and treated her so ill that she ran away from home and went to Exeter, where she knew no one, but had a written character from her former mistress. She was engaged by a shoemaker named Brooke at the wage of £8 per annum. But she remained in this situation only two months. She spent her wage on fine clothes, especially a white gown, and went home in it. Her father was angry at seeing her dressed in white like a lady, and peremptorily ordered her to take the gown off. She refused and left, returned to Exeter, and went about begging. She wandered to Taunton and thence to Bristol, begging from house to house. From Bristol she made her way to London, where she fell ill with fever, and was taken into St. Giles’s Hospital. There she enlisted the pity and sympathy of a dissenting preacher, who, when she was well enough to leave, recommended her to a Mrs. Matthews, 1 Clapham Road Place, and with her she tarried for three years. Mrs. Matthews was very kind to her, and taught her to read; but she was a strict woman, and of the straitest sect of Calvinists. One day Mary heard that there was to be a[Pg 43] Jews’ wedding in the synagogue near by, and she asked leave to be allowed to witness it. Her mistress refused, but Mary was resolved not to be debarred the spectacle, so she persuaded a servant in a neighbouring house to write a letter to Mrs. Matthews, as if from a friend of hers, to say that she was hourly expecting her confinement and was short of domestics: would Mrs. Matthews lend her the aid of Mary Baker for a while? Mrs. Matthews could not refuse the favour and sent Mary out of the house, and Mary went to the synagogue and saw what was to be seen there.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Matthews had sent to inquire how her dear friend was getting through with her troubles, and expressed a hope that Mary had been of assistance in the house. To her unbounded surprise, she learned that the good lady was not in particular trouble just then, and that she really did not comprehend what Mrs. Matthews meant about Mary’s assistance. When Mary returned to the house, having seen the breaking of the goblet and heard some psalm singing, she found that a storm was lowering. Her mistress had sent for the dissenting minister to give it hot and strong to the naughty girl. To escape this harangue Mary ran away, wandered about the streets, and seeing a Magdalen Reformatory, applied at the door for admission. “What! so young and so depraved!” was the exclamation with which she was received. She was admitted and remained in the institution some time, and was confirmed by the Bishop of London. Then it was discovered that she had all along not been qualified for admission, and was expelled.

She then exchanged her female garments for a boy’s suit at a Jew’s pawnshop, and started to walk back to Devonshire, begging her way. On Salisbury Plain she fell in with highwaymen, who offered to take her into[Pg 44] their company if she could fire a pistol. A pistol was put into her hand, but when she pulled the trigger and it was discharged, she screamed and threw the weapon down. Thereupon the highwaymen turned her off, as a white-livered poltroon unfit for their service. She made her way back to Witheridge to her father, and then went into service at Crediton to a tanner, but left her place at the end of three months, unable further to endure the tedium. Then she passed through a succession of services, never staying in any situation longer than three months, and found her way back to London. There, according to her account, she married a foreign gentleman at a Roman Catholic chapel, where the priest officiated to tie the knot. She accompanied her husband to Brighton and thence to Dover, where he gave her the slip, and she had not seen him or heard from him since. She returned to London, was eventually confined, and placed her child in the Foundling Institution; then took a situation not far off and visited the child once a week till it died. After a while she again appeared at Witheridge, but her reception was so far from cordial that she left it and associated with gipsies, travelling about with them, telling fortunes.

It was now, according to her account, that the idea entered her head of playing the part of a distinguished stranger from the East, and when she quitted the gipsies, she assumed that part—with what success we have seen.

Mrs. Worall sent into Devon to ascertain what amount of truth was in this story. It turned out that her father was named Willcocks, and was a cobbler at Witheridge, and badly off. He confirmed Mary’s tale as far as he knew it. She had had an illness when young, and had been odd, restless, and flighty ever since; especially in spring and autumn did she become[Pg 45] most impatient and uncontrollable. He denied that he had treated her cruelly, but he had taken the stick to her occasionally, as she was specially aggravating by throwing up every situation obtained for her after staying in it for but a short while.

Mary Wilcocks


Drawn and Engraved by N. Branwhite

Finally Mrs. Worall got her embarked on board a vessel, the Robert and Anne, at Bristol, Captain Richardson, under her mother’s maiden name of Burgess, for the United States, in the hopes that she might be able to find a situation in Philadelphia.

The reason why she was entered in her mother’s name was to prevent her from being overwhelmed by the visits and attentions of the curious. As it was, the Earl of Cork and the Marquess of Salisbury obtained interviews, got the girl to tell her story, speak her lingo, and doubtless did not leave without having put gold into her palm.

She was certainly a remarkable character, with astounding self-possession. Once or twice the housekeeper at Knole would rouse her by some startling cry or call when she was asleep, but even then she never passed out of her assumed character.

At Bath, the lady who had received her into her house proposed that a collection should be made to defray her expenses in returning home to Javasu. Bank-notes were thrown on the table, and some fell off on the floor. Caraboo looked on with stolid indifference. If she picked one up she replaced it on the table without glancing at the note to see how much it was worth; in fact, she acted as if she did not understand that bank-notes were other than valueless scraps of paper.

She was, moreover, insensible to flattery. A young gentleman seated himself by her one day and said, “I think that you are the loveliest creature I ever set[Pg 46] eyes on!” She remained quite unmoved, not a flutter of colour was in her cheek.

The Greek valet mistrusted her at first, but after a while was completely won over to believe that she was a genuine Oriental princess. She was entirely free from vicious propensities beyond that of feigning to be what she was not. She never purloined anything; never showed any token of wantonness. Vanity and the love of hoaxing people were her prevailing passions; there was nothing worse behind.

So over the blue sea she passed to the West, and what became of her there, whether there she gulled the Americans into believing her to be an English countess or marchioness, is unknown.

Of one thing we may be pretty certain, that the gentleman who had visited the Far East, and who pretended to understand her language and thereby drew out her history, never again dared to show his face at Knole.

The authority for this story is: “A narrative of a Singular Imposition practiced ... by a young woman of the name of Mary Willcocks alias Baker, ... alias Caraboo, Princess of Javasu.” Published by Gutch, of Bristol, in 1817. This contains two portraits, one by E. Bird, R.A., the other a full-length sketch of her in her costume as a princess.


The family of Arscott, of Dunsland, is one of the most ancient in the county. Its certified pedigree goes back to 1300, when they were Arscotts, of Arscott, in the parish of Holsworthy. The elder branch remained at Dunsland, one of the finest houses in North Devon, or rather cluster of houses, for it consists of the early mansion of the reign, at latest, of Henry VII, probably much earlier, of another portion erected in the reign of James I, and of a stately more modern mansion erected in the seventeenth century. Dunsland came into the possession of the Arscotts through marriage with the heiress of Battyn in 1522. In 1634 the heiress of Arscott married William Bickford, and it remained in the Bickford family till 1790, when the heiress conveyed it to her husband, William Holland Coham. In 1827 the heiress of Coham conveyed Arscott and Dunsland to her husband, Captain Harvey Dickenson, of the Madras Army, whose son now owns the estate and resides at Dunsland.

So far the elder branch. The junior branch of Arscott was settled at Tetcott in 1550, where it continued till 1783, when died John Arscott, of Tetcott, the last of that stock, whereupon the Tetcott estate passed to the Molesworths through the descendant of a great-aunt.

Tetcott House—the older—remains, turned into[Pg 48] stables and residence for coachmen and grooms. A stately new mansion was erected in the reign of Queen Anne. But when the property passed to the Molesworths this was pulled down, and all its contents dispersed. The family portraits, the carved oak furniture, the china fell to the contractor who demolished the mansion. But the park remains with its noble oak trees, and of this more anon.

John Arscott, of Tetcott, was born in 1718 or 1719; he lived all his life at the family mansion, and was a mighty hunter before the Lord.

On the presentation of Sir W. Molesworth, Bart., the Rev. Paul W. Molesworth was presented to the living of Tetcott, and he, in 1855, succeeded to the baronetcy.

In the register of Tetcott he made the following entry in Latin, which is here given in translation:—

“Of the Rectors who preceded me I know almost nothing. John Holmes, whose name appears first in the list of Rectors, was inducted by ‘Quare impedit’—to use the legal term—in face of the Bishop’s objection. Of this I was assured by the Rev. G. C. Gorham, who about the year 1848, as the Bishop of Exeter—H. Phillpotts—refused to institute him to a benefice on account of his unsoundness on Baptism, attempted to get himself instituted compulsorily in the same manner.

“James Sanxay, whose name comes lower down in the list, was a man of no small classical learning, as is proved by his editing a Lexicon of Aristophanes.

“I have heard it said of him, that on the title page of a book he added after his name the letters—O.T.D., and on being asked what these signified, he replied: ‘I have noticed that most Authors, when publishing their writings, have the greatest objection to their bare[Pg 49] name, always add something to it, such as—F.R.S., LL.D., M.A. So to keep up the old custom, I myself have added O.T.D., that is—Of Tetcott, Devon.’”

Arscott of Tetcott


“The good old Squire! once more along the glen,
Oh, for the scenes of old! the former men!”
R. S. Hawker

From the picture by J. Northcote. R.A.

[Between the above and what follows a leaf has been cut out of the register. Perhaps other rectors were told of on this missing leaf.]

“Of the ‘Lords’ who have held the manor of Tetcott in an unbroken line, there are not many surviving memories.

“I have heard a story told by the old parishioners of one known as ‘The wicked Arscott,’ so named because he used to keep poor people and beggars from his doors by big dogs. He still, they say, pays the penalty of his cruelty in an old oak near the Church.

“He was succeeded, though I cannot say whether at once or after an interval, by John Arscott, the last of that name in Tetcott, and the most famous. You will find him described with no small literary skill on a following page. He was benevolent to poor children, and a generous and attentive host. He kept open house, as they say, thinking more of love than of money. An eager student of the laws of nature, and at the same time a devoted follower of the chase, whether of stag, or fox, or any other such beast, he was at once the enemy and the patron of dumb animals. He used to keep a toad on the doorsteps of his house with such care, that that hateful and loathsome animal, moved by such unusual kindness, used to come out of its hiding place, when its master called it, and take its food on the table before his astonished guests, until it lost its life through the peck of a tame raven. This fact, I believe, has escaped the notice of every writer on British reptiles. May the toad be reverenced in Tetcott for ever. Not even the rapacious spider was[Pg 50] forgotten. For when one had spun its fatal toils in a corner of a pew in the Church, our Knight used to bring a bottle full of flies into the sacred building itself, that he might while away the tediousness of Divine Service by feeding his Church pet. He used to go in an old soiled coat into a wood where the ravens nested, and the birds would come down and settle on his shoulder, looking for the favours of a bountiful hand.

“When he had to go to the neighbouring town of Holsworthy on judicial business, it was his custom to take a bag containing fighting cocks. The present inhabitants would smile at such a proceeding, but a certain simple rudeness is excusable in our forefathers.

“Nor may I be silent about an irreverence which an otherwise upright man used to show in the House of God. He would accost the country people he knew in a friendly manner. If a Clergyman was reading the Bible badly [for it was customary for a Cleric to read the Lessons now and then] when he finished with, ‘Here endeth the second lesson’—our Knight would call out, ‘Thee’st better never begun it.’ He would throw apples at the Priest in the middle of Divine Service.

“Like Ajax and Peleus and other heroes he was not ashamed to woo a handmaid, and married one of his father’s servants. He died without issue, most widely mourned. His estate went to his kinsman, William Molesworth. The poor people, I believe, still cherish the memory of so dear a man, and give his name to their little ones in Baptism, as they might the name of a Saint.

“If in these brief narratives, gathered here and there, I have in any way transgressed the rules of[Pg 51] more classical Latin, I beg the kind reader to pardon me. If in any way I have departed from the truth, I have done so unwittingly. God be merciful.

[John Arscott died in 1788.]”

Sir Paul W. Molesworth has dealt with John Arscott more tenderly than that man deserved.

A modern writer[3] thus describes the sort of man that John Arscott was:—

“A familiar figure in the eighteenth century was the country squire, familiar the long wig, long coat, silver buttons, breeches and top-boots, the bluff, red face, the couple of greyhounds and the pointer at heel. When not hunting the fox, the popular sport of the day, he settled the disputes of the parish, or repaired to the nearest ale-house to get drunk in as short a space of time as possible. Usually he only drank ale, but on festive occasions a bowl of strong brandy punch, with toast and nutmeg, added to his already boisterous spirits. On Sundays he donned his best suit, which often descended from father to son through several generations, repaired to the parish church, and entered the family pew, where he slumbered during a great part of the somewhat dismal service. He seldom went further than his own country town, for a journey to London was still full of danger and discomfort.”

Who that has read Fielding and other novelists of the period does not know the figure, full-blooded, coarse to brutality, with a certain amount of kindliness in his disposition, whose talk is of bullocks or horses or dogs, and who, after the ladies had with[Pg 52]drawn, spent the rest of the evening at his hospitable table singing ribald songs and telling obscene stories? I possess, myself, a little book in MS. of the after-dinner stories told by a great-great-uncle, that has to be kept under lock and key, so unfit is it for perusal by clean-minded persons. The songs were from Tom D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy, or other collections of the sort. I had a collection of them that belonged to an ancestress, or rather near kinswoman of an ancestor, engraved on copper plate. I gave the volume to the British Museum. It was not a book to be kept on one’s shelves when there were children in the house.

John Arscott was never married, or if he did marry, no trace of such a ceremony is forthcoming. He lived with a certain Thomasine Spry as his mistress. If he did “make an honest woman of her,” it was, as reported, on his death-bed. She survived him, and was buried at Tetcott in 1796, aged seventy-six. They had no issue.

Mr. Hawker, in his Footprints of Former Men in Far Cornwall, has told several stories of John Arscott’s favourite, the last of the jester dwarfs, Black John, one of whose jokes, that entertained the company after dinner, was to tie together by the legs several live mice and swallow them one by one, and then, by means of a string, pull them up from his interior parts again. Another of his tricks was to mumble a sparrow. The living bird was gripped by the legs by his teeth, and then with his lips and teeth he would rip off the feathers, till he had plucked the unfortunate sparrow bare. A couple of projecting fangs were of especial value as sparrow-holders to Black John. His hands all the while were knotted or tied behind his back.

[Pg 53]

One evening he fell asleep by the hearth in the hall at Tetcott. Suddenly he started up with a cry, “Oh, Master,” said he, “I was in a sog [sleep] and I thought I was dead and in hell.”

“Well, John,” said Arscott, “and what did you see there?”

“Sir, everything very much like what it is here in Tetcott Hall, the gentlefolks nearest the fire.”

John Arscott had, as already related, an enormous tame toad that came out on the doorstep to be fed every morning, and went by the name of “Old Dawty.” The country people thought that it was John Arscott’s “familiar.” When he whistled, the creature would hop up to him, and leap to his hand or to his knee. One day a visitor with his stick killed it; but seeing this Black John flew at him and knocked him down and belaboured him soundly. John Arscott came out, and when he heard what the visitor had done, turned on his heel, and when the gentleman had picked himself up and drew near, slammed the house door in his face.

This is Mr. Hawker’s version of the story of the end of the pet toad, which is at variance with that related by the Rev. P. W. Molesworth, whose authority is more trustworthy than that of Mr. Hawker, a gentleman given to romancing.

“Black John’s lair was a rude hut, which he had wattled for a snug abode close to the kennels. He loved to retire to it, and sleep near his chosen companions, the hounds. When they were unkennelled he accompanied and ran with them on foot, and so sinewy and so swift was his stunted form that he was very often in their midst at the death.”

John Arscott had another follower called Dogget. “My son Simon” or simply “Simon” he was wont to call him. He also ran after the foxhounds.

[Pg 54]

There exists a fine ballad on the “Hunting of Arscott, of Tetcott,” in which Simon is mentioned. Mr. Frank Abbott, gamekeeper at Pencarrow, but born at Tetcott, informed me, concerning Dogget:—

“Once they unkennelled in the immediate neighbourhood of Tetcott, and killed at Hatherleigh. This runner was in at the death, as was his wont. John Arscott ordered him a bed at Hatherleigh, but to his astonishment, when he returned to Tetcott, his ‘wife’ told him all the particulars of the run. ‘Then,’ said Arscott, ‘this must be the doing of none other than Dogget: where be he?’”

Dogget was soon found in the servants’ hall, drinking ale, having outstripped his master and run all the way home.

The ballad above mentioned begins as follows:—

In the month of November, in the year fifty-two,
Three jolly Fox-hunters, all sons of the Blue,
Came o’er from Pencarrow, not fearing a wet coat,
To take their diversion with Arscott of Tetcott.
Sing fol-de-rol, lol-de-rol, etc.
The daylight was dawning, right radiant the morn
When Arscott of Tetcott he winded his horn;
He blew such a flourish, so loud in the hall,
The rafters resounded, and danced to the call.
Sing fol-de-rol, etc.
In the kitchen the servants, in kennel the hounds,
In the stable the horses were roused by the sounds,
On Black-Bird in saddle sat Arscott, “To-day
I will show you good sport; lads, hark, follow, away!”
Sing fol-de-rol, etc.

To return to Black John. His wonted couch when he could not get back to Tetcott at night was a bed among the reeds or fern of some sheltering brake or wood, and he slept, as he himself used to express it, “rolled up, as warm as a hedge-boar, round his own[Pg 55] nose.” One day he was covered with snow, and found to all appearance dead. He was conveyed to Tetcott and put in a coffin. But as he was about to be buried, and whilst the service was proceeding, a loud thumping noise was heard within the coffin. The lid was removed, and he sat up. He had been in a long trance, but the funeral ride and jolting had revived him, and, said he, “When I heard the pa’sson say ‘Earth to earth and dust to dust,’ I thought it high time to bumpy.”

Tetcott House


After that he had no love for parsons of the Church or indeed ministers of any denomination, for every one of them, he said, would bury him alive, if they could. Once an itinerant Methodist preacher came across him and asked his way. Black John volunteered to show him a short cut across the park, and led him to a paddock, in which his master kept a favourite bull. He thrust the preacher into it and fastened the gate. What ensued is matter of guess-work. A yell and a bellow were heard, and some object was seen projected into the air over the hedge. Soon after Black John appeared at the Hall with a white tie in his hands, which he gave to his master, and said, “This be the vag-ends of the minister—all I could recover.”

“When gout and old age had imprisoned Mr. Arscott in his easy chair, Black John nuzzled among the ashes of the vast wood fires of the hearth, or lay coiled upon his rug like some faithful mastiff watching every look and gesture of his master; starting up to fill the pipe or tankard of old ale, and then crouching again. At the squire’s death and funeral, the agony of the misshapen retainer was unappeasable. He had to be removed by force from the door of the vault, and then he utterly refused to depart from the neighbourhood of the grave. He made himself another lair, near[Pg 56] the churchyard wall, and there he sobbed away the brief remnant of his days.”

The story goes that on one long and tremendous chase, Dogget running by his master’s horse—

“How far do you make it?” said Simon the son.
“The day that’s declining will shortly be done.”
“We’ll follow till Doomsday,” quoth Arscott,—before
They hear the Atlantic with menacing roar.

On this occasion the chase continued to Penkenner.

Through Whitstone, and Poundstock, St. Genny’s they run,
Like a fire-ball, red, in the sea set the sun.
Then out on Penkenner—a leap, and they go,
Full five hundred feet to the ocean below.

In this memorable run, the fox went over the cliffs and the hounds after him; but Arscott and the rest of the hunters drew up, and though he lost his hounds, he did not lose his life. Penkenner is a magnificent and sheer cliff, west of St. Genny’s Church. A deep cleft is on one side, and Crackington Cove on the other. There was no possible escape for the fox. As to the “sons of the Blue” who were in this memorable run with Arscott, of Tetcott, opinions differ.

The versions of the ballad vary greatly. I have had a copy, written in 1820, with explanatory notes. The date of the song is sometimes set down as 1752, sometimes as 1772. The “sons of the Blue” are taken to have been Sir John Molesworth, of Pencarrow, Bart., William Morshead, of Blisland, and Braddon Clode, of Skisdon. But neither Sir John Molesworth nor Mr. Morshead was, as it happens, a naval man. If the date were either 1652 or 1672, it would fit an earlier John Arscott, of Tetcott, who died in 1708; and Sir John Molesworth of the period was Vice-Admiral of Cornwall; and the sons of the blue were his sons, Hender, Sparke, and John. The second John Molesworth[Pg 57] married Jane, daughter of the elder John Arscott, in 1704. It seems probable, accordingly, that the ballad belonged originally to the earlier John Arscott, and that it was adapted a century later to the last John Arscott. The melody to which it is still sung at the rent-audit of the Molesworth estate at Tetcott is a very ancient one, which was employed by Tom D’Urfey, in his Pills to Purge Melancholy, 1719, for a song entitled “Dear Catholic Brother.” I have given it in my Songs of the West.

Since the death of Arscott, he still hunts.

When the full moon is shining as clear as the day,
John Arscott still hunteth the country, they say;
You may see him on Black-Bird, and hear in full cry,
The pack from Pencarrow to Dazzard go by.
When the tempest is howling, his horn you may hear,
And the bay of his hounds in their headlong career;
For Arscott of Tetcott loves hunting so well,
That he breaks for the pastime from Heaven or Hell.

The belief that he is to be heard winding his horn and in full gallop in chase through the park at Tetcott is still prevalent, and there are those alive who assert positively that they have heard and seen him.

Curiously enough much the same belief adheres to Dunsland, and there one of the Bickfords is thought to be the Wild Huntsman. I know of one who is so convinced that he and his hounds rushed past her through the grounds along a certain drive, that nothing afterwards would induce her on any consideration to go along that drive at night.


There is no myth relative to the manners and customs of the English that in my experience is more tenaciously held by the ordinary Frenchman than that the sale of a wife in the market-place is an habitual and an accepted fact in English life.

It is—so far as my experience goes—quite useless to assure a Frenchman that such transfer of wives is not a matter of everyday occurrence, and is not legal: he replies with an expression of incredulity, that of course English people endeavour to make light of, or deny, a fact that is “notorious.”

In a book by the antiquary Colin de Plancy, on Legends and Superstitions connected with the Sacraments, he gives up some pages to an account of the prevalent English custom. I heard a country curé once preach on marriage, and contrast its indissolubility in Catholic France with the laxity in Protestant England, where “any one, when tired of his wife, puts a halter round her neck, takes her to the next market town and sells her for what she will fetch.” I ventured to call on this curé and remonstrate, but he answered me he had seen the fact stated in books of the highest authority, and that my disputing the statement did not prove that his authorities were wrong, but that my experience was limited, and he asked me point blank whether I had never known such cases. There, unhappily, he had me on the hip. And when I was obliged to confess that[Pg 59] I did know of one such case, “Mais, voilà, mon Dieu,” said he, and shrugged his shoulders with a triumphant smile.

Now it must be allowed that such sales have taken place, and that this is so is due to rooted conviction in the rustic mind that such a transaction is legal and morally permissible.

The case I knew was this.

When I was a boy there lived a tall, thin man in the parish who was the village poet. Whenever an event of any consequence took place within the confines of the parish, such as the marriage of the squire’s daughter, he came down to the manor-house with a copy of verses he had composed on the occasion, and was then given his dinner and a crown. Now this man had actually bought his wife for half a crown. Her husband had led her into Okehampton and had sold her there in the market. The poet purchased her for half the sum he had received for one of his poems, and led her home with him a distance of twelve miles, by the halter, he holding it in his hand, she placidly, contentedly wearing the loop about her neck.

The report that Henry Frise was leading home his half-crown wife preceded the arrival of the couple, and when they entered the village all the inhabitants turned out to see the spectacle.

Now this arrangement was not very satisfactory to my grandfather, who was squire, or to my uncle, who was rector of the parish, and both intervened. Henry Frise maintained that Anne was his legitimate wife, for “he had not only bought her in the market, but had led her home, with the halter in his hand, and he’d take his Bible oath that he never took the halter off her till she had crossed his doorstep and he had shut the door.”

The parson took down the Bible, the squire opened[Pg 60] Burns’ Justice of the Peace, and strove to convince Harry that his conduct was warranted by neither Scripture nor the law of the land. “I don’t care,” he said, “her’s my wife, as sure as if we was spliced at the altar, for and because I paid half a crown, and I never took off the halter till her was in my house; lor’ bless yer honours, you may ask any one if that ain’t marriage, good, sound, and Christian, and every one will tell you it is.”

Mr. Henry Frise lived in a cottage that was on lives, so the squire was unable to bring compulsion to bear on him. But when Anne died, then a difficulty arose: under what name was she to be entered in the register? The parson insisted that he could not and he would not enter her as Anne Frise, for that was not her legal name. Then Henry was angry, and carried her off to be buried in another parish, where the parson was unacquainted with the circumstances. I must say that Anne proved an excellent “wife.” She was thrifty, clean, and managed a rough-tempered and rough-tongued man with great tact, and was generally respected. She died in or about 1843.

Much later than that, there lived a publican some miles off, whom I knew very well; indeed, he was the namesake of and first cousin to a carpenter in my constant employ. He bought his wife for a stone two-gallon jar of Plymouth gin, if I was informed aright. She had belonged to a stonecutter, but as he was dissatisfied with her, he put up a written notice in several public places to this effect:—


This here be to hinform the publick as how James Cole be dispozed to sell his wife by Auction. Her be a dacent, clanely woman, and be of age twenty-five ears. The sale be to take place in the New Inn, Thursday next at seven o’clock.

[Pg 61]

In this case I do not give the name of the purchaser, as the woman is, I believe, still alive. I believe—so I was told—that the foreman of the neighbouring granite-works remonstrated, and insisted that such a sale would be illegal. He was not, however, clear as to the points of law, and he believed that it would be illegal unless the husband held an auctioneer’s licence, and if money passed. This was rather a damper. However, the husband was desirous to be freed from his wife, and he held the sale as had been advertised, making the woman stand on a table, and he armed himself with a little hammer. The biddings were to be in kind and not in money. One man offered a coat, but as he was a small man and the seller was stout, when he found that the coat would not fit him, he refused it. Another offered a “phisgie,” i.e. a pick, but this also was declined, as the husband possessed a “phisgie” of his own. Finally, the landlord offered a two-gallon jar of gin, and down fell the hammer with “Gone.”

I knew the woman; she was not bad-looking. The new husband drank, and treated her very roughly, and on one occasion she had a black eye when I was lunching at the inn. I asked her how she had hurt herself. She replied that she had knocked her face against the door, but I was told that this was a result of a domestic brawl. Now the remarkable feature in these cases is that it is impossible to drive the idea out of the heads of those who thus deal in wives that such a transaction is not sanctioned by law and religion. In Marytavy parish register is the following entry:—

1756. Robert Elford was baptized, child of Susanna Elford by her sister’s husband. She was married with the consent of her sister, the wife, who was at the wedding.

[Pg 62]

In this instance there is no evidence of a sale, but we may be sure that money did pass, and that the contractor of the new marriage believed it was a right and proper union, although perhaps irregular; and the first wife unquestionably believed that she was acting in observance of a legal right in transferring her husband to her sister. There are instances in which country people have gone before a local solicitor and have had a contract of sale drawn up for the disposal of their wives. The Birmingham police court in 1853 had to adjudicate on such a case, and the astounding thing in this instance was that a lawyer could be found to draw up the contract. It is no wonder that the magistrates administered a very severe reprimand. But there was a far earlier case than this, that of Sir William de Paganel; the lady stoutly and indignantly resisted the transfer and appealed against the contract to the law, which declared the sale to be null and void.

Mr. Whitfeld, in his Plymouth and Devonport, in Times of War and Peace, mentions a case that occurred at the former, but without giving the date, of one John Codmore, who was indicted for burglary and for having married without his father’s consent, and then tiring of his wife, having sold her for five pounds—which was a large sum as the price of wives went—to a miller. In December, 1822, the Plymouth crier announced to all and singular: Oh yes! Oh yes! that James Brooks was about to dispose of his wife by public auction. The lady was advertised as young and handsome, and as likely to succeed to an inheritance of £700.

Expectation was whetted by the intimation that the lady would attend the sale herself, that all might judge of her personal charm, and that she would be mounted on horseback. A curious and babbling crowd assem[Pg 63]bled to witness the transaction, and precisely at midday, according to the announcement, she rode up, attended by the ostler of the “Lord Exmouth.” The husband, James Brooks, officiated as auctioneer. The first bid was five shillings, then the sums offered mounted to ten and to fifteen; but none rose, and that slowly, over two pound. Whereupon the ostler called out “Three pounds,” and she would have been knocked down to him had not at this conjuncture a couple of watchmen intervened, one laying hands on the husband and the other on the wife, and escorted the pair to the Guildhall, followed by the rabble.

When the mayor took them to task, the husband declared that for the life of him he could not see that he was doing wrong. He and his wife had agreed to the sale, as they had not lived together for long, and were ill-assorted, and therefore desired fresh partners. The ostler was prepared to pay twenty pounds for her—three pounds down and the balance at Christmas—and the woman was quite agreeable. What, then, was wrong? He assured the mayor that there was nothing “below board” in the transaction; the auction had been “called” three times in Modbury Market, and the wife also considered that she ought and would like to be sold in a public fair.

The mayor now examined the woman. She admitted that the ostler was buying her in at a reserved price, at which she had valued herself. There was a gentleman, a Mr. K., who she expected would have attended and bid for her, and with whom she had intended to go. But Mr. K. had not turned up, much to her annoyance. “I was very much annoyed,” said she, “to find that he had not kept his promise. But I was so determined to be loosed from Mr. Brooks, that when Mr. K. did not attend, I asked the ostler to buy me[Pg 64] with my own money, unless I went for more than twenty pounds.”

The justices bound them over in sureties to be of good behaviour, and dismissed them.

In 1823, an army sergeant in residence in Devonport Dock tracked his faithless wife to Liskeard, and there engaged the bell-man to announce that it was his intention to dispose of her by sale to the highest bidder. Procuring a rope, he placed it round the neck of his spouse, and led her unresisting to the Higher Cross, opposite the Market, where the offers were taking a spirited turn when the police interfered. In the same year, William Hodge was indicted at Plymouth for putting his wife up to auction, and William Andrews for purchasing her. It was shown that Hodge had repeatedly threatened to sell his wife, that she had cheerfully welcomed the proposition, and that Andrews had anticipated the transaction of the sale by abducting her. At the Quarter Sessions “the auctioneer” was conspicuous by his absence; the wife pleaded that he had frequently assaulted her; and Andrews was condemned to prison “by way of warning.”[4]

The Rev. W. H. Thornton, vicar of North Bovey, in Devon Notes and Queries, Vol. IV, 1906, writes: “A sale may apparently be effected either by private arrangement or by public auction, and in neither case do the prices obtainable seem, as a rule, to run high. The husband naturally considers the result more satisfactory if a good sum can be obtained for his wife, but when the course of matrimony has arrived at a crisis, he commonly feels that it is better to accept the market price of the day than it is to lead her home again to resume conjugal life.

[Pg 65]

“My attention was recently called to the matter, when, in March of this year (1906), I was investigating in North Devon a remarkable instance of suicide, and a still more remarkable verdict thereon. My informant was an old poacher and fisherman, and speaking of the deceased, he said casually that he came of a curious family, and that he himself could well remember to have seen the dead man’s grandfather leading his grandmother on a halter to be sold by public auction in Great Torrington Market. The reserve price was, in this instance, fixed at eighteen pence, but as no one would give so much money, the husband had to take his wife home again and resume matrimonial intercourse. Children were born to them, and the ultimate result was the suicide.

“On being asked whether, in such instances, the neighbours generally considered the transaction legitimate, old John Badger replied in the affirmative; he declared that the vendor was held to be free to wed again, and the purchaser to be liable for the maintenance of the woman, but not till the money had changed hands over the bargain.

“This statement reminded me of a case which occurred at North Bovey shortly before I became incumbent of the living in 1868. This can easily be verified. A man, whose name I can give, walked into Chagford, and there by private agreement sold his wife to another man for a quart of beer. When he returned home with the purchaser the woman repudiated the transaction, and, taking her two children with her, went off at once to Exeter, and only came back to attend her husband’s funeral, at which, unless I am mistaken, I officiated.

“Mr. Roberts, the present old clerk at Wolborough, tells me that he has heard his father say that he knew[Pg 66] of several instances of the kind now under consideration, but that he does not think that in South Devon the arrangement was often considered legal. In the north of the county people were less enlightened.”

Devon was not alone the scene of these wife-sales, though they were probably more common there than elsewhere. Still, there is evidence that such transactions went on elsewhere, and one or two instances may be quoted, to relieve Devon of exclusive discredit in such matters.

The story is well known of the Silesian noble whose house was raided by Tartars, one of whom carried off the nobleman’s wife on his horse behind him. The Silesian looked after the disappearing bandit, rubbed his hands, and said, “Alas, poor Tartar!” Doubtless there were many husbands who would have been glad to be rid of their wives at any price, even for nothing at all.

In 1815, a man held a regular auction in the market-place at Pontefract, offering his wife at a minimum bidding of one shilling, but he managed to excite a competition, and she was finally knocked down for eleven shillings.

In 1820, a man named Brouchet led his wife, a decent, pleasant-looking woman, but with a tongue in her mouth, into the cattle market at Canterbury from the neighbouring village of Broughton. He required a salesman to dispose of her, but the salesman replied that his dealings were with cattle only, and not with women. Brouchet, not to be beaten, thereupon hired a cattle-pen, paying sixpence for the hire, and led his wife into it by the halter that was round her neck. She did not fetch a high figure, being disposed of to a young man of Canterbury for five shillings.

In 1832, on 7 April, a farmer named Joseph[Pg 67] Thomson came into Carlisle with his wife, to whom he had been married three years before; he sent the bell-man round the town to announce a sale, and this attracted a great crowd. At noon the sale took place. Thomson placed his wife on a chair, with a rope of straw round her neck. He then said—according to the report in the Annual Register—“Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice, my wife, Mary Anne Thomson, otherwise Williams, whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. Gentlemen, it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a born serpent. I took her for my comfort, and the good of my home; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse. Gentlemen, I speak the truth from my heart when I say may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women! Avoid them as you would a mad dog, or a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna, or any other pestilential thing in nature. Now I have shown you the dark side of my wife, and told you her faults and failings, I will introduce the bright and sunny side of her, and explain her qualifications and goodness. She can read novels and milk cows; she can laugh and weep with the same ease that you could take a glass of ale when thirsty. Indeed, gentlemen, she reminds me of what the poet says of women in general:—

Heaven gave to women the peculiar grace
To laugh, to weep, to cheat the human race.

She can make butter and scold the maid; she can sing Moore’s melodies, and plait her frills and caps; she cannot make rum, gin, or whisky, but she is a good judge of the quality from long experience in tasting them. I therefore offer her with all her perfections and imperfections for the sum of fifty shillings.”

That this address was spoken by Thomson is most[Pg 68] improbable—it is doubtless put into his mouth by the editor of the Annual Register; it was not to his interest to depreciate the article he desired to sell. After about an hour, the woman was knocked down to one Henry Mears, for twenty shillings and a Newfoundland dog. They then parted company in perfect good humour, each satisfied with his bargain; Mears and the woman went one way, and Thomson and the dog another.

In 1835 a man led his wife by a halter, in precisely the same way, into the market at Birmingham, and sold her for fifteen pounds. She at once went home with the purchaser. She survived both buyer and seller, and then married again. Some property came to her in the course of years from her first husband; for notwithstanding claims put forth by his relatives she was able to maintain in a court of law that the sale did not and could not vitiate her rights as his widow.

Much astonishment was caused in 1837 in the West Riding of Yorkshire by a man being committed to prison for a month with hard labour for selling or attempting to sell his wife by auction in the manner already described. It was generally and firmly believed that he was acting within his rights.

In 1858, in a tavern at Little Horton, near Bradford, a man named Hartley Thompson put up his wife, who is described by the local journals as a pretty young woman, for sale by auction, and he had the sale previously announced by sending round the bell-man. He led her into the market with a ribbon round her neck, which exhibits an advance in refinement over the straw halter; and again in 1859, a man at Dudley disposed of his wife in a somewhat similar manner for sixpence. A feature in all these instances is the docility with[Pg 69] which the wife submitted to be haltered and sold. She would seem to have been equally imbued with the idea that there was nothing to be ashamed of in the transaction, and that it was perfectly legal.

If we look to discover whence originated the idea, we shall probably find it in the conception of marriage as a purchase. Among savage races, the candidate for marriage is expected to pay the father for his daughter. A marriageable girl is worth so many cows or so many reindeer. The man pays over a sum of money or its equivalent to the father, and in exchange receives the girl. If he desires to be separated from her he has no idea of giving her away, but receives what is calculated to be her market value from the man who is disposed to relieve him of her. In all dealings for cattle, or horses, or sheep, a handsel is paid, half a crown to clinch the bargain, and the transfer of coin constitutes a legal transfer of authority and property over the animal. This is applied to a woman, and when a coin, even a sixpence, is paid over and received, the receiver regards this as releasing him from all further responsibility for the wife, who at once passes under the hand of the purchaser. There is probably no trace in our laws of women having been thus regarded as negotiable properties, but it is unquestionable that at an early period, before Christianity invaded the island, such a view was held, and if here and there the rustic mind is unable to rise to a higher conception of the marriage state, it shows how extremely slow it is for opinions to alter when education has been neglected.


Some years ago I wrote a little account of “White Witches” in the Daily Graphic, in which I narrated some of my experiences and my acquaintance with their proceedings. This brought me at the lowest computation fifty letters from all parts of the country from patients who had spent much of their substance upon medical practitioners, and, like the woman with the issue of blood in the Gospel, “had suffered many things of many physicians and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.” These entreated me to furnish them with the addresses of some of these irregular practitioners, that they might try them. I did not send what was desired, and that for a very good reason, that I regard these individuals as impostors and the occasion of a good deal of mischief.

At the same time distinguez, as the French would say. They are not all so, and I have seen and can testify to very notable and undeniable cures that they have effected. That they believe in their powers and their cures is true in a good many cases, and I quite admit that they may be in possession of a large number of valuable herbal recipes, doubtless of real efficacy. Some of our surgeons are far too fond of using the knife, and the majority of them employ strong mineral medicines that, though they may produce an immediate effect, do injury in the long run. I take it that one reason why our teeth are so bad in the present generation is due largely to the way in which calomel was[Pg 71] administered in times past, a medicine that touches the liver but is rottenness to the bones.

What Jesus the son of Sirach said centuries ago is true still: “The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth, and he that is wise will not abhor them ... by such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection” (Ecclus. XXXVIII. 4, 7, 8). What the writer meant was herbs and not minerals. The simples employed by the wise old women in our villages were admirable in most cases, but they were slow, if sure of action, and in these days when we go at a gallop we want cures to be rapid, almost instantaneous.

But the professed herbalist in our country towns is very often not a herbalist at all, but a mere impostor. He puts up “herbalist” on a brass plate at his door, but his procedure is mere quackery.

Moreover, the true White Witch is consulted not for maladies only, but for the discovery of who has cast the evil eye, “overlooked” and “ill-wished” some one who has lost a cow, or has been out of sorts, or has sickness in his pig-sty. The mode of proceeding was amusingly described in the Letters of Nathan Hogg, in 1847. Nathan in the form of a story gives an account of what was the general method of the White Witch Tucker in Exeter. A farmer whose conviction was that disorders and disasters at home were the result of the ill-wishing of a red-cloaked Nan Tap, consulted Tucker as to how the old woman was to be “driven” and rendered powerless.

I modify the broad dialect, which would not be generally intelligible.

When into Exeter he had got
To Master Tucker’s door he sot;
He rung’d the bell, the message sent,
Pulled off his hat, and in he went,
And seed a fellow in a room
That seem’d in such a fret and fume.
He said he’d lost a calf and cow,
And com’d in there to know as how,
For Master T., at little cost,
Had often found the things he’d lost.

[Pg 72]

Thereupon the farmer opened his own trouble, and told how he and his were bewitched by Nan Tap. And as he told his tale, it seemed so sad that the man in the room bade him go in first to consult the White Witch.

Now this fuming man was employed by Tucker to draw out from the gulls what their trouble was, and there was but a sham wall of paper between the room where the interview took place and that in which he received the farmer, whom he greatly astonished by informing him of all the circumstances that led to the visit. The remedy he prescribed was to carry a little bag he gave him, in which were some stones, and to dash water in the direction of the old woman, and say, “I do it in the name of Tucker,” and if this did not answer, he was to put a faggot up his chimney, set fire to it, and say a prayer he taught him while it was burning. We need not follow the account any further.

There was a few years ago a notable White Witch of the name of Snow, at Tiverton, who did great business. In a case with which I am well acquainted, he certainly was the means of curing a substantial farmer. The man had caught a severe chill one night of storm, when a torrent threatened to inundate his house. He had stood for hours endeavouring to divert the stream from his door. The chill settled on his chest, and he became a wreck; he drew his breath with difficulty, walked bent, almost double, and as I was convinced would not live out the twelve months. He consulted the most famous and experienced physicians, and they[Pg 73] did him no good. Then in desperation he went to “Old Snow.” From that day he mended. What the White Witch gave him I do not know; but the man is now robust, hearty, and looks as if many years were before him.

I know another case, but this is of a different nature. A young farmer, curious as to the future, visited a White Witch to learn who his future wife would be. Said she—this witch was a woman, and an old one: there are female witches who are young and exercise very powerful charms—said she: “Next Sunday, you go along Narracott lane, and the first young woman you see pass, look her well in the face, and when you’ve gone by, turn your head and look, and if she’s also turned her head and is looking at you, that’s the one.”

“Well now,” said this farmer in later years, “it were a coorious thing it were, but as I were goin’ along thickey lane there I seed Bessie Baker, and I turn’d, and sure enough her were lookin’ over her shoulder to me, and wot’s most coorious of all—her’s my missus now. After that, don’t ee go and tell me as how White Witches knows nothin’. But there’s somethin’ more to the tale. I heerd afterwards as Bessie, her’d consulted old Nan, and Nan had said to her, ‘Go along Narracott lane, and the first man as you sees, when you’ve past, turn and look; and if he’s lookin’ over his shoulder to you, that’s the one.’ There’s facts; and wi’ them facts staring of you in the face, don’t you go and say White Witches is nort.”

There is an old woman I know—she is still alive. It was six years since she bought a bar of yellow or any other soap. But that is neither here nor there. She was esteemed a witch—a white one of course. She was a God-fearing woman, and had no relations with[Pg 74] the Evil One, of that one may be sure. How she subsisted was a puzzle to the whole parish. But, then, she was generally feared. She received presents from every farm and cottage. Sometimes she would meet a child coming from school, and stay it, and fixing her wild dark eye on it, say, “My dear, I knawed a child jist like you—same age, red rosy cheeks, and curlin’ black hair. And that child shrivelled up, shrumped like an apple as is picked in the third quarter of the moon. The cheeks grew white, the hair went out of curl, and she jist died right on end and away.”

Before the day was out, a chicken or a basket of eggs as a present from the mother of that child was sure to arrive.

I have given an account of this same old woman in my An Old English Home, and will here add a few more particulars about her. She possessed of her own a two-storied house, thatched, built mainly of cob, but with two chimneys of brick. Some five-and-twenty years ago the house was habitable enough. The thatch had given way in several places, but she could not or would not have it repaired. Perhaps she had not the means; but the farmers offered her straw, and a thatcher would have done the work for her gratis, or only for her blessing. She would not. “God made the sky,” she said, “and that is the best roof of all.” After a while, however, the roof became leaky everywhere. Then she sought shelter for her head by stuffing up the chimney of her bedroom fireplace with a sack filled with chaff, and pushing her bed to the hearth, she slept with her head and pillow under the sack. But access to this bedroom became difficult, as the stairs, exposed to the rain, rotted and gave way, and she was compelled to ascend and descend by an improvised ladder.

Mariann Voaden


Mariann Voaden's Cottage


[Pg 75]

The rector of the parish went to her and remonstrated at the dangerous condition of the tenement.

“My dear,” said she, “there be two angels every night sits on the rungs of the ladder and watches there, that nobody comes nigh me, and they be ready to hold up the timbers that they don’t fall on me.”

The rector’s daughter carried her some food every now and then. One day the woman made her a present of some fine old lace. This was gratefully accepted. As the young lady was departing, “Old Marianne” called after her from the bedroom door, “Come back, my dear, I want that lace again. If any one else be so gude as to give me aught, I shall want it to make an acknowledgment of the kindness.” The lace was often given as acknowledgment, and as often reclaimed.

After a while the ladder collapsed. Then the old woman descended for good and all, and took up her abode on the ground floor—kitchen and parlour, dining-room and bedroom all in one.

Finally the whole roof fell in and carried down the flooring of the upper story, but in such manner that the “planchin” rested at one end against the wall, but blocked up door and fireplace. Then she lived under it as a lean-to roof, and without a fire for several winters, amongst others that bitter one of 1893–4, and her only means of egress and ingress was through the window. Of that half the number of panes was broken and patched with rags. As the water poured into her room she finally took refuge in an old oak chest, keeping the lid up with a brick.

I knew her very well; she was a picturesque object. Once she and I were photographed together standing among the ruins of her house. She must have been handsome in her day, with a finely-cut profile, and[Pg 76] piercing dark eyes. She usually wore a red kerchief about her head or neck and an old scarlet petticoat. But she was dirty—indescribably so. Her hands were the colour of mahogany. She promised me her book of charms. I never got it, and this was how. The huntsmen were wont, whenever passing her wretched house, to shout “Marianne! Marianne!” and draw up. Then from amidst the ruins came a muffled response, “Coming, my dears, coming!” Presently she appeared. She was obliged to crawl out of her window that opened into the garden and orchard at the back of the house, go round it, and unlace a gate of thorns she had erected as a protection to her garden; there she always received presents. One day as usual the fox-hunters halted and called for her; she happened at the time to have kindled a fire on the floor of her room to boil a little water in a kettle for tea, and she left the fire burning when she issued forth to converse with the gentlemen and extend her hand for half-crowns. Whilst thus engaged the flames caught some straw that littered the ground, they spread, set fire to the woodwork, and the room was in a blaze. Everything was consumed, her chest-bed, her lace, her book of charms. After that she was conveyed to the workhouse, where she is still, and now is kept clean.

Once, before this catastrophe, I drove over to see her, taking my youngest daughter with me. The child had breakings-out on her face; Marianne noticed this. “Ah, my dear,” said she, “I see you want my help. You must bring the little maiden to me, she must be fasting, and then I will bless her face, and in two days she will be well.” Her cure for whooping-cough was to cut the hair off the cross on a donkey’s back, fasten it in silk bags, and tie these round the[Pg 77] children’s necks. “You see,” she said, “Christ Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass, and ever since then asses have the cross on their backs, and the hair of those crosses is holy and cures maladies.”

Although I did not obtain her book of charms, she gave me many of her recipes. For fits one was to swallow wood-lice, pounded if one liked, better swallowed au naturel.

For Burns or Scalds.—Recite over the place:—

There were three Angels who came from the North,
One bringing Fire, the other brought Frost,
The other he was the Holy Ghost.
In Frost, out Fire! In the Name, etc.

For a Sprain.—Recite: “As Christ was riding over Crolly Bridge, His horse slid and sprained his leg. He alighted and spake the words: Bone to bone, and sinew to sinew! and blessed it and it became well, and so shall ... become well. In the Name, etc.” Repeat thrice.

For Stanching Blood.—Recite: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, baptized in the river of Jordan. The water was wide and the river was rude against the Holy Child. And He smote it with a rod, and it stood still, and so shall your blood stand still. In the Name, etc.” Repeat thrice.

Cure for Toothache.—“As our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ were walking in the garden of Jerusalem, Jesus said unto Peter, Why weepest thou? Peter answered and said, Lord, I be terrible tormented with the toothache. Jesus said unto Peter, If thou wilt believe in Me and My words abide in thee, thou shall never more fill [sic] the pain in thy tooth. Peter cried out with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou my onbelieve [sic].”

[Pg 78]

Another receipt for a Sprain.

2 oz. of oil of turpentine.
2 oz. of swillowes.
2 oz. of oil of earthworms.
2 oz. of nerve.
2 oz. of oil of spideldock (? opodeldoc).
2 oz. of Spanish flies.

I recommend this recipe to be taken to an apothecary. Order it to be made up, and observe his face as he reads it.

Marianne had the gift of stanching blood even at a distance. On one occasion when hay was being cut, a man wounded himself at Kelly, some eight miles distant, and the blood flowed in streams. At once the farmer bade a man take a kerchief dipped in his blood and gallop as hard as he could to the tumble-down cottage, and get Marianne to bless the blood. He did so, and was gone some three hours. As soon as the old woman had charmed the kerchief the blood ceased to flow.

At one time, now thirty to forty years ago, it was not by any means uncommon for one to meet the village postman walking with one hand extended holding a kerchief that was sent to the White Witch to be blessed. The rag must touch no other human being till it reached her. Moreover, at my own village inn, people from a distance frequently lodged so as to be able to consult the White Witch, and my tenant, the landlady of the inn, was absolutely convinced of the efficacy of the cures wrought.

The rector’s son went to call on Marianne, and she brought out for him a filthy glass with poppy wine she had made, thick and muddy, and offered it to him. “I am almost a teetotaler,” said he; “and so can do[Pg 79] no more than just sip this to your health and happiness,” and he put his lips to the glass.

“Ah! Mr. Edward, dear,” said she, “I’ve offered thickey glass o’ wine to some, and they’m so proud and haughty as they wouldn’t titch it; but you’m no so—and now my blessing shall be wi’ you night and day—and gude fortune shall ever attend you—that I promise you.”

Village 'Wise Man'


A writer in Devon Notes and Queries, October, 1906, writes:—

“Fifty-nine years ago, two years after breaking my arm, I evidently chilled it by violent exercise and perspiring in a lengthened snowball battle on Northernhay (Exeter). This caused a large surface wound which neither doctor nor chemist could heal for months, but I had to renew on all opportunities daily the application of bandages wetted with Goulard’s Extract (acetate of lead and water). Months went by, still no cure, and at last, in sheer despair, my mother, who had not long left the country to live in Exeter, resolved to take me to a Seventh Son whose fame was current in Exeter. He was at the time the carrier to and from Moretonhampstead. He saw my arm as he stood by his wagon, and bade my mother bring me the following Friday, when something was said over the wound, and I was invested with a small velvet amulet, which I believe contained the leg of a toad.

“The wet bandages were continued, and from that day to this I have never been able to tell which effected the ultimate cure, the wet bandages or the toad.

“About thirty years later I had of my own a seventh daughter, born in succession. The news got about, and within a fortnight we had two applications from troubled mothers. Would we let our dear baby lay her hand on their child’s arm or leg, as may be, for it[Pg 80] would not harm mine and might cure theirs of King’s Evil?

“During the early years that I have named, there were several notable white witches in Exeter who took lots of good fees for pretended good services. Superstition dies slowly, for within the last seven years a friend of mine with the same surname as the White Witch of 1840–50, but a comparative new-comer to Exeter, was startled by an application of which he, knowing nothing of old wives’ stories of Devon, could not fathom the meaning until asking the writer if he could explain. About 1880 my wife was met at the door by a man who might by appearance have been a small farmer. ‘Missus, be I gwain right?’ ‘Where do you want to go?’ (A little hesitation.) ‘I waant to vind thickey wuman that tells things. My cows be wished and I waant to vind out who dood it.’ So he was told to go to a cottage behind Friars’ Green, where old Mrs.—— had a crop of fools for clients every Friday, and told them their fortunes by tea-grounds and cards, much to her and their satisfaction; but I certainly was amused to hear my wife say, ‘Oh, Jenny So-and-so, Polly What’s-her-name, and various others, and I, have gone there lots of times, and had our fortunes told for twopence.’”

At the beginning of this article I mentioned a farmer, a tenant of mine, who professed to have been cured by “Old Snow,” of Tiverton.

Nine years after this I wrote the article on our Devonshire White Witches in the Daily Graphic. This was transferred to one or two Plymouth papers. Shortly after that, at our harvest festival, the farmer turned up. He had left my farm and taken another elsewhere; but he had a hankering after Lew Trenchard, and at our festival he appeared, robust and hearty. He came to[Pg 81] me and said, “Why, sir, you have been putting me in the papers.” “Well, old friend,” said I, “I said in it nothing but what was true.” “True, aye, aye, sir, true as gospel. The doctors in Plymouth and Mr. Budd, of North Tawton, gave me up, but Old Snow cured me. I met him on the platform of Tiverton station, and told him my case. He looked me hard in the eye, and said some words, and bade me go home and I was cured. Well, sir, from that day I mended. You see now what I am.”

A friend wrote to me: “In 1891, my head man had an attack of influenza, and this fell on his nerves, and convinced that he had been ill-wished, he consulted a White Witch at Callington, who informed him that he had been ‘overlooked’ by one of his own profession, and that he had applied too late for a cure to be effected.”

Now the person who exhorted him to have recourse to the White Witch was his daughter, who was mistress at the school of the parish.

The man eventually recovered, but not through the aid of the White Witch.

I know a farmer, a God-fearing, sensible man, and thriving in his farm and piling up money, to whom recourse is continually had to stanch wounds, and to cure abscesses, by striking the place and reciting certain mystic sentences.

A witch, white or black, must communicate the secret of power to one of an opposite sex before he or she can die—that is well known.

That in many cases the imagination acting on the nervous system acts curatively “goes without saying.” It is that which really operates in the faith cures and in the Lourdes miracles. What a bad time witches, white or black, must have had when the short way with[Pg 82] any one suspected was to throw her into a pond! If she sank, why she sank and was drowned, but had the satisfaction of being aware that her character was cleared, whereas if she floated, she was a convicted witch and was burnt.

I am not, however, sure that we are not too lenient with the professional White Witch nowadays, as the following incident will show. I do not name the locality, certainly not the persons, for nothing was proved.

A certain cattle-dealer three years ago was much troubled because his daughter who had had influenza did not rally, but was rather strange in her head. He went to the county capital to consult the White Witch. The latter showed him a glass of water, and said that the person who had overlooked his child was fair-haired and stout. Further, that she had never been inside his doors, but that she would enter them on the following Saturday.

The cattle-jobber looking into the glass of water thought he saw a face—it was that of a woman who lived not far from him. What he really saw was, of course, his own reflected, but with the words of the witch ringing in his ears and guided by his imagination he conceived that he saw a neighbour.

He returned home full of conviction and wrath. Next night the husband of the fair-haired, stout woman woke after midnight, and heard a strange crackling sound. He hastily dressed, and went outside his door, when he saw that the thatch of his house was in flames. He hastened to rouse his wife and family, there were six who slept in the house, and he had barely drawn them outside, before the roof fell in and the cottage was converted into one great bonfire. By the merest accident it was that six persons were not burned in their[Pg 83] beds. Next morning the police, who investigated the matter, found evidence that the house had been wilfully and deliberately set fire to. Some one had stepped on to a hedge, and had lighted three lucifer matches, and in drawing them from his pocket had drawn out and dropped at the same time two halfpenny stamps. The first two matches had failed. The third took effect. Who had been the incendiary was not discovered.

Of course the circumstance first mentioned may be entirely unconnected with the second. But there can be no doubt that bitter animosities are bred by the charges of “ill-wishing” and “overlooking” which are made by the White Witches. They are far too shrewd to name names, but they contrive to kindle and direct suspicions in their dupes which may lead to serious results.

It is very difficult to bring these cases home, and on this immunity they trade. But it is devoutly to be hoped that some day certain of these gentry will be tripped up, and then, though magistrates can no more send them to the stake, they will send them to cool their heels in gaol, and richly they will deserve the punishment.


The pirates of Algiers had for some years been very troublesome, not in the Mediterranean only, but also along the European coasts of the Atlantic. Several English vessels trading to Smyrna had been plundered, and the corsairs had even made descents on the coasts of England and Ireland and had swept away people into slavery. James I proposed that the different Christian powers should unite to destroy Algiers, the principal port of these pirates. Spain, whose subjects suffered most, engaged to co-operate, but withdrew at the last moment. Sir Robert Mansell was placed in command of the English fleet, but provided with an inefficient force, and given strict orders from the timid and parsimonious James not on any account to endanger his vessels.

On 24 May, 1621, Sir Thomas sailed into the harbour of Algiers and set fire to the Moorish ships and galleys; but had scarcely retired—unwilling to follow up the advantage—when “a great cataract of rain” hindered the spread of the fire; and the Algerines succeeded in recovering all their ships with the exception of two, which burnt to the water’s edge. The enemy brought their artillery to bear on the English fleet, mounted batteries on the mole, and threw booms across the mouth of the harbour. Mansell, hampered by his instructions, dared not expose his vessels further and withdrew, having lost only eight men; and returned to[Pg 85] England. Among those who had sailed with him was Richard Peeke, of Tavistock, who returned home much disgusted, “My Body more wasted and weather-beaten, but my purse never the fuller nor my pockets thicker lyned.”

Charles I came to the throne in 1625; and one of his first acts was to organize and start an expedition against the Spanish. It was devised for the sake of plunder. His treasury was empty; he was obliged to borrow £3000 to procure provisions for his own table. Plate ships, heavy-laden argosies, were arriving in the port of Spain from the New World, and Buckingham suggested to him to fill his empty coffers by the capture of these vessels. The English fleet counted eighty sail; the Dutch contributed a squadron of sixteen sail; it was the greatest joint naval power that had ever spread sail upon salt water—and this made the world abroad wonder what the purpose was for which it was assembled. Ten thousand men were embarked on the English vessels, and the command of both fleet and army was given to Sir Edward Cecil, now created Lord Wimbledon, a general who had served with very little success in the Palatinate and the Low Countries. This appointment of a mere landsman surprised and vexed the seamen. The position belonged to Sir Robert Mansell, Vice-Admiral of England, in case the Admiral did not go; but Buckingham had made the choice and persisted in it. The fleet set sail in the month of October, and shaped its course for the coast of Spain.

Richard Peeke had remained in Tavistock after his return from Algiers till October, 1625, when—“The Drumbe beating up for a New Expedition in which many noble Gentlemen, and Heroical Spirits, were to venture their Honors, Lives and Fortunes: Cables could[Pg 86] not hold me, for away I would, and along I vowed to goe, and did so.” Peeke entered as sailor on board the Convertine, under Captain Thomas Porter.

In the Bay of Biscay the ships were damaged and in part scattered by a storm. One vessel foundered with a hundred and seventy men on board. This was the beginning of misadventure. The confusion of orders was such that the officers and soldiers scarcely knew who were in command and whom they were to order about. When Wimbledon got in sight of the Spanish shores, he summoned a council of war, the usual and dangerous resource of an incompetent commander. His instructions were to intercept the plate ships from America, to scour the Spanish shores and destroy the shipping in the ports. But where should he begin? In the council of war some recommended one point, some another; in the end it was resolved to make for Cadiz Bay. But whilst they were consulting, the Spaniards had got wind of their approach, and prepared to receive them. Moreover, Wimbledon allowed seven large and rich Spanish vessels to sail into the bay under his nose, and these afterwards did him much damage. “’Tis thought,” says Howell, who had many friends with the expedition, “that they being rich would have defrayed well near the charge of our fleet.”

A sudden attack on the shipping at Cadiz and Port St. Maria could hardly have failed even now, but the blundering and incompetent Wimbledon preferred to land all his troops, and he succeeded in capturing the paltry fort of Puntal, whilst his fleet remained inactive outside the bay. Then he moved towards the bridge which connects the Isle de Laon with the continent, to cut off communications. No enemy was visible; but in the wine-cellars of the country, which were broken[Pg 87] open and plundered, a foe was found which has ever been more dangerous to undisciplined English troops than bullets and sabres. The men, under no control, got drunk, and became totally unmanageable; and if the Spaniards had been on the alert they might have cut them to pieces. Lord Wimbledon then ordered a retreat, but this was conducted in such a manner that hundreds of stragglers were left behind to fall under the knives of the enraged peasantry.

Richard Peeke, not being a soldier, did not accompany the army; but at midday thought that he might as well also go ashore to refresh himself. He did so, and met some of the men laden with oranges and lemons. He inquired of them where the enemy was. They replied that they had not seen a Spaniard. Thereupon “we parted, they to the shippes, I forward, and before I reached a mile, I found three Englishmen starke dead, being slayne, lying in the way, and one, some small distance off, not fully dead.” Whilst Peeke was assisting the wounded man, a Spanish cavaliero, whose name he afterwards learned was Don Juan de Cadiz, came up and attacked him, but Peeke flapped his cloak in the eyes of the horse, which swerved, and Peeke mastered the Don, and threw him down. The Spaniard pleaded for mercy, and Peeke, after emptying the Don’s pocket of a few coins, bade him depart. At that moment, however, up came fourteen Spanish musketeers. “Thus farre, my Voyage for Oranges sped well, but in the end prooved sower sauce to me.” The musketeers overpowered Peeke, and the ungrateful Don stabbed at him, “and wounded me through the face from eare to eare, and had there killed me, had not the foureteen muskatiers rescued me from his rage. Upon this I was led in triumph into the town of Cales [Cadiz]; an owl not more wondered[Pg 88] and hooted at, a dog not more cursed. In my being ledde thus along the streets, a Flemming spying me cryed out alowde, Whither do you leade this English dogge? Kill him, kill him, he’s no Christian. And with that, breaking through the crowde, in upon those who held mee, ranne me into the body with a halbert, at the reynes of my back, at least foure inches.”

He was taken before the Governor, who had him well treated and attended by surgeons, and when he was better, dispatched him to Xeres, which he calls Sherrys. Meanwhile his captain, Porter, induced Lord Wimbledon to send a messenger on shore and offer to ransom Peeke at any reasonable price; but the Spanish Governor, supposing him to be a man of far greater consequence than he was, refused this, and at Xeres he was had up on 15 November before a council of war, consisting of three dukes, four counts, four marquesses, and other great persons. Two Irish friars attended as interpreters. These men had been in England the year before acting as spies and bringing to Spain reports of the number of guns and troops in Plymouth. “At my first appearing before the Lordes my sword lying before them on a table, the Duke of Medina asked me if I knew that weapon. It was reached to me, I tooke it, and embraced it in mine armes, and with tears in mine eyes kist the pomell of it. He then demanded, how many men I had kild with that weapon. I told him if I had kild one I had not bene there now, before that princely Assembly, for when I had him at my foote begging for mercy, I gave him life, yet he then very poorely did me a mischiefe. Then they asked Don John what wounds I gave him. He sayd, None. Upon this he was rebuked and told that if upon our first encounter he had run me through, it had been a faire and noble[Pg 89] triumph, but so to wound me being in the hands of others, they held it base.”

He was now closely questioned as to the fleet, the number of guns in the vessels, the fortifications of Plymouth, the garrison and the ordnance there, and was greatly surprised to find how accurately the Council was informed on every point.

“By the common people who encompast me round, many jeerings, mockeries, scorns and bitter jests were to my face thrown upon our Nation. At the length one of the Spaniards called Englishmen gallinas (hens); at which the great lords fell a laughing. Hereupon one of the Dukes, poynting to the Spanish soldiers, bid me note how their King kept them. And indeed, they were all wondrous brave in apparell, hattes, bandes, cuffes, garters, etc., and some of them in chaines of gold. And asked further if I thought these would prove such hennes as our English, when next year they should come into England? I sayd no. But being somewhat emboldened by his merry countenance, I told him as merrily, I thought they would be within one degree of hennes, and would prove pullets or chickens. Darst thou then (quoth Duke Medina, with a brow half angry) fight with one of these Spanish pullets?

“O my Lord, said I, I am a prisoner, and my life is at stake, and therefore dare not be so bold to adventure upon any such action; yet with the license of this princely Assembly, I dare hazard the breaking of a rapier; and withall told him, he was unworthy the name of an Englishman that should refuse to fight with one man of any nation whatsoever. Hereupon my shackells were knocked off, and my iron ring and chayne taken from my neck.

“Roome was made for the combatants, rapier and[Pg 90] dagger the weapons. A Spanish champion presents himselfe, named Signior Tiago, Whom after we had played some reasonable good time, I disarmed, as thus—I caught his rapier betwixt the barr of my poignard and there held it, till I closed in with him, and tripping up his heeles, I tooke his weapons out of his hands, and delivered them to the Dukes.

“I was then demanded, If I durst fight against another. I told them, my heart was good to adventure, but humbly requested them to give me pardon if I refused, for I too well knew that the Spaniard is haughty, impatient of the least affront, and when he receives but a touch of any dishonour, his revenge is implacable, mortall and bloody.

“Yet being by the noblemen pressed again and again to try my fortune with another, I sayd, That if their Graces and Greatnesses would give me leave to play at mine owne Countrey weapon, called the Quarter-staffe, I was then ready there, an opposite against any comer, whom they would call foorth; and would willingly lay doune my life before those princes, to doe them service, provided my life might by no foule means be taken from me.

“Hereupon, the head of a halbert which went with a screw was taken off, and the steall [staff] delivered to me; the other but-end of the staffe having a short iron pike in it. This was my armor, and in my place I stood, expecting an opponent.

“At last, a handsome and well-spirited Spaniard steps foorth with his rapier and poignard. They asked me what I sayd to him. I told them I had a sure friend in my hand that never failed me, and made little account of that one to play with. Then a second, armed as before, presents himselfe. I demanded if there would come no more. The Duke asked, how[Pg 91] many I desired. I told them any number under six. Which resolution of mine they smiling at it in a kind of scorne, held it not manly nor fit for their own honors and glory of their nation, to worry one man with a multitude; and therefore appointed three only to enter the lists.

(Click here to see a larger image)

Three to One:

Being, An Engliſh-Spaniſh Combat,

Performed by a Weſterne Gentleman, of Tauyſtoke in Deuon ſhire, with an Engliſh Quarter-Staffe, againſt Three Spaniſh Rapiers and Poniards, at Sherries in Spaine,
The fifteene day of Nouember, 1625.

In the Preſence of Dukes, Condes, Marqueſſes, and other Great Dons of Spaine, being the Counſell of Warre.

The Author of this Booke, and Actor in this Encounter, Richard Peecke.

Manly Peeke

Printed an London for I. T. and are to be sold at his Shoppe.


“The rapier men traversed their ground, I mine. Dangerous thrusts were put in, and with dangerous hazard avoyded. Showtes echoed to heaven, to encourage the Spaniards, not a shoute nor a hand to hearten the poore Englishman; only Heaven I had in mine eye, the honour of my Countrey in my heart, my fame at the stake, my life on a narrow bridge, and death both before me and behind me.

“Plucking up a good heart, seeing myself faint and wearied, I vowed to my soule to do something ere she departed from me; and so setting all upon one cast, it was my good fortune with the but-end where the iron pike was to kill one of the three; and within a few boutes after, to disarme the other two, causing one of them to fly into the armie of soldiers then present, and the other for refuge fled behind the bench.

“Now was I in greater danger; for a generall murmure filled the ayre, with threatenings at me; the soldiers especially bit their thumbes, and how was it possible for me to scape?

“Which the noble Duke of Medina Sidonia seeing called me to him, and instantly caused proclamation to be made, that none, on paine of death, should meddle with mee. And by his honourable protection I got off. And not off, only, with safety, but with money, for by the Dukes and Condes were given me in gold to the value of foure pounds tenne shillings sterling, and by the Marquesse Alquenezes himself as much; he embracing me in his armes and bestowing[Pg 92] upon me that long Spanish russet cloake I now weare, which he tooke from one of his men’s backs; and withall furnished me with a cleane band and cuffes.”

The Spaniards, nobly appreciating the bravery of their captive, and discovering that instead of being a man of great consequence he was a mere sailor before the mast, and not likely to be redeemed at a great price, resolved to give him liberty, and under the conduct of four gentlemen attached to the suite of the Marquess Alquenezes, he was sent to Madrid to be presented to the King. During Peeke’s stay in Madrid, which he calls Madrill, he was the guest of the Marquess. The Marchioness showed him great kindness, and on his leaving presented him with a gold chain and jewels for his wife, and pretty things for his children. On Christmas Day he was presented to the King, the Queen, and Don Carlos, the Infante.

“Being brought before him, I fell (as it was fitt) on my knees. Many questions were demanded of me, which so well as my plaine witte directed me, I resolved.

“In the end, his Majesty offered me a yearly pension (to a good vallew) if I would serve him, eyther at land or at sea; for which his royal favour, I confessing myself infinitely bound, most humbly intreated, that with his princely leave, I might be suffered to returne into mine own Countrey, being a subject onely to the King of England my sovereign.

“And besides that bond of allegiance there was another obligation due from me, to a wife and children. And therefore most submissively beg’d, that his Majesty would be so princely minded as to pitty my estate and to let me goe. To which he at last granted, bestowing upon me, one hundred pistoletts, to beare my charges.

[Pg 93]

“Having thus left Spaine, I took my way through some part of France, and hoysting sail for England I landed on the 23rd day of Aprill, 1626, at Foy in Cornwall.”

Whilst Peeke was in Spain, Lord Wimbledon had been blundering with his fleet and army worse than before. After he had reshipped his army, there still remained the hope of intercepting the plate fleet, but an infectious disorder broke out in the ships of Lord Delaware, and in consequence of an insane order given by Wimbledon, that the sick should be distributed into the healthy ships, the malady spread. After beating about for eighteen days with a dreadful mortality on board, and without catching a glimpse of the treasure vessels from the New World, Lord Wimbledon resolved to carry his dishonoured flag home again, “which was done in a confused manner, and without any observance of sea orders.” The plate fleet, which had been hugging the coast of Barbary, appeared off the coast of Spain two or three days after his departure, and entered safely into the harbour of Cadiz. Moreover, whilst he was master of these seas, a fleet of fifty sail, laden with treasure, got safe into Lisbon, from Brazil. With the troops and crews dreadfully reduced in numbers, with sickness and discontent in every vessel, and without a single prize of the least value, Lord Wimbledon arrived in Plymouth Sound, to be hissed and hooted by the indignant people, and to have his name of Cecil ridiculed as Sit-still. This sorry and unsuccessful expedition which had cost Charles so much was a grievous blow to him. A thousand men had perished in the expedition, a great sum of money had been thrown away, and the whole country was roused to anger. The Privy Council was convened and an examination into the miscarriage was instituted,[Pg 94] but the statements of the officers were discordant, their complaints reciprocal, and after a long investigation, it was deemed expedient to bury the whole matter in silence.

It has been well said, that the only man who of the whole expedition came out with credit to himself and to his country was Richard Peeke, of Tavistock, who earned for himself the epithet of “Manly.”

What became of Peeke afterwards we do not know; in the troubles of the Civil War he doubtless played a part, and almost certainly on the side of the Crown. The authority for the story is a rare pamphlet by Peeke himself, entitled, “Three to One, Being, An English-Spanish Combat, Performed by a Westerne Gentleman, of Tavystoke in Devonshire, with an English Quarter-Staffe, against Three Spanish Rapiers and Poniards, at Sherries in Spaine, The fifteene day of November, 1625 ... the Author of this Booke, and Actor in this Encounter, Richard Peeke.” There is no date to it. This has been reprinted by Mr. Arber in his English Garner, and large extracts have been given by Mr. Brooking-Rowe in his article, “Manly Peeke, of Tavistock,” in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1879. Reprinted also as supplement to Devon Notes and Queries, 1905. I have not in the above extracts strictly confined myself to the spelling, nor have I reproduced the capital letters employed profusely that are somewhat teasing to the eye of the modern reader.


Mrs. Bray, in her Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, written in 1832–3, quoting a letter from her husband, the Rev. E. Atkins Bray, to Mr. Lysons, dated 16 January, 1819, tells the following story relative to Judge Glanville, of Kilworthy, near Tavistock:—

“The Judge’s daughter was attached to George Stanwich, a young man of Tavistock, lieutenant of a man-of-war, whose letters, the father disapproving of the attachment, were intercepted. An old miser of Plymouth, of the name of Page, wishing to have an heir to disappoint his relations, who perhaps were too confident in calculating upon sharing his wealth, availed himself of the apparent neglect of the young sailor, and settling on her a good jointure obtained her hand. She took with her a maid-servant from Tavistock; but her husband was so penurious that he dismissed all the other servants, and caused his wife and her maid to do all the work themselves. On an interview subsequently taking place between her and Stanwich, she accused him of neglecting to write to her; and then discovered that his letters had been intercepted. The maid advised them to get rid of the old gentleman, and Stanwich at length, with great reluctance, consented to their putting an end to him. Page lived in what was afterwards the Mayoralty House (at Plymouth), and a woman who lived opposite hearing at night some sand thrown against a window, thinking[Pg 96] it was her own, arose, and, looking out, saw a young gentleman near Page’s window, and heard him say, ‘For God’s sake stay your hand!’ A female replied, ‘’Tis too late, the deed is done.’ On the following morning it was given out that Page had died suddenly in the night, and as soon as possible he was buried. On the testimony, however, of his neighbour, the body was taken up again; and it appearing that he had been strangled, his wife, Stanwich, and the maid, were tried and executed. It is current among the common people here, that Judge Glanville, her own father, pronounced her sentence.”

In another place, Mrs. Bray says:—

“Respecting Sir John, or ‘Old Page,’ I am informed by Mr. Hughes (who is well acquainted with many locally interesting stories and traditions) that he was an eminent merchant in his day, commonly called ‘Wealthy Page.’ He lived in Woolster Street, Plymouth, in the house since known by the name of the Mayoralty. It stood untouched till the rebuilding of the Guildhall, when it was taken down. The old house was long an object of curiosity on account of the atrocious murder there committed. Mr. Hughes likewise tells me that some years ago, previous to the repairs in St. Andrew’s Church, Plymouth, Page’s coffin was discovered, on breaking the ground near the communion table for the interment of a lady named Lovell. The inscription on the coffin proved it to contain the body of the ‘wealthy Page.’ It was opened; the remains were found in a remarkably perfect state, but crumbled to dust on being exposed to the air. So great was the curiosity of the populace, that during several days hundreds pressed in to gratify it, and every relic that could be stolen, if but a nail from the coffin, was carried off.”

[Pg 97]

Judge Glanville, M.P. for Tavistock in 1586, was the third son of John Glanville, of Tavistock, merchant. The family had been settled at Holwell, in Whitchurch, hard by, where they had been tanners, and though the house has been pulled down and rebuilt, yet the old tan-pits remain.

Judge Glanville married Alice, daughter of John Skirett, of Tavistock, and widow of Sir Francis Godolphin. By her he had a numerous family, but Mistress Page, whose Christian name was Eulalia, is not recorded in the Heralds’ Visitation as one of them. This, however, is in itself no evidence against her having been his daughter, as having disgraced the family she would be omitted from the pedigree. Thus, in the family of Langford, of Langford, in Bratton Clovelly, Margaret, daughter of Moses Langford, born in February, 1605, had a base child who was christened Hilary, in January, 1618, when she was aged thirteen, and married Hilary Hill, of Chimsworthy, presumedly the father, in 1619. When the family recorded their pedigree in 1620, they omitted Margaret from it altogether.

It is therefore no evidence that Eulalia was not Judge Glanville’s daughter that her name does not appear in the recorded pedigree. We shall see presently, however, that she was his niece, and not his daughter.

The whole of the portion relating to Page is printed in the Shakespeare Society’s Papers, II (1845, 80–5). From this we learn that Mrs. Page made an attempt to poison her husband, and when that failed, induced “one of her servants, named Robert Priddis [i.e. Prideaux],” to murder him, and “she so corrupted him ... that he solemnly undertook and vowed to performe the task to her contentment. On the other side, Strangwidge hired one Tom Stone to be an actor[Pg 98] in this tragicall action.” The deed was accomplished about ten o’clock on the night of 11 February, 1590–1.

A full and particular account of the murder is in “A true discourse of a cruel and inhumane murder, committed upon M. Padge, of Plimouth, the 11th day of February last, 1591, by the consent of his own wife and sundry others.” From this we learn that a Mr. Glandfeeld, a man of good wealth and account as any in the county, lived at Tavistock, and that he favoured a young man named George Strangwidge, and turned over to him his shop and wares, as an experienced man in business, having learned it in the shop of Mr. Powell, of Bread Street, London. Mr. Glandfeeld was so pleased with him, that he proposed taking Strangwidge into partnership and marrying his daughter to him. But he changed his mind, being moved by ambition and avarice, and he and his wife insisted on her marrying a widower named Page, of Plymouth, an elderly man and a miser, and as Glandfeeld purposed himself removing to Plymouth, he thought that it would be best to have his daughter near him. This daughter was with difficulty persuaded to consent, but did so in the end. The result was that she took the old husband in detestation, and plotted with Strangwidge how to get rid of him. For about a year she made sundry attempts to poison him, but his good constitution prevailed. She on her part worked on one of her servants, Robert Priddis or Prideaux, and induced him for the sum of £140 reward, to murder the old man. On the other hand, Strangwidge induced one Tom Stone to assist in the deed, also for the sake of payment. “These two instruments wickedly prepared themselves to effect this desperate and villainous deed on the 11th February, being Wednesday, on which night following the act was committed; but it is to be[Pg 99] remembered that this Mistress Page lay not then with her husband, by reason of the untimely birth of a child ... dead born; upon which cause she kept her chamber, having before sworn that she would never bear child of his getting that should prosper; which argued a most ungodly mind in this woman, for in that sort she had been the death of two of her own children.

“About ten of the clock at night, Mr. Page being in bed slumbering, could not happen upon a sound sleep, and lay musing to himself, Tom Stone came softly and knocked at the door, whereupon Priddis, his companion, did let him in; and by reason that Mistress Page gave them straight charge to dispatch it that night, whatsoever came of it, they drew towards the bed, intending immediately to go about it. Mr. Page, being not asleep, asked who came in, whereat Priddis leaped upon his master, being in his bed, who roused himself and got upon his feet, and had been hard enough for his man, but that Stone flew upon him, and took the kerchief from his head, and knitting the same about his neck, they immediately stifled him; and, as it appeareth, even in the anguish of death, Mr. Page greatly laboured to put the kerchief from about his neck, by reason of the marks and scratches which he had made with his nails upon his throat, but therewith he could not prevail, for they would not slip their hold until he was full dead. This done, they laid him overthwart the bed, and against the bedside broke his neck; and when they saw he was surely dead, they stretched him and laid him on his bed again, spreading the clothes in ordinary sort, as though no such act had been attempted, but that he had died on God’s hand.

“Whereupon Priddis immediately went to Mistress[Pg 100] Page’s chamber and told her that all was dispatched; and about an hour after he came to his mistress’s chamber door, and called aloud, ‘Mistress, let somebody look into my master’s chamber, methinks I heard him groan.’ With that she called her maid, who was not privy to anything, and had her light a candle, whereupon she slipped on a petticoat and went thither likewise, sending her maid first into the chamber, when she herself stood at the door. The maid simply felt on her master’s face and found him cold and stiff, and told her mistress so; whereat she bade the maid warm a cloth and wrap it about his feet, which she did; and when she felt his legs, they were as cold as clay; whereat she cried out, saying her master was dead.

“Whereupon her mistress got her to bed, and caused her man Priddis to go call her father, Mr. Glandfeeld, then dwelling in Plymouth, and sent for one of her husband’s sisters likewise, to make haste if ever she would see her brother alive, for he was taken with the disease called the pull (palsy), as they call it in that country. These persons being sent for came immediately; whereat Mistress Page arose, and in a counterfeit manner swooned; whereby there was no suspicion a long time concerning any murder performed upon him, until Mrs. Harris, his sister, spied blood about his bosom, which he had with his nails procured by scratching for the kerchief when it was about his throat. They then moved his head, and found his neck broken, and on both knees the skin beaten off, by striving with them to save his life. Mistress Harris hereupon perceiving how he was made away, went to the Mayor and the worshipful of the town, desiring of them justice, and entreated them to come and behold this lamentable spectacle, which they im[Pg 101]mediately performed, and by searching him found that he was murdered the same night.

“Upon this the Mayor committed Priddis to prison, who, being examined, did impeach Tom Stone, showing that he was a chief actor in the same. This Thomas Stone was married upon the next day after the murder was committed, and being in the midst of his jollity, was suddenly attached and committed to prison to bear his fellow company.

“Thus did the Lord unfold this wretched deed, whereby immediately the said Mistress Page attached upon murder, and examined before Sir Francis Drake, Knight, with the Mayor and other magistrates of Plymouth, who denied not the same, but said she had rather die with Strangwidge than live with Page.

“At the same time also the said George Strangwidge was nearly come to Plymouth, being very heavy and doubtful by reason he had given consent to the murder; who, being in company with some of London, was apprehended and called before the justices for the same, whereupon he confessed the truth of all and offered to prove that he had written a letter to Plymouth before coming thither, that at any hand they should not perform the act. Nevertheless, Mr. Page was murdered before the coming of this letter, and therefore he was sent to prison with the rest to Exeter; and at the Assizes holden this last Lent, the said George Strangwidge, Mistress Page, Priddis, and Tom Stone, were condemned and adjudged to die for the said fact, and were all executed accordingly upon Saturday the 20th February last, 1591.”

This is circumstantial enough, and contemporary, and it shows how that the story travelling down traditionally has been altered.

The tract above quoted—we have modernized the[Pg 102] spelling—does not, however, give the Christian name of Mistress Page, and gives us the name of her father, Glandfeeld, a merchant tradesman of Tavistock. Glandfeeld is the same as Glanville, just as Priddis is the same as Prideaux, and as Grenville appears in the registers and in deeds as Grenfeeld and Greenfield.

That she was not the daughter of Justice Glanville is plain from the above account, but she was a niece, for Eulalia was the daughter of Nicolas, the eldest son of John Glanville, merchant, of Tavistock; he and another brother, Thomas, were in trade at Tavistock, and they were both brothers of Judge Glanville. This we learn from the Heralds’ Visitation of Cornwall for 1620, where Eulalia is entered as daughter of Nicolas, but with no details concerning her.

There appeared several ballads concerning the tragedy.

1. “The Lamentation of Master Page’s wife of Plimouth, who being enforced by her parents to wed against her will, did most wickedly consent to his murther, for the love of George Strangwidge, for which fact she suffered death at Bar[n]staple in Devonshire. Written with her own hand a little before her death.” This is, of course, untrue. It is one of those supposititious confessions written by the common ballad monger. By this we know that her Christian name was Ulalia.

2. “The Lamentation of George Strangwidge, who for consenting to the death of Master Page of Plimouth, suffered Death at Bar[n]staple.” In this occurs the statement that she was the daughter of “Glandfield.”

O Glandfield, cause of my committed crime,
Snared in wealth, as Birds in bush of lime,
*  *  *  *  *
I would to God thy wisdome had been more,
Or that I had not entered in the door;
Or that thou hadst a kinder Father beene
Unto thy Child, whose yeares are yet but greene.
The match unmeete which thou for much didst make,
When aged Page thy Daughter home did take,
Well maist thou rue with teares that cannot dry.
Which was the cause that foure of us must dye.
Ulalia faire, more bright than Summer’s sunne,
Whose beauty hath my heart for ever won,
My soule more sobs to thinke of thy disgrace,
Than to behold mine own untimely race.

[Pg 103]

In this also, as will be seen, Mistress Page is Eulalia, and her father Glandfield is said to have been rich.

3. “The Sorrowful Complaint of Mistress Page for causing her husband to be murdered, for the love of George Strangwidge, who were executed together.” This contains no particulars relative to her relationship to the Glanvilles.

It may at first sight seem strange that a crime committed at Plymouth should be expiated at Barnstaple, but the reason is simple enough. In September, 1589, the plague broke out in Exeter, and it was very fatal in that year, according to Lysons. Under ordinary circumstances the murderers of Page would have been tried at Exeter; but with the terrible remembrance of the “Black Assize” in that city in 1586, when the judge, eight justices, and all the jury except one, fell victims to the gaol fever; and the plague continuing there, the assizes of 1590 (o.s.) were removed to Barnstaple.

The Diary of Philip Wyot, town clerk of Barnstaple from 1586 to 1608, has been printed by Mr. J. R. Chanter in his Literary History of Barnstaple, and he records that the assize was held in 1590 at Honiton and at Great Torrington, “the plague being much at Exeter,” and he gives particulars of the assizes[Pg 104] held at Barnstaple in the ensuing March, 1591 (n.s.), and he terminates thus:—

“The gibbet was set up on the Castle Green and xvii prisoners hanged, whereof iiij of Plymouth for a murder.”

The parish register gives the particulars and the names:—

“Here ffolloweth the names of the Prysoners wch were Buryed in the Church yeard of Barnistaple ye syce [assize] week.

“March 1590–1.

 · · · · · ·

“George Strongewithe, Buryed the xxth daye.

“Thomas Stone, Buryed the xxth daye.

“Robert Preidyox, Buryed at Bishopstawton ye xxth daye.”

The three men were hanged, but Eulalia Page was burnt alive, as guilty of petty treason. Moreover, her uncle, Justice Glanville, did not condemn her to the stake. He was serjeant-at-law, and was not made a Justice of the Common Pleas till 1598, when he was knighted. He died in 1600, and his stately monument is in Tavistock Church.

The judge who sentenced Eulalia Page was, as Wyot tells us, “Lord Anderson,” who tried all the cases “and gave judgment upon those who were to be executed.” But John Glanville, serjeant-at-law, was present at these assizes; for Wyot gives the list of the lawyers present at the time, and he names “Sergt. Glandyl” as lodging at Roy Cades. Glandyl is a mistake for Glandvyl.

As the crime of Eulalia Page was one of petty treason, she would be burnt alive, and not hanged. Petty treason, according to a statute 25 Edward III, consists in (1) a servant killing his master; (2) a wife her hus[Pg 105]band; (3) an ecclesiastic his superior, to whom he owes faith and obedience. The punishment of petty treason in a man was to be drawn and hanged, and in a woman to be drawn and burned.

Catherine Hayes was burned alive in 1726 for the murder of her husband. She is the Catherine whom Thackeray took as heroine of the story under that name. In 1769 Susanna Lott was burned for the murder of her husband at Canterbury. A poor girl, aged fifteen, was burnt at Heavitree by Exeter, in 1782, for poisoning her master. A woman was burnt for causing the death of her husband, at Winchester, in 1783.

A writer in Notes and Queries, August 10, 1850, says: “I will state a circumstance that occurred to myself in 1788. Passing in a hackney coach up the Old Bailey to West Smithfield, I saw unquenched embers of a fire opposite Newgate. On my alighting, I asked the coachman, ‘What was that fire in the Old Bailey over which the wheel of your coach passed?’ ‘Oh, sir,’ he replied, ‘they have been burning a woman for murdering her husband.’”

In 1790, Sir Benjamin Hammett in the House of Commons called attention to the then state of the law. He said that it had been his painful office and duty in the previous year to attend the burning of a female, he being at the time Sheriff of London; and he moved to bring in a Bill to alter the law. He showed that the sheriff who shrank from executing the sentence of burning alive was liable to a prosecution, but he thanked Heaven that there was not a man in England who would carry such a sentence literally into execution. The executioner was allowed to strangle the woman condemned to the stake before flames were applied; but such an act of humanity was a violation of the law,[Pg 106] subjecting executioner and sheriff to penalties. The Act was passed 30 George III, c. 48.

Popular tradition has erred on many points. It has made Eulalia the daughter instead of the niece of John Glanville, it has represented him as a judge to try her seven years before he was created a judge. Tradition will have it that after the sentence of Eulalia he never smiled again. That is possible enough, as he may have defended her at the assizes, and may have witnessed her execution.

Information concerning, and republication of tracts and ballads relative to the murder of Page are in H. F. Whitfeld’s Plymouth and Devonport, in Times of War and Peace, Plymouth, 1900. This also gives extracts from, and mention of, plays founded on the story.


James Wyatt was born at Woodbury on the Exe in the year 1707. His father was a shoemaker, but James lost both him and his mother when he was very young. He had a brother and two sisters, and he was the youngest of the four. After the death of his parents his eldest sister took care of him, sent him to school, and when old enough to work got him employment on a farm, where he remained till he was fourteen years of age; but, not liking farm work, his sister apprenticed him to a woolcomber and dyer at Wembury. His master was a very honest, good-natured man, and taught him his business well, and this, as we shall see in the sequel, was of the highest advantage to him.

As soon as his time of apprenticeship was up he entered as gunner’s server on board the York man-of-war. In 1726 he went with Sir John Jennings to Lisbon and Gibraltar. Next he served on board the Experiment under Captain Radish; but his taste for the sea failed for a while, and he was lured by the superior attractions of a puppet-show to engage with the proprietor, named Churchill, and to play the trumpet at his performances. During four years he travelled with the show, then tiring of dancing dolls, reverted to woolcombing and dyeing at Trowbridge. But a travelling menagerie was too much for him, and he followed that as trumpeter for four years. In 1741,[Pg 108] he left the wild beasts and entered as trumpeter on board the Revenge privateer, Captain Wemble, commander, who was going on a cruise against the Spaniards. The privateer fell in with a Spanish vessel from Malaga, and gave chase. She made all the sail she could, but in four or five hours the Revenge came up with her. “We fir’d five times at her. She had made everything ready to fight us, but seeing the number of our hands (which were one hundred in all, though three parts of them were boys) she at length brought to. We brought the captain and mate on board our ship, and put twelve men on board theirs, one of which was the master, and our captain gave him orders to carry her into Plymouth.” Of the prize-money Wyatt got forty shillings. The capture did not prove to be as richly laden as had been anticipated.

We need not follow his adventures in the privateer, though they are interesting enough, and give a lively picture of the audacity of these venturers, till we come to his capture. The Revenge was cruising about among the Canary Islands, when a Spanish vessel ran for Teneriffe from Palma, and was at once pursued. She sped for Gomera, but unable to weather the point came to anchor within half a cable’s length of the shore. She was a bark of sixty tons burthen, and as the Revenge drew more water and the captain feared sunken rocks, he ordered the yawl to be hoisted out and to be manned with eleven hands.

James Wyatt

James Wyat Ætat. 40.

Reproduced from the frontispiece to “The Life and Surprizing
Adventures of James Wyatt, Written by Himself,” 1755

“We were three hours after we left the ship before we got within musket-shot of the bark. Our master ask’d us if we were all willing to board her. We answered, one and all, we were. We saw twelve men ashore, and made directly towards them. Our master said, ‘My boys, the bark’s our own, for these men belong’d to her, but have left her; let us give them one[Pg 109] volley, and then board the bark.’ We had two brass blunderbusses, mounted on swivels, in the bow of the boat. Our master stepp’d forward to one of them himself, and order’d me to the other. We had no sooner discharged the blunderbusses, but two or three hundred men came from behind the rocks. We had been so long getting to the bark that the men belonging to her, unknown to us, had got out of her, gone up country, and brought these people to their assistance. Our blunderbusses being discharged, the men from behind the rocks kept up a constant fire at us; and, at the very first fire, our master received a ball just above his right eye, and another went almost through my right shoulder. We rowed directly to the bark. The lieutenant, myself, and four more leapt into her, and those that were in the boat handed in our arms. As soon as we were in the bark, the lieutenant order’d one of our men to take a pole-axe and cut the cable, saying she would drive off. I told him if the cable was cut she would certainly drive ashore, for she was then almost upon the breakers. He seem’d a little angry at what I said, though had my advice been followed, it had been better for us all; for, as soon as the cable was cut, she turn’d broadside to the sea, and in a few minutes after struck ashore against the rocks.

“By the bark’s swinging round, our boat was exposed to the fire of the enemy; upon which Mr. Perry, our master-at-arms (he had been organist at Ross parish church) order’d the three men in the boat to row off. In less than a minute I saw Mr. Perry drop to the bottom of the boat, shot through the heart.

“While the Spaniards were firing at our boat, we that were in the bark kept firing at them. We fired as fast as possible, and threw all our hand-granades[Pg 110] ashore, which did some execution. Our lieutenant being shot, and our powder almost exhausted, we laid down our arms. As soon as the Spaniards saw this, they came on board us. The first man they saw was our lieutenant, who, although he was dead, they began to cut in a very cruel manner. The next man they came to was William Knock, whom they butcher’d in a most barbarous manner, several of them cutting him with their long hooks at once, though he cry’d out for mercy all the time. In the same manner they serv’d all in the bark but myself.

“Being in the bow of the bark, seeing their cruelty to our men, and expecting the same fate every moment, I took the blunderbuss which I had in one hand, and laid it on a pease cask, being unable to hold it high enough to fire, as the ball remain’d still in my right shoulder. When I saw them coming towards me, I rais’d it up with all my might, as though I was going to fire it at them, upon which they all ran to the other side of the bark, and from thence leapt ashore.

“At that very instant a great sea came in, and turned the bark on one side, with her keel towards the shore. This gave me an opportunity of pulling off my clothes and jumping into the water, in order to swim to my ship. As soon as they saw me they began to fire at me from every side. Five small shot lodg’d between my shoulders, three in the poll of my neck, and one ball graz’d my left shoulder; besides the ball which I had before receiv’d in my right shoulder.

“I kept on swimming till I was out of the reach of their balls; and I should have been able to have swam to our own ship, had not the Spaniards launch’d their boat and come after me. As soon as they came up to me, one of the men who stood in the bow of the boat, and had a half-pike in his hand, pointed towards me and[Pg 111] said in the Spanish language, ‘Down, down, you English dog.’ Then they pulled me into the boat. As I stood upright in the boat, one of the Spaniards struck me a blow on the breast with such violence, that it beat me backwards, and I fell to the bottom of the boat; after which they row’d ashore. When they came ashore, they haul’d me out of the boat as though I had been a dog; which I regarded not at the time, being very weak and faint with swimming and the loss of blood. On their bringing me ashore, the enraged multitude crowded round me, and carried me a little way from the place where they had landed; they placed me against a rock to shoot me, and threatened to run me through with a half-pike if I offered to stir.

“While I was plac’d against the rock, and expecting death every moment, I saw a gentleman expostulating with the mob, and endeavouring to prevail with them to spare my life. After a small time he came directly to me and said in English, ‘Countryman, don’t be afraid; they want to kill you, but they shall not.’ He then turn’d his back to me, stood close before me, opened his breast, and said if they shot me they should shoot him likewise.”

His preserver was an Irishman, named William Ryan, who spoke Spanish fluently, and had been in the bark on his way to Santa Cruz in Teneriffe. He was apparently a man who had lived some time in the Canaries, and had been a trader. He was very kind to James Wyatt, gave him some clothes, and washed his wounds with brandy.

After that he was taken to Gomera, where the deputy-governor lived, and by means of an interpreter Wyatt was able to explain to him that he was in great pain and had a ball in his shoulder. The deputy-governor sent for a barber, who with a razor[Pg 112] cut across the wound this way and that till he saw the ball, which he hooked out with a bent nail. The ball had gone eight inches through the fleshy part of the shoulder and was lodged against the bone. From Gomera Wyatt was sent by boat to Teneriffe to the head governor, who received and examined him. The governor’s mother took compassion on him, saw that he was well fed, and sent a proper surgeon to dress his wounds, and made him a present of three shirts and two handkerchiefs to make into a sling for his arm. Next day the kind old lady sent him a pair of silk stockings, a hat, a black silk waistcoat, and a dollar in money.

Wyatt was now transferred to the castle at Laguna, above Santa Cruz, where he found five-and-twenty English prisoners, among whom was a physician, Dr. Ross. It was some time before he was healed of his wounds, but eventually did recover.

One day a man came to the castle with a drum on his back, and Wyatt at once asked him to be allowed to beat it. To this he consented, and Wyatt beat a march. Though not a skilled drummer, his performance greatly delighted the owner of the drum, and he rushed off to an acquaintance, a gentleman, to announce that among the English prisoners was the first drummer in the world.

The gentleman was much excited and sent for him, and was delighted. After that at every dinner party, entertainment, gathering, Wyatt was in requisition to rattle the drum, on which occasions he received little sums of money, which he employed in relieving the needs of his fellow prisoners.

After he had been twenty-eight days in the castle he was sent for to Santa Cruz to the general, who had heard that he drummed, and was eager to hear the[Pg 113] performance. This pleased him so well that he asked Wyatt if he would teach the black boy of a friend of his how to handle the drum-sticks. Wyatt consented, and thus obtained much liberty, for the owner of the black boy, whom he called Don Mathias Caster, took him into his own house. As instructing the boy did not occupy the whole of Wyatt’s time, he resolved on turning his knowledge of dyeing to advantage. The Spanish love black; and as the gentleman told him, black cloaks and dresses in the sun and with the dust soon turned rusty. He gave him an old kettle and lent him an outhouse, and Wyatt converted the latter into a dye-house and re-dyed the cloth garments of most of the gentlemen of Santa Cruz, and received from each a remuneration.

Dr. Ross had been released from prison on condition that he set up as a physician in Santa Cruz, where the Spanish doctors were ignorant and unsuccessful. But Ross had no house to go into. He consulted Wyatt. “I will build you one of wood,” said this Jack-of-all-trades. “I know something of carpentering.” Accordingly he set to work, built a shanty, painted it gaily, enclosed a garden, surrounded it with a palisade, and dug the ground up for flowers and vegetables and herbs.

A Spanish gentleman was so delighted with the house of Dr. Ross that he asked Wyatt to build him one. Wyatt agreed, but in the midst of the work was arrested by soldiers from Grand Canary and conveyed thither to be examined by the Inquisition, which supposed him to be a Freemason. He had happily provided himself with letters of recommendation from a number of leading men in the isle of Teneriffe to whom he had done services, and in return for blackening their suits they did their best to whiten his[Pg 114] character. After several hearings he was discharged, but one unfortunate Englishman languished for two years in their dungeons, labouring under the suspicion of being a Freemason.

On his return to Santa Cruz, Wyatt completed the house on which he had begun, and then looked about for more work. Don Mathias Caster said to him one day, “Our hats cost us a deal of money and soon get shabby.” “I know how to dye, and I know something about the hatting trade,” said Wyatt promptly, “for when I was an apprentice, there was a hatter next door, and I kept my eyes open and watched his proceedings.”

Accordingly Don Mathias gave him one of his old hats to dress. Wyatt immediately had a hat-block made, dyed the hat, cleaned the lace, and carried it to the Don the same day.

“When I show’d it to him, he was surpriz’d to see how well I had made it look. He told me, if I would do other gentlemen’s hats as well as I had done his, I might get an estate in a few years, and that he would help me to business enough.” That same evening in came two hats, next morning five—and then they rained on him, and he charged half a dollar for renovating each. He had soon realized £20.

One night he was roused by the cry of fire, and running out saw a crowd standing gaping at the house of the Portuguese consul that was on fire in the top story. No one did anything—there was no one to take the lead, and the family was fast asleep within. Wyatt got a crowbar and an axe, broke down the door, and rescued the consul and his wife and all the family save one child that was burnt. The fire rapidly spread, as the houses were of wood, to the next house belonging to the French consul. He and his were rescued. The[Pg 115] next, but not adjoining, house was that of the general. But what intervened made its destruction probable, for this was a cellar full of brandy and rum casks. The general’s house had a flat roof. Wyatt organized a chain of water carriers, and standing on the roof poured water incessantly over the side of the house licked by the flames, and this he continued to do till the fire burnt itself out.

Next day the general sent for him, thanked him for having saved his house, and presented him with a passport authorizing him to carry on his trade and travel freely between the seven islands.

In the beginning of June, 1742, an English vessel was brought into harbour, the Young Neptune, Captain Winter, that had been captured by a Spanish privateer. Wyatt soon became intimate with the captain and his mate, and after a while they confided to him a plan they had discussed of escaping to Madeira, whence they could easily obtain a passage to England or Holland. The scheme was that he, Winter, the captain, Burroughs, the mate, and four other Englishmen should steal a boat from a galleon laid up in the bay and make their escape in the night. Wyatt eagerly agreed to be one of the party; and the plan was carried into effect on the 29th of June. There were seven in the boat, the captain and mate aforenamed, Smith, Swanwick, Larder, Newell, and Wyatt. The boat had five oars and a sprit-sail. The captain had a compass, but no quadrant. At first the wind blew fair, but speedily turned to the contrary direction desired, so that all hopes of making Madeira had to be abandoned. The wind rose to a gale and the men were worn out with bailing. They had to clear the boat of water with two pails and their hats. On 2 July they sighted a point of land which they took to be Cape Bojadore,[Pg 116] and they steered south in hopes of reaching Gambia. On 7 July they saw a low sandy island, and a sloop ashore, and made at once for land. On disembarking they were surrounded by a swarm of Moors and negroes, the former of whom could speak a little Portuguese, and two of them spoke broken English. Wyatt and the rest were conducted inland to where there was a village of squalid huts. Here they were given some fish and a little water. They speedily discovered that the Moors had no intention of letting them go to Gambia, but purposed making off with their boat and leaving them to perish on the island where there was no water, all that was used having to be brought in skins from the mainland. Presently a number of the Moors departed in the boat of the Europeans, leaving behind only one large boat that was rotten, and a small one; and some of the Moors remained to see that the English carpenter repaired the decayed vessel, intending when that was done to leave the Europeans behind. These consulted and resolved on getting possession of the little boat and escaping in it. As a precaution they contrived to get hold of the fishing spears of the Moors, so that these might have as few weapons as possible, should it come to a fight.

The carpenter then, with the tools that had been given to him for the purpose of repairing the large boat, set to work to knock holes in her bottom, so that she might not be used in pursuit.

Then the little party, having got together, made for the small boat. “I had got the hammer and the adze, the carpenter had the hatchet, and the rest of our people had fishing spears. The Moors, perceiving us make towards the boat, ran between that and us, in order to prevent our getting into her. This began the fight, for the carpenter beat Marta into the water, which was[Pg 117] about three feet deep, with the hatchet, and Duckamar presently after him. I struck Mahomet with the adze, and took off a piece of flesh and part of his ear. In an instant every one was out of their huts, and pulling them down in order to get sticks to fight us. Seeing this, we ran to the assistance of our countrymen as fast as we could, leaving the two Moors that fell into the water for dead.

“The Moors came very near us with the sticks they pulled out of their huts, and threw them at us, one of which hit Robert Larder and broke his thumb. One of our men, looking round, saw the two Moors who we thought were dead standing up against the side of the boat. Upon his saying they were there, I ran towards them, having still the hammer in one hand and the adze in the other. When they saw me coming, they ran round the boat, got to their companions, and fought as well as though they had not been hurt.

“We were obliged to keep our ground, for fear some of the Moors should get into the little boat, in which we intended to make our escape, and which was not an hundred yards behind us. At length one of the Moors came running behind Mr. Burroughs, and gave him a terrible blow on the head with a stick. Mr. Burroughs immediately turned round and struck at him, but missed him. The man ran directly up the island; and Mr. Burroughs, in the hurry not thinking of the consequence, ran after him. We kept calling to him to come back to us, when, on a sudden, the Moors took to their heels and ran after him. Some of them presently came up with him, knocked him down with their sticks, and cut his throat from ear to ear. Some of them then turned back and made towards their little boat, thinking to have got her off in order to prevent our escape. As soon as we saw that, we all ran as fast as possible to[Pg 118] secure the boat. As I was the nearest to the boat I got soonest to her; but there was one of the Moors had got to the boat before me, and was getting up her side. I gave him a blow on his back with the hammer; upon which he let go his hold and fell into the water. As he was falling I hit him another blow on the head; upon which he fell under the boat, and rose on the other side.

“While we were in the fight, three of our men got into the boat, and kept calling to the rest to come in likewise; which at length we did, retreating all the way with our faces towards the Moors. When we came to the boat, the other three, with the fishing spears, kept off the Moors till we got in, cut the grappling loose, and drove away with the tide.”

It was not possible to get far in this little boat, and the party made for the mainland, where they were at once set upon by other Moors, who stripped them of their shirts, and held them prisoners till those from the island arrived, and these latter fell on them and beat and trampled on them unmercifully, and would have cut their throats had not the mainland Moors restrained them by saying that the King or Sultan of the Gum Coast must be informed that there were European prisoners there, and that he would decide what was to be done with them. They were then tied in pairs back to back and carried back to the island, where they were cast on the floor of a tent, and left thus without food or water for four days. After that they were sparingly fed, untied, and made to work as slaves. After some weeks an officer called Abede arrived with nineteen men, reviewed them, and left. As soon as he was gone Swanwick, the carpenter, was taken away by the island Moors, and no tidings of what became of him ever reached the rest. Sixteen days after the officer had left[Pg 119] he returned with orders from the King or Sultan that all who remained of the prisoners were to be transferred to the mainland and conducted across the desert to the French factory at Senegal, where he hoped to receive pay from the French for surrendering them.

The party had been taken prisoners by the Moors on 7 July, 1742, and they were not released and committed to the charge of Abede till 13 November, so that they had remained in durance and in miserable condition for four months and six days. At one time, when deprived of their shirts and exposed to the sun, their faces and bodies were so blistered that they were unable to recognize each other, save by their voices. They had now a long and painful journey over the desert, under the charge of Abede, that lasted till the 23rd December, when they were near Senegal, and Abede dispatched a messenger to the French factors to announce that the European prisoners were at hand, and to bargain for a sum to be paid for their release. They had been tramping over burning sands, insufficiently fed, for forty days. Whilst waiting for news from the factory the Moors killed an ox, and gave the head and guts to the English prisoners. They boiled the meat on the sand and devoured it greedily—it was the first flesh they had tasted for upwards of six months.

“Sometime after we got some caravances. Having eaten no pulse for several months, we hardly knew when we had enough. But we suffered severely for it, for we were presently afterwards taken extremely ill. The Moors seeing we were very bad, gave us the urine of goats to drink. This purged us prodigiously, and we remained ill for several hours; but, when it had worked off, we grew speedily well.”

Five days more elapsed before an answer arrived from the factory. On 28 December the messenger[Pg 120] returned in a sloop sent from the factory to bring the prisoners to Senegal. The captain brought clothes for them, and gave them “an elegant entertainment, consisting of fowls, fresh meat, etc.”

On 29 December they were conveyed to the factory at Senegal, and were most kindly received by the French, and they remained there for a month all but a day; and then were sent in a French sloop to Gambia, on 28 January, 1743, which they reached on 31 January. Gambia was an English settlement, a fort, and a factory; and there also the poor fellows were kindly and hospitably entertained, provided with money and all they required.

The time of their sufferings was now over.

“The 1st February I went on board the Robert, Captain Dent, commander, lying in Gambia River. He was hir’d by the African Company and was laden with gum arabick, elephants’ teeth, bees-wax, &c. I told him our case, and that I wanted to come to England; upon which he kindly promised me, or all of us, if we were so disposed, our passage to England gratis, provided we would work our way home. Captain Winter, however, had business to transact in Jamaica, and preferred to wait till a vessel would take him thither; two of the men remained at Gambia, and the rest, saying that they had no homes or friends in England, preferred to go to the West Indies and earn some money before they returned to the right and tight little island.

“It was an unfortunate decision of Captain Winter. He and Larder sailed in a schooner bound for Jamaica, but never reached his destination, as the vessel was lost, and every one of the crew and passengers was drowned.

“We set sail from Gambia the 3rd of February, 1743, and arrived in the river Thames on the 16th of April[Pg 121] following; so that we were just two months and thirteen days in our passage to England.”

On the 29th May, 1741, James Wyatt had entered as trumpeter on board the Revenge, privateer, and was away on her almost two years, during which time he had undergone as many hardships as ever man did—enough to break down the health of one who did not possess a constitution of iron.

Wyatt now visited his friends, and was warmly welcomed, and all would have given him money to start him in some business. One gentleman offered to advance him a thousand pounds; but he declined these generous offers. The French at Senegal and the English at Gambia had been so liberal that he had enough for his purpose. He now bought an electrical machine, and turned showman in London, giving people shocks at a shilling a head. This answered for a while, and then public interest in the machine slackened there, so he toured in the country.

“At some towns I scarce took money enough to bear my expenses, the people not knowing the meaning of the word Electricity; nor would they give the price I usually got in London; for, talking of a shilling each person, frightened them out of their wits. In some towns in Kent I had very good business, and saved a pretty deal of money; but, even then, I was forced to lower my price. In these towns the people knew what it meant, and that the thing was very curious and surprising. They came, when the price was not so high, in great numbers, and sometimes many miles, to be electrified.”

He remained in Kent two months and made twelve pounds. Then it occurred to him that he would go with his battery to Jamaica, where the novelty of the machine was certain to create a stir.

[Pg 122]

Whilst preparing for the voyage, he undertook to manufacture an optical contrivance for a gentleman, and was well paid for it.

Then he bought a pair of gloves and abundance of clothes, as clothes he learned were very dear in the West Indies.

“At length the time of the ship’s sailing being near at hand, I settled my affairs, took my leave of my friends, and went on board the ship on the 25th April, 1747.

“After having experienced various vicissitudes of fortune, I am once more going into a strange land: for, though there is nothing new under the sun, yet the eye is never satisfied with seeing.”

Wyatt had committed his adventures to paper before starting, and had disposed of the MS. to a publisher. The book sold well, and the sixth edition was called for in 1755, but in it no further particulars are given of Wyatt, so that it must be assumed either that he was then dead or that he was still abroad.

What strikes one in reading his Memoirs is the indefatigable energy and the resourcefulness of the man. He could turn his hand to anything. He kept his eyes open, and was ever eager to acquire information.

His Life and Surprising Adventures has his portrait in copper plate prefixed to it. He wears a wig, and a laced and embroidered waistcoat, open at the breast to display his fine frilled shirt.


This is the story of the life of an able, versatile, and learned man, neglected, and his “unregarded age in corners thrown.”

He was born 4 March, 1743, at Downhouse, in the parish of Tavistock, of respectable parents. They moved whilst he was still an infant to a farm belonging to them, Knighton, in the parish of Hennock. As a child he was fond of mechanics, and amused himself with contriving various pieces of machinery. When aged eight years he watched the construction of a mill, and imitated it in small in wood, thoroughly grasping all the points in the mechanism. After a while the workmen engaged on the mill came to a difficulty, and the mill stopped, nor could they rectify the fault. Little Will Davy pointed out the defects; they saw that he was right, remedied the defects, and the mill ran “suently.”

He was educated at the Exeter Grammar School, and at the age of eighteen matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford. Whilst there the idea came into his head to produce a great work of divinity, a compendium of evidence of the origin of the Christian Faith; but the idea lay dormant for a few years.

On leaving college he was ordained to the curacy of Moreton Hampstead, and married Sarah, daughter of a Mr. Gilbert, of Longabrook, near Kingsbridge. When settled into his curacy he began to reduce to order the plan he had devised of writing a General System of Theology, [Pg 124]and wrote twelve volumes of MS. on the subject.

Then he shifted to Drewsteignton. His preaching was complained of to the Bishop of Exeter, who sent for him. He took his twelve volumes of MS. with him and showed them to the Bishop, and bade him look through them and mark any lapse from orthodoxy.

This was more than the Bishop was disposed to do; he ran his fingers through the pages, he could do no more. “What the parishioners objected to,” said Davy, “was not that I taught false doctrine, but that I rebuke vicious habits that prevail.” Actually, doubtless, it was his long-winded discourses on the evidence for a God, and for the immortality of the soul, that the people objected to. They, simple souls, no more needed these evidences than they did that they themselves lived and talked and listened.

The Bishop was courteous, and promised Davy that he would give him any living that fell vacant, and asked him if he had a preference for one. Davy humbly replied that there was a certain benefice likely to be vacated very shortly that would suit him exactly. The Bishop promised to remember this, and of course forgot, and appointed some one else, one more of a toady, or better connected.

Davy continued his mechanical work and executed several ingenious pieces of machinery.

Then he was appointed to the curacy of Lustleigh at £40 per annum; but from that sum was deducted £5 for the rent of the rectory in which he had to live, the incumbent being non-resident.

Whilst at Lustleigh he published by subscription six volumes of sermons and lost £100 by the transaction, as many of the subscribers failed to pay for the books sent to them.

Rev. W. Davy

Printed by Wm. Sharland.

R. Cooper sculp.


[Pg 125]

Then he took to farming, but he had no experience and lost money by it, and had to abandon the farm.

The ambition of his life was to publish his System of Divinity, which would utterly refute atheism, deism, and every ism under the sun, and establish the doctrine of the Church on a sound basis. But no publisher or printer would undertake the mighty work unless sure of payment; and the price asked was far beyond the means of Davy. Determined to bring his great work before the world, he constructed his own printing press, and bought type, but could not afford to purchase more than would enable him to set up four pages of his book at a time.

Accordingly he did this, struck off forty copies, broke up the type and printed four more, and so on. He taught his servant, Mary Hole, to compose type, and these two worked together, and at last completed the work in twenty-six volumes, each of nearly five hundred pages. When the first volume was completed he sent copies to the Bishop, the Dean and Chapter, the Archdeacon, the Universities, and other persons of repute for learning. But he received no encouragement. Some of those to whom he sent his book did not trouble to acknowledge having received it. When the vast work was complete in twenty-six volumes, he sent a copy to his diocesan, Dr. Fisher, who ungraciously said to Davy, when he called at the Palace, “I cannot be supposed to be able to notice every trifle that appears in print.” To this Davy replied, “If your Lordship considers twenty-six volumes 8vo, the labour of fifty years in collecting, compiling, and printing, to be a trifle, I most certainly cannot allow myself to expect from your Lordship either approbation or encouragement.”

At last he retired from the parsonage of Lustleigh,[Pg 126] discountenanced and discouraged, to a small farm of his own, called Willmead. His curacy was now advanced to £60, and he had not to keep up the large rectory. At Willmead he amused his leisure hours with gardening. He moved the granite boulders, arranged terraces among the rocks, and formed a herbaceous garden, in which he took the liveliest interest. Whilst here he invented a diving-bell, and prepared his contrivance for use to raise the guns and other property lost in the Royal George (1782), but he had not the means to cause a model of his machine to be made, and his idea was taken up and carried out by others. But Davy was by no means the first inventor of the diving-bell, Dr. Halley had made one in or about 1720; it was of wood covered with lead, and air was supplied through barrels attached to it. But the plan proposed by Davy was far in advance of this, and was, in fact, practically that of the diving-bell as now in use. It was not till 1817 that the Royal George was surveyed by means of a diving-bell, and portions of the cargo, the guns, etc., were not raised till 1839–42. At length, at the age of eighty-two, Davy was presented in 1825 to the vicarage of Winkleigh, and that not by either the Bishop or the Dean and Chapter.

But this preferment coming so late in life was rather a cruelty to him than a favour granted. It removed him from his garden, in which he had spent such happy hours, and which was crowded with his collections of rare plants procured with difficulty and from distances, from all his little contrivances, and from the comforts of his own residence. He had to shift quarters in December, caught a chill in the raw damp vicarage to which he removed, and after holding the benefice for five months, expired there on 13 June, 1826, and was laid in the chancel of Winkleigh.

[Pg 127]

After his death three volumes of extracts from his System of Divinity were published, together with a Memoir, by the Rev. C. Davy, Exeter, 1827, and fell as flat as had the twenty-six volumes from which these withered arguments were culled, and no man—not a theologian even—would think it worth his while now to read a dozen pages of the work. But the intention was good—he was persistent in carrying it out, he had the honour and glory of God before his eyes, and he worked for that, and certainly will receive the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” though bishops and deans and archdeacons and the well-beneficed clergy, “bene nati, bene vestiti et moderate docti,” showed him the cold shoulder here below.

But one cannot fail to regret that, placed where he had been, at Moreton, at Drewsteignton, at Lustleigh, his active mind had not been turned to more profitable pursuits. What might he not have gleaned, then, among the traditions of the people! What stores of ballads might he not have collected! What careful plans and descriptions he might have made of the prehistoric relics that then abounded around him, then almost intact, now to such a large extent wrecked and swept away.

At Drewsteignton there was a most remarkable collection of stone circles and avenues and menhirs, and all have gone, not one is now left, only the dolmen of Shilstone remains. One accurate plan drawn by Davy, and draw and plan he could, would have been worth all his twenty-six volumes of System of Divinity.


The following curious story is from the pen of the lady whose experience is recorded. I know both her and the localities; also a good many of the particulars, and all the names; but for good reasons it has been thought advisable to disguise both the name of the place and of the persons mentioned. Every particular is absolutely true, excepting the names that are fictitious.

“On the 1st August, 1904, we heard that we had succeeded by the death of an aunt of my husband to a considerable property in South Devon, and as bad luck would have it, the mansion on the estate had been let just two months before on a short lease. It was our duty to make Devonshire our home at once and for the future, and the wearying undertaking was before us of looking out for a suitable house.

“A few days after this I had a dream remarkably distinct and impressive, so impressive was it that on awaking every particular therein was stamped indelibly on my mind.

“I thought that I was looking over a large empty house, and I was conscious at the time that it was in Devonshire. A man was showing me through it, and we had just reached the top of the front and principal staircase, and stood on a broad landing, with many bedroom doors opening on to it. I observed one short narrow passage that led down to a door, and in that[Pg 129] doorway, at the end of the passage, I saw a tall handsome woman in grey, deadly pale, with clean-cut features, carrying a little child of about two years of age or under upon her arm. The thought struck me, ‘Who can she be?’ But I almost immediately said to myself, ‘What can it matter to me who she is?’

“The caretaker of the house immediately, and without noticing her, led me to that very room, and went past her without a word or turning his head towards her. I followed, and in so doing brushed past the Grey Woman, also without a word.

“On entering the room I saw that in it was a second door in the same end wall in which was that by which I had come in, and that between these two doors was a broad space. I at once decided that this should be my bedchamber, and that I would place my bed between the two doors, as most convenient for the light and for the fireplace.

“Then, suddenly, without awaking, my dream shifted, and I thought that I was in that identical room, and in my own bed, placed where I had designed to place it; that all my belongings were about me.

“Next, the second door, that by which I had not entered, was opened, and again I saw the Grey Woman come in, with the little one toddling before her pushing before it a round wheel-toy with coloured beads on the spokes. I nudged my husband and said, ‘Alex, there is a nurse with a child in the room.’ True to life he answered, ‘Bosh!’ Nevertheless, I repeated, ‘Alex, look there—a nurse and child really are in the room.’

By this time the pair had walked round the foot of the bed, almost to his side. He raised himself on one arm, and exclaimed, ‘Good Lord! so there is.’ Then I said, ‘And they have both been dead long years ago.’

[Pg 130]

“After that I remember nothing further till I awoke in the morning.

“The dream had made such an impression on me, that at breakfast I told my daughter, and in the afternoon some friends came in to tea, and I again repeated my story, provoking great interest in the sweet ghost babe—much more so than in the nurse.

“I forgot to state that in my dream I felt quite aware that the doorway through which the Grey Woman and the child had passed did not open out of another bedroom, but communicated with the back part of the house.

“Weeks went by, and the dream, without being forgotten in any single particular, passed from my thoughts, now occupied with more practical matters—considering the lists of houses sent to us by various agents. One of these gentry had forwarded to us a special notice of a house that read like the description of a palace. We, having no ambition that way, put it down, without considering it for a moment.

“Some days later I called on the agent, and then put down the palatial notice on his table, with the remark that this was not at all the sort of mansion that we required.

“Towards the end of September we made another expedition to Devon to see a particular house near B——. I took the train to the station and visited this house, but in ten minutes satisfied myself that it would not do. We had about five hours on hand before the train was due that would take us back to Exeter, and we were at a loss how to spend the time. Suddenly the thought struck me that the impossible house was somewhere in the neighbourhood, and rather than spend hours dawdling on the railway platform, I proposed to my daughter that we should go and[Pg 131] see it. The driver of the carriage we had hired said that the distance was seven miles, but that he could very well take us there and back so as to catch the up train. We thought so too—but speedily discovered that his horse was extremely leisurely in its movements, and that we should not be able to spend much time in viewing the house. The day was beautiful, the sun was bright, the sky blue, and the trees just touched with autumn frost, and turning every colour.

“We traversed a maze of lanes and finally reached a lonely house, shut up, and standing in something of a jungle, trees all round it. A farm was near by, and we sent to ask if the keys were kept there. They were, and we were soon inside. We were delighted, and said at once, ‘This is just what we want; the very house to suit us.’ We returned full of it, but it must be admitted after a very hurried run through the inside. There was an entrance hall, thence led a staircase to a broad landing, out of which opened many bedroom doors, and there was a passage leading a short way to another room. But that all this was precisely like my dream did not occur to me at the time. We were in a hurry, afraid to miss our train, and my mind was occupied with house-hunting and the dream was temporarily forgotten. In my dream, it must be remembered, I had not seen the exterior of the house in which appeared the Grey Woman.

“On our return to Exeter we made a full report to my husband of what we had seen and decided; he had been kept from accompanying us by illness.

“We now entered into negotiations, and speedily all was settled. The drains had all to be looked to and put in order before we could take possession, which was not till the first week in December.

“About a fortnight before we moved into the house,[Pg 132] after it had been repainted and furnished, my daughter rushed to my room one morning exclaiming, ‘Mother—you have after all taken the Ghost-dream House,’ and so it was in every particular, and I had chosen the very room for mine and arranged to place my bed in the very position I had determined on in my dream.

“At last the move was made, I feeling sure that the Grey Nurse and Little Child were part and parcel of the house.

“In coming into the property an astonishing number of old deeds in many chests had been handed over to us, and demanded sorting and investigation. A large number of them pertained to the estates that my husband owned, some of them going back five hundred years and impossible for those inexperienced in court-hand and legal documents full of contractions to decipher. But there were others that did not belong to our property, that had come into the hands of a collateral great-great-uncle, a noted lawyer, who had taken the remainder of a lease for ninety-nine years of manors and estates, and which manors and estates on the termination of the lease had reverted to the proprietors; nevertheless, the deeds had been retained relative to this particular lease.

“Whilst I was engaged along with an upholsterer daily in hanging curtains, arranging carpets, choosing wall-papers, hanging pictures and the like, my husband and daughter occupied themselves in wading through and cataloguing and assorting the vast accumulation of deeds, to the best of their ability.

“At the end of a fortnight they both came to me in great excitement, to inform me that they had come across all the papers, deeds, and parchments for generations back concerning the very house we had just rented, and into which we had settled. This was[Pg 133] strange indeed. Till this moment we had entertained not the smallest suspicion that this particular house and manor had ever in any way belonged to one of the family from which my husband had inherited his estate.

“The deeds showed that in 1747, the great-great-uncle—if he may be so termed, there being no blood-relationship—had taken this particular house and property along with another much larger for the rest of the term of ninety-nine years, i.e. for the remaining eighty-eight years. The lease had terminated in 1835. The old parchments had been locked up and probably had never been looked at since.

“A week later, a new surprise. My husband and daughter in overhauling these deeds had come, as they declared, on the nurse. On the margin of an old deed were written these words:—

“‘Anna Maria Welland, daughter of John Welland, married Mr. Cresford in 1771, and died in 1772, having only been married fourteen months. She left an only child, born March 8th, 1772, died the following year. Mrs. Lock, of Old Bond Street, took the body in a box to Barclay, in Gloucestershire; Mrs. Runt, who nursed the child that died, had two herself by Mr. Cresford, one of whom she substituted for the dead child of Anna Maria, the wife of Mr. Cresford. Harkett, a servant of Mr. Cresford, on a search being made about two years ago at Barclay, admitted in the presence of the Hon. Mr. Maxwell and others, the fact of the child having been placed there for that purpose, and then went to the spot under Mr. Cresford’s [word illegible] room, and found the box which is now in London. Mrs. Runt (the nurse) died in 1826. She married a miller named Harris, and she admitted to Miss Birdwood (who is now living) that she had bastard children, and that one of such was Mrs. Francis.’”

[Pg 134]

This substituted child grew up and inherited the Welland property and married a Mr. Francis, to whom the estate went after her death. There were no children. Here is the pedigree:—


In the above account and in the pedigree all the names are fictitious except those of Mrs. Runt and the servant, Harkett.

Now, was Mr. Cresford in the plot? Did Mrs. Runt make away with Anna, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cresford? That he should have connived at the murder of his child is improbable. When he heard that Anna was dead, did he agree to have the body smuggled away in a box to his own family seat in Gloucestershire, and hidden under the floor in his room? That is not so unlikely. That he was an utterly unprincipled man is clear. At the same time that he married the heiress of the Wellands, he was carrying on an intrigue with Mrs. Runt, and he had a daughter by her of the same age—or thereabouts—as his legitimate daughter by his wife.

It may be suspected with some probability that Mrs. Runt did purposely make away with the little heiress, and then, having told Mr. Cresford that it had died a natural death, induced him to agree to the[Pg 135] substitution of his bastard daughter for his legitimate child who was dead, so that this bastard might inherit the Welland estate.

The stay of the lady who wrote the above, and her husband and daughter, at this Welland House was short. Unexpectedly their own mansion became vacant, and they moved at once to it. But during the time they were at Welland she never saw the Grey Woman.


A True and Exact Account of the Retaking a ship, called the Friend’s Adventure of Topsham, from the French; after She had been taken six days, and they were upon the Coasts of France with it four days. When one Englishman and a Boy set upon seven Frenchmen, killed two of them, took the other Five prisoners, and brought the said Ship and them safe to England. Their Majesties’ Customs of the said Ship amounted to £1000 and upwards. Performed and written by Robert Lyde, Mate of the same ship.” London, 1693.

In February, 1689, Robert Lyde, of Topsham, shipped on board a pink of the same port, eighty tons, Isaac Stoneham, master, bound for Virginia, and on 18 May following arrived there, took in a lading, and set sail in company with a hundred merchantmen for home under convoy of two men-of-war. A fortnight after, storms separated the Topsham boat from the convoy, so that she had to make the best of her way home alone, and on 19 October came up with two Plymouth vessels of the fleet about forty leagues west of Scilly, the wind easterly. On the 21st the crew saw four other ships to leeward which they took to be some of their consorts, but which proved to be French privateers. They managed to escape them, but were captured by a privateer of St. Malo, of twenty-two[Pg 137] guns and over a hundred men, on 24 October, and were taken to St. Malo as prisoners, where they were detained and treated with gross inhumanity, during seventeen days. Lyde says: “If we had been taken by Turks, we could not have been used worse. For bread we had 6 lbs. and one cheek of a Bullock for every 25 men for a day; and it fell out that he that had half a Bullock’s eye for his lot, had the greatest share.” After seventeen days they were all removed to Dinan, where were many other English prisoners confined in the cramped tower of the fortification that is still standing, with its small cells. Here they were herded together in a place not fit to contain one quarter of the number, and there they were retained for three months and ten days. “Our allowance was 3 lb. of old Cow-Beef without any Salt to flavour it, for seven men a day; but I think we had 2 lbs. of Bread for each Man, but it was so bad that Dogs would not eat it, neither could we eat but very little, and that that we did eat did us more hurt than good, for ’twas more Orts than Bread, so we gave some of it to the Hogs, and made Pillows of the rest to lay our Heads on, for they allowed us fresh Straw but once every five weeks, so that we bred such swarms of lice in our Rags that one Man had a great Hole eaten through his Throat by them, which was not perceived till after his Death, and I myself was so weak that it was 14 weeks after my releasement before I recovered any tolerable strength in me.

“They plundered us of our Clothes when we were taken, and some of us that had Money purchased Rugs to cover our Rags by day, and keep us warm by night; but upon our return home from France, the Deputy Governor of Dinan was so cruel as to order our said Rugs to be taken from us, and[Pg 138] staid himself and saw it performed; and when some of our fellow Prisoners lay a dying they inhumanly stript off some of their Cloaths, three or four days before they were quite dead. These and other Barbarities made so great an Impression upon me, as that I did then resolve never to go a Prisoner there again, and this Resolution I did ever after continue in and by the Assistance of God always will.”

Lyde returned to his home at Topsham, an exchange of prisoners having been effected, but not till four hundred out of the six hundred English prisoners crowded into the dungeons at Dinan had perished of disease and starvation.

In his Preface, Lyde says: “I here present you with a Token of God Almighty’s Goodness in relieving me from the Barbarity, Inhumanity and most cruel Slavery of the Most Christian Turk of France, whose Delight it was to make his own Subjects Slaves, and his chief Study to put Prisoners of War to the most tedious and cruel lingering Death of Hunger and Cold, as I have been experimentally (to my own Damage both felt and seen), by a five Months’ Confinement in this Country.”

Shortly after his return to Topsham Lyde shipped as mate of a vessel, the Friend’s Adventure, eighty tons, bound for Oporto, and sailed on 30 September, 1691. Oporto was reached in safety, but on the way back, off Cape Finisterre, the vessel was taken by a French privateer. Resistance had been impossible, at all events must have been unavailing, but before surrendering Lyde concealed a blunderbuss and ammunition between decks among the pipes of wine. When the Friend’s Adventure was boarded the lieutenant ordered Lyde and a boy to remain on her, and the master, four men, and another boy were conveyed on[Pg 139] board the privateer. Seven Frenchmen were left on the Friend’s Adventure to navigate her and take her to St. Malo. This done, the privateer departed. Lyde was determined not to go through his former experiences as a prisoner in France, and he endeavoured to induce the boy to assist him against the French crew, but the lad was timorous, thought such an attempt as Lyde promised must fail, and repeatedly refused to take any part in it. The boat was not very seaworthy, and needed much bailing. As the boy represented to the mate, even if they did overmaster the French crew, how could they navigate the vessel and keep the pumps going till they reached England?

After a few days they approached St. Malo, and the repugnance in Lyde’s mind against renewing his experiences there and at Dinan became overmastering.

“At 8 in the morning all the Frenchmen sat round the Cabbin’s Table at Breakfast, and they call’d me to eat with them, and accordingly I accepted, but the Sight of the Frenchmen did immediately take away my Stomach, and made me sweat as if I had been in a Stove, and was ready to faint with eagerness to encounter them. Which the Master perceiving, and seeing me in that condition, asked me (in French) if I were sick, and I answered Yes! But could stay no longer in sight of them, and so went immediately down between Decks to the Boy and did earnestly intreat him to go presently with me into the Cabbin, and to stand behind me, and I would kill and command all the rest presently. For now I told him was the best Time for me to attack them, while they were round the Table, and knock down but one man in case Two laid hold upon me, and it may be never the like opportunity again. After many importunities, the Boy asked me after what manner I intended to[Pg 140] encounter them; I told him I would take the Crow of Iron and hold it in the Middle with both Hands, and I would go into the Cabbin and knock down him that stood at the end of the Table on my right Hand, and stick the point of the Crow into him that sat at the end of the Table, on my left Hand, and then for the other five that sat behind the Table. But still he not consenting, I had second thoughts of undertaking it without him, but the Cabbin was so low that I could not stand upright in it by a foot, which made me at that time desist.

“By this time they had eat their Breakfast, and went out upon Deck; then I told the boy with much trouble, We had lost a grave opportunity, for by this time I had had the ship under my command. Nay, says the Boy, I rather believe that by this time you and I should have both been killed.”

Lyde then, to stimulate the slack fellow to action, recounted to him the miseries to which he would be subjected in prison in France.

“In a little time after they had been upon Deck, they separated from each other, viz. the Master lay down in his Cabbin and two of the Men lay down in the Great Cabbin and one in a Cabbin between Decks, and another sat down upon a low Stool by the Helm, to look after the Glass, to call the Pumps, and the other two men walked upon the Decks. Then, hoping I should prevail with the Boy to stand by me, I immediately applied myself to Prayer, desiring God to pardon my Sins, and I prayed also for my Enemies who should happen to dye by my Hands. And then I endeavoured again to persuade the Boy—but could not prevail with him to Consent.

“Then the Glass was out, it being half after eight, and the two men that were upon Deck went to pump[Pg 141] out the Water. Then I also went upon Deck again, to see whether the Wind and Weather were like to favour my Enterprize, and casting my Eyes to Windward, I liked the Weather, and hop’d the Wind would stand. And then immediately went down to the Boy, and beg’d of him again to stand by me, while two of the men were at the Pumps (for they pumpt on the starboard side, and the Steeridge Door open on the starboard side, so that they could not see me going aft to them in the Cabbin). But I could by no Persuasions prevail with the Boy, so that by this Time the Men had done Pumping; whereupon losing this opportunity caused me again to be a little angry with the Boy.”

Again Lyde warned the lad of the horrors before him if taken a prisoner to S. Malo. The boy replied that rather than endure such distresses he would turn Papist, and volunteer on board a French privateer. This roused Lyde’s wrath, and he said some very strong things. He told him that this would not help him; some of the English prisoners of war with himself had turned Papists, but had already become so attenuated by disease and suffering that they had died.

“The Boy asked What I would have him do? I told him to knock down that Man at the Helm, and I will kill and command all the rest. Saith the Boy, If you be sure to overcome them, how many do you count to kill? I answered that I intended to kill three of them. Then the Boy replied, Why three and no more? I answered that I would kill three for three of our men that died in Prison when I was there. And if it should please God that I should get home safe I would if I could go in a Man-of-War or Fireship, and endeavour to revenge on the Enemy for the Death of those 400 Men that died in the same Prison of Dinan. But the Boy said Four alive would be too many for us.[Pg 142] I then replied that I would kill but three, but I would break the Legs and the Arms of the rest if they won’t take quarter and be quiet without it.”

After a long discussion and much inquiry, the boy was finally induced to give a reluctant consent to help. The attempt was to be made that day. “At 9 in the morning the two men upon Deck were pumping; then I turned out from the Sail, where the Boy and I then lay’d, and pull’d off my Coat that I might be the more nimble in the Action. I went up the Gunroom Scuttle into the Steeridge, to see what Position they were in, and being satisfied therein. Then the Boy coming to me, I leapt up the gunroom Scuttle, and said, Lord be with us! and I told the Boy that the Drive Bolt was by the Scuttle, in the Steeridg; and then I went softly aft into the Cabbin, and put my Back against the Bulkehead and took the Jam Can, and held it with both my Hands in the middle part, and put my legs abroad to shorten myself, because the Cabbin was very low. But he that lay nighest to me, hearing me, opened his eyes, and perceiving my intent, endeavoured to rise, to make resistance; but I prevented him by a Blow upon his Forehead, which mortally wounded him, and the other Man which lay with his Back to the dying Man’s side, hearing the Blow, turned about and faced me, and as he was rising with his left Elbow, very fiercely endeavouring to come against me, I struck at him, and he let himself fall from his left Arm, and held his Arm for a Guard, whereby did keep off a great part of the Blow, but still his Head received a great part of the Blow.

“The Master lying in the Cabbin on my right Hand, hearing the two Blows, rose and sate in the Cabbin and called me—bad names; but I having my eyes every way, I push’t at his Ear with the Claws of the[Pg 143] Crow, but he, falling back for fear thereof, it seemed afterwards that I struck the Claws of the Crow into his Cheek, which Blow made him lie Still as if he had been Dead; and while I struck at the Master, the Fellow that fended off the Blow with his Arm, rose upon his Legs, and running towards me, with his Head low, to ram his Head against my Breast to overset me, but I pusht the point at his Head. It struck it an inch and a half into his Forehead, and as he was falling down, I took hold of him by the Back, and turn’d him into the Steeridg.

“I heard the Boy strike the Man at the Helm two Blows, after I had knock’d down the first Man, which two Blows made him lye very still, and as soon as I turn’d the Man out of the Cabbin, I struck one more Blow at him that I struck first and burst his Head, so that his Blood and Brains ran out upon the Deck.

“The Master all the while did not stir, which made me conclude that I had struck him under the Ear, and had killed him with the Blow.

“Then I went out to attack the two Men that were at the Pump, where they continued Pumping, without hearing or knowing what I had done; and as I was going to them, I saw that Man that I had turn’d into the Steeridg crawling out upon his Hands and Knees upon the Deck, beating his Hands upon the Deck, to make a Noise, that the Men at the Pump might hear, for he could not cry out, nor speak. And when they heard him, and seeing his Blood running out of his Forehead, they came running aft to me, grinding their Teeth; but I met them as they came within the Steeridg Door, and struck at them, but the Steeridg being not above 4 ft. high, I could not have a ful Blow at them, whereupon they fended off the Blow, and took hold of the Crow with both their Hands close to mine,[Pg 144] striving to hawl it from me. Then the Boy might have knockt them down with much ease, while they were contending with me, but that his heart failed him, so that he stood like a Stake at a distance on their left side, and 2 Foots length off, the Crow being behind their Hands. I called to the Boy to take hold of it, and hawl as they did, and I would let go all at once, which the Boy accordingly doing, I pusht the Crow towards them, and let it go, and was taking out my Knife to traverse amongst them, but they seeing me put my right hand into my Pocket, fearing what would follow, they both let go of the Crow to the Boy, and took hold of my right Arm with both their Hands.

“The Master, that I thought I had killed in his Cabbin, coming to himself, and hearing they had hold of me, came out of his Cabbin, and also took hold of me with both his Hands about my Middle. Then one of the Men that had hold of my right Arm let go, and put his Back to my Breast, and took hold of my left Hand and Arm, and held it close to his Breast, and the Master let go from my Middle, and took hold of my right Arm, and he with the other that had hold of my right Arm did strive to get me off my Legs; but knowing that I should not be long in one piece if they got me down, I put my right Foot against the Ship’s side, on the Deck, for a support, and with the assistance of God, I kept my Feet, when they three and one more did strive to throw me down, for the Man at the Helm that the Boy knocked down rose up and put his Hands about my Middle and strove to hawl me down. The Boy seeing that Man rise and take hold of me, cried out, fearing then that I should be overcome of them, but did not come to help me, nor did not Strike one Blow at any of them neither all the time.

“When I heard the Boy cry out, I said, ‘Do you[Pg 145] cry, you Villain, now I am in such a condition! Come quickly, and knock this Man on the Head that hath hold of my left Arm’; the Boy perceiving that my Heart did not fail me, took some courage from thence, and endeavoured to give that man a Blow on the Head, with the Drive-Bolt, but struck so faintly that he mist his Blow, which greatly enraged me against him.

“I, feeling the Frenchman that held about my middle hang very heavy, I said to the Boy, ‘Do you miss your Blow, and I in such a Condition? Go round the Binkle and knock down that Man that hangeth upon my Back,’ which was the same Man the Boy knock’t down at the Helm. So the Boy did strike him one Blow upon the Head, which made him fall, but he rose up again immediately, but being uncapable of making any further resistance, he went out upon Deck staggering to and fro, without any further Molestance from the Boy. Then I look’t about the Beams for a Marlin-Speek, and seeing one hanging with a strap to a nail on the Larboard Side, I jerk’t my right Arm forth and back, which clear’d the two Men’s Hands from my right Arm, and took hold of the Marlin-Speek, and struck the Point four times, about a quarter of an inch deep into the Skull of that man that had hold of my left Arm, before they took hold of my right Arm again. And I struck the Marlin-Speek three times into his Head after they had hold of me, which caused him to Screech out, but they having hold of me, took off much of the force of the three Blows, and being a strong-hearted Man, he would not let go his hold of me, and the two men, finding that my right Arm was stronger than their four Arms were, and observing the Strap of the Marlin-Speek to fall up and down upon the back of my Hand, one of them let go his right Hand and Took hold of the Strap and hawl’d the[Pg 146] Marlin-Speek out of my Hand, and I, fearing what in all likelyhood would follow, I put my right Hand before my Head as a Guard, although three Hands had hold of that Arm; for I concluded he would knock me on the Head with it;—but, through God’s Providence it fell out of his Hand and so close to the Ship’s side that he could not reach it again without letting go his other Hand from mine, so he took hold of my Arm with the other Hand again.

“At this time the Almighty God gave me strength enough to take one Man in one Hand, and throw at the other’s Head. Then it pleased God to put me in mind of my Knife in my Pocket, and although two of the Men had hold of my right Arm, yet God Almighty strengthened me so that I put my right Hand into my Pocket, and took out my Knife and Sheath, holding it behind my Hand that they should not see it; but I could not draw it out of the Sheath with my left Hand, because the Man that I struck on the Head with the Marlin-Speek had still hold of it, with his Back to my Breast; so I put it between my Legs, and drew it out, and then cut the Man’s Throat with it, that had his Back to my Breast, and he immediately dropt down, and scarce ever stirr’d after. Then with my left Arm I gave both the Men a Push from me, and hawl’d my right Arm with a jerk to me, and so clear’d it of both of them; and fetching a strike with intent to cut both their Throats at once, they immediately apprehended the Danger they were in, put their Hands together and held them up, crying, Corte, corte (i.e. Quarter), Mounseer, moy allay par Angleterre si vou plea. With that I stopt my Hand, and said Good Quarter you shall have. Alle a pro (Go to the Fore), and then I put up my Knife into the Sheath again.

“Then I made fast the Steeridg Door, and ordered[Pg 147] the Boy to stand by it, and to keep it fast, and to look through the Blunderbuss Holes, and if he did see any Man coming towards the Door, he should tell me of it, and come into the Cabbin for the Blunderbuss and Amunition which I had hid away before we were taken.

“After that I had loaden, I came out with it into the Steeridg and look’t forward, out of the Companion, to see if any Man did lye over the Steeridg Door—but seeing no Man there, I went out upon Deck and look’t up to the Maintop, for fear the two wounded Men were there and should throw down anything upon my Head; but seeing no Man there, I asked the Boy if he could tell what was become of the two wounded Men that came to themselves and went out upon the Deck whilst I was engaged with the three Men in the Steeridg. The Boy told me they had scrambled over-board. But I thought it very strange that they should be accessary to their own deaths. Then I ordered the Boy to stand by the Steeridg Door to see if that Man betwixt Decks did come up, and if he did, to tell me.

“Then I went forward to the Two Men that had cried for Quarter, but they, being afraid, ran forward and were going up the Fore-shrouds, but I held up the Blunderbuss at them, and said, Veni abau et montea Cuttelia et ally abau,[5] and then they put off their Hats and said, Monsieur, moy travally pur Angleterre si vous plea; but I answered Alle abau, for I don’t want any Help; and then they unlid the Scuttle, and went down. Then I went forward, and as I came before the foot of the Mainsail I look’t up to the Foretop, and seeing no Man there, I look’t down in the Forecastle, and showed the two men a Scuttle on the larboard side that went down into the Forepeak, and[Pg 148] said: Le Monte Cuttelia et ally abau. They unlid the Scuttle, and put off their Hats and step’t down.

“Then I call’d down to them and asked them if they saw any Men betwixt Decks as they went down, and they answered No. Then I call’d forward the Boy and gave him the Blunderbuss and bid him present it down the Forecastle, and if he saw any Men take hold of me, or if I call’d on him for help, then he should be sure to discharge the Blunderbuss at us, and kill us all together, if he could not shoot them without me.

“Then I took the Boy’s Bolt and put my head down the Scuttle, and seeing no Man there I leap’t down in the Forecastle and laid the Scuttle and nail’d it fast, and thought myself fast, seeing two killed and two secured.

“Then I went upon Deck, and took the Blunderbuss from the Boy and gave him the Bolt, and went aft, and ordered the Boy as before to stand by the Steeridg Door, and give me an account if he saw any Man come towards him with a Handspike; and then I went aft into the Cabbin, and cut two Candles in four pieces and lighted them, one I left burning upon the Table, the other three I carried in my left Hand, and the Blunderbuss in my right Hand; and I put my Head down the Gun-room Scuttle and look’t around, and seeing no Man there, I leap’t down and went to the Man that lay all the time asleep in a Cabbin betwixt Decks, and took him by the Shoulder with my left Hand, and wakened him, and presented the Blunderbuss at him with my right Hand, and commanded him out of his Cabbin, and made him stand still, till I got up into the Steeridg. Then I call’d the Man, and he standing on the Scuttle and seeing the Man that had his Throat cut almost buried in his Blood, he wrung his Hands, crying out, O Jesu Maria! I told him I[Pg 149] had nothing to do with Maria now. Monte, monte et allez a pro! Then he came up and went forward looking round to see his Companions, but I followed him, and made him go down into the Forecastle. Then I gave the Boy the Blunderbuss and ordered him to present it at the Man if he perceived him to come towards me while I was opening the Scuttle, then to shoot him.

“Then I took the Crow and leap’t down with it into the Forecastle and drew the Spikes and opened the Scuttle, and bid the Man come down and joyn his Companions. And after that I nailed down the Scuttle again, and went aft and ordered the Boy to stand by the Steeridg Door again, and I took the Candles and the Blunderbuss and went down between Decks and looked in all Holes and Corners for the two wounded Men and found them not. Then I went on Deck, and told the Boy I could not find the Men, and he said they were certainly run overboard. I told him I would know what was become of them before I made sail.

“Then I told the Boy I would go up into the Maintop, and see if they were there; and so I gave him the Blunderbuss and bid him present it at the Maintop, and if he saw any man look out over the Top with anything in his Hand to throw at me, he should then shoot them. Then I took the Boy’s Bolt, and went up, and when I was got to the Puddick Shrouds I look’d forwards to the Foretop, I saw the two Men were cover’d with the Foretopsail, and their Sashes bound about their Heads to keep in the Blood, and they had made a great part of the Foretopsail Bloody, and as the Ship rould, the Blood ran over the Top. Then I call’d to them, and they turn’d out and went down on their knees, and wrung their Hands, and cried, O corte, corte, Monsieur. Then I said, Good Quarter shall you have, And I[Pg 150] went down and call’d to them to come down, and he that the Boy wounded came down, and kissed my Hand over and over, and went down into the Forecastle very willingly. But the other Man was one of the three that I designed to kill; he delayed his Coming. I took the Blunderbuss and said I would shoot him down, and then he came a little way and stood still, and begged me to give him Quarter. I told him if he would come down he should have quarter. Then he came down and I gave the Boy the Blunderbuss”—and then ensued the redrawing of the nails and the reopening of the scuttle, so as to thrust these two wounded men in with the others. But Lyde called up one of the men, a fellow of about four-and-twenty, and who had shown Lyde some kindness when he was a prisoner on the ship. We need not follow Lyde in his voyage home. He made the Frenchman help to navigate the vessel. But they had still many difficulties to overcome, the weather was rough, the ship leaked, and there were but Lyde and the Frenchman and the boy to handle her.

Even when he did reach the mouth of the Exe, though he signalled for a pilot, none would come out to him, as he had no English colours on board to hoist, and he was obliged to beat about all night and next day in Torbay till the tide would serve for crossing the bar at Exmouth. Again he signalled for a pilot. The boat came out, but would approach only near enough to be hailed. Only then, when the pilot was satisfied that this was not a privateer of the enemy, would he come on board, and steer her to Starcross, which Lyde calls Stair-cross. Thence he sent his prisoners to Topsham in the Customs House wherry. There they were examined by the doctor, who pronounced the condition of two of them hopeless.

[Pg 151]

Lyde’s troubles were by no means over; for the owners of the Friend’s Adventure were vastly angry at her having been brought safely back. She had been insured by them for £560, and when valued was knocked down for £170; and they did much to annoy and harass Lyde, and prevent him getting another ship.

However, his story got about, and the Marquess of Carmarthen introduced him to Queen Mary, who presented him with a gold medal and chain, and recommended him to the Lords of the Admiralty for preferment in the Fleet.

With this his narrative ends. He expresses his hope to serve their Majesties, and to have another whack at the Frenchmen.


Joseph Pitts, of Exeter, was the son of John Pitts of that city. When aged fourteen or fifteen he became a sailor. After two or three voyages, very short, he shipped on board the Speedwell, on Easter Tuesday, 1678, at Lympston, bound for the Western Islands, from thence to Newfoundland, thence to Bilbao, and so by the Canaries, home. Newfoundland was reached, but on the voyage to Bilbao the ship was boarded and taken by Algerine pirates.

“The very first words they spake, and the very first thing they did was Beating us with Ropes, saying: ‘Into Boat, you English Dogs!’ and without the least opposition, with fear, we tumbled into their Boat, we scarce knew how. They having loaded their Boat, carried us aboard their Ship, and diligent Search was made about us for Money, but they found none. We were the first Prize they had taken for that Voyage, and they had been out at Sea about six weeks. As for our vessel, after they had taken out of her what they thought fit and necessary for their use, they sunk her; for she being laden with Fish, they thought it not worth while to carry her home to Algier.

“About Four or Five Days after our being thus taken, they met with another small English Ship, with Five or Six Men aboard, which was served as ours was. And Two or Three Days after that, they espied[Pg 153] another small English Vessel, with Five or Six men aboard laden with Fish, and coming from New England. This Vessel was at their first view of her some Leagues at Windward of them, and there being but little Wind, and so they being out of hopes of getting up to her, they us’d this cunning device, They hawled up their Sails, and hang’d out our English King’s Colours, and so appearing Man of War like decoyed her down, and sunk her also.

“Two or Three days after this, they took a fourth little English Ship with four or five Men a-board laden with Herrings, of which they took out most part, and then sunk the Ship.”

The pirates now returned to Algiers, and their captured Christians were driven to the palace of the Dey, who had a right to select an eighth of them for the public service and also to retain an eighth part of the spoils taken from the prizes. His selection being made, the rest were driven to the market-place and put up to auction.

Joseph Pitts was bought by one Mustapha, who treated him with excessive barbarity.

“Within Eight and forty Hours after I was sold, I tasted of their (Algerine) Cruelty; for I had my tender Feet tied up, and beaten Twenty or Thirty Blows, for a beginning. And thus was I beaten for a considerable Time, every two or three days, besides Blows now and then, forty, fifty, sixty, at a time. My Executioner would fill his Pipe, and then give me ten or twenty Blows, and then stop and smoak his Pipe for a while, and then he would at me again, and when weary stop again; and thus cruelly would he handle me till his Pipe was out. At other times he would hang me up by Neck and Heels, and then beat me miserably. Sometimes he would hang me up by the Armpits, beat[Pg 154]ing me all over my Body. And oftentimes Hot Brine was order’d for me to put my Feet into, after they were sore with beating, which put me to intolerable Smart. Sometimes I have been beaten on my Feet so long, and cruelly, that the Blood hath run down my Feet to the Ground. I have oftentimes been beaten by my Patroon so violently on my Breech, that it hath been black all over, and very much swollen, and hard almost as a Board; insomuch, that I have not been able to sit for a considerable Time.”

After two or three months, Mustapha sent him to sea in a pirate vessel, in which he was interested, to attend on the gunner. The expedition was not very successful, as only one ship was taken, a Portuguese, with a crew of eighteen who were enslaved. On his return to Algiers, after having been a couple of months at sea, he was sold to a second “Patroon,” named Ibrahim, who had “two Brothers in Algiers and a third in Tunis. The middle Brother had designed to make a Voyage to Tunis to see his Brother there; and it seems I was bought in order to be given as a Present to him. I was then cloth’d very fine, that I might be the better accepted. The Ship being ready we put to Sea, and in about fourteen Days time we arrived at Tunis, and went forthwith to my Patroon’s Brother’s House. The next Day my Patroon’s Brother’s Son, taking a Pride to have a Christian to wait upon him, made me walk after him. As I was attending upon my new Master through the Streets, I met with a Gentleman habited like a Christian, not knowing him to be an Englishman, as he was. He look’d earnestly upon me, and ask’d me whether I were not an Englishman. I answered him, Yea! How came you hither? said he. I told him I came with my Patroon. What, are you a slave? said he. I replied, Yes. But he was loath to enter into any further Dis[Pg 155]course with me in the public Street, and therefore desired of the young Man on whom I waited, that he would please to bring me to his House. The young Man assured him he would; for being a drinker of Wine, and knowing the Plenty of it in the said Gentleman’s House, he was the rather willing to go. After the Gentleman was gone from us, my young new Master told me, that he whom we talk’d to was the English Consul.”

The Consul kindly invited Joseph Pitts to go to his house as often as he had an opportunity. After spending thirty days in Tunis, Pitts learned to his dismay that the “Patroon’s Brother” did not care to have him, and that consequently he would have to return to Algiers. The Consul and two merchants then endeavoured to buy Pitts, but his master demanded for him five hundred dollars; they offered three hundred, which was all that they could afford, and as Ibrahim refused to sell at this price, the negotiation was broken off, and he returned with his master to Algiers.

Here he was subjected to the persecution of his master’s youngest brother, who endeavoured to induce Joseph to become a renegade. As persuasion availed nothing, the young man went to his elder brother Ibrahim, and told him that he had been a profligate and debauched man in his time, as also a murderer; and that his only chance of Paradise lay in making atonement for his iniquities by obtaining or enforcing the conversion of his slave.

Ibrahim was alarmed, and being a superstitious man believed this, and began to use great cruelty towards Pitts. “He call’d two of his Servants, and commanded them to tye up my Feet with a Rope to the Post of the Tent; and when they had so done, he with a great Cudgel fell to beating of me upon my bare Feet. He[Pg 156] being a very strong Man, and full of Passion, his Blows fell heavy indeed; and the more he beat me, the more chafed and enraged he was; and declared, that if I would not Turn, he would beat me to death. I roar’d out to feel the Pains of his cruel Strokes; but the more I cry’d, the more furiously he laid on upon me; and to stop the Noise of my Crying, he would stamp with his Feet on my Mouth; at which I beg’d him to despatch me out of the way; but he continued beating me. After I had endured this merciless Usage so long, till I was ready to faint and die under it, and saw him as mad and implacable as ever, I beg’d him to forbear and I would turn. And breathing a while, but still hanging by the Feet, he urg’d me again to speak the Words, yet loath I was, and held him in suspense awhile; and at length told him that I could not speak the Words. At which he was more enrag’d than before, and fell at me again in a most barbarous manner. After I had received a great many Blows a second Time, I beseech’d him again to hold his Hand, and gave him fresh hopes of my turning Mohammetan; and after I had taken a little more Breath, I told him as before, I could not do what he desired. And thus I held him in suspense three or four times; but, at last, seeing his Cruelty towards me insatiable, unless I did turn Mohammetan, through Terrour I did it, and spake the Words, holding up the Fore-finger of my Right-hand; and presently I was lead away to a Fire, and care was taken to heal my Feet (for they were so beaten, that I was unable to go on them for several Days), and so I was put to Bed.”

Algiers was bombarded thrice by the French whilst Joseph Pitts was living there as a slave, their purpose being to obtain the surrender of French captives who had been enslaved. “They then threw but few Bombs[Pg 157] into the Town, and that by night; nevertheless the Inhabitants were so Surprized and Terrifi’d at it, being unacquainted with Bombs, that they threw open the Gates of the City, and Men, Women, and Children left the Town. Whereupon the French had their Country-men, that were Slaves, for nothing. In a little while after the French came again to Algiers, upon other Demands, and then the Dey Surrendered up all the French Slaves, which prov’d the said Dey’s Ruine. And then they came a third time (1682). There were nine Bomb-Vessels, each having two Mortars, which kept fireing Day and Night insomuch that there would be five or six Bombs flying in the air at once. At this the Algerines were horribly Enrag’d, and to be Reveng’d, fired away from the mouth of their Cannon about forty French slaves, and finding that would not do, but d’Estrée (the Marshall) was rather the more enraged. They sent for the French Consul, intending to serve him the same Sause. He pleaded his character, and that ’twas against the Law of Nations, etc. They answered, they were resolv’d, and all these complements would not serve his turn. At which he desir’d a day or two’s Respite, till he should despatch a Letter to the Admiral. Which was granted him; and a Boat was sent out with a White Flag. But after the Admiral had perused and considered the Consul’s Letter, he bid the Messenger return this answer (viz.): That his Commission was to throw 10,000 Bombs into the Town, and he would do it to the very last, and that as for the Consul, if he died, he could not die better than for his Prince.

“This was bad News to the Consul; and highly provoked the Algerines, who immediately caused the Consul to be brought down and placed him before the mouth of a Cannon, and fired him off also.”

[Pg 158]

D’Estrée’s success was by no means so great as he had anticipated and as was expected. He was compelled by the stubborn defence of Algiers to content himself with an exchange of prisoners for French slaves, nor did he recover more than forty or fifty.

Meanwhile, what was the English Government doing for the protection of its subjects, for the recovery of Englishmen who were languishing as slaves in Algiers and Tunis? Nothing at all.

Under the Commonwealth, Blake in 1654 had severely chastised the nest of pirates. He had compelled the Dey to restrain his piratical subjects from further violence against the English. He had presented himself before Tunis, where, incensed by the violence of the Dey, he had destroyed the castles of Porto Farino and Goletta, had sent a numerous detachment of sailors in their long-boats into the harbour, and burned every vessel which lay there.

But now the despicable Charles II was king, and the power of England to protect its subjects was sunk to impotence. Every three years the English fleet appeared off Algiers to renew a treaty of peace with the Dey, that meant nothing; the piratical expeditions continued, and Englishmen were allowed to remain groaning in slavery, tortured into acceptance of Mohammedanism, and not a finger was raised for their protection and release. The Consuls were impotent. They could do nothing. There was no firm Government behind them.

In Algiers, Pitts met with an Englishman, James Grey, of Weymouth, with whom he became intimate. This man often appealed to Pitts for advice, whether he should turn Mussulman or not; but Pitts would give him no counsel one way or the other. Finally, he became a renegade, but moped, lost all heart, and died.

[Pg 159]

Pitts tells us how that secretly he received a letter from his father, advising him “to have a care and keep close to God, and to be sure, never, by any methods of cruelty that could be used towards him, to deny his blessed Saviour; and that he—his father—would rather hear of his son’s death than of his becoming a Mahommedan.” The letter was slipped into his hands a few days after he had become a renegade. He dared to show this to his master, and told him frankly, “I am no Turk, but a Christian.” The master answered, “If you say this again, I will have a fire made, and burn you in it immediately.”

The then Dey, Baba Hasan, died in 1683, and Pitts’ master being rich and having friends, attempted a revolt against Hasein “Mezzomorto,” his successor, and was killed in the attempt. This led to the sale of Pitts again, and he was bought by an old bachelor, named Eumer, a kindly old man, with whom he was happy. “My Work with him was to look after his House, to dress his Meat, to wash his Clothes; and, in short, to do all those things that are look’d on as Servant-maids’ work in England.” With the old master he made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and thence went on to Medina, and he was the first Englishman to give a description of these sacred towns. Moreover, his account is remarkably exact. He was a young fellow full of observation and intelligence, and he made good use of his eyes. At Mecca, Eumer gave Pitts his freedom, and Pitts remained with him, not any longer as a slave, but as a servant.

By being granted his freedom this did not involve the liberty to return to his home and his Christian religion. But he looked out anxiously for an opportunity to do both. This came in a message arriving from Constantinople from the Sultan to demand the[Pg 160] assistance of Algerine vessels, and Joseph Pitts volunteered as a seaman upon one of these vessels, in the vain hope of its being captured by some Christian vessel—French, for there was nothing to be expected from English ships.

At Algiers, he became acquainted with a Mr. Butler, and as Pitts was suffering from sore eyes, Mr. Butler got an English doctor, who was a slave, to attend to him and cure him. Mr. Butler introduced him to the English Consul, whom he saw once, and once only, and who could do nothing for him further than give him a letter to the English Consul at Smyrna, at the same time imploring him to conceal the letter and not let it get into the hands of the Turks, or it might cost him his life.

“Being got about thirty Days’ voyage towards Smyrna, where I design’d to make my Escape, we espied seven or eight Venetian Gallies at Anchor under the Shoar. The Turks had a great Tooth for these Gallies, but knew not how to come to them, not being able to adventure so far as Gallies safely may. At length they consulted, being fifteen Ships in number, to hoist French Colours. Having done this we haul’d up our Sails and brought to, pretending as if we were desirous of some News from the Levant. They, at this, thinking we were French Men-of-War, sent out two of their Gallies; upon which the Turks were ordered to lie close, and not stir, for fear of showing their Turbants, and such Officers, that were obliged to be moving, took off their Turbants to avoid discovery, and put on a Hat and Cap instead thereof; but the Slaves were all ordered to be upon Deck to colour the matter, and make us look more like Christians. At length one of the Gallies being within Musquet-shot, we fired upon him, and soon made him strike. The[Pg 161] other, seeing that, turns and rows with all his Might and Main to get ashoar, the Algerines all the while making what sail they could after him, but ’twas in vain, for the Venetian got clear, the Wind being off Shoar just in our Mouth. In that Galley which we took, there were near four hundred Christians, and some few Turks that were Slaves.

“When we came to Scio, we were joyn’d with ten Sail of the Grand Turk’s Ships, carrying seventy or eighty Brass Cannon Guns each; and now being twenty-five in number, we had the Courage to cruize about the Islands of the Archipelago.

“Some time after we arrived at Scio, the Turks had liberty, for one Month’s time, to go home to visit the respective Places of their Nativity. I went to Smyrna and hired a Chamber there. And after I knew where the Consul’s House was I went thither. The Consul not knowing who I was, Complemented me much, because I was handsomely Apparel’d, and I returned the Complement to him after the Turkish manner; and then delivered him my Letter of Recommendation. The Consul, having perused the Letter, he bid the Interpreter to withdraw, because he should not understand anything of the matter. After the Interpreter was gone, the Consul ask’d me whether I was the Man mentioned in the Letter. I told him I was. He said the Design was very dangerous, and that if it should be known to the Turks that he was any way concerned in it, it was as much as his Life, and his all was worth. But after he had discours’d me further and found that I was fully resolv’d in the matter, he told me that, Truly were it not for Mr. Butler’s Request he would not meddle in such a dangerous Attempt; but for the friendship and Respect he bore to him, would do me all the kindness he could; which put Life into me.

[Pg 162]

“We had no English nor Dutch Ships at Smyrna then, but daily expected some; and he told me, I must wait till they came, and withall caution’d me not to frequent his House. A day or two after this I was sitting in a Barber’s Shop, where both Christians and Turks did Trim, and there was a-triming then an English Man, whose Name was George Grunsell, of Deptford. He knew me no otherwise than a Turk; but when I heard him speak English, I ask’d him in English, Whether he knew any of the Western Parts of England to be in Smyrna. He told me of one, who he thought was an Exeter man, which, when I heard, I was glad at Heart. I desired him to shew me his House; which he very kindly did; but when I came to speak with Mr. Elliott, for so was his Name, I found him to be of Cornwall, who had serv’d some part of his Apprenticeship in Exon, with Mr. Henry Cudmore a Merchant. He was very glad to see me for Country’s-sake. After some Discourse, I communicated to him my Design. He was very glad to hear of it, and promised to assist me; and told me, that I need not run the hazard of going to the Consul’s House, but that if I had anything of Moment to impart to him, he would do it for me.

“In a Month’s time it was cry’d about the City of Smyrna, that all Algerines should repair to their Ships, which lay then at Rhodes.

“All this while no English or Dutch Ships came to Smyrna; the Consul and Mr. Elliott therefore consulted which was my best way to take; to tarry in Smyrna after all the Algerines were gone, would look suspiciously; and therefore they advised me not to tarry in Smyrna, but either to go to Scio with the Algerines, which is part of our way back to Rhodes, or else to go up to Constantinople; and when I was there,[Pg 163] to write to the said Mr. Elliott to acquaint him where I was; and to stay there till I had directions from them to return to Smyrna, or what else to do.

“I pursued their Advice, and went with some of the Algerines to Scio, and there I made a stop till all the Algerines were gone from thence, and writ to Mr. Elliott where I was. A short Time after, he writ me, that he was very glad that I was where I was, but withal, gave a damp to my Spirits, with this bad News, that our Smyrna Fleet were said to be interrupted by the French; with the cold reserve of Comfort, that it wanted Confirmation.

“Now the Devil was very busy with me, tempting me to lay aside all thoughts of Escaping, and to return to Algiers, and continue Mussulman. For it was suggested to me, first, That it was a very difficult, if not a desperate Attempt, to endeavour to make my Escape; and that if I were discovered in it, I should be put to death after the most cruel and exemplary way. Also, in the next place, the Loss that I should sustain thereby, in several respects, viz. The Loss of the profitable Returns which I might make of what Money I had to Algiers; and the Loss of receiving eight Months Pay due to me in Algiers; and the frustrating of my Hopes and Expectation which I had from my Patroon, who made me large Promises of leaving me considerable Substance at his Death; and I believe he meant as he promised; for I must acknowledge he was like a father to me.

“In the midst of all I would pray to God for his Assistance, and found it. For I bless God, that after all my Acquaintance were gone from Scio to Rhodes, I grew daily better and better satisfied; though my Fears were still very great; and I was indeed afraid every-body I met did suspect my Design. And I can[Pg 164] truly say, that I would not go through such a Labyrinth of Sorrows and Troubles again, might I gain a Kingdom.

“The first Letter that Mr. Elliott sent me while I was at Scio, he directed to a Greek at Scio, who did business with the Consul at Smyrna, to be delivered to me, naming me by my Turkish Name. I was altogether unknown to the Greek, so that he was forced to enquire among the Algerines for one of that Name; and indeed there were two Men of that Name with myself; but by good hap, they were gone to Rhodes, otherwise ’tis odds but the Letter had come to the Hands of one of them, and then my Design had been discovered, and I should undoubtedly have been put to Death.

“I receiv’d another Letter from Mr. Elliott, in which he informed me that the reported bad News concerning our Ships was true, but that he and the Consul had Conferr’d that Day what was best to be done for my safety; and were of opinion that it would be in vain for me to wait for any English Ships, and therefore they advised me to go off in a French Ship, tho’ somewhat more expensive, and in order thereto, to hasten back again to Smyrna, in the first boat that came.

“Accordingly I came to Smyrna again and lodg’d at Mr. Grunsell’s House, and kept myself very private for the space of twenty Days, ’till the French Ship was ready to sail.

“Now the French Ship, in which I was to make my escape, was intended to sail the next Day, and therefore in the Evening I went on Board, Apparel’d as an English Man, with my Beard shaven, a Campaign Perrywigg, and a Cane in my Hand, accompanied with three or four of my Friends in the Boat. As we were going into the Boat, there were some Turks of Smyrna walking by, but they smelt nothing of the matter. My[Pg 165] good Friend Mr. Elliott had agreed with the Captain of the Ship to pay Four Pounds for my Passage to Leghorn, but neither the Captain nor any of the French Men knew who I was. My Friends, next Morning, brought Wine and Victuals a board; upon which they were very merry, but, for my part, I was very uneasy till the Ship had made Sail. I pretended myself Ignorant of all Foreign Languages, because I would not be known to the French, who,—if we had met with any Algerines,—I was affraid would be so far from showing me any Favour so as to Conceal me, would readily Discover me.

“We had a Month’s passage from Smyrna to Leghorne, and I was never at Rest in my Mind till we came to Leghorne, where, as soon as ever I came ashore, I prostrated myself, and kissed the earth, blessing Almighty God for his Mercy and Goodness to me, that I once more set footing on the European, Christian part of the World.”

Arrived at Leghorn, Joseph Pitts was put in quarantine, but for five-and-twenty days only. Whilst in the Lazaret he met with some Dutchmen, one of whom had been a near neighbour in Algiers. He suggested that Pitts should join company with him and his party travelling homewards by land. To this Joseph agreed, and they all set off at Christmas, in frosty weather, and travelled for twenty days through heavy snow. After a while Joseph’s leg gave way, and he could not proceed with the others. They were constrained to leave him behind, for fear that their money would run short.

After having travelled two hundred miles in their company, he was now forced to travel five hundred on foot through Germany alone. One day as he was passing through a wood he was attacked by a party of German soldiers, who robbed him of his money.[Pg 166] Happily, they did not strip him and so discover that he had a good deal more than was in his pockets sewn into a belt about his waist.

“When I came to Franckfort, the Gates of the City were just ready to be shut, and I offering to go in, the Centinel demanded of me who I was. I told them I was an Englishman. They bid me show my Passport, but I had none. I having therefore no pass, they would not let me into the City. So the Gate was shut. I sat down upon the Ground and wept, bewailing my hard Fortune and their Unkindness, having not a bit of Bread to eat, nor Fire to warm myself in the extreme cold Season which then was.

“But there being just outside the Gate a little Hutt, where the Soldiers Kept Guard, the Corporal seeing me in such a condition as I was, called me in, where they had a good Fire, and he gave me some of his Victuals; for which seasonable Kindness I gave him some money to fetch us some good Liquor. And I told the Corporal, if he would get me into the City the next Day, I would Requite him for it. Accordingly he did. He brought me to a Frenchman’s House, who had a Son that lived in England some time, and was lately come home again, who made me very Welcome. He ask’d me what my Business was; I told him ’twas to get a Pass to go safe down the River, (for they are so strict there in time of War, that they’ll even examine their own Countrymen), and withal, desired him to change a Pistole for me, and to give me instead of it such Money as would pass current down the River. For (as I told him) I have sometimes chang’d a Pistole, and before the Exchange of it had been expended in my Travels, some of the money would not pass current. He chang’d my Pistole for me, and told me what Money would pass in such a place, and what in such a[Pg 167] place, and what I should reserve last to pass in Holland. And he was moreover so civil, as to go to the public Office and obtain a Pass for me. After which he brought me to his House again, and caused one of his Servants to direct me to an Inn, where I should Quarter, and bid me come again to him the next Morning, when he sent his Servant to call me, and also to pay off my Host, but I had paid him before, for which he show’d Dislike. After all which, he conducted me to the River’s side where was a Boatfull of Passengers ready to go to Mentz. This obliging Gentleman (whose name was Van der Luh’r) told the Master of the Boat, that he would satisfy him for my Passage to Mentz; and moreover desired an Acquaintance of his in the Boat to take care of me; and when at Mentz, to direct me to such a Merchant, to whom he gave a Letter, and therewith a piece of Money to drink his Health.

“When we came to Mentz, we were every Man to produce his Passport; and as the Passes were looking over, the Person in the Boat, who was desired to take care of me, sent a Boy to call the Merchant to whom I was to deliver the Letter; who immediately came, and invited me to his House.

“It hap’ned that this Gentleman was a Slave in Algier at the same time I was. He enquired of me about his Patroon, whom I knew very well; and we talk’d about many other things relating to Algier. I received much kindness and Hospitality from the Gentleman; he paid off my Quarters for that Night; and also gave me Victuals and Money, and paid for my Passage from Mentz to Cologne; and moreover, sent by me a Letter of Recommendation to his Correspondent there.

“At Cologne I received the like Kindness, and had[Pg 168] my Passage paid to Rotterdam; and if I would, I might have had a Letter of Recommendation to some Gentle-man there too; but I refus’d it (with hearty Thanks for the offer) being loath to be too troublesome to my Friends.

“I found great Kindness at Rotterdam and Helversluyce, whither our English Packquet-Boats arrive. But when I came into England, my own native Country, here I was very badly treated; for the very first Night that I lay in England, I was impressed for to go in the King’s Service. And notwithstanding that I made known my Condition, and used many Arguments for my Liberty, with Tears, yet all this would not prevail, but away I must; and was carried to Colchester Prison, where I lay some Days. While I was in Prison I Writ a Letter to Sir William Falkener, one of the Smyrna Company in London, on whom I had a Bill for a little Money; he immediately got a Protection for me, and sent it me, which was not only my present Discharge, but prevented all further Trouble to me on my Road Homeward, which otherwise I must unavoidably have met with.

“When I came from Colchester to London, I made it my Business, as in Duty bound, to go and pay my Thanks to the honourable Gentleman, from whom I received fresh Kindness. After this I made what hast I could to dear Exeter, where I safely came, to the great Joy of my Friends and Relations.

“I was in Algier above Fifteen Years. After I went out of Topsham, it was about Half a Year before I was taken a Slave. And after I came out of Algier it was well nigh Twelve Months ere I could reach home.”

This interesting narrative is from “A true and Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the[Pg 169] Mohammetans. In which is a particular Relation of their Pilgrimage to Mecca ... by Joseph Pitts of Exon.” Exon, 1704. A second edition was published at Exeter in 1717; and a third edition corrected, at London, in 1731.


About the month of November last in the Parish of Spraiton, one Francis Fey (servant to Mr. Philip Furze) being in a Field near the Dwelling house of the said Master, there appeared unto him the resemblance of an old Gentleman, like his Master’s Father, with a Pole or Staff in his hand, like that he was wont to carry when living, to kill Moles withal. The Spectrum approached near the young Man, who was not a little surprised at the Appearance of one whom he knew to be dead, but the Spectrum bade him have no Fear, but tell his Master that several Legacies, which by his Testament he had bequeathed were unpaid, naming ten shillings to one, ten shillings to another, both which he named. The young man replied that the party last named was dead, and so it could not be paid to him. The Ghost answered, He knew that, but it must be paid to the next relative, whom he also named. The Spectrum likewise ordered him to carry twenty shillings to a Gentlewoman, sister of the Deceased, living at Totness, and promised if these things were done, to trouble him no more. At the same time the Spectrum speaking of his second wife (also dead) called her a wicked Woman, though the Relater knew her and esteemed her as a good Woman.”

The spectre vanished. The young man did as enjoined and saw that the legacies were duly paid, and he[Pg 171] took twenty shillings to the gentlewoman near Totnes; but she utterly refused to receive it, believing it to have been sent to her by the devil.

That same night, the young man, who was lodging in the house of his former master’s sister, saw the ghost again. The youth thereupon remonstrated with it and reminded it of the promise made no more to annoy him, and he explained that the deceased man’s sister refused to accept the money. Then the spirit bade the young man take horse, ride into Totnes, and buy a ring of the value of twenty shillings, and assured him that the lady would receive that.

Next day, after having delivered the ring, that was accepted, the young man was riding home to his master’s, accompanied by a servant of the gentlewoman near Totnes, and as they entered the parish of Spreyton, the ghost was seen sitting on the horse behind the youth. It clasped its long arms about his waist and flung him from his saddle to the ground. This was witnessed by several persons in the road, as well as by the serving man from Totnes.

On entering the yard of Mr. P. Furze’s farm, the horse made a bound of some twenty-five feet, to the amazement of all.

Soon after this a female ghost appeared in the house, and was seen by the same young man, as also by Mrs. Thomasine Gidley, Anne Langdon, and a little child. She was able to assume various shapes: sometimes she appeared as a dog, belching fire, at another she went out of the window in the shape of a horse, breaking one pane of glass and a piece of iron. It was certainly vastly considerate of her in the bulk of a horse to do so little damage! But usually she stalked along the passage and appeared in the rooms in her own form. No doubt could exist as to who this trouble[Pg 172]some ghost was. The “spectrum” of the old gentleman had already hinted that his second wife was a bad woman, and could make herself unpleasant.

On one occasion, invisible hands laid hold of the young man, and rammed his head into a narrow space between the bedstead and the wall, and it took several persons to extricate him; and then, what with fright and what with the pressure, he was so unwell that a surgeon was sent for to bleed him. No sooner was this operation performed, than the ligatures about the arm were suddenly snatched at and torn off, and slung about his waist, and there drawn so tight that he was nearly suffocated. They had to be cut through with a knife to relieve him. At other times his cravat was drawn tight.

The spectre was of a playful humour sometimes, and would pluck the perukes off the heads of people, and one that was on top of a cabinet in a box, with a joint-stool on it, was drawn out and ripped to shreds—and this was the most costly wig in the house.

At another time the youth’s “shoe-string” was observed without assistance of hands to come out of his shoe of its own accord and cast itself to the other side of the room, whereupon the other shoe-lace started crawling after its companion. A maid espying this, with her hand drew it back, when it clasped and curled round her hand like an eel or serpent.

The young man’s clothes were taken off and torn to shreds, as were those of another servant in the house, and this while they were on their backs. A barrel of salt was seen to march out of one room and into another, untouched by human hands. When the spectre appeared in her own likeness she was habited in the ordinary garments of women at the time,[Pg 173] especially like those worn by Mrs. Philip Furze, her daughter-in-law.

On Easter Eve the young man was returning from the town when he was caught by the female spectre by his coat and carried up into the air, head, legs, and arms dangling down.

Having been missed by his master and fellow servants, search was made for him, but it was not till half an hour later that he was found at some distance from the house plunged to his middle in a bog, and in a condition of ecstasy or trance, whistling and singing. He was with difficulty extracted and taken to the house and put to bed. All the lower part of his body was numbed with cold from long immersion in the morass. One of his shoes was found near the doorstep of the house, another at the back of the house, and his peruke was hanging among the top branches of a tree. On his recovery he protested that the spirit had carried him aloft till his master’s house had seemed to him no bigger than a haycock.

As his limbs remained benumbed he was taken to Crediton on the following Saturday to be bled. After the operation he was left by himself, but when his fellows came in they found his forehead cut and swollen and bleeding. According to him, a bird with a stone in its beak had flown in at the window and dashed it at his brow. The room was searched; no stone, but a brass weight was found lying on the floor.

“This is a faithful account of the Contents of a Letter from a Person of Quality in Devon, dated 11 May, 1683. The young man will be 21 if he lives to August next.”

The title of this curious pamphlet is: “A Narrative of the Demon of Spraiton. In a Letter from a Person of Quality in the County of Devon, to a Gentleman in[Pg 174] London, with a Relation of an Apparition or Spectrum of an Ancient Gentleman of Devon who often appeared to his Son’s Servant. With the Strange Actions and Discourses happening between them at divers times. As likewise, the Demon of an Ancient Woman, Wife of the Gentleman aforesaid. With unparalell’d varieties of strange Exploits performed by her: Attested under the Hands of the said Person of Quality, and likewise a Reverend Divine of the said County. With Reflections on Drollery and Atheism, and a Word to those that deny the Existence of Spirits.” London, 1683.

It is pretty obvious that the mischievous and idle youth was at the bottom of all this bedevilment. This was but an instance of the Poltergeist that so exercised the minds of Körner, Mrs. Crowe, and the like, but which can all be traced back to a knavish servant.


Tom Austin was a native of Collumpton, and was the son of a respectable yeoman, who, at his death, left him his little property, which was estimated at that time as worth £80 per annum. As he bore a good character, he soon got a wife with a marriage portion of £800. Unhappily this accession to his means completely turned his head. He became wild and extravagant, and in less than four years had dissipated all his wife’s fortune and mortgaged his own farm. Being now somewhat pinched in circumstances, he was guilty of several frauds on his neighbours, but they did not prosecute him, out of respect for his family. Then, unable to satisfy his needs, he took to the highway, and stopped Sir Zachary Wilmot on the road between Wellington and Taunton Dean, and as the worthy knight resisted being robbed, Austin shot him dead. From Sir Zachary he got forty-six guineas and a silver-hilted sword. With this plunder he made haste home to Collumpton undiscovered. This did not last long, as he continued in the same course of riot. When it was spent he started to visit an uncle of his, living at a distance of a mile.

On reaching the house he found nobody within but his aunt and five small children, who informed him that his uncle had gone away for the day on business, and they invited him to stay and keep them company[Pg 176] till his return. He consented, but almost immediately snatched up an axe and split the skull of his aunt with it, then cut the throats of all the children, laid their bodies in a heap, and proceeded to plunder the house of the money it contained, which amounted to sixty guineas. Then he hastened home to his wife, who, perceiving some blood on his clothes, asked whence it came. In reply he rushed upon her with a razor, cut her throat, and then murdered his own two children, the eldest of whom was not three years of age.

Hardly had he finished with these butcheries before his uncle arrived, calling on his way home. On entering the house this man saw what had been done, and though little suspecting what would meet his eyes when he returned home, with great resolution flung himself upon Tom Austin, mastered him, bound his hands, and brought him before a magistrate, who sent him to Exeter Gaol.

In August, 1694, this inhuman wretch was hanged. He seemed quite insensible as to the wickedness of his acts, as well as to the senselessness of them, and there can be little doubt that he was a victim to homicidal madness.

When on the scaffold, when asked by the chaplain if he had anything to say before he died: “Only this,” was his reply, “I see yonder a woman with some curds and whey, and I wish I could have a pennyworth of them before I am hanged, as I don’t know when I shall see any again.” Tom Austin had many errors, many faults, many crimes to expiate, but he carried with him into the next world one merit—his undying love of Devonshire junket, the same as curds and whey.


Frances Flood was born in Gitsom (Gittisham), near Honiton in Devon, and on the 22nd January, 1723, being thirty-two years of age, I went from Philip’s Norton to the town of Saltford, where I had for lodging an Inn. I arose well in the Morning, thinking to go about my Business: but being come out of the Door, I was taken very ill, and before I came to the Village I was not sensible in what condition I was in, and not able to go, was forced to hold by the Wall as I went along: With great Difficulty I got to the Overseer’s House, and desired him to get me a lodging, but he denied me; whereupon I went up the Street and lay in a Hogsty, where many People came to see me. I lay there till the Evening in a sad Condition, when the Overseer’s Wife of that Place led me to the Overseer’s again, but he still denied me Relief; and, not being very sensible, I returned again to the same Place, but they had been so inhuman as to put some Dung into it, to prevent my lodging there again; but at last I got into another which had no Cover over it as the other had. In the Morning when I awoke, I went up the Street and with Weakness fell down, so that Streams of Water ran over me, till helped up by the Clerk of the Parish’s Wife, who led me till I came to the wall, by which I held, and with great Trouble got to the Barn, but the Owner of the Barn was so barbarous as to unhang the[Pg 178] Door the next Day; a young Man, out of Compassion, hung the Door again. The Owner was so displeased, that he came a second Time and unhung it.

“The next Day, the Small-Pox appeared on me, and was noised about; insomuch that the Overseer came and put up the Door, and then I had both Meat and Drink, but took no further Care of me for 14 days; the Small-Pox appeared very kind and favourable and might have done very well, had I not been taken in my Legs, and should have been able to go away in a Fortnight; after which I was taken on my Calfs, which turned black and cold and looked much like Scalds, and broke out. I applied to them first of all a Bathe, but the Flesh speedily parted from the small of my Legs to the Bones. I had there by me some Ointment, which was brought me by the Overseer; but had no one to dress my Wounds, but did all myself.

“I freely forgive all the Parish, and as for the Overseers, they did to the utmost of their power, when my Flesh was separated; and whatever I desired of them, they sent me, so I desire that all may be blameless of my Misfortunes. My Pains increased to a wonderful Degree and my Legs grew worse, and was driven to dismal Extremity, and lay in that Condition three Weeks.

“On the 18th Day of March about 8 o’clock in the Evening there came a Woman to the Barn-door to ask me how I did. I was going to show her how my Legs were, and how the Flesh was separated from the Bones, and leaning a little harder than Ordinary upon my left leg, it broke off as though it were a rotten Stick, a little below the Calf; the woman left me, and I was surprised, but God enabled me to bind up my Leg again with the same Medicines as before; and when most of the People of the Village were at rest, then a[Pg 179] Man that liv’d over against the Barn came to see me, and asked me how I did. I desired him to get me some Beer at the Overseers, but he fetched me some of his own and left me; so there was no one with me. I submitted myself to God, and after some time fell asleep, and slept till the morning. And as soon as ’twas Light, dressed the wound before any came to me, and the Flesh covered the Bone, but had no Loss of Marrow, and but little of Blood, nor hardly any Pain. The Mercies there received at the Hands of God exceeded all the Punishment was due to me thro’ Sin, and His Mercy I never did deserve. I was visited by abundance of People, and amongst them God sent me the Minister of Keinsham, and Mr. Brown of the same Town came along with him, and they afforded me much Comfort; they told me they never saw the like, and it was God’s handy Work, and not Man’s, so taking leave of me, they wished that the God of Heaven might be my Physician, and it gave me a merry Heart and cheerful Countenance, and gave them Thanks for what Favours I had received from them, and my Pains still ceased. Abundance came both far and near all the Week to see me, and amongst the rest a Surgeon, who persuaded me to have the Bone of my right Leg taken off, to which I gave Consent. On the 25th about 6 in the Morning, when I arose and opened the Cloaths, I found my Legs were fallen from me, and the Pains I then suffered were not worthy to be called Pains; so I dressed it with the same Medicine I made use of before; within two Hours after came several People to visit me. I unbound the Cloaths and the Flesh was closed over the Bone, and the Blood was stopp’d. So I had great Reason to praise the Lord for all His Mercies and Favours I had received from Time to Time.”

[Pg 180]

Buried in Saltford Churchyard
Stop Reader, and a Wonder See,
As strange as e’er was known!
My Feet drop’d off from my Body,
In the Middle of the Bone.
I had no Surgeon for my Help
But God Almighty’s Aid,
In Whom I ever will rely
And never be afraid.
Though here beneath (the Mold) they lie
Corruption for to see,
Yet they shall one Day reunite
To all Eternity.

The last line might have been amended to—

And walk away with me.

This curious tract is entitled The Devonshire Woman: or a Wonderful Narrative of Frances Flood. It bears no date, but is of about 1724. At the end stands: “Printed for Frances Flood, and sold by Nobody but herself.”

In fact, the poor creature went about on crutches selling the story of her misfortunes. The tract is very scarce, but there is a copy in the British Museum.


In the Second Part of Henry IV, Shakespeare makes his hero, Prince Hal, behave with splendid generosity to Judge Gascoigne, who had committed him to prison for striking him in open court.

The King says to him:—

How might a prince of my great hopes forget
So great indignities you laid upon me?
What! rate, rebuke, and roughly send to prison
The immediate heir of England! Was this easy?
May this be wash’d in Lethe, and forgotten?

The Chief Justice replies:—

I then did use the person of your father;
The image of his power lay then in me:
And, in the administration of his law,
Whiles I was busy for the commonwealth,
Your highness pleasèd to forget my place,
The majesty and power of law and justice,
The image of the king whom I presented,
And struck me in my very seat of judgment;
Whereon, as an offender to your father,
I gave bold way to my authority,
And did commit you.

Shakespeare makes King Henry V recognize that Gascoigne was in the right.

You are right, justice, and you weigh this well;
Therefore still bear the balance and the sword.

But here Shakespeare has not been true to history. His ideal king was not so generous as he represented him. In fact, directly on his accession Henry displaced[Pg 182] Gascoigne from the Chief-Justiceship, and elevated to his place the Devonshire lawyer Sir William Hankford, Knight of the Bath.

Prince, indeed, in his Worthies of Devon, claims that it was Hankford who committed Prince Hal to prison; but this is a mistake, the brave and resolute judge was Sir William Gascoigne, who was displaced, and Sir William Hankford installed as Chief Justice in his room by Henry V eight days after his accession.

Sir William was probably born at Hankford, the ancient seat of the family, in the hamlet of Bulkworthy, a chapel-of-ease to Buckland Brewer. He was made Serjeant-at-law in 1391 in the reign of Richard II, and was advanced to be one of the lords-justices in the Court of Common Pleas in 1397. He was made Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Henry IV, and, as already said, he was called up higher to be Chief Justice by Henry V on his accession to the throne. He retained his office for part of a year under Henry VI, so that he served under four kings. He moved from Hankford, the family seat, to Annery, in the parish of Monkleigh, near Great Torrington, a beautiful spot on the Torridge. Here he had a stately mansion “famous for a large upper gallery, wherein might be placed thirty standing beds, fifteen of a side, and yet not one to be seen there. Nor could you from one bed see another: for this gallery being very long and wainscotted on each hand, there were several doors in it, which led into little alcoves or apartments, well plaistered and whited, large and convenient enough for private lodgings.”

Annery still stands in its beautiful park, but the gallery has disappeared; it was pulled down in the year 1800.

Towards the end of his days Hankford fell into deep[Pg 183] fits of depression in retirement at Annery, where, weary of life and despondent at the prospect of the new reign with an infant as king, and with furious rivalries ready to break forth and tear the kingdom to pieces, he was impatient that death might end his troubles.

“On a fit time for the purpose, he called to him the keeper of his park, which adjoined his house at Annery, and charged him with negligence in his office, suffering his deer to be killed and stolen; whereupon he left it in strict charge with him, that he should be more careful in his rounds by night, and that if he met any one in his walk that would not stand and speak, he should shoot him, whoever he was, and that he would discharge him (i.e. free him of blame). This the keeper directly promised, and too faithfully performed. The judge having thus laid the design, meaning to end his doleful days, in a dark tempestuous night, fit for so black an action, secretly conveyed himself out of the house, and walked alone in his park, just in the keeper’s way; who being then in his round, hearing somebody coming towards him, demanded, Who was there. No answer being made, he required him to stand; the which when he refused to do, the keeper shot and killed him upon the place: and coming to see who he was, found him to be his master.”

So relates Prince, following Baker’s Chronicle, 1643, and Risdon and Westcote. But Sir Richard Baker’s account is full of errors: he makes Hankford die in the reign of Edward IV, whereas he died in the same year as Henry V (1422). Prince objects that the story may not be true or only partly true. That Sir William was killed by his keeper is a fact not to be disputed, but that he purposely contrived his own death is very doubtful—it is a conjecture and no more.

Sir William was a liberal and religious man: he built[Pg 184] the chapel at Bulkworthy, as well as the Annery Aisle to Monkleigh Church. In this latter he lies interred, and a noble monument was erected over him, with the epitaph: “Hic jacet Willielmus Hankford, Miles, quondam Capitalis Justiciarius Domini Regis de Banco, qui obiit xx die mensis Decembris, Anno Domini MCCCCXXII. Cujus Animae propicietur Deus. Amen.”

He is represented kneeling in his robes alongside of his wife. Out of his mouth proceeds this prayer: “Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.” A book in his hand is inscribed with “Miserere mei Deus secundum magnam justiciam divinam,” and over his head is “Beati qui custodiunt judicium et faciunt justiciam omni tempore.”


Tavistock, in the reign of Elizabeth, was a more picturesque town than it is at present. Then the abbey walls, crenellated and with towers at intervals, were still standing in complete circuit, and the abbey church, the second finest in the county and diocese, though unroofed, was still erect. The houses, slate-hung in quaint patterns representing fleurs-de-lis, oak leaves, swallow-tails, pomegranates, with gables to the street, were very different from the present houses, stuccoed drab and destitute of taste. Moreover the absurd, gaunt market hall erected last century was not a central and conspicuous disfigurement to the town.

But a few strides to the west, on the Plymouth road, stood Fitzford House, a mansion recently erected, consisting of a court, entered through a massive gate-house, and the mansion standing back, with porch and projecting wings.

In this house lived the Fitz family. They had been there for four generations and had married well. They were also well estated, with property in Cornwall, in Kent and Southwark, as well as in Devon. John Fitz, the father of the man whose tragic history we are about to relate, married Mary, daughter of Sir John Sydenham, of Brimpton, in Somerset, and had late in life one son, the “unfortunate” Sir John. The Fitzes had been a family bred to the law; the first known of them, John[Pg 186] Fitz, had been a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn, and the John Fitz who married Mary Sydenham was also a counsellor-at-law, and he managed considerably to add to the wealth of the family. When he had got as much as he wanted out of the pockets of his clients, he retired to his family place of Fitzford and there amused himself with astrology and the casting of horoscopes. When his son John was about to be born in 1575, John Fitz studied the stars, and, says Prince, “finding at that time a very unlucky position of the heavens, he desired the midwife, if possible, to hinder the birth but for one hour; which, not being to be done, he declared that the child would come to an unhappy end and undo the family.”

John Fitz was riding over the moor one day with his wife, when they lost their direction, were, in fact, pixy-led, and they floundered through bogs, and could nowhere hit on the packhorse track that led across the moors from Moreton Hampstead to Tavistock. Exhausted and parched with thirst they lighted on a crystal stream, dismounted, and drank copiously of the water. Not only were they refreshed, but at once John Fitz’s eyes were opened, the spell on him was undone, and he knew where he was and which direction he should take. Thereupon he raised his hand and vowed he would honour that well, so that such travellers as were pixy-led might drink at it and dispel the power over them exercised by the pixies. The spring still flows and rises under a granite structure erected in fulfilment of his vow by John Fitz; it bears his initials and the date 1568 in raised figures and letters on the covering stone. Formerly it was on a slope in the midst of moorland away from the main track, near the Blackabrook. Now it is enclosed in the reclaimed tract made into meadows by the convicts of Princetown. Happily[Pg 187] the structure has not been destroyed: it is surrounded by a protecting wall.

In the same year that John Fitz erected this well, he obtained a lease to carry water in pipes of wood or of lead through the garden of one John Northcott to his mansion at Fitzford. The little house that he built over the spring in his close, called Boughthayes, still stands, picturesquely wreathed in ivy.

He died 8 January, 1589–90, aged sixty-one, and by his will made his wife executrix and guardian of his son, who was then rather over fourteen years old. There is a stately monument in Tavistock Parish Church to John Fitz and his wife, he clothed in armour, which in life he probably never wore, as he was a man of the long robe. The effigies are recumbent, and by them is a smaller, kneeling figure of the son and heir—their only child, the “unfortunate” John Fitz. But the widow did not have charge of her son; as a ward under the Queen he was committed to Sir Arthur Gorges, “who tended more to the good of the child than his own private profit,” which was perhaps unusual. Mary Fitz retired to Walreddon, near Tavistock, another house belonging to the family, for her initials “M. F.” and the date 1591 are cut in granite over the doorway. But presently she married Christopher Harris, of Radford, when she moved to his house near Plymouth.

The young John Fitz is described as having been “a very comlie person.” He was married, before he had attained his majority, to Bridget, sixth daughter of Sir William Courtenay. Of this marriage one child, Mary, was born 1 August, 1596, when her father was just twenty-one years old. John Fitz was now of age, considered himself free of all restraint, owner of large estates, and was without stability of[Pg 188] character or any principle, and was inclined to a wild life. He took up his residence at Fitzford, and roystered and racketed at his will.

One day (it was 4 June, 1599) he was dining at Tavistock with some of his friends and neighbours. The hour was early, for in the account of it we are told that “with great varietie of merriments and discourse they outstript the noontide.”

John Fitz had drunk a good deal of wine, and he began to brag of his possessions, and boasted that he had not a foot of land that was not his freehold. Among those present was Nicholas Slanning, of Bickleigh. He interrupted Fitz, and said, “That is not so. You hold of me a parcel of land that is copyhold, and though of courtesy it has been intermitted, yet of due, you owe me so much a year for that land.”

John started from his seat, and told Slanning to his face that he lied, and mad with rage, drew his dagger and would have stabbed him. Slanning with a knife beat down Fitz’s blade, and the friends at the table threw themselves between them and patched up the quarrel as they supposed. Nicholas Slanning then left the apartment and departed for Bickleigh with his man, both being on horseback.

They had not ridden far when they came to a deep and rough descent, whereupon Slanning bade his man lead the horses, and he dismounting walked through a field where the way was easier.

At that moment he saw John Fitz with four attendants galloping along the lane after him. Without ado, Slanning awaited the party and inquired of John Fitz what he desired of him. Fitz replied that he had followed that he might avenge the insult offered him. Thereupon Fitz called to his men, and they drew their blades and fell on Slanning, who had to defend himself[Pg 189] against five men. The matter might even then have been composed, but one of Fitz’s men, named Cross, twitted his master, saying, “What play is this? It is child’s play. Come, fight!” Fitz, who had sheathed his sword, drew it again and attacked Slanning. The latter had long spurs, and stepping back they caught in a tuft of grass, and as he staggered backward, Fitz ran him through the body. At the same time, one of Fitz’s men struck him from behind. Slanning fell to the ground and died. He was conveyed home, and buried in Bickleigh Church, where his monument still exists, but in a mutilated condition. It was of plaster, and when the church was “restored” fell to pieces; but the curious Latin inscription has been preserved.

Slanning's Oak


From an oil painting by A. B. Collier, 1855

Nicholas Slanning had been married to Margaret, daughter of Henry Champernowne, of Modbury, and he died leaving as his heir a child, and the administration of his estates was committed to that son’s great-uncle. Of Ley, the fine Slanning place, nothing now remains except the balls that stood on the entrance gates, that have been transferred to the vicarage garden at Bickleigh. The situation was incomparably beautiful, and it is to be regretted that the grand old Elizabethan mansion has been levelled with the dust. Sir Nicholas Slanning, created a baronet in 1663, moved to Maristowe in Tamerton Foliot, but the second and last baronet died without issue in 1700, and in 1798 John Modyford Heywood, who inherited the extensive Slanning estates through a female line, sold them all to Sir Manasseh Lopes, a Portuguese Jew diamond merchant, who had obtained a baronetcy by buying up rotten boroughs in Cornwall and putting in members whose votes could be relied on by the ministry of the day. The baronetcy was created in 1805. The first baronet was the son of Mordecai Lopes, of Jamaica.

[Pg 190]

“Great,” we are informed, “was the lamentation that the countryside made for the death of so beloved a gentleman as Maister Slanning was.”

John Fitz, then aged twenty-four, escaped to the Continent and stayed in France, until the exertions of his wife and mother succeeded in December, 1599, in procuring a pardon for him; whereupon he returned home, unsubdued by the past, insolent, riotous, and haughty. At the coronation of James I, 1603, he was knighted, not for any services done to the Crown or State, but because he was of good family, well connected, and with property.

He returned to Fitzford, where, finding his wife and child something of a drag upon him in his wild and dissipated career, he turned them out of doors, and his wife had to go for shelter to her father. Left now to himself and his evil associates, “Men of dissolute and desperate fortunes,” chief among whom was “Lusty Jacke, one whose deedes were indeed meane, whose qualities altogether none,” he behaved in such sort that “the Towne of Tavistocke, though otherwise orderly governed with sobriety, and likewise of grave magistrates, was thereby infected with the beastly corruption of drunkenesse. Sir John, of his own inclination apte, and by his retained copesmates urged, persevered evermore to run headlong into such enormities as their sensuality and pleasures inclined unto, spending their time in riotous surfettinge and in all abominable drunkenness, plucking men by night out of their beddes, violently breaking windows, quarrelling with ale-conners [ale-tasters], fighting in private brables amongst themselves. And when they had abused the townsmen and disturbed their neighbours, Sir John’s own house was their sanctuary or receptacle to cloak their outrages; so as it seemed they lyved as, in time[Pg 191] of old, the common outlaws of the land did, neither worshipping God nor honouringe Prince, but wholly subject to their contentes alone.”

According to Prince, about this time Fitz committed another murder; but what seems to be better authenticated is that he all but killed one of the town constables.

In the summer of 1605, Sir John Fitz was summoned to London to appear before the courts, in answer to a claim of compensation for their father’s murder, made by the children of Nicholas Slanning, the eldest of whom, Gamaliel, was now about eighteen years old. He set out on horseback, attended by a servant. Dissipation had weakened his mind and shattered his nerves. He was in deadly alarm. Not only would he be heavily fined for the assassination of Slanning, but he had been playing ducks and drakes with his property which had been settled by deed of 20 March, 1598–9, on his wife, and he expected to be called to task for this by Sir William Courtenay, his wife’s father. He took it into his head that his life was in danger, that the friends and kinsfolk of Slanning would ambuscade and murder him; that Sir W. Courtenay would be willing to have him put out of the way so as to save the property from being further dissipated. At every point on his journey he showed himself suspicious of being waylaid or pursued. Every day his fancies became more disordered.

At length he reached Kingston-on-Thames, and put up for the night there. But he could not sleep, noises disturbed him, and rising from his bed he insisted on the servant getting ready his nag, and away he rode over Kingston Bridge, alone, having peremptorily forbidden his man to accompany him, entertaining some suspicion that the man had been bought by his enemies[Pg 192] and would lead him into a trap. He drew up at the “Anchor,” a small tavern at Twickenham, kept by one Daniel Alley; it was now 2 a.m., and all Twickenham was asleep. He hammered at the door and shouted; presently the casement opened, and the publican put out his head and inquired what the gentleman wanted. Sir John demanded a bed and shelter for the rest of the night. Daniel Alley begged to be excused, he had no spare room, his house was small and not fitted for the reception of persons of quality. However, on Sir John’s further insistence he put on his clothes, struck a light, descended, and did his utmost to make the nocturnal visitor comfortable, even surrendering to him his own bed, and sending his wife to sleep with the children. Sir John cast himself on the bed. He tossed; and host and hostess heard him cry out, and speak of enemies who pursued him and sought his blood. There was no sleeping for Daniel or his wife, and the host rose at dawn to join a neighbour in mowing a meadow. But when he was about to go forth, his wife begged not to be left in the house alone with the strange gentleman. The neighbour came up, and he and Alley spoke together at the door. Their voices reached Sir John, who had fallen into a disordered sleep. Persuaded that the enemies were arrived and were surrounding the house, he rushed out in his nightgown, with his sword drawn, fell on his host, and killed him. Then he ran his sword against the wife, wounding her. But now, with the gathering light, he discovered what he had done, and in a fit of despair stabbed himself in two places. He was secured now by neighbours who had come up, and taken to the bed he had just quitted. A surgeon was sent for, and his wounds were bound up. But Sir John angrily refused the assistance of[Pg 193] the leech, and tore away the bandages, and bled to death.

The End of Sir John Fitz


Daniel Alley was buried on the 8th day of August, 1605, and Sir John Fitz on the 10th, and “because he was a Gentleman borne and of good kindred, hee was buried in the Chancell at Twickenham.” The representative of the Fitz family was now his little daughter Mary, whose story is also sufficiently curious to deserve a place here.

The authority for the story of Sir John Fitz’s death is The Bloudie Booke; or, the Tragical End of Sir John Fitz. London, 1605. Probably enough written by a chaplain to the Earl of Northumberland, then at Sion House, who hearing of what had happened, sent this chaplain to Twickenham, and to Sir John, at the “Anchor,” “To put him in mind what he had done and persuade him to repent.”


The Earl of Northumberland had shown himself solicitous for the welfare of the soul of Sir John Fitz when he heard of the murder and suicide at Twickenham; he was even more solicitous over his estate. He was aware that Sir John had left an only daughter, still a child, who was with her mother at Radford. He posted up to London at once, saw the King, and bought of him the wardship of the little orphan for £465, to be paid in instalments, and raised out of the estate of the little heiress, who was then aged nine years and one week.

“The law of wardship,” says Mrs. G. Radford, “seems so cruel and tyrannical that it is wonderful that it should have endured so long. By it, when any man who held land in capite, or direct from the Crown, died, his heir, if a minor, belonged to the king, who had a right to receive all rents and profits from these lands until the heir became of age. He could also marry the ward to whom he would. Henry VIII established the Court of Wards and Liveries, the number of estates held in capite being so great that some organized system was necessary. By it the wardship and marriage of minors were sold to the highest bidder, who was sometimes the child’s mother or the executors of the father’s will. But if they were not very prompt in applying, or did not offer the largest sum, then to any stranger. The guardian would have[Pg 195] complete control over the ward, who generally lived in his house, could marry the ward as he liked, this also being generally an affair of money, and received the rents of the minor’s estate without any liability to account.”[6]

Lady Howard


Accordingly, at the age of nine, little Mary Fitz was taken from her mother, but under whose charge she was placed at first does not appear. A year or two later, she was living in the house of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, second wife of Sir Edmund Coke, then Master of the Court of Wards. At once the Earl of Northumberland sent his brother, Sir Allan Percy, into Devon to look over the estates of Mary Fitz and make what money he could out of them by felling timber.

Sir Allan was, apparently, quite satisfied with what he saw; he was a needy man, and resolved on marrying the heiress, and this he did about 1608, when he was aged thirty-one and she twelve. But as she was so young it was arranged that she should not live with her husband till she reached a nubile age. She never did live with him, for he caught a severe chill through lying on the damp ground when hot and tired with hunting, and he died in November, 1611. She was the wealthiest heiress in Devonshire, and the Earl of Suffolk schemed to obtain her for his third son, Sir Thomas Howard. She was not only rich, but beautiful. Her father had been a remarkably handsome man, and Lord Clarendon, long after this date, speaks of her as “having been of extraordinary beauty.” But she balked all schemers by running away with Thomas Darcy, a young man of her own age, son of Lord Darcy, of Chiche, afterwards Earl Rivers. Lord Darcy could not object to the match, but Mary Fitz was still a[Pg 196] minor, and a ward. If proceedings were threatened, nothing came of it, for the young bridegroom died. The exact date is not known, but he could not have lived with her more than a few months after his marriage.

Mary, still a ward, was now married, for the third time before she was sixteen, to Sir Charles Howard, fourth son of the Earl of Suffolk, not to Sir Thomas, his third son, as had been at first designed. The young couple resided with the Earl at Audley End, and there her first child was born, a daughter, Elizabeth, born on 21 September, 1613, who does not seem to have lived long, as she disappears altogether within a few years. There was a second daughter, Mary, born in London, the date not known; but Sir Charles Howard died on 22 September, 1622, without leaving male issue. It was when a widow about this time, apparently, that Lady Howard was painted by Vandyke, and this was engraved by Hollar. The painting cannot now be traced. She was now one of the stateliest dames of the Court of Henrietta Maria, where she cultivated the friendship of the Duke of Buckingham, who exerted his influence with her so as to render her propitious to the addresses of one of his own dependents, Sir Richard Grenville. The Duke considered that a rich wife would help on the fortunes of his favourite, and thus did the heiress of Fitzford and Walreddon give herself to her fourth and worst husband. But before marrying him she was cautious to tie up her estate in such a manner that he could not touch it. Without breathing a word of what she was doing, she conveyed all her lands to Walter Hele, Anthony Short, and William Grills in trust to permit her during her life, whether sole or married, to receive the rents and dispose of them at her own goodwill and[Pg 197] pleasure. Sir Richard Grenville went with his wife to Fitzford, and there in May, 1630, their first child was born, and christened Richard after his father. Sir Richard was mightily incensed when he discovered that he could not handle the revenues of the estates, and this led to incessant bickerings. Clarendon says:—

“He had nothing to depend upon but the fortune of his wife: which, though ample enough to have supported the expense a person of his quality ought to have made, was not large enough to satisfy his vanity and ambition. Nor so great as he, upon common reports, had promised himself by her. By not being enough pleased with her fortune, he grew less pleased with his wife; who, being a woman of a haughty and imperious nature, and of a wit far superior to his own, quickly resented the disrespect she received from him, and in no degree studied to make herself easy to him. After some years spent together in these domestic unsociable contestations, in which he possessed himself of all her estate, as the sole master of it, without allowing her out of her own any competency for herself, and indulging to himself all those licences in her own house which to women are most grievous, she found means to withdraw herself from him, and was with all kindness received into the family in which she had before married, and was always very much respected.”

Before proceeding with the quotation from Clarendon, it will be well to give at once some illustrative touches as to the annoyances she underwent at the hands of Sir Richard, and as to her own conduct towards him. He confined her to a corner of her own house, Fitzford, excluded her from the government of the house, and installed his aunt, Mrs. Katherine Abbott, as his housekeeper, with control over the servants and the keeping of the keys.

[Pg 198]

This was bad enough, but there was worse to come; his violence and language towards her were so intolerable that she was constrained to appeal to the justices of the peace, who ordered him to allow her forty shillings a week. This, after a time, he refused to pay, unless she would grant him an acquittance. All this is stated in the lady’s plea to obtain a divorce in 1631–2. He also called her bad names before the justices, “she being a vertuous and a chaste lady”—a pretty scene in the court at Tavistock for the citizens to witness and listen to.

“He gave directions to one of his servantes to burn horse-haire, wooll, feathers and parings of horse hoofes, and to cause the smoke to goe into the ladye’s chamber, through an hole made in the plaistering out of the kitchen. He broke up her chamber doore, and came into her chamber at night with a sword drawn. That for the key of his closett which she had taken away and denyed to give him, he tooke hold of her petty coate and tore it, and threw her upon the ground, being with childe, and, as one witness deposeth, made her eye blacke and blewe.”

Sir Richard, on his side, complained, “That they had lived quietly together for the space of two years, and till they came to this Court.... That she hath often carried herself unseemly both in wordes and deedes, and sunge unseemly songs to his face to provoke him, and bid him goe to such a woman and such a woman, and called him a poore rogue and pretty fellow, and said he was not worth ten groates when she married him; that she would make him creepe to her, and that she had good friends in London would beare her out of it. That she swore the peace against him without cause, and then asked him, ‘Art thou not a pretty fellow to be bound to the good behaviour?’[Pg 199] Then she said he was an ugly fellow, and when he was once gone from home, she said, ‘The Devill and sixpence goe with him, and soe shall he lacke neither money nor company!’ That she said such a one was a honester man than her husband, and loved Cuttofer (George Cutteford, her steward) better than him. That there were holes made in the kitchen wall by the lady or her daughter (i.e. Mary Howard), that he gave direction that they should be stopped up, that she might not harken to what the servants said in the kitchen, that she had ten roomes at pleasure, and had whatsoever in the house she would desire. That she locked him into his closett and tooke away the key, and it is true he endeavoured to take away the key from her, and hurt his thumb and rent her pocket.”

Sir Richard certainly comes out best in the case. She was a woman of insuperable pride, and with a violent temper and abusive, insulting tongue. Having fled from Fitzford, and taken refuge with the family of the Earl of Suffolk, Sir Richard for a while breathed free, and rejoiced at her absence, till the tenants refused to pay rent into his hands, whereupon he found himself without money; her pre-nuptial settlement was put in force, and the trustees required the tenants to pay their rents to them. To return to Clarendon. “This begat a suit in Chancery between Sir Richard Grenville and the Earl of Suffolk, before the Lord Coventry, who found the conveyance in Law to be so firm, that he could not only not relieve Sir Richard Grenville in equity, but that in justice he must decree the land to the Earl, which he did. This very sensible mortification transported him so much, that being a man who used to speak bitterly of those he did not love, after all endeavours to engage the Earl in a personal conflict, he revenged himself upon him in such opprobrious[Pg 200] language as the Government and justice of that time would not permit to pass unpunished; and the Earl appealed for reparation to the Court of the Star Chamber, where Sir Richard was decreed to pay three thousand pounds to the King, who gave the fine likewise to the Earl; so that Sir Richard was committed to the prison of the Fleet in execution for the whole six thousand pounds, which at that time was thought by all men to be a very severe and rigorous decree, and drew a general compassion towards the unhappy gentleman.

“For some years Sir Richard endured this imprisonment, which made him the more bitter against his wife; he at length escaped his captivity, and fled beyond seas. There he remained till the great change in England having caused many decrees of the Star Chamber to be repealed, and the persons awarded to pay penalties absolved, he came home and petitioned to be heard in mitigation of his case. Before this came on, the rebellion broke out in Ireland.” The proceedings for a divorce were taken by Lady Grenville against her husband whilst he was a prisoner in the Fleet, no doubt acting on the advice of the Earl of Suffolk, elder brother of her late husband; and it was whilst she was in London at his house that her second daughter, Elizabeth, was born. The court after hearing arguments from counsel, decreed divorce a mensa et thoro, but that one-half of her means should be paid to Sir Richard annually. In August of the same year (1632), a commission was sent to Fitzford to search the house, as Sir Richard was suspected of clipping the current coin and of coining as well. Sir F. Drake and William Strode visited the house, but notice of their coming had in some way been given. They thoroughly searched “tronkes, chests and cabinetts,” and closely examined Mrs. Abbott, Sir Richard’s aunt[Pg 201] “who had the rule of the house.” Pincers, holdfasts, files “smoothe and ruffe,” one of which had been employed for yellow metal, were found, and the servants admitted that they had melted silver lace, etc. All this, though suspicious, was not conclusive, and the charge was not pressed. On 17 October, 1633, Sir Richard escaped from the Fleet and entered the Swedish service in Germany. Nothing is heard of him again till 1639. During these seven years his emancipated wife lived in various places, for the first four or five years with the Earl of Suffolk, and afterwards at her own house in London. She had thrown off her name of Grenville and resumed that of Howard.

Theophilus, Earl of Suffolk, was born in 1584, and was married to Lady Elizabeth Hume, who died in 1533, the year after the divorce. To this period probably belongs an episode that is shrouded in mystery. Lady Howard had a son, George Howard, when born is not recorded.

He is first mentioned in 1644 in a petition made by his mother to the King, and then and afterwards is alluded to as Lady Howard’s son. He certainly was not the son of Sir Charles Howard, for seven years after that gentleman’s death, in 1628, it is stated, in his wife’s pleading before the Court of Chancery, that Sir Charles died “without heires male, leaving only twoe daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.” It is a curious fact that none of the contemporary writers who mention Lady Howard make any aspersions on her morals. That George passed in Tavistock as the son of Sir Charles is certain, but it is just as certain that he was not this. We cannot but suspect a liaison with Theophilus, Earl of Suffolk, in whose house Lady Howard continued to live after the death of his wife. In the confusion of the Civil Wars, and the distraction[Pg 202] of men’s minds from family scandals to events of public import, it would have been quite possible for Lady Howard to mislead the Tavistock people as to the true parentage of her son George. The Earl was by no means an old man when the Countess died, in fact, was aged forty-nine years.

During the seven years of Sir Richard’s absence, Lady Howard wrote many letters to her steward Cutteford, who occupied Walreddon and managed her estates in Devon and Cornwall. Whether it was intended as humour or not we cannot say, but she invariably addressed her agent as “Guts,” “Honest Guts,” “Good Guts,” and once “Froward Guts,” and almost every letter was for money. In all the seven years since the decree of divorce, Sir Richard had certainly not received one penny of the sum allotted to him to be paid annually from his wife’s income, and when he returned to England in 1639 he carried his cause before the King’s Council, and claimed of the Earl of Suffolk arrears to the amount of £12,656.

A committee was appointed to hear Sir Richard’s cause, in December, 1640, and so hopeful was he of success, that he actually went down to Fitzford, turned out the caretakers, and installed his aunt there again. Lady Howard wrote to her steward in “a very great distraction” on hearing of these proceedings. But before his case was decided, he was sent by the King to Ireland in command of a troop, and arrived in Dublin in March, 1641–2. He remained in Ireland for more than a year, and earned distinction as a commander. On his return, he learned that the King, who was at Oxford, was short of money, and that the Parliament in London had plenty. He had not been paid for his services in Ireland, so he rode to where the money bags were, assumed the Puritan cant and nasal twang, re[Pg 203]counted his great service, and protested his desire to quit the “Tents of Shem and cast in his lot with the righteous,” i.e. to desert the royal cause. The Parliament was delighted, he was at once paid all arrears, was made a major-general of horse in the Parliamentary army, with a regiment of five hundred horse, and power to choose his own officers. On 2 March, 1643–4, he set out with his regiment, riding through London amidst the plaudits of the citizens. His banner was carried in front, displaying a map of England and Wales on a crimson ground, with “England bleeding” in golden letters across the top. The regiment rode on as far as Bagshot, when a halt was called. Then Sir Richard harangued the officers and men, set forth the sinfulness of fighting against their anointed King, and concluded by inviting them to follow him to Oxford, to fight for the King instead of against him. The officers, whom he had not failed to pick out from among his most trusty friends and dependents, all cheerfully assented, and followed by most of his soldiers, Sir Richard rode straight to Oxford and presented himself to the King at the head of a well-equipped troop, and placed his sword at His Majesty’s disposal. The Parliament, duped, was furious, a price was set on Sir Richard’s head, and he was hanged in effigy. A Proclamation was issued, declaring him “traytor, rogue, villain and skellum”—this last word was deemed so appropriate that henceforth he was known as Skellum Grenville. William Lilly, the astrologer, refers to him when he says: “Have we another Red Fox like Sir R. G. acting his close devotions to do our Army mischief? Let’s be wary!”

Sir Richard being now in high favour with the King made petition to be given his wife’s estates in Devonshire, on the ground that her continued residence in[Pg 204] London made her a rebel. The King, with monstrous injustice, granted what was asked, and at once—a fortnight after his having marched out of London—he arrived in Tavistock, with powers from the King to take possession of all his wife’s estates. Armed with a warrant from Prince Maurice, then quartered at Tavistock, Sir Richard threw Cutteford and his wife and son into prison, and proceeded to plunder his house, and scrape together what money he could from the tenants. Plymouth was at this time invested by the Royal army; Sir Richard was placed in command, and he remained there till the approach of Essex with a large army compelled him to retreat into Cornwall with his troops, leaving only a few soldiers in his wife’s house, Fitzford, to defend it.

Essex was not slow to avail himself of the chance of punishing Skellum Grenville—the Red Fox—and his own regiment and another proceeded to Fitzford, and after damaging it with cannon, compelled the garrison of one hundred and eighty to lay down their arms. Those who agreed to take the Covenant, about sixty, were enrolled in the Parliamentary army, the rest were detained as prisoners. The house was given up to plunder. There was in it “excellent pillage for the soldiers, even at least £3000 in money and plate, and other provisions in great quantity.”

Unhappily, the plate, the money, the furniture, the provisions did not belong to Skellum Grenville at all, but to Lady Howard, accounted a Parliamentarian. They were his by usurpation only. After the defeat of Essex in Cornwall, the King gave Sir Richard all the Earl of Bedford’s estates and those of Sir Francis Drake, and he resumed command at the siege of Plymouth. He was made Sheriff of Devon in the same year, 1645, and his exactions were great, both as[Pg 205] sheriff and as the “King’s General in the West.” But he was not a man to behave with moderation; he speedily abused all these favours, and his acts were so notoriously tyrannical and cruel that they were formally brought as charges against him before the Council, where he was summoned to appear in person and answer for his misdeeds whilst governor of Lydford Castle. One instance of his cruelty deserves particular notice, as it shows the bitterness wherewith he recollected his quarrels with his wife. During the time of her proceedings against him in Chancery she employed an attorney-at-law whose name was Brabant; he bore the character of being an honest man, and loyal to the King. He lived somewhere in this part of Devonshire. Many years elapsed since the decision of that suit against him, before Sir Richard became a man of so much importance by his high military command in the west. No sooner did Brabant learn the news of his arrival, than, well knowing he was not of a disposition to forget or forgive an old adversary, Brabant judged it prudent to keep as much as possible out of the way. Having occasion, however, to make a journey that would take him near Sir Richard’s quarters, he disguised himself as well as he could and put on a montero cap. Sir Richard, who probably had been on the watch to catch him, notwithstanding all these precautions, received intelligence of the movements of the man of law. He caused him to be intercepted on his road, made prisoner, and brought before him. In vain did Brabant protest that he was journeying on no errand but his own private affairs; for Sir Richard affecting, on account of his montero cap, to believe him to be a spy, without a council of war, or any further inquiry, ordered the luckless lawyer to be hanged on the spot. The offences of Sir Richard were[Pg 206] so gross that he was sent a prisoner to St. Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall; but on the approach of the Parliamentary army he was allowed to escape on 3 March, 1645–6. He sailed to Brest, and joined his son at Nantes.

Lady Howard, so soon as she heard that Sir Richard was out of England, hastened down to Fitzford, where she found that her steward was dead and her mansion wrecked. When the country was somewhat more peaceful she brought down to it from London her furniture, books, and plate, and set to work to repair the damage that the house had sustained. Her son, George Howard, was with her and managed her affairs eventually, not at first, for if he were born in 1634 he would be still a child.

Sir Richard Grenville and his son Richard wandered about the Continent till 1647, when he formed the rash intention to return to London. What induced him to take this desperate step can only be conjectured. Perhaps he had money in London, which it was only possible to secure personally; possibly he may have desired to get possession of his daughter Elizabeth and take her abroad with him, rightly conjecturing that her mother had no affection, but the contrary, for a child of his. Indeed, it is probable that the tradition of Lady Howard’s persistent hatred displayed towards one of her daughters pertains to this Elizabeth Grenville.

There must have been some very strong reason for Sir Richard’s venturing to England, for he knew perfectly in what estimation he was held by the Puritans. He disguised himself, cutting his hair short and wearing “a very large periwigg hanging on his shoulders,” and blackening his foxy-red beard with a lead comb, so that “none would know him but by his voyse.”

[Pg 207]

How he fared in England we know not; he did secure his daughter and escaped with his life to Holland, but of his son we hear nothing more, and it is possible that he met his death while in England.

Lord Lansdowne, in his Vindication of his uncle, says, “His only son, unluckily falling afterwards into whose hands, was hanged.”

In 1652 Sir Richard Grenville, being in the Low Countries, seized goods belonging to the Earl of Suffolk that were at Bruges, to the value of £27,000, as some abatement of the debt he considered was due to him out of Lady Howard’s estate.

In 1655 that lady’s son, George Howard, married Mistress Burnby, and by her had a son George who died young, and he had no more children, so that with this child died his grandmother’s hopes of a descendant in the male line. If George Howard, the father, were born in 1634, he would have been one-and-twenty when he married.

Sir Richard Grenville died at Ghent about 1659, attended by his daughter Elizabeth, who shortly after married a privateer captain named Lennard, who cruised the Channel stopping and plundering English vessels, on the principle that all who did not fight for King Charles were his enemies and the enemies of his country. He was taken prisoner 8 February, 1659–60, and only escaped being hanged by the Restoration. He was set at liberty and given the post of captain of the Black Horse at Tilbury; but he did not long enjoy the post, as he died in 1665.

Something must now be said about this daughter, Elizabeth Grenville, concerning whom tradition has a good deal to say, but it is unsupported by documentary evidence.

The story is that Lady Howard hated the child with[Pg 208] a deadly hate as the offspring of the plague of her life, Sir Richard Grenville. As she was unkind to it, a lady carried it away, and without the knowledge of the mother brought it up as her own. In after years this lady introduced Elizabeth to her mother under a fictitious name, and Lady Howard became quite attached to her. Seeing this, the lady revealed to her who the young girl was. At this Lady Howard started to her feet, her eyes flaming with rage, and drove Elizabeth from her presence.

A few years passed, and this Elizabeth Grenville made another attempt to see and soften her mother. She went to her at Walreddon, but when Lady Howard saw her she rushed from the room up the stairs pursued by her daughter, who implored her to stay and hear and love her. Elizabeth clung to her mother’s dress on the landing, as Lady Howard passed into one of the upper rooms. The unnatural mother swung back the door with such violence that it broke her daughter’s arm. If this took place at all it was probably before Elizabeth departed for the Continent with her father, when she was aged sixteen. She never after met her mother.

Lady Howard was getting on in life; her son George lived with her at Fitzford and managed her property. Feeling old age creeping on, she by deed made over all her estates to him, in the hopes that when she was gone he would live on in her ancestral home. But in the prime of life George Howard died on 17 September, 1671. To his mother the shock was so great that she did not recover from it, and she also died, just one month after him. Hearing that she was ill, her first cousin, Sir William Courtenay, hurried to her bedside, and gained such power over Lady Howard as to induce her to make a will leaving all her possessions to him,[Pg 209] to the exclusion of her daughters. Mary Howard, married to one Vernon, was to be given £500 within four years after her decease, and £1000 to her daughter Elizabeth, married to Captain Lennard, to be paid within two years, and £20 within one year; but should she protest against the will, then what she was to receive would be reduced to £20. The will was signed on 14 October, 1671, and she died on the seventeenth of the same month. “This is the one action of Lady Howard’s life,” says Mrs. Radford, “that seems to have shocked her contemporaries. They have not a word to say against her moral character; but she disinherited her children. Could anything be more dreadful?”

Walreddon to the present day belongs to the Earl of Devon; but Fitzford was sold in 1750 to the Duke of Bedford.

Lady Howard was a person of strong will and imperious temper, and left a deep and lasting impression on the people of Tavistock. Mrs. Bray collected several traditions relative to her, which she published in her Notes to Fitz, of Fitzford, in 1828. She bore the reputation of having been hard-hearted in her lifetime. For some crime she had committed (nobody knew what), she was said to be doomed to run in the shape of a hound from the gateway of Fitzford to Okehampton Park, between the hours of midnight and cock-crowing, and to return with a single blade of grass in her mouth to the place whence she had started; and this she was to do till every blade was picked, when the world would be at an end.

“Dr. Jago, the clergyman of Milton Abbot, however, told me that occasionally she was said to ride in a coach of bones up West Street, Tavistock, towards the moor; and an old man of this place told a friend of mine the same story, adding that ‘he had seen her[Pg 210] scores of times.’ A lady also who was once resident here, and whom I met in company, assured me that, happening many years before to pass the old gateway at Fitzford, as the church clock struck twelve, in returning from a party, she had herself seen the hound start.”

When a child I heard the story, but somewhat varied, that Lady Howard drove nightly from Okehampton Castle to Launceston Castle in a black coach driven by a headless coachman, and preceded by a fire-breathing black hound; that when the coach stopped at a door, there was sure to be a death in that house the same night. There was a ballad about it, of which I can only recall fragments. Mr. Sheppard picked it up also at South Brent from old Helmore the miller; but being more concerned about the tune than the words, and thinking that I had the latter already, he did not trouble himself to take down the whole ballad.

In the first edition of Songs of the West, I gave the ballad reconstructed by me from the poor fragments that I recollected; and as such I give it here:—

My ladye hath a sable coach,
And horses two and four;
My ladye hath a black blood-hound
That runneth on before.
My ladye’s coach hath nodding plumes,
The driver hath no head;
My ladye is an ashen white,
As one that long is dead.
“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,
“Now pray step in and ride.”
I thank thee, I had rather walk
Than gather to thy side.
The wheels go round without a sound,
Or tramp or turn of wheels;
As cloud at night, in pale moonlight,
Along the carriage steals.
“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,
“Now prithee come to me.”
She takes the baby from the crib,
She sits it on her knee.
“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,
“Now pray step in and ride.”
Then deadly pale, in waving veil,
She takes to her the bride.
“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,
“There’s room I wot for you.”
She wav’d her hand, the coach did stand,
The Squire within she drew.
“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,
“Why shouldst thou trudge afoot?”
She took the gaffer in by her,
His crutches in the boot.
I’d rather walk a hundred miles,
And run by night and day,
Than have that carriage halt for me
And hear my ladye say—
“Now pray step in, and make no din,
Step in with me to ride;
There’s room, I trow, by me for you,
And all the world beside.”

[Pg 211]

As a fact, Lady Howard did not have a carriage but a Sedan-chair. An inventory of her goods was taken at her death for probate, and this shows that she had no wheeled conveyance. The story of the Death Coach is probably a vague reminiscence of the Goddess of Death travelling over the world collecting human souls.

The authorities for the Life of Lady Howard are:—

Lord Lansdowne’s Vindication of Sir Richard Grenville, printed in Holland, 1654, reprinted in Lord Lansdowne’s Works, 1732; also Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion, and Mrs. G. Radford’s “Lady Howard, of Fitzford,” in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1890.


The Bidlake family can be traced back to the thirteenth century. Their original seat was Combe or Combebow, in the parish of Bridestowe, where they had a mansion on a knoll of limestone rising out of a narrow valley. The site is of interest. The old Roman road, probably a pre-Roman road from Exeter to Launceston and the West, ran through this contracted glen, on the south-east side of which rises steeply a lofty chain of hills cut sharply through by the Lew River. This ridge goes by the name of Galaford, or the Forked Way, because the ancient roads did fork—that already mentioned ran along one side, and that leading to Lydford ran on the other, the fork being on Sourton Down. At the point or promontory above the cleft cut by the Lew, and immediately above the knoll of Combe, is an extensive series of earthworks, prehistoric and Saxon. The prehistoric camp is oval, with outworks to the south, where the tongue of hill is cut through from one side to the other by an artificial moat with bank.



If I am not mistaken, here was the scene of the final contest of the Britons against the Saxons in 823, fought at Gavulford, when the former were routed. This was, in fact, the best position along the road into Cornwall at which they could make a stand. That[Pg 213] the Saxons considered it a point of importance is shown by their erecting here a burh or burg in addition to the powerfully entrenched prehistoric fortress. The knoll in the valley below was also probably fortified, but all traces have been swept away by quarrymen who have dug the hill over for lime, only sparing one point that was heaped up with the ruins of the mansion of the Combes.

William de Combe early in the fifteenth century had a son John, who moved to Bidlake, built himself a house there, and called himself John de Bidlake. His grandson, John de Bidlake, married a cousin Alice, daughter of Richard de Combe of Bradstone, and this John had a son, another John, who married a Joan of Bridestowe, his cousin in the fourth degree. Combe came thus to be united to the possessions of the Bidlakes, for one or other of these ladies was an heiress.

There was in Bridestowe another family ancient and well estated, the Ebsworthys, of Ebsworthy, and the Bidlakes and Ebsworthys were too near neighbours to be good friends. In fact, there was an hereditary feud between them. One of the Ebsworthys had married a daughter of Gilbert Germyn, the rector. This was quite enough for the Bidlakes to look with an evil eye on the parson. William Bidlake and Agnes his wife drew up charges against the parson in 1613.

But before coming to the complaints of 1613, we must see what sort of man this Gilbert Germyn was. The convulsions and changes in religion that had succeeded each other in waves since the year 1531 had unsettled men’s minds; with the exception of fanatics on one side or the other—the staunch adherents to the Papacy, and the thorough-going Puritans—dead apathy had settled down on the majority with regard[Pg 214] to religion: they knew not what to believe and how worship was to be conducted, and they did not much care. Having been taught to abhor the distinctive errors of the Church of Rome, they had not been instructed in the distinctive errors of the Church of England that they were required to embrace. The clergy to fill the vacant benefices were ignorant and brutish. They had no religious convictions and no culture. So long as they had pliant consciences, Elizabeth was content. In many dioceses in England, a third of the parishes were left without a pastor, resident or non-resident. In 1561 there were in the Archdeaconry of Norfolk a hundred and eighty parishes, in the Archdeaconry of Suffolk a hundred and thirty parishes in this condition. Cobblers and tailors occupied the pulpits, where there were no incumbents. “The Bishops,” said Cecil, “had no credit either for learning, good living or hospitality. The Bishops ... were generally covetous, and were rather despised than reverenced or beloved.” The Archbishop of York was convicted of adultery with the wife of an innkeeper at Doncaster. Other prelates bestowed ordination “on men of lewd life and corrupt behaviour.” And a good many of them sold the livings in their gift to the highest bidder.

Gilbert Germyn was the son of an apothecary in Exeter. At the time, Bridestowe cum Sourton, one of the best livings in the gift of the Bishop, was held by Chancellor Marston. The apothecary, it is stated, bribed the Chancellor to resign, with a present of £100, and then negotiated with the Bishop—at what price is not known—to present his son to the united benefices.

When so many livings were without incumbents,[Pg 215] all sorts of unscrupulous men, of a low class, rushed into Orders, without university education, indeed without any education at all, so as to secure a living in which they could draw the tithe and farm the glebe, without a thought as to their religious responsibilities.

Such a man Gilbert Germyn seems to have been. In 1582 articles of misdemeanours were drawn up against him by Henry Bidlake and some of the parishioners, but as far as can be learnt without effect. The Bishop had presented him, for reasons best known to himself, and was indisposed to take cognizance of his conduct.

It is worth while looking at some of the charges brought against a man whom the Bishop, John Woolton, delighted to honour.

He was complained of for his grasping character. Although the glebe comprised a manor of eight or nine tenements, yet he did not rest till he got into his own hands “by dyvers meannes three of the best and most fruitfull tenements in the two parishes.”

That, in addition to being rector of Bridestowe and Sourton, he was vicar of another parish in Cornwall.

That he was litigious, citing his tenants and the tithe payers even for a halfpenny.

That he refused at Easter to give the Holy Communion to a bedridden woman, eighty years old, named Jane Adams, till she paid him a penny for his trouble.

“He is a great skold and faller owte with his neybors, for lyght occasyons, as with Mr. William Wrays, and other the best of the parishes; and stycketh not to saye yn the churche Thou lyest; and to skold yn the Churchyerde.

“For his pryde, Skoldyng, Avarice and Crueltye his[Pg 216] manner is hated and abhorred of all the 2 parishes, and so driveth them awaye from the Church.

“He marryed hys wyffe, a notorryowse lyght woman, and of lyke parents descended being notoryusly suspectyd with the sayd German of [causing] her first husband’s death; after whose deathe one Edmonds, her servant claymed her in promise, to be his wyffe, and that openly, and yn the presence of dyvers requyred the Parson German to procleme the bannes bytwene them. But German refused to doo yt but presently shyfted secretly to marry her hymself, having a lycence, and yn a marryng before sun rysyng so dyd, having a lyttle before cyted the said Edmonds to ... prove his contract with her, came too late, and thuse were they marryed withowt clearyng of the woman, to the offence of both parishioners and others, knowyng before her lyght behavyor.”

It seems that this widow whom Germyn married had some money. Her former husband had left a will making several bequests, but Parson Germyn having got the money of the deceased into his hands refused to pay the bequests, as also the debts of the man and of his widow, now his wife; also refused to pay annuitants.

It was further complained that Mrs. Germyn baked bread and sold it in the rectory.

It may be worthy of remark that there is no trace in the Episcopal Registers of Mr. Germyn having obtained a licence to marry this widow. It was probably a bit of bluff on his part to say that he had one. Who performed the ceremony we are not told. Unfortunately the Bridestowe registers do not go back sufficiently far to help us.

From 1582 to 1613 we hear no more of Parson Germyn. At this latter date fresh complaints were made against him. Another bishop now occupied the[Pg 217] see, William Cotton, a man of some character and worth, and not one interested in protecting the disreputable priest.

It was now charged against Mr. Germyn that “he preached that John Baptist and Mary Magdalen wear married in a citie called Cana in Galilee,” also that “the said Parson readeth the usuall divine prayers soe fast that few can understand what he sayeth or the clarke can spare to answere him accordinge to what is sett fourth in the booke of Common prayer,” also that “he setteth out the Church yard for 8 shillings and sixpence, and suffereth the horses and sheepe to use the Church porche as a common folde, the smell being verie loathesome to the Parishioners.”

Then came in an accusation of Peter Ebsworthy, “for usurpinge of place in the Churche, being a man of no discent, or parentage, and claiminge a Seate unfittinge for a man of his ranke or position.”

This was not a reasonable charge. The Ebsworthys, it is true, in 1620 could prove only three descents, but one had married an heiress of Shilston, another an heiress of Durant, and they were allied by marriage with the Calmadys, the Harrises, and the Ingletts. The Ebsworthys, of Ebsworthy, had probably lived on their paternal acres as long as had the Bidlakes, of Bidlake, but as yet they had laid no claim to bear coat-armour. The Bidlakes bore two white doves, but naturalists say that doves and pigeons are the most quarrelsome of birds.

The spiteful remark about Peter Ebsworthy being of no descent and parentage was intended to wound the feelings of the rector, who had married one of his daughters to Peter Ebsworthy. The ancients said that doves were without gall.

“Next for his wief abusing of my wief in goinge to[Pg 218] the Communion, by blowes and afterwards with disgracefull words.” Also, “Paule Ebsworthy for layinge of violent handes upon my wief in the Church yard: and his wiefs scouldinge, Katheren Ebsworthy using these wordes before the Parson unto her sister, Peter’s wief, that her sister might be ashamed to suffer such to goe before her as my wief was.”

It seems that Agnes Bidlake, the wife of William, sought assistance of her uncle, Sir Edward Giles, to bring these complaints before the Bishop. He replied to this by writing to William Bidlake:—

“I would intreat you and my niece your wife at the time of hearinge of these differences before his Lordshipp to be very temperate in your utterances. You know it is an old sayinge, A good matter may be marred in the handlinge; and I know if passion doe not overcome you all, it will be to my Lord’s good likeinge.”

Mr. Bidlake went up about the matter and interviewed the Bishop, who agreed to hear the case at Okehampton on the following Thursday.

The Bishop wrote to Parson Germyn: “Being credibly informed that Mr. Bidlake and his wief were latlie by your sonne Peter Ebsworthy and his wief verie disgracefully wronged at a Communion ... as alsoe for your scandalous and indiscreete doctrine which you usually teach I may not att any hande suffer,” he summoned him to appear before him at his approaching visitation at Okehampton.

On 13 May, 1613, the Bishop of Exeter summoned plaintiffs and defendants and witnesses before him for the following Friday at Okehampton.

The Rev. Gilbert Germyn indignantly denied that he had ever preached scandalous and indiscreet doctrine; but what was the result of the suit before the Bishop does not transpire.

[Pg 219]

Old John Bidlake, the father of William, mightily disapproved of this contention. He wrote to his son: “Commend me heartily to your wief whom I pray God to give patience and charitie unto in all these troubles, and that yourselfe forgett not that which I said I lately dreamed of 2 snakes whereof the one seemed to me to ate up the other before me. And that which I formerly dreamed of the Man that firstlie riding from me said, Commend me to my friends that are like to be lost if they repent not er time be past. Good sonne, seeke peace and ensue it in what you may, for to live peaceably with all men maketh a man and woman long to seme younge. And if you knewe the hindrances and losses besides heartburnings, weariness of bodye and unquietness innumerable that suits of Lawe doe bring, as well as I, you would rather goe with your wief even unto all such as have donne you offence and openly imbrace them as brethren and sisters and fully forgive them and desier them to accept of your lives ever hereafter; as honest quyet neighbours should doe, rather than vex your neighbours by suits of laws therein, whereof are as variable as the turnings of a weathercock.”

This was dated 10 April, 1613.

William died before his father.

Old John was a fine and loyal man; the date of his death is not known. The estates devolved on Henry Bidlake, the son of William, born in 1606 or 1607.

After Henry Bidlake came of age, he married Philippa, daughter of William Kelly, of Kelly; whereupon his mother, the quarrelsome Agnes, retired to the south of Devon, there indulged in some costly lawsuits, and died in 1651.

Henry, while yet young, joined the army of King Charles, and in 1643 was made a captain of horse under[Pg 220] Colonel Sir Thomas Hele, Baronet. In 1645 he was one of the defenders of Pendennis Castle; a copy of the articles for its surrender is preserved among the Bidlake Papers. These articles were signed on 18 August, and the besieged went forth. From that time misfortune after misfortune befell Henry Bidlake. On 18 January, 1646, the Standing Committee of Devon “ordered upon Perusall of the inventory of the goods of Mr. Henry Bidlake amounting to Thirtie pounds that upon payment of fower and Twentie pounds unto the Treasurer or his Deputie by Mr. William Kelley, the sequestration of the said goods shall be removed and taken off, and the other six pounds is to be allowed to Mrs. Bidlake for her sixth part.”

Several stories are told of Henry hiding from Cromwell’s soldiers, who were sent to surround Bidlake in order to take him prisoner. He was warned, and dressed himself in rags in order to pass them. Some soldiers met him and asked him if he had seen Squire Bidlake. “Aye, sure,” he replied, “her was a-standin’ on ’is awn doorstep a foo minutes agoo.” So they went on to search Bidlake House while he escaped to the house of a tenant of his named Veale in Burleigh Wood. The troopers went there also, and Mrs. Veale made him slip into the clock-case; they hunted high and low, but could not find him. One of the soldiers looking up at the dial and seeing the hand at the hour said, “What, doant he strike?” “Aye, aye, mister,” replied Mrs. Veale, “there be a hand here as can strike, I tell ’ee.”

Mr. Bidlake suffered from a chronic cough, and just at that moment it began, but he had the art to dip his head, let the weight down behind his back, and the clock struck the hour and drowned the cough in the case.

[Pg 221]

According to another version of the story, his cough was heard, the clock-case was opened, and he taken. But I doubt this. An old man, William Pengelly, who had been with my grandfather, and father, and myself, told me that Henry Bidlake was concealed by the Veales in Burleigh Wood—that is, the wood over the promontory where are the camps—and they supplied him with blankets and food for some weeks till it was safe for him to reappear. Their farm is now completely ruined, but I can recall when it was occupied. According to Pengelly’s story, later on, Henry Bidlake granted that farm to the Veale family to be held in perpetuity on a tenure of half a crown per annum, so long as there remained a male Veale in the family. Pengelly informed me that the last Veale had died when the Rev. John Stafford Wollocombe held the estate, 1829–66, and that the tenure had remained the same till then. The Rev. J. H. Bidlake Wollocombe, present owner of the Bidlake estate, tells me that he can find no evidence of the grant to the Veales among the deeds, and that he never heard of the story save from me.

If Henry Bidlake had been secured on this occasion, it would certainly have been recorded. We have a narrative of the visit of a troop of horse sent to Bridestowe by the Earl of Stamford in 1647. In the Mercurius Rusticus of that year is an account of this expedition, but not a word about the capture of Henry Bidlake. There is, however, one of a barbarous act committed in the cottage of a husbandman in Bridestowe, whose name, however, is not given, but possibly enough it may have been Veale. This man having openly adhered to the King’s party, the Earl of Stamford sent a troop of horse to apprehend him in his cottage or farm. “When they came thither, they[Pg 222] found not the good man at home, but a sonne of his, about ten or twelve years old, they ask him where his Father was, the childe replyed that he was not at home, they threaten him, and use all arts to make him discover where his Father had hid himselfe, the childe being ignorant where his father was, still persisted in the same answer, that he knew not where he was; hereupon they threaten to hang him, neither doth that prevail; at last they take the poore innocent childe and hang him up, either because he would not betray his Father, had he been able to satisfie their doubt, or for not having the spirit of Prophecy, not being able to reveale what by an ordinary way of knowledge he did not know; having let him hang a while, they cut him downe, not intending to hang him unto death, but being cut downe they could perceive nothing discovering life in him, hereupon in a barbarous way of experiment, they pricke him with their swords in the back and thighs, using the means leading to death to find out life; at last after some long stay, some small symptoms of life did appear; yet so weake, that they left him nearer the confines of death than life; and whether the child did ever recover, is more than my informer can assure me.”

In 1651 a fine of £300 was put upon Henry Bidlake, and his estates were sequestrated to the Commonwealth until it should be paid. He had to borrow money from his friends in order to pay his fine. Money was lent him by Nicholas Rowe, of Lamerton, by Daniel Hawkins, of Sydenham, by David Hore, of Coryton, by Prudence Lile, of Lifton, by Richard Edgecombe, of Milton Abbot, by John Baron, of Lawhitton, and by John Cloberry, of Bradstone. His mother-in-law, Philippa Kelly, of Kelly, seems to have repaid these friends, or paid the interest due to them. As[Pg 223] security, Henry Bidlake alienated and sold to her his goods and chattels, only reserving his wearing apparel. He got back his property in 1654, but his account with the Parliament seems never to have been settled, and he was liable to repeated vexations. As late as December, 1658, he received a summons along with his wife, from Richard, Lord Protector, to appear before the Chancery Court at Exeter. But next year he died, too early to see—what would have gladdened his heart—the Restoration, and to have learned by painful experience the ready forgetfulness by kings of services rendered in the past.

Bidlake House is a very interesting example of a simple mansion such as suited the small squires of Devon in the seventeenth century. It is Elizabethan, and has a quaint old garden at the back. Like so many old houses, the aspect was not considered, and the sun pours into the kitchen, but hardly a gleam can reach the hall and parlour.

But our ancestors had their reasons for burying their mansions at the foot of hills, and turning their backs against the sun. The great enemy was the south-west wind which they could not exclude. It drove through the walls. Therefore by preference they planted their houses under the lee of a bank of hill that intervened between them and the south, and turned their backs like horses against the driving rain.


In the Bristol Channel,” says Mr. Chanter, “twenty miles from Barnstaple Bar, and nearly equidistant from the two headlands of the bay, lies the island of Lundy, sometimes invisible from the shore, but generally looming dim and mysterious and more or less shrouded in mists, or capped with cloud-reefs; occasionally standing out lofty, clear, and distinct, bright with varied hues of rock, fern, and heather, its granite cliffs glittering as they reflect the rays of the morning sun, and the graceful lighthouse tower and buildings plainly defined; or at night traceable by its strange intermittent light—either suddenly shining out as a star and as suddenly vanishing, or gradually rising and fading according to the atmospheric conditions; but in all its aspects, varying much from day to day. And to those who know how to read them aright, the changing aspects of Lundy are the surest indications of approaching changes of weather—of winds, storms, or settled sunshine.

“As seen nearer the island shows itself a lofty table-headed granite rock, rising to the height of 500 feet, surrounded by steep and occasionally perpendicular cliffs, storm-beaten, riven, and scarred over with grisly seams and clefts, and hollowed out here and there along the shore into fantastic coves and grottoes, with huge piles of granite thrown in wild disorder. The cliffs and[Pg 225] adjacent sea are alive with sea-birds, every ledge and jutting rock being dotted with them, or they are whirling round in clouds, filling the air with their discordant screams.

“This island, so little known, so little visited, so wild and mysterious in aspect, possesses an interest in its remote history, its antiquities, its physical features and peculiarities, and in its natural history, almost unrivalled.”[7]

Lundy is an outcrop of the granite that heaved up Exmoor on its back, but there never broke through. Here the superincumbent carboniferous rocks have been cleared away by the action of the sea, and Lundy stands forth a naked shaft of granite. It possesses but a single harbour, at the southern extremity of the island.

Lundy takes its name from the puffins, in Scandinavian Lund, that at all times frequented it; but it had an earlier Celtic name, Caer Sidi, and is spoken of as a mysterious abode in the Welsh Mabinogion.

From an early period, its peculiar position, commanding the entrance to the Bristol Channel, its inaccessibility, its remoteness, rendered it a resort of pirates. Thomas Wyke, Canon of Oseney, in 1238, speaks of it as the haunt of a notable pirate, William de Marisco. This William had a son Jordan, who held the island in defiance of the King, and descended from it to make raids on the adjoining coasts. The island had been granted by Henry II to the Templars, but they had been unable to dislodge the De Mariscoes and obtain possession of it. A special tax was levied on the counties of Devon and Cornwall for the siege of Lundy and the defence of their maritime ports, but it[Pg 226] does not seem that Sir William was ever dispossessed. Marisco was one of the prisoners captured from the French in a sea fight in 1217, and was afterwards reinstated in his island, along with his wife and children, who had also been taken. In 1222 he removed to Lundy some guns he had taken from his lordship of Camley in Somerset, and, turbulent to the end, he was, in 1233, amerced in a fine of 300 marks to the King for his ransom.

His younger son, Sir William, was outlawed in 1235 for slaying in London an Irish messenger. His elder brother Jordan, or Geoffrey, had made a descent on Ireland and was killed at Kilkenny in 1234.

Sir William got into further trouble on an accusation of an attempt to assassinate Henry III, and this led to the breaking up of the robbers’ nest, and its being wrested from the Marisco family for many years.

But before telling the story, it will be well to say a few words about the castle erected by this turbulent family, of which some remains may still be seen. It was probably originally erected by the first Sir Jordan, in the reign of Henry II.

The keep is all that now remains, and it is turned into cottages. The basement wall is nine feet thick, and the lines of bastion and fosse may still be traced. Two engravings and a plan of the castle, as it was in 1775, appear in Grose’s Antiquities. He thus describes it:—

“The castle stood on two acres of ground, and was surrounded by a stone wall, with a ditch, except towards the sea, where the rock is almost perpendicular. The ditch is very visible, and part of the wall. The walls of the citadel (i.e. keep) are very perfect, of a square form. It is converted into cottages, the turrets, of which there are four, one at each angle,[Pg 227] serving as chimneys. The S. W. wall is 51 feet, the N. W. wall 38 feet, in length. In front of the house five guns were placed. The garrison was supplied with water from a spring, which rises above the (mansion) house. It was conveyed from thence by earthen pipes. At the extremity of the rock, within the fortification, is a cave, supposed to be cut out of the rock for a store-room, or magazine, for the garrison.”

We come now to the attempted assassination. Matthew Paris tells the story under the date 1238, in the reign of Henry III.

“On the day after the Nativity of St. Mary, a certain learned esquire came to the King’s Court at Woodstock pretending that he was insane, and said to the King, ‘Resign thy kingdom to me’; he also added, that he bore the sign of royalty on his shoulder. The King’s attendants wanted to beat him, and drive him away from the royal presence, but the King interfered, saying, ‘Let the madman rave—such people’s words have not the force of truth.’ In the middle of the night, however, the same man entered the King’s bedchamber window, carrying an open knife, and approached the King’s couch, but was confused at not finding him there. The King was, by God’s providence, then sleeping with the Queen. But one of the queen’s maids, Margaret Bisett, was by chance awake, and was singing psalms by the light of a candle (for she was a holy maid and one devoted to God), and when she saw this madman searching all the private places to kill the King, she was greatly alarmed, and began to utter repeated cries. At her cry the King’s attendants awoke, and leaped from their beds with all speed, and running to the spot, broke open the door, which this robber had firmly secured with a bolt, and seized him, and notwithstanding his resistance, bound[Pg 228] him fast. He, after a while, confessed that he had been sent to kill the King by William de Marisco, son of Geoffrey (or Jordan) de Marisco, and he stated that others had conspired to commit the same crime. On learning this, the King ordered him to be torn limb from limb by horses, at Coventry.”

The evidence incriminating William de Marisco was clearly worthless. If the would-be assassin had not been insane he would not have asserted a claim to the crown and drawn attention to himself before making the murderous attempt. De Marisco had nothing to gain by the King’s death, and he may certainly be acquitted of participation.

William fled to Lundy, “impregnable from the nature of the place, and having attached to himself many outlaws and malefactors, subsisted by piracies, taking more especially wine and provisions, and making frequent sudden descents on the adjacent lands, spoiling and injuring the realm by land and by sea, and native as well as foreign merchants. Many English nobles, having learnt how that the said William and his followers could not be surprised save by stratagem, apprised the King that the securing of this malefactor must be effected not by violence, but by craft. The King therefore ordered his faithful subjects to exert themselves strenuously in order to capture him and relieve their country.”

Nothing, however, was done for four years, during which the piracies continued. There was this excuse for De Marisco, that as the island grew neither corn nor wine, he was dependent on the mainland or on merchant vessels for his subsistence. As all those on the mainland were on the look-out to capture him as the supposed mover of the plot to kill the King, he was forced to live by piracy. In 1242, William of[Pg 229] Worcester informs us, he was caught: how, he does not say, save that it was by surprise. “He was thrown into chains, and he and sixteen accomplices were condemned and sentenced to death. He was executed at the Tower on a gibbet with special ignominy, his body suspended in a sack, and when stiff in death, disembowelled, his bowels burnt, and his body divided into quarters.”

After the execution of Sir William, his father, Geoffrey (or Jordan) fled to France, and the island was then seized by the King, who appointed to it governors. But in 1281 Lundy was again granted to a Marisco, Sir William, son of Jordan, another of the progeny of old Geoffrey. He died in 1284, and his son John in 1289, leaving Herbert as his son and heir. But Edward II granted the island to the elder Despenser, and Herbert was unable to obtain possession of it. He died in 1327, and from that date no more is heard of the Mariscoes in connexion with the island.

From their time, however, other pirates obtained a footing on it. In the days of Henry VIII a gang of French pirates, under their captain, De Valle, seized Lundy and waylaid the Bristol traders, but the Clovelly fishermen made an expedition against them, burnt their ship, and killed or made prisoners of the whole gang.

A few years later, Lord Seymour, High Admiral of England, uncle of Edward VI, was charged, among other misdemeanours, with trying to get hold of Lundy, “being aided with shipps and conspiring at all evill eventes with pirates, (so that) he might at all tymes have a sure and saufe refuge, if anything for his demerites should have been attempted against him.” He was executed, having refused to answer the charges made against him.

In Sir John Maclean’s Life and Times of Sir Peter Carew, Knt., [Pg 230] are printed two letters written by Queen Elizabeth in the year 1564, directing Sir Peter—“forasmuch as that cost of Devonshyre and Cornwall is by report mucch hanted with pyratts and Rovers ... to cause on or twoo apt vessells to be made redy with all spede in some portes ther about.” In the apprehension of such pirates, with her characteristic economy the Queen bargains that the parties “must take ther benefitt of ye spoyle, and be provijded only by us of victell.” She goes a little further in thriftiness, and suggests that possibly “ye sayd Rovers might be entyced, with hope of our mercy, to apprehend some of the rest of ther Company, which practise we have knowen doone good long agoo in the lyke.”

Although Lundy is not specified in this as the rendezvous of the pirates, we know that at this time it was so.

In the year 1587 the authorities of Barnstaple appear to have undertaken on their own account a raid upon the pirates who were accustomed to shelter themselves under Lundy Island.

Connected with the “setting forth of divers men from this town to apprehend divers rovers and pirates at Londey,” the following items of expenditure in the municipal records show that the expedition was not unsuccessful: “Paid to six watchmen for watching the prisoners that were taken, 12s 1d. Paid for a watch put, and for candlelyght for the same prisoners, 11d. Paid for meat and drink for the same prisoners, 2sh.”[8]

Stow tells us that a batch of ten sea-rovers were hanged at once at Wapping. They distributed among their friends their murrey velvet doublets with great gold buttons and crimson taffeta, and great Venetians[Pg 231] laid with broad gold lace, “too sumptuous apparel,” Stow remarks, “which they had worn at the seas.”

In 1608, a commission was issued to the Earl of Bath, who took the depositions of three persons at Barnstaple, to the effect that the merchants were daily robbed at sea by pirates who took refuge in Lundy. In 1610, another commission was issued to the Earl of Nottingham to authorize the town of Barnstaple to send out ships for the capture of pirates, and the deposition was taken of one William Young, who had been made prisoner by Captain Salkeld, who entitled himself “King of Lundy,” and was a notorious pirate.

On 31 August, 1612, the town of Barnstaple sent out a ship and a bark—the John of Braunton and the Mayflower—to capture pirates who had robbed a London vessel and also a pinnace of the Isle of Wight, in the roads of Lundy. It is satisfactory to learn that the offenders—“as notorious Rogues as any in England”—were caught at Milford Haven, brought to Barnstaple, and lodged in Exeter Gaol. What their ultimate fate was is not known.

In 1625, the Mayor of Bristol reported to the Council that three Turkish pirate vessels had surprised and taken the island of Lundy, and had carried off the inhabitants, to sell them as slaves, and that they were threatening Ilfracombe.

In 1628, it was the headquarters of some French pirates. In June, 1630, Captain Plumleigh reported that “Egypt was never more infested with catterpillars than the Channel with Biscayers. On the 23rd instant there came out of St. Sebastian twenty sail of sloops; some attempted to land on Lundy, but were repulsed by the inhabitants.”

In 1632, a notorious buccaneer, Captain Robert Nutt,[Pg 232] made Lundy one of his stations, and defied the efforts of several ships of war and smaller vessels called “whelps” to capture him.

In 1633, Sir Bernard Grenville reported to the Secretary of State that a great outrage had been committed by a Spanish man-of-war of Biscay, which had landed eighty men on the island of Lundy, where, after some small resistance, they had killed one man, called Mark Pollard, and bound the rest, and surprised and took the island, which they rifled and cleared of all the best provisions they could find, and then departed to sea again.

From the depositions of William Skynner, of Kilkhampton, dyer, and others, it appears that the Biscayner was a vessel of 150 tons with about 120, under a Captain Meggor, and that these pirates had previously robbed a French bark, and also a pinnace of George Rendall, which happened to be at Lundy, taking from him his money and all the provisions of his pinnace.

Capt. John Pennington, of the Vanguard, was commissioned to put down the pirates, and he appears to have proclaimed martial law on the island. In the year 1663, a Frenchman, Captain Pressoville, established himself on Lundy. In consequence of these events one Thomas Bushell was appointed governor of the island to hold it for the King.

Grose, in his Antiquities, gives a curious story of an occurrence during the reign of William and Mary. “A ship of force pretending to be a Dutchman, and driven into the roads by mistaking the channel, sent a boat ashore desiring some milk for their captain who was sick, which the unsuspecting inhabitants granted for several days. At length the crew informed them of their captain’s death, and begged leave, if there were[Pg 233] any church or consecrated ground on the island, to deposit his corpse in it, and also requested the favour of all the islanders to be present, which was accordingly complied with. After the corpse was brought in, the islanders were required to quit the chapel for a few minutes when they should be readmitted to see the corpse interred. They had not waited long without the walls before the doors were suddenly thrown open, and a body of armed men furnished from the feigned receptacle of the dead marched out and made them prisoners. The poor islanders then discovered the pretended Dutchmen to be their natural enemies the French. They then seized 50 horses, 300 goats, 500 sheep, and some bullocks, and reserving what they required, hamstringed the rest of the horses and bullocks, threw the goats and sheep into the sea, and stripped the inhabitants of every valuable, even to their clothes, and spoiled and destroyed everything, and then, satiated with plunder and mischief, they threw the guns over the cliffs, and left the island in a most desolate and disconsolate condition.”

There is no other evidence that this really occurred, and the same story is told of the island of Sark, so that it is very doubtful whether the story be true.

It is, however, certain that for a considerable portion of the reigns of William and Mary and of Queen Anne, Lundy was a continual resort of the outcasts of the various parties who betook themselves to piracy as a means of subsistence, as also that it was for a time in the hands of the French in the reign of Queen Anne, and that they used it as a privateering station, and preyed upon the merchant-men who sailed from Barnstaple and Bideford, and that they made so many prizes that they termed Barnstaple Bay as “the Golden Bay.”

In 1748, Thomas Benson obtained a lease of the[Pg 234] island from Lord Gower. He was a man of substance, a native of Bideford, and had inherited a fortune of £40,000. His predecessors had been successful merchants, carrying on trade with France, Portugal, and the colonies.

In 1749 he aspired to get into Parliament, and was elected for Barnstaple. He had in 1745 presented to the mayor and corporation a large silver punch-bowl, which still forms one of their cherished possessions, and has recently been copied in Barum ware for presentation to the association of “Barumites in London.”

When, however, the borough authorities received the bowl, they discovered that they had no ladle, and this they humbly and respectfully intimated to the donor. So Benson added to his gift a silver ladle, with the inscription, “He that gave the Bowl gave the Ladle.”[9]

Soon after he entered into a contract with the Government for the exportation of convicts to Virginia and Maryland, and gave the usual bond to the sheriff for so doing. But instead of doing this he shipped them to Lundy, where he employed them in building walls and other work in the island. Every night they were locked up in the old keep of the Mariscoes. He regarded himself as king of Lundy, and ruled with a high hand.

Presently he got into difficulties through smuggling and piracy. In a cave he stored his smuggled goods, and a raid was made upon these. He was exchequered, and fined £5000.

A fieri facias was directed to the Sheriff of Devon to levy the penalties, under which the officers seized a large quantity of tobacco and other goods secreted in[Pg 235] the caves of Lundy. He excused himself for not fulfilling his compact to transport the convicts to Virginia and Maryland by saying that he considered Lundy to be quite as much out of the world as these colonies. As the fieri facias did not realize the sum of his fine, an extent was issued in 1753 for £7872 duties, under which his patrimonial estate of Napp was seized, and retained during his life by the Government.

“The most villainous transaction, however, in which he was implicated was the conspiracy to defraud the insurance offices, by lading a vessel with a valuable cargo of pewter, linen, and salt, which he heavily insured. The vessel sailed for Maryland, but by a secret arrangement between the Master and Benson, put back in the night and landed the greater part of the cargo at Lundy, where Benson had repaired, concealing it in the caves there; and then the Master, Lancey, put to sea, and burnt and scuttled his vessel, some leagues to the westward, the crew being taken off by a homeward-bound vessel. The roguery was, however, discovered by the confession of one of the crew. Lancey was apprehended with some of his shipmates, seized and condemned, hung at Execution Dock and afterwards in chains. Benson escaped to Portugal; he is said, however, to have returned to Napp incognito for a time, some years afterwards, when the affair was nearly forgotten, but ultimately returned to Portugal, and died there.” I quote from a manuscript journal of a visit to Lundy by a friend of Benson’s some particulars of the island and of Benson himself at this time.

“In the month of July, 1752, I sailed from Appledore on a Monday morning with Sir Thomas Gunstone in a little vessel bound to Wales which dropped us at Lundy road. We came from Benson’s house, of Napp, who rented the island of the Lords Carteret and[Pg 236] Gower for £60. We landed about two o’clock. Mr. Benson did not accompany us, expecting letters from the insurance office for the vessel and cargo which was to have taken us there. The vessel then lay off his quay with convicts bound for Virginia, but he came to us on Wednesday. The island was at this time in no state of improvement, the houses miserably bad, one on each side of the platform, that on the right inhabited by Mr. Benson and his friends, the other by the servants. The old fort was occupied by the convicts whom he had sent there some time before, and occupied in making a wall across the island. They were locked up every night when they returned from their labour. About a week before we landed seven or eight of them took the long-boat and made their escape to Hartland, and were never heard of afterwards. Wild fowl were exceeding plenty and a vast number of rabbits. The island was overgrown with ferns and heath, which made it almost impossible to go to the extreme of the island. Had it not been for the supply of rabbits and young sea-gulls our tables would have been but poorly furnished, rats being so plenty that they destroyed every night what was left of our repast by day. Lobsters were tolerably plenty, and some other fish we caught. The deer and goats were very wild and difficult to get at. The path to the house was so narrow and steep that it was scarcely possible for a horse to ascend it. The inhabitants by the assistance of a rope climbed up a rock in which were steps cut to place their feet, to a cave or magazine where Mr. Benson lodged his goods. There happened to come into the roads one evening near 70 sail of vessels. The colours were hoisted on the fort, and they all as they passed that island returned the compliment except one vessel, which provoked Mr. Benson to fire at her with ball,[Pg 237] though we used every argument in our power to prevent him. He replied that the island was his, and every vessel that passed it and did not pay him the same compliment as was paid to the King’s forts he would fire on her. He talked to us about his contract for exportation of convicts to Virginia, and often said that the sending of convicts to Lundy was the same as sending them to America; they were transported from England, it mattered not where it was, so long as they were out of the kingdom.”[10]


Tom D’Urfey was born in Exeter in the year 1653. The date usually given, 1649, is incorrect. He came of a very ancient and well-connected family. Under Charles VII of France, Pierre d’Ulphé was Grand Master of the crossbow-men of France. His son, Peter II, changed the spelling of his name from Ulphé to Urfé. He died in 1508, after having served with distinction under Charles VIII and Louis XII. Francis, the nephew of Peter II, Baron d’Oroze, fought along with Bayard in a combat of thirteen Frenchmen against thirteen Spaniards. The son of Peter II, Claude, was ambassador of France at the Council of Trent, and governor of the royal children. He loved letters, had a fine library at his Château de la Bâtie, near Montbrison. Jacques, his son, was chamberlain to Henry II; he died in 1574, leaving several sons, of whom two were Anne and Honoré, both staunch Leaguers, and in their day considered to be poets. Honoré, however, made his fame by his interminable and tedious romance of Astrée. The Dictionary of National Biography says that Tom’s uncle was this same Honoré; but this is impossible. Honoré, the fifth son of Jacques I, was born 1572. He had four elder brothers—Anne, who died without issue; Claude, who died young; Jacques II, who had one son; Claude Emmanuel, who died in 1685. Christopher died without issue, and Antoine became a bishop. Consequently it is not possible to fit Tom D’Urfey into the[Pg 239] pedigree. It is possible enough that the grandfather who quitted La Rochelle before the end of the siege in 1628 and brought his son with him to England, and who settled at Exeter, may have been a connexion by blood, possibly enough illegitimate, as no trace of him can be found in the D’Urfé pedigree. The grandfather broke away from the traditions of the family entirely by becoming a Huguenot, for not only were Anne and Honoré Leaguers, but Anne entered Orders and Antoine became Bishop of Saint Flores.

Thomas D'Urfey

E. Gouge pinx.     G. Vertue sculp.

Charles Emmanuel called himself De Lascaris, and was created Marquis D’Urfé and De Baugé, Count of Sommerive and St. Just, Marshal, and died in 1685 at the age of eighty-one. His son Louis became Bishop of Limoges; another, Francis, became Abbé of St. Just, and devoted himself to missionary work in Canada; he died in 1701. The third son, Claude Yves, became a priest of the Oratoire; the fourth, Emmanuel, Dean of Le Puy, died in 1689; the fifth, Charles Maurice, was the only one who did not enter the ministry, and he died unmarried; thus the family came to an end, and it is characteristic of it that it was intensely Catholic. Thus if the grandfather of Tom D’Urfey did belong to the stock, he was a sport of a different colour. The father of Tom D’Urfey married Frances of the family of the Marmions, of Huntingdonshire. Tom certainly claimed kinship with the D’Urfés, of Forez, and was proud of the fame that attached to his relative Honoré.

The elder of the sons of Jacques I, viz. Anne, had married a splendid beauty, Diana de Château Morand, who was also an heiress. But the union was not happy, and it was annulled by the Ecclesiastical Court at Lyons (1598) at the joint petition of husband and wife. Then Anne, after trifling with the Muses, took Holy Orders. Thereupon Honoré, having money to pay for[Pg 240] it, bought a dispensation at Rome, and married his brother’s late wife, not out of love, but for the purpose of retaining in the family her great estates. He was then aged thirty-two, and she was in her fortieth year. She was haughty, vain of her beauty, which had made her famous at one time, and spent her time in trying to disguise the ravages of time on her face. She lived mainly in her room surrounded by dogs, “qui répandaient partout, jusque dans son lit, une saleté insupportable.”

Very different was the life of Tom D’Urfey’s father, and one of the touching incidents in his character was his devotion and tenderness towards his wife to her dying day.

Tom had been intended for the law, but, as he said, “My good or ill stars ordained me to be a knight errant in the fairy fields of poetry.”

He wrote plays that were well received for the most part, but all were tainted with intolerable grossness. But at this period of revulsion from Puritanism, licentiousness of intrigue, indelicacy of wit, most strongly appealed to the popular taste, at least in London, and among the hangers-on of a profligate court. In 1676, he produced The Siege of Memphis and The Fond Husband; or, The Plotting Sisters. In 1677, Madame Pickle. In all, down to his death, thirty-two dramatic pieces. But that which obtained for D’Urfey his greatest reputation was a peculiarly happy knack that he possessed in writing satires and songs. In the latter style of composition he knew how to start with a telling line. There was in his composition a vein of genuine poetry, but the trail of the serpent was over it all: he could not leave his best pieces without something foul to spoil it. Many of his songs were set to music by his friends Henry Purcell, Thomas Farmer,[Pg 241] and Dr. John Blow; but a good many were adapted to folk airs. In 1683, he brought out his New Collection of Songs and Poems, in which was “The Night her Blackest Sables Wore,” which was afterwards claimed for Francis Semple, of Beltrees. D’Urfey wrote a good many songs in fancy Scottish dialect, as a taste for North-country songs came in after James, Duke of York, afterwards James II, was sent to govern Scotland in 1679 and 1680. Although there can be no doubt whatever as to the authorship of “The Night her Blackest Sables Wore,” about fifty years after its first publication the song and tune in a corrupt form appear in Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonicus (1733), with some change in the words so as to make it appear to be Scottish, as “She rose and let me in,” altered to “She raise and loot me in.” Mr. Chappell says: “It is a common error to suppose that England was inundated with Scotch tunes at the union of the two Crowns. The first effect was directly the reverse.” In fact, a stream of English popular melodies flowed into Scotland, and this in a flood in the reign of Charles II, carrying with them the English words, which Scottish compilers adapted and appropriated, and these have come back to us as “made in Scotland,” whereas they are genuine English songs, words and music and all.

Tom Brown, venomous and scurrilous as Tom D’Urfey was not, lampooned the latter, and called him “Thou cur, half French, half English breed,” and mocked him regarding a duel at Epsom, in 1689, with one Bell, a musician.

I sing of a Duel, in Epsom befell
’Twixt Fa-so-la D’Urfey and Sol-la-mi Bell.

Tom took it in good part. It was only by Jeremy Collier that he could be prevailed to reply, and even then it was chiefly in a song.

[Pg 242]

Jeremy Collier had published in 1697 his famous Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage, which dealt a terrible blow at what little prosperity the theatres enjoyed, and aroused a wholesome spirit of resentment against the outrages committed on the stage against Christian virtue and common decency. The castigation was well deserved, for the licentiousness of the stage both before and behind the curtain had become a monstrous evil.

The sensation created by the book was enormous, scores of pamphlets refuting or defending its views were written, and the falling off in the audiences plainly showed that its remonstrances had struck home. D’Urfey was one of those hardest hit; he winced, cried out, but did not mend. D’Urfey was a good, witty, and genial companion, and this obtained him favour with a great many persons of all ranks and conditions. The Duke of Albemarle, son of General Monk, had him frequently at his table to divert the company; of which he was not a little vain, as we may gather from part of a song made upon him at that time:—

He prates like a parrot;
He sups with the Duke,
And he lies in a garret.

Crowned heads condescended to admit him to their presence, and were not a little diverted by him. It is not surprising to hear this of so merry a monarch as Charles II; but even King William, so glum and reserved in temper, and so little appreciative of music, or of any amusements of that kind, must needs have D’Urfey one night to him; and D’Urfey extorted a hearty laugh even from him, and departed with a present. D’Urfey had inherited his grandfather’s Huguenot prejudices; he was a staunch Protestant in his feelings if not a Christian in his morals, and he wrote satirical[Pg 243] songs against the Roman Catholics, so that William III felt it well to show him favour.

One of his anti-papal songs, and one that was very popular among the Whigs, was “Dear Catholic Brother,” and this he set to a very fine ancient tune, to which to this day “The Hunting of Arscott of Tetcott” is sung in Devon. But D’Urfey did not take the complete tune, as he did not need it for his piece of verse, and his incomplete version of the tune travelled into Wales and Scotland as well as throughout England. It is an early, genuine English melody in the Dorian mode.

Charles II had leaned familiarly on D’Urfey’s shoulder, holding a corner of the same sheet of music from which the poet was singing his burlesque song, “Remember, ye Whigs, what was formerly done.”

James II continued the friendship previously shown him when he was Duke of York. He had no wish to offend one who could turn a song against him and his religion. Queen Anne delighted in his wit and gave him fifty guineas when she admitted him to her at supper, because he lampooned the Princess Sophia, then next in succession to herself, by his ditty, “The Crown’s too weighty for shoulders of eighty.” She herself entertained great dislike towards the Electress Dowager of Hanover. D’Urfey was attached to the Tory interest; and in the latter part of the Queen’s reign frequently had the honour of diverting her with witty catches and humorous songs, suited to the spirit of the times, written by himself and sung in a droll and entertaining manner.

The Earl of Dorset welcomed him at Knole Park, and had his portrait painted there. At Wincherdon, Buckingham’s house, Philip, Duke of Wharton, enjoyed in company D’Urfey singing his songs, which he did with vivacity, although in speech he stammered.[Pg 244] D’Urfey said: “The town may da-da-da-mn me as a poet, but they sing my songs for all that.”

He collected his songs into six volumes, published under the title of Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, which went through several editions. In that for 1719 all the songs in the first two volumes are his own; other songs, many of them folk ballads, he tampered with, and added coarsenesses of his own not in the original. The book was published by Playford, and the melodies are not always correctly printed. Most of his airs were folk melodies; many of them, doubtless, heard by him when he was young in Devonshire, for there they are still employed to ballads he recast.

Writing to Henry Cromwell, 10th April, 1710, Alexander Pope says: “I have not quoted one Latin author since I came down, but have learned without book a song of Mr. Thomas Durfey’s, who is your only poet of tolerable reputation in this country. He makes all the merriment in our entertainments, and but for him, there would be so miserable a dearth of catches, that, I fear, they would put either the Parson or me upon making some of ’em. Any man, of any quality, is heartily welcome to the best topeing-table of our gentry, who can roar out some rhapsodies of his works; so that in the same manner as it was said of Homer to his detractors, What! dares any man speak against him who has given so many men to eat? (meaning the rhapsodists who lived by repeating his verses). Thus may it be said of Mr. Durfey to his detractors, Dares any one despise him, who has made so many men drink? Alas, Sir! this is a glory which neither you nor I must ever pretend to. Neither you with your Ovid, nor I with my Statius, can amuse a board of Justices and extraordinary Squires, or gain[Pg 245] one hum of approbation, or laugh of admiration. These things (they would say) are too studious, they may do well enough with such as love reading, but give us your ancient Poet, Mr. Durfey! ’Tis mortifying enough, it must be confess’d.”

There is a slight allusion to D’Urfey in the Dunciad, iii. 146.

Gay mentions that Tom ran his Muse with what was long a favourite racing song, “To horse, brave boys, to Newmarket, to horse!”

Tom was very irregular in his metres. He had the art of jumbling long and short quantities so dexterously together that order resulted from confusion. Of this happy talent he gave various specimens, in adapting songs to tunes, composing his songs in such measures as scarcely any instrument but a drum could accompany; as to the tune, it had to take care of itself. To be even with the musicians who complained of the irregularity of his metres, and their unusual character, he went further, composing songs in metres so broken and intricate, that few could be found who could adapt tunes to them that were of any value. It is said that he once challenged Purcell to set to music such a song as he would write, and gave him the ballad that speedily became popular, “One Long Whitsun Holiday,” which cost the latter more pains to fit with a tune than the composition of his Te Deum.

Tom, at least in the early part of his life, was a Tory by principle, and never let slip an opportunity of representing his adversaries, the Whigs, in a ridiculous light. Addison says that the song of “Joy to Great Cæsar” gave them such a blow that they were not able to recover during the reign of Charles II.

This song was set to a tune called “Farinelli’s Ground.” Divisions were made on it by some English[Pg 246] master, and it soon became a favourite air. D’Urfey set words to it in which his old Huguenot execration of the Papists breaks forth. Farinelli was a Papist, a circumstance that gave occasion to Addison to remark that his friend Tom had made use of Italian tunes for promoting the Protestant interest; and turned a considerable part of the Pope’s music as a battery against the chair of St. Peter.

D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy is a book nowadays to be kept under lock and key, or else to be bound and lettered “Practical Sermons,” to avoid its being taken down from its shelf and being looked into by young people. And yet—“Tempora mutantur et nos mutantur in illis.” Addison speaks of his songs in No. 67 of The Guardian thus: “I must heartily recommend to all young ladies, my disciples, the case of my old friend, who has often made their grandmothers merry, and whose sonnets have perhaps lulled to sleep many a pleasant toast, when she lay in her cradle.” In No. 29, 1713, Addison wrote: “A judicious author, some years since, published a collection of sonnets, which he very successfully called ‘Laugh and be Fat; or, Pills to Purge Melancholy.’ I cannot sufficiently admire the facetious title of these volumes, and must censure the world of ingratitude, while they are so negligent in rewarding the jocose labours of my friend, Mr. D’Urfey, who was so large a contributor to this treatise, and to whose numerous productions so many rural squires in the remotest parts of the island are obliged for the dignity and state which corpulency gives them.”

D’Urfey was the last English poet that appeared in the streets attended by a page. Many an honest gentleman, it is said, got a reputation in his county by pretending to have been a boon companion of D’Urfey;[Pg 247] yet, so universal a favourite as he was, towards the latter part of his life he stood in need of assistance to prevent his passing the remainder of it in a cage like a singing-bird; for, to use his own words, “after having written more odes than Horace, and about four times as many comedies as Terence, he found himself reduced to great difficulties by the importunities of a set of men who of late years had furnished him with the accommodations of life, and would not, as we say, be paid with a song.”

Addison, to relieve the old man, whose sight was then failing, but whose spirits had not been extinguished, applied to the directors of the play-house, and they agreed to act The Plotting Sisters, one of his earliest productions, for the benefit of the author. What the result of this benefit was does not appear, but it was probably sufficient to make him easy, as we find him living and continuing to write with the same humour and liveliness to the time of his death, which happened on 26 February, 1723. He was buried in the churchyard of St. James’s, Westminster, against the wall on the south-west angle of which church, on the outside, was erected a stone to his memory, with this inscription: “Tom Durfey died Feb. 26, 1723.”


The Lysons brothers, in their Magna Britannia, Devon, tell the following story, under the head of South Tawton: “Oxenham gave its name to an ancient family, who possessed it at least from the time of Henry III till the death of the late William Long Oxenham, Esq., in 1814. Captain John Oxenham, who had been the friend and companion of Sir Francis Drake, and who, having fitted out a ship on a voyage of discovery and enterprise on his own account, lost his life in an engagement with the Spaniards in South America, in 1575, is supposed to have been of this family. The family has been remarkable also for the tradition of a bird having appeared to several of its members previously to their death. Howell, who had seen mention of this circumstance on a monument at a stonemason’s in Fleet Street, which was about to be sent to Devonshire, gives a copy of the inscription in one of his letters. It is somewhat curious that this letter proves the fact alleged by Wood, that Howell’s work does not consist of entirely genuine letters, but that many of them were first written when he was in the Fleet prison to gain money for the relief of his necessities. This letter, dated July 3, 1632, relates that, as he passed by the stonecutter’s shop ‘last Saturday,’ he saw the monument with the inscription relating the circumstance of the apparition. It [Pg 249]appears, however, by a very scarce pamphlet ... that the persons whose names are mentioned in the epitaph, given in Howell’s letter, all died in the year 1635, three years after the date of his letter. The persons to whom the apparition is stated in the pamphlet to have appeared were John Oxenham, son of James Oxenham, gentleman, of Zeal Monachorum, aged twenty-one,[11] and said to have been six feet and a half in height, who died Sept. 5, 1635, a bird with a white breast having appeared hovering over him two days before; Thomazine, wife of James Oxenham, the younger, who died Sept. 7, 1635, aged twenty-two; Rebecca Oxenham, who died Sept. 9, aged eight years; and Thomazine, a child in the cradle, who died Sept. 15. It is added that the same bird had appeared to Grace, the grandmother of John Oxenham, who died 1618. It is stated also that the clergyman of the parish had been appointed by the Bishop (Hall) to enquire into the truth of these particulars, and that a monument, made by Edward Marshall, of Fleet Street, had been put up with his approbation, with the names of the witnesses of each apparition.

A True Relation of an Apparition


“Another proof that Howell’s letter must have been written from memory is, that most of the Christian names are erroneous. The pamphlet adds, that those of the family who had been sick and recovered never saw the apparition.” The pamphlet to which the brothers Lysons refer is entitled: “A True Relation of an Apparition in the likeness of a Bird with a white brest that appeared hovering over the Death-Beds of some of the children of Mr. James Oxenham, of Sale Monachorum, Devon, Gent. Confirmed by sundry witnesses as followeth in the ensuing Treatise. London, printed by I. O. for Richard Clutterbuck, and are to[Pg 250] be sold at the signe of the Gun, in Little Britain, neere St. Botolph’s Church, 1641.”

Now in the first place it is well to observe that the name of the place is wrong. The Oxenhams did not live at Zeal Monachorum, but at South Zeal in South Tawton. No Oxenham entries are to be found in the registers of Zeal Monachorum, no monuments of the family are in the church. The brothers Lysons examined the registers there, and certified to this. The Devon volume of the Magna Britannia was published in 1822. Since that date a portion of the page in the Burial Register, containing the entries of burials in 1635, has been cut out by some person who has by this means destroyed the evidence that no such Oxenhams were buried at Zeal Monachorum. Now the pamphlet states that John, son of James Oxenham, aged twenty-two, died on 5 September, 1635. The register of South Tawton informs us that John Oxenham was buried on 20 May, 1635, i.e. four months, two weeks, and two days before he died, according to the tract. He was born in 1613 and baptized 17 October in that year. His father, James Oxenham, was married to Elizabeth Hellier in 1608. In 1614, a John Oxenham and his wife Mary had a son John as well. Others reported to have had the white-breasted bird appear on their deaths in the same year, were Thomasine, wife of James Oxenham the younger, Thomasine, their babe, and Rebecca Oxenham, aged eight years.

There is no entry in the register of the baptism of either Thomasine or Rebecca, nor of the burial of Thomasine the elder, Thomasine the babe, or of Rebecca.

The second John Oxenham, son of John and Mary, was buried 31 July, 1636, at least we presume it[Pg 251] was he; the registers do not state in either case whose son each of the Johns was.

There is no trace of the younger James to be found in the register, nor of any of the Oxenhams in North Tawton registers at or about the time of the supposed apparition.

The witnesses to the vision were, in the case of John Oxenham, Robert Woodley and Humphry King. Robert Woodley does occur in the register under date 1664. Mary Stephens was witness to the visions when Rebecca and Thomasine the babe died, and Mary Stephens does occur in the register under the date 1667, but none of the other witnesses, Humphry King, Elizabeth Frost, Joan Tooker, and Elizabeth Averie, widow. Consequently there is negative evidence that Thomasine, elder and younger, and Rebecca never existed save in the imagination of the author of the catch-penny tract.

We come now to James Howell’s account, in his Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ; or Familiar Letters. The first edition of the first series of these letters was published in the year 1645, four years after the tract had appeared. About the year 1642 he had been committed to the Fleet, and there confined for eight years. He states in his Letter IX, in Sect. 6, in a letter to Mr. E. D.:—

SIR,—I thank you a thousand times for the Noble entertainment you gave me at Berry, and the pains you took in shewing me the Antiquities of that place. In requitall, I can tell you of a strange thing I saw lately here, and I beleeve ’tis true: As I pass’d by Saint Dunstans in Fleet street the last Saturday, I stepp’d into a Lapidary or Stone-cutters Shop, to treat with the Master for a Stone to be put upon my Father’s Tomb; And casting [Pg 252]my eies up and down, I might spie a huge Marble with a large inscription upon ’t, which was thus to my best remembrance:—

Here lies John Oxenham, a goodly young man, in whose Chamber, as he was strugling with the pangs of death, a Bird with White-brest was seen fluttering about his Bed, and so vanish’d.

Here lies also Mary Oxenham, the sister of the said John, who died the next day, and the same Apparition was seen in the Room.

“Then another sister is spoke of. Then, Here lies hard by James Oxenham, the son of the said John, who died a child in his cradle a little after, and such a Bird was seen fluttering about his head a little before he expir’d, which vanish’d afterwards.

“At the bottom of the Stone ther is—

Here lies Elizabeth Oxenham, the Mother of the said John, who died 16 yeers since, when such a Bird, with a White-Brest, was seen about her Bed before her death.

“To all these ther be divers Witnesses, both Squires and Ladies, whose names are engraven upon the Stone: This Stone is to be sent to a Town hard by Excester, wher this happend.”

It will be noticed that Howell has got all the Christian names wrong, but then, as he states, he gave the inscription from memory. If the date of the letter be correct, 1632, that, as Lysons pointed out, was before the deaths that took place in 1635. But in the first edition of the letters this particular one is undated, and little or no reliance can be placed on the dates that are given; indeed, the bulk of the letters, if not all, were written by Howell when in prison and never had been sent to the persons to whom addressed, any more than at the dates when supposed to be written. Probably in his second edition he dated this[Pg 253] letter to E. D. sufficiently early to account for his walking abroad in Fleet Street “last Saturday,” caring only that it should not appear as a composition written in prison.

That he ever saw the marble monument is improbable, as it is almost certain that no such monument existed. He had read the tract, and pretended to have seen the stone so as to furnish a theme for an interesting letter. It is extremely unlikely that the names of witnesses to the apparition should be inscribed on the stone. Howell saw these names in the tract; he did not know who they were, but supposed them to be squires and ladies. There were no such gentry about South Tawton at the period. As to the statement made in the tract that the Bishop had commissioned the vicar of the parish to examine into the case, and that he and the parson bore testimony to its genuine character, that is as worthless as the witnessing to the ballad concerning the “Fish that appeared upon the Coast, on Wednesday the four score of April, forty thousand fathom above water.... It was thought she was a woman turned into a cold fish. The ballad is very pitiful, and as true.... Five justices’ hands at it; and witnesses more than my pack will hold.”

It was a common trick of ballad-mongers and pamphleteers to add a string of names of witnesses—all fictitious, every one.

The monument is probably as fictitious as the names of the witnesses. There is not, and there never was, such in South Tawton Church any more than in that of Zeal Monachorum. Lysons gives the Oxenham monuments as he found them there: William Oxenham, gent., 1699; William Oxenham, Esq., 1743; George Oxenham, Esq., 1779. “It is proper to add,” says Lysons, “that there is no trace of the Oxenham family,[Pg 254] nor of the monument before mentioned, either in the register, church, or churchyard of Zeal Monachorum, nor have I been able to learn that it exists at Tawton, or elsewhere in the county.”

I was at South Tawton in 1854, staying with Mr. T. Burkett, the then vicar, and I drew some of the monuments in the church, and am certain this particular stone was neither in the church nor outside.

So also Polwhele, in his History of Devonshire, 1793, says: “The prodigy of the white bird ... seems to be little known at present to the common people at South Tawton; nor can I find anywhere a trace of the marble stone which Mr. Howell saw in the lapidary’s shop in London.”

In Sir William Pole’s Collections, published in 1791, there stood originally: “Oxenham, the land of Wm. Oxenham [the father of John, the grandfather of Will, father of another John, grandfather of James; whose tombstone respects a strange wonder of this famyly, that at theire deaths were still seen a bird with a white brest, which fluttering for a while about theire beds suddenly vanisht away, which divers of ye same place belive being eyewitnesses of]”.

Sir William Pole died in 1635, and he said not one word about the bird of the Oxenhams; that which has been placed within brackets was an addition made by his son, Sir John, who had probably read the pamphlet or Howell’s Letters. Risdon, who lived not far from South Tawton, knew nothing about the bird. In fact, the whole legend grew out of the story in the tract.

That this story is not wholly baseless may be allowed in the one case of John Oxenham. As he was dying the window very probably was opened, and a ring ouzel, attracted by the light, may have entered, fluttered about, and then flown out again. That the win[Pg 255]dow was open I said was probable, for it is an idea widely spread in England that when a person is near death the casement should be thrown open so as to allow the soul to escape. I said once to a nurse who had attended a dying man: “Why did you open the window?” “You wouldn’t have had his soul go up the chimney, sir?” was the answer.

The appearance—accidental—of a bird in the death chamber would, in a superstitious age, be regarded as supernatural. I was attending the wife of an old coachman who had been with my father and myself. She was bed-ridden. One day she said to me: “I know I shall go soon, for a great bird came fluttering at the window.” She did not, however, die till two months later.

The story of John Oxenham and the bird got about, and then some one remarked that a similar sort of thing had happened, so it was said, when the young man’s grandmother died. That sufficed to set the ball rolling. For the purpose of the pamphleteer, three additional cases were invented, cases of Oxenhams who never existed, and the account of the stone was added, so as to give the tale greater appearance of verisimilitude.

Kingsley introduces the white bird as an omen of the navigator Oxenham. He was justified as a novelist in predating the tradition which did not exist in his time, and was hatched out of the tract of 1641.

I have said white bird—for as the story went on the white-breasted bird became white, hoary with attendance on generations of Oxenhams. It may be interesting, at all events it is amusing, to note, how out of this pious hoax serious convictions have grown that the bird really has been seen, and that repeatedly.

Messrs. Lysons say: “This tradition of the bird had so worked upon the minds of some of the members of[Pg 256] the family, that it is supposed to have been seen by William Oxenham, who died in 1743.” Then they go on to relate this particular instance, which is given on the authority of a note in the manuscript collections of William Chapple. Mr. Chapple “had the relation from Dr. Bent, who was brother-in-law to Mr. Oxenham, and had attended him as a physician. The story told is, that when the bird came into his chambers he observed upon the tradition as connected with his family, but added, he was not sick enough to die, and that he should cheat the bird; and that this was a day or two before his death, which took place after a short illness.”

The story is told more fully in a letter printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine of April, 1862, from J. Short, Middle Temple, to George Nares, jun., of Albury.

“I have received an answer from the country in relation to the strange bird which appeared to Mr. Oxenham just before his death, and the account which Dr. Bertie gave to Lord Abingdon of it is certainly true. It first was seen outside the window, and soon afterwards by Mrs. Oxenham in the room, which she mentioned to Mr. Oxenham, and asked him if he knew what the bird was. ‘Yes,’ says he, ‘it has been upon my face and head, and is recorded in history as always appearing to our family before their deaths; but I shall cheat the bird.’ Nothing more was said about it, nor was the bird taken notice of from that time; but he died soon afterwards. However odd this affair may seem, it is certainly true, for the account was given of it by Mrs. Oxenham herself, but she never mentions it to any one, unless particularly asked about it, and as it was seen by several persons at the same time, I can’t attribute it to imagination, but must leave it as a phenomenon unaccounted for.”

[Pg 257]

In both these accounts we have the story at second hand. The Hon. Charles Barker, LL.D., was rector of Kenn at the time, and during his tenure of the rectory, Mrs. Oxenham erected a monument in the church to her father and mother. But who was the J. Short, Middle Temple, who wrote the above letter to George Nares, jun., Albury? And what is more to the point, how came it to be dated December 24th, 1741, when Mr. William Oxenham, whose death it records, died on 10 December, 1743? Discrepancies and anachronisms meet us at every point in the story of the Oxenham omen.

In the Gentleman’s Magazine of the year 1794, the following paragraph occurs recording the death of one of the Oxenhams: “13th (January) at Exeter, aged 80, Mrs. Elizabeth Weston ... the youngest daughter of William Oxenham, Esq., of Oxenham. The last appearance of the bird, mentioned by Howell and Prince, is said to have been to Mrs. E. Weston’s eldest brother on his death-bed.” Who said it? What was the authority?

In Mogridge’s Descriptive Sketch of Sidmouth, is given a letter relative to the death of a Mr. Oxenham at Sidmouth:—


“I give you, as well as I can recollect, the story related to me by a much respected baronet of this county. He told me that, having read in Howell’s Anecdotes of the singular appearance of a white bird flying across, or hovering about the lifeless body of divers members of the Devonshire Oxenham family, immediately after dissolution, and also having heard the tradition in other quarters, wishing rather for an opportunity of refuting the superstitious assertion than from an idea of meeting with anything like a [Pg 258] confirmation; having occasion to come to Sidmouth shortly after the death of his friend Mr. Oxenham, who resided in an old mansion, not now standing, he questioned the old gardener, who had the care of the house, as to who attended his master when he died, as Mr. O. had gone there alone, meaning only to remain for a day or two. ‘I and my wife, sir,’ was the reply. ‘Were you in the room when he expired?’ ‘Yes, both of us.’ ‘Did anything in particular take place at that time?’ ‘No, sir, nothing.’ But then, after a moment’s pause, ‘There was indeed something which I and my wife could almost swear we saw, which was a white bird fly in at the door, dart across the bed, and go into one of the drawers; and as it appeared in the same way to both of us, we opened all the drawers to find it, but where it went to we could never discover.’ If I recollect rightly, the man on being questioned had not heard of the tradition respecting such appearances.”

Unfortunately Mr. Mogridge does not name the writer of this letter. But it matters little—the story comes third hand. The “much-respected baronet” had a bad memory. He thought Howell called the apparition a “white bird,” and that he related that it crossed the bed after the body was dead. Accordingly the gardener sees things after the erroneous fashion of the story remembered so badly by the “much-respected baronet.” Who this Mr. Oxenham was, when he died, and where he is buried is unknown.

In Glimpses of the Supernatural, published in 1875, is a communication of the Rev. Henry Nutcombe Oxenham, and a still more detailed account from his pen is in Mr. Cotton’s article on “The Oxenham Omen” in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association for 1882.

“Shortly before the death of my late uncle, G. N. Oxenham, Esq., of 17 Earl’s Terrace, Kensington, who[Pg 259] was then head of the family, this occurred: His only surviving daughter, now Mrs. Thomas Peter, but then unmarried, and living at home, and a friend of my aunt’s, Miss Roberts, who happened to be staying in the house, but was no relation, and had never heard of the family tradition, were sitting in the dining-room, immediately under his bedroom, about a week before his death, which took place on the 15th December, 1873, when their attention was roused by a shouting outside the window. On looking out they discerned a white bird—which might have been a pigeon, but if so was an unusually large one—perched on the thorn-tree outside the windows, and it remained there for several minutes, in spite of some workmen on the opposite side of the road throwing their hats at it in a vain attempt to drive it away. Miss Roberts mentioned this to my aunt at the time, though not of course attaching any special significance to it, and my aunt, since deceased, repeated it to me soon after my uncle’s death. Neither did my cousin, though aware of the family tradition, think of it at the time. Miss Roberts we have lost sight of for some years, and do not even know if she is still living; but Mrs. Thomas Peter confirms in every particular the accuracy of the statement. Of the fact, therefore, there can be no reasonable doubt, whatever interpretation may be put upon it. My cousin also mentioned another circumstance which either I did not hear of or had forgotten: viz. that my late aunt spoke, at the time, of frequently hearing a sound like a fluttering of a bird’s wings in my uncle’s bedroom, and said that the nurse testified to hearing it also.”

Here we have a development of the story. The bird is white, not white-breasted, and it appears before the death of the head of the family, whereas in the original story it appeared before the decease of any member of[Pg 260] the Oxenham family. This looks like a shrinkage of the story. So many had died without the apparition, that it was reduced in significance to the appearance before the death of the head of the family.

Mr. Cotton says: “On my pointing out to Mr. Oxenham that at least the earlier notices of his family tradition did not seem to warrant his supposition that the apparition was limited to the head of the family, he informed me that, so far as he was aware, it had always been the oral tradition in the family that the bird was bound to appear before the death of the head of the family, and that it might or might not appear at other deaths, but certainly not that it always did so. Mr. Oxenham, who was himself a boy at the time, does not remember hearing of any appearance of the omen to his great uncle, Richard Oxenham, the head of the family in the previous generation, who died August 24th, 1844, at Penzance. He was a bachelor, and lived alone, and only his sister, Mrs. Oddy, who herself died in 1861, was with him at the time of his death. It certainly was not seen at the death of the Rev. W. Oxenham, Vicar of Cornwood and Prebendary of Exeter, younger brother of the above, six months earlier, Feb. 28th, 1844, nor at the death of either of the younger brothers of the late head of the family, G. N. Oxenham, Esq., before mentioned. On the other hand, it is stated by a relative of the family now living, that when Mrs. Oddy died, her daughter, now dead, spoke of birds flapping and hopping at the bedroom window the night before.”

My mother was most intimate with Miss Anne Oxenham, who lived in the Close, Exeter, one whom I remember and loved. My mother informed me that the bird was seen when Miss Anne Oxenham’s sister died. But on what authority she received this I am unable to say.

[Pg 261]

Finally, in September, 1891, on the death of a female descendant of the Oxenhams, the Rev. C. S. Homan states that, while at Oxenham Manor (Oxenham, by the way, never was a manor), he was one day up very early by daylight, and as he went out of the front door, he just caught sight of what in the early light looked like a very large white bird. His father said, “Perhaps it is the Oxenham white bird; if so, there ought to be a death in the family.” Within a few days they noticed in the newspaper the death of a connexion of the family, and were struck by the coincidence.[12]

In these last cases, it will be seen that the bird has grown plump and big. It was first white-breasted, then white, and finally a big white bird. So fables grow. One wonders where the bird nests, how many little white-breasted ones it has had, what has become of them! For that it is the old hoary humbug there can be little doubt becoming blanched with age, and stout, “going in for its fattenings,” as the Yorkshire folk say.


If Devonshire has turned out a number, and a very considerable number, of gallant and honourable gentlemen, she has also given birth to some great scoundrels, and one of these was Thomas Stucley or Stukeley.

His life was worked out with great pains and elaboration by the late Richard Simpson in his School of Shakespeare, London, 1878. Indeed, it occupies one hundred and thirty-nine pages in the first volume of that work. To give the biography at all fully here is not possible, space is not at one’s disposal for all details; it is also unnecessary, since that exhaustive account by Simpson is accessible to every one. The utmost we can do is to give a summary of the chief events of his chequered career. Captain Thomas Stucley was the third son of Sir Hugh Stucley, of Affeton in the parish of West Worlington, near Chumleigh. Hugh Stucley, the father of our Thomas, was Sheriff of Devon in 1544; his wife was Jane, daughter of Sir Lewis Pollard. Sir Hugh died in 1560.

The eldest son, Lewis Stucley, was aged thirty at the death of his father. He became standard-bearer to Queen Elizabeth.

It was rumoured during the life of Thomas that he was an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, like Sir John Perrot. “Stucley’s birth,” says Mr. Simpson, “must have occurred at the time when the King, tired of his[Pg 263] wife Catherine, was as yet ranging among favourites who were contented with something less than a crown as the price of their kindness. Elizabeth Tailbois had been succeeded by Mary Boleyn; and as Mary Boleyn was married to William Carey at Court, and in the presence of the King, 31 January, 1521, it is clear that some one else had already succeeded to her place.”

Whether Thomas ever claimed to be of royal blood we do not know. If so, Lady Stucley, like Lady Falconbridge, might have cried out:—

Where is that slave—where is he,
That holds in chase mine honour up and down?

But he was certainly treated at foreign courts as one of birth superior to that of a younger son of a Devonshire knight; and the tradition obtains some support from the familiar way in which he was received by both queens, Mary and Elizabeth, and the peculiar terms of intimacy which he assumed towards royal personages; moreover the Duke of Northumberland treated him with the same jealousy with which he might have treated Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, had he been still alive. In the play Vernon says:—

Doubtless, if ever man was misbegot,
It is this Stucley.

As a retainer of the Duke of Suffolk, into whose household he had entered, and whose livery he wore, he was present at the siege of Boulogne, 1545–50; and he acted as standard-bearer, with the wage of six shillings and eightpence a day, from 1547 until its surrender to the French in March, 1549–50. Then he returned to England, and attached himself closely to the Protector Somerset.

As one of the Protector’s retainers, he was probably involved in his plot to revolutionize the government. The gendarmerie upon the muster day were to be[Pg 264] attacked by two thousand men under Sir Ralph Vane, and by a hundred horse of the Duke of Somerset’s, besides his friends, who were to stand by, and the idle people who, it was calculated, would take part. After this was done, the Protector intended to run through the city and proclaim, “Liberty! Liberty!” But the plot was discovered in time, and Somerset and his chief accomplices were committed to the Tower, 17 October, 1551. The Council gave orders for Stucley’s apprehension, but he escaped in time, and took refuge in France, where he devoted his sword to the service of Henry II, who entitled him “mon cher et bon ami.”

He must have fought in the campaign of Henry against the Emperor Charles V in 1552, when Metz was taken by fraud. He was certainly received as a disaffected subject, and was admitted to the French counsels. In 1552 he returned to England with a story which he hoped would purchase his pardon. This was to the effect that Henry II meditated a sudden attack upon Calais.

According to his account the French King himself had spoken to him of the weak points in the defences, had pointed out the very plan of assault by which, six years later, Calais was actually taken. Moreover, according to his scheme, the Scots were to enter Northumberland; Henry II would land troops at Falmouth, and the Duke of Guise would land at Dartmouth, which he knew to be undefended. Cecil suggested that Stucley should be sent back to France to acquire further information; but the Duke of Northumberland sent Stucley’s report to the French King, and committed Stucley to the Tower. Henry denied the truth of what had been reported. The payment of his debts, which had been promised to Stucley as a reward for his revelations, was now refused, and he remained[Pg 265] in prison to the end of Edward’s reign. He was released on 6 August, 1553, but his debts compelled him again to leave England. Unable to return to France, he betook himself to the Emperor, and he was at Brussels in the winter of 1553–4, and served with the Imperial army at St. Omer. Philibert, Duke of Savoy, invited Stucley to accompany him to England in October of 1554, and Stucley accordingly appealed to Queen Mary for security against arrest whilst in her dominions, and this was granted to him for six months, and at the end of December he accompanied the Duke to England.

During his visit he attempted, Othello-like, to bewitch Anne, the grand-daughter and sole heiress of Sir Thomas Curtis, a wealthy alderman of London, with his tales of adventure. Against her father’s wishes the lady was beguiled into a secret marriage, and he retired with her to North Devon. On 13 May, 1555, the sheriffs of Devon and Cheshire were ordered to arrest him on a charge of coining false money. His house was searched, his servants questioned. There was much that was suspicious, but nothing certainly to convict. But Thomas Stucley had taken himself off before the sheriff arrived, and again took service under the Duke of Savoy, and shared in the victory of the Imperialists over the French at St. Quintin, 10 December, 1557.

Then he went into the Spanish service, but in November old Sir Thomas Curtis died, brokenhearted, it was asserted, at the match his favourite grandchild had contracted with one so disreputable and unprincipled.

Stucley at once returned to England, and a correspondent of Challoner, the Ambassador in Spain, writes of him in November, 1559: “The Alderman[Pg 266] Curtes is dead, and by this time is busy Stucley in the midst of his coffers.” Speedily the accumulations of the merchant’s industrious life were squandered in extravagance. We next hear of him in April, 1561, when he was appointed to a captaincy in Berwick. There he entertained Shan O’Neil, a famous, turbulent chief from Ireland, who late in this year visited Elizabeth’s Court, where his train of kerns and gallowglasses, clothed in linen kilts dyed with saffron, made a great impression.

While at Court, Shan wrote to Elizabeth: “Many of the nobles, magnates, and gentlemen treated me kindly and ingenuously, and, namely, Master Thomas Stucley entertained me with all his heart, and with all the favour he could.” The friendship was destined to bear fruit later.

In a few years but little of the alderman’s savings remained, and with the wreck that was left, Stucley fitted out a small squadron, and obtained permission from Elizabeth to colonize Florida; and the Queen contributed “2000 weight of corn-powder, and 100 curriers; and besides artillery to the value of £120 towards the furniture of his journey.” This was her investment in the venture, though she did not furnish the powder out of her own stores, but made one Bromefield go into debt for it with a Dutchman.

Fuller says that, “having prodigally misspent his Patrimony, he entered on several projects (the issue-general of all decaied estates), and first pitched on the peopling of Florida, then newly found in the West Indies. So confident his ambition, that he blushed not to tell Queen Elizabeth ‘that he preferred rather to be sovereign of a Mole-hill than the highest Subject to the greatest King in Christendom’; adding, moreover, ‘that he was assured he should be a Prince before his[Pg 267] death.’ ‘I hope,’ said Queen Elizabeth, ‘I shall hear from you, when you are seated in your Principality.’ ‘I will write to you,’ quoth Stucley. ‘In what languidge?’ said the Queen. He returned, ‘In the style of Princes, To our dear Sister.’”

He took leave of the Queen on 25 June, 1563. Cecil wrote in her name to the Earl of Sussex, Lord Deputy of Ireland: “Our servant Thomas Stucley, associated with sundry of our subjects, hath prepared a number of good ships well armed and manned to pass to discover certain lands to the West towards Florida, and by our licence hath taken the same voyage.” But in the event of stormy winds or accidents he was to be well received, should he put into a port in Ireland.

So he sailed, but Stucley had no real intention of going to Florida: his squadron lived by piracy on the high seas for two years. He made his head-quarters at Kinsale, where he resumed acquaintance with Shan O’Neil, chief of Tyrone, who aspired to be king of Ulster, and was repeatedly in arms against the English. Shan had offered Ireland as a fief to Philip II of Spain. And now Stucley from Kinsale swept the seas, and made prizes of Spanish galleons, and of French and Portuguese merchantmen. Complaints were made by the foreign courts, and the English Ambassador at Madrid confessed that “he hung his head for shame.” Stucley filled his cellars with sherry from Cadiz, and amused Shan O’Neil with his boastful speech, his flattery, and his utterance of what he would do for him; and Shan had the impertinence to write to Elizabeth in favour of “his so dearly loved friend, and her Majesty’s worthy subject.”

In June, 1563, Stucley took a Zealand ship with £3000 worth of linen and tapestry, and then, joining a small fleet of West-countrymen, fourteen sail in all, he lay off[Pg 268] Ushant, watching for the wine fleet from Bordeaux professedly, but picking up gratefully whatever the gods might send. No less a person than the Mayor of Dover himself was the owner of one of these sea-hawks. Wretched Spaniards flying from their talons were dashed to pieces upon the granite cliffs of Finisterre.

At length the remonstrances of foreign ambassadors took effect, and Elizabeth disowned Stucley, and took measures for his apprehension. Some ships were sent out with this object, and he was caught in Cork harbour, in 1565, put under arrest, and sent to London, where he was consigned to the Tower.

Stucley was all the while playing a double game. While professing loyalty to the Queen he was in correspondence with Philip of Spain. Shan O’Neil proposed to Elizabeth that she should divide all Ireland between himself and Stucley, when they would make of it a paradise. Stucley had purchased a good deal of land in Cork, and he hoped to have more granted him and to share with St. Leger and Carew in the partition of Munster. He had a plausible tongue, put on an air of great frankness, and soon obtained his release, and was actually sent back to Ireland with a letter of recommendation from Cecil. There he bought of Sir Nicholas Bagnal for £300 down his office of Marshal of Ireland and all Bagnal’s estate in the island. Elizabeth, however, refused to sanction the transaction; she mistrusted him, and with reason, for he was engaged in constant treasonable correspondence with the Spanish Ambassador, and he was in receipt of a pension from Philip. She heard reports of murders, robberies, and other outrages committed by him, and ordered him back to England. He obeyed, cleared himself, and in 1567 was allowed to return to Ireland, where he purchased of Sir Nicholas[Pg 269] Heron the offices of seneschal and constable of Wexford and captainship of the Kavanaghs, together with many estates. Again Elizabeth interfered, and Stucley was turned out of his offices. Nicholas White, Heron’s successor, now accused Stucley of felony and high treason, and in June, 1569, he was imprisoned in Dublin Castle. It was high time; he had in that same month proposed to Philip the invasion of Ireland, and had demanded twenty fully armed ships for the purpose. As sufficient evidence to convict him was not forthcoming, he was discharged, but felt that he could no longer rely on Elizabeth’s forbearance. With treachery in his heart he pretended to Sidney, the Queen’s deputy in Ireland, that after such misinterpretation of his acts and doubts of his fidelity, he desired to go in person to his royal mistress and clear his reputation with her; and Sidney, instead of sending him over under a guard, was contented with his parole—Stucley’s parole!

Stucley informed him that for his defence he needed a certain number of Irish gentlemen to serve as witnesses to his conduct. The deputy permitted him to purchase and fit out a ship at Waterford to transport them and himself. He took with him some Irish cavaliers, along with their servants and horses, and a miscellaneous crew of adventurers. They embarked as for London, but when clear of the harbour made for the ocean. A few days after they sailed for Galicia, and sent messengers to Philip to announce their arrival.

The Archbishop of Cashel, then at Madrid, not knowing much of Stucley, recommended Philip to receive the party. The King accordingly sent for him to Court, knighted him, loaded him with presents, granted him five hundred reales a day and a residence at Las Rozas, nine miles from Madrid, where he lived[Pg 270] in great state, with thirty gentlemen about him. He made great brag of the vast estates of which the Queen had deprived him—Wexford, Kinsale, the Kavanagh country, Carlow, and the whole kingdom of Leinster, and an income of £2200 per diem—and was believed. He assumed the title of Duke of Ireland, but Philip only allowed him to be received as Duke of Leinster. He represented himself as of vast influence in Ireland, and Philip was completely taken in by his boasting. But the Archbishop of Cashel soon received tidings of his real position in the island. He had robbed churches, despoiled abbeys, was detested by the native Irish whom he had cruelly maltreated, and was of no influence at all. Thenceforth two parties were formed in the Spanish Court, one denouncing Stucley as an adventurer and so unprincipled that if he thought it would suit his purpose would betray everything to Elizabeth. The other party believed in his professions and encouraged the King to trust him; and his assumption, his audacious and enormous lies, his perfect self-assurance bore down all opposition, and under Stucley’s auspices the Spanish Government began serious preparations for the invasion and conquest of Ireland. Ships were collected at Vigo with arms and stores. Ten thousand men were to be raised, and Julian Romero was to be recalled from Flanders to command.

Meanwhile he amused the Spaniards with scandalous stories about Elizabeth and her Court, and his fool’s boast of what he was about to achieve.

“Master Stukely said to the King’s Council that the Queen’s Majesty will beat Secretary Cecil about the ears when he discontenteth her, and he will weep like a child. The Spaniards asking him why the Queen’s Highness did not marry, he said she would[Pg 271] never marry, for she cannot abide a woman with child, for she saith those women be worse than a sow. He also said, ‘What hurt I can do her I will do it and will make her vilely afraid.’”[13]

“The Duke’s Grace Stukely had received the Sacrament, and promised to render unto the King of Spain not only entrance within his duchy, but also possession of the whole realm of Ireland. The soldiers were amassing from all parts of Spain—Spaniards, Burgundians, Italians, the most part Bezonians, beggarly, ill-armed rascals, but their captains old beaten men-of-war. The King was sparing no cost on the enterprise, and no honours to Stukely, hoping by such means to enlarge his empire.”[14]

Nothing, however, came of this at the time, and the party that perceived Stucley to be a charlatan grew stronger, his boasting palled, and the King at last became suspicious and withdrew his favour. Perceiving himself to be regarded on all sides with mistrust, not to say with contempt, in a huff he left Spain, went to Italy, and offered his service to the Pope. In 1571 he was given command of three galleys, and partook in Don John’s victory over the Turks at Lepanto; and thus raised himself considerably in King Philip’s estimation. Then he went back to Rome, where “it is incredible how quickly he wrought himself into the favour, through the Court into the Chamber, yea Closet, yea Bosom of Pope Pius V; so that some wise men thought his Holiness did forfeit a parcel of his Infallibility in giving credit to such a Glorioso, vaunting that with three thousand Soldiers, he would beat all the English out of Ireland.”

[Pg 272]

The Pope created Stucley Baron of Ross, Viscount Murrough, Earl of Wexford, and Marquess of Leinster, and furnished him with a few vessels and eight hundred soldiers, but these were to receive their pay from the King of Spain.

Some contention arose as to the division of spoil when Elizabeth was overthrown and England and Ireland were at the feet of Gregory XIII and Philip of Spain. The Pope gave Stucley a consecrated banner to plant in Ireland, which was to become wholly his own, and to which he was to appoint the Pope’s bastard son, Giacomo Buoncompagni, as king.

Stucley left Civita Vecchia in March, 1577–8, but soon found that the vessels were unseaworthy, and the military the offscouring of Italy. Stucley put into Lisbon for repairs, and found King Sebastian of Portugal preparing for his attempt on North Africa, having with him two Moorish kings. The King persuaded Stucley to accompany him. Landing in Africa, Stucley gave wise counsel to Sebastian not to engage the enemy till the soldiers had recovered from the voyage, they having suffered severely in the stormy passage. But the young King would listen to no advice, and in the battle of Alcazar, on 4 August, 1578, Stucley lost his life, regretted probably by none.

A fatal fight, where in one day was slain
Three king’s that were, and one that would be fain.

Thus perished a man of whom Cecil had written some years before, “Thomas Stucley, a defamed person almost through all Christendom, and a faithless beast rather than a man, fleeing first out of England for notable piracies, and out of Ireland for treacheries unpardonable.”

Lord Burghley wrote: “Of this man might be written whole volumes to paint out the life of a man in[Pg 273] the highest degree of vain-glory, prodigality, falsehood, and vile and filthy conversation of life, and altogether without faith, conscience, or religion.”

Stucley at once became the hero of ballads, chapbooks, and plays. The Famous History of the Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley was printed in 1605, and Peele’s Battle of Alcazar in 1594, but both plays had been acted before these dates. In the Life and Death Stucley is glorified, as an idol of the military or Essex party to which Shakespeare is known to have belonged, and it has been thought that his hand can be traced in the composition. But if so, he has left in it but little trace of his genius.

In one of the ballads published about Stucley, he is thus spoken of:—

Taverns and ordinaries—were his chiefest braveries,
Golden angels there flew up and down;
Riots were his best delights—with stately feasting day and night,
In court and city thus he won renown.


At the assizes held at the castle of Exeter 14 August, 1682, three poor old women from Bideford—Temperance Lloyd, aged eighty years, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards—were tried for witchcraft, were found guilty, and were executed on 25 August ensuing.

They had all previously been examined before Thomas Gist, Mayor of Bideford, and John Davie, Alderman, and also by the Rector. Before these worthies they had made full confession of their misdeeds, but to what an extent they had been drawn on by leading questions appears from the procès verbal of these examinations.

The worst of the three women was Temperance Lloyd, “intemperate Temperance” as she is called in one account.

According to the information of Dorcas Coleman, she had suffered from prickings in her body. She had consulted a physician, Dr. Beare, and he had told her that he could do nothing for her, as she was bewitched. When Susanna Edwards entered the room of Dorcas, the deponent was sitting in her chair speechless, but on seeing Susanna she slid out of her seat and tried to scramble towards her so as with her nails to draw blood, for by that means alone can a spell be broken that has been cast by a witch.

Grace Thomas also complained of pricking pains[Pg 275] caused by Temperance Lloyd, “just as though pins and awls had been thrust into her body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet.” Temperance was brought to confess that she had met the devil, as a little blackamoor, in a lane, and that she had gone with him invisibly to the bedroom of Grace Thomas, who lodged in the house of Thomas Eastchurch, and that she “did then and there pinch with the nails of her fingers the said Grace, in her shoulders, thighs, and legs.” She further admitted that the black man had sucked her teats, and that he was about the length of her arm. She was subjected to examination by some matrons, who professed that they found suspicious marks upon her body. Before the rector of Bideford she confessed that, having assumed the form of a cat, she fetched out of Thomas Eastchurch’s shop a puppet, commonly called a child’s baby, and left it near Grace’s bed, but she would in no way admit that she had run pins into this figure. It appears that Grace Thomas had been pricked in nine places about the knee, as though pricked by a thorn, and according to the evidence of Elizabeth Eastchurch, Temperance had confessed that she had taken a piece of leather and driven a pin into it nine times, purposing thereby to cause injury to the skin of Grace. She allowed that she had been accused of assuming the form of a red pig, but would not admit that the accusation was true. According to the evidence, the devil had appeared to her at various times, sometimes in the form of a magpie, sometimes in that of a grey or braget cat.

Susanna Edwards confessed that she first encountered the devil, dressed very respectably and gravely in a black suit, in the Parsonage Close, and that afterward, shrinking in size to a small boy, he had sucked blood from her breast. She had pricked and pinched Grace[Pg 276] Barnes; and she stated that whilst her body lay motionless in bed, she could go to any place she liked invisibly.

Mary Trembles confessed that the devil came to her “in the shape of a Lyon” and sucked her so hard, that she was obliged to scream for pain, and that she also could travel invisibly.

Among these witches, a certain Anne Fellow was said to have been done to death by their practices. They had also bewitched cows so that they would not yield their milk; and Temperance admitted that she had caused several shipwrecks and been instrumental to the death of several persons and many cattle. They could only say the Lord’s Prayer backwards. They had squeezed Hannah Thomas to death. At their trial at the assizes, all their confessions before the Mayor and Alderman at Bideford were accepted against them. There was no evidence produced to inculpate them beyond these confessions and the suppositions of women who had felt pains and pricks in their bodies. Nevertheless, the three poor creatures were sentenced to death. On the scaffold they were again questioned, and denied almost everything that they had previously been induced or frightened into admitting.

The authorities for this account are:—

“A True and Impartial Relation of the Informations against Three Witches, Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards ... London, 1682.”

“The Tryal, Condemnation and Execution of three Witches ... who were arraigned at Exeter, on the 18th of August, 1682 ... London, 1682.” In this the names are given inaccurately.

There is also a broadside ballad on the subject. At the top are two rude woodcuts of witches, and a[Pg 277] third of the devil dancing in the middle of a ring of witches. He holds a candle in his right hand and a broomstick in the other. Black owls are flying about; and a black cat sits hard by looking on complacently. It has been reprinted by John Ashton in his Century of Ballads, London, 1887.

It is wretched doggerel. Here are some stanzas:—

So these Malicious Women at the last,
Having done mischief, were by Justice cast;
For it appear’d they children had destroy’d,
Lamed Cattel, and the Aged much annoy’d.
Having Familiars always at their Beck,
Their Wicked Rage on Mortals for to wreck;
It being proved they used Wicked Charms,
To Murder Men, and bring about sad harms.
The Country round where they did live came in,
And all at once their sad complaints begin;
One lost a Child, the other lost a Kine,
This his brave Horse, that his hopeful Swine.
One had his Wife bewitch’d, the other his Friend,
Because in some things they the Witch offend:
For which they labour under cruel pain,
In vain seek remedy, but none can gain.


Sir Lewis Stukeley, or Stucley, who has been branded as the Judas of Devonshire, was the eldest son of John Stukeley, of Affeton, by Frances St. Leger. He had two brothers and several sisters. He was great-nephew to “Lusty” Stucley, and partook of that vein of meanness and treachery that characterized Thomas. He was married to Frances daughter of Anthony Monk, of Potheridge, a family which, if not more ancient, was free from the taint of baseness that savoured three of the Stukeleys. By her he had five sons; none were knighted, the shame of the father rested on them, and it was not till the next generation that knighthood was again granted to the representative of the Stukeleys, of Affeton.

Lewis himself was knighted, not for any worthiness that he had shown, but as the representative of a good family, when James I was on his way to London in 1603. In 1617 he was appointed guardian of Thomas Rolfe, the infant son of Pocahontas by J. Rolfe. Then he was created Vice-Admiral of Devon, and in that capacity he left London in June, 1618, with verbal orders from the King to arrest Sir Walter Raleigh, then arrived at Plymouth on his return from the Orinoco. Sir Walter had been released from his long captivity in the Tower, because he gave hopes to James of finding a gold-mine in Guiana. He had been there before, had brought away auriferous spar, and had heard tidings of[Pg 279] deposits of gold. James was in debt and in need of money, and he clutched at the chance of getting out of his difficulties through the gold of Guiana. That there was gold there is certain; Raleigh’s mine has been identified; but since he had left the Orinoco, the Spaniards had pushed up the river and annexed land and built stations.

James did not want to break with the Spanish Government and gave Raleigh instructions not to come to blows with the Spaniards. Unhappily, Raleigh’s lieutenant, whom he had dispatched up the river, did come to blows with them, and blood was shed; it was however in self-defence, for the Spaniards had fallen upon the English party when unprepared and killed some of them. This unfortunate business, and the fact that Raleigh could not reach his gold-mine, the way to it being intercepted by the Spaniards, made him turn back with a heavy heart. On reaching Plymouth, he hasted towards London to state the case to the King, when he was met at Ashburton by his cousin, Sir Lewis Stukeley, with smiles and professions of love—but having war in his heart. His rancour against his kinsman was due to a quarrel in 1584, when, as Stukeley asserted, Sir Walter did “extreme injustice” to Stukeley’s father, then a volunteer in Sir Richard Grenville’s Virginia voyage, by deceiving him in a matter of a venture he had made. James was in a great fright lest he should be plunged in war with the King of Spain, and very angry because the gold-mine had not been found; and Stukeley was promised £500 to worm out of his cousin some damning admissions, as that there never had been any gold-mine at all, and to betray these to James. Stukeley had received only verbal instructions from the King. He therefore reconducted Raleigh back to Plymouth, where he placed him in Radford, the house of Sir Christopher[Pg 280] Harris, who was charged with his custody, till Stukeley received orders from James. Raleigh was ill—or feigned to be ill—the former is the more probable, and he being laxly guarded formed a plan of escape to France. He commissioned Captain King, the only one of his officers who remained faithful to the last, to make arrangements for flight with the master of a French vessel then lying in the Sound. At nightfall, the two stole from Radford and got into a boat lying at the little quay below the house. They had not rowed far, however, before qualms came over Raleigh; it seemed to him unworthy of his past and of his honour to fly his native land; and he perhaps counted too securely on the generosity of the despicable James. He changed his mind, and ordered King to return to Radford. Next day he sent money to the Frenchman, and begged him to wait for him another night. Night came, but Raleigh did not stir. This singular irresolution in a man so energetic, ready, and firm, points surely to the fact that he was ill at the time, suffering from the ague which so often prostrated him. Stukeley at length received orders to take his prisoner to London, and the opportunity to escape was gone for ever. As Raleigh passed through Sherborne, he pointed out the lands that had once been his, and related how wrongfully they had been taken from him.

At Salisbury Raleigh complained of illness, and begged to be allowed to halt there for a while. It was asserted by a French quack, Mannourie, set as a spy over him, that he got the doctor to anoint him so as to produce sores wherever the ointment was applied. This was one of the charges afterwards brought against him, at the special insistence of King James, who always kept his eye on trifles. Whilst Raleigh was at Salisbury, Sir Lewis Stukeley robbed him of all his[Pg 281] jewels and money, leaving him only the emerald ring on his finger, engraved with the Raleigh arms. It has been asserted that Sir Walter endeavoured here to bribe his cousin to connive at his escape. Had this been the case, Stukeley would certainly have mentioned it in his “Humble Petition,” and justification of his conduct after the execution of Raleigh. He was not the man to fail to flaunt such a feather in his cap as that he had resisted a bribe, had such a bribe been offered him.

Whilst Raleigh lay ill at Salisbury, Captain King hurried up to London, by his master’s direction, to hire a vessel to wait at Gravesend till he should be able to go on board. The master of the vessel at once betrayed the matter. Sir William St. John, a captain of one of the King’s ships, immediately took horse and rode to meet Stukeley and his prisoner on their way to town, and encountered them before he reached Bagshot. Stukeley then confided to him certain charges against Raleigh which he was to lay before the King.

Next day Stukeley had fresh matter to dispatch to the Court. It was this: La Chesnée, the interpreter of the French Embassy, visited Sir Walter at Brentford. He had brought with him a message from Le Clerc, agent for the King of France, offering him a passage on board a French vessel, together with letters of introduction which would secure him an honourable reception in Paris. Raleigh thanked him for the offer, but replied that he had already provided for his escape. All this Stukeley learned by applying his ear to the keyhole or by worming the secret out of Raleigh by professions of kindness and desire to assist him to escape.

James at once took alarm. A plot with France was a serious matter at that time. He accordingly directed[Pg 282] Stukeley to continue to counterfeit friendship with Raleigh, to assist him in his meditated escape, and only to arrest him at the last moment; and to bring this attempt as one more charge against Raleigh. So Stukeley continued to insinuate himself into the confidence of his cousin, and endeavoured by all means in his power to wheedle out of him such papers as might afford evidence of his designs and might serve to help to bring him to the scaffold.

On his arrival in town, Raleigh was conducted to his own house in Broad Street. There he was revisited by Le Clerc, who repeated his former offers.

The next morning Sir Walter got into a boat attended by Stukeley, all smiles, and the honest King; and, as prearranged, he was arrested at Woolwich and at once lodged in the Tower.

On 29 October, 1618, Raleigh’s head fell under the executioner’s axe. He was a victim to Spanish resentment and to James’s meanness in offering him as a sacrifice to curry favour with Spain. Gardiner says Raleigh was executed “nominally in accordance with the sentence delivered in 1603; in reality because he had failed to secure the gold of which James was in need. The real crime was the King’s, who had sent him out without first defining the limits of Spanish sovereignty.”

The writer of the notice of Sir Lewis Stukeley in the Dictionary of National Biography takes a lenient view of Stukeley’s conduct. “Stukeley certainly gave hostile, not necessarily false evidence against Raleigh. He seems to have been a harsh, narrow-minded, and vulgar man, glad to have his cousin in his power, to revenge himself on him for the pecuniary loss his own father had entertained.” Gardiner says: “Stukeley seems to have thought it no shame to act as a spy upon[Pg 283] the man who had called upon him to betray his trust;” but it is precisely this charge that cannot be established. We have no good evidence that Raleigh did attempt to bribe him. Popular opinion ran strongly against Stukeley, and he was nicknamed Sir Judas. He tried to hold up his head at Court, but no man would condescend to speak to him. He met on all sides with glances full of contempt and gestures of disgust. He hurried to James, and offered to take the Sacrament upon the truth of a story Raleigh had denied on the scaffold—that he had been offered a commission by the French King (the story came through Mannourie); but no one would have believed Stukeley a whit the readier had he done this.

Indeed, Mannourie subsequently admitted that it was false, when he was arrested for clipping the gold, the blood money, he had received for spying on Sir Walter. In a letter from the Rev. T. Lorkin to Sir T. Puckering on 16 February, 1618–19, he says: “Manourie, the French Apothecary, (who joigned with Stukely in the accusation of Syr Walter Raleigh) is at Plimouth for clippyng of gold ... his examination was sent up hether to the King, wherein ... (as I hear from Syr Rob. Winde, cupbearer I thincke to his Majesty, who saith he read the examination) that his accusation against Raleigh was false, and that he was wonne thereto by the practise and importunity of Stukely, and now acknowledges this his present miserable condition a judgment of God upon him for that.”

When Stukeley made this offer to King James, a bystander dryly observed that if the King would order him to be beheaded, and if he would then confirm the truth of his story with an oath while on the scaffold, then possibly he might be believed.

One day Sir Judas went to call on the old Earl of[Pg 284] Nottingham, who was Lord High Admiral, and asked to be allowed to speak to him. The Earl turned on him instantly. “What,” he said, “thou base fellow! Thou who art reputed the scorn and contempt of men, how darest thou offer thyself into my presence? Were it not in my own house, I would cudgel thee with my staff for presuming to be so saucy.” Stukeley ran off to whine to the King, but even there he met with no redress. “What,” said James, “wouldst thou have me do? Wouldst thou have me hang him? On my soul, if I should hang all that speak ill of thee, all the trees in the country would not suffice.” It was even said, probably without truth, that James had said to Stukeley, “Sir Walter’s blood be on thy head.”

A few days after the scene with the King, it was discovered that Stukeley had been for many years engaged in the nefarious occupation of clipping coin. It was even said that he tampered in this way with the very gold pieces which had been paid to him as the price of his services for lodging Raleigh in the Tower and betraying him. When arrested he endeavoured to excuse himself by inculpating his son. Could meanness descend to a lower depth?

“1618–19. Jan. 12.... Upon Twelf night Stukely was committed close prisoner in the Gate house for clipping of gould. He had receyved of the Exchequer some weeks before £500 in recompense for the service he had performed in the business of Syr Walter Raleigh, and beganne (as is said) to exercise the trade upon that ill-gotten money (the price of blood). Upon examination he endeavoured to avoid it from himself, by casting the burden either upon his sonne or man. The former playes least in sight and can not be found. The servant is committed to the Marshalsay, who, understanding that his Master would shift over the business[Pg 285] to him, is willing to sett the saddle upon the right horse, and accuses his Master.”[15]

But the accusation was not pressed. King James owed Stukeley too deep a debt to let him suffer, and he threw him a pardon, so that the evidence against him was not gone into. It may be remembered that “Lusty” Stukeley had also been implicated in clipping and coining, and had only escaped arrest by flying the country.

Stukeley, an outcast from society in London, went down to Affeton. But even there he was ill-received. The gentry would not speak to him, his own retainers viewed him with a cold, if not hostile, eye, and rendered him but bare obedience.

The brand of Cain was on him, and he fled from the society of his fellow men to the isle of Lundy, and shut himself up in the lonely, haunted tower of the De Mariscoes. There he went raving mad and perished (1620), a miserable lunatic on that rock, surrounded by the roaring of the waves and the shrieks of the wind. His body was conveyed to South Molton, so that he was denied even a grave beside his ancestors at Affeton.

For authorities, see Gardiner, Prince Charles and the Spanish Marriage, Vol. I, London, 1869; Dr. Brushfield’s Raleghana, Part VII; the Dictionary of National Biography, s.n.; and the various Lives of Raleigh.


In 1810, considerable commotion was caused by the rumour that spread concerning a house in Sampford Peverell reputed to be haunted. The house belonged to a Mr. Tally, who let it to a Mr. Chave, son of a well-to-do yeoman of the neighbourhood, for a general shop and residence. The rumours reached the ears of the Rev. C. Colton, M.A., a clergyman at Tiverton, and he visited Sampford to investigate the matter, and wrote his experiences to the editor of the Taunton Courier on 18 August. The tone of the letter is frank and sincere.

“I am well aware that all who know me would not require the sanction of an oath, but as I am now addressing the public, I must consider myself before a tribunal of which my acquaintance constitutes a very small part. And first, I depose that after six nights at Mr. Chave’s house, and with a mind perfectly unprejudiced, after the most minute investigation and closest inspection of the premises, I am utterly unable to account for any of the phenomena.

“I further depose, that in my visits to Mr. Chave’s house, I never had any other motive, direct or indirect, but an earnest wish to trace these phenomena to their true and legitimate cause. Also that I have in every instance found the people of the house most willing and ready to contribute everything in their power to co-operate with me in the detection of the cause of these[Pg 287] unaccountable sights and violent blows and sounds. Also, that I have affixed a seal with a crest to every door, cavity, etc., in the house, through which any communication could be carried—that this seal was applied to each end of sundry pieces of paper in such a manner that the slightest attempt to open such doors, or pass such cavities, must have broken these papers—that none of these papers were deranged or broken; and also, that the phenomena that night were as unaccountable as ever.

“Also, that it appears that this plot, if it be a plot, hath been carried on for many months, that it must be in the hands of more than fifty people, that the present owner is losing the value of his house, the tenant the customers of his shop, whom fear now prevents from visiting it after sunset.”

To this and more, Mr. Colton took oath before B. Wood, Master in Chancery, Tiverton.

This letter was animadverted upon by the editor and by writers to the Taunton Courier, as dealing in general, and giving no details.

To this Mr. Colton (14 September) replied, giving particulars of what he had seen and heard.

The house rented by Chave had for some time been looked upon as haunted. An apprentice boy lodging in it had been frightened by the apparition of a woman. Persons passing at night had seen strange lights in the windows. Mr. Colton goes on to say:—

“Rather more than four months ago, this house became extremely troublesome. The inhabitants were alarmed in the following manner: noises and blows by day were heard extremely loud, in every apartment of the house. On going upstairs and stamping on any of the boards of the floor, in any room, say five or six times, corresponding blows, generally louder, and more[Pg 288] in number, would be instantly returned. The vibration of the boards caused by the violence of these blows would be sensibly felt through a shoe or boot. Observe, the floors underneath which these noises were heard are all of them immediately over rooms that are ceiled. An effect not to be produced by any blows on the ceiling was that the dust was thrown up from such boards as were beaten with such velocity as to affect the eyes of the spectators.

“At midday the cause of these effects would announce its approach by amazing and loud knockings in some apartment or other of the house, above stairs or below, as might happen. The moment they were heard, any person on ascending the stairs, and stamping with the feet, would be answered somewhat louder; and then, what is extremely curious, these noises would absolutely follow the persons through any of the upper apartments. The joists and beams of the flooring opposed not the slightest obstacle to its progress. Walls it would penetrate with equal facility, as was manifest by its following any person into different apartments.

“These phenomena by day continued almost incessantly for about five weeks, when they gradually gave place to others still more curious and alarming, which succeeded at night. There are two apartments in this house—one within the other. In this room there is but one door, not a single cupboard, and one very small chimney. The walls are of stone, the flooring of new deal, extremely close, and not covered by a carpet. There is one large modern window in the room. There is no visible access to this room but through another, in which they who wish to satisfy their curiosity constantly sit. The partition is thin, there is also a window in it (it is of lath and plaster). In the room where strangers[Pg 289] sit, there is also one door only; and there is a kind of landing-room at the top of the stairs opposite to this door.”

In the further room the servant-maids were sent to sleep. These were now violently beaten, during the night, producing bruises and swellings. Those who sat in the outer room could hear the blows being administered. Mr. Colton went into the inner room and stood by the bed where the maids were, and heard the blows rained on them. When he cried for a light, it was brought in, but no person could be seen by him who could have administered these blows.

The next phenomenon was this, not witnessed by Mr. Colton. He says: “Mr. Chave, of Mere, no relation at all to Mr. Chave who rents the house, can swear to the following fact. Sitting up to hear and see these phenomena, he was alarmed by one or two loud shrieks; on rushing into the room his course at the threshold of the door was arrested by the following phenomenon. Every curtain of that bed was agitated and the knots thrown and whirled about with such rapidity, all at the same time, that it would have been by no means pleasant to have been in their vortex, or within the sphere of their action.” The moon at the time was full, and was shining into the room.

“This scene, accompanied with such a violent noise of the rings as could not have been exceeded by four persons stationed one at each curtain for the purpose, continued for about two minutes, when it concluded with a noise resembling the tearing of a sheet from top to bottom. Candles were then instantly produced, and many rents, one very large one across the grain of strong new cotton curtains, were discovered.” Mr. Colton, however, on other occasions professes to have seen the curtains violently agitated and a heavy Greek[Pg 290] Testament placed on the bed flung across the room. But it is worth noticing that these things only took place when the women were in the bed, and never when the candle was in the room. The maids now pretended to be so frightened that they dared no longer sleep in their room, whereupon Mr. and Mrs. Chave allowed them to remove into their apartment. The noises followed them, an iron candlestick was flung across the room at Mr. Chave’s head. Another significant matter noted by Mr. Colton, was that the maids after one of these violent exhibitions were found bathed in perspiration, the drops rolling from their brows.

Such is a brief summary of Mr. Colton’s narrative. It called forth a pamphlet by Mr. Marriott, the editor of the Taunton Courier, that had been prompted by Mr. Tally who was much annoyed at the probable depreciation of the value of his house, and who gave notice to Mr. Chave to quit it.

Mr. Marriott was doubtless right in his conjecture that there was a plot among the servants, and that it was they who produced the phenomena. He conjectured that the raps were dealt by a mop-stick at the ceiling below the floors that seemed to be struck. He pointed out that there were marks on the ceiling as if the mop-stick had been so used, and he intimated that the set of hauntings was due to Mr. Chave trying by this means to avenge a quarrel he had had with his landlord over a bill.

To this Mr. Colton promptly replied, that it was true that there was a mop-stick in the house, but that by means of the mop-stick the sounds heard and the vibration of the boards casting up dust could not have been effected. He and others had tried, and the marks observed on the ceiling were caused by these trials. As to the quarrel over a bill, it had not occurred. It[Pg 291] was not to Mr. Chave’s interest to give the house a bad name, for he had but recently rented and fitted it up, and it would be an inconvenience to him to move; moreover, these supernatural phenomena were doing him much harm, in injuring his business.

Mr. Colton now added further mysterious sights, but they rested on nothing better than the testimony of the maids. One had seen a white hand come out from under the bed, another had seen a livid arm hanging down from the ceiling.

There can, I think, be little doubt that it was not Mr. Chave, but the servant-maids who managed the whole series of phenomena. These knockings could easily be transmitted through boards, and the curtains tossed about, and books and candlesticks flung across the room, by having horsehair attached to them. That is the true secret of the Poltergeist manifestations in England, France, and Germany.

The authorities are:—

“Sampford Ghost. A Plain and Authentic Narrative of those Extraordinary Occurrences, etc., by the Rev. C. Colton, M.A., Reg. Col. Soc., Tiverton” (1810).

“Sampford Ghost!!! A Full Account of the Conspiracy at Sampford Peverell, near Tiverton; Containing the Particulars of the Pretended Visitations of the Monster. Taunton, 1810.” (This by Marriott.)

“Sampford Ghost. Stubborn Facts against Vague Assertions, etc., by the Rev. C. Colton, M.A., Reg. Col. Soc., Tiverton” (1810). Answer to Mr. Marriott.

“Sampford Ghost! Facts Attested and Delivered to the Public Relative to these Extraordinary Occurrences, etc., by the Rev. C. Colton.... London (n.d.).”


In the month of August, 1672, the wife of a dyer of Plymouth, one William Weeks, died after “many and frequent vomitings.” Shortly after that Mr. Weeks and his daughter were seized with the same symptoms—violent pains internally, cold sweats, faintings and vomitings; and in an engraving of the period relative to the tragic event about to be related, Mr. Weeks is shown in bed affected by this last symptom. At the outset the physician who attended them suspected poison, and he was confirmed in his suspicions when a neighbour who had entered the house found a pot in the kitchen with “crude arsenick” in it. Moreover, Mr. Weeks’s grand-daughter, child of a Mistress Pengelly, was affected in precisely the same manner.

Philippa Cary, the nurse, together with Anne Evans, the servant, first drew attention to themselves by counterfeiting sickness and vomiting, but the general prostration and agony were lacking in their case. The administration of emetics led to the recovery of the child and of Mr. Weeks, but Mistress Pengelly died in great agonies.

This “horrid accident” caused much commotion, and the nurse and the girl were arrested. The first brought before the mayor was Anne Evans, “apprentice to the said Mistress Weeks, a poor child, whose mother being dead, had been bound out in the Mayoralty of Mr. Peter Schaggel, Anno 1672, by the[Pg 293] Churchwardens and overseers of Charles parish, being then about twelve or thirteen years old.”

The poor child Anne, on being questioned by the mayor, allowed that she bought “a pottle of girts” in the market, and that when they had been cooked she had noticed “some yellow thing in the girts,” and the family were afflicted by incessant tortures after they had partaken of it. There had been a dispute between Mrs. Weeks and the nurse, and the latter had asked Evans whether she knew where she could get some rat’s-bane. Cary admitted that there had been words between her and the old lady, and said that it arose over the frying of some pilchards. She added that Anne Evans was on bad terms with her mistress, and that the girl had threatened to run away and join “the mountebanks.”

The mayor plied one witness against the other. Next Evans said that as she was gathering herbs she found a packet of rat’s-bane, and on showing it to Cary the latter exclaimed that was just the very thing needed to “fit” Mrs. Weeks, and that a little dose of it would soon “make work.” Next the girl mentioned that Cary abused her for removing a great spider from some beer that Mrs. Weeks was about to drink. A spider was, according to popular belief, a concentration of deadly poison. Cary had said, “Thou shouldst have let it alone, thou Fool, and not have taken it out, but shouldst have squatted it amongst the beer.” When Cary was taxed with this, she denied having said any such thing, but asserted that Evans had threatened to do away with her mistress “on Saturday week was fortnight.”

The mayor continued his interrogations of each witness separately, playing the statements of one against the other. Then Evans improved her story by[Pg 294] asserting that she saw Cary crush the rat’s-bane into fine powder between two tiles, and she added that when she asked the nurse what she was about Cary replied that she was making a medicine to “fit” the old woman.

Having placed the powder in a cloam dish, she added small beer, and allowed it to steep overnight. She then gave some of the poison to Anne to put in the “Old Woman’s Dish” of porridge, adding, “You shall see what sport we shall have with her to-morrow.”

But the amount then administered was small: it was designed to cause only preliminary discomfort. After that, Cary said, “We shall live so merry as the days are long.” She cautioned the girl to hold her tongue, and told her that if she did so nothing could come out; and she threatened that if Evans betrayed what had been done, she would lay all the blame upon her. In due time Mrs. Weeks asked for her porridge, and the girl put the arsenic into the bowl according to the instructions she had received from the nurse. Later on Cary drank from a jug; and after pouring in the poisoned liquor, administered it to Mr. Weeks, but he did not relish the taste of it and passed it on to the others to try. They all averred that it had a “keamy” taste, but, small though the quantity was that they drank, all who tasted it had convulsions. In some concern at seeing her master and mistress in such anguish, the girl affirmed that she had exclaimed, “Alas! nurse, what have you done that our master and mistress are so very ill?”

Cary replied, according to Anne’s statement, that “she had done God good service in it to rid her out of the way, and that she had done no sin in it.”

This confession was read over to Cary, who denied every particular.

[Pg 295]

Cary and the little girl—who, be it remembered, was only twelve or thirteen years of age—were put in prison, and were to appear at the next assizes. Cary and Evans found themselves “in the very suburbs of Hell,” for the local prison was no better than “a seminary of all vilainies, prophaneness and impieties.”

After months of waiting, the prisoners were sent to Exeter, where they were tried for their lives. They responded “with heavy hearts though with undejected countenances.” Sentence of death was pronounced against them both, but they petitioned to be transported.

The unfortunate little girl was sentenced “to be drawn on a hurdle to the place where she shall be executed, and there burnt to death.”

John Quicke was a Nonconformist minister, and he interested himself in the criminals. “Methinks,” said he, “the very sentence should have struck her dead; an emblem and lively picture of Hell’s torments. Drawn as if dragged by devils. Burnt alive, as if in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone already.”

The nurse, Philippa Cary, was ordered to hang till she was dead. “Too gentle a death,” wrote the harsh Quicke, “for such a prodigy of ungodliness. She pleads stiffly her innocence, disowns her guilt, takes no shame, her brow is brass, she is impudent and hath a whore’s forehead. If ever there were a daughter of Hell, this is one in her proper colours. No evidence shall convince her. ‘Confess,’ saith she, ‘then I shall hang indeed. I deny the fact, none saw, none knew it but the girl; it may be that vile person, my husband, hath a hand in it, but he is gone. Some will pity me, though none will believe me, none can help me.’” And now, according to Quicke, Satan helps Cary to “an expedient that may help her life.” She pleaded[Pg 296] before the judge that she was in the family way. “If I must dye, let my child live.”

Thereupon the judge ordered a jury of matrons to be empanelled, but they found that the plea of Cary was false.

As Plymouth had been the scene of the murder, the judge had little difficulty in consenting to the petition of the relatives of Mrs. Weeks that the execution should take place there. “Provided that the magistrates of the towne, or Mr. Weeks, whose wife was by the malefactors above named poysoned, shall defray the extraordinary charges thereof, and shall undertake for the same before Easter Day, being Sunday next. The day of execution is to bee on Thursday in Easter weeke, but if you, the magistrate of the said towne, or Mr. Weeks, shall fail to undertake before Easter Day to defray the extraordinary charges thereof, then the execution on these malefactors is to be done at the common-place of execution for this Countie,” i.e. at Exeter.

The local authorities gladly undertook the arrangements for carrying out Lord Chief Justice North’s sentence, and for affording to the citizens of Plymouth an exciting scene, and for the domestic servants of that borough a moral warning.

Every endeavour was made to persuade Cary to confess, but she laid the crime upon the girl. Of all the ministers who strove to turn her to repentance, John Quicke, the Nonconformist, was the most importunate. He warned her that “she had sworn a bargain with the Devil for secrecy to her own destruction, that all would come out at last, as cunningly and closely as she did carry it before men and angels; and, said I, you are one of the most bloody women that ever came into gaol; you are guilty of two murders, one of your[Pg 297] master, another of your mistress, and a third of having drawn in this poor girl like a Devil, as you are, to joyn with you to ruin them and herself also.” Quicke further assured her that he did “as verily believe she would be in Hell, unless there were a very wonderful change wrought upon her, as that old Murderer, her Father, the Devil, was.” Quicke was obviously not a man to move a sinner to repentance. His exhortation made her cry, but extorted no confession; and when Cary implored this sour and remorseless minister to have some little pity and indulgence towards her, he declined to tone his invectives till he knew that “her stony heart was riven and shivered in pieces and her bones broken under her hellish wickedness.”

Waiting without the cell door whilst this appalling denunciation was being delivered was “a crowd of vulgar persons,” all pressing and impatient to obtain admission. The gaolers derived not a little revenue by charging the inquisitive and curious with fees for admission to see criminals condemned to death, and they reaped a good harvest on this occasion.

During a subsequent visit, influenced by apparent relenting, Quicke assured the two criminals that it was quite as “easy going to Heaven from the stake and the gallows as if it was from their beds,” but then, they must confess their guilt. But Cary was not to be induced to admit anything. He was highly incensed that his words produced no effect, and he abused her roundly as “a brazen impudent hypocrite thus to dissemble with God and man”; and he warned her that, as she kept the devil’s counsel, to the devil she would go. He added that he saw no promise of a good result if he expended any more labour upon her. “Look to it, woman,” he shouted to her at parting, “that this do not make thy Hell hotter than ordinary.”

[Pg 298]

As the prisoners were conducted from Exeter on horseback, we are told that the nurse exchanged ribald and obscene jests with the spectators, and at the entrance to Plymouth the procession was met by thousands. Persons of every age and sex and quality rushed forth to the suburbs to see the arrival of the two unfortunates. Although, we are informed, many had “bowels of pity for the poor girl,” none “hath charity for the nurse.”

On being conducted to their cells, various ministers attended them; but crowds poured in, tipping the gaolers, to have a sight of the criminals, and the ministers of religion could effect nothing. The nurse remained resolute in denying her guilt, but the little girl admitted hers.

On the appointed day Philippa Cary and Anne Evans were escorted to the gallows erected on the heights of Prince Rock. “The streets were crowded, the Mayor, the Magistrates and Under Sheriff can hardly pass for the throng. The poor maid was drawn on the hurdle. The posture she lay in was on her left side, her face in her bosom, her Bible under her arm, seeming like one dead rather than alive. At length we came, though slowly, to the place of execution. Plimouth was then naked of inhabitants, the town was easy to be taken, and the houses to be plundered, if an enemie had been at hand to have done it. Catdowne, the Lambhay, the Citadel, and Catwater are pressed with a multitude of twenty thousand persons. But commanders, who have lived in wars and seen great armies, and are therefore the most competent judges in this case, estimate them at one-half. I write within compass. The maid, being nailed to the stake, and the iron hoop about her, and the nurse mounted on the ladder, she desires that the Relater may pray[Pg 299] with her.” With passionate invocations to the Deity, Mr. Quicke complied; the crowd were invited at the close to join in the singing of a psalm, and in this part of the ceremony the clear childish voice of Anne Evans was heard to rise like that of the lark. Then Quicke laboured through extemporary prayers of inordinate length, smiting at the flinty heart of Cary, hitting right and left at impenitent sinners in those around. It has been said that as a front rank of soldiers kneels to shoot, so do certain divines in their prayers aim, not at God, but at those who hear them. It was so with Quicke. Then the poor sufferers were urged to avow their theological opinions with regard to certain dogmas of religion, not this time by Quicke, but by other ministers.

The rope was now drawn close round the child’s neck, “and the hangman would have set fire unto the furze before she was strangled; but some, more charitable and tender-hearted, cryed to him to take away the block from under her feet, which having been done, she soon fell down and expired in a trice.”

The executioner could cause neither powder, wood nor fuel to catch fire till the girl had been dead a quarter of an hour; and then, as the flames kindled, the wind blew the smoke into the face of the nurse, “as if God had spoken to her; ‘the smoke of My Fury and Flames of My Fiery Vengeance are now riding upon the wings of the wind towards thee.’”

For two hours Cary was compelled to remain and watch the death and burning of the little girl, and again attempts were made to wring a confession from her. Such she steadily and persistently put from her. When the word went forth to dispatch her, the executioner could not be found. He had run off with the halter under the cliffs; and, on being found, was[Pg 300] carried by the exploring party to the scene and cast dead-drunk at the foot of the gallows, there to sleep off his intoxication, whilst the nurse was still pestered by the Nonconforming ministers to repent and confess.

But the last words she uttered before being swung into the air were: “Judge and revenge my cause, O God.” “A sure proof,” concluded Quicke, “that she went into the lake of brimstone and fire, there to be tormented for ever and ever.”

We are inclined to judge otherwise, and that she was guiltless of intent to poison the Weeks family. This was done by the child, in a fit of temper and resentment. Only after this had been done, did Cary find it out, and, frightened for the consequences, simulated sickness and cramps, lest she should be accused of the poisoning. As to Quicke’s statement that on the ride into Plymouth she used obscene and ribald jests, we do not believe a word of it. He was furious against her because she would not confess; and he was not with her on the ride to hear what her words were. He invented this, and put it into his narrative to prejudice the reader against her who was not amenable to his exhortations, and who accordingly galled his self-conceit.

The authorities for this tragic story are three:—

“Horrid News of a Barbarous Murder committed at Plimouth ... 1676.”

“Hell Open’d, or the Infernal Sin of Murther Punished. Being a True Relation of the Poysoning of a whole Family in Plymouth ... by J. Q. (John Quicke), Minister of the Gospel. London, 1676.”

“The Poysoners Rewarded, or the Most Barbarous of Murthers detected and Punished ... London, 1687.”

Mr. Whitfeld has summed them up in his book, Plymouth and Devonport, in War and Peace. Plymouth, 1900.


The coasts of Devon and Cornwall, north and south, are bold, with cliffs starting out of the sea, white near the Dorset frontier, then red, and then of limestone marble, or, on the north coast, of slate and schist. The rocks are riddled with caves, the highland is cleft by narrow valleys sawn through their mass by descending streams. The whole coast, north and south, lends itself to smuggling; and smuggling had been carried on as a profitable speculation till it ceased to pay, when heavy duties were removed, and when the coastguard became efficient.

The smugglers formerly ran their goods into the caves when the weather permitted, or the preventive men, nicknamed picaroons, were not on the look-out. They stowed away their goods in the caves, and gave notice to the farmers and gentry of the neighbourhood, all of whom were provided with numerous donkeys, which were forthwith sent down to the caches, and the kegs and bales were removed under cover of night or of storm. Few farmhouses and squires’ mansions were not also provided with hiding-places in which to store the kegs obtained from the free-traders. Only the week before writing this I was shown one such in the depth of a dense wood, at Sandridge Park on the Dart; externally it would have been taken for a natural mound or a tumulus. But there are a concealed door[Pg 302] and a descent by a flight of steps into the subterranean cellar, that was carefully vaulted, and also carefully drained.

The other day I saw an old farmhouse in process of demolition in the parish of Altarnun, on the edge of the Bodmin Moors. The great hall chimney was of unusual bulk, bulky as such chimneys usually are; and when it was thrown down it revealed the explanation of this unwonted size. Behind the back of the hearth was a chamber fashioned in the thickness of the wall to which access might have been had at some time through a low walled-up doorway, that was concealed behind the kitchen dresser and plastered over. This door was so low that it could be passed through only on all fours.

Now the concealed chamber had also another way by which it could be entered, and this was through a hole in the floor of a bedroom above. A plank of the floor could be lifted, when an opening was disclosed by which any one might pass under the wall through a sort of door and down steps into this apartment, which was entirely without light. Of what use was this singular concealed chamber? There could be little question. It was a place in which formerly kegs of smuggled spirits and tobacco were hidden. The place lies some fourteen or fifteen miles from Boscastle, a dangerous little harbour on the North Cornish coast, and about a mile off the main road from London, by Exeter and Launceston, to Falmouth. The coach-travellers in old days consumed a good deal of spirits, and here in a tangle of lanes lay a little emporium always kept well supplied with a stock of spirits which had not paid duty, and whence the taverners along the road could derive the contraband liquor, with which they supplied the travellers. Between this emporium[Pg 303] and the sea, the roads—parish roads—lie over wild moors or creep between high hedges of earth on which the traveller can step along when the lane below is converted into the bed of a stream, also on which the wary smuggler could stride, and keep a look-out whilst his laden mules and asses stumbled forward in the concealment of the deep-set lane.

John Rattenbury

of Beer, Devonshire

A very noticeable feature of the Devon and Cornwall coasts is the trenched and banked-up paths from the little coves. By these paths the kegs and bales were removed under cover of night.

As an excuse for keeping droves of donkeys, it was pretended that the sea-sand and the kelp served as admirable dressing for the land; and no doubt so they did; the trains of asses sometimes came up laden with sacks of sand, but not infrequently with kegs of brandy.

Now a wary preventive man might watch too narrowly the proceedings of these trains of asses. Accordingly squires, yeomen, farmers alike set to work to cut deep ways in the face of the downs, along the slopes of the hills, and bank them up, so that whole caravans of laden beasts might travel up and down absolutely unseen from the sea and greatly screened from the land side.

Undoubtedly the sunken ways and high banks are a great protection against the weather. So they were represented to be—and no doubt greatly were the good folks commended for their consideration for the beasts and their drivers, in thus at great cost shutting them off from the violence of the gale. Nevertheless, it can hardly be doubted that concealment from the eye of the coastguard was sought by this means quite as much as, if not more than the sheltering the beasts of burden from the weather.

[Pg 304]

A few years ago, an old church-house in my own parish was demolished. The church-house was originally the place where the parishioners from a distance, in a country district, put up between the morning and afternoon services on the Sunday, and was used for “church ales,” etc. It was always a long building of two stories; that below served for the men, that above for the women, and each had its great fireplace. Here they ate and chattered between services, as already said, and here were served with ale by the sexton or clerk. In a great many cases these church-houses have been converted into taverns. Now this one in the writer’s parish had never been thus altered. When it was pulled down, it was found that the floor of large slate slabs in the lower room was undermined with hollows like graves, only of much larger dimensions—and these had served for the concealment of smuggled spirits. The clerk had, in fact, dug them out, and did a little trade on Sundays with selling contraband liquor from these stores.

The story is told of a certain baronet near Dartmouth, now deceased, who had a handsome house and park near the coast. The preventive men had long suspected that Sir Thomas had done more than wink at the proceedings of the receivers of smuggled goods. His park dipped in graceful undulations to the sea and to a lovely creek, in which was his boathouse. But they never had been able to establish the fact that he favoured the smugglers, and allowed them to use his grounds and outbuildings.

However, at last, one night a party of men with kegs on their shoulders were seen stealing through the park towards the mansion. They were observed also leaving without the kegs. Accordingly, next morning the officer in command called, together with several under[Pg 305]lings. He apologized to the baronet for any inconvenience his visit might occasion—he was quite sure that Sir Thomas was ignorant of the use made of his park, his landing-place, even of his house—but there was evidence that “run” goods had been brought to the mansion the preceding night, and it was but the duty of the officer to point this out to Sir Thomas, and ask him to permit a search—which would be conducted with all the delicacy possible. The baronet, an exceedingly urbane man, promptly expressed his readiness to allow house, cellar, attic—every part of his house, and every outbuilding—unreservedly to be searched. He produced his keys. The cellar was, of course, the place where wine and spirits were most likely to be found—let that be explored first. He had a cellar-book, which he produced, and he would be glad if the officer would compare what he found below with his entries in the book. The search was made with some zest, for the Government officers had long looked on Sir Thomas with mistrust; and yet were somewhat disarmed by the frankness with which he met them. They ransacked the mansion from garret to cellar, and every part of the outbuildings, and found nothing. They had omitted to look into the family coach, which was full of rum kegs, so full that, to prevent the springs being broken or showing that the carriage was laden, the axle-trees were “trigged up” below with blocks of wood.

When a train of asses or mules conveyed contraband goods along a road, it was often customary to put stockings over the hoofs to deaden the sound of their steps.

One night many years ago, a friend of the writer—a parson on the north coast of Cornwall—was walking along a lane in his parish at night. It was near[Pg 306] midnight. He had been to see, and had been sitting up with, a dying person.

As he came to a branch in the lane he saw a man there, and he called out “Good night.” He then stood still a moment, to consider which lane he should take. Both led to his rectory, but one was somewhat shorter than the other. The shorter was, however, stony and very wet. He chose the longer way, and turned to the right. Thirty years after he was speaking with a parishioner who was ill, when the man said to him suddenly: “Do you remember such and such a night, when you came to the Y? You had been with Nankevill, who was dying.”

“Yes, I do recall something about it.”

“Do you remember you said ‘Good night’ to me?”

“I remember that someone was there; I did not know it was you.”

“And you turned right instead of left?”

“I dare say.”

“If you had taken the left-hand road you would never have seen next morning.”

“Why so?”

“There was a large cargo of ‘run’ goods being transported that night—and you would have met it.”

“What of that?”

“What of that? You would have been chucked over the cliffs.”

“But how could they suppose I would peach?”

“Sir! They’d ha’ took good care you shouldn’t ha’ had the chance!”

The principal ports to which the smugglers ran were Cherbourg and Roscoff; but also to the Channel Islands. During the European War, and when Napoleon had formed, and forced on the humbled nations of Europe, his great scheme for the exclusion of English goods[Pg 307] from all ports, our smugglers did a rare business in conveying prohibited English wares to France and returning with smuggled spirits to our shores, reaping a harvest both ways. If a revenue cutter hove in sight and gave chase, they sank their kegs, but with a small buoy above to indicate where they were, and afterwards they would return and “creep” for them with grappling irons. But the preventive officers were on the alert, and although they might find no contraband on the vessel they overhauled, yet the officers threw out their irons and searched the sea in the wake of the ship, and kept a sharp look-out for the buoys. If the contraband articles were brought ashore, and there was no opportunity to remove them at once, they were buried in the sand, to be exhumed when the coast was clear.

The smugglers had more enemies to contend with than the preventive men. As they were known to be daring and experienced sailors, they were in great request to man the navy, and every crib and den was searched for them that they might be impressed.

The life was hard, full of risks, and although these men sometimes made great hauls, yet they as often lost their cargoes and their vessels. They were very frequently in the pay of merchants in England, who provided them with their ships and bailed them out when they were arrested. Rarely did a smuggler realize a competence, he almost invariably ended his days in poverty. One of the most notorious of the Devon free-traders was Jack Rattenbury, who was commonly called “The Rob-Roy of the West.” He wrote his Memoirs when advanced in life, and when he had given up smuggling, not that the trade had lost its attraction for him, but because he suffered from gout, and he ended his days as a contractor for blue-lias lime for the harbour in course of erection at Sidmouth.

[Pg 308]

It will not be necessary to give the life of this man in full. It was divided into two periods—his career on a privateer and his career as a smuggler—spent partly in fishing, partly as a pilot, mainly in carrying on free trade in spirits, between Cherbourg, or the Channel Islands, and Devon. Naturally, Rattenbury speaks of himself and his comrades as all honourable men, it is the informers who are the spawn of hell. The record year by year of his exploits as a smuggler, presents little variety, and the same may be said of his deeds as a privateer. We shall therefore give but a few instances illustrative of his career in both epochs of his life.

John Rattenbury was born at Beer in the year 1778. Beer lies in a cleft of the chalk hills, and consists of one long street of cottages from the small harbour. His father was a shoemaker, but tired of his awl and leather apron, he cast both aside and went on board a man-of-war before John was born, and was never heard of more. It is possible that Mrs. Rattenbury’s tongue may have been the stimulating cause of his desertion of the last.

The mother of John, frugal and industrious, sold fish for her support and that of her child, and contrived to maintain herself and him without seeking parish relief. The boy naturally took to the water, as all the men of Beer were fishermen or smugglers, and at the age of nine he went in the boat with his uncle after fish, but happening one day when left in charge to lose the rudder of the row-boat, his uncle gave him the rope’s end so severely that the boy ran away and went as apprentice to a Brixham fisherman; but this man also beat and otherwise maltreated him, and again he ran away. As he could get no employment at Beer, he went to Bridport and engaged on board a vessel in the[Pg 309] coasting trade. But he did not remain long with his master and returned to Beer, where he found his uncle entering men for privateering, and this fired John Rattenbury’s ambition and he volunteered.

“About the latter end of March, 1792, we proceeded on our first cruise off the Western Islands: and even now, notwithstanding the lapse of years, I can recall the triumph and exultation which rushed through my veins as I saw the shores of my native land recede, and the vast ocean opening before me.”

Instead of making prizes, the privateer and her crew were made a prize of and conveyed to Bordeaux, where the crew were detained as prisoners. John Rattenbury, however, contrived to make his escape to an American vessel lying in the harbour, on which, after detention for twelve months, he sailed to New York. There he entered on an American vessel bound for Copenhagen, and on reaching that place invested all the money he had earned and carried away with him from Bordeaux in fiddles and clothes. Then he sailed in another American vessel for Guernsey, where he profitably disposed of his fiddles and clothes. He had engaged with the captain for the whole voyage to New York, but when at Guernsey at his request the captain allowed him to return to England to visit his family, on passing his word that he would rejoin the ship within a specified time. Rattenbury returned to Beer, and broke his promise, which he regards as a mistake. He remained at home six months occupied in fishing, “but,” says he, “I found the employment very dull and tiresome after the roving life I had led; and as the smuggling trade was then plied very briskly in the neighbourhood, I determined to try my fortune in it.” Fortune in smuggling as in gambling favours beginners so as to lure them on. However, after a few months,[Pg 310] Rattenbury had lapses into the paths of honesty. In one of these, soon after, he did one of the most brilliant achievements of his life. I will give it in his own words:—

“Being in want of a situation, I applied to Captain Jarvis, and agreed to go with him in a vessel called the Friends, which belonged to Beer and Seaton. As soon as she was rigged we proceeded to sea, but, contrary winds coming on, we were obliged to put into Lyme; the next day, the wind being favourable, we put to sea again, and proceeded to Tenby, where we were bound for culm. At eight o’clock the captain set the watch, and it was my turn to remain below; at twelve I went on deck and counted till four, when I went below again, but was scarcely dropped asleep, when I was aroused by hearing the captain exclaim, ‘Come on deck, my good fellow! Here is a privateer, and we shall all be taken.’ When I got up, I found the privateer close alongside of us. The captain hailed us in English, and asked us from what port we came and where we were bound. Our captain told the exact truth, and he then sent a boat with an officer in her to take all hands on board his own vessel, which he did, except myself and a little boy, who had never been to sea before. He then sent the prize-master and four men on board our brig, with orders to take her into the nearest French port. When the privateer was gone, the prize-master ordered me to go aloft and loose the maintop-gallant sail. When I came down, I perceived that he was steering very wildly through ignorance of the coast, and I offered to take the helm, to which he consented, and directed me to steer south-east by south. He went below, and was engaged in drinking and carousing with his companions. They likewise sent me up a glass of grog occasionally which animated[Pg 311] my spirits, and I began to conceive a hope not only of escaping, but also of being revenged on the enemy. A fog too came on, which befriended the design I had in view; I therefore altered the course to east by north, expecting that we might fall in with some English vessel. As the day advanced the fog gradually dispersed, and, the sky getting clearer, we could perceive land; the prize-master and his companions asked me what land it was; I told them that it was Alderney, which they believed, though at the same time we were just off Portland. We then hauled our wind more to the south until we cleared the Bill; soon after we came in sight of land off St. Alban’s: the prize-master then again asked what land it was which we saw; I told him it was Cape La Hogue. My companions then became suspicious and angry, thinking I had deceived them, and they took a dog that had belonged to our captain, and threw him overboard in a great rage and knocked down his house. This was done as a caution to intimate to me what would be my fate if I had deceived them. We were now within a league of Swanage, and I persuaded them to go on shore to get a pilot: they then hoisted out a boat, into which I got with three of them, not without serious apprehension as to what would be the event. We now came so near the shore that the people hailed us, and told them to keep further west. My companions began to swear, and said the people spoke English: this I denied, and urged them to hail again; but as they were rising to do so, I plunged overboard and came up the other side of the boat; they then struck at me with their oars, and snapped a pistol at me, but it missed fire. I still continued swimming, and every time they attempted to strike me, I made a dive and disappeared. The boat in which they were now took water, and finding they[Pg 312] were engaged in a vain pursuit, and endangering their own safety, they suddenly turned round, and rowed away as fast as possible to regain the vessel. Having got rid of my foes, I put forth all my efforts to get to the shore, which I at last accomplished. In the meantime, the men in the boat reached the brig, and spreading all canvas, bore away for the French coast. Being afraid they would get off with the vessel, I immediately sent two men, one to the signal-house at St. Alban’s and another to Swanage, to obtain all the assistance they could to bring her back.

“Fortunately, there was at the time in Swanage Bay a small cutter, belonging to His Majesty’s customs, called the Nancy, commanded by Captain Willis; and as soon as he had received the information, he made all sail after them; but I was not on board, not being able to reach them in time. The cutter came up with the brig, and by retaking, brought her into Cowes the same night, where the men were put in prison. Captain Willis then sent me a letter, stating what he had done, and advising me to go as quickly as possible to the owners, and inform them of all that had taken place. This I did without delay, and one of them immediately set off for Cowes, when he got her back by paying salvage—but I never received any reward for the service I had rendered, either from the owners or from any other quarter.”

John Rattenbury was then aged sixteen.

As Rattenbury was returning to Devon in a cutter, the vessel was stopped and overhauled by a lieutenant and his gang seeking able-bodied seamen to impress them.

“When it came to my turn to be examined, I told him I was an apprentice, and that my name was German Phillips (that being the name of a young man[Pg 313] whose indenture I had for a protection). This stratagem was of no avail with the keen-eyed lieutenant, and he took me immediately on board the Royal William, a guard ship, then lying at Spithead. I remained in close confinement for a month, hoping by some chance I might be able to effect my escape; but seeing no prospect of accomplishing my design, I at last volunteered my services for the Royal Navy; if that can be called a voluntary act, which is the effect of necessity, not of inclination.

“And here I cannot help making a remark on the common practice of impressing seamen in time of war. Our country is called the land of liberty; we possess a just and invincible aversion to slavery at home and in our foreign colonies, and it is triumphantly said that a slave cannot breathe in England. Yet how is this to be reconciled with the practice of tearing men from their weeping and afflicted families, and from the peaceable and useful pursuits of merchandise and commerce, and chaining them to a situation which is alike repugnant to their feelings and their principles?”

At Spithead Rattenbury succeeded in making his escape. But he had left his pocket-book on board, and by this means the lieutenant found out what were his real name and abode, and thenceforth he was hunted as a deserter and put to great shifts to save himself from capture.

In 1800, when he was twenty-one, he was taken in a vessel by a Spanish privateer and brought to Vigo; but on shore made himself so useful and was so cheerful that he was given his liberty and travelled on foot to Oporto, where he found a vessel bound for Guernsey, laden with oranges and lemons, and worked his way home in her.

“Before I set out on my last voyage, I had fixed my[Pg 314] affections on a young woman in the neighbourhood, and we were married on the 17th of April, 1801. We then went to reside at Lyme, and finding that I could not obtain any regular employment at home, I again determined to try my fortune in privateering, and accordingly engaged myself with Captain Diamond of the Alert.”

But this expedition led to no results. No captures were made, and Rattenbury returned home as poor as when he started, and almost at once acted as pilot to foreign vessels. On one occasion a lieutenant came on board to impress men, and took Rattenbury and put him in confinement. Next day he told the lieutenant that if he would accompany him to Lyme, he would show him a public-house where he was sure to find men whom he could impress. The officer consented and landed with Jack and some other seamen, and proceeded to the tavern; but finding none there he ordered Rattenbury back to the boat. At that moment up came Rattenbury’s wife, and he made a rush to escape whilst she threw herself upon the lieutenant and had a scuffle with him; and as the townfolk took her part, Rattenbury managed to escape.

On another occasion he was at Weymouth, and the same lieutenant, learning this fact, tracked him to the tavern where he slept, and burst in at 2 a.m. Rattenbury had just time to climb up the chimney before the officer and his men entered. They searched the house, but could not find him. When they were gone he descended much bruised, half-stifled, and covered with soot.

“Wearied out by the incessant pursuit of my enemies, and finding that I was followed by them from place to place like a hunted stag by the hounds, I at last determined, with a view to getting rid of them, again to go[Pg 315] privateering.” Accordingly he shipped on board the Unity cutter and cruised about Madeira and Teneriffe, looking out for prizes. But this expedition was as unsuccessful as the other, and in August, 1805, he returned home; “and I determined never again to engage in privateering, a resolution which I have ever since kept, and of which I have never repented.”

We now enter on the second period of Rattenbury’s career.

“On my return home, I engaged ostensibly in the trade of fishing, but in reality was principally employed in that of smuggling. My first voyage was to Christchurch, in an open boat, where we took in a cargo of contraband goods, and, on our return, safely landed the whole.

“Being elated with this success, we immediately proceeded to the same port again, but on our way we fell in with the Roebuck tender: a warm chase ensued; and, in firing at us, a man named Slaughter, on board the tender, had the misfortune to blow his arm off. Eventually, the enemy came up with and captured us; and, on being taken on board, found the captain in a great rage in consequence of the accident, and he swore he would put us all on board a man-of-war. He got his boat out to take the wounded man on shore; and, while this was going forward, I watched an opportunity, and stowed myself away in her, unknown to any person there. I remained without being perceived, amidst the confusion that prevailed; and when they reached the shore, I left the boat, and got clear off. The same night, I went in a boat that I had borrowed, alongside the tender, and rescued all my companions; we likewise brought three kegs of gin away with us, and landed safe at Weymouth, from whence we made the best of our way home.

[Pg 316]

“The same winter I made seven voyages in a smuggling vessel which had just been built; five of them were attended with success, and two of them turned out failures.

“In the spring of 1806, I went to Alderney, where we took in a cargo; but, returning, fell in with the Duke of York cutter, in consequence of getting too near her boat in a fog without perceiving her. Being unable to make our escape, we were immediately put on board the cutter, and the crew picked up some of our kegs which were floating near by, but we had previously sunk the principal part. As soon as we were secured, the captain called us into his cabin, and told us that if we would take up the kegs for him, he would give us our boat and liberty, on the honour of a gentleman. To this proposal we agreed, and having pointed out where they lay, we took them up for him. We then expected that the captain would have been as good as his word; but, instead of doing so, he disgracefully departed from it, and a fresh breeze springing up, we steered away hard for Dartmouth. When we came alongside the castle, the cutter being then going at the rate of 6 knots, I jumped overboard; but having a boat in her stern, they immediately lowered her with a man. I succeeded, however, in getting on shore, and concealed myself among some bushes; but two women who saw me go into the thicket inadvertently told the boat’s crew where I was, upon which they retook me, and I was carried on board quite exhausted with the fatigue and loss of blood, for I had cut myself in different places.”

Next morning Rattenbury was brought up before the magistrates at Dartmouth along with his comrades in misfortune, and they were sentenced to pay a fine of a hundred pounds each, or else to serve on board a[Pg 317] man-of-war, or go to prison. They elected the last, and were confined in a wretched den where they could hardly move and breathe. Worn out by their discomfort, they agreed to enlist, and were liberated and removed to a brig in Dartmouth roads. On coming on board he found all the officers drinking, and that the mainsail had been partly hoisted so that the officers could not command a prospect of the shore. Seizing his opportunity he jumped overboard, and seeing a boat approaching held up his hand to the man in it, as a signal to be taken up. The fellow did so, and in less than five minutes he was landed at Kingswear, opposite Dartmouth. He paid the fisherman a pound, and made his way to Brixham, where he hired a fishing-smack and got safely home.

Soon after he purchased part of a galley, and resumed his smuggling expeditions, and made several successful trips in her, till he lost his galley at sea. Then he went to Alderney in an open boat, with two other men, to get kegs, but on their way back were chased, captured, and carried into Falmouth, where he was sentenced to be sent to gaol at Bodmin.

“We were put into two post-chaises, with two constables to take care of us. As our guards stopped at almost every public-house, towards evening they became pretty merry. When we came to the ‘Indian Queen’—a public-house a few miles from Bodmin—while the constables were taking their potations, I bribed the drivers not to interfere. Having finished, the constables ordered us again into the chaise, but we refused. A scuffle ensued. One of them collared me, some blows were exchanged, and he fired a pistol, the ball of which went close to my head. My companion in the meantime was encountering the other constable, and he called on the drivers to assist, but they said it[Pg 318] was their duty to attend the horses. We soon got the upper hand of our opponents, and seeing a cottage near, I ran towards it, and the woman who occupied it was so kind as to show me through her house into the garden and to point out the road.”

Eventually he reached Newquay with his comrade. Thence they hired horses to Mevagissey, where they took a boat for Budleigh Salterton. On the following day they walked to Beer.

This is but a sample of one year out of many. He was usually engaged in shady operations, getting him into trouble. On one occasion he undertook to carry four French officers across the Channel who had made their escape from the prison at Tiverton, for the sum of a hundred pounds, but was caught, and narrowly escaped severe punishment. Soon after that he was arrested as a deserter, by a lieutenant of the sea-fencibles when he was in a public-house drinking along with a sergeant and some privates. But he broke away and jumped into the cellar, where he divested himself of shirt and jacket, armed himself with a reaping-hook, and closing the lower part of a half-hatch door stood at bay, vowing he would reap down the first man who ventured to attack him. His appearance was so formidable, his resolution was so well known, that the soldiers, ten in number, hesitated. As they stood doubtful as to what to do, some women ran into the house crying out that a vessel had drifted ashore, and a boy was in danger of being drowned, that help was urgently needed. This attracted the attention of the soldiers, and whilst they were discussing what was to be done, Rattenbury leaped over the hatch, dashed through the midst of them, and being without jacket and shirt slipped between their fingers. He ran to the beach, jumped into a boat, got[Pg 319] on board his vessel, and hoisted the colours. The story told by the women was a device to distract the attention of his assailants. The lieutenant was furious, especially at seeing the colours flying, as a sign of triumph on the part of Rattenbury, who spread sail and scudded away to Alderney, took in a cargo of contraband spirits, and returned safely with it.

Occasionally, to give fresh zest to his lawless transactions, he did an honest day’s work, as when he piloted safely into harbour a transport vessel that was in danger. We need not follow him through a succession of hair’s-breadth escapes, of successes and losses, imprisonments and frauds. He carries on his story to 1836, when, so little had he profited by his free-trading expeditions, that he was fain to accept a pension from Lord Rolle of a shilling a week.

NOTE.—There is an article by Mr. Maxwell Adams on “Jack Rattenbury” in Snell’s Memorials of Old Devonshire.


The “Black Horse” was an old inn near Southgate, Exeter. The south gate was perhaps the strongest of all the gates. It was defended by two massive drums of towers, and there was a double access to the town through it, the first gate leading into a yard with a second gate behind. Holy Trinity Church, with a red tower and pinnacles, was close to the inner gate, and nigh by that swung the sign of the “Black Horse.” The whole group was eminently picturesque. All was effaced in 1819; the gabled houses have been destroyed, not a stone left upon another of the noble gateway; even Trinity Church was pulled down, and a despicable cardboard edifice erected in its room as a specimen of the utter degradation to which art had fallen at that period.

John Barnes was taverner at the “Black Horse” in and about the years 1670–5, during which he had three children christened in Trinity Church. He kept his tavern well. His wife was reputed to be a quiet, tidy, and respectable woman, and John Barnes professed to be a hot and strong Presbyterian, and he made of his house a rallying-place of the godly who were in a low way after the Restoration and the ejection from their benefices of the ministers who had been intruded into[Pg 321] them during the days of the Commonwealth, when the Church pastors were ejected. It was turn and turn about. These latter had been thrown out of their nest by Independent and Presbyterian cuckoos, and now the cuckoos had to go and the original owners of the nests were reinstated. But the cuckoos did not like it, and the Puritans were very sore afflicted, and liked to meet and grumble and testify, over ale and cyder, in John Barnes’ tavern. And when a private prayer meeting was held, mine host of the “Black Horse” was sure to be there, and to give evidence of his piety by sighs and groans. But he testified against prelacy more efficaciously than by upturned eyes and nasal whines, for he refused to have his children baptized by the Church clergy, and was accordingly prosecuted in the Exeter Consistory.

About 1677 Barnes abandoned the “Black Horse” in Exeter, and took an inn at Collumpton, where he threw off the “religious mask” and ran into debt and evil courses. One of his creditors was a smith, “a stout fellow of good natural courage.”

Barnes could not or would not discharge the debt, and he suggested to the blacksmith that there was an opening for doing a fine stroke of business that would at once liquidate the little bill and make him a man for ever. The plan was to waylay and rob the Exeter carrier on his way up to London, charged with a considerable amount of money sent to town by the merchants for the purchase of sundry goods. The blacksmith agreed, but it was deemed prudent to have another confederate, so a woolcomber was prevailed on to join.

The old Exeter road, after leaving Honiton, ascends a barrier of hill now pierced by the South Western Railway that there passes through a tunnel. This[Pg 322] ridge stands between the stream bottoms of the Otter and the Corry, and is bleak, with habitations very wide apart along it. The distance from Collumpton to Honiton was so considerable and intercommunication so infrequent that the confederates hoped to escape recognition and detection by making their attempt far from home.

We are not informed at what hour the carrier’s van was waylaid, but there can be little doubt that it was early in the morning. One day out of Exeter was the stage to Honiton, and there the carriers had put up.

Upon a cold and stormy night, when wetted to the skin,
I bear it with contented heart, until I reach the inn;
And there I sit a-drinking, boys, with the landlord and his kin.
Say wo! my lads, say wo! Drive on, my lads, I-ho!
Who would not lead the stirring life we jolly waggoners do?
When Michaelmas is coming on, we’ll pleasure also find,
We’ll make the red gold fly, my boys, as chaff before the wind;
And every lad shall take his lass, so merry, buck and hind.
Say wo! my lads, say wo! Drive on, my lads, I-ho!
Who would not lead the stirring life we jolly waggoners do?

The highwaymen heard the tinkle of the horse-bells, as the team of four drew the carrier’s van up the long hill, and listened to the shout of the walking driver to the horses to put a good breast to it, as the top of the ascent was not far off. It would have been still dusk, when the three men leaped from behind some thorn bushes upon the carriers, and presented loaded pistols at their heads. It was customary for carriers to start before daybreak, as we know from the scene on the way to Gadshill in Henry IV, Part I.

Whilst two of the ruffians held the carriers and passengers quiet, with their pistols presented at full cock, Barnes ransacked the van, and secured six hundred pounds. Then the three men disappeared, mounted their horses, and galloped back to Collumpton.

[Pg 323]

But Barnes had left out of count that he was well known by voice and face in Exeter, and that a change of domicile and the space of one year would not have eradicated from the memory of carriers and such as frequented taverns the canting publican of the “Black Horse.”

The carrier’s men at once gave information, and before long both Barnes and his confederates were apprehended and conveyed to Exeter Gaol, but not before the blacksmith had managed to secrete a file about his person. There they were fettered, but during the night by means of the file the blacksmith relieved himself and the other two of their chains, and all three broke out of prison.

One of them escaped, but the other two, including the taverner, were retaken next morning, and both were sentenced to die. The narrative proceeds to state that “there were many Women of Quality in Exeter that made great intercession for the said innkeeper to get him a Reprieve, not so much for his sake, as out of charity to his poor innocent Wife and Children; for she was generally reputed a very good, careful, industrious and pious Woman, and hath no less than nine very hopeful children; but the nature of the Crime excluded him from mercy in this World, so that he and his Comrade were on Tuesday, the 13th of this instant August (1678), conveyed to the usual place of Execution, where there were two that presently suffered; but the Innkeeper, desiring two hours’ time the better to prepare himself, had it granted, which he spent in prayer and godly conference with several Ministers; then, coming upon the ladder, he made a long Speech, wherein he confessed not only the Crime for which at present he suffered, but likewise divers other sins, and particularly lamented that his Hypocrisie, earnestly[Pg 324] begging the Spectators’ prayers, and exhorting them not to despair in any condition ... and so with all the outward marks of a sincere Penitent, submitted to his sentence, and was executed.”

Dr. Lake, whose Diary has been published by the Camden Society, happened to be visiting a prisoner in the gaol when Barnes and his accomplice were brought in. The doctor says that he was “a notorious Presbyterian,” and that “the evening before hee went forth to execute his design”—of robbing the carrier—“hee pray’d with his family two hours.”

The authority for this story is a unique tract in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, of which the late Robert Dymond, of Exeter, made a copy, and to which he refers in his paper on “The Old Inns and Taverns of Exeter,” in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association for 1880.


The Postman Poet, Edward Capern, has been hailed as the Devonshire Burns, but he has no right to be so entitled. Burns, at his best, sang in the tones and intonation of his class and country, and it was at his worst that he affected the style of the period and of culture, such as it was. Now Capern aspired to the artificiality and smoothness of the highly educated and wholly unreal class of verse writers of the Victorian period, of whom John Oxenford may be thrust forward as typical, men who could turn out smooth and finished pieces, rhythm and rhyme correct, but without a genuine poetical idea forming the kernel of the “poem.”

What can be said for verses that begin as this to the Wild Convolvulus?

Upon the lap of Nature wild
I love to view thee, Beauty’s child;
And mark the rose and lily white
Their charms in thy fair form unite.

And this to the White Violet?

Pale Beauty went out ’neath a wintry sky
From a nook where the gorse and the holly grew by,
And silently traversed the snow-covered earth
In search of a sign of floriferous birth.

And this to an Early Primrose?

Pretty flow’ret, sweet and fair,
Pensive, weeping, withering there;
Storms are raging, winds are high,
I fear thy beauty soon will die.

[Pg 326]

Who is not familiar with this sort of stuff? It is to be found in “Keepsakes,” in those old pocket-books in leather, with a dozen badly engraved steel-plate landscape scenes at the beginning, and a budget of verses and rhapsodies that follow, before we come to the calendar and the sheets for notes.

Of himself, Capern wrote:—

He owns neither houses nor lands,
His wealth is a character good;
A pair of industrious hands,
A drop of poetical blood.

It was a drop, and a small drop. He had an ear for rhythm; he had a warm appreciation of Nature; he had sentiment—but not ideas, the germs of mental life to be carried on from generation to generation. The leaves of poetic expression, graceful diction, fade and wither. It is ideas alone that are the fruit of the tree of mental life that will survive. Of such we find none in Capern’s volumes.

His verses are very creditable to the man, considering his position, but he is not to be named in the same breath with Robert Burns and Edwin Waugh. Capern had the poetic faculty, but he trod wrong paths, with the result that nobody henceforth will read his verses, which are not likely to be republished. Edward Capern was born at Tiverton on 21 January, 1819, where his father carried on business as a baker. When Edward was about two years old, the family removed to Barnstaple, and his mother becoming bed-ridden, young Edward, then about eight years old, found employment at a local lace factory, toiling often, for a scanty wage, twenty out of the twenty-four hours. The long hours and the trying nature of the work permanently injured his eyesight, and seriously affected his after life.

[Pg 327]

Compelled to abandon his work in the factory in 1847, he ultimately obtained the post of letter-carrier from Bideford to Buckland Brewer and its neighbourhood, distributing the mail through a discursive walk of thirteen miles daily, and receiving a salary of half a guinea per week.

Edward Capern


From a painting by William Widgery, in the Free Library, Bideford

Capern’s first book of Poems was published in 1856. A Mr. W. F. Rock, having seen his verses, thought there was merit in them, and undertook to collect subscribers; and by worrying certain noblemen into taking four, five, or six copies, and canvassing through the county, he succeeded in getting enough subscribers to enable him to publish.

But Capern wanted to have all he had written included. Mr. Rock had to be firm.

“What!” exclaimed Capern. “Exclude my ‘Morning’ and the ‘Apostrophe to the Sun’! Why, sir, I wrote those pieces when I had but four shillings a week to live upon, which gave but frugal meals.”

Precisely, but that did not constitute them poems. Mr. Rock says: “It is not my intention even to touch upon the trying incidents of Mr. Capern’s early life. He is a rural letter-carrier ... for which his salary is ten shillings and sixpence per week. He has a real poet’s wife; his Jane, a charming brunette, is intelligent, prudent, and good. He has two children, Charles, a boy of seven, and Milly, a girl just three years of age.

“Mr. Capern’s features have a striking resemblance to those of Oliver Goldsmith; he has also the Doctor’s sturdy build, though not his personal height. Nor is this the only point of resemblance to our dear Goldy. Mr. Capern has an ear for music, he plays touchingly on the flute, and sings his own songs to his own tunes with striking energy or tenderness.”

[Pg 328]

He certainly enjoyed his life as a postman. He says:—

O, the postman’s life is as happy a life
As any one’s, I trow;
Wand’ring away where dragon-flies play,
And brooks sing soft and low;
And watching the lark as he soars on high,
To carol in yonder cloud,
“He sings in his labours, and why not I?”
The postman sings aloud.

In 1858, Capern published a second volume, entitled Ballads and Songs, and in 1865 a third, Wayside Warbles. There was yet another, The Devonshire Melodist, in which he set his own songs to tunes of his own composition. But here again he was at fault. Devonshire is full of folk music of the first order. Burns set his songs to folk tunes then sung by the people, but to gross words. He rescued the melodies by giving to them verses that could be sung by decent and clean-minded people. Now had Capern done this for the music of the neighbourhood of Barnstaple he would have been remembered along with these delicious airs, as is Burns along with the Scotch melodies. But not so, he must set his verses to the tootling of his own pipe, entirely without melodious idea in the tunes.

Probably Edward Capern had never heard of Edwin Waugh, who wrote the most delicious, simple, and sweet poems in Lancashire and Yorkshire dialect; every one is a gem. Probably, had he seen these, Capern would have despised them. They breathe the life, the passion, the tenderness, the genius of the North-countrymen. Capern’s verses have none of this merit. They are respectable vers de société, such as any man of culture could have written. His great achievement was, that, not being a man of culture, he could write such respectable “poems.” He took a wrong course from the outset; and unhappily he maintained it. What tells its own tale is this. Next to the British[Pg 329] Museum, the London Library is the largest in the Metropolis, and it has not been deemed worth while to include in it one of Capern’s volumes of verses.

His last volume published was Sun-gleams and Shadows (1881), and, unless I am mistaken, all owed their success to subscribers.

In 1866 Capern left Marine Gardens, Bideford, and went to live at Harborne, near Birmingham. His verses found their way into various periodicals, Fun and Hood’s Comic Annual. But his heart was in his native county and thither he returned. He received a pension from the Civil List of £40 a year, which was afterwards increased to £60. It was due to his wife’s ill-health that he left the neighbourhood of Birmingham in 1884, and rented a pleasant cottage at Braunton. There he lost his wife in February, 1894. The two old people had been tenderly attached, and her admiration for and pride in her husband were unbounded. He did not long survive her, for he died on 4 June in the same year as his wife, and they were buried side by side in the churchyard of Heanton Punchardon. The expenses of his funeral were defrayed by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, to whom he had dedicated the second volume of his poems.

It was unfortunate for Capern in a measure that he had been patted on the back by such men as James Anthony Froude, who wrote of him in Fraser’s Magazine: “Capern is a real poet, a man whose writings will be like a gleam of summer sunshine in every household which they enter”; and Walter Savage Landor, who pronounced him to be “a noble poet”; also Alfred Austin, who wrote of him:—

O, Lark-like Poet: carol on,
Lost in dim light, an unseen trill:
We, in the Heaven where you are gone,
Find you no more, but hear you still.

[Pg 330]

In the summer of 1864, the American literary blacksmith, Elihu Burritt, spent three days with Capern, on his “Walk from London to the Land’s End and back,” and gave an excellent description of his host. He says: “Edward Capern, of Bideford, is a poet, and he is a postman, and both at once, and good at each. He is as faithful and genial a postman as ever dropped a letter in a cottage door, with an honest and welcome face, itself a living epistle of good will and friendly cheer. I can attest to that most confidently; for I went with him in his pony-cart two days on his rural rounds. That he is a poet who has written songs that will live and have a pleasant place among the productions of genius, I am equally confident, though pretending to be no connoisseur in such matters myself. Better judges have awarded to them a high degree of merit. Already a considerable volume of his songs and ballads has gone to its second edition; and he has sufficient matter on hand to make another of equal size and character. His postal beat lies between Bideford and Buckland Brewer, a distance of more than six miles. Up to quite a recent date, he walked this distance twice a day in all weathers; starting off on winter mornings while it was yet dark. Having grown somewhat corpulent and short-winded, he has mounted, within a year or two, a pony-cart, that carries him up and down the long, steep hills on his course. It takes him till noon to ascend these to Buckland and distribute letters and papers among the hamlet cottages and roadside farmhouses on the way. Having reached the little town on the summit-hill, and left his bag at the post-office, he has three hours to wait before setting out on his return journey. These are his writing hours; and he spends them in a little, antique, thatched cottage in one of the village streets. Here,[Pg 331] seated at one end of a long deal table, while the cottager’s wife and daughters are plying their needles, and doing all their family work at the other, he pens down the thoughts that have passed through the flitting visions of his imagination while alone on the road. Here he wrote most of his first book of ballads, and here he is working up his glowing rollicking songs for a new volume. Sometimes the poetic inspiration comes in upon him like a flood on his way. He told me that he once brought home with him six sonnets on six different subjects, which he had thought out and penned in one of his daily beats. When the news of the taking of the Redan reached England, the very inner soul of his patriotism was stirred within him to the proudest emotion. As he walked up and down the long hills with his letter-bags strapped to his side, the thoughts of the glory his country had won came into his mind with a half-suffocating rush, and he struggled, nearly drowned by them, to give them forms of speech. The days were short, the road was long, and hard to foot, and the rules of the postal service were rigid. He could not hold fast the thoughts the event stirred within him until he reached the cottage. Some of the best of them would flit out of his memory, if he delayed to pen them as they arose. So he ran with all his might and main for a third of a mile, all panting with the race for time, found he had caught enough of it for pencilling on his knee a whole verse of the song. Thus he ran and wrote, each stanza costing him a race that made the hot perspiration fall upon the soiled and crumpled paper, on which he brought home to a wife prouder than himself of the song,—‘The Lion Flag of England.’”


The record of the adventures of this man is fully as interesting as the fictitious story of Robinson Crusoe and well deserves republication. It was first published in Exeter in 1837. Two editions of a thousand copies each were exhausted, and a third was published in 1839, and a fourth in 1841.

George Medyett Goodridge was born at Paignton on 22 May, 1796. At the age of thirteen he hired himself as cabin-boy on board the Lord Cochrane, an armed brig, stationed off Torquay to protect the fishing craft from French cruisers. From that time till 1820 he was continually at sea; in that year, on 1 May, he joined the Princess of Wales, a cutter, burthen seventy-five tons, bound for the South Seas after oil, fins, seal-skins, and ambergris. The arrangement was that out of every ninety skins procured, each mariner should have one; the boys proportionately less; and the officers proportionately more. Captain Veale was commander, Mazora, an Italian, mate; there were in addition three boys and ten mariners.

In descending the Thames from Limehouse, a Captain Cox went on board and made a present to the crew of a Bible. “We thought little of the gift at the time,” says Goodridge, “but the sequel will show that this proved to be the most valuable of all our stores.” In passing down the Channel, the vessel was wind-bound for several days, and Goodridge was able to[Pg 333] visit his friends at Paignton, and bid them farewell. “On the 21st, being Whit Sunday, the weather proved fine, with a breeze from the northward, we again weighed anchor and proceeded on our voyage.”

Charles Medyett Goodridge


On 2 November the vessel reached the Crozets, a group of five islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

“As there is no harbour for shelter, the plan pursued is, for one party to go on shore, provided with necessary provisions for several days, while the remainder of the crew remain to take care of the vessel, and to salt in the skins that have been procured. The prevailing winds are from the westward, and we used to lie with our vessel under the shelter of the island, and whenever the wind shifted to the eastward, which it sometimes did very suddenly, we had to weigh our anchor, or slip the cable, and stand out to sea. The easterly wind scarcely ever lasted more than two days, when it would chop round to the northward, with rain, and then come round to W.N.W. We should then return to our shelter, take on board the skins collected, and again furnish the sealing party with provisions. The most boisterous season of the year in these latitudes commences in August, during which month the most tremendous gales are experienced, with much snow, rain and hail.

“The hardships and privations experienced in procuring seal-skins on these islands may be faintly conjectured, when I state the plan pursued by the parties on shore. The land affords no shelter whatever, there being neither tree nor shrub, and the weather is at most times extremely wet, and snow frequently on the ground, indeed, there is scarcely more than a month’s fine weather during the year. Their boat, therefore, hauled on shore, serves them for their dwelling house by day, and their lodging house by night. Their[Pg 334] provisions consist of salt pork, bread, coffee, and molasses; on this scanty fare, with the shelter of their boat only turned upside down, and tussicked up, they sometimes remain a fortnight at a time, each day undergoing excessive labour in searching for and killing seals, and very often without meeting with an adequate reward after all their privations. Added to this, when a gale renders it necessary for their vessel to drive to sea, each hour she is absent, the mind is harassed with fears for her safety, and of the consequences that would result to themselves if thus left on such a desolate spot, surrounded by a vast ocean, and where years might pass without a vessel ever coming near them.”

The largest of the islands is about twenty-five miles in circumference, and lies about thirty miles distant from one of the small ones, and about twelve miles from the other. The other two islands lie about twenty miles to the eastward of the three first.

On 5 February a sealing party, consisting of eight, was landed on the easternmost island, and the remaining seven proceeded with the vessel to the other island. Those in the vessel consisted of the master, Captain Veale, of Dartmouth, and his brother, Jarvis Veale, Goodridge, Parnel, Hooper, Baker, and a Hanoverian named Newbee. The vessel visited the sealing party every seven days, took on board the skins collected, and supplied them with a fresh stock of provisions; that done it returned to the other island, where the crew also employed themselves in collecting seal-skins.

The last visit made to the easternmost island was on 10 March, and the next visit would have been on the 18th had not a gale come on, on the 17th, that compelled the captain to stand off, and gain the offing.

“We accordingly slipped our cable and stood to[Pg 335] sea, but before we had proceeded any distance, it came on a dead calm, so that we entirely lost command of the vessel, the swell of the sea continuing at the same time so heavy that our boat was useless; for any attempt at towing her in such a swell, and against a strong current which was making directly on the land, was utterly vain. The island presented to our view a perpendicular cliff, with numerous rocks protruding into the sea, and against them we were driven, victims to the unspent power of a raging sea, lashed into fury by winds which now seemed hushed into breathless silence, the more calmly to witness the effects of the agitation raised by them in the bosom of the ocean. We attempted to sound for bottom, in hope that we might have recourse to our anchor; but the hope was vain, as our longest lengths of line were found inadequate to reach it. It was now ten at night, and from this time till midnight we were in momentary expectation of striking. The suspense was truly awful, indeed, the horrors we experienced were more dreadful than I had ever felt or witnessed in the most violent storms; for on such occasions the persevering spirits of Englishmen will struggle with the elements to the last blast and the last wave; but here there was nothing to combat; we were driven on by an invisible power—all was calm above us—around us the surface of the sea, although raised into a mountainous swell, was smooth; but the distant sound of its continued crash on the breakers to which we were drawn by irresistible force, broke on our ears as our death knell. At last the awful moment arrived, and about 12 o’clock at night, our vessel struck with great violence. Although previous to her striking all hands appeared paralysed, now arrived the period of action. The boat was fortunately got out without accident, and all hands got[Pg 336] into her with such articles as we could immediately put our hands on, among which were a kettle, a frying-pan, our knives and steels, and a fire-bag (this article is a tinder-box supplied with cotton matches, and carefully secured from damp in a tarpaulin bag), but without any provisions or clothes except what we stood upright in.

“The night was dark and rainy, and the vessel was pitching bowsprit under; we were surrounded by rocks, and the nearest shore was a perpendicular cliff of great height. We however tugged at the oars, but made little progress, the kelp being extremely thick, long and strong, and the current running direct to the shore. After four hours incessant labour, we succeeded in effecting a landing, on a more accessible part of the island, but our boat was swamped, and it was with great difficulty we succeeded at length in dragging her ashore; which however we accomplished, and by turning her bottom upwards, and propping up one side as before described, we crept under and obtained some little shelter from the rain, being all miserably cold, wet and hungry.

“We remained huddled together till daylight appeared, and our craving appetites then told us it was time to seek for sustenance; we therefore sallied forth in search of a sea-elephant; and although they were rather scarce at this period of the year, it was not long before we found one; nor was it long before we dispatched it. With its blubber we soon kindled a fire, and the heart, tongue, and such other parts as were edible, with the assistance of our kettle and frying-pan, were soon in a forward state of cookery. We also made a fire of some blubber under our boat, and by it we dried our clothes, and made ourselves more comfortable.

[Pg 337]

“When we were in some measure refreshed, and had recruited our strength with the food we had procured, a party of us set out over the hills, in the direction of the spot where the vessel was wrecked, in order to ascertain her fate, and to see if there was a possibility of saving anything out of her. They returned about the middle of the day, and reported that she was lying on the rocks, on her beam ends, with a large hole in her lower planks, and the sea breaking over her; so that it was impossible she should hold together much longer; it was evident, therefore, that all hope of saving her was at an end, and our endeavours could now only be exerted for the purpose of saving any portion of the wreck that might prove serviceable to us in our desolate situation.

“On the following morning we succeeded in launching our boat, and we then proceeded towards the wreck. In our progress we discovered a cove much nearer the vessel than where we landed, and we resolved to make this our immediate station.

“We next visited the wreck, and succeeded in saving the captain’s chest, the mate’s chest, and also some planks. The last thing we saved, and which we found floating on the water, was the identical Bible put on board by Captain Cox. What made this circumstance more remarkable was, that although we had a variety of other books on board, such as our navigation books, journals, log-books, etc., this was the only article of the kind that we found, nor did we discover the smallest shred of paper of any kind, except this Bible.

“On the next day the wind blew very strong, and we saw that nothing remained of our vessel but the mast, which had become entangled by the rigging among the rocks and sea weed, and this was the last thing we were enabled to secure.

[Pg 338]

“The weather continued so wet and boisterous for three weeks from this time, that it was as much as we could well do to procure necessary food for our sustenance, and we therefore contented ourselves with the shelter our boat, tussicked up, afforded us during that period; the weather at last proving less inclement, we set about collecting all the materials we had saved, and then commenced erecting for ourselves a more commodious dwelling-place. The sides we formed of stones and the wood saved from the wreck, for there was not shrub or tree growing on the whole island. The top we covered with sea-elephants’ skins, and at the end of a few weeks we were comparatively well lodged. We made our beds of the long grass, called tussick, with which the island abounded; and the skins of the seals we chanced to kill served us for sheets, blankets, and counterpanes. Wanting glass we were obliged to do without windows; the same opening, therefore, that served us for entrance, served us also for the admission of light and air; and when the weather obliged us to shut out the cold, we were obliged to shut out the light of day also.

“While constructing our hut, we found on the island traces of some Americans who had visited these islands sixteen years before, and who had built a hut. The sea-elephants, however, had trodden almost everything into the ground; and as we had no tools wherewith to dig, we could not search for anything they might have left. Providence, however, at length threw the means in our way of effecting our wishes; for one of our company, while searching for eggs at a considerable distance from our building, found a pick-axe, and brought it home in high glee. To men situated as we were, it was not to be wondered at that we should deem this almost a miracle. Suffice it to say, we all returned[Pg 339] our hearty thanks for the favour, and set to work digging up the place where traces of the hut remained. Our labour proved not to be in vain, for we got up a quantity of timber; also part of a pitch-pot, which would hold about a gallon. This proved highly valuable to us, for, by the help of a piece of hoop-iron, we manufactured it into a frying-pan, our other being worn so thin by constant use, that it was scarcely fit to cook in. Digging further we found a broad axe, a sharpening-stone, a piece of a shovel, and an auger; also a number of iron hoops. These things were of essential service to us. We did not save any of our lances from the ship, and we had often considerable labour to kill the large male sea-elephants; but we now took the handle of our old frying-pan, and with the help of the sharpening-stone, gave it a good point; we then fixed it in a handle, and with this weapon we dispatched these animals with ease.

“The dog-seals are named by South-seamen Wigs, and the female seals are called Clap-matches. The Wigs are larger than the largest Newfoundland dog, and their bark is somewhat similar. When attacked they would attempt to bite; and it required some dexterity to avoid their teeth, the wounds from which were difficult to heal. The flesh we found very rank. The young ones are usually denominated Pompeys, and are excellent for food.

“The supply of seals we found very scanty; our principal dependence, therefore, was on the sea-elephants, which, from their great tameness, became an easy prey. They served us for meat, washing, lodging, firing, grates, washing-tubs, and tobacco pipes. The parts we made use of for food, were the heart, tongue, sweetbread, and the tender parts of the skin; the snotters (a sort of fleshy skin which hangs over the[Pg 340] nose) and the flappers. These, after boiling a considerable time, formed a jelly, and made, with the addition of some eggs, adding a pigeon or two, or a sea-hen, very good soup. The blood served to wash with, as it quickly removed either dirt or grease. When we had articles that needed washing, and had killed an elephant, we used to turn the carcase on its back, and the intestines being taken out, a quantity of blood would flow into the cavity. In this we cleansed the articles, and then rinsing them in the stream, they were washed as well as if we had been provided with soap.

“The skins served us for roofing, and of them we also formed our shoes or moccasins, and these we used to sew together with thongs formed from the sinews. Their teeth we formed into the bowls of pipes, and to this attached the leg bone of some water-fowl, and together it formed a good apparatus. Having no tobacco, we used the dried grass that grew on the island.

“Of sea-elephants’ blubber we made our fires, and their bones laid across on some stones formed grates to lay the blubber on. Of a piece of blubber also, with a piece of rope-yarn stuck in it, we formed our lamps, and it produced a very good light. The largest elephants are about 25 ft. long and 18 ft. round, and their blubber was frequently 7 in. thick and would yield a tun of oil. The brain of the animal, which was almost as sweet as sugar, was frequently eaten by us raw. The only kind of vegetable on the island, besides grass, was a plant resembling a cabbage, but we found it so bitter that we could make no use of it.

“Mr. Veale had fortunately saved his watch uninjured, so we were able to divide our time pretty regularly. We usually rose about 8 in the morning,[Pg 341] and took breakfast at 9 o’clock; after breakfast some of the party would go catering for the day’s provisions, while the others remained at home to fulfil the domestic offices. We dined generally about 1 o’clock, and took tea about 5. For some months this latter meal, as far as the beverage went, consisted of boiled water only, but we afterwards manufactured what we named Mocoa as a substitute for tea, and this consisted of raw eggs beat up in hot water. We supped about 7 or 8 o’clock, and generally retired to rest about 10.

“I have before said that the most valuable thing we preserved from the wreck was our Bible, and here I must state that some portion of each day was set apart for reading it; and by nothing perhaps could I better exemplify its benefits than by stating that to its influence we were indebted for an almost unparalleled unanimity during the whole time we were on the island. Peace reigned among us, for the precepts of Him who was the harbinger of Peace and Goodwill towards men were daily inculcated and daily practised. The Bible when bestowed was thrown by unheeded: it traversed wide oceans, it was scattered with the wreck of our frail bark, and was indeed and in truth found upon the waters after many days, and not only was the mere book found, but its value was also discovered, and its blessings, so long neglected, were now made apparent to us. Cast away on a desert island, in the midst of an immense ocean, without a hope of deliverance, lost to all human sympathy, mourned as dead by our kindred, in this invaluable book we found the herald of hope, the balm and consolation, the dispenser of peace.

“Another striking fact may here be stated. One of our crew was a professed Atheist: he was, however, extremely ignorant, not being able even to read. This[Pg 342] man had frequently derided our religious exercises, but having no one to second him, it did not disturb the harmony that reigned among us.

“This man’s conversion was occasioned by an interposition which he deemed supernatural. The story he gave of himself was as follows: He had been out seeking for provender alone, and evening closed on him before he could reach our dwelling. The darkness perplexed him, and the ground which he had to cross being very uneven and interspersed with many rocks and declivities, fear rather increased than decreased his power of perception, and he became unable to proceed.”

It may here be added that one of the great dangers of the island were the bog-holes, Goodridge supposes worked in the soil by the bull-elephants; these are eight or nine feet deep and become full of mire: any one stepping in would suddenly be engulfed.

“Here he first felt his own weakness; he hallooed loudly for help, but he was far out of hearing of our abode. Bereft of all human aid, and every moment adding to his fear, he at length called on the name of his Maker and Saviour, and implored that assistance from Heaven which he had before so often scorned. He prayed now most fervently for deliverance, and suddenly, as he conceived, a light appeared around him, by which he was enabled to discover his path and reach our hut in safety. So fully satisfied was he himself that it was a miraculous interposition of Providence that from that period he became quite another man.

“Great numbers of birds visit these islands. There are three species of Penguins beside the King Penguin, and these are named by South Sea men, Macaroonys, Johnnys, and Rock Hoppers. The Macaroonys congregate in their rookeries in great numbers, fre[Pg 343]quently three or four thousand; they ascend very high up the hills, and form their nests roughly among the rocks. They are larger than a duck, and lay three eggs, two about the size of duck’s eggs, on which they sit; the other is smaller, and is cast out of the nest, and we used to term it the pigeon’s egg, for another kind of bird which frequent these islands, almost in every respect resembling a pigeon, make their principal food of eggs, and would rob the nests to procure them unless they found those cast-out eggs, which most commonly satisfied them till the others by incubation were unfit for food. A similar practice we observed with the Rock Hoppers, but the Johnnys, like the King Penguins, lay only one egg each, unless deprived of them.

“The Johnnys build their nests superior to either of the others among the long grass. These birds lay in winter as well as in summer, and by robbing their nests we kept them laying nearly all the year round. We observed that when we robbed those which formed their nests on the plain, that they rebuilt their nests higher up. When we took the eggs of these birds, they would look at us most piteously, making a low, moaning noise, as if in great distress at the deprivation, but would exhibit no kind of resistance. The King Penguins, however, would strike at us with their flippers, and their blows were frequently severe.

“The Rock Hoppers form their rookeries at the foot of high hills, and make their nests of stones and turf. This is the only species of Penguin that whistles; the King Penguins halloo, and the Johnnys and Macaroonys make a sort of yawing noise.

“One kind of bird which proved very valuable to us are called Nellys. They are larger than a goose, and resort to these islands in great numbers. They make[Pg 344] burrows in the ground, and were very easily caught. These birds are so ravenous, that after we had killed a Sea-Elephant, they would, in a few hours, completely carry off every particle of flesh we did not make use of, leaving the bones clean as possible. Their young became very good eating in March.”

Although this party knew that the other party of sealers had been left on the larger island, they did not venture to cross to it, as the seas were very rough, and winds were almost always contrary. However, this party on the western island, in December, 1821, finding the seals very scarce, and other provisions scanty, determined on visiting the eastern island, but without the least expectation of finding any remnants of the vessel, much less of meeting any of their comrades, whom they supposed to be all drowned.

They arrived on the 13th December, and entered the same cove where was the residence of those who had escaped the wreck. The joy of all hands on meeting is better conceived than described. The new arrivals had brought with them their kettle, frying-pan, and other implements; and also the discovery they had made that the cabbage growing on the islands if boiled for three or four hours lost its bitterness. This now proved to be a rich delicacy after such long deprivation of vegetable diet.

As the chance of any vessel coming to the Crozets became apparently less and less, the whole party now resolved to attempt to construct a vessel in which to make their escape. Those on the western isle had found there remains of wooden huts, and some beams and planks had been dug up on the eastern isle. It was found that the means of subsistence on that island where the whole party was now settled would not suffice for all. It was accordingly resolved[Pg 345] again to separate. Captain Veale and his brother, Goodridge, Soper, and Spesinick, an Italian, were to go to the western isle and remain there, but the timber found there was to be transferred to the eastern isle, where the vessel was to be constructed. This accordingly was effected. Meanwhile Goodridge’s clothes had worn out, and he had to clothe himself in seal-skins.

In building the ship numerous were the difficulties experienced. Tools were few and imperfect. They had neither pitch nor oakum. The rigging was made of the ropes taken on shore by the sealing party wherewith to raft off to the boats the skins procured, as the surf on the beaches prevented their landing to load with safety and convenience.

By the beginning of January, 1823, the vessel was completed by the ten men on the eastern isle, and it was equipped with sails of seal-skins. They also formed vessels for taking a stock of fresh water, from the skins of pup elephants; and they provided a store of salted tongues, eggs, and whatever could be got for a voyage in the frail bark. Then the boat was sent over to the western isle to fetch away those on it to assist in launching the ship; and lots were to be cast as to the five whom alone it would accommodate, and who were to be sent off in this frail vessel, without compass or chart, on the chance of falling in with some ship in the Southern Seas.

Two years had now nearly passed since the party had been wrecked.

Seven had come over to the western isle to summon the Veales, Goodridge, and the rest, but it was not possible to return the same day; and during the night a violent gale of wind sprang up, and the boat having been hauled up in an exposed situation, the wind caught her, carried her to a distance of seventy yards,[Pg 346] and so damaged her as to render her unseaworthy, the stern being completely beat in. This disaster produced consternation; for the other boat, that left on the eastern isle, had been ripped up to line the ship that had been constructed.

On the 21st, “about noon, whilst most of us were employed in preparing for our meal, Dominic Spesinick, who was an elderly man, left us to take a walk; he had proceeded to a high point of land about three parts of a mile distant from our hut, and saw a vessel passing round the next point. He immediately came running towards us in great agitation, and for some time could do nothing but gesticulate, excess of joy having completely deprived him of the power of utterance. Capt. Veale, who was with me, asked what the foolish fellow was at, and he having by this time a little recovered himself, told us that he had certainly seen a vessel pass round the point of the island. We had so often been deceived by the appearance of large birds sitting on the water, which we had mistaken for vessels at a distance, that we were slow to believe his story; however, it was agreed that John Soper should go with him, taking a direction across the island, so that they might, if possible, intercept the vessel; and being supplied with a tinder-box, in order to light a fire, to attract the notice of the crew should they gain sight of her, off they started.

“The hours passed very slowly during their absence, and when night approached, and they were not returned, a thousand conjectures were started to account for their stay. Morning at length came, after a tedious night. Some had not closed their eyes, whilst the others who had caught a few minutes sleep had been disturbed by frightful dreams, and wakened only to disappointed hopes.

[Pg 347]

“Our two companions had been fortunate enough to reach that part of the island in which the vessel was still in sight; and by finding the remains of a sea-elephant that had been recently killed, they ascertained that the crew had been on shore, and they hastened to kindle a fire; but finding they could not attract the attention of those in the vessel from the beach, they proceeded with all haste to ascend a hill in the direction she was still steering. Spesinick, however, became exhausted, and was unable to proceed further. Soper went on, but had to descend into a valley before he could gain another elevated spot to make a signal from. Spesinick, returning to the beach where they had kindled the fire, to his great joy, saw a boat from the vessel coming on shore. The crew had reached the beach before Spesinick got to it; but his voice was drowned by the noise of a rookery of macaroonys he had disturbed on the hill. Seeing the fire, the smoke of which had first attracted their attention, they were convinced that there were human beings on the island, and had commenced a search. In the interim, Spesinick had made for the boat, and having reached it clung to it in a fit of desperate joy that gave him the appearance of a maniac; and the crew, on returning, found him in such questionable guise that they hailed him before approaching. Dressed in shaggy fur skins, with a cap of the same material, and beard of nearly two years’ growth, it was not probable that they should take him for a civilized being. They soon, however, became better acquainted, and he gave them an outline of the shipwreck, the number of men on the island, and that Soper was not far off.

“The vessel proved to be an American schooner called the Philo, Isaac Perceval, master, on a sealing and trading voyage.

[Pg 348]

“Soper, being still unaware of the boat having gone ashore, as it must have done so, while he was crossing the valley, on coming to a place where, on a foraging excursion, we had erected a shelter at the opening of a cave, he set the place on fire, and the boat which had returned with Spesinick put off and took him on board also, much to his joy. By this time it was nearly dark, and too late to send or make any communication to us on that evening, but on the following morning, 22 January, the captain of the schooner sent his boat to fetch off the remaining ten.

“We had by this time almost given up all hopes of our expected deliverance, and had gone to a neighbouring rookery to gather all the eggs we could collect. Shortly after ten a shout from one of our companions, Millichant, aroused our attention, and we soon perceived the American schooner’s boat coming round the point. Down went the eggs. Some capered, some ran, some shouted, and three loud cheers from us were quickly answered by those in the boat.

“Here I cannot help breaking off in my narrative to remark on the providential nature of our succour. The damage done to our boat had caused us much distress, but now how different were our views of the accident; for had our boat not been damaged, our return to the other island would have followed as a matter of course; and, in all probability, we should never have seen the vessel that now proved the means of our deliverance.”

On 23 January, Captain Perceval steered for the east island, and took off the remainder of the shipwrecked men.

“The day of departure now arrived, and after remaining on those islands one year, ten months, and five days, we bade them adieu—shall I say with great[Pg 349] joy? Certainly; and yet I felt a mixture of regret. Whether from the perverseness of my nature, or from any other cause, I can only say—so it was.”

The American captain was bent on collecting seal-skins, and it was his purpose to visit the islands of Amsterdam and St. Paul’s, and then make his way to the Mauritius, where he would leave those whom he had rescued. Meanwhile, he required them, like a shrewd, not to say grasping Yankee, to work for him at the seal fishery; and this they did till the 1st April, when he was at St. Paul’s. There dissatisfaction broke out among those he had rescued. He had kept them working hard for him during two months, and had not given them even a change of clothing. The Italian Mazora spoke out, and Captain Perceval was furious and ordered him to be set on shore; he would take him no further in his ship. At this his comrades in misfortune spoke out also. Having suffered so long together they would not desert a comrade, and they all resented the way in which Captain Perceval was taking an unfair advantage of them. They had, in fact, secured for him five thousand seal-skins and three hundred quintals of fish. The Yankee captain having now got out of them all he could, did not trouble himself about taking them any further, and sent ten of them ashore: only three—Captain Veale, his brother, and Petherbridge—went on with the American ship. Two others, Soper and Newbee, had remained at their own wish at Amsterdam, which they could leave when they wished, as it lay in the direct track of all ships going from the Cape of Good Hope to New South Wales.

The American captain gave a cask of bread and some necessaries to those he put ashore on St. Paul’s.

Here they remained, renewing their hardships on the Crozets, but in a better climate, till the first week in[Pg 350] June, when a sloop, a tender to the King George whaler, arrived, looking for her consort in vain. The sloop was only twenty-eight tons and could not accommodate more than three, and the lot decided that Goodridge should be one of these three. Then the sloop sailed for Van Diemen’s Land, and after a rough passage of thirty-six days reached Hobart Town on 7 July.

We need not follow Goodridge’s narrative further, though what remains is interesting: his observations on the condition of the convicts, the settlers, and so forth. He there got into trouble, being arrested and thrown into prison on the suspicion that he was a runaway sailor from the King George, and he had great difficulty in obtaining his discharge. He was also attacked and nearly murdered by bushrangers.

At length, in the beginning of 1831, he was able to start for home. He embarked on 15 February. “On Sunday morning, 31st July, we came off Torbay, and now I anxiously looked out for some conveyance to land: I was in sight of my native village—my heart beat high. The venerable tower of Paignton, forming as it does one of the most conspicuous objects in the bay, was full in view, and with my glass I could trace many well-remembered objects, even the very dwelling of my childhood and the home of my parents.” On 2 August, Goodridge reached home to find his parents still alive, though the old man was infirm and failing. He had been away eleven years; but of these a good many had been spent by him in business in Van Diemen’s Land.


John Davy was born at Upton Hellions, and was an illegitimate child, baptized as Davie on Christmas Day, 1763. When he was about three years old, he entered the room one day where his uncle, a blacksmith in the same parish, was playing a psalm tune on the violoncello; but the moment he heard the instrument he ran away crying, and was so terrified that it was thought he would have a fit. For several weeks his uncle repeatedly tried to reconcile him to the instrument; and at last, after much coaxing and encouragement, he effected it by taking the child’s fingers and making him strike the strings. The sound thus produced startled him considerably at first, but in a few days he became so passionately fond of the amusement, that he took every opportunity of scraping a better acquaintance with the monster. With a little attention he was soon able to produce such notes from the violoncello as greatly delighted him.

Soon after this Davy’s uncle frequently took him to Crediton, where a company of soldiers was quartered, and one day at the roll-call he was greatly delighted at the music of the fifes; so much was he pleased that he borrowed one, and very soon taught himself to play several tunes decently. After this he began to make fifes from the tubular reeds growing on the banks of the Creedy, and commonly called “billers.” With[Pg 352] these he made several imitations of the fife, and bartered them to his playmates.

At the age of four or five years, his ear was so correct that he could play any easy tune after once hearing it. Before he was quite six years old, a neighbouring blacksmith, into whose house he went frequently, lost twenty or thirty horseshoes. Diligent search was made for them during many days. But one evening the blacksmith, John Davy’s uncle, heard faint chimes, like those of Crediton Church, sounding from the garret of his house, and having listened a sufficient time to be convinced that his ears did not deceive him, he ascended to the attic, and there found the boy with the horseshoes, or so many of them as would form an octave, hung clear of the wall to nails, and he was striking them with a hammer or iron rod, playing the chimes of Crediton Church bells.

The story coming to the ears of Chancellor Carrington, then rector of Upton Hellions, he felt interested in the child, and showed him a harpsichord, on which he speedily acquired some proficiency. He applied himself likewise to the violin, on which his uncle, who played in the orchestra of the church choir, was able to give him some instruction, and he found little difficulty in surmounting the preliminaries. When eleven years old the Chancellor introduced him to the Rev. Mr. Eastcott, who possessed a pianoforte, then an instrument of recent introduction, at least in the west. With this also the boy soon became familiar, and so impressed Mr. Eastcott with his intuitive genius for music, that he advised his friends to place him with some musician of eminence, under whom he would have free access to a good instrument, and might learn the rules of composition. They applied to Mr. William Jackson, the organist of Exeter Cathedral, and when John was[Pg 353] about twelve years of age, he was articled as a pupil and apprentice to this able man.

His progress in the study of composition, and especially of church music, was rapid. He also became an admirable performer on the organ, and often took the place of Jackson in the cathedral. The first of his compositions that appear to have attained any degree of celebrity were some vocal quartettes.

Having completed his studies with Jackson, Davy went to London, where he obtained a situation in the orchestra at Covent Garden; and he employed his time in teaching, and soon had a considerable number of pupils. He composed some dramatic pieces for the theatre at Sadler’s Wells, and wrote the music to Mr. Holman’s opera of What a Blunder, which was performed at the little theatre in the Haymarket in 1800. In the following year, he was engaged with Moorhead in the music of Perouse, and with Mountain in The Brazen Mask, for Covent Garden.

He was greatly lionized in Town, owing to the éclat attending his early efforts, and was retained as composer of music by the managers of the Theatres Royal until infirmities, rather than age, rendered him almost incapable of exertion, unhappily a victim to drink. He died, before he was sixty-two, in February, 1824, without a friend, and was buried in St. Martin’s churchyard at the expense of two London tradesmen, one of whom, Mr. Thomas, was a native of Crediton.

Davy at one time had an ambition to shine as an actor, and he actually made his debut on the stage at Exeter, but failed.

Although Davy’s end was so wretched, many of his compositions will never cease to be recollected and sung; notably that delicately beautiful ballad, “Just Like Love”; others, more boisterous in character, are,[Pg 354] “May We Never Want a Friend,” “The Death of the Smuggler,” and “The Bay of Biscay.”

For the life of Davy, see dictionaries of Musical Biography, and an article by Dr. Edwards on “Crediton Musicians” in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1882.


For the story of Richard Parker, I shall quote almost verbatim the account, which is very detailed, by Camden Pelham in Chronicles of Crime, London, 1840.

In the year 1797, when the threatening aspect of affairs abroad made the condition of the naval force a matter of vital importance to Britain, several alarming mutinies broke out among the various fleets stationed around the shores of the country. In April of the year mentioned, the seamen of the grand fleet lying at Portsmouth disowned the authority of their officers, seized upon the ships, hoisted the red flag, and declared their determination not to lift an anchor, or obey any orders whatsoever, until certain grievances of which they complained were redressed.

There is no denying or concealing the fact—the men had been ill-paid, ill-fed, shamefully neglected by the country, which depended upon them for its all, and, in many instances, harshly and brutally treated by their officers, and belly-pinched and plundered by their pursers. They behaved with exemplary moderation. The mutineers allowed all frigates with convoys to sail, in order not to injure the commerce of the country. The delegates of the vessels drew up and signed a petition to Parliament and another to the Admiralty; their language was respectful, and their demands were very far from exorbitant.

[Pg 356]

After some delay, satisfactory concessions were made to them by Government, and the men returned to their duty. But the spirit of insubordination had spread among other squadrons in the service, and about the middle of May, immediately after the Portsmouth fleet had sailed peaceably for the Bay of Biscay, the seamen of the large fleet lying at the Nore broke out also into open mutiny. The most conspicuous personage in the insurrection was one Richard Parker, a native of Exeter, privately baptized, in St. Mary Major parish, 24 April, 1767. His father was a baker in that parish, and had his shop near the turnstile. It was afterwards burnt down. He rented it of the dean and chapter, from 1761 to 1793, and acquired a little land near to Exeter as his own. Young Parker received a good education, and at the age of twelve went to sea. He served in the Royal Navy as midshipman and master’s mate. But he threw up his profession on his marriage with Anne McHardy, a young woman resident in Exeter, but of Scottish origin, a member of a respectable family in Aberdeen.

This connexion led Parker to remove to Scotland, where he embarked in some mercantile speculations that proved unsuccessful. The issue was that before long he found himself in embarrassed circumstances, and unable to maintain his wife and two children. In Edinburgh, where these difficulties arose, he had no friends to whom he could apply for assistance, and in a moment of desperation he took the King’s bounty, and became a common sailor on board a tender at Leith. When he announced to his wife the steps he had taken, she hastened to Aberdeen in great distress to procure from her brother the means of hiring two seamen as substitutes for her husband. But when she returned with the money from Aberdeen it was too[Pg 357] late, for the tender had just sailed with her husband on board. Her grief was aggravated at this time by the loss of one of her children. Parker’s sufferings were shown to be equally acute by his conduct when the vessel sailed, crying out that he saw the body of his child floating upon the waves; he leaped overboard, and was with difficulty rescued and restored to life.

Richard Parker


Who was executed on board the Sandwich off Sheerness on Friday
Jun 30th 1797 pursuant to the sentence of a Court Martial for having
been the Principal in a most daring Mutiny on board several of his
Majesty’s Ships at the Nore & which created a dreadful alarm through
the whole Nation

In the early days of May, 1797, Parker reached the Nore, a point of land dividing the mouth of the Thames and the Medway. Probably on account of his former experience as a seaman, he was drafted on board the Sandwich, the guardship that bore the flag of Admiral Buckner, the Port Admiral. The mutinous spirit which afterwards broke out certainly existed on board the Nore squadron before Parker’s arrival. Communications were kept up in secret between the various crews, and the mischief was gradually drawing to a head. But though he did not originate the feeling of insubordination, the ardent temper, boldness, and superior intelligence of Parker soon became known to his comrades, and he became a prominent man among them. Their plans being at last matured, the seamen rose simultaneously against their officers, and deprived them of their arms, as well as of all command in the ships, though behaving respectfully to them in all other ways. Each vessel was put under the government of a committee of twelve men, and, to represent the whole body of seamen, every man-of-war appointed two delegates and each gunboat one to act for the common good. Of these delegates Richard Parker was chosen president, and in an unhappy hour for himself he accepted the office. The representative body drew up a list of grievances, of which they demanded the removal, offering return immediately after to their duty. The demands were for increased pay, better and[Pg 358] more abundant food, a more equal division of prize-money, liberty to go on shore, and prompt payment of arrears. A committee of naval inquiry subsequently granted almost all their demands, thereby acknowledging their justice. Parker signed these documents, and they were published over the whole kingdom with his name attached, as well as presented to Port Admiral Buckner, through whom they were sent to the Government. When these proceedings commenced the mutineers were suffered to go on shore, and they paraded the streets of Sheerness, where lay a part of the fleet, with music and the red flag flying.

But on the 22nd of May, troops were sent to Sheerness to put a stop to these demonstrations. Being thus confined to their ships, the mutineers, having come to no agreement with Admiral Buckner, began to take more decisive measures for extorting compliance with their demands, as well as for securing their own safety. The vessels at Sheerness moved down to the Nore, and the combined force of the insurgents, which consisted of twenty-five sail, proceeded to block up the Thames, by refusing a free passage, up or down, to the London trade. Foreign vessels, and a few small craft, were suffered to go by, after having received a passport, signed by Richard Parker, as president of the delegates.

In a day or two the mutineers had an immense number of vessels under detention. The mode in which they kept them was as follows: The ships of war were ranged in a line, at considerable distances from each other, and in the interspaces were placed the merchant vessels, having the broadsides of the men-of-war pointed to them. The appearance of the whole assemblage is described as having been at once grand and appalling. The red flag floated from the mast-head of every one of the mutineer ships.

[Pg 359]

The Government, however, though unable at the moment to quell the mutiny by force, remained firm in their demand of “unconditional surrender as a necessary preliminary to any intercourse.” This was, perhaps, the best line of conduct that could have been adopted. The seamen, to their great honour, never seemed to think of assuming an offensive attitude, and were thereby left in quiet to meditate on the dangerous position in which they stood in hostility to their own country. Disunion began to manifest itself, and Parker’s efforts to revive the cooling ardour of the mutineers resulted in rousing particular hostility against himself.

Meanwhile, formidable preparations had been made by the Government for the protection of the coast against a boat attack by the mutineers, and to prevent the fleet advancing up the Thames and menacing London. All the buoys and beacons in the three channels giving entrance to the Thames had been removed. Batteries with furnaces for red-hot shot were constructed at several points. Sheerness was filled with troops, and at more distant places outposts were established to prevent the landing of parties of the mutineers. Two ships of the line, some frigates, and between twenty and thirty gunboats lying higher up the river were fitted out in great haste, to co-operate, in the event of an attack by the mutinous fleet, with the squadron from Spithead, that had been summoned. Alarm and perplexity disorganized the council of the mutineers. The supply of provisions had for some time been running short.

A price had been set on Parker’s head—£500. It was thought that he might attempt to escape, and therefore a description of him was published: “Richard Parker is about thirty years of age, wears his own hair, which is[Pg 360] black, untied, though not cropt; about five feet nine or ten inches high; has a rather prominent nose, dark eyes and complexion, and thin visage; is generally slovenly dressed, in a plain blue half-worn coat and a whitish or light coloured waistcoat and half-boots.”

But Parker made no attempt to escape. The mutineering vessels held together till the 30th May, when the Clyde frigate was carried off by a combination of its officers and some of the seamen, and was followed by the S. Fiorenzo. These vessels were fired upon by the mutineers, but escaped up the river. The loss was, however, more than counterbalanced by the arrival of eight ships from the mutinous fleet of Admiral Duncan, anchored in Yarmouth Roads.

On the 4th June, the King’s birthday, the Nore fleet showed that their loyalty to their Sovereign was undisturbed by firing a general salute.

On the 6th June two more ships deserted under the fire of the whole fleet, but the same evening four more arrived from Admiral Duncan’s fleet. On this day Lord Northesk, having been summoned on board the Sandwich, found the council, comprising sixty delegates, sitting in the state cabin, with Parker at its head. After receiving a letter containing proposals of accommodation to which the unfortunate Parker still put his name as president, Lord Northesk left, charged to deliver this letter to the King. The answer was a refusal to all concessions till the mutineers had surrendered unconditionally. Disunion thereupon became more accentuated, and on 10 June, Parker was compelled to shift his flag to the Montague and the council removed with him.

On the same day the merchantmen were permitted by common consent to pass up the river, and such a[Pg 361] multitude of ships certainly had never before entered a port by one tide.

Fresh desertions now occurred every day, and all hope of concerted action was ended by stormy discussions, in which contradictory suggestions were made with such heat as to lead in many instances to acts of violence. Upon ship after ship the red flag was hauled down and replaced by one that was white, signifying submission. On the 12th only seven ships had the red flag flying. Such was the confusion, every crew being divided into two hostile parties, that five ships were taken up the Thames by those in favour of surrender, aided by their opponents under the belief that an attack was about to be made on the shore defences. The discovery by the latter that they were betrayed aroused terrible strife. The deck of the Iris frigate became a battlefield; one party in the fore, the others in the after-part, turned the great guns against each other, and fought till the mutineers were worsted.

By the 16th the mutiny had terminated, every ship having been restored to the command of its officers. A party of soldiers went on board the Sandwich to which Parker had returned, and to them the officers surrendered the delegates of the ship, namely a man named Davies and Richard Parker.

Richard Parker, to whom the title of admiral had been accorded by the fleet and by the public during the whole of this affair, was the undoubted ringleader, and was the individual on whom all eyes were turned as the chief of the mutineers. He was brought to trial on the 22nd of June, after having been confined during the interval in the Black-hole of Sheerness garrison. Ten officers, under the presidency of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, Bart., composed the court-martial, which sat on board the Neptune, off Greenhithe. The[Pg 362] prisoner conducted his own defence, exhibiting great presence of mind, and preserving a respectful and manly deference throughout towards his judges.

The prosecution on the part of the Crown lasted two days, and on the 26th, Parker called witnesses in his favour, and read a long and able defence which he had previously prepared. The line of argument adopted by him was—that the situation he had held had been in a measure forced upon him; that he had consented to assume it chiefly from the hope of restraining the men from excesses; that he had restrained them in various instances; that he might have taken all the ships to sea, or to an enemy’s port, had his motives been disloyal, etc. Parker unquestionably spoke the truth on many of these points. Throughout the whole affair, the injury done to property was trifling, the taking of some flour from a vessel being the chief act of the kind. But he had indubitably been the head of the mutineers. It was proved that he went from ship to ship giving orders and encouraging the men to stand out, and that his orders were given as though he were actually admiral of the fleet. Nothing could save him. He was sentenced to death. When his doom was pronounced, he rose, and said, in firm tones, “I shall submit to your sentence with all due respect, being confident in the innocency of my intentions, and that God will receive me unto His favour; and I sincerely hope that my death will be the means of restoring tranquillity to the Navy, and that those men who have been implicated in the business may be reinstated in their former situations, and again be serviceable to their country.”

On the morning of the 30th of June, the yellow flag, the signal of death, was hoisted on board the Sandwich, where Richard Parker lay, and where he was to meet[Pg 363] his fate. The whole fleet was ranged a little below Sheerness, in sight of the Sandwich, and the crew of every ship was piped to the forecastle. Parker was awakened from a sound sleep on that morning, and after being shaved, he dressed himself in a suit of deep mourning. He mentioned to his attendants that he had made a will, leaving to his wife some property in Devonshire that belonged to him. On coming to the deck, he was pale, but perfectly composed, and drank a glass of wine “to the salvation of his soul, and forgiveness of all his enemies!” He said nothing to his mates on the forecastle but “Good-bye to you!” and expressed a hope that “his death would be deemed sufficient atonement, and save the lives of others.”

He was strung up to the yard-arm at half-past nine o’clock. A dead silence reigned among the crews around during the execution. When cold, his body was taken down, put in a shell, and interred within an hour or two after his death in the new naval burying ground at Sheerness. A remarkable and pathetic sequel to the account has served as the basis of a popular ballad still sung.

Richard Parker’s unfortunate wife had not left Scotland, when the news reached her ears that the Nore fleet had mutinied, and that the ringleader was one Richard Parker. She could not doubt that this was her husband, and immediately took a place in the mail for London, to save him if possible. On her arrival, she heard that Parker had been tried, but the result was not known. Being able to think of no way but petitioning the King, she gave a person a guinea to draw up a paper, praying that her husband’s life might be spared. She attempted to make her way with this into His Majesty’s presence, but was obliged finally to hand it to a lord-in-waiting, who gave her the cruel intelli[Pg 364]gence that all applications for mercy would be attended to, except for Parker. The distracted woman then took coach for Rochester, where she got on board a King’s ship, and learnt that Parker was to be executed next day. She sat up, in a condition of unspeakable wretchedness, the whole of that night, and at four o’clock in the morning went to the riverside to hire a boat to take her to the Sandwich, that she might at least bid her poor husband farewell. Her feelings had been deeply wrung by hearing every person she met talking on the subject of her distress, and now the first waterman to whom she spoke refused to take her as a single passenger. “The brave Admiral Parker is to die to-day,” he said, “and I can get any sum I choose to ask for carrying over a party.”

Finally, the wretched wife was glad to go on board a Sheerness market boat, but no boat was allowed to run up alongside of the Sandwich. In her desperation she called on Parker by name, and prevailed on the boat people, moved by the sight of her distress, to attempt to approach, but they were stopped by a sentinel who threatened to fire at them, unless they withdrew.

O Parker was the truest husband,
Best of friends, whom I love dear;
Yet when he was a-called to suffer,
To him I might not then draw near.
Again I ask’d, again I pleaded,
Three times entreating,—all in vain;
They even that request refused me,
And ordered me ashore again.

As the hour drew nigh, she saw her husband appear on deck walking between two clergymen. She called to him, and he heard her voice, for he exclaimed, “There is my dear wife from Scotland.”

Then, happily, she fainted, and did not recover till some time after she was taken ashore. By this time all[Pg 365] was over, but the poor woman could not believe it so. She hired another boat, and again reached the Sandwich. Her exclamation from the boat must have startled all who heard it. “Pass the word,” she cried in her delusion, “for Richard Parker!”

The ballad says:—

The yellow flag I saw was flying,
A signal for my love to die;
The gun was fir’d, as was requir’d,
To hang him on the yard-arm high.
The boatswain did his best endeavour,
I on the shore was put straightway,
And there I tarried, watching, weeping,
My husband’s corpse to bear away.

On reaching the Sandwich she was informed that all was over, and that the body of her husband had just been taken ashore for burial. She immediately caused herself to be rowed ashore again, and proceeded to the cemetery, but found that the ceremony was over and the gate was locked. She then went to the Admiral and sought the key, but it was refused to her. Excited almost to madness by the information given her that probably the surgeons would disinter the body that night and cut it up, she waited around the churchyard till dusk, and then clambering over the wall, readily found her husband’s grave. The shell was not buried deep, and she was not long in scraping away the loose earth that intervened between her and the object of her search. She tore off the lid with her nails and teeth, and then clasped the hand of her husband, cold in death, and no more able to return the pressure.

Her determination to possess the body next forced her to quit the cemetery and seek the assistance of two women, who, in their turn, got several men to undertake the task of lifting the body. This was accomplished successfully, and at 3 a.m. the shell containing[Pg 366] the corpse was placed in a van and conveyed to Rochester, where, for the sum of six guineas, the widow procured another wagon to carry it to London. On the road they met hundreds of people all inquiring about, and talking of, the fate of “Admiral Parker.”

The rude ballad thus relates the carrying away of the body:—

At dead of night, when all was quiet,
And many thousands fast asleep,
I, by two female friends attended,
Into the burial-ground did creep.
Our trembling hands did serve as shovels
With which the mold we moved away,
And then the body of my husband
Was carried off without delay.

At 11 p.m. the van reached London, but there the poor widow had no private house or friends to go to, and was constrained to stop at the “Hoofs and Horseshoe” on Tower Hill, which was full of people. Mrs. Parker got the body into her room, and sat down beside it; but the secret could not long be kept in such a place, more particularly as the news of the exhumation had been brought by express that day to London.

An immense crowd assembled about the house, anxious to see the body of Parker, but this the widow would not permit.

The Lord Mayor heard of the affair, and came to ask the widow what she intended to do with her husband’s remains. She replied, “To inter them decently at Exeter or in Scotland.” The Lord Mayor assured her that the body would not be taken from her, and eventually prevailed on her to consent to its being decently buried in London. Arrangements were made with this[Pg 367] view, and in the interim it was taken to Aldgate Workhouse, on account of the crowds attracted by it, which caused some fears lest “Admiral Parker’s remains should provoke a civil war.”

Finally, the corpse was buried in Whitechapel Churchyard, and Mrs. Parker, who had in person seen her husband consigned to the grave, gave a certificate that all had been done to her satisfaction. But, though strictly questioned as to her accomplices in the exhuming and carrying away of the body, she firmly refused to disclose the names.

Parker had, as he said, made a will, leaving to his wife the little property he had near Exeter. This she enjoyed for a number of years, but ultimately lost it through a lawsuit with Parker’s sisters, who claimed that it was theirs by right. She was thrown into great distress, and, becoming almost blind, was obliged to solicit assistance from the charitable. King William IV gave her at one time £10, and at another £20.

In 1836 the forlorn and miserable condition of poor Parker’s widow was made known to the London magistrates, and a temporary refuge was provided for her. But temporary assistance was of little avail to one whose physical infirmities rendered her incapable of any longer helping herself. When Camden Pelham wrote in 1840, she was aged seventy, blind, and friendless; but time and affliction had not quenched her affection for the partner of her early days. However, in 1828, John C. Parker, the son of the mutineer, obtained a verdict against his aunts for the possession of the little estate of Shute that had belonged to his father’s elder brother. The question turned on the legitimacy of the plaintiff, which was proved by his mother, a woman who then exhibited the remains of uncommon beauty,[Pg 368] and who was able to prove that she had married Richard Parker in 1793.

Then farewell, Parker, best beloved,
That was once the Navy’s pride,
And since we might not die together,
We separate henceforth abide.
His sorrows now are past and over,
Now he resteth free from pain—
Grant, O God, his soul may enter
Where one day we meet again.[16]

The melody to which the ballad of the “Death of Parker” is set is much more ancient, by two centuries at the least, than the ballad itself. It is plaintive and very beautiful, and the words are admirably fitted to the dainty and tender air.

Richard Parker was a remarkably fine man. The brilliancy and expression of his eyes were of such a nature as caused one of the witnesses, while under examination, to break down, and quail beneath his glance, and shrink abashed, incapacitated from giving further testimony.

Douglas Jerrold wrote a drama upon the theme of the “Mutiny at the Nore.” But it is a mere travesty of history. The true pathos and beauty of the story of the devoted wife were completely put aside for vulgar melodramatic incidents.

For authorities, the Annual Register for 1797; The Chronicles of Crime, by Camden Pelham, London, 1840; The Mutiny at Spithead and the Nore, London, 1842; “Richard Parker, of Exeter, and the Mutiny of the Nore,” by S. T. Whiteford, in Notes and Gleanings, Exeter, 1888.


Benjamin Kennicott was born at Totnes on 4 April, 1718, and was the son of Benjamin Kennicott, the parish clerk of that town. The family had been one of some respectability, as in 1606 one Gabriel Kennicott was mayor of Totnes. Probably, if a well-to-do tradesman family at one time, it had sunk, and Benjamin senior was quite content to act as clerk on a small stipend. His son was educated at the Grammar School, founded by King Edward VI in 1554, and held in a building adjoining the Guildhall, both of which occupy a portion of the old dissolved priory of Totnes, on the north side of the church. The trustees of Eliseus Hele had endowed the school, and the corporation were empowered to send three boys to the school to receive their education free of expense; and there can be little doubt that Benjamin the younger was one so privileged. After quitting school he was appointed master of a charity school for poor children, male and female, at Totnes; which same charity children were provided with quaint and antiquated garbs. Young Kennicott now doubtless thought that he was provided for for life.

In 1732, when he was only fourteen years of age, the bells of Totnes tower were recast, and at the same time the ringers presented to the bell-ringing chamber an eight-light brass candlestick inscribed with the names of the ringers. Benjamin Kennicott the elder headed[Pg 370] the list, and Benjamin Kennicott the younger brought up the tail. But in 1742, when new regulations were drawn up and agreed to by the ringers, the youngest ringer had become the leader.

Bell-ringing was a pastime dearly loved and much practised in Devon at the time. There were contests between the ringers of various churches, and challenges, the prize being either money or a hat laced with gold. All over the county one comes on old songs relating to these contests, and in these songs are recorded the names of ringers who are now only represented by moss-grown stones in the churchyard. A party of ringers, say of Totnes, would sally forth to spend a day in contest with those of Ashburton or Dartmouth, and all day long the tower would be reeling with the clash of the bells. Here is one of the songs touching the ringers of Torrington:—

1. Good ringers be we that in Torrington dwell,
And what that we are I will speedily tell.
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6; 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1.
The first is called Turner, the second called Swete,
The third is a Vulcan, the fourth Harry Neat.
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6; 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1.
2. The fifth is a doctor, a man of renown,
The tenor the tailor that clothes all the town.
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6; 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1.
The breezes proclaim in their fall and their swell,
No jar in the concord, no flaw in a bell.
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6; 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1.
3. The winds that are blowing on mountain and lea,
Bear swiftly my message across the blue sea,
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6; 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1.
Stand all men in order, give each man his due,
We can’t be all tenors, but each can pull true.
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6; 6 . 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1.
B. Kennicott

From the portrait at Exeter College, Oxford

There is another, wedded to an exquisitely sweet and expressive melody, concerning the ringers of North[Pg 371] Lew, who challenged Ashwater, Broadwood, S. Stephen’s, and Callington. I give but the opening verse:—

One day in October,
Neither drunken nor sober,
O’er Broadbury Down I was wending my way,
When I heard of some ringing,
Some dancing and singing,
I ought to remember that Jubilee Day.
’Twas in Ashwater town,
The bells they did soun’;
They rang for a belt and a hat laced with gold.
But the men of North Lew
Rang so steady and true,
That never were better in Devon, I hold.

On this song the late Rev. H. H. Sheppard remarked: “There is an indolent easy grace about this tune which is quite in keeping with the words and charmingly suggestive. The sunny valleys, the breezy downs, the sweet bell-music swelling and sinking on the soft autumn air, the old folk creeping out of their chimney-nooks to listen, and all employment in the little town suspended in the popular excitement at the contest for the hat laced with gold; all this, told in a few words and illustrated by a few notes, quite calls up a picture of life, and stamps the number as a genuine folk-song. The narrator is unhappily slightly intoxicated, but no one thinks the worse of him; stern morality on that or any other score will in vain be looked for in songs of the West.”

Such a picture as this must have occurred again and yet again in young Kennicott’s life whilst head of the ringers at Totnes.

Kennicott’s sister was in service as lady’s-maid to the Hon. Mrs. Elizabeth Courtney, of Painsford in Ashprington, near Totnes; and in 1743 that lady had a narrow escape from death, having eaten a poisonous[Pg 372] herb in mistake for watercress, which it much resembled. The charity-school master, on hearing of this, composed a poem on her recovery, which he dedicated to “Kelland Courtney, Esq., and his Lady.” It consisted of no fewer than three hundred and thirty-four lines; and this effusion having gained him the favour of the family, he was taken in hand, and sent in 1744 to Oxford, where he became a student of Wadham College. But the Courtneys, though his principal patrons, were not the sole. Archdeacon Baker, the Rev. F. Champernowne, and H. Fownes Luttrell, Esq., subscribed to send him to college.

At Oxford he speedily attracted attention by his industry and abilities, and was elected Fellow of Exeter College in 1747, and was admitted to his B.A. degree a year before the usual time. He took his M.A. degree in 1750, about which time he entertained a design of collating the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament. In 1753 he published his first volume on the state of the printed text, and in 1760 his second volume. In these works he pointed out various discrepancies, and proposed an extensive collation of manuscripts.

Subscriptions were obtained, and between 1760 and 1769 no less than £9117. 7s. 6d. had been raised for the work. This work occupied ten years. To aid in it, persons were employed to examine the MSS. in all parts of Europe. In 1769, Dr. Kennicott stated that of the 500 Hebrew MSS. then in Europe he had himself seen and studied 250; and of the 16 MSS. of the Samaritan Pentateuch eight had been collated for him. Subsequently other MSS. were heard of, and the collation extended in all to 581 Hebrew and 16 Samaritan MSS.

In 1776 appeared the first fruit of all the labour, being the first volume of his Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum cum variis lectionibus, [Pg 373] and the second appeared in 1780.

Kennicott took his degree of D.D. in 1761, and received from the Crown a pension of £200. In 1770 he was made Prebendary of Westminster, but this he afterwards exchanged for a canonry at Christchurch. He was also rector of Culham, a valuable living, but resigned it, as owing to his studies he was unable to reside and pay attention to his pastoral duties there.

Against the garden wall of Exeter College grew a fig tree, and Kennicott was very partial to figs. Now in a certain year there was but a single fig on the tree. The Doctor watched it, eagerly expecting when it would be ripe, for a fig is like a pear, it ripens and reaches perfection all at once, before which moment it is no good at all. To secure this fruit for himself he wrote out a label, “Dr. Kennicott’s Fig,” and hung it above the fruit on the tree. But just as the fig was fit to be gathered and eaten, some audacious undergraduate managed to get it, plucked, ate, and then reversing the label wrote in large letters thereon “A Fig for Dr. Kennicott.”

When the reverend divine was at the height of his fame he visited Totnes, and was asked to preach in the parish church. This he consented to do. In the vestry he found his old father, still parish clerk, prepared to robe him. The Doctor protested. No—on no account would he suffer that. He could perfectly well and unassisted encase himself in cassock and surplice and assume his scarlet doctorial hood. But the old man was stubborn. “But, Ben—I mean Reverend Doctor—do it I must, and do it I will. You know, Ben—I mean Reverend Sir—I am your father and you must obey.” So the Hebrew scholar was fain to submit and give to the old parish clerk the proudest hour of his[Pg 374] life. Dr. Kennicott died on 18 September, 1783, in the sixty-sixth year of his age.

For authority see an article on “Benjamin Kennicott, D.D.,” by Mr. Ed. Windeatt, in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1878.

The portrait given with this article is from one in Exeter College.


Concerning this captain it is not easy to give a trustworthy account as the discrepancies between the narratives of his life and adventures are considerable, and the means of discriminating between the true and the fictitious are not available. He is a Flying Dutchman who appears in weird and terrible scenes, and then vanishes into mist.

The authorities for his adventures, such as they are, are these:—

(a) “The Life of Captain Avery” in Captain Charles Johnson’s General History of the Robberies and Murders of Notorious Pyrates, from 1717. London, 1724.

(b) The Life and Adventures of Captain John Avery. I. Baker. London, 1709.

(c) The Famous Adventures of Captain John Avery of Plymouth. Falkirk, 1809. Probably a reprint of an earlier Life.

(d) The King of Pirates. (Supposed to be by Daniel Defoe.) London, 1720.

With regard to (a), Johnson gives no authority for his narrative, and it widely differs in the sequel from (b) and (c).

[Pg 376]

(b) purports to be written by Adrian Van Broeck, a Dutchman, who was a prisoner for some time with Avery in Madagascar, but he effected his escape in a vessel of the East India Company, and his narrative terminates abruptly with the severance of his connexion with the pirates.

(c). In this—as we have it—late version, all the early life of John Avery is given totally different from (a) and (b). Little or no reliance can be placed on it, and as to (b) it is hard to say whether Van Broeck’s is a fictitious narrative or whether he records actual facts. It is singular that Johnson should not have spoken explicitly about this, the first published record of the pirate’s adventures.

(d) purports to be Avery’s story of his own life, but it is almost certainly a product of Defoe’s lively imagination.

On the whole Johnson’s account is the most reliable, and we will follow that, noticing the divergences from it in (b), and will take no account of (c) and (d). Johnson begins: “None of the bold adventurers on the Seas were ever so much talk’d of for a while as Avery. He was represented in Europe as one that had rais’d himself to the Dignity of a King, and was likely to be the Founder of a new Monarchy; having, as it was said, taken immense Riches, and married the Great Mogul’s Daughter, who was taken in an Indian Ship which fell into his Hands; by whom he had many Children, living in great Royalty and State: That he had built Forts, elected Magistrates, and was Master of a stout Squadron of Ships, mann’d with able and desperate Fellows of all Nations. That he gave Commissions out in his own Name to the Captains of his Ships, and to the Commanders of the Forts, and was acknowledg’d by them as their Prince. A Play was writ upon him, [Pg 377] call’d The Successful Pyrate;[17] and these Accounts obtained such Belief that several Schemes were offer’d to the Council for sending out a Squadron to take him; while others were for offering him and his Companions an Act of Grace and inviting them to England with all their Treasure, lest his growing Greatness might hinder the Trade of Europe to the East Indies.

Capt. Avery

Willm. Jeit delin.

W. Pritchard sculpt.

CAPT. AVERY and his Crew taking one of the GREAT MOGUL’S Ships

“Yet all these were no more than false Rumours, improv’d by the Credulity of some, and the Humour of others who love to tell strange Things; for, while it was said he was aspiring at a Crown, he wanted a Shilling; and at the same Time it was given out he was in Possession of such prodigious Wealth in Madagascar he was starving in England.”

John Avery was a native of Plymouth; according to (b) he was born in 1653. His father had served under Admiral Blake, then left the navy for the merchant service, but died whilst John was still young, and to his sixth year was brought up by his aunt, Mrs. Norris. The story in (c) is that his mother kept the tavern with the “Sign of the Defiance,” and because one night she refused to receive a drunken party of sailors, in revenge they carried off her son and took him on board their ship, where the captain, taking a liking to him, carried him with him to Carolina. After three years he returned to Plymouth and was placed under the guardianship of a Mr. Lightfoot. At the age of forty-four he entered on board the Duke, a merchant vessel, Captain Gibson.

At this time, by the Peace of Ryswick, 1697, there[Pg 378] was an alliance betwixt Spain, England, and Holland against France; previous to this the French had carried on a smuggling trade with the Spaniards in Peru, which was against the law that reserved the trade with the Spanish possessions in the New World to Spaniards alone. Accordingly a fleet was ever kept at sea to guard the coast and seize as prizes any foreign vessels that approached within a certain number of leagues. But as this fleet was very inefficient, the French smugglers became vastly daring. Accordingly, the Spanish Government, after the conclusion of the peace, hired three large vessels, built at Bristol, to serve as preventive ships on the South American coast. The merchants of Bristol at once fitted out two of thirty guns each, and one hundred and twenty hands apiece, for service under the Spanish Government, and one of them was the Duke; and in it as mate sailed our hero, John Avery. These two vessels were ordered to sail for Corunna, thence to take some Spanish officers on board. Before sailing Avery, as first mate, got into close communication with both crews and persuaded them to mutiny so soon as they got to sea, and instead of serving the Spanish Government, to sweep the Indian Sea as pirates. Captain Gibson was nightly addicted to punch, and spent most of his time on land in drinking and getting drunk. The day of sailing, however, he did not go ashore, but tippled in his cabin. The men who were not privy to the design, as well as he, turned into their hammocks, leaving none on deck but the conspirators. At the time agreed upon, ten o’clock at night, the long-boat of the consort, called the Duchess, approached. Avery hailed, and was answered by the men, “Is your drunken boatswain on board?” which was the watchword agreed upon between them. Avery replied in the[Pg 379] affirmative, and sixteen men from the boat came on board, joined the company, and proceeded to secure the hatches. They did not slip the anchor, but weighed it leisurely, and so put to sea without disorder, though there were several ships lying around.

The captain awoke, roused by the motion of the vessel and the noise of working the tackle, and rang his bell. Thereupon Avery and two others went to him. He, half asleep, shouted out, “What is the matter?” To which Avery replied coolly, “Nothing.” The captain retorted, “Something is the matter. Does she drive? What is the weather?” “No, no,” said Avery, “we are at sea with a fair wind.” “At sea!” exclaimed Captain Gibson, “how can that be?” “Don’t be alarmed,” said Avery; “put on your clothes, and I’ll let you into a secret. You must know that now I am captain of the ship, and that henceforth this is my cabin, so please to walk out of it. I am bound for Madagascar to seek my fortune, and that of the brave fellows who have joined with me.”

The captain was now thoroughly roused, and in a great fright. Avery bade him not fear. If he chose to throw in his lot with them, he would be received, but must remain sober and mind his own business, and if he conducted himself properly would be made lieutenant. If he refused he might have the long-boat and go ashore in it. The captain preferred the latter alternative; he was accordingly put into the boat along with such seamen, five or six in all, who would not throw in their lot with the mutineers. The two ships proceeded to Madagascar, and came across a couple of sloops at anchor on the north-east of the island. These were manned by mutineers as well, and both parties speedily came to an agreement to hunt together, and they now sailed for India. Off the mouth of the[Pg 380] Indus they espied a large vessel flying the Great Mogul’s colours. Avery opened fire, and the sloops ran close to her, one on the bow, the other on the quarter, and boarded her. She at once struck her colours. She was a vessel of the Great Mogul, bound with a load of pilgrims for Arabia to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. On board were also a lady with her retinue, whom they took to be a daughter of the Mogul. The vessel was laden with treasure.

At this time much trouble and vexation to the East India Company was caused by the interlopers. The Company had obtained their charter, granting them exclusive rights to trade between India and England, and they had certain determined ports where they had their factories. But the trade was so profitable that companies of merchants and private adventurers embarked on the trade in defiance of the rights of the Company. They put into ports within the limits of the Company concessions, but to which the ships of the latter did not resort, by this means undermining and invading the rights of the Company. It was more than that, it was a direct attack on the legal exercise of the privileges of the Company. In 1695 the British Court informed Sir John Gayer and the Presidency of Surat that the expedients which had been adopted for suppressing the interlopers had failed at home and abroad by their not being excluded from foreign markets, and the Company’s servants were required to obstruct their sales in foreign markets, and further to take measures against their entering the Indian ports. In 1675–6, the interlopers being disappointed in the sales of their cargoes and in the purchase of Indian produce, determined not to return to Europe without realizing gains for themselves and their employers, and they turned pirates and seized vessels belonging to the[Pg 381] native princes, and left the Company’s servants exposed to suspicion and imprisonment and their property to seizure and confiscation. It was precisely at this conjuncture that Avery’s little piratical fleet made its capture. The vessel, the Gunswek, was bound from Bombay for Daman. Avery cleared it of all its treasure, and only released the pilgrims on payment of a heavy indemnity, and left the ship to be steered back to Bombay by the native crew. As to the ladies on board, Avery took to himself that one whom he supposed to be the daughter of the Great Mogul, and let his crew toss up for the rest as partners.

John Bruce in his Annals of the East India Company says nothing of the retention of the ladies, nor of the capture of the Mogul’s daughter. It is likely enough that some women were taken and retained, but certainly no lady of so high a rank as the grand-daughter of Aurungzebe.

This outrage produced very unpleasant effects. Already in September, 1695, an interloping vessel turned pirate, and, bearing English colours, had plundered a ship belonging to Abdul Gopher, a merchant of Surat, and the governor of the place had been obliged to set a guard on the house of the Company to prevent its being wrecked by the enraged natives, and the servants of the Company from being massacred. News now arrived that the same pirate had attacked a ship belonging to the Mogul, conveying pilgrims to Mecca. If the first injury to an individual merchant was resented, this which was deemed a sacrilege roused fanatical resentment to fury, and obliged the Governor to put the President and all the English in irons to prevent their being torn to pieces by the inhabitants.

The Governor desired French, Dutch, and English to send vessels in search of the pirate, that by her capture[Pg 382] the fact might be ascertained as to who really was responsible. The French and Dutch hesitated to comply, and the readiness of the English to go on this service served somewhat to abate the hostility entertained against them.

Sir John Gayer, as General of the Company’s affairs, wrote to the Mogul to assure him that the Company were not only ignorant of the existence of such a pirate, but were ready to employ two of their ships completely armed to convey the pilgrims to Jedda, if he would grant that all the English but the Company should be debarred from trading in his dominions. The Mogul answered “that the English, French, and Dutch must go to sea in search of the thieves, but that the embargo he had placed on all trade must continue till the innocence or guilt of the English Company was proved.”

Mr. Bruce does not name John Avery as the pirate, but this must be the case spoken of in his Life. It will be noticed that the dates do not accord. The capture of the pilgrim vessel took place in the winter of 1693–4, and, according to Johnson, it was not till after the Peace of Ryswick, 10 September, 1697, that Avery made the capture, and it was in consequence of this treaty that he was able to get hold of the vessels. From the date 1693 the pilgrims were annually conveyed to Jedda by ships of the Company, so that Avery could not have captured one of them after that date. Charles Johnson must have blundered in his facts.

The sum demanded by Avery for the release of the pilgrims was three hundred thousand pounds, and he got it.

He had already established himself at Perim, and levied toll on all vessels passing in and out of the Red Sea, but after this affair, when large rewards were[Pg 383] offered by the Company and by the British Government for his capture, he deemed it advisable to change his quarters and establish himself in Madagascar.

As the four vessels were steering their course, he sent on board each of the sloops, desiring the captains to come to his vessel and meet in council. They did so, and he told them that he had a proposal to make. The treasure of which they were possessed would not be sufficient for all; they might be separated by bad weather, in which case the sloops, if either of them should fall in with any large armed vessels would be taken or sunk, and the treasure on board lost as well. As for himself, he and the Duchess, his consort, were strong enough to hold their own against any ship they were likely to meet on the high seas, and he proposed, therefore, that all the spoil should be put on board his ship, each chest sealed with three seals, whereof each was to keep one, and to appoint a rendezvous in case of separation. This proposal seemed reasonable and was agreed to, and the treasure was conveyed on board Avery’s vessel, and the chests sealed. They kept company that day and the next, the weather being fine; and during this time Avery tampered with his men. “What should hinder us,” said he, “from going to some strange country where we are not known, and living on shore all the rest of our days in plenty?” They understood his design, and all agreed to bilk their new allies in the sloops and other vessel. Accordingly they took advantage of the night, changed their course, and next morning the sloops and Duchess found themselves deserted in mid-ocean. Avery and his men resolved to make the best of their way to America, and there change their names, and purchase settlements, and spend the rest of their days at ease.

The first land they made was the island of Providence,[Pg 384] then quite recently settled, and there they disposed of their vessel, under the pretence that the Duke had been fitted out as a privateer, but that having met with no success, Avery said that he had received orders from the owners to dispose of her to the best advantage. He soon met with a purchaser, and immediately bought a sloop. In this vessel he and his mates embarked. They touched at several ports, where no one suspected them, and some of the crew went on shore and dispersed about the country, and with the dividends given them by Avery, settled there.

At length he arrived at Boston, in New England, and there again some of the crew left to establish themselves, and no doubt founded there some of the Bostonian families now flourishing. Avery advised those who remained to sail for Ireland. He had concealed and kept for himself a great store of diamonds that had been secured in the ship of the Mogul, and which his present comrades had not known how to value. These he could not dispose of in New England, but hoped to realize in Ireland.

On their voyage they avoided St. George’s Channel, and sailing north, put into one of the northern ports. There they disposed of the sloop and separated; some went to Dublin, others to Cork. Some afterwards obtained their pardon from King William.

Avery was afraid to dispose of his diamonds in Ireland, lest inquiry should be made as to how he had come by them. He therefore crossed over to England, to Bideford; and knowing of a man in Bristol who was an old acquaintance, and whom he thought he could trust, he sent to appoint a meeting in Bideford. The man came, and after consultation the friend advised that the jewels should be entrusted to certain Bristol merchants, who being men of wealth and credit, no[Pg 385] suspicion would be aroused if they disposed of them. No better plan could be devised, Avery consented, the merchants were communicated with and came to Bideford, where they received the diamonds, undertook to sell them and remit the money to Avery, reserving to themselves a commission; and to this he consented. He now changed his name and took up his residence at Bideford, attracting no notice, but communicating with some of his relations. After a while his money was spent, and not a word reached him from the merchants. He wrote to them, and they sent him a supply of money—not much, doled out from time to time. At last he could endure this no longer, and went to Bristol to see the merchants, who coolly told him that if he troubled them any further they would disclose to the authorities who he was; “so that our merchants were as good pirates on land as he was at sea.”

Whether alarmed at their threats, or that he fancied he had been seen and recognized by some old comrades in Bristol, is not known; but he crossed into Ireland, where he remained till destitute. Then in despair he worked his way over before the mast in a trading vessel to Plymouth, and thence made his way on foot to Bideford, where a few days later he fell ill and died without so much money in his pocket as would buy him a coffin.

In the meantime, the companions in the Duchess and the two sloops when deserted by Avery, finding that they were running short of provisions, made their way to Madagascar. On their course they fell in with a privateer sloop, commanded by Captain Tew, who had just captured a large vessel bound from India to Arabia, with three hundred soldiers on board besides seamen. By this prize his men shared £3000 apiece. Tew and the crew of the Duchess and the sloops agreed together[Pg 386] to form a settlement in Madagascar. According to (b) the pirates established themselves on the east coast, lat. 15° 30′, where there was a bay and an island before it.

Probably Antongil Bay is meant. They built a fort, finding the natives divided up into clans under their several chiefs, who were incessantly at war with one another—“So,” says Johnson, “they sometimes joyned one sometimes another; but wheresoever they sided, they were sure to be victorious; for the Negroes here had no Fire arms; so that at length these Pirates became so terrible to the Negroes, that if two or three of them were only seen on one Side, when they were going to engage, the opposite Side would fly without striking a Blow. By this means they not only became feared, but powerful; all the Prisoners of War they took to be their slaves; they married the most beautiful of the Negro women, not one or two only but as many as they liked. Their Slaves they employ’d in planting Rice, in Fishing, Hunting, etc. Besides which, they had abundance of others, who lived, as it were, under their protection. Now they began to divide from one another, each living with his own Wives, Slaves and Dependants, like a separate Prince; and, as Power and Plenty naturally beget Contention, they sometimes quarrelled with one another, and attacked each other at the Head of their several Armies. But an Accident happened, which oblig’d them to unite again for their common Safety. They grew wanton in Cruelty, and nothing was more Common than, upon the slightest Displeasure, to cause one of their Dependants to be tied to a tree, and shot thro’ the Heart.[18] This occasioned the Negroes to conspire together, to rid[Pg 387] themselves of these Destroyers, all in one Night; and as they lived separately, the Thing might easily have been done, had not a Woman, who had been the Wife or Concubine of one of them, run nearly twenty Miles, in three Hours, to discover the Matter to them. Immediately upon the Alarm, they ran together as fast as they could; so that when the Negroes approached them, they found them up in Arms, and retired without making any Attempt. This Escape made them very cautious from that Time.”

Thenceforth they fortified their dwellings and converted them into citadels.

“Thus Tyrant-like they lived, fearing and feared by all; and in this situation they were found by Captain Woods Rogers when he went to Madagascar in the Delicia, a ship of forty guns, with a Design of buying Slaves in order to sell them to the Dutch at Batavia or New Holland. He happened to touch upon a part of the Island where no Ship had been seen for seven or eight Years before; here he met with some of the Pyrates, when they had been upon the Island above 25 Years, having a large motly Generation of Children and Grandchildren descended from them, there being, at that Time, eleven of them remaining alive.... Thus he left them as he found them, in a great Deal of dirty State and Royalty, but with fewer Subjects than they had. One of these great Princes had formerly been a Waterman upon the Thames, where having committed a Murder, he fled to the West Indies, and was of the number of those who run away with the Sloops; the rest had been all foremast men, nor was there a Man amongst them, who could either read or write.”

Such is Captain Charles Johnson’s account. There are several difficulties about accepting his narrative[Pg 388] about Avery. From whom could he have obtained the story? Possibly a part of it from the pirates who obtained their pardon from William III, but not as to the end of John Avery.

The story as told in (c) is quite different. According to Adrian van Broeck, Avery did not desert the Consort, the Duchess, nor the sloops, but all together went to Madagascar and settled there. In that settlement, his wife, the daughter of the Mogul, bore him a son, and died of a broken heart.

The second in command was a M. de Sales, who after a while, impatient at being second, organized a revolt among the Frenchmen who were there, captives from a French vessel taken by the pirates. As soon as the watch-bell sounded they were to seize the principal fort, and not spare any man, woman, or child. One of de Sales’ crew, named Picard, betrayed the plot to a Cornishman named Richardson, who told it to Avery, and precautions were taken to surround the French on parade, and make all prisoners. Avery had every man impaled who had been engaged in the conspiracy.

Avery was anxious to obtain his pardon, and wrote a letter to Captain Pitt, Governor of Fort St. George, near Madras, which he was to transmit to England, but the East India Company would not present it to the Government.

Avery next attacked and destroyed Fort Ste. Marie of the French East India Company on the north of Madagascar.

Adrian van Broeck managed to make his escape from the settlement on board an East India Company vessel; and with that the narrative abruptly terminates.

The two narratives are irreconcilable, and where the truth lies is impossible to determine. It is conceivable[Pg 389] that after van Broeck’s visit—if it ever took place—Avery may have made his way to England to dispose of his jewels, but we have no dates in the Dutchman’s narrative, and no dates, and no authority quoted by Johnson for his account of the last days of Avery. No reliance whatever can be placed on Defoe’s Life and Adventures of Captain John Avery, “the King” in Madagascar, 1720. Consequently the end of Avery remains, and probably will remain, a mystery unsolved. Andrew Brice in his Geographical Dictionary, published in 1759, under the heading of “Madagascar,” says: “Pirates have had stations in these Harbours, among whom was Avery, so much talked of 40 or 50 years ago.” Had Avery died at Bideford, Brice as a Devonshire man would most likely have heard of it. Salmon, in his Universal Traveller, 1759, says: “What became of Avery himself I could never learn; but it is probable he is dead, or remains concealed in the Island of Madagascar to this time; for he can expect no Mercy from any of the Powers of Europe, if he should fall into their hands, but as to being in such circumstances, as to lay the Foundation of a New State or Kingdom in this Island, this report possibly deserves little Credit. We should have heard more of him after so many years elapsed, if he had made any figure there.”

According to Captain Johnson’s account, as we have seen, a Captain Wood Rogers of the Delicia, a ship of forty guns, touched at Madagascar with a design of purchasing slaves, and came on the settlement of the crews of the two other vessels, but did not meet with Avery himself.


The life of this impostor or self-deluded woman is not pleasant to write or to read, and it is only because in such a collection including Devonshire oddities and unworthies she could not be excluded that her story is here given.

Joanna was a native of Gittisham, the daughter of William and Hannah Southcott, respectable people, the father a very small farmer. She was baptized at Ottery St. Mary, on 6 June, 1750. There was nothing remarkable in her during the first forty years of her life. She was in domestic service, and then moved to Exeter, where she entered the household of an upholsterer, in 1790.

What turned her head was the visit of a revivalist Methodist preacher, who, combining the most fiery evangelic preaching with laxity of morals, lived in adultery with her mistress, and endeavoured to seduce the daughter. But his ministrations in the pulpit were acceptable. He shrieked and threatened till sometimes the whole congregation fell flat and rigid on the floor, when he would walk in and out among them and revive them by assuring them they had received pardon for all their sins, were elect vessels, and that their election was sealed in heaven. He would declare that there never was a man so highly favoured of God as himself, and that he would not thank God to make him other than what he was, unless he made him greater than[Pg 391] every other man on earth, and placed supreme power in his hands; and he boasted, when he heard of the death of a man who had derided his mission, that he had prayed this man to death.

Joanna Southcott

Isaiah Ch. LXV & LXVI., Joanna Southcott. Jany 1812

Published by Jane Townley London.

Drawn and Engraved from life by Wm Sharp.

Published according to Act of Parliament Jany 12th 1812 by Jane Townley London.

All the servants in the house were afraid of this preacher; but Joanna affirmed that he had no power over her, and that she was wont to think that the room was full of spirits when he was engaged in prayer. But though she fancied this man had no power over her, he certainly had, and turned her into a fanatic, intoxicating her with his own spiritual pride.

When first she went to Exeter, she attended the services in the cathedral, but she left the Church and joined the Wesleyans in 1791, as she affirmed, by Divine command, for she was already beginning to see visions. The ministers of the sect frequented her master’s shop, and took a good deal of notice of Joanna, and this encouraged her to launch forth in the course she afterwards pursued. In 1792 she stated that she had had a vision of the Lord, and a meeting of Methodist preachers was summoned to discuss her spiritual condition. It concluded by their signing a paper to the effect that her calling was of God.

One of the Methodist preachers in Exeter was named Pomeroy, and he at first more than half believed in her mission. She gave him a number of sealed packets, which she told him contained her prophecies, and desired him to keep them till a time she mentioned, when they were to be opened and would prove the truth of her claim to inspiration.

The minister received the precious papers; but afterwards, when Joanna publicly announced that he was a believer and a recipient of her prophecies, he got frightened, and committed the unopened predictions to the flames. “From that time,” says Southey, “all the[Pg 392] Joannians, who are now a considerable number, regard him as the arch-apostate. He is the Jehoiakim, who burnt Jeremiah’s roll; he is their Judas Iscariot, a second Lucifer. They call upon him to produce those prophecies, which she boldly asserts, and they implicitly believe, have all been fulfilled, and therefore would convince the world of the truth of her mission. In vain does Mr. Pomeroy answer that he has burnt these unhappy papers: in an unhappy hour for himself did he burn them! Day after day long letters are dispatched to him, sometimes from Joanna herself, sometimes from her brother, sometimes from one of her four-and-twenty elders, filled with exhortation, invective, texts of Scripture, and denunciations of the law in this world and the devil in the next; and these letters the prophetess prints, for the very sufficient reason—that all her believers purchase them. Mr. Pomeroy sometimes treats them with contempt; at other times he appeals to their compassion, and beseeches them, if they have any bowels of Christian charity, to have compassion on him and let him rest.”

Meanwhile, the falling away of this believer was abundantly compensated to Joanna by the accession of other adherents, both lay and clerical. Among the persons of superior station in the world who became ardent disciples was the Rev. T. P. Foley, incumbent of Old Swinford, in Leicestershire, who should have written his name Folly, not Foley.

In 1792 she had a serious illness, and went to Plymtree to recruit. When she was recovered she set to work again with renewed vigour. She pretended to have found, whilst sweeping the house, a die with J.S. on it between two stars, and this she used henceforth for sealing her prophecies and her passports to heaven.

But she had other disappointments, beside the[Pg 393] defection of Mr. Pomeroy. One of his elders, Elias Carpenter, of Bermondsey, after going a certain way with her, fell off. This, however, was later. He was followed by six others. Thereupon she wrote and printed five letters of denunciation and woe to the back-sliders.

By the sale of her sealed passports to heaven Joanna obtained a very respectable revenue, and from being a poor working drudge she blossomed out into a woman of substance. Her followers in Exeter were recognized by the peculiarity of their dress, somewhat in the fashion of that of the Quakers, the men being particularly distinguished by wearing a long beard at a time when beards were not generally adopted.

In 1798 she moved to Bristol, and in 1801 began to publish books of prophecies and warnings, which were eagerly purchased by her followers. In 1802 she moved to London, where she was patronized by Sharp, the engraver, and had other influential friends, Brothers, the fanatic, who had proclaimed himself the promised Messiah, and a certain Miss Cott, whom he admitted to be the daughter of King David and the future Queen of the Hebrews. But Richard Brothers was sent to Bridewell, and those who had believed in him, amongst others an M.P., Mr. Halhead, member for Lymington, were drifting about in quest of some new delusion. Joanna suited them to a nicety, and they rallied about her.

The books which she sent forth into the world were written partly in prose, partly in rhyme, all the prose and most of the rhyme being given forth as the direct words of the Almighty. It is not possible to conceive that any persons could have been deluded by such rambling nonsense, did one not know that human folly is like the Well of Zemzem that is inexhaustible.[Pg 394] Joanna’s handwriting was illegibly bad; so that at last she found it advisable to pretend that she had received orders from heaven to discard the pen, and deliver her oracles verbally, and the words flowed from her faster than the scribes could write them down. Her prophecies were words, and words only, a rhapsody of texts and vulgar applications; the verse the vilest doggerel ever written, and the rhyme and grammar equally bad. She made a pretty penny, not only by the sale of her books, but also by her “Certificates for the Millennium,” and her “Sealings of the Faithful,” passports to paradise. Of these she sold between six and seven thousand, some at twelve shillings, but most at a guinea; and she continued the sale until a woman, Mary Bateman, a Leeds murderess, who had poisoned a Mrs. Perigo, and had attempted to poison Mr. Perigo, was hanged in 1809, and it was ascertained that this poisoner had been furnished by Joanna with one of her passports to paradise.

In 1813, she first announced that she was to become the mother of Shiloh, that she was the Woman spoken of in the Apocalypse as having the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; the twelve stars were twelve evangelists or apostles whom she sent abroad to declare her revelations. In herself, she asserted, the scheme of redemption would be completed, by woman came the fall of man, and by woman must come his restoration. She was the Bride, the promised seed who was to bruise the serpent’s head. The evening-star was placed in the firmament to be her type. The immediate object of her call was to destroy the devil; of this Satan was fully aware; and that it might not be said he had foul play, a regular dispute of seven days was agreed upon between him and Joanna, in which she was to be alone; the conditions were that[Pg 395] if she held out her argument for seven days, Satan should retire from troubling the earth, but if she yielded, then his kingdom was to stand. Accordingly, she went alone into a solitary house for this contest. Joanna on this occasion was her own secretary, and the procès verbal of the conference was printed from her manuscript. She set down all Satan’s blasphemies with the utmost frankness, and the proficiency he displayed in vulgar language and Billingsgate abuse is surprising.

Of all Joanna’s books this is the most curious. The conference terminated like most theological disputes. Both parties grew warm; but Joanna’s tongue was more lightly slung on its pivots, and she talked Satan out of all patience. She gave him, as he complained, ten words to his one, and allowed him no time to speak. All men, he said, were already tired of her tongue, and now she had tired the devil.

This was not unreasonable; but he proceeded to abuse the whole sex, which would be ungracious in any one, but in him was peculiarly ungrateful. He said that no man could tame a woman’s tongue; it were better to dispute with a thousand men than with one woman.

Once she declared that she had scratched the devil’s face with her nails, and had even bitten off one of his fingers, and that his blood tasted sweet.

When she announced to the world her pregnancy, her followers were filled with breathless expectation. Presents came pouring in for the coming Shiloh. One wealthy proselyte sent a cradle that cost £200, manufactured by Seddons, a cabinet-maker of repute in Aldersgate Street; another sent a pap-spoon that cost £100; and that nothing might be lacking at this accouchement laced caps, infant’s napkins, bibs, mantles,[Pg 396] some of white satin, pap-boats, caudle-cups arrived. A Bible also, richly bound, was not forgotten as a present to the coming Messiah. The cradle is now in Salford Museum.

But what was most extraordinary of all is that a regular London physician, a Dr. Richard Reece, having on the 7th of August, 1814, visited Joanna, “to ascertain the probability of her being in a state of pregnancy, as then given out,” declared his opinion to be that she was perfectly right in the view she had taken of her situation, and according to his own admission in a four-shilling pamphlet, entitled A Correct Statement of the Circumstances, etc., which he published, declared his belief in the fact. No wonder that after this the Rev. Mr. Foley, who had headed a deputation that waited on the doctor to obtain an authentic declaration of the conclusion to which he had come after his first visit, and the whole body of the believers were frantic with exultation and confidence; and that even a portion of the hitherto incredulous public began to have misgivings, and not to know very well what to think of the matter.

When Dr. Reece first saw the prophetess she expected to lie-in in a few weeks; months however passed without bringing the looked-for event. Further, to strengthen the delusion, it was unblushingly asserted that a number of medical men of the highest reputation had been called in, and that they had expressed their opinion affirmatively as to her pregnancy.

Dr. Sims, however, published a statement to this effect in the Morning Chronicle of September 3, 1814: “I went to see her on August 18th, and after examining her, I do not hesitate to declare, it is my firm opinion, that the woman called Joanna Southcott is not pregnant; and, before I conclude this[Pg 397] statement, I feel it right to say, that I am convinced the poor woman labours under strong mental delusion.”

A Mr. Want, also, a surgeon, who was called in by Dr. Reece, unhesitatingly declared his opinion that she was not in the family way, as also that there were no hopes of her recovery.

Before her death, which took place on the 27th of December, she had been confined to her bed for above ten weeks. During this time she had lived in a state of mental exaltation, but towards the end her courage failed. A scene in the chamber of the dying woman, which Dr. Reece relates that he witnessed on the 19th of November, is not without pathos.

Five or six of the believers, who had been waiting, having been admitted, “She desired them to be seated round her bed; when, spending a few minutes in adjusting the bed-clothes with seeming attention, and placing before her a white handkerchief, she thus addressed them, as nearly as I can recollect, in the following words: ‘My friends, some of you have known me nearly twenty-five years, and all of you not less than twenty. When you have heard me speak of my prophecies, you have sometimes heard me say that I doubted my inspiration. But, at the same time, you would never let me despair. When I have been alone it has often appeared delusion; but when the communications were made to me I did not in the least doubt. Feeling, as I now do feel, that my dissolution is drawing near, and that a day or two may terminate my life, it all appears a delusion.’ She was by this exertion quite exhausted, and wept bitterly.” She then, the doctor proceeds to inform us, after some further discourse about her death and funeral, wept again, and some of those present also[Pg 398] shed tears; but after a little while, one of them, Mr. Howe, spoke up, and said: “Mother, your feelings are human. We know you are a favoured woman of God, and that you will produce the promised child, and whatever you may say to the contrary will not diminish our faith.”

This assurance, we are told, revived her, and from crying she fell to laughing. She however then made her will.

Immediately on her decease, Dr. Reece wrote to the editor of the Sunday Monitor, which had lent itself to become an organ of the Joannites:—

“Agreeably to your request, I send a messenger to acquaint you, that Joanna Southcott died this morning precisely at 4 a.m. The believers in her mission, supposing that the vital functions are only suspended for a few days, will not permit me to open the body until some symptom appears, which may destroy all hopes of resuscitation.”

In fact, in 1792, Joanna had published a prophecy to the effect that she, the mother of Shiloh, previous to his birth would be as dead for four days, and at the end of that period would revive and be delivered. No sooner was she dead than her friends proceeded to wrap her body in warm blankets, to place bottles of hot water at her feet, and by keeping the room warm, to endeavour to preserve the vital spark.

Manchester Street was thronged by a crowd watching the house, and inquiries respecting her resuscitation were constant and anxious. To all inquiries the answer given was consolatory. On Saturday the crowd again assembled early, before 4 a.m., and the most zealous pronounced their positive conviction that she would come to life again that day.

But the prescribed period of four days and nights[Pg 399] elapsed, and so far was the body from exhibiting appearances of a temporary suspension of animation, that it began to display a discoloration which at once brought home to conviction the fact that the wretched Joanna was but mortal. Preparations were made to dissect her remains. A summons was issued to the surgeons who had expressed a wish to be present, and at 2 p.m. fifteen gentlemen assembled; in addition were the apostle Tozer, Colonel Harwood, and one or two other of Joanna’s followers and proselytes. Ann Underwood was in the ante-room, much chagrined at the disappointment of her hopes, and the breakdown of her convictions.

The examination of the body showed that Joanna Southcott had been suffering from dropsy, which had killed her.

The adherents of the prophetess, who had awaited the event, skulked off in great tribulation, and were happy to escape the populace, who were outrageous towards any whom they suspected of adhering to the sect of Joanna. This excusable indignation had nearly proved fatal in the morning to an old lady who had rapped at the door of the house, to make inquiries as to whether Joanna was already resuscitated. No sooner was she suspected to be a disciple, than she was assailed with mud and cabbage stalks.

Some glimmerings of sanity had lightened the mind of Joanna previous to her death, and she had indited a will, in which she professed that she had been a deceiver, prompted to play her part by the devil, and directing that after her death, cradle, caudle-cups, pap-boats, etc., that had been sent for the use of the coming Shiloh, should be returned to the donors. She was buried in Marylebone burying-ground on 2 January, 1815. On her stone was inscribed:—

[Pg 400]

In Memory of Joanna Southcott,
who departed this life December 27, 1814, aged 60 years.
While through all my wondrous days,
Heaven and earth enraptured gaze,
While vain sages think they know
Secrets thou alone canst show,
Time alone will tell what hour
Thou’lt appear in greater power!

The composition evidently of one of her dupes, hoping on still. She was really aged sixty-four years. Her tombstone was shattered by the great gunpowder explosion in the Regent’s Park Canal in 1874. The delusion was not at an end with the death and burial of Joanna. Sharp, the engraver, ever after maintained that she was not really dead, and would rise again and become the mother of Shiloh. When he was sitting to Haydon for his portrait, he predicted that Joanna would reappear in the month of July, 1822.

“But suppose she should not?” said Haydon.

“I tell you that she will,” retorted Sharp; “but if she should not, nothing would shake my faith in her divine mission.”

Those who were near Sharp during his last illness, state that in this belief he died.

Nor was he singular. Some of her one hundred thousand adherents fell away, but a great many remained, waiting in yearly expectation for her reappearance. The men bound themselves by a vow not to shave their beards till her resurrection. It need scarcely be said that they descended to their graves unshorn.

Under the date of January, 1817, the Annual Register quotes the following notice of the proceedings of the sect from a Lincoln newspaper of the day: “An interdict arrived at Newark, on Sunday, the 19th instant, from a disciple of the Conclave at Leeds, inhibiting those of the faith, amongst other things, from[Pg 401] attending to their ordinary business during the ensuing eight or nine days; and a manufacturer’s shop at that place is at this time entirely deserted, and the business of many small dealers suspended in consequence.” This was due to the expectation of the resuscitation of Joanna.

Leeds was one of the strongholds of Joannism, and several of the founder’s publications are dated from that place.

Two years after this, in January, 1817, the London disciples made a remarkable outbreak. One morning, having assembled somewhere in the West End of the metropolis, they made their way to Temple Bar, passing through which, they set forward in procession through the City, each decorated with a white cockade, and wearing a small star of yellow riband on the left breast. In this guise, led by one of their number, carrying a brazen trumpet ornamented with light blue ribands, while two boys marching by his side bore each a flag of silk, they proceeded along Fleet Street, up Ludgate Hill, and thence through St. Paul’s Churchyard to Bridge Row, followed by the rabble in great force. Here, having reached what they considered to be the centre of the great city, they halted; and then their leader sounded his trumpet, and roared out that the Shiloh, the Prince of Peace, was come again to the earth; to which a woman who was with him, and who was said to be his wife, responded with another wild cry of “Woe! woe! to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the coming of Shiloh.” This terrific vociferation was repeated several times, and joined in by the rest of the party. But at last the mob, which now completely blocked up the street, from laughing and shouting proceeded to pelting the enthusiasts with mud and harder missiles. They struggled to make their escape,[Pg 402] or to beat off their assailants; this led to a general fight; the flags were torn, and the affray ended in the trumpeter and his wife, five other men and the two boys of the party, after having been rolled in the mire, being rescued from the fury of the multitude by the constables, and conveyed to the Compter.

When they were brought up the next day before the alderman at Guildhall, they maintained that they were only obeying the commands of God in acting as they had done. Their spokesman, the trumpeter, who turned out to be one Sibley, a City watchman, who appeared to exercise great authority over the others, said that he had proclaimed the second coming of the Shiloh in the same manner and with the same authority as John the Baptist, who had announced the first coming; and his wife asserted that she had had the Shiloh in her arms four times. In the end they were all sent back to prison, to be detained till they could find security for their peaceful demeanour in future.

A remnant of the sect, the Jezreelites, lingered on for long at Chatham, remarkable for the general singularity of their manners and appearance.

The Joannites are now almost, if not wholly, extinct, leaving room for some newer outbreak of religious folly.

If we did not live at a period when such charlatans as Dr. Dowie and Mrs. Eddy have appeared, drawn about them crowds of adherents, and conjured tens of thousands of pounds out of their pockets, we should have supposed that such irruptions of religious mania, such eagerness to believe in a lie, such credulous clinging to an impostor, were a thing of the remote past. But the fools, like the poor, are always with us, and—

Still Dunce the Second reigns like Dunce the First.
Silver Pap-boat


From the original in the collection of A. M. Broadley, Esq.



Reproduced from the original print in the collection of A. M. Broadley. Esq.

[Pg 403]

The question presents itself to the mind whether Joanna was a conscious impostor, or whether she was self-deluded. With her dying confession and her will before us, it would seem that she knew that she was imposing on the credulity of men and women. She had seen a debauched and dissolute Methodist preacher in her master’s house pose as an apostle and as inspired, and draw crowds and convince them that he was an oracle of God. She imitated him, and found that her imitation was successful, and also that it paid well. She was able to command thousands of pounds from her dupes, and it flattered her vanity to be appreciated as one half divine.

She had occasional qualms of conscience, but her devotees had more faith in her than she had in herself, and they overbore every feeble attempt to retrace her steps.

The authorities for her life are numerous.

Southey has given a full account of her in Letters from England by Dom M. A. Espriella. London, 1806.

A full account of the dissection of her body is given in Notes and Gleanings, VI, 15 December, 1891. Exeter, 1891.

A reproduction of one of her Passports to Heaven made out to Richard Hubbard, is in Devon Notes and Queries, Vol. II. Exeter, 1903.

Memoirs of the Life and Mission of Joanna Southcott, to which is added a sketch of the Rev. W. Tozer, M.J.S., with portrait. London, 1814.

Life of Joanna Southcott the Prophetess: her Astounding Writings, etc., with Caricature Portrait. London, 1814.

The Life of Joanna Southcott, the Prophetess, etc., with Portrait and View of the Crib for the Expected Messiah. London, 1814.

[Pg 404]

Fairburn’s edition of the Prophetess. Portrait and Prints. London, 1814.

The Life and Prophecies of Joanna Southcott, from her Infancy to the Present Time, etc. Portrait. London.

The Life of Joanna Southcott, illustrative of her supposed Mission, etc. By D. Hughson, LL.D. Portrait. London, 1814.

Full Particulars of the Last Moments of the Pretended Prophetess, Joanna Southcott. London, 1815.

A Correct Statement of the Circumstances that attended the last illness and death of Mrs. Southcott. By Richard Reece, M.D. London, 1815.

A Complete Refutation of the Statements and Remarks. Published by Dr. Reece, relative of Mrs. Southcott. London, 1815.

The Case of Joanna Southcott, as far as it came under his professional observation, impartially stated. By P. Mathias, Surgeon and Apothecary. Portrait. London, 1815.

The Life and Death of Joanna Southcott, with the particulars of her will, and an account of her dissection. Woodcut. London (n.d.).

Memoirs of the Life and Mission of Joanna Southcott. Portrait. London, 1814.

There are other tracts, but these are the principal.

NOTE.—Mr. A. M. Broadly, of Bridport, kindly supplies the following note:—

Stourbridge, in the second decade of the nineteenth century, was a stronghold of the followers of Joanna Southcott. Amongst them was the Rev. T. P. Foley, a member of one of the leading county families of the district. In the spring of 1814 the coming of the Shiloh was announced, and a crib and a pap-bowl were among the presents which were made by the faithful. The pap-bowl was presented in June, and was engraved by Lowe of Birmingham. It has on it a portrait, cherubim in rays of light, the dove with the olive branch, and a crowned child leading a lion, with two repetitions of “Glory to God.” The reverse of the bowl contains, within two branches of laurel and oak, the following inscription: “A Token of Love to the Prince of Peace. From the Believers of Joanna Southcott’s Divine Mission in Stourbridge and its vicinity.”


In the year 1829 Mr. Warburton introduced a Bill into the House of Commons for the prevention of the unlawful disinterment of human bodies and for the regulation of schools of anatomy. The horrible revelations of the murders—at least thirty—committed by Burke and Hare, in Edinburgh, for the sake of providing subjects for the purposes of anatomy to lecture on, had produced a profound emotion. The Bill passed the House of Commons, but was thrown out by the Lords.

So long as the European war continued, the period of time required for the completion of the education of medical students, so as to fit them for the service in the Army or Navy, was unduly short, and the study of anatomy was consequently much neglected. At that time the dissecting-rooms were supplied by men who in general exhumed bodies. The trade was lucrative; one resurrectionist at his death left nearly £6000 to his family. Another resurrectionist, after a long career, withdrew in 1817. He had attended the army in the Peninsula and in France as a licensed sutler, and after a battle went over the field extracting the teeth of those who had fallen and such as were dying, and disposed of them to dentists in England. With the produce of these sales he built a large hotel at Margate. A leading resurrectionist once received £144 for twelve subjects in one evening. Sir Astley[Pg 406] Cooper expended hundreds of pounds in the purchase of bodies and in advancing money to screen these useful auxiliaries of the anatomical school. To obtain the liberation of one he paid £160.

The proper education of a surgeon demanded that he should be acquainted with anatomy, and the only provision made by the legislature was that the bodies of criminals who had been executed should be handed over to the schools. This did not furnish by any means an adequate number, and the professors of anatomy were obliged to have recourse to the professional purveyor of corpses, knowing well enough, or suspecting, whence they came.

A select committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the matter, and several of the profession were had up for examination.

Here is the evidence of one resurrectionist, condensed:—

“A man may make a good living at it if he is a sober man, and acts with judgment. I should suppose there are at present in London between forty and fifty men that have the name of raising subjects. If you are friends with a grave-digger, the thing will be all right to know what bodies to get; if you are not, you cannot get them. The largest number of bodies I have got were twenty-three in four nights. It was only in one year that I got one hundred. Perhaps the next year I did not get above fifty or sixty. When I go to work I like to get those of poor people buried from the workhouses, because, instead of working for one subject, you may get three or four. I do not think, during the time I have been in the habit of working for the schools, I got half a dozen of wealthier people.”

A second said: “The course I should take would be[Pg 407] to have the workhouse subjects; we can get them out of the burial-ground without any difficulty whatever.”

One of the largest dealers was Israel Cohen, commonly called Izzy, a Jew, well known to surgeons and sextons. By the surgeons he was patronized; of the sextons he was the patron; and so complete was the understanding between the profession to which he belonged and those with which he was connected, that the interest of all three was advanced by coalition. He was a square-built, resolute ruffian, with features indicative of his Hebrew origin, black whiskers, and a squint.

The Plymouth medical men memorialized the Government in 1827 relating to the necessity they were in of having human bodies for dissection, and the inadequacy of the legitimate supply. “In other countries,” they said, “the dissection of the dead, so necessary to the well-being of the living, is permitted and protected; and is actually prosecuted, without shocking any existing prejudice or violating the sanctities of the dead. It follows either that the professional gentlemen of this kingdom must be contented with a very inferior medical education, or that they must resort to the Continent to obtain that information which is denied to them by the laws of Great Britain.” The alternative of having recourse to resurrectionists they did not refer to. The memorial produced no results.

In the recent alterations of Princetown Church, it was found that no inconsiderable number of the graves of the French prisoners who died during incarceration were empty. There can be little doubt that the bodies were disposed of to the surgeons in Plymouth. It was generally supposed that the body-snatchers in exhuming a corpse first proceeded, as would a novice, in excavating the whole grave, and having arrived at[Pg 408] the coffin would then force off the lid and so get possession of the body. But this would have been too slow an operation. To do the job expeditiously they cleared away the earth above the head of the coffin only, taking care to leave that which covered the rest of the coffin undisturbed. As soon as about one-third of the chest was thus exposed, they forced a very strong crowbar between the end of the coffin and the lid, and easily prised it open. It usually happened at this stage of the proceedings that the superincumbent weight of earth on the other portion of the coffin-lid caused it to be snapped across. As soon as this was effected the body was drawn out, the death-gear removed from it and replaced in the coffin, and finally the body was tied up in a bundle or thrust into a sack and taken away, the whole operation lasting not over a quarter of an hour.

Very generally a hackney coach or a spring cart was in waiting to receive the body. When corpses were sent from the country to London they were generally packed in barrels or hat-crates. But when one was to be taken to a dissecting-room in the same town it was laid on a large piece of green baize, the four corners were tied together, and so the body was rolled up in a bundle. The body-snatcher would then, dressed as a porter, swing the load over his shoulder, and often, even in broad daylight, carry it to its place of destination through the most crowded streets.

Every means which ingenuity could suggest was put in practice to obtain bodies which had not been buried. For this purpose the men, when they heard of the body of a person being found—drowned, for instance, and lying to be owned—trumped up a story of an unfortunate brother or sister, humbugged a coroner’s jury, and thus obtained possession of the body. In this sort[Pg 409] of trickery the wives of the men were often employed, as their application was attended to with less suspicion, and it was never difficult to impose on the parochial officials, who were always anxious to avoid the expense of burying the deceased. Subjects were thus occasionally procured, but they were more frequently obtained by pretending relationship to persons dying without friends in hospitals and workhouses. As the bodies thus obtained were much fresher than those which had been buried, they produced generally, independent of the teeth, as much as twelve guineas each.

At the commencement of a new term at the hospitals, the lecturers on anatomy were beset by the leading dealers in subjects, and “fifty pounds down, and nine guineas a body,” was often acceded to. The larger sum down secured to the lecturer the exclusive supply of that dealer’s wares. The competition for subjects was great, and in some cases twenty pounds were paid for a single corpse in good condition.

Stoke Church and yard lay solitary amid waste land. It had a wall round it, but no houses very near, and there were no oil lamps burning in the road that passed it.

A strong suspicion was entertained that the graves there had been rifled, and were so continually, and it was proposed to the parish authorities to have lamps and organize a night watch. But the officials shrank from the expense, and many people reasoned that it were well to allow the resurrectionists to get bodies from graves, as bodies the surgeons must have, rather than run the risk of inducing these scoundrels to imitate the proceedings of Burke by killing individuals for the purpose. Within a stone’s throw of Mill Bridge was a commodious residence called Mount Pleasant, with Stonehouse Lake or Creek on[Pg 410] one side, and Stoke Church on the other. A man, apparently well to do, a Mr. Gosling, took the house, and brought in a somewhat mixed party of men and women. The neighbours thought the family was peculiar, but as he was a pleasant-spoken man and the ladies of the party were affable and sympathetic, and as he paid his way with punctuality, they were content. Indeed, they were more than content. The females of the Gosling household attended every funeral, and expressed their tenderest feelings of regard and pity for the mourners, asked all particulars about the deceased, his or her age, and what malady had hurried the lamented one to his grave, as also occasionally whether the deceased had good teeth. At night, immediately after every funeral, the men of the party stole forth, furnished with crowbar and spades, and equipped with a sack or two, and made their way into the graveyard, where they worked by the light of a dark lantern. The sexton had been squared, and he had not made the grave very deep, nor had he heaped the earth thickly over it.

But the gang did not confine operations to the last interment. They opened other graves, and if the corpses were too much decomposed to be of any commercial value they contented themselves with drawing all their teeth.

Sometimes it happened that the subjects when removed to Mount Pleasant underwent rapid decomposition. Then they were buried in the garden, and restored to the graveyard on the next visit.

Neighbours now began to notice that lights were burning in Mount Pleasant at all times of the night. It was also remarked that the grave mounds bore a suspicious look of having been tampered with—not those recently made only, but others more ancient.

[Pg 411]

In the nearest house was a shrewd, observant servant-girl, and the lights, the way they moved about at night in the rooms of the villa—not in the bedrooms, but downstairs, at times when every one else was asleep—aroused her suspicions. Her bedroom window commanded the villa of Gosling and Co., and wake at what time she might or however early in the morning before daybreak, there the lights were. She resolved on keeping watch; and she stationed herself where, unseen, she could observe proceedings. Towards midnight she saw dark figures emerge from Mount Pleasant and make their way to Stoke Church. Follow she did not. Her courage was not equal to that; but she waited and watched till the figures stole back, and on this occasion she distinctly saw sacks being carried on the backs of two of the men. She now remembered that she had often noticed packing-cases and casks being taken from the villa to the water’s edge and placed on a barge apparently waiting there for its load. In the morning the girl told her master what she had seen, and he at once apprised the police.

These latter now placed themselves behind the wall at night to watch what would happen; they were rewarded one night after there had been a couple of funerals in the churchyard. The constables saw the men dig and shovel for about ten minutes; heard them strike a coffin-lid, and proceed to force it up. Then by the faint light they saw them remove a corpse and put it into a sack. Thereupon one of the men came out of the yard as a scout to see that the coast was clear. After that they hoisted the body over the churchyard wall and made towards Mount Pleasant. As the constables on this occasion were but two and there was a considerable gang in the villa, they returned to Devonport, where they collected a sufficient[Pg 412] force of watchmen and special constables, and surrounded the building, where the resurrectionists were enjoying a refreshing sleep after their labours. Scaling the wall by means of a ladder and advancing in their stocking-soles, they entered the various bedrooms, and secured four men and two women, pinioned and gagged them. They were taken completely by surprise.

In the kitchen were found two sacks. In one was the body of a girl of eighteen, in the other that of an elderly man. The cupboards and drawers were stocked with extracted teeth and implements of dentistry for drawing them.

When on the following morning it was noised in Devonport that a confederacy of body-snatchers had been captured, the greatest excitement prevailed. The relatives of all who had died and been buried within a couple of years and more crowded the cemetery demanding that the graves of their kinsfolk should be examined. The graveyard turned out to have been a mine well worked. Grave after grave was opened, and dishevelled shrouds and mutilated bodies, teethless jaws, revealed to the distracted relatives of the dead that the graves had been violated.

Gosling and his confederates were brought to trial, and confessed their guilt, and even revelled in their horrible reminiscences. Gosling grimly recalled how on one night the resurrection party had been so drunk that they had fought in an open grave under the shadow of the church.

This took place in 1830. Gosling and his confederates were transported.

It was not till 1832 that Mr. Warburton’s Bill, already referred to, passed both Houses; and public feeling had been further stirred on the subject by the case of Bishop and Williams, who had murdered an Italian[Pg 413] boy in London for the sake of providing a subject for S. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and Bishop had admitted that he had committed sixty such murders.

The objection raised to the Bill in the House of Lords in the first instance, and again in the second, was that Warburton’s project was that such persons as died in a hospital, and whose bodies were not claimed by relatives, should be given up for dissection. What the Lords objected to was that this subjected the poor to what might be considered an evil in which the rich did not participate. But the serious condition of affairs, the evidence that many murders were committed so as to provide the anatomical schools with subjects, overrode the sentimental feeling, and the Bill passed. Happy indeed would it have been if it had passed thirty years earlier.


It is not my intention to give a detailed biography of John Gay, for such is easily procurable, either in Cox’s Life of the poet, or in the Dictionary of National Biography, or, again, in the Life, prefixed to his works, by J. Underhill, 1893. All here proposed is to give a brief sketch, and fill out two points, the story of The Beggars’ Opera, and that of the discovery of MSS. in Gay’s chair.

The Gays of Goldsworthy were an ancient Devonshire family, tracing back in direct descent from a John Gay, already seated in his warm nest at Goldsworthy, in Parkham, near Bideford, a parish that nursed as well the Giffards of Halsbury and the Risdons of Babley. But if Parkham nursed these families, it did not keep them; Giffards, Risdons, Gays are all gone, and the Gays had sold Goldsworthy before Risdon wrote his Survey between 1605 and 1630. But the Gays still retained the old priory of Frithelstock which they held on a long lease from 1602, and where lived the widow of a Gay in 1822, when Lysons published his “Devonshire” in Magna Britannia.

John Gay was the son of William Gay, fourth son of John Gay of Frithelstock. William had married the daughter of a Dissenting preacher named Hanmer, in Barnstaple, and there John was born on 30 June, 1685. William Gay died when John was but ten years old,[Pg 415] and he was brought up by his mother in Ivy Street, Barnstaple, and sent to school to Robert Luck, a would-be poet, who wrote Latin and English verses, in one of which, “The Female Phæton,” he depicted the career and lapse of a fast young lady of fashionable life.

Mr. Gay

Gay was bound apprentice to a London mercer, but, his health failing, he returned to Barnstaple, where he dwelt with his uncle, the Dissenting minister, John Hanmer. The association must have been most unsuitable to both. John “toujours gai” with a poet’s fancy, a buoyant heart, what more incongruous than to be lodged under the roof and nourished at the table of a sour and moody Puritan!

How and when he broke away from this depressing and distressing environment we do not know. All that is known of this early period is to be found in a little work called Gay’s Chair, written by his nephew, Joseph Ballard. At the age of twenty-one he wrote his first piece, Rural Sports, which he dedicated to Pope, with whom he became afterwards allied in intimate friendship. In 1712 we find him secretary, or rather domestic steward, to the Duchess of Monmouth, in which station he continued till the beginning of the year 1714, at which time he accompanied the Earl of Clarendon to Hanover, whither that nobleman was dispatched by Queen Anne. In the latter part of the same year, in consequence of the Queen’s death, he returned to England, where he lived in the highest estimation and intimacy of friendship with many persons of rank; he became, in fact, the petted lap-dog of fashionable society.

Queen Caroline, then Princess of Wales, was interested in him, and sent to invite him to read his play, The Captives, before her at Leicester House. The day[Pg 416] was fixed, and Gay was commanded to attend. He waited some time in a presence chamber, with his manuscript in his hand, but being a modest man, and unequal to the trial into which he was entering, when the door of the drawing-room was thrown open, where the Princess sat with her ladies, he was so much confused and concerned about making the proper obeisance that he did not see a low footstool that happened to be in the way; and, stumbling over it, fell against a large screen, which he upset, and threw the ladies into no small disorder.

In 1726 he dedicated his Fables, by permission, to the Duke of Cumberland. From his countenance, and promises made of preferment, he hoped to have obtained some office in which, without being overworked, he might be well paid, and able to devote himself more at leisure to the Muses. Instead of which, in 1727, he was offered the place of gentleman-usher to one of the youngest princesses; an offer which, as he regarded, it was insulting to make. In a fit of resentment, and in ill-humour with the Court, he wrote The Beggars’ Opera as a satire on the Italian opera, then warmly patronized by the Court.

Swift had observed to Gay what an old, pretty sort of thing a Newgate pastoral would make. Gay was inclined to consider the suggestion, but afterwards, hot in his resentment against the Court, turned the theme into a comedy. He began The Beggars’ Opera, and mentioned it to Swift, but the Doctor did not much like the project. As he carried it on, he showed what he had written to him and to Pope, and they now and then gave him a correction or a word or two of advice; but it was wholly of his own writing. When it was done, neither of them thought it would succeed. The play was offered in 1727 to Cibber at Drury Lane, and was[Pg 417] by him rejected with contempt. Congreve read it over and said, “It will either take greatly or be damned confoundedly.”

Grammar School, Barnstaple


The play was, however, accepted by Rich, and produced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. When brought on the stage on the first night, 29 January, 1727–8, Gay’s friends sat in great uncertainty of the event, till they were vastly encouraged by overhearing the Duke of Argyll, who sat in the next box, say: “It will do—it must do! I see it in the eyes of them!” When Polly Peachum sang her pathetic appeal to her parents—

O ponder well, be not severe
To save a wretched wife,
For on the rope that hangs my dear
Depends poor Polly’s life,

and this, to the air of “The Babes in the Wood,” familiar to the entire audience from their nurseries, the effect was magical. The audience broke into a roar of applause, and the success of the play was established.

The plot of the piece was thin and poor, but the people were refreshed, and rejoiced to hear again the old familiar notes of English music. There were sixty-nine airs in The Beggars’ Opera, and nearly every one was an old English ballad or song air. Gay was not himself a musician, but he had his head full of old ballads and their airs, most, doubtless, picked up about Barnstaple or Bideford, and he set to the tunes words suitable to his characters and the dialogue, and then got a German named Pepusch to note them down for him and write a simple orchestral accompaniment and an overture. The author, according to Mace, got the entire receipts of four nights, amounting in the aggregate to £693 13s. 6d., whereas Rich, the manager, after the piece had been performed thirty-six times,[Pg 418] had pocketed nearly £4000. It was well said that this play made Rich gay, and Gay rich.

Lavinia Fenton had been tempted by Rich from the Haymarket to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to act the part of Polly in The Beggars’ Opera at a salary of 15s. per week, but owing to the enormous success of the play he raised it to 30s.; and such was the rage of the town respecting her that she was obliged to be guarded home every night by a considerable party of her confidential friends, to prevent her being hurt by the crowd or being run away with. The Duke of Bolton became enamoured of her—took her under his protection, as the euphemism went. The Duke was then in the prime of life, living apart from his wife. “Polly” was not remarkably pretty, but she had a charming manner and a delicious voice. Wharton tells us that he knew her, and could testify to her wit, intelligence, and good manners. “Her conversation,” says he, “was admired by the first characters of the age, particularly the old Lord Bathurst and Lord Grenville.” She and the Duke had several quarrels, and after one very serious explosion he gave her notice to quit the house.

She retired to her room, assumed the costume of Polly Peachum, returned, and presenting herself before him in all the grace and charm with which she had first won him, with tears in her eyes, sang—

Oh, what pain it is to part!
Can I leave thee? Can I leave thee?
Oh, what pain it is to part!
Can thy Polly ever leave thee?

to the air “Gin thou wert mine ain thing,” to which it had been set by Gay.

Touched by the remembrance of the past and by her witchery of manner, the Duke opened his arms, she[Pg 419] flew to his heart, and the reconciliation was complete. On the death of the Duchess, the Duke married Lavinia Fenton at Aix in Provence, 21 October, 1751, just one day beyond the month after the death of his wife, who died on 20 September.

The children borne by “Polly” to the Duke before the marriage were three sons, who all assumed the name of Powlett. The Duke died on 26 August, 1754, and was succeeded in the dukedom by his brother. “Polly” Fenton died at West Combe Park, Kent, on 24 January, 1760, at the age of fifty-two.

Assuredly never was a more sudden, complete, and unexpected success achieved than that by the production of The Beggars’ Opera. It defied the prevailing taste; it went contrary to all the received canons of art, it was as audacious as a play as it was musically. Hitherto the Opera had been in the hands of Italians. The themes selected for musical setting had been classic and mythological. Then came Gay, taking his subject from the lowest class—gaol-birds; and discarding all intricate and foreign music, set his songs to melodies familiar to all from their cradles.

It was said of the deserted stalls and boxes at the Italian Opera whilst Gay’s piece held the town, that he had made of the Italian the veritable Beggars’ Opera.

Sir Robert Walpole was frequently the subject of Gay’s satire. Nevertheless he attended the first performance, and sat in one of the stage lounges. When Lockit sang—

When you censure the age,
Be cautious and sage,
Lest the courtiers offended should be.
If you mention vice or bribe,
’Tis so pat to all the tribe,
That each cries—That was levelled at me!

[Pg 420]

Sir Robert observing that all eyes turned upon him at these lines, parried the thrust by leading the applause. After an uninterrupted run in London of sixty-three nights, and emptying the Italian Opera House, the play spread into all the great towns of England, and was played in many places thirty or forty times—in Bath and Bristol fifty times. It made its progress into Wales, where it contributed some of its airs to national Welsh melody, to Scotland and Ireland; and last of all it was performed in Minorca.

Nor was its fame confined to the reading and representation alone, for the card-table and the drawing-room shared with the theatre and the closet in this respect; the ladies carried about the favourite songs engraven on their fans, and screens were decorated with scenes from the play.

Hogarth’s painting representing the first scene on the boards, with noble dukes and earls on fauteuils upon the stage, is well known. His portrait of Polly Fenton is in the National Gallery.

The Beggars’ Opera was revived by Messrs. Gatti at Covent Garden in the season 1878–9. On this occasion wrote Punch: “The house was literally crammed from floor to ceiling by an audience whose enthusiastic temperature increased in a graduated thermometrical scale, the over-boiling point being reached at the back row of the upper gallery; and this on a night when, in the stalls and boxes, wrappers, furs, mantles, and ulsters were de rigueur on account of the rigour of the cold.... Let those who do not believe in a comic tenor see Sims Reeves as Captain Macheath, and they will discover what magic there is even in a refrain of ‘tol-de-lol, lol-de-rol, loddy,’ when given by a tenor who is not impressed by the absurd traditional notion that he is nothing if not sentimental. His acting[Pg 421] of the celebrated song ‘How happy could I be with either’ is full of humour, and his change of manner from ‘tol-de-rol’ in a tender tone, when addressed to the gentle, confiding Polly, to the ‘tol-de-rol’ with a true Cockney chick-a-leary twang when addressed to the vulgar Lucy Lockit, is a clever idea, most artistically carried out; and then his dance up the stage while singing, giving his last note good and true to the end in spite of his unaccustomed exertion, as with a jump he seats himself in a natural devil-may-care style upon the table, was followed by an encore so momentous that even he, the anti-encorist, was fain to comply with the enthusiastic demand; so he repeated the two verses, the dance, and the jump with as much freshness and vigour as though he had not already sung six songs—snatches, more or less, it is true—and had got ten more to follow.”

As a man, Gay was amiable and winning in manner. He had a foible—indolence. Nevertheless he had saved several thousand pounds at the time of his death, which occurred in the house of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, in Burlington Gardens, in December, 1732, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

And now, having done with the man, we come to his chair.

Rather over eighty years after the death of Gay some unpublished poems of his were found in an old arm-chair which had belonged to the poet, and after his death had been retained, with other relics, by the surviving members of his family. The history was fully narrated immediately after the discovery in a little book, called Gay’s Chair, along with the life of the poet and a selection of the poems discovered; some were too broad in humour for publication.

[Pg 422]

It appears that at a sale in 1818 of the effects of a man called Clarke, who had kept an old-clothes and curiosity shop in Barnstaple, an antique chair was disposed of. It is described as of mahogany, with the seat, back, and arms stuffed, and covered with brown leather and studded with brass nails. There was a long drawer under the seat, and two other drawers were fixed on pivots so as to turn back under the arms, and were fitted for writing materials, with a brass candlestick attached to each and a wooden leaf for reading or writing. It was knocked down for a few shillings, and being rather dilapidated, was sent to Mr. Crook, cabinet-maker, to be repaired. Whilst doing this he found that the drawer under the seat did not extend the full depth of the seat, and that when this drawer was taken out it disclosed another behind it. This concealed drawer was crammed with MSS. and paper. These were submitted to inspection, and found to consist of some unpublished poems, together with a variety of other documents and accounts.

This discovery caused much local sensation at the time. It was ascertained that the chair had been purchased some years previously at the sale of the effects of Mrs. Williams, a descendant of Catherine, the poet’s sister, who had married Anthony Baller. She had come in for Gay’s furniture as next-of-kin, and it was then considered as proved beyond all reasonable doubt that it had been Gay’s property. Mr. Henry Lee edited the poems, and they were published in 1820, with a frontispiece representing the chair. Mr. Chanter says:—“Now all this seems like a clever fiction introductory to a book, and indeed the idea of finding papers in a concealed drawer or cabinet has been used so often as to become threadbare. I have therefore taken pains to verify the story, gaining further details from Mr. Crook[Pg 423] himself, who is still living, and, fiction-like as it appears, it is strictly and literally true.”[19]

Grammar School, Barnstaple



Under the arms of the Chair are drawers, with the necessary implements for writing; each drawer turns on a pivot, and has attached to it a brass candlestick. The wooden leaf for reading or writing upon, may be raised or depressed, or entirely let down, at the student’s pleasure. Under the seat is a drawer for books or paper, and behind it is the concealed drawer, in which were found the manuscripts; it is curiously fastened by a small bolt, not perceivable till the larger drawer is removed. The Chair is made of very fine grained, dark coloured mahogany; the seat, back, and arms stuffed, and covered with brown leather, ornamented with brass nails; the whole, considering its antiquity, in pretty good repair, and admirably constructed for meditative ease and literary application.

One of the poems found in the chair is “The Ladies’ Petition to the House of Commons,” the suffragettes of the day. It is founded on the old ballad of “Nice Young Maidens.”

Here’s a pretty set of us
Nice young maidens.
Here’s a pretty set of us
All for husbands at a loss
But we cannot tarry thus,
Nice young maidens.

There is a Scottish version of the same, “Puir auld Maidens,” borrowed from England.

Gay wrote:—

Sirs:—We, the maids of Exon-City,
The maids—good lack! the more’s the pity!
We humbly offer this petition
To represent our sad condition.
Which, once made known, our hope and trust is
Your honoured House will do us justice.
First you shall hear—but can’t you guess?—
The reason of our sad distress.
A maiden was designed by nature
A weakly and imperfect creature,
So liable to err and stray,
She wants a guide, requires a stay:
And then, so timorous of sprites,
She dreads to be alone at nights.
Say what she will, do what she can,
Her heart still gravitates to man.

As Mr. Chanter has pointed out, Gay has scarcely received due credit for the number of proverbial couplets and sayings which have entwined themselves in our daily language; for instance:—

[Pg 424]

When a lady’s in the case
You know all other things give place.
Those who in quarrels interpose,
Must often wipe a bloody nose.
Can Love be controll’d by advice?
While there’s Life there’s Hope.
If the heart of a man is depressed with cares,
The mist is dispelled when a woman appears.

The epitaph which Gay wrote for himself is a fit conclusion:—

Life is a jest, and all things show it;
I thought so once, but now—I know it.


To An Apology for the Life of Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew, London, n.d., but probably 1753, all the Lives of this disreputable man are indebted. This was, in fact, his own autobiography, dictated by him to some literary acquaintance, who put his adventures into shape and padded them out with reflections and quotations from Shakespeare, Horace, and mainly from Fielding’s Tom Jones.

The book has two dedications, the first is from the “Historiographer to Mr. Bamfylde-Moore Carew” to Justice Fielding. The second is “To the Public” from Bampfylde himself. The dedication to Henry Fielding is by no means complimentary, and one strain of thought runs through the whole Apology. It shows that Bampfylde-Moore Carew was not such a scoundrel as was Tom Jones the hero of Fielding’s novel; and in that attempt the author does not fail.

It will not be possible here to do more than give an outline of the life of this King of the Beggars; the original deserves to be read by West-countrymen, on account of the numerous references to the gentry of the counties of Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset that it contains. It is somewhat amusing in the Apology to notice how Carew insists on being entitled Mr. on almost every occasion that his name is mentioned by the biographer. The book reveals at every page the[Pg 426] vanity and self-esteem of this runaway from civilized life, as it does also his utter callousness to truth and honesty. He relates his frauds and falsehoods with unblushing effrontery, glorying in his shame. There have always been persons who have rebelled against the restraints of culture, and have reverted to a state of savagery more or less. Nowadays there are the colonies, to which those who are energetic and dislike the bonds of civilization at home can fly and live a freer life, one also simpler. And this desire, located in many hearts, to be emancipated from limitations and ties that are conventional, is thus given an opening for fulfilment. It may be but a temporary outburst of independence, but with some, unquestionably, like Falstaff, there is a “kind of alacrity in sinking.”

Bampfylde-Moore Carew broke all ties when a boy, and remained a voluntary outcast from society to his death.

“Mr. Carew was born in the Month of July, 1693”—even at birth he is Mister—“and never was there known a more splendid Appearance of Gentlemen and Ladies of the first Rank and Quality at any Baptism in the West of England than at his.” He was the son of the Rev. Theodore Carew, rector of Bickleigh, near Tiverton.

Bampfylde-Moore Carew

At the age of twelve, Bampfylde was sent to Tiverton school, “where he contracted an intimate Acquaintance with young Gentlemen of the first Rank in Somersetshire, Devonshire, Cornwall, and Dorsetshire.” Here he and other boys kept a pack of hounds, and as these, with Carew and others behind them, once gave chase to a deer strayed from Exmoor over standing corn, so much damage was done that the farmers complained to the headmaster. Bampfylde was too great a coward to wait and take his whipping. He ran away[Pg 427] from school and sheltered among some gipsies. He contracted such a love for their vagrant life, and such satisfaction from the applause he got for thefts that manifested low cunning, that nothing would induce him to abandon their mode of life and return to civilization. Here is the description of the hero, as sent forth into the world with Mr. Carew’s sanction:—

“The Stature of our Hero is tall and majestic, his Limbs strong and well proportioned, his Features regular, his Countenance open and ingenuous, bearing all those characteristical Marks which Physiognomists assert denote an honest and good-natured Mind; and tho’ Hardships, and even Age itself (he being now sixty) have made some Alterations in his Features, yet we venture to compare his Countenance with Mr. Thomas Jones’s, tho’ the Author of that Gentleman’s Life asserts he is the finest Figure he ever beheld.”

He was an adept at all sorts of disguises. Sometimes he postured as a shipwrecked seaman and begged for relief, sometimes he was a householder whose dwelling had been destroyed by fire, sometimes, dressed in little more than a blanket, he acted the madman. Then he was a Kent farmer, whose lands had been overflowed by the tide. The only trade he acquired was that of rat-catching. In this, “our Hero, by his close Application, soon attained so considerable a Knowledge in his Profession, that he practised it with Success and Applause, to the great Advantage of the Public in general, not confining the good Effects of his Knowledge to his own Community only, but extending them universally to all Sorts of People wheresoever they were wanted; for though the Mendicants are in a constant State of Hostility with all other People, and Mr. Carew was as alert as any one in laying all Manner of Schemes and Stratagems to carry off a Booty from[Pg 428] them, yet he thought, as a Member of the grand Society of Human Kind, he was obliged to do them all the Good in his Power, when it was not opposite to the Interest of that particular Community of which he was a Member.”

Carew kept a watchful eye on the papers, and so soon as he heard of a disaster anywhere, he at once assumed the disguise of one who had suffered in this disaster, and appealed for relief. To assist him in his deception, he produced letters authenticating his story, forged by himself in the name of magistrate and nobleman, clergy and country gentlemen of good repute.

It next occurred to him that it would serve his purpose if he made a voyage to Newfoundland, so as to be able the better to personate an unfortunate sailor who had been wrecked on his way home. He went there accordingly and picked up all the local knowledge he could, the names of the merchants and dealers and agents there, and returned. At once he figured in the character of a seaman lost in a vessel homeward bound, sometimes belonging to Poole, sometimes to Dartmouth, at other times to other ports, and under such and such commander, according as the newspapers gave accounts of such accidents.

“If the Booty he got before under this character was considerable, it was much more so now; for being able to give a very exact Account of Newfoundland, he applied with great Confidence to Masters of Vessels, and Gentlemen well acquainted with those Parts; so that those whom before his Prudence would not permit him to apply to, now became his greatest benefactors, as the perfect Account he gave of the Country engaged them to give Credit to all he asserted, and made them very liberal in his Favour.”

But his very worst act was committed shortly after[Pg 429] this. He went in a collier from Dartmouth to Newcastle, and there he fell in love with a Miss Grey, daughter of a respectable surgeon-apothecary of the town. He pretended to be mate of the collier, and the captain was not ashamed to corroborate this statement. He gained the young lady’s affections, and as the father naturally objected to such a match, he induced the unfortunate girl to elope with him and come to Dartmouth, where only did she find out that he was a professional mumper or beggar, and that his only respectable trade was that of rat-catcher. But she had taken an irrevocable step in running away with him, and she consented to marry him, and the ceremony was performed at Bath, where for a few weeks they lived in high style, till his money was gone, when he was obliged again to return to his impositions and frauds. From Bath the young couple went to Porchester, where they were kindly received by an uncle of Bampfylde, and he most urgently strove to turn the scoundrel from his mode of life, promising that if he would reform, he and the family would obtain for him some situation in which he could earn his livelihood in an honest manner, and live in a way befitting his birth. But this did not suit Carew. He employed his time with his uncle, who was a clergyman, in studying his demeanour, manner of speech, etc., and leaving him supplied himself with cassock, bands, a black gown, and started “mumping” as a Jacobite incumbent of Aberystwyth, who had been ejected from the living for his political sentiments, and “this and his thorough Knowledge of those Persons whom it was proper to apply to, made this stratagem succeed even beyond his own expectations.”

He, however, exchanged his disguise; for having heard that a vessel containing many Quakers bound for[Pg 430] Philadelphia had been cast away on the coast of Ireland, he laid aside gown, cassock, and bands, and assumed the garb and language and address of a Quaker. “His countenance was now demure; the words You and Sir he seemed to hold in abomination; his Hat was moved to none; for though under Misfortunes, he would not think of bowing the knee to Baal.” Thus equipped he preyed very successfully on the Friends. He even went to a great meeting of Quakers from all parts at Thorncombe, in Dorset, and induced the Friends there to make a considerable contribution for the relief of this member of the sect who had fallen into such distress through the wreck.

His effrontery, his cunning, his utter unscrupulousness gained him such credit among the gipsies that on the death of Claude Patch, who had reigned previously over the canting crew, he was elected King of the Beggars, and thenceforth drew from the whole community a certain income.

At last he was arrested, tried at the quarter sessions at Exeter, and transported to Maryland, where he was sold to a planter. As he tried to escape, an iron collar with a handle to it was riveted about his neck. He again escaped; this time he succeeded in getting among the Indians, who relieved him of his collar. He stole a canoe from his benefactors, and in it made his way to Newcastle in Pennsylvania. There he wandered about, pretending to be a Quaker, being everywhere well received by the fraternity till he came to Derby, where Mr. Whitefield was preaching and drawing crowds. He attended Whitefield’s meetings, pretended to be a converted character, sought the preacher out, imposed on him, got from him money, and departed for Philadelphia, and thence made his way to New London, where resided two sisters of Sir[Pg 431] John Davie, of Creedy Park, near Crediton. They were married there, and their sons were timber merchants. They were greatly delighted to see a man who could inform them about their family, and he raised vain hopes in their mind that “they were near heirs to a fine estate near Crediton.” So completely were they taken in by him that they gave him money and a letter to their relative Humphry Davie, recommending Carew to his good offices. Carew embarked at New London for England. He was, however, much afraid of being pressed for the Navy on approaching England. To avoid this he pricked his breast and arms with a needle, rubbed in bay salt and gunpowder, feigned to be very ill and to be light-headed. It was suspected that he had small-pox, and as such, when an officer came on board to see what men were there, he escaped. As ill with small-pox, he was put ashore at Bristol, where he speedily threw off all appearance of sickness, made the best of his way to a mumpers’ resort at Mile Hill, and had a carouse. He then made his way to Exeter, where he fell in with the captain who had conveyed him to Maryland, and who was vastly astonished to find that Carew had returned home as soon as or sooner than himself.

He now resumed his old mode of begging under false pretences.

“One day as he was begging in the town of Maiden Bradley, from Door to Door, as a shipwrecked Seaman, he saw on the other side of the Street a mendicant Brother Sailor in a Habit as forlorn as his own, a begging for God’s sake, just like himself; who seeing Mr. Carew, crossed over the way and came up to him, and in the canting Language asked him where he was last Night; what Road he was going; then whether he would brush into a Boozing-ken and be his Thrums,[Pg 432] i.e. go into the Alehouse and spend his Threepence with him. To this he consented and away they go, where, in the Series of their Conversation, they ask each other various Questions concerning the Country, the charitable and uncharitable Families, the moderate and severe Justices, the good and queer Corporations, etc., those that would and would not suffer begging in their Territories. The new Acquaintance of Mr. Carew’s asked him if he had been to Sir Edward Seymour’s? He answered Yes, and had received his Alms.

“The next Day they beg the Town, one on one Side of the Street, the other on the other, each on his own separate Story. They then proceeded to the Houses of several Gentlemen in that Neighbourhood; among others they came to Lord Weymouth’s, where it was agreed that Mr. Carew should be the Spokesman. Upon their coming up to the House the Servants bid them begone, for should Lord Weymouth come and detect them in any Falsehood, he would horsewhip them without Mercy.

“Our Travellers, however, were not the least daunted hereat. Therefore they went up to the Kitchen Door and Mr. Carew broke the Ice, telling the deplorable Story of their Misfortune in his usual lamentable Tone. At length the Housekeeper gave them the greatest Part of a cold Shoulder of Mutton, half a fine Wheaten Loaf, and a Shilling, but did it with great Haste and Fear, lest my Lord should see her. Of the Butler they got a Copper of good Ale, and then departed.

“Having got at some Distance from the House, there arose a Dispute who should carry the Victuals, both being loth to encumber themselves with it, as having neither Wife nor Child near to give it to. Mr. Carew was for throwing it into the Hedge, but the[Pg 433] other urged that it was both a Sin and a Shame to waste good Victuals in that Manner; so they both agreed to go to the ‘Green Man,’ about a Mile from my Lord’s, and there exchange it for Liquor. At this Alehouse they tarried some time, and snacked the Arget, that is, shared the Money which they had that Day gotten; then, after a parting Glass, each went his separate Way.

“The Reader cannot but be surprised, when we assure him that this Mendicant Companion of his was no less a Person than my Lord Weymouth himself, who, being desirous of sounding the Tempers and Dispositions of the Gentlemen, and other Inhabitants of his Neighbourhood, put himself into a Habit so vastly beneath his Birth and Fortune. Nor was this the first Time that this great Nobleman had metamorphosed himself into the despicable Shape and Character of a Beggar. He took especial Care to conceal it even from his own Family, one Servant only, in whose Secresy he greatly confided, being entrusted therewith.”

This Lord Weymouth was Thomas Thynne, born 1710, who succeeded to the title of Viscount Weymouth in 1714, and died in 1751.

So soon as Carew and his companion had parted company, Lord Weymouth slipped home by a private way, divested himself of his disguise, and calling for his servants said that he had been informed that two mendicant sailors had visited his house, that they were impostors, and he ordered two of his men to mount their horses and bring them before him.

The servants, naturally, were able to secure Carew alone, and he was reconducted to the mansion. My lord accosted him in a very rough manner, asked where the other fellow was, and told him he should be made to find him. “Mr. Carew in the mean Time stood[Pg 434] thunder-struck, expecting nothing less than Commitment to Prison; but upon Examination, made out his Story as well as he could. After having thus terrified and threatened him for a considerable Time, away goes his Lordship, and divesting himself of his Habit and Character of a Nobleman, again puts on his Rags, and is by his Trusty Valet de Chambre (alone in the Secret) ushered into the Room where his Brother Beggar stood sweating with Fear. They confer Notes together, whispering to each other what to say, in order that their Accounts might agree when examined apart. The Steward took Mr. Carew aside into a private chamber, and there pretending that the other Fellow’s Relation contradicted his, proved them to be both Counterfeits; a Prison must be the Portion of them both; indeed nothing was omitted that might strike Mr. Carew with the greatest Terror and Confusion. By this Time my Lord having thrown off his Rags and put on his fine Apparel, Mr. Carew was again brought into his Presence to receive his Sentence; when my Lord, having sufficiently diverted himself with the Consternation of his Brother Mumper, discovered himself to him.”

After that Lord Weymouth, to whom before Bampfylde had confided his real name, showed him hospitality and liberality and took him along with himself to the Warminster horse-races.

We need not follow in detail all Bampfylde-Moore Carew’s adventures. He went to Sweden, where he collected money on the ground that he was a Presbyterian Minister, to Paris where he posed as a refugee Romanist from England; he was again arrested and sent to Maryland, and again escaped. He pretended to be a soldier wounded at Fontenoy, and exhibited a raw beefsteak attached to his knee as his open[Pg 435] wound. In a word his disguises, his rascalities were endless.

Many attempts were made by his family to reclaim him, by Lord Clifford who was his first cousin, but all in vain.

He died in obscurity in 1758, at the age of fifty-five, at Bickleigh, where he is buried. It is not known what became of his daughter, the only child he had.


William Gifford, the satirist, was born at Ashburton in April, 1756. His father’s name was Edward, and he says that his great-grandfather “was possessed of considerable property at Halsbury, a parish in the neighbourhood of Ashburton.” There is no such parish, but there is the manor of Halsbury that belonged to the Giffords or Giffards in the neighbourhood of Bideford, in Parkham parish.

As William Gifford does not give the Christian names of his grandfather and great-grandfather, it will not be an easy matter to trace descent from the Giffards of Halsbury. That estate was sold by Roger Giffard, who died in 1763, seven years after the birth of William.

Roger had inherited Halsbury from his great-uncle, of the same Christian name, who died without issue in 1724. There is no trace of any legitimate son of this Roger.

No Giffords appear in the Ashburton register prior to 1716, when Mary, daughter of Edward Gifford, was baptized; but there were Giffords, but not gentlefolk, in the neighbouring parish of Ilsington.

William Gifford’s great-grandfather was of the same generation as Roger Giffard of Halsbury, second son of John Giffard, of Brightleigh, who succeeded to Halsbury, under some family arrangement, in consequence of the then heads of the Halsbury Giffards dying with[Pg 437]out issue. It is possible that the last Halsbury Giffard may have left his estate to Roger of Brightleigh, in consequence of his having disinherited a worthless son. In this case William Gifford’s story of a disinheritance may have some foundation. But one would expect to find an entry in the Parkham registers of the baptism of such a son; and there is none.

W. Gifford

I. Hoppner, R.A.

R. H. Cromek


William’s grandfather was dissipated and extravagant, and his father, Edward, was not much better. He had been sent to the Grammar School at Exeter, but ran away, and entered on board a man-of-war. His father bought him out, but he was incorrigible; he again ran away, and joined Bampfylde-Moore Carew in his vagabondage, when the latter was an old man. On leaving this choice society he became a plumber and glazier at Ashburton, and married a carpenter’s daughter named Elizabeth Cain, 3 September, 1750.[20] Edward Gifford now moved to South Molton and set up there; but after four or five years, having involved himself in trouble by attempting to excite a riot in a Methodist conventicle, he deemed it advisable to show a pair of heels, and went to sea on board the Lyon, a transport. Mrs. Gifford then returned to her native place, Ashburton, where William was born.

So away went Edward, singing, I doubt not, a popular Devonshire song—

My fortune is pretty well spent,
My lands and my cattle and corn;
I must put on a face of content,
When as naked as when I was born.
No more I’ll be troubled with wealth,
My pockets are drained full dry,
I walk where I please for my health,
And never fear robbing, not I.

O once I could lie on the best,
The best of good beds made of down,
If sure of a flock of good straw
I am glad to keep off the cold ground.
Some say that Old Care killed the cat,
And starv’d her for fear she should die;
Henceforth I’ll be wiser than that,
To my cares bid for ever good-bye.
So adieu to old England, adieu!
And adieu to some thousands of pounds!
If the world had been done, ere my life was begun,
My sorrows would then have had bounds.

[Pg 438]

Mrs. Gifford was left very badly off. All she had for her maintenance was the rent of four small fields—all that remained of the land as yet unsold.

Edward Gifford returned from sea in 1764, having been absent eight years. He had received over a hundred pounds of prize money in addition to his wages, which were considerable; but as he reappeared in Ashburton his pockets were nearly empty. The little property yet left was therefore turned into money, and Edward Gifford set up a second time as glazier, plumber, and house-painter. William was now sent to the free school in S. Laurence’s Chapel, the master of which was Hugh Smerdon. This school was founded by Bishop Stapeldon in the tower of the old Chantry Chapel. On the dissolution of the chantries, the scholars and master moved out of the tower into the body of the chapel. It was further endowed with funds by Edward Gould, Esq., of Pridhamsleigh, and Mr. Peter Blundell, of Tiverton. In this school William Gifford learned to read, write, and cypher. He remained there till his father’s death three years later. Edward Gifford had learned nothing by his misfortunes. He preferred to drain the pewter in the tavern to doing pewterer’s work in the shop. He died and was buried 9 June, 1767, leaving beside a widow and[Pg 439] his son William another son aged six or eight months. Mrs. Gifford unwisely continued the business without knowing anything about it, and committed the management to a couple of journeymen, who wasted her property and embezzled her money. In less than a twelvemonth she died, and was buried 29 November, 1768. William was then thirteen and his brother not two years old; and they had not a relation or friend in the world. Everything left was seized by a man named Carlile for money advanced to Mrs. Gifford. The youngest child was sent to an almshouse, and William was taken charge of by Carlile, who was his godfather, not out of pity, but because he was afraid of forfeiting the respect of his fellow citizens if he turned the orphan adrift.

The life of the unfortunate youngest child was short. He was indeed

The child of misery, baptized in tears.

When aged seven the parish bound him apprentice to a farmer of the name of Leman, with whom he endured incredible hardships, and at nine broke his thigh. On his recovery he tried the sea, and went on board the Egmont, but was allowed to do this by the grasping Leman, as his apprenticeship was not expired, only on condition that his wages should be paid into his (Leman’s) hands. The poor lad knew no favourable change of fortune, for he fell sick and died at Cork.

Carlile sent the unfortunate William to drudge at the plough; but William was physically incapable of driving the plough. During his father’s life, in attempting to clamber up a table, he had fallen backwards and drawn it after him; its edge fell on his chest, and it is possible that his spine was also jarred, giving him ever after a look of deformity. Ploughing[Pg 440] was out of the question, and he was forced to be withdrawn from field labour.

His guardian then thought of sending him to Newfoundland to assist in a storehouse, and for this purpose entered into correspondence with a Mr. Holdsworth, of Dartmouth, who consented to see the boy. When, however, he had cast eyes on the puny, sickly child, he declined to have anything to do with him, and Carlile then sent him on board a coaster at Brixham, with a man named Full, plying between Dartmouth and Plymouth, and sometimes going as far as Portsmouth.

In this boat he continued for a twelvemonth.

On Christmas Day, 1770, he was summoned back to Ashburton by his godfather. It seemed that the fishwives who went from Brixham to Ashburton with their wares had spoken there pretty freely of the little ragged urchin who wandered about the quay, and of his delicacy and of the rough treatment to which he was exposed. This roused a strong feeling in Ashburton against Carlile, and he was constrained to bring the boy back so as to allay the prejudice his conduct had awakened. He sent him again to school in the old chapel, where he sat on the benches at the long desks, and looked up at the huge plaster-work gaily-painted shield and bearings of Ashburton over the headmaster’s desk, and those of the benefactors to the school down the sides. Here he worked assiduously at his books and made astonishing progress. He was even employed as a monitor to teach the younger boys, and received a few coppers for his services. The ambition of his young heart was to qualify himself to take the place of the old schoolmaster, Smerdon, who was becoming infirm and past work.

But these dreams of future happiness in the school[Pg 441] where he had passed his most enjoyable hours were dashed. Carlile wanted to get the lad out of Ashburton and relieve his pocket of the burden of finding him clothes and bread and butter. He was determined to wash his hands of the orphan altogether; and accordingly, without consulting the boy’s wishes, indentured him in January, 1772, to a cobbler, a cousin of his in Exeter, with whom he would be bound to remain till he was twenty-one. The shoemaker with whom he was placed was a sour and narrow-minded Presbyterian, who read nothing but controversial pamphlets relative to a theological dispute then raging between two of the clergy of Exeter and some of the Dissenting preachers of the city, and of these controversial pamphlets the cobbler read only those of his own side.

Gifford had no books save a Bible, a Thomas à Kempis, and a black-letter romance, Parismus and Parismenus, that had belonged to his mother, together with some chapbooks, The Golden Bull, and such like trifles. However, he found a stray treatise on algebra in a lodging-house, and commandeered it. But this last book was not at this time of any advantage to him, as to understand it a preliminary knowledge of simple equations was necessary—and what “equations” meant he knew no more than did the man in the moon, who had at his command no library whatsoever.

However, his master’s son had a Flemming’s Introduction to Knowledge, which, as a spiteful boy, he refused to let Gifford use, and hid it away. William, however, by accident discovered where the book was concealed and carried it off, sat up for several nights, and poring over it with avidity mastered the contents, and was then able to pursue his studies in algebra.

He says: “I hated my new profession with a perfect[Pg 442] hatred; I made no progress in it, and was consequently little regarded in the family, of which I sank by degrees into the common drudge.”

Whilst at Ashburton his dreary life had been cheered by making friends with some of his schoolfellows. One of these was young Hoppner, afterwards a famous portrait painter, a rival of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and in after years he looked back to this friendship with pleasure, and wrote to him, on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds—

One Sun is set, one Glorious Sun, whose rays
Long gladdened Britain with no common blaze;
O may’st thou soon (for clouds begin to rise)
Assert thy station in the Eastern skies,
Glow with his fires, and give the world to see
Another Reynolds rise, my friend, in thee!

But dearer still to him had been the Ashburton butcher’s son, John Ireland, afterwards Dean of Westminster, and to him he wrote—

Sure if our fates hang on some hidden Power,
And take their colour from the natal hour,
Then, Ireland! the same planet on us rose,
Such the strong sympathies our lives disclose!
Thou know’st how soon we felt this influence bland,
And sought the brook and coppice, hand in hand,
And shaped rude bows, and uncouth whistles blew,
And paper kites (a last great effort) flew;
And when the day was done, retired to rest,
Sleep on our eyes, and sunshine in our breast.

But in Exeter he had no friends, none who would associate with him. He was utterly alone and miserable. He had not a penny wherewith to bless himself. One only little streak of sunlight entered his gloomy life, and this was the cheery notice of a young woman, a neighbour, who daily gave the depressed boy, as he passed her door, a smile and a kindly greeting, and the gratitude he felt for this slight encouragement was[Pg 443] the first pleasing sensation he had ventured to entertain for many dreary months.

In his Autobiography he says: “Pen, ink, and paper were for the most part as completely out of my reach as a crown and sceptre.” He had but one resource, which required the utmost caution and secrecy in applying it. He beat out pieces of leather as thin and smooth as possible, and in his garret, by the tiny window, with a blunt awl worked out on the leather his algebraical calculations.

Hitherto he had not so much as dreamed of poetry, but his first attempt was on the occasion of a person who had undertaken to paint a sign for an inn; it was to have been a lion, but the artist had produced a creature much more like a dog. One of his acquaintances wrote some lines on it. Gifford looked them over, shook his head, and said that he thought that he could do better. Accordingly he composed an epigram on the theme, so cutting and droll that his shopmates declared he had succeeded in a masterly manner. After that he ventured on other attempts—doggerel, he says they were, but all caustic and humorous, and these circulated, were laughed over, and gained him not a little applause. When he had composed some brief little satire he would read it to a select circle, and was rewarded by the gift of a few pence, amounting occasionally to sixpence. Did he write also a few tender and grateful lines to the pretty, smiling girl on the doorstep in the same street, who had cheered the lonely boy? I have not the smallest doubt in my mind that he did.

To one so long in absolute want of money, such a resource seemed like a gold-mine, and although at this time he thought lightly, even contemptuously of the Muse, and all his energies of mind were devoted to[Pg 444] mathematics, yet, as these trifles brought him in money, and so enabled him to buy paper and ink, and books on geometry and algebra, he continued to compose verses.

But a storm was gathering. There is a delightful picture by Phiz in David Copperfield, where Mr. Creakle, the schoolmaster, enters the schoolroom leaning on the arm of his factotum Tungay, just as a boy has drawn a caricature of both on the blackboard.

Inevitably some of the keen shafts of Gifford’s ridicule had been levelled at his master, the cobbler. This man laid himself open to being satirized. He possessed a dictionary of synonyms; and it was his practice never, when he could avoid it, to employ a direct word when he could find a roundabout mode of expressing himself; a weeding with him would be a runcation, and to ride would be to equitate. It was not in human nature that William Gifford should withhold his hand from turning out some neat lines taking off the sanctimonious and pretentious cobbler, and so revenging himself for slights and insults many. It is not in human nature that he should refrain from showing this product to his fellow apprentices. It is not in human nature that some sneak among them should not apprise the master or that master’s son of what the sullen, discontented lad had done.

Whether it was this, or whether it was that the shoemaker as a strict Puritan looked on laughter and jest and poetry as ungodliness, the master’s anger was raised to fury. He searched Gifford’s garret, took away all his books and papers, and dared him to touch paper with pen or read any other books in future than the Bible. This was a severe blow, and was followed soon after by another that was as great. Mr. Hugh Smerdon, whom he had hoped to succeed, died, and[Pg 445] was succeeded as master in the Ashburton Grammar School by another man not much older and still less qualified for the station than himself. Thus at once crumbled to nothing all his castles in the air that he had built; and still the only light in his darkness continued to be the smile and welcome from the girl a few doors off.

There is a ballad, “The Little Girl Down the Lane,” sung to a plaintive, sweet air, greatly affected at one time by apprentices, and not yet forgotten in Devonshire; it relates the loves and sorrows of a ’prentice boy, bound by his articles to a tailor, who loved a maiden in the same lane, and who induced her to marry him. But, alas! as the couple were in church and the knot was about to be tied, the master tailor got wind of it, rushed in, stopped the ceremony, and carried off the bridegroom to his bench again. The words are mere doggerel, but they would appeal to Gifford, as they have appealed to many a Devonshire apprentice, and often in his garret he may have hummed over the pathetic air as he thought of the kind young face that alone in Exeter had smiled on him.

The darkest hour precedes the dawn. And now, when he was in the profoundest depths of depression, help arrived, and that from an unexpected quarter. Mr. William Cookesley, a surgeon of Ashburton, a large-hearted and open-handed man, having by accident heard some of his verses, recalled the unfortunate boy, thrust from pillar to post, and inquired after him. His history was well known to all in Ashburton, and he at once interested himself in Gifford, and not only gave from his own scantily furnished purse, but begged help from his friends and patients to cancel Gifford’s apprenticeship and further his education. On examining his[Pg 446] literary attainments, he found that, with the exception of mathematics, he was woefully ignorant; his handwriting was bad, and his language very incorrect. Mr. Cookesley now started a subscription list headed “A Subscription for purchasing the remainder of the time of William Gifford, and for enabling him to improve himself in Writing and English Grammar.” Few contributed more than five shillings, and none beyond half a guinea; enough, however, was collected to free him from his apprenticeship, which amounted to six pounds (there were but eighteen months of that bondage to run), and also to maintain him for a few months during which he attended school under the Rev. Thomas Smerdon.

The hard life, the starvation of his early days, mentally and physically for a while stunted his faculties, so that he could not keep pace with youths of his own age or even younger, and his master talked of putting him into a lower class; on which he wrote the following lines, adopting playfully his somewhat significant nickname:—

Tho’ my name is Cloudy,
Yet cast me not away;
For many a cloudy morning
Brings forth a shining day.

However, by dint of hard work, after two years and two months he was pronounced by Mr. Smerdon fit to go to the University.

Assistance was afforded by Mr. Thomas Taylor, of Denbury, who had already given him friendly support, and who procured for him a Bible readership at Exeter College; and this, with occasional help from Mr. Cookesley and his friends, was considered sufficient to enable him to live until he could take his degree.

The first act of Gifford on reaching Oxford was[Pg 447] heartily to thank his friend Cookesley for all he had done for him. The surgeon replied: “Though I have ever esteemed you, my dear Gifford, yet I was far from perceiving the extent of my regard for you till you left Ashburton; and I am only reconciled to the loss of your society by the prospects of advantage and honour which are now before you. Believe me, I shall ever feel myself as much interested in your future fortune as if you were my brother or my son.”

When Gifford was preparing to issue his Pastorals he insisted that Mr. Cookesley’s name should stand at the head of the list of subscribers. “I will suck my fingers for a month rather than draw my pen to put a name over yours in my subscription book. Therefore look to it! I am Wilful and Wishful; and Wilful will do it.”

Unfortunately those who promised to subscribe to maintain Gifford at college were slack in paying the sums they had agreed to find, and this put both Cookesley and Gifford in pecuniary straits.

Cookesley was one day dining with Governor Palk, near Ashburton, when he told him that Gifford was in sore want of a Juvenal, and could not afford to buy a second-hand copy at sixteen shillings. The governor then exclaimed: “Oh! he shall not want a Juvenal. My dear” (to his wife), “give Mr. Cookesley a guinea, and tell Gifford from me that he shall have his Juvenal and a little firing to read it by; and tell him, moreover, that I’ll make my subscription three guineas annually.”

Cookesley’s letters to Gifford were carefully preserved. They were often written between sleeping and waking. One day he gives, as an excuse for the shortness of his letter: “I am quite fatigued, having been without sleep for a great part of the past night, and on horseback for several hours to-day.... Your[Pg 448] account of the meadows of Christchurch almost made me so far forget myself as to cry out, ‘I am resolved forthwith to set out for Oxford’; but, alas! to begin one’s journey without money would be rather worse than ending it so.”

Mr. Cookesley’s active benevolence was cut short by his untimely death. He did not live long enough to do more than start his young friend on the road to fame and affluence. This event took place on 15 January, 1781. He died suddenly, and with a letter of Gifford’s unopened in his hands. He left his family but scantily provided for, but a man’s good works follow him, and the harvest comes sometime, if late, as we shall see in the sequel.

In his Autobiography, written twenty years later, Gifford says: “It afflicted me beyond measure, and in the interval I have wept a thousand times at the recollection of his goodness; I yet cherish his memory with filial respect; and at this distant period my heart sinks within me at every repetition of his name.”

Gifford was, however, encouraged by the unexpected friendship of the Rev. Servington Savery. He had, moreover, gained other friends, not more kindly, but better able to serve him with their purses. His acquaintance with his greatest patron, Earl Grosvenor, was made through an accident. He had formed a college acquaintance with a young man who kept up a correspondence with him, and to whom, when this latter left college, he addressed his letters under cover to Lord Grosvenor. But on one occasion he forgot to put his friend’s name to the letter, and it was opened by the Earl, who read it, and was surprised at the wit and brilliance of scholarship it evinced, and he begged for an introduction. This led to his being sent as tutor to travel abroad with Lord Belgrave, Earl Gros[Pg 449]venor’s son. Under the auspices of this nobleman he entered upon London life, and gradually rose to an eminent position among men of letters.

But there is an episode in his life to which he himself makes no allusion in his memoirs. Somewhere about the time when he was able to maintain himself, he married a certain Joanna—her surname is not known—but not at Ashburton. It can hardly be doubted that this was the “little girl down the lane” who had cheered him with her smile and voice in his hours of deepest gloom.

The entry of this marriage has not yet been found, but it will be lighted on some day in the register of one of the Exeter churches. To her he often alluded in his poems, as Anna. In an ode to a tuft of violets we find the following:—

Come then—ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
O come and grace my Anna’s breast.
O! I should think—that fragrant bed
Might I but hope with you to share—
Years of anxiety repaid
By one short hour of transport there.

To her he appears to have been deeply attached. He moved her to Ashburton, and there visited her when he could escape from his literary labours in London, and there she faded, and was buried on 27 December, 1789. Gifford was stricken by her loss in the most sensitive part of the human heart, for over her grave he poured forth the pathetic lament:—

I wish I was where Anna lies,
For I am sick of lingering here,
And every hour affliction cries,
“Go, and partake her humble bier.”
I wish I could! For when she died
I lost my all; and life has proved
Since that sad hour a dreary void,
A waste, unloving and unloved.

[Pg 450]

Perhaps the surest testimony to the pain left in his soul by her loss is his silence in his Autobiography concerning her. She—and his love and his sorrow—were too sacred to be brought before the public eye. He never mentioned her, or that he had been married, even to his best friends; and in Murray’s Reminiscences it is asserted that Gifford never was married.

In Lord Grosvenor’s house Gifford proceeded with his translation of Juvenal, that had occupied him off and on for some years. His bitter humour agreed with the biting sarcasm of the Roman poet, and the work on which he was engaged was one of love. But, previous to its publication, he hurled his Baviad at the heads of the Della Cruscan school of poetasters, in 1794. The name signifies “of the Bran,” and was adopted by a literary coterie, to signify that their poetic productions were sifted, and of the purest wheat. It was a mutual admiration society, and was composed of Robert Merry, a fanatical Republican, who had married Miss Brunton, the celebrated actress, and sister of the still more celebrated Louisa, who became Countess of Craven; another member of the society was Mrs. Piozzi; others were Mrs. Robertson and Bertie Greathead. This set inundated the newspapers, magazines, and annuals with a flood of weak and watery “poetry.”

As Byron says, addressing this set:—

With you I was not: Gifford’s heavy hand
Has crush’d, without remorse, your numerous band.

In 1795 appeared the Mæviad, a satire of the same class, in which, although equally personal, there was less unnecessary virulence.

Following up a line of composition so congenial to his temper and talents, he published, in 1800, his Epistle to Peter Pindar, of which some lines are given[Pg 451] in the article devoted to that abusive poet. This roused Wolcot to fury, and he sought out and found the rival satirist in the publisher’s shop.

An amusing account of the fray is given by Mr. Moonshine, “The Battle of the Bards.” Sir Walter Scott says of it: “Though so little an athlete, he nevertheless beat off Dr. Wolcot, when that celebrated person, the most unsparing calumniator of his time, chose to be offended with Gifford for satirizing him in his turn. Peter Pindar made a most violent attack, but Gifford had the best of the affray, and remained, I think, in triumphant possession of the field of action, and of the assailant’s cane.”

Scott had a high opinion of Gifford as a poet in his peculiar line. He wrote in 1805: “I have a good esteem of Mr. Gifford as a manly English poet, very different from most of our modern versifiers.”

In 1802, Gifford published his principal work, his English version of Juvenal, the production of which had engrossed the greater part of his life, and which was issued with a dedication to Earl Grosvenor.

Soon after the publication of the Baviad, and the Mæviad, Gifford issued, as editor, the Anti-Jacobin (1797–8). In 1805, he published an edition of Massinger; in 1816, an edition of Ben Jonson. His version of Persius did not appear till 1821, after which date he completed an edition of Ford.

In 1814, he was at Ryde, whither he had taken his old housekeeper.[21] He wrote: “My poor housekeeper is going fast. Nothing can save her, and I lend all my care to soften her declining days. She has a physician every second day, and takes a world of medicines, more for their profit than her own, poor thing. Guess[Pg 452] at my expenses, but I owe in some measure the extension of my feeble life to her care through a long succession of years, and I would cheerfully divide my last farthing with her.”

When the scheme was first started to issue the Quarterly Review, to counteract the influence of the Edinburgh Review, Gifford was at once proposed as editor. Sir Walter Scott, 25 October, 1808, wrote of the selection: “Gifford will be admirable at service, but will require, or I mistake him much, both a spur and a bridle—a spur on account of habits of literary indolence, induced by weak health, and a bridle because, having renounced in some degree general society, he cannot be supposed to have the habitual and distinctive feeling enabling him to judge at once and decidedly on the mode of letting his shafts fly down the breeze of popular opinion. But he has worth, wit, learning, and extensive information.”

From this time the influence and celebrity of Gifford may be deemed established; nor were his services as a party man forgotten by those who could reward him, as he possessed two sinecures, the controllership of the lottery, at a salary of £600 per annum, and paymastership of the band of gentlemen pensioners, at £300 per annum. As editor of the Quarterly, he received a salary of £900 per annum, and also a pension of £400 from his former pupil, now Earl Grosvenor. He bitterly lamented, long ere this, that before the means of helping his little brother, nursed in the almshouse at Ashburton, was in his power, that little brother had died.

He was alone in the world, and his early trials, his loss of the only beings whom he had loved, soured his temper, and made him savage and virulent in his treatment of such as differed from him. One great defect he showed as editor. He would not consider a work to[Pg 453] be reviewed on its own merits, but looked first to see what were the politics of the author before he praised or condemned the book.

In personal appearance he was not striking. George Ticknor, in his Life, Letters, and Journals, says, under 19 June, 1814: “Among other persons I brought letters to Gifford, the satirist, but never saw him till yesterday. Never was I so mistaken in my anticipations. Instead of a tall and handsome man, as I had supposed him from his pictures, a man of severe and bitter remarks in conversation, such as I had good reason to believe him from his books, I found him a short, deformed, and ugly little man, with a large head sunk between his shoulders, and one of his eyes turned outward, but withal one of the best-natured, most open, and well-bred gentlemen I have met.”

From the ability and keenness of the Baviad and Mæviad, and from a promise made in his edition of the latter to continue his satirical writings, it was hoped that he would do this, but he did not. Byron says:—

“Why slumbers Gifford?” once was asked in vain.
Why slumbers Gifford? let us ask again.
Are there no follies for his pen to purge?
Are there no fools whose backs demand the scourge?
Are there no sins for satire’s bard to greet?
Stalks not gigantic Vice in every street?
Shall peers or princes tread pollution’s path
And ’scape alike the law’s and Muse’s wrath?
Nor blaze with guilty stare through future time,
Eternal beacons of consummate crime?
Arouse thee, Gifford! be thy promise claim’d,
Make bad men better, or, at least, ashamed.

One curious peculiarity Gifford had. He made his old housekeeper sit in his study doing her needlework whilst he was engaged on his literary labours. To the end he maintained a warm friendship with Dr. Ireland, Dean of Westminster, son of a butcher of Ashburton,[Pg 454] and a schoolfellow in former days, and when he died he bequeathed to him his library.

“The last month of Gifford’s life was but a slow dying”, says Mr. Smiles. “He was sleepless, feverish, oppressed by an extreme difficulty of breathing, which often deprived him of speech; and his sight had failed. Towards the end of his life he would sometimes take up a pen, and after a vain attempt to write, would throw it down, saying, ‘No, my work is done.’ Even thinking caused him pain. As his last hour drew near, his mind began to wander. ‘These books have driven me mad,’ he once said; ‘I must read my prayers.’ He passed gradually away, his pulse ceasing to beat five hours before his death. And then he slept out of life on the 31st December, 1826, in his 71st year.”

He left £25,000 of personal property. He left the bulk of it to the Rev. John Cookesley, son of his early patron, whom he also instituted residuary legatee. He also left a sum of money the interest of which was to be distributed annually among the poor of Ashburton.

Finally, one touching trait in the character of Gifford was his exceeding love for children. Looking back at his own desolate, loveless childhood, full of hardship, his heart expanded towards all little ones, and he delighted in attending juvenile parties, and rejoiced at seeing the children frisking about in the happiness of youth. His domestic favourites were his dog and his cat, both of which he dearly loved. He was also most kind and considerate to his domestic servants; and all who knew him well knew that his bark was worse than his bite; he made no answer, did not retaliate when attacked vindictively, insultingly by Hazlitt, and when William Cobbett called him “the dottrel-headed old shuffle-breeches of the Quarterly Review” he cast back no vituperative term in reply.

[Pg 455]

Gifford was a staunch friend. He left his house in James Street, Buckingham Gate, to the widow of his old friend Hoppner, the portrait painter.

Sir Walter Scott wrote on 17 January, 1827: “I observe in the papers my old friend Gifford’s death. He was a man of rare attainments and many excellent qualities. His Juvenal is one of the best versions ever made of a classic author, and his satire of the Baviad and Mæviad squabashed at one blow a set of coxcombs who might have humbugged the world long enough. As a commentator he was capital, could he but have suppressed his rancours against those who had preceded him in the task; but a misconstruction or misinterpretation, nay, the misplacing of a comma, was in Gifford’s eyes a crime worthy of the most severe animadversion. The same fault of extreme severity went through his critical labours, and in general he flagellated with so little pity, that people lost their sense of the criminal’s guilt, in dislike of the savage pleasure which the executioner seemed to take in inflicting the punishment. This lack of temper probably arose from indifferent health, for he was very valetudinary, and realized two verses, wherein he says Fortune assigned him:—

One eye not over good,
Two sides that to their cost have stood
A ten years’ hectic cough,
Aches, stitches, all the various ills
That swell the devilish doctor’s bills,
And sweep poor mortals off.

But he might also justly claim as his gift the moral qualities expressed in the next fine stanza:—

A soul
That spurns the crowd’s malign control,
A firm contempt of wrong;
Spirits above affliction’s power,
And skill to soothe the lingering hour
With no inglorious song.

[Pg 456]

“He was a little man, dumped up together, and so ill made as to seem almost deformed, but with a singular expression of talent in his countenance.”

Gifford was buried in Westminster Abbey, and his schoolfellow and lifelong friend, Dean Ireland, was afterwards buried in the same grave.

The authorities for his life are his own biographical account of his early life, and Smiles’s Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray, the Publisher. London, 1891.

Also a “Life,” by Mr. J. S. Amery, in the now extinct Ashburtonian, 1891.

Also a brief account by the Rev. Treasurer Hawker in “Two Ashburton Scholars,” in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1876.


The only painting by which this artist is generally known is that of Napoleon standing on a cliff at S. Helena, gazing on the departing glories of the day as the sun sets in the ocean. There is feeling and pathos in the picture, as there is in Watts’s “Young Man with Great Possessions,” although in both only the back is seen of the personage depicted. Haydon did his “Napoleon Musing” over a good many times. He sold a copy to the King of Hanover.

On 7 March, 1844, he entered in his diary: “I have painted nineteen Napoleons. Thirteen Musings at S. Helena, and six other Musings. By heavens! how many more?”

And of all his pictures Haydon thought least of this. But he was a man mistaken in his estimate of his own powers and of what he could do. He wanted to be an heroic painter, but projected his own personality upon his canvas, and as he was a man with disproportionately short legs, his “Moses,” his “Alexander,” and other heroes must be short nether-limbed as well.

The Haydons of Cadhay, in Ottery S. Mary parish, were an ancient family. They built the south porch of the collegiate church in 1571, and set up on it the inscription “He that no il will Do no thynt yt lang yto,” or in plainer English, “He that no ill will do, let him do nothing that belongs thereto”; a motto that it[Pg 458] had been well for Benjamin had he retained it and acted on it to the end.

The authentic pedigree of the Haydons goes back to the reign of Henry III. They were, originally, of Ebford, in Woodbury parish, and did not acquire Cadhay till the beginning of the seventeenth century; but in the eighteenth century they got into difficulties through expensive lawsuits, and lost both Cadhay and Ebford, and disappeared as water that sinks into the sand. The last of whom we know anything was Gideon Haydon, of Cadhay, who died in 1707, and left two sons, Gideon and John.

Benjamin Robert Haydon in his Autobiography says: “My father was the lineal descendant of one of the oldest families in Devon, the Haydons of Cadhay. The family was ruined by a chancery suit, and the children were bound out to various trades. Among them was my grandfather, who was bound out to Mr. Savery, of Slade, near Plymouth. He conducted himself well, and gained the esteem of his master, who in time made him his steward. In a few years he saved money, and on the death of Mr. Savery set up a bookseller’s shop in Plymouth, where he died in 1773 from disease of the heart. My grandfather married Mary Baskerville, a descendant of the great printer. At my grandfather’s death my father succeeded to the business, and married a Miss Cobley, daughter of a clergyman, who had the living of Ide, near Exeter. He was killed early in life by the fall of a sounding-board on his head while preaching.”

Unfortunately B. R. Haydon does not give the Christian names of his father and grandfather, so that we are not able to say where they hitch on to the submerged Haydons of Cadhay.

B. R. Haydon


From a drawing by David Wilkie

B. R. Haydon left at his death not only an Autobiography extending [Pg 459] to the year 1820, but also a Journal in twenty-six folio volumes. The former has been published entire, but the Journal has been compressed, and the whole edited in three volumes by Mr. Tom Taylor (London, 1853). It is not my intention in a short article to go through the entire Life and further to compress it, but rather to pick out a few salient points, and to draw from other sources more impartial estimates of Haydon than he formed of himself and of his work.

As the opening of his Autobiography contains some lively sketches of old Plymouth, I shall extract these.

“My father sent me to the grammar school under the Rev. Dr. Bidlake, a man of some taste. He painted and played on the organ, patronized talent, was fond of country excursions, wrote poems which nobody ever read.

“Finding that I had a taste for art, he always took me, with another boy, from our studies to attend his caprices in painting. Here his odd and peculiar figure, for his back was bent from fever, induced us to play him tricks. As he was obliged to turn round and walk away to study the effect of his touches, we used to rub out what he had done before he returned, when his perplexity and simplicity were delightful to mischievous boys. Once he sent my companion to cut off the skirt of an old coat to clean his palette with, and the boy cut off the skirt of his best Sunday coat. Poor dear Dr. Bidlake went to Stonehouse Chapel in his great-coat the next Sunday, and when he took it off to put on the surplice the clerk exclaimed in horror, ‘Good God, Sir! somebody has cut off the skirt of your coat!’”

“My father used to show my drawings to his customers. One of them was a very great man in the town—merchant and, I believe, consul. John H. [Hawker] was a very worthy but pompous man, exceed[Pg 460]ingly vain, very fond of talking French before people who could not speak a word of it, and quoting Italian sayings of which he knew little; liked everything but steady attention to his business, was a good father, good husband, and to play soldier for a week at any time would have laid his head upon the block. During the dread of invasion volunteer corps became the rage. The very infants in the nursery played soldiers too. Mr. John [Hawker] either raised or joined a corps of volunteers, and warier men made him colonel, that the expense might not fall on their heads. Colonel he was, and devoted himself to the occupation with so much sincerity that his men in discipline and order would certainly not have disgraced a marching militia regiment. After review days, nothing gave the Colonel so much delight as marching right through the town from the Hoe, to the horror and consternation of the apple-women. The moment the drums and trumpets were heard sounding at the bottom of Market Street, the scramble to get out of the way among the poor old women is not to be imagined. Market Street in Plymouth is a sort of hill, and how often as a boy have I left my drawing, dashed down and out to the top of the hill to see the Colonel in all his glory.

“First came in view his feather and cap, then his large, red, pride-swollen, big-featured face, with a smile on it in which grim war, dignity, benevolent condescension, stolidity, and self-satisfaction were mixed in equal proportions; then came his charger, curvetting with graceful fire, now hind-quarters this side, now fore-quarters that side, with the Colonel—sword drawn and glittering in the sun—recognizing the wives and children of the ironmongers, drapers, and grocers who crowded the windows to see him pass. Then came the band, big drum and trumpets; then the grenadier[Pg 461] company with regular tramp; then the Colonel’s eldest son, John, out of the counting-house, who was captain; then his lieutenant, an attorney’s clerk; then the Colonel and band turned to the right down Broad Street—the music became fainter and fainter, the rear lagged after. The Colonel drew up his regiment before his own parlour windows, and solaced by white handkerchiefs and fair lips, dismissed his men, and retired to the privacy of domestic life until a new field day recalled him to the glory of the Hoe and the perils of apple-stalls and slippery streets.”

B. R.’s father had been a fast and dissipated man, but before he utterly sank past recovery, he pulled himself together and became a man of business, always somewhat shifty, and disposed to enjoy himself rather than stick to work. On one occasion the bookseller was asked angrily by a important customer why he had not fulfilled his oft-repeated promise to procure some young walnuts to which he had access, and his reply was that there had been such a demand for gun-stocks from the war then raging in the Peninsula that there were no trees left.

A somewhat congenial spirit came to Plymouth and settled into his house. This was a Mr. Cobley, brother of Mrs. Haydon, a man fond of society and of his bottle, accomplished, and so habitually indolent that when he came to see his sister on a six weeks’ visit he never had the energy to remove, got embedded in the family, stayed thirty years, and quitted it and life together.

B. R. does not appear to have had much love for his father, but he always speaks of his mother with the tenderest affection, and her opposition to her only boy’s choice of the profession of a painter cost him a severe struggle before he could disregard her entreaties to abide by his father’s trade.

[Pg 462]

Haydon was little more than a boy in years when he left home in May, 1804, and plunged into the uncertain depths of London life. He had an introduction to Northcote, a Devonshire man like himself, but jealous, spiteful, and unwilling to help a struggling beginner. And he was fortunate in attracting the notice of Fuseli, Keeper of the Royal Academy, who liked him, and helped him to master the rudiments of his profession.

Haydon admired the effects of London smoke.

“By Gode,” said Fuseli to him one day, “it’s like the smoke of the Israelites making bricks.” “It is grand,” retorted B. R., “for it is the smoke of a people who would have made the Egyptians make bricks for them.”

He became friendly with Wilkie, then a raw, red-headed Scotch lad, who had made a hit, and taken the town by storm with his “Village Politicians.”

David Wilkie was canny about money. One day he was showing his fellow pupils some drawing-paper he was using. “Why, Wilkie!” exclaimed Haydon, “where did you get this? Bring us a quire to-morrow.” He promised that he would. The next day, and the day after, no drawing-paper. When remonstrated with, David quietly excused himself, “Weel, weel, jest give me the money first, and ye’ll be sure to hae the paper.”

When thus starting as a painter, a hint was given to Haydon, by this success of Wilkie, what was the line that he should pursue, what was the style of picture that would appeal to the public. But he was too obstinate to take the hint. His idea was the High Art, heroic subjects from mythology or classic history, or from the Old Testament, on huge canvases—themes that interested few, and of a size that few could buy.

[Pg 463]

“Your paintings are too big,” said a duchess to him one day; “we have not houses that can contain them.”

“It is not that,” replied Haydon; “it is that your hearts are too contracted to appreciate them.”

In 1807 Haydon was summoned to Plymouth by the failure of his mother’s health.

“Incessant anxiety and trouble, and her only son’s bursting away from her at a time when she had hoped for his consolations in her old age, gradually generated that dreadful disease angina pectoris. Her doom was sealed, and death held her as his own, whenever it should please him to claim her. Her fine heroic face began to wither and grow pale; loss of exercise brought on weakness and derangement. She imagined that the advice of an eminent surgeon in London might save her, and though I and everybody else knew that nothing could be done, we acceded to her wish immediately.

“I painted her portrait, and as she sat I saw a tear now and then fill her eye and slowly trickle down her cheek, and then she would look almost indignant at her own weakness. My dear mother felt her approaching end so clearly that she made every arrangement with reference to her death. I went to Exeter to get her apartments ready at the hotel the day before she left home. She had passed a great part of her life with a brother (the prebend of Wells), who took care of a Mr. Cross, a dumb miniature painter. Cross (who in early life had made a fortune by his miniatures) loved my mother, and proposed to her, but she, being at that time engaged to my father, refused him, and they had never seen each other since. He retired from society, deeply affected by his disappointment. The day after leaving Exeter we stopped at Wells, as my mother wished to see my uncle once more.

[Pg 464]

“The meeting was very touching. As I left the room and crossed the hall I met a tall, handsome old man; his eyes seemed to look me through. Muttering hasty, unintelligible sounds he opened the door, saw my mother, and rushed over to her, as if inspired of a sudden with youthful vigour. Then, pressing her to his heart, he wept, uttering sounds of joy not human. This was Cross. They had not met for thirty years. We came so suddenly to my uncle’s they had never thought of getting him out of the way. It seemed as if the great sympathizing spirit once again brought them together before their souls took flight.

“He was in an agony of joy and pain, smoothing her hair, and pointing first to her cheek and then to his own, as if to say, ‘How altered!’ The moment he darted his eyes upon my sister and me, he looked as if he felt we were her children, but did not much notice us beyond this.

“My sister, hanging over my poor mother, wept painfully. She, Cross, my uncle and aunt, were all sobbing and much touched; for my part, my chest hove up and down as I struggled with emotions at this singular and afflicting meeting. Disappointment in love, where the character is amiable, gives a pathetic interest to woman or man. But how much more than ordinary sympathy must he excite who, dumb by nature, can only express his feelings by the lightenings of the eye! Thus had this man been left for thirty years, brooding over affections wounded as for the mere pleasure of torture. For many months after my mother married he was frantic and ungovernable at her continued absence, and then sank into sullen sourness. His relations and friends endeavoured to explain to him the cause of her going away, but he was never satisfied, and never believed them; now, when the[Pg 465] recollection of her, young and beautiful, might occasionally have soothed his imagination, she suddenly bursts on him with two children, the offspring of her marriage with his rival—and that so altered, bowed, and weakened as to root out the association of her youthful beauty with the days of his happy thoughts.

“There are moments of suffering or joy when all thought of human frailties is swept away in the gush of sympathy. Such a moment was this. His anger, his frantic indignation, and his sullen silence at her long absence, all passed away before her worn and sickly face. He saw her before him, broken and dying; he felt all his affection return, and flinging himself forward on the table, he burst into a paroxysm of tears as if his very heart-strings would crack. By degrees we calmed him, for nature had been relieved by this agonizing grief, and they parted in a few moments for the last time.”

Next day Haydon and his sister went on with their mother, but did not reach London with her; she died at Salt Hill, in the inn.

Surely had B. R. but deigned to paint a picture of the old dumb lover with arms outspread on the table, weeping—as he so touchingly describes the scene, it would have appealed to the public. But no! the scene was not heroic. Old Cross was not a classic figure. Haydon had resolved to be a painter of heroic in art or be nothing.

The Royal Academy would have none of him, and he attacked it furiously at point of the bayonet. That the Royal Academy hampered the progress of Art, stifled genius, crushed out originality was true then as some assert it is true now; but the Royal Academicians did not relish being told these truths by one just growing to manhood; and it was impolitic in Haydon to set those[Pg 466] in arms against him who posed and were regarded as authorities on Art. Nothing pleased him but vast canvases. On 24 July, 1825, he refused a commission of five hundred guineas from Sir John Broughton to paint a small picture of Edward the Black Prince distinguishing an ancestor on the field of Poitiers, lest it should interfere with his carrying out of one of his unsaleable monstrous canvases. The pictures that sold were portraits. “My whole soul and body raise the gorge at portrait,” he wrote in his diary. When he was engaged to do a family piece, he says that it gave him a nasty taste in his mouth. Yet, as his great subjects would not sell, he was forced to paint portraits; and he writes, 24 July, 1824: “For these two months, having at last devoted myself to portraits, I have enjoyed tranquillity, luxury, quiet, and peace, and have maintained my family with respectability.” And then he bursts forth into scorn and loathing of the subject. Indeed, he says he gloried in doing portraits badly, because it was unworthy of him and his high ideals. “I have an exquisite gratification in painting portraits wretchedly.” 27 March, 1843: “The moment I touch a great canvas I think I see my Creator smiling on all my efforts. The moment I do mean things for subsistence I feel as if He had turned His back, and, what’s more, I believe it.” 21 January, 1842: “There is nothing like a large canvas. Let me be penniless, helpless, hungry, thirsty, croaking or fierce, the blank, even space of a large canvas restores me to happiness, to anticipations of glory. My heart expands, and I stride my room like a Hercules.” Borrow, in his Lavengro, has devoted a chapter to a visit to Haydon. A commission had been given to the artist to paint the portrait of the Mayor of Norwich. He was only reconciled to the idea when it was suggested to him that he[Pg 467] should represent the mayor as issuing from under a Norman archway.

“The painter of the heroic resided a great way off, at the western end of the town. We had some difficulty in obtaining admission to him; a maidservant, who opened the door, eyeing us somewhat suspiciously. It was not until my brother had said that he was a friend of the painter that we were permitted to pass the threshold. At length we were shown into the studio, where we found the painter, with an easel and brush, standing before a huge canvas, on which he had lately commenced painting a heroic picture. The painter might be about thirty-five years old; he had a clever, intelligent countenance, with a sharp grey eye; his hair was dark-brown, and cut à la Raphael, that is, that there was very little before and much behind; he did not wear a neckcloth, but in its stead a black riband, so that his neck, which was rather fine, was somewhat exposed; he had a broad, muscular breast, and I make no doubt that he would have been a fine figure, but unfortunately his legs and thighs were somewhat short.

“My brother gave him a brief account of his commission. At the mention of the hundred pounds I observed the eyes of the painter to glisten. ‘Really,’ said he, ‘it was very kind to think of me. I am not very fond of painting portraits; but a mayor is a mayor, and there is something grand in the idea of the Norman arch. I’ll go; moreover, I am just at this moment confoundedly in need of money, and when you knocked at the door I thought it was some dun. I don’t know how it is, but in the capital they have no taste for the heroic. They will scarce look at a heroic picture.’

“Thereupon it was arranged between the painter and my brother that they should depart [for Norwich][Pg 468] the next day but one; they then began to talk of art. ‘I’ll stick to the heroic,’ said the painter; ‘I now and then dabble in the comic, but what I do gives me no pleasure—the comic is low; there is nothing like the heroic. I am engaged here on a heroic picture,’ said he, pointing to the canvas; ‘the subject is Pharaoh dismissing Moses from Egypt. That finished figure is Moses.’ The picture was not far advanced; as I gazed upon it, it appeared to me that there was something defective—something unsatisfactory in the figure.

“We presently afterwards departed. My brother talked much about the painter. ‘He is a noble fellow,’ said my brother, ‘but, like many other noble fellows, has a great many enemies; he is hated by his brethren of the brush—but above all, the race of portrait painters detest him for his heroic tendencies. It will be a kind of triumph to the last when they hear he has condescended to paint a portrait; however, that Norman arch will enable him to escape from their malice.... By the by, do you not think that figure of Moses is somewhat short?’ And then it appeared to me that I had thought the figure of Moses somewhat short, and I told my brother so.

“On the morrow my brother departed with the painter for the old town, and there the painter painted the mayor. The mayor was a mighty, portly man, with a bull’s head, black hair, body like that of a dray-horse, and legs and thighs corresponding—a man six foot high at the least. To his bull’s head, black hair, and body, the painter had done justice; there was one point, however, in which the portrait did not correspond with the original—the legs were disproportionably short, the painter having substituted his own legs for those of the mayor.

“Short legs in a heroic picture will never do; and,[Pg 469] upon the whole, I think the painter’s attempt at the heroic in painting the mayor of the old town a decided failure. If I am now asked whether the picture would have been a heroic one provided the painter had not substituted his own legs for those of the mayor, I must say I am afraid not. I have no idea of making heroic pictures out of English mayors, even with the assistance of Norman arches; yet I am sure that capital pictures might be made of English mayors, not issuing out of Norman arches, but rather from the door of the Chequers, or the Brewers Three. The painter in question had great comic power, which he scarcely ever cultivated; he would fain be a Raphael, which he never could be, when he might have been something quite as good—another Hogarth; the only comic piece which he ever presented to the world being little inferior to the best of that illustrious master.”

Borrow was wrong in saying that Haydon did only one comic piece; he did three or four, of which presently.

On 10 October, 1821, Haydon married a widow with two children by the first husband; and to the end he remained devotedly attached to his dear Mary. She had a little money of her own.

He had got £3000 receipts by exhibition of his picture “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem,” but had to sell it, being short of money, for £240; and he was forced to dispose of his “Raising of Lazarus” to Binus, his upholsterer, to clear off a debt, for £300. He certainly did make a good deal of money, but was always in debt, often without a shilling in his pocket. His huge canvases did not sell. He says of them, in 1826, when Reinagle questioned him about them, “Where is your ‘Solomon,’ Mr. Haydon?” “Hung up in a grocer’s shop.” “Where is your ‘Jerusalem’?” “In a ware[Pg 470]room in Holborn.” “Where is your ‘Lazarus’?” “In an upholsterer’s shop in Mount Street.” “And your ‘Macbeth’?” “In Chancery.” “Your ‘Pharaoh’?” “In an attic, pledged.” “And your ‘Crucifixion’?” “In a hayloft.” “And ‘Silenus’?” “Sold for half-price.” But he was incapable of bending his proud spirit to accommodate his style to the popular taste. He besieged the ministers, he pestered great men to get the Government to encourage High Art. If noble patrons would not buy heroic pictures on huge canvases, the State should do it to adorn public buildings. He took pupils,[22] who paid large premiums, and he got them to back his bills, and involved them in heavy outlay to meet them, and then pupils shrank from coming near him. He pestered the nobility, all wealthy men for loans, for grants, for pecuniary aid to help him out of immediate difficulties. He was arrested again and again, and sent to the King’s Bench, had to appear in the Insolvent Debtors’ Court, had distraints levied on his pictures, his furniture, his books. He went about lecturing on Art, and these lectures brought him in a respectable revenue, but he was ever underwater. How he squandered his money does not appear in his journals; but he certainly did earn sufficient with his brush to have maintained himself and his family in respectability had he known how to economize. He got into the hands of moneylenders, and was squeezed. He met with generous aid from numerous quarters, but was no sooner relieved of one pressing call than he fell into fresh difficulties.

If he were taken up by a noble patron and invited to his table, he offended him by contradiction and rudeness. “I do not think I am liked in company, except by women,” he admits in his journal.

[Pg 471]

The comic painting alluded to by Borrow was thus originated whilst Haydon was in the Debtors’ Prison at King’s Bench:—

“I was sitting in my own apartment, buried in my own reflexions, melancholy, but not despairing, at the darkness of my prospects and the unprotected condition of my wife and children, when a sudden tumultuous and hearty laugh below brought me to the window.

“Before me were three men marching in solemn procession, the one in the centre a tall young, reckless, bushy-headed, light-hearted Irishman, with a rusty cocked-hat under his arm, a bunch of flowers in his bosom, his curtain-rings round his neck for a gold chain, a mopstick for a white wand, tipped with an empty strawberry-pottle, bows of ribbons on his shoulders, and a great hole in his elbow; on his right was another person in burlesque solemnity, with a sash and real white wand; two others, fantastically dressed, came immediately behind, and the whole followed by characters of all descriptions, some with flags, some with staffs, and all in perfect merriment and mock gravity, adapted to some masquerade. I asked what it meant, and was told it was a procession of burgesses, headed by the Lord High Sheriff and Lord Mayor of the King’s Bench Prison, going in state to open the poll, in order to elect two members to protect their rights in the House of Commons. I returned to my room, and laughed and wept by turns! Here were a set of creatures who must have been in want and in sorrow, struggling (with a spiked wall before their eyes) to bury remembrance in the humour of a farce.”

He painted the scene of the “Mock Election in Prison,” and sold it to the King for £525, after having made £321 by it in exhibition. Then he painted[Pg 472] another comic picture, “Chairing the Member,” for which he got £422, beside £168 by exhibition. A third humorous picture was “Punch and Judy.”

But though he made money by these paintings in the style of Hogarth, he hated doing them. His soul soared to High Art.

“At the table of Mr. Wyatt,” says the Rev. J. Richardson in his Recollections (London, 1856), I met the late Mr. Haydon, the artist, with whom I had been previously acquainted. Haydon was undoubtedly a man of considerable talent, but of insatiable vanity. He had concentrated in his own estimation of his merits those atoms of admiration that ought to have been diffused among the general community, who were certainly somewhat slow in recognizing the claims which he was continually urging; indeed, they were far too slow to satisfy his craving for applause, and for a slice or two of that solid pudding which many people value much more than empty praise. The consequence was that he was continually indulging in querulous complaint and bitter vituperation; everybody was rewarded except himself; nobody but himself had any merit or capacity or feeling for Art. All the world were fools; he was the little bit of leaven that was to bring the solid lump into fermentation; the one wise man whose presence rescued the mass of mankind from unqualified insignificance and fatuity. This inordinate vanity overlaid the many good qualities which he possessed, blinded his perspicuity, and perverted his judgment.”

On 16 October, 1834, the Houses of Parliament were consumed by fire, and Barry was entrusted with designs for the erection of a new palace, which was begun in 1840. Now was the opportunity for which Haydon had yearned. The new Houses of Parliament must receive[Pg 473] decoration in fresco. In 1842 a Fine Arts Commission issued a notice of conditions for a cartoon competition. Haydon welcomed this with delight. Who but he was competent to execute such great works? And he laboured hard at the study of fresco and in the preparation of cartoons. But he was disappointed at not being given the chief place, without question, in the decoration of the Houses.

“After thirty-eight years of bitter suffering,” he wrote, “perpetual struggle, incessant industry, undaunted perseverance, four imprisonments, three ruins, and five petitions to the House—never letting the subject of State support rest night or day, in prison or out; turning everything before the public—the wants of his family, the agonies of his wife, the oppression of the Academy, directing all to the great cause [of High Art], it is curious to see that the man who has got hold of the public heart, who is listened to and hailed by the masses—it is curious, as a bit of human justice, to find chairman, committee, witnesses, pupils, avoid throughout the whole inquiry any thought, word, or deed which could convey to a foreign nation or a native artist, a noble lord or an honourable member, that there was such a creature as Haydon on the earth!”

The opening of the Cartoon Exhibition was fixed for 3 July, 1843. Already, on 27 June, Haydon had received intelligence that his cartoons had been rejected. It was a bitter blow. But he struggled on till April, 1846, when he received another, that was final, and crushed his spirits. His cartoons should be seen and appreciated by the public. He hired a room in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in which to exhibit them, together with some of his historical paintings—“Aristides Banished from Naples,” “Nero Playing upon his[Pg 474] Harp whilst Rome was Burning,” and some others. In the large front room of the Egyptian Hall, General Tom Thumb was holding his levees, and a swarm of people crowded to these, and very few looked in on Haydon’s exhibition.

In his diary he enters: “21 April. Tom Thumb had 12,000 people last week. B. R. Haydon 13312 (the 12 a little girl). Exquisite taste of the English people!”

He closed his exhibition on 18 May, and had lost by it £111 8s. 10d. He wrote: “I have not decayed, but the people have been corrupted. I am the same, they are not.”

This was a wound so severe to his vanity that it never healed. He abused the public, contrasting his own merits with those of his diminutive rival, and mixing up the sublime with the ridiculous in such a manner as to make his complaints the source of laughter rather than of commiseration. He was at some moments in so excited a condition from his own disappointment, contrasted with the success of the dwarf and the showman, that he appeared to his friends to be almost insane.

On 22 June he wrote in his diary the lines from Lear:—

Stretch me no longer on this rough world.

This was written between half-past ten and a quarter to eleven o’clock on that morning. He was in his studio. About a quarter to eleven his wife and daughter heard the report of firearms, but took little notice of it, as they supposed it to proceed from the troops then exercising in the Park. Mrs. Haydon went out. Miss Haydon entered the painting-room, and found her father stretched dead before the easel on which stood his unfinished picture of “King Alfred and the First English Jury”—his white hairs dabbled in blood, a[Pg 475] half-open razor smeared with blood at his side, near it a small pistol recently discharged, in his throat a fearful gash, and a bullet-wound in his skull. A portrait of his wife stood on a smaller easel facing his large picture. On a table near was his diary open at the page of that last entry, his watch, and a Prayer Book open at the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, and his will.

The coroner’s jury found that the suicide was committed when Haydon was in an unsound state of mind. In fact, he had been driven mad by mortified vanity. His debts at his death amounted to about £3000. The assets were inconsiderable. Liberal and immediate assistance and much sympathy were extended to the bereaved widow and family.

Posterity has not seen occasion to reverse the judgment of his contemporaries on Haydon’s paintings.

His engrossing love of art, with his consciousness of great powers, and excessive self-esteem, made him a most enthusiastic devotee to any work which he had on his easel, and enabled him to bear up long against the thousand interruptions from embarrassed circumstances which are detailed in his Autobiography. Whilst painting his “Maid of Saragossa” he accidentally wounded his foot with a bayonet, but went on with the picture, using his own blood as a pigment, till the surgeon arrived.

Zeal, devotion, high thoughts, ability in composition, some power in colouring, and correct anatomical drawing may and ought to be conceded to Haydon. But he aimed at subjects beyond his power of execution, and in all his High Art paintings there is a lack of refined feeling and good taste. Thus, in the “Judgment of Solomon” the king is depicted as treating the whole affair as a practical joke. Mr. Watts, the artist,[Pg 476] says: “The characteristics of Haydon’s art appear to me to be great determination and power, knowledge and effrontery. His pictures are himself, and fail as he failed. In Haydon’s work there is not sufficient forgetfulness of self to disarm criticism of personality. His pictures are themselves autobiographical notes of the most interesting kind; but their want of beauty repels, and their want of modesty exasperates. Perhaps their principal characteristic is want of delicacy of perception and refinement of execution. His touch is generally woolly, and his surface disagreeable.”

He was determined to force his idea of the Heroic in Art on a public that had got beyond gods and goddesses and the heroes of the Greeks and Romans. He would have done well at the Court of Louis XIV, but he was out of date at the dawn of the naturalism of the nineteenth century.

The public, thought Haydon, were sick, and knew not what Art was. They must be forced, scolded, lectured, rated to admire it. The last thing that would occur to him would be to study the trend of public taste and to adapt himself to it.

When drawing his cartoons for the Houses of Parliament, he would not even consider what was fitting. Had he sent in his “Alfred and Trial by Jury,” it might and probably would have been approved; but instead he sent pictures from the Reign of Terror in France to represent Anarchy, which was of all things unsuited for the new palace, that did not desire scenes from French history, and those recent ones.

And his huge cartoons were a mistake. Epics are not for the masses, and only great public buildings could contain these canvases. Public bodies did not care to spend large sums upon pictures for town halls and exchanges.

[Pg 477]

“What a game you have thrown away!” said a friend to Haydon one day; and we must echo that opinion in considering the life before us. It was a game utterly and irretrievably, through vanity and pig-headedness, thrown away.


By a public character in his way
You may find an anecdote of the day,
I wish every line to tell, and word I say.

Thus “Captain” John Cooke, the Exeter saddler, begins his pamphlet, Old England for Ever, published by Curson, of Exeter, in 1819.

John Cooke was born at the “Rose and Crown” public-house, on the old bridge, at Ashburton, in 1765. Ashburton, says Cooke, was not only famous as producing Dunning, Lord Ashburton, but also for its Pop. “I recollect its sharp feeding good taste, far richer than the best small beer, more of the champagne taste, and what was termed a good sharp bottle. When you untied and hand-drew the cork it gave a report louder than a pop-gun, to which I attribute its name; its contents would fly up to the ceiling if you did not mind to keep the mouth of the stone bottle into the white quart cup; it filled it with froth, but not over a pint of clear liquor. Three old cronies would sit an afternoon six hours, smoke and drink a dozen bottles, their reckoning but eightpence each, and a penny for tobacco. The pop was but twopence a bottle. It is a great loss to the town, because its recipe died with its brewer about 1785.”

Captain Cooke


Drawn from Nature, on the stone by N. Whittock

Another drink of the past was white ale. This derived its name from its appearance, not unlike tea freely[Pg 479] diluted with milk and having considerable quantities of some white curdy substance floating about in it, which had a tendency to settle at the bottom of the glass. The secret of its composition lay in the nature of the ferment employed, called “grout.” At one time white ale was a common drink in South Devon; now it is as dead as Ashburton Pop and John Dunning.

John Cooke’s father was a plasterer and “hellier”—i.e. slater—but turned publican and maltster, and kept the tavern in which his son was born. John’s grandfather brought the water into the town to the East Street conduit. At the age of fifteen his mother, then a widow, put John apprentice to Chaster, a saddler in Exeter, and on the death of Chaster, Cooke succeeded to the business at the age of twenty-one, and was highly esteemed in the county for the excellence of his work and his knowledge of how to fit the back of a horse. He made saddles for Lord Rolle, Sir Stafford Northcote, Sir John Duntze, Sir Robert and Sir Lawrence Palk, Sir Thomas Acland, and last, but not least, for Lord Heathfield. “His lordship was allowed to be one of the best judges of horses and definer of saddlery in the kingdom; his lordship’s saddle-house consisted from the full bristed to the demi-pick, Shafto, Hanoverian, to the Dutch pad-saddles; and from the snaffle, Pelham, Weymouth, Pembroke, Elliott, Mameluke, and Chifney bridles. His lordship’s saddle and riding-house was a school for a saddler and dragoon.”

Cooke breaks into rhyme:—

As few began the world so I multiplied,
I’ve gratitude to all my friends, who’ve supplied.
Plain at twenty-one, I did begin,
Which in my manuscript was seen,
Tho’ years at school with arithmeterians,
Who wrote well, but they are no grammarians,
Tho’ I did not know the use of grammar
I was well supported by my hammer.
I sticked to my King, leather and tools;
And for order wrote a set of shop rules.
It’s not what work is brought for to be only done,
Every think that’s necessary, buckle or tongue;
For instance, a saddle is brought to stuff, that’s all,
A stirrup-bar is wanted to prevent a fall;
All your work must be done well, not like fools,
For if it breaks on the road, there’s no tools.
Working with the hands only is but part,
The head’s the essential to make work smart.
Be John Bulls, true to your country and Church,
Always tell the truth and don’t never lurch.

[Pg 480]

John Cooke’s saddlery was better than his grammar and his orthography, and his faults in these latter particulars called down upon him the scorn of Andrew Brice, the printer and publisher of a weekly paper. Cooke was a strong loyalist, and Brice was touched with republican ideas.

“Brice,” says Cooke, “posted me about the streets with halfpenny papers; and the poor hawkers got many pence through me; but all that he could do or say was to degrade my orthography; but to lessen my loyalty or character he could not; from his art or out of burlesque he said my letters were after the manner of Junius, and at the same time said I was of Grub-street. I winked at all this, whilst the people read my bulletins. I confess I did not know Junius’s Letters or Grub-street then, but I know them now. At the attack and at different times he wanted to run aground my loyal advertisements; but, poor man, he ran himself aground dead.”

The bulletins and advertisements animadverted upon by Brice were handbills issued by Cooke opposing the republican inflammatory pamphlets that were put in circulation, as also bulletins of the news with comments of his own which he pasted up outside his shop. There was at the time a noisy party in England in[Pg 481] favour of Bonaparte, and this was the Radical and Republican party. Cooke was taunted by these as a bull-calf. He replied that he gloried in the name of John Bull. “Even when the friends of one of the candidates at the recent general election at Exeter came to solicit my vote (I thank God I vote for six members) I told them that I would not vote for a man of such principles if they would give me £500. When I came to give my vote at the Guildhall, Mr. Sergeant Pell rose up out of fancy or fun, and said to me, Are you not a Frenchman? I said, A Frenchman! No, sir, I am a true John Bull. He said, Of the calf kind. I said, It must be a calf before it’s a bull. The Sergeant sat down.”

In 1789 Cooke was made captain to the sheriff’s troop. “About this time there were commotions by the mobility in London against his Majesty’s minister, Mr. Pitt. I went into the pot-houses at Exeter, and treated with mugs round, and gave loyal toasts and sentiments—my own motto, Any income-tax sooner than a French-come-tax; a long pull and a strong pull and a pull altogether-mind how the fox served the chicken, and said the grapes were sour—a speedy necklace to all traitors—Old England for ever, and those who don’t like it, leave it.

“There has been but one small riot in Devonshire, to its honour and credit, and that was stopped in its infancy. It was for breaking into a miller’s house to get corn by violence; one Campion, a blacksmith, a young man called out from his work inadvertently to join the mob; from farmhouse to house they got liquor, got inebriated. He became a leader and carried a French banner, the old story. Campion was desired to desist by gentlemen; but he would not. He was apprehended in a day or two, committed to gaol, and[Pg 482] tried at the Assizes, 1795, before the late Justice Heath; the jury found him guilty of the felony—riot and sedition. He suffered death. This prompt measure put an end and stopped the contagion in the West. There were thousands of spectators on the road, besides a thousand military of dragoons, artillery and volunteers of the district, who escorted him thirteen miles to the place of execution, Bovey-heathfield, in sight of his own village, Ilsington, as a rescue was talked of.

“At a foolish County Meeting in 1797, to petition his Majesty to remove his late Minister, Mr. Pitt, I called up my apprentices at 3 o’clock in the morning; we got a ladder, and scaladed the walls of the Castle of Exeter, got in unperceived, I wrote conspicuously No petition, no civil war, and at many more lofty hazardous places in the city, that the freeholders might read it when they came to the meeting; we (had) done the whole before the people were up. I again put out handbills warning the mobility of Exeter of riot; and at the show of hands by the Sheriff the mob held up both their hands, and there was a great majority of legal (loyal) votes.

“At another County Meeting a few violent gentleman wanted to turn out one or both of our old staunch County Members, Col. Bastard and Sir Laurence Palk. An orator, a Protestant Dissenter, took an elevated station and was haranguing; I perceived that the orator spared neither powder nor shot with his tongue. I being a freeholder mixed with the yeomanry freeholders; I fired a shot from my mouth, having good lungs it gave a loud report. I exclaimed ‘Palk’s no presbyterian I’ll sware [sic].’ It hit him, it had the desired effect, the orator was struck tongue-tied, he thought it came from higher authority. He attempted again in vain; the yeomanry caught flash from my[Pg 483] pan and they fired a feu-de-joy with their tongues for Bastard and Palk, a loud clamour for question was called, and the old members were returned unanimously.

John Cooke of Exeter

Drawn from Nature by Geo. Rowe.

Printed by P. Simonau.


Captain of the Sheriff’s troop at 74 Assizes for the County of Devon.

Published by Geo. Rowe Nn 38 Paris Street Exeter.

“When Mr. Pitt armed this country I became a volunteer in the infantry, before the cavalry were equipped by my brother tradesmen, that they should not say my loyalty was for trade. After this, I joined the second troop of the first Devon Royal Cavalry.

“I may say John Cooke, the saddler of Exeter, is known from England to the Indies, on the Continent, Ireland and Scotland; from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Penzance. I had two direction posts at my door during the War, that no one had in the kingdom besides—one to the various places and distances from Exeter to London; the other a large sheet of paper written as a daily monitor, gratis, a bulletin of news, to cheer people in the worst of times, to guide them in the Constitutional Road, which both citizens and country-folks of a market-day looked up to Cooke’s bulletin as natural as they look at their parish dial.

“I knowing the city and county of Exeter is the county town of the second county of England, I even made myself a direction-post when commotions were in London by the mobility, against the late Mr. Pitt, who was the people’s friend, instead of their enemy; I being a public officer at the Assizes, having had the honour to serve thirty Sheriffs of the County, sixty Assizes, and 1817 I commanded two Sheriffs troops, Devon and Cornwall. In 1795 I wore a conspicuous breast-plate painted with this motto, Fear God, honour the King, and revere his Ministers; which made not only the auditory, but the Judges, Sheriffs, and Counsel stare at me; which my heart did not mind being for the public good. Twice I had two escapes for my life in my achieve[Pg 484]ments. I went from Exeter to London, to the funeral of Lord Nelson, the hero of the Nile, in 1805. In my going into the painted hall at Greenwich to see the corpse lie in state, I was nearly squeezed to death against the stone pillars. I might as well holloa in the bottom of the sea, as in a London throng. I have the pain to this day.

“I saw Mr. Pitt at his lodging window at Bath, a few weeks before he died; he looked very weak and thin. I had a tablet made to his memory and hung it over my door.

“In 1800, in consequence of that dearth year, potatoes were sixteen pence a peck. The poor grumbled, noisy, clamorous in the market. I went in the country and bought 500 bags, and sold them at a shilling a peck. The rumour that I had got all the potato trade; it lowered the market to a shilling a peck.

“In honour of his Majesty, on the Jubilee, 1809, I gave all the poor men, women and children of my parish, above 200, a good dinner in the long cloth hall of Exeter. My wife ripped sheets for tablecloths, and what is worth recording, in the evening the men would carry me home on their shoulders. They carried me by the Old London Inn, where a large party, it being a holiday, in our passing we were not halted.[23] In the centre of a 50 feet street, I saw a decanter thrown from the dining-room twelve feet high; I was bare pate, my hat being off, to make obedience to this company; I miraculously caught the decanter by its neck with my right hand, it was full of port wine; it came with such velocity not a drop was spilt. I thought no harm meant, I jocosely drank all their healths and gave the spectators the rest. I bought the decanter of Miss Pratt, of the Inn, in memory of such an event;[Pg 485] which, if it had took me by the head, must have stun me.”

Besides having done much for his King and country, Cooke flattered himself that he did much for the city of Exeter. He says: “We are indebted to Mr. S. F. Milford for the Savings Bank, and wholesome prisons in Exeter. We had no common sewers until 1810, it was like old Edinburgh before. About twelve years since, I rose one morning before the people were up, and numbered every house in Fore Street with chalk, which made the people stare. I was told I had not begun at the right end, with the sun. I went over the ground again. My house being a corner one, I got it properly numbered, and the street labelled, which soon led to be general. I paid for seven label boards at the street. Who would have done it beside? Our market days had ever been on Wednesdays and Fridays, only one day between. I wrote a requisition on the propriety of altering the Wednesday’s market to Tuesday. I carried it for signatures to the principal inhabitants, and sent it to the Chamber, who upon perusing of their charters found they had a bye-law; the market was altered with unanimous approbation in 1812.” He also introduced watering-carts for the streets in summer. In 1809 he issued a catalogue of a hundred and ten nuisances in the city of Exeter, which he exhorted the Corporation to get rid of. He urged on the Dean and Chapter the pulling down of the gates into the Close, which unhappily was done. “At present,” said Cooke, “you have none but a dangerous way to the Cathedral. A coach-passenger was killed going under Catherine-Gate.”

There were still three gates left; three had already been destroyed.

Poor Allhallows, Goldsmith Street, was levelled with[Pg 486] the dust but last year, so as to widen High Street. Cooke urged its destruction in 1809, as “useless and dormant.”

Cooke built himself a villa residence, which he dubbed “Waterloo Cottage.” He was a very plain man, with thick, coarse mouth, and a broken nose. A portrait, a profile, is prefixed to his pamphlet, Old England for Ever, but there is one much finer of him, in colour, representing him in uniform. This is in the library of the Institution at Exeter.

That the man had enormous self-confidence and conceit saute aux yeux, but that he was a useful man to his country, to the county, and to the city is also clear.

Cooke assures us that he had been in 400 out of the 466 parishes of Devon, “having the heartfelt satisfaction of being respected” in all of them, “and knowing fifteen lords, four honourables, twenty-two baronets, and three knights, and most of the clergy and gentry” of the county.

Universal suffrage will never, never do,
So experience tells me—and I tell you.
It would break down the barriers of our Constitution,
And plunge both high and low in cut-throat revolution.
You see, in the murder of the Constable Birch,
The means they’d employ to destroy King and Church.
The King is the head—the constable the hand—
For preserving peace and order in this happy land.
They who’d cut off the hand, would cut off the head—
So, a word to the wise; remember what’s said
In the plain, honest Book
Of your humble servant,


When a commission was sent by the Parliament to search Raglan Castle for arms, a jet of water was sent pouring over them in a way to them extraordinary. It was from a steam-propelled fountain, invented and executed by Edward Somerset, Lord Herbert, the son of the Marquess of Worcester. In 1646 the castle stood a siege from the Parliamentarians, under Sir Trevor Williams and Colonel Morgan, and finally under Sir Thomas Fairfax. It surrendered on 17 August. No sooner was the castle abandoned than the lead and timber of the roofs were carried off for the rebuilding of Bristol Bridge, and the peasantry of the neighbourhood began to dig in the moats, drain the fish-ponds, and tear down the walls in quest of treasures supposed to be concealed there, and to rip up pipes, and pull to pieces lead and iron work to appropriate the metal. Then it was that Lord Herbert’s steam fountain was destroyed.

The old Marquess died in December of the same year, and Edward Somerset became second Marquess of Worcester. Whilst in the Tower, in 1652–4, the Marquess wrote his Century of the Names and Scantlings of Inventions, but it was not published till 1663. “He was a man,” says Clarendon, “of a fair and gentle carriage towards all men (as in truth he was[Pg 488] of a civil and obliging nature).” He died 3 April, 1667. In his remarkable book he anticipated the power of steam, and indeed may be said to have invented the first steam engine. His object in his steam-fountain was to throw up or raise water to a great height. His words are as follows: “This admirable method which I propose of raising water by the force of fire has no bounds if the vessels be strong enough; for I have taken a cannon, and having filled it three-fourths full of water and shut up its muzzle and touch-hole, and exposed it to the fire for twenty-four hours, it burst with a great explosion. Having afterwards discovered a method of fortifying vessels internally, and combined them in such a way that they filled and acted alternately, I have made the water spout in an uninterrupted stream forty feet high, and one vessel of rarefied water raised 40 of cold water. The person who conducted the operation had nothing to do but turn two cocks, so that one vessel of water being consumed, another begins to force, and then to fill itself with cold water, and so on in succession.” By means of his contrivance he proposed “not only with little charge to drain all sorts of mines, and furnish cities with water, though never so high seated, as well as to keep them sweet, running through several streets, and so performing the work of scavengers, as well as furnishing the inhabitants with sufficient water for their private occasions, but likewise supply rivers with sufficient to maintain and make them portable from town to town, and for the bettering of lands all the way it runs, with many more advantageous and yet greater effects, of profits, admiration, and consequence—so that deservedly I deem this invention to crown my labours, to reward my expenses, and make my thoughts acquiesce in the way of further inventions.”

Thomas Savery


[Pg 489]

The Marquess of Worcester’s small book attracted some attention even in his own generation. About twenty years after his death, Sir Samuel Morland made some improvements on Worcester’s plan, raising water to a great height “by the force of Aire and Powder conjointly.” He endeavoured to draw the attention of the French King to the matter, but met with no encouragement.

Denis Papin was a French physician, born at Blois in 1647. He studied medicine in Paris, and visited England to associate himself with Robert Boyle in his experiments, and was admitted a member of the Royal Society in 1681. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, being a Huguenot, he could not return to France, so took refuge in Germany, where he was well received by the Landgrave of Hesse, who gave him the professorship of mathematics in the University of Marburg. He was the first to apply the safety-valve and the piston to the steam engine. He showed that the upward and downward alternate movement of the piston might be employed with effect for the transmission of force. If after the rise of the piston a vacuum could be created below, the piston would fall with the pressure of the atmosphere above. In order to create this vacuum he proposed to explode gunpowder under the piston; but he saw himself that this method of creating a void was clumsy and impracticable. He then sought to exhaust the air by means of an hydraulic engine moved by a water-wheel, and he proposed a machine of this sort to the Royal Society in 1687; but he also suggested a means of producing the required vacuum by condensation of steam.

Much about the same time the same idea occurred to Thomas Savery, a native of Modbury, a member of an ancient Devonshire family, coming originally from[Pg 490] Halberton, whence John Savery moved to Totnes. Probably through the wool and clothing trade, he amassed a considerable estate in the reign of Henry VIII. In the sixteenth century the heiress of Servington of Tavistock married into the family. In 1588, Christopher Savery, the head of the family, resided in Totnes Castle, not then dismantled; and for a period of nearly forty years the town was represented in Parliament by members of the Savery family. One Christopher served as Sheriff of Devon in 1620. His son was a colonel under Oliver Cromwell.

The Saverys had acquired Shilston in Modbury at the end of the sixteenth century, and resided there till the middle of the nineteenth. Colonel Christopher Savery’s youngest son is said by Mr. Smiles, in his Lives of Boulton and Watt, to have been Richard. But Richard does not appear in the pedigree in Colonel Vivian’s Visitations of Devon. This is, however, no proof that Smiles is wrong. Richard Savery was the father of Thomas, who was born, according to Smiles, at Shilston about the year 1650. He was educated to the profession of a military engineer, and in course of time reached the rank of trench-master. The pursuit of his profession, as well as his natural disposition, led Savery to study mechanics, and he spent all his spare time in executing mechanical contrivances of various sorts. One of the first of these was a paddle-boat worked by men turning a crank. He spent £200 on this, and built a small yacht on the Thames to exhibit its utility. But when submitted to the Admiralty they would have nothing to do with it, as its practical utility was doubtful. The power of wind was better than hand labour in propelling a vessel; and although his machine might answer on a river, it was extremely doubtful whether it would succeed even in a moderately rough sea.

[Pg 491]

Dissatisfied at the reception of his paddle-boat by the naval authorities, Savery gave no more thought to it, and turned his attention in another direction.

The miners in Cornwall had been hampered by water flowing into their workings. When the upper strata had become exhausted they were tempted to go deeper in search of richer ores. Shafts were sunk into the lodes, and these were followed underground, but very speedily had to be abandoned through the influx of water. When the mines were of no great depth it was possible to bale the water out by hand buckets; but this expedient was laborious and ineffectual, as the water gained on the men who baled. Then whims were introduced, and by means of horse-power water was drawn up. But this process also proved to be but partially effective: in one pit after another the miners were being drowned out.

In the fen lands water was drawn up out of the drains and pumped into canals by means of windmills; and it is to this that Ben Jonson alludes in his play The Devil is an Ass, 1616, when he makes Fitzdottrell say: “This man defies the devil and his works. He does it by engines and devices, he! He has ... mills will spout you water ten miles off! All Crowland is ours, wife; and the fens, from us, in Norfolk, to the utmost bounds in Lincolnshire.”

But the use of wind as a motive power does not seem to have occurred to the Cornish miners, or perhaps it was thought to be too uncertain to be of much value for pumping purposes.

It is possible enough that Savery had read the suggestions of the Marquess of Worcester, and that this ingenious author gave him the first hint whither to turn to find the force required. But how he was led to steam is differently stated.

[Pg 492]

Desaguliers says that Savery’s own account was this: Having drunk a flask of Florence at a tavern, and thrown the bottle into the fire, he proceeded to wash his hands, when he noticed that the little wine left in the flask was converted into steam. He took the vessel by the neck and plunged its mouth into the water in the basin, when, the steam being condensed, the water was immediately driven up into the bottle by the atmospheric pressure.

Switzer, however, who was very intimate with Savery, gives another account. He says that the first hint from which he took the engine was from a tobacco-pipe, which he immersed in water to wash or cool it. Then he noticed how that by the rarefaction of the air in the tube by the heat, the gravitation or pressure of the external air, upon the condensation of the steam, made the water to spring through the tube of the pipe in a most surprising manner.

However it was that Savery obtained his first idea of the expansion and condensation of steam and of atmospheric pressure, he had now before him a new and untried power with which to deal, and he was obliged to approach it by several tentative efforts.

Before 1696 he had constructed several steam pumping engines to mines in Cornwall, and he described these as already working in his book entitled The Miners’ Friend.[24] He took with him a model to London and exhibited it to William III in 1698, and the King promoted Savery’s application for a patent, which was secured in July, 1698, and an Act was passed confirming it in the ensuing year.

Papin saw Savery’s steam engine, when exhibited before the Royal Society, he also witnessed the trial[Pg 493] of his paddle-boat on the Thames. Returning to Marburg, of which university he was professor, he thought over what he had seen, and it occurred to him to combine the two contrivances in one, and to apply Savery’s motive power in the pump to drive Savery’s paddle-wheels. But it took him fifteen years to fit up a boat that worked to his satisfaction. “It is important,” he wrote to Liebnitz on 7 July, 1707, “that my new construction of vessel should be put to the proof in a seaport like London, where there is depth enough to apply the new invention, which, by means of fire, will render one or two men capable of producing more effect than some hundreds of rowers.” Papin’s boat that he intended to send to London was destroyed by some watermen, who feared the new invention might interfere with their trade.

Savery proposed to apply his engine to various purposes. One was to pump water into a reservoir for the production of an artificial waterfall for driving mills or any other ordinary machinery; that is to say, by means of steam he would lift a body of water which by flowing back might drive an overshot wheel, from the rotation of which the motive power for any other mechanical operations would be derived. This, however, was never done, and Savery’s engine continued to be employed only in the drainage of Cornish mines. But it had this disadvantage, that it could not heave water but to about eighty feet, and as the depth of mines was from fifty to a hundred yards, the only way to exhaust the water was by erecting several engines in successive stages, one above the other. But the expense of fuel and attendants and the constant danger of explosions rendered it clear that the use of his engine for deep mines was altogether impracticable. Such was the state of affairs when Thomas Newcomen,[Pg 494] a blacksmith and ironmonger of Dartmouth, turned his attention to the matter.

Thomas Newcomen was a member of a very ancient family.

In the church of Stoke Fleming, near Dartmouth, is a brass with this inscription:—

Elias old lies here intombed in grave,
But Newcomin to heaven’s habitation.
In knowledge old, in zeal, in life most grave,
Too good for all who live in lamentation.
Whose sheep and seed with heavie plaint and mone,
Will say too late, Elias old is gone!
The 13th May, 1614.

Over this inscription is a shield of arms, with helmet, crest, and mantling, bearing the arms of Newcomen, of Saltfleetby, in Lincolnshire, with six quarterings. This is the monument of Elias Newcomen, rector of Stoke Fleming. The pedigree of the family commences with Hugo Newcomen, of Saltfleetby, in 1189–99. Elias Newcomen, rector of Stoke Fleming, had a brother Robert, who went to Ireland and was created a baronet.

The son of the Rev. Elias was Thomas, who settled in Dartmouth, and this Thomas had a son Elias, who was the father of the inventor Thomas, who was baptized at Dartmouth 28 February, 1663–4. He married Hannah, daughter of Peter Waymouth, of Malborough, Devon, in 1705, and died in 1729.

He left two sons, Thomas and Elias; and Thomas Newcomen, son of the inventor, compiled a pedigree with a view to proving his claim to the Irish baronetcy, but probably abandoned the attempt from want of funds to prosecute the claim.[25]

Newcomin's House




Although of gentle blood, Thomas Newcomen, son of Elias, and the inventor, was a tradesman in Dart[Pg 495]mouth, variously described as a locksmith, an ironmonger, and a blacksmith; and probably combining all these trades. He lived in a picturesque gabled house, with overhanging stories sustained by carved-oak corbels, in Lower Street. As the street was very narrow, it was taken down by order of the Local Board, in 1864, and Mr. Thomas Lidstone became the purchaser of the most interesting portions of the old dwelling. These he afterwards erected in a new building for himself, which he called Newcomen Cottage. This Mr. Lidstone was greatly interested in the history of Newcomen, and in 1871 published A Few Notes and Queries about Newcomen, and in 1876 Notes on the Model of Newcomen’s Steam Engine (1705).

For some time Thomas Newcomen carried on his experiments in secret on the leads of his house. A letter extant of the time is quoted by Mr. Lidstone.

“When [Newcomen] was engaged on his great work, which took him three years from its commencement until it was completed, and was kept a profound secret, some of his friends would press Mrs. Newcomen to find out what her husband was engaged about, and, ‘for their part, they would not be satisfied to be kept in ignorance.’ Mrs. Newcomen replied, ‘I am perfectly easy. Mr. Newcomen cannot be employed about anything wrong; and I am fully persuaded, when he thinks proper, he will, himself, unasked, inform me.’”

When Thomas Newcomen had perfected his engine he associated with himself Calley or Cawley, a Dartmouth brazier, and How, another Dartmouth man, in applying for a patent.

Newcomen was a man of reading, and was in correspondence with Dr. Hooke, secretary of the Royal Society. There are to be found among Hooke’s papers, in the possession of the Royal Society, some notes of[Pg 496] observations made by him for the use of Newcomen on Papin’s boasted method of transmitting to a great distance the action of a mill by means of pipes. Papin’s project was to employ the mill to work two air pumps of great diameter. The cylinders of these pumps were to communicate by means of pipes with equal cylinders furnished with pistons in the neighbourhood of a mine. The pistons were to be connected by means of levers with the piston-rods of the mine. Therefore, when the piston of the air pumps at the mill was drawn up by the engine the corresponding piston at the side of the mine would be pressed down by the atmosphere, and thus would raise the piston-rod in the mine and throw up the water. It would appear from these notes that Dr. Hooke dissuaded Newcomen from erecting a machine on this principle, of which he saw the fallacy.

It is highly probable that, in the course of his labours and speculations, it occurred to Newcomen that the vacuum he so much desired to create might be produced by steam, and that this gave rise to his new principle, and the construction of his steam engine. He saw the defects of Savery’s engine, and laboured to correct them. Savery, however, claimed the invention as his own, which lay at the root of Newcomen’s improvements; and Newcomen, being a Quaker, and averse from contention, and moreover glad to be assisted by Savery’s wide circle of acquaintances, was content to share the honours and the profits with Savery.

Switzer, who knew both, says: “Mr. Newcomen was as early in his invention as Mr. Savery was in his; only, the latter being nearer the Court, had obtained the patent before the other knew it, on which account Mr. Newcomen was glad to come in as a partner to it.”[26]

Steam Engine

The STEAM ENGINE near Dudley Castle.
Invented by
Capt. Savery. & Mr. Newcomen
Erected by ye later. 1712
delin. & Sculp by Tt Barney 1719.

Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. Macmillan & Co.

(Click here to see a larger image)

[Pg 497]

Savery had created his vacuum by the condensation of steam in a closed vessel by dashing cold water against it. Papin had created his vacuum by exhausting the air in a cylinder, fitted with a piston, by means of an air pump. What Newcomen did was to combine both systems. Instead of employing Savery’s closed vessel, he made use of Papin’s cylinder fitted with a piston, but worked by the condensation of steam, still employing the clumsy system of dashing cold water against the cylinder.

Whilst the engine was still in its trial state an accident occurred that led to another change in the mode of condensation. It was this. In order to keep the cylinder as free from air as possible, great pains were taken to prevent it from passing down with the piston, and to keep the cylinder air-tight, water was employed to lie above the place where the piston passed up or down.

At one of the early trials the inventors were surprised to see the engine make several rapid strokes, and on looking into the cause found that there was a small hole in the piston, which allowed a jet of cold water to penetrate within, and that this acted as a rapid condenser of the steam.

A new light suddenly broke upon Newcomen. The idea of condensing the steam, and so producing a vacuum by injecting cold water into the receiver, instead of splashing it against the outside, at once occurred to him; and he proceeded to embody the principle which this accident had suggested, as part of his machine.

Another improvement was due to another accident, if so it may be termed. To keep the machine in action a man or boy had to be employed in turning alternately two taps, one admitting the steam into the[Pg 498] cylinder, the other admitting the cold jet into it to condense it.

The story has been often told how that a boy named Humphry Potter was planted beside the engine to turn the cocks, and found that this was excessively tedious and monotonous work, and being a shrewd lad, observing the alternate ascent and descent of the beam above his head, worked by the piston, he thought that by attaching to the beam the levers that governed the cocks, that would do the work for him. The result was the contrivance of what he called the scoggan, consisting of a catch, worked at first by strings, and afterwards by rods, that did the work automatically. This story has however been discredited. See Galloway’s Steam Engine, 1881.

“Thus, step by step,” says Mr. Smiles, “Newcomen’s engine grew in power and efficiency, and became more and more complete as a self-acting machine. It will be observed that, like all other inventions, it was not the product of any one man’s ingenuity, but of many. One contributed one improvement, and another another. The essential features of the atmospheric engine were not new. The piston and cylinder had been known as long ago as the time of Hero (222–205 B.C.). The expansive force of steam and the creation of a vacuum by its condensation had been known to the Marquess of Worcester, Savery, Papin, and many more.

“Newcomen merely combined in his machine the result of their varied experience, and, assisted by the persons who worked with him, down to the engine-boy Potter, he advanced the inventions several important stages, so that the steam-engine was no longer a toy or a scientific curiosity, but had become a powerful machine capable of doing useful work.”[27]

[Pg 499]

In 1712 Newcomen and his partner, Cawley, contracted to erect an engine at Wolverhampton. Next they erected two engines near Newcastle. The fourth was put up at Leeds in 1714. The fifth was erected in Cornwall at Wheal Fortune in 1720, and was on a larger scale than any previously constructed, having a cylinder of nearly four feet in diameter, and its performance was regarded as extraordinary, since it made fifteen strokes a minute, and drew up at each stroke a hogshead of water from a depth of 180 feet.

Thomas Savery was a captain of military engineers in 1702, and in 1705 he published a translation of Cohorn’s work on fortification. In the same year he was appointed Treasurer of the Hospital for Sick and Wounded Seamen. In 1714, by the favour of Prince George of Denmark, he was given the surveyorship to the waterworks at Hampton Court; but he died in the course of the following year, 15 May, 1715.

The date of Newcomen’s death has been already mentioned. Engines of his pattern continued to be erected long after his death, till there was scarcely a tin or copper mine of any importance in Cornwall that had not one or more of such engines at work, and the gaunt and ugly ruins of the engine-houses disfigure the landscape throughout the mining districts of Cornwall.

In 1882 Louis Figuier produced a five-act play at the Gaieté in Paris on Denis Papin. According to this version, Papin, who was a Huguenot, having fled to London with his family after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, abandoned wife and family to go to Germany, there to pursue his scientific investigations. When skimming a pot, he noticed the force that raised the lid, and conceived the idea of the power of steam.

He next set about contriving a model of a steamboat,[Pg 500] and as that was successful, he constructed another on a large scale on the Weser, which was hacked to pieces by the boatmen, who were incited to this act of vandalism by a harpy of the name of Barbara. Papin returned to London, where his wife and son, he learned, had died during his ten years’ absence, and there, when reduced to the utmost distress, he learned that a Dartmouth locksmith named Thomas Newcomer [sic] had invented an engine in which steam was employed as a motive power. Papin then begged his way to Dartmouth, and recognized in Newcomer his son, whom he had supposed to be dead. The young man had been led to this invention by information he had found in drawings and writings of his father that had been left behind when he went to Germany. Papin did not make himself known, however, but allowed his son to reap all the honour and reward of his discovery. In the last scene Newcomer’s pump is being tried on the Thames in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London, when Barbara and the Weser boatmen, having crossed the “silver streak” for the purpose, cripple the machine by cutting some cord that prevents the valve opening, and Papin, who has perceived this, rushes forward to avert an explosion, and falls a victim to his generous devotedness, for the boiler bursts just as he reaches it; he dies in his son’s arms, and Newcomer proclaims to the Lord Mayor and the world generally that all the honour of the invention and application of steam is due to his father, a Frenchman—a very satisfactory conclusion for a French audience.[28]

The French continue to claim for their countryman the glory of being the inventor of the modern steam[Pg 501] engine. The system of the Marquess of Worcester was propulsion of cold water by the introduction of a blast of steam. Papin suggested the use of a vacuum formed by condensation of steam, so as to work a piston; and this vacuum in a cylinder he formed first by exploding gunpowder in it; and, as this did not answer, by removing the fire every time the condensation was required—a clumsy and impracticable method. Savery formed the vacuum first by dashing cold water against the cylinder, then by forming an outer ring of cold water about the receiver; but this did not answer well, as this body of water rapidly heated. Moreover, he did not adopt the piston, but drew up the water from mines by suction. Then came Newcomen, who adapted the piston in a cylinder to Savery’s engine; and finally Newcomen and Savery together discovered how to chill and condense the steam by an injection of cold water. Papin undoubtedly suggested the leading lines on which the steam engine was to be constructed, but he was unable effectually to apply his ideas or to rectify defects in such machines as he suggested. The solution was due to Newcomen and Savery.


Andrew Brice, an Exeter printer, was born 21 August, 1692, “in the house where Mary Hellier now lives [1719] near the Butcherow.”[29] He was educated to be a dissenting minister, and received a good grounding in classical studies. But owing to the pinched circumstances of his father, and probably also his own disinclination for the pastorate, he was withdrawn from school, and at the age of seventeen apprenticed to a printer. His earliest biographer[30] states:—

“Mr. Bliss, a printer of Exeter, wanting a person capable of correcting the press, young Brice (aged 17) was proposed to, and accepted by him as an apprentice for the term of five years. However, having long before his service expired inconsiderately contracted marriage, and being unable to support a family of a wife and two children, he enlisted as a soldier in order to cancel his indentures; and, by the interest of his friends, very soon procured his discharge.” Bliss in his paper, the Mercury, 30 December, 1715, inserted this advertisement: “Whereas Andrew Brice, who is my Lawful Apprentice, hath, without any Cause, in the midst of a Flush of Business, and when I was disabled by Illness from working myself, roguishly absconded and deserted my Service to my present great Loss of Businress [sic], and Damage, this is to forbid all Persons[Pg 503] to entertain or Employ the said Andrew Brice in any Business, or upon any Account, whatsoever; for, acting by the Advice of the Learned in the Law, I am resolved, upon Notice thereof to prosecute such as shall so do. If he returns not to my Business in a very short Time, I shall apply myself to the Magistrates of this City for Justice in this Case.

Andrew Brice


Reproduced by kind permission from a print in the possession of Dr. Brushfield

“N.B. I am inform’d his dependence is on Mr. Bishop; but I am greatly deceiv’d, if He is not a Person of more sense; and better understands what belongs to an Apprentice, than to encourage such a Rascal as shall so basely leave his Master without the least Cause. JOE BLISS.”

What became of Brice during the next two years is not known, but in 1717 he was back in Exeter, for on 22 March of that year Bliss inserted the following paragraph in his Protestant Mercury: “N.B. Having received reiterated Assurances from several Gentlemen, that, notwithstanding that Villain Brice’s Opposition against me, they are firmly resolved to continue in my Interest: To oblige them, therefore, and the rest of my Customers, I shall for the future publish my News on no worse Paper than this, Price One Penny. I can’t forbear remarking, how that sorry Rascal has opened his Printing Press with a most rediculous and shabby Advertisement, and a shameful obscene bawdy Ballad, which deserves to be burnt. Curious Specimens of Rare Genius and Great Capacity.”

It is evident from this that Brice had already taken up his permanent abode in Exeter, and had established himself there with a printing press of his own. His place of business was in Southgate Street, and he started a paper of his own, the Postmaster, or Loyal Mercury. In the “Journals of the House of Commons” we find under date 19 December, 1718: “Complaint[Pg 504] having been made to the House, as a printed Pamphlet, intituled The Postmaster, or the Loyal Mercury, Friday, November the 28th, 1718; Exon. Printed by Andrew Brice, at the head of the Serge Market in Southgate Street. Wherein the Resolutions and Proceedings of this House are falsely represented and printed, in Contempt of the Order, and in Breach of the Privilege of this House; the said Pamphlet was delivered in at the Clerk’s Table; and several Paragraphs thereof being read: Ordered That the said Andrew Brice do attend this House upon Wednesday the 14th January.”

On the day appointed Brice presented himself at the Bar, and it was ordered “that the said Andrew Brice be, for the said Breach of Privilege, taken into Custody of the Sergeant of Arms.” Next day, having acknowledged his offence, “he was accordingly brought to the Bar: when he, upon his Knees, received a Reprimand from Mr. Speaker; and was discharged out of Custody, paying his Fees.”

Brice introduced a new feature into his paper by devoting the first two pages to some tale or narrative of voyages, continued from week to week, in the style of the French feuilleton. His paper terminated its career on Friday, 23 April, 1725, owing to the imposition of a Stamp Duty of a penny for every whole sheet; but on the ensuing 30th April, in the same year, appeared a new journal from his press, entitled Brice’s Weekly Journal, price twopence.

In the meantime Samuel Farley, an enterprising printer, had started a rival paper, Farley’s Exeter Journal, and this seriously interfered with the sale of Brice’s Journal. This led to bickering that reached a climax in 1726, when there ensued an open quarrel, and Brice was obliged to publish an apology. According to his own admission, he had acted in an injudicious[Pg 505] and unjustifiable manner. However, he wrote: “The Farleys have vauntingly given out, That they will totally effect my Overthrow, and that I am now tottering on the Brink of Destruction; For that Sam the younger is now actually gone to London to swear some dreadful Thing (I know not what) against me,” and he intimates that he may possibly be compelled to shift his quarters to Bristol.

In 1727 Brice energetically took up the case of the treatment of insolvent debtors. In his Journal of 8 September appeared “The Case of Mr. Charles Lanyon, &c., of Newlyn, near Penzance, Merchant, a Prisoner in the Sheriff’s Ward in St. Thomas’s,” with a copy of a letter to Mr. George Glanvill, gaoler of this prison, which had been disregarded by him; and a postscript commencing: “We have desired Mr. Brice, in pure Commiseration, to insert this Account in his Journal, that the World may be made sensible of our Sufferings.”

On 20 October he contrasted the manner in which Dally, the keeper of Southgate Prison, treated those committed to his charge with that of Glanvill at St. Thomas’s. “Be it known to my Country Readers, that that very worthy Governor is as distinguishable for Humanity, Good-nature, Charity, and Indulgence to the poor People under his Guard and Care, as He in St. Thomas’s is for Revenge, Savageness, Cruelty, and a long et cætera of abhorred Things which want a Name.”

Brice doubtless had good cause to bring before the public the atrocious manner in which insolvent debtors were treated, but he did this in an intemperate manner, and with personal abuse that Glanvill could not allow to pass without placing the matter in the hands of his lawyer, and legal proceedings were taken against Brice.

[Pg 506]

In his Journal of 10 November is the remarkable paragraph: “This is to give Notice, that the poor Printer hereof, who expects never to be free from Trouble till Death or Dishonesty takes him under Tutelage, was last Week sued by the most merciful Governour of St. Thomas’s. But he dares lay 2d. ob. neither he nor his Councel knows for what. Well! the Comfort is he fears none but God.... However, being just going to drink, Mr. Grandvile, my humble Service t’ye!”

Up to the end of the year Brice continued to hammer at Glanvill; one of his leaders, being a specially vituperative one, he repeated twice; and in his paper of 16 August, 1728, he accused Glanvill of riding round the country, visiting the gentlemen empanelled on the jury for the trial of the case, to endeavour to prejudice and influence them in his own favour against Brice. After several adjournments the case was tried; and judgment was given against Andrew Brice, and a fine and costs imposed, amounting to a large sum.

Dr. Brushfield says truly: “That Brice’s language was strong, outspoken, coarse, and at times savage, no one will dispute—he was undoubtedly a hard hitter, and went straight to the mark. In reflecting upon him, due regard must be had to the coarse period in which he lived. Let any one read the accounts given by the debtors themselves and others (in Brice’s Weekly Journal, 8 September, 1717, 19 July, and 6 December, 1728); and if they even make allowance for some exaggeration, let them ask themselves whether anything could be more revolting than Glanvill’s treatment of the debtors, and whether Brice’s language could be too strong in his condemnation of such practices. In such a case, truth, if vigorously expressed, was a libel in law. His active sympathies were roused[Pg 507] by, what appeared to him to be, the gross injustice and cruelty of the keeper of St. Thomas’s Ward. His enthusiasm never wavered in the support of what he deemed to be a good cause; and no subject did he prosecute more vigorously than that of rendering some assistance to the confined debtors. Under such circumstances, trouble, expense, and future consequences were never considered by him.”

Brice could not and would not pay his fine; and it has been asserted that he was sent to prison. This, however, seems not to have been the case. He retired into his own house, and remained there in voluntary confinement for seven years; where he still continued to produce his Journal. That of 27 February, 1730, contains some information about him in a leading article. After alluding to “the vile Prosecution commenced against” him “near Two Years and a Half since,” he thus refers to the consequences of the action: “I’ve the sad Choice of paying that other Honourable Man, my gentle Adversary above a Hundred Pounds, go to Gaol (the Den of Legion Woe), or retire from and guard against the horrid Catchpoles’ rapacious Clutches. The first none who can’t instruct me honestly to get the Sum will, I presume, advise me to comply with; the second I’ve a natural Antipathy against; and therefore the latter, how much soever it may rub against the grain, I’m forced to submit to.” Then follows the first announcement of a poem he had composed during his retirement, entitled Freedom; and this had appended to it a notice of another poem, “already printed, to be published very soon,” entitled “BEHEMOTH, or, The horrid bloody Monster of St. Thomas’s (an Island scituate directly under the Æquinoctial Line, between Guinea and Lower Æthiopia, subject to the Portuguese).” This, of course, was[Pg 508] another attack upon Glanvill, but no copy of it is now known to exist.

Whilst preparing for the publication of Freedom he lost his mother and wife, and this delayed its issue.

Brice took advantage of every Sunday, a day on which debtors could not be arrested, to walk abroad. Many attempts were made to seize him, but all failed. He kept himself too close, and was too much on his guard. On one occasion a bailiff named Spry disguised himself as a clergyman and entered his office under pretence that he had got a book he desired to have published by Brice; but that worthy did not allow himself to be seen.

The profits from the sale of his poem on “Freedom” were said to have been sufficiently large to enable him to compound with his creditors and regain his liberty. After this he opened a printing press at Truro, the first in Cornwall. But the venture did not succeed, and he soon gave it up.

From the outset of his career Brice had exhibited a strong partiality for the drama, and when players came to Exeter they were hospitably received at his table.

In 1743, John Wesley visited Exeter for the second time, and preached in the open air. He probably produced considerable effect, for some time after this visit the local comedians were prosecuted as vagrants and forced to give up their theatre in Waterbeer Street. Thereupon the Methodists purchased it and converted it into a meeting-house. Brice at once took up the cause of the players, and in 1745 published a poem entitled “The Play-house Church, or new Actors of Devotion.” In consequence of this, says the early biographer of Brice, “the mob were so spirited up that the Methodists were soon obliged to abandon the place to its former possessors, whom Mr. Brice now protected[Pg 509] by engaging them as his covenant-servants to perform gratis.”

All the playing fraternity who visited Exeter became acquainted with Brice, and while valuing his hospitality and support, could not fail to notice and be amused at his eccentricities. When Garrick produced Colman’s play, The Clandestine Marriage, in 1766, Dr. Oliver says: “There was some hesitation what tone would be most suitable to Lord Ogleby—it was decided at last that Mr. King should assume Mr. A. Brice’s.” The part, an important one, was originally intended for Garrick: but on his declining it, Mr. King was requested to undertake it. He at first hesitated, but finally consented, and made a great hit with it. “Mr. King—as Lord Ogleby—seemed to give a relief and glow to the character which was not intended by the author.”[31]

The character does not accord with what we know of Brice. Lord Ogleby is a hypochondriac, a fop, an aged flirt, who leers at the ladies and makes up his complexion. “I have rather too much of the lily this morning in my complexion,” he says to his valet; “a faint tincture of the rose will give a delicate spirit to my eyes for the day.” He converses in French, he chirps out stanzas, whilst twinged with rheumatism. “Love is the idol of my heart,” says the old fop, “and the demon, interest, sinks before him.” But that there is a strong vein of sarcasm in Lord Ogleby, there seems to be no element in the character that agrees with that of Brice.

We now arrive at the production of the Grand Gazetteer, the work upon which rests principally Brice’s claim to literary celebrity. Upon it he expended much labour and money. “The very Books by us us’d in[Pg 510] the composition ... cost far above £100,” he says. It was issued in forty-four shilling numbers, each consisting of thirty-two pages, and was begun in 1751, and the last number appeared in 1755. This was one of the earliest gazetteers published in England, and certainly the most important. Writing fifty years after its completion, Dyer, the Exeter bookseller, in 1805, termed it, at that date, “the best, the most comprehensive, and even the most learned Gazetteer in the English language”; but if we may trust Brice in the matter, he lost money on the publication.

His last published work was an heroic-comic poem entitled The Mobiad, being a description of an Exeter election “by Democritus Juvenal, Moral Professor of Ridicule and plaguy-pleasant Fellow of Stingtickle College; vulgarly Andrew Brice.” London, 1770.

Dr. Brushfield has shown good reasons for attributing to Andrew Brice, assisted by Benjamin Bowring, of Chumleigh, the composition of The Exmoor Scolding and Courtship that first appeared in Brice’s Journal.[32]

Brice’s latter days were spent in strife with his nephew, Thomas Brice, who was connected with the Exeter Journal, and with Mr. Andrews and B. Trewman, who had been employed in his printing office, and who left him and started a new paper on their own account, the Exeter Mercury.

He was a disappointed man in his family. He was twice married, but both his wives, and all his children, died before him. He himself died of general decay, at the age of eighty-three, on 7 November, 1773. In his will he desired that he might be attended to his grave[Pg 511] by his brother masons of St. John’s Lodge. His remains were removed to the Apollo Room, where during his lifetime he had often presided at masonic gatherings, and there they were exposed for several days on show to the public, who were charged a shilling a head to view them. The money raised was to defray the expenses of his funeral.

On Sunday, 14 November, “the morrow of St. Brice’s day,” the interment took place in St. Bartholomew’s churchyard. Two hundred members of various lodges, in masonic costume, and with all their regalia, together with several hundred of the inhabitants, walked in procession from the New Inn to the grave. A funeral elegy, written by J. E. Whitaker and set to music by J. E. Ga