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Dick Turpin

Dick Turpin, the famous English highwayman, was born in 1705 in rural surroundings of Thackstead, Essex. His father was John Turpin, a farmer and part time keeper of the Crown Inn public house. Dick Turpin was baptised Richard Turpin on September 25th 1705 at Hempstead. He then grew up in Hempstead and had a common school education. When old enough he became a butcher's apprentice in Whitechapel. When his apprenticeship was completed he married a young lady by the name of Palmer in East Ham, Essex.

Dick Turpin's illegal activities started not long after his marriage. He began by stealing cattle, and using his knowledge as a butcher, cut up the cattle and sold the meat to earn money.


On one occasion two oxen were stolen from a Mr Giles of Plaistow. Mr Giles' servants heard rumours about Turpin and suspected him of the crime. They went to Turpin's house and saw the carcasses of two animals which were of the same size as the two which had been stolen from their employer. As the cattle's hide were removed they had no way to identify the carcasses as the stolen oxen, but heard another rumour of where Turpin disposed of animal hides. They went to Waltham Abbey, the alleged fence and found identical hides to the skins of the animals they were searching for. A warrant was issued and the police went to arrest Turpin at his home. As the police reached Turpin's front door, he escaped through the window. He then went into hiding, but managed to get a message to his wife, who gave him money so he could escape to Essex.

Turpin then joined a smuggling gang which was successful for a short while before Customs and Excise started to investigate them. He then joined a gang of deer thieves working in the Epping Forest area. Turpin and "The Essex Gang" then started to invade houses which had female occupants. They stole their valuables after threatening them with torture.

Reward Offered

In 1735, the London Evening Post reported on Turpin and his gang, offering a reward of £50 from the King. This was unclaimed, and Turpin carried on his frequent house breaking and torture spree.

In 1736, Turpin raided the house belonging to a farmer called Francis at Marylebone. Turpin and his gang tied up two servants on the way into the house, and threatened them to keep them quiet. The gang then went into the house and beat Francis' wife and daughter until he gave Turpin all his valuables. This included a Charles I medal, a gold watch, several gold rings, a silver tankard and some money. The police were alerted to the attack, and two of the gang were arrested, as Turpin absconded through the window yet again.

Tom King

For a while, Turpin lived rough, until one day he tried a highway robbery when he saw a well dressed man travelling through Cambridge. When he pointed the gun at his potential victim, the gentleman laughed and said that he had heard of Turpin and his reputation. The man which Turpin had tried to attack was Captain Tom King, one of the most well known highwaymen of the time. From then on Turpin and King lived together in a cave between Kings Oak and Loughton Road in Epping Forest and worked as a team robbing passers by. This carried on for some time. Turpin's wife supplied Turpin and King with food, and occassionally stayed in the well-hidden cave with them both. After a while, people who travelled the route near the cave started to carry protection. Even the peddlers started carrying firearms. They robbed the poor as well as the rich, although King was said to not be happy with this.

By 1737, the bounty for Turpin's arrest had been raised to £100. A gamekeeper called Morris started to investigate the Turpin case in an effort to claim the large reward. He found Turpin on the 4th May 1737. When he challenged Turpin with a pistol, Turpin shot Morris dead, and was officially a murderer.

Because of this, a proclamation was issued by the government. This stated,

"It having been represented to the King, that Richard Turpin did, on Wednesday, the 4th of May last, barbarously murder Thomas Morris, servant to Henry Thompson, one of the keepers of Epping Forest, and commit other notorious felonies and robberies, near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of £200. To any person or persons that shall discover him, so that he may be apprehended and convicted. Turpin was born at Thackstead, in Essex, is about thirty, by trade a butcher, about five feet nine inches high, very much marked with the smallpox, his cheek-bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom; his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders."

After killing Morris, Turpin went to look for King. He also sent a letter to his wife asking for her to join him. However in the mean time, a butcher to whom Turpin owed money asked for the debt to be paid. He also hinted that it would be in Turpin's best interest to pay him immediately. Turpin lied and told the butcher that his wife was in the room next door and that she had money with her so that he could be paid straight away. While this was happening, the butcher was trying to hint to his companions that they were in the company of the famous highwayman and that they should try to hand him into the police to claim the reward. However, Turpin escaped yet again.

Later Turpin tried to swap his old horse for a horse belonging to a man called Major. Major was annoyed with being tricked out of his good horse and had handbills printed. When King came to fetch the horse which Turpin had left at the Red Lion public house in Whitechapel, London, the police were waiting for him. Turpin tried to shoot the police to stop them arresting his cohort, but ended up shooting him instead. King died a week later from the gunshot wound, but not before he had told the police that Turpin would be in a house near Hackney marsh.

Horse Rustler

By the time the police had got there Turpin had absconded to Long Sutton, Lincolnshire where he rustled some more horses. He was arrested yet again and escaped to Yorkshire by means of a journey on his faithful mare Black Bess which according to legend took a mere seven hours. This was later written about by Harrison Ainsworth in a novel called Rockwood. Here he lived as a gentleman, and described himself as a horse dealer. He was actually still rustling horses and committing the occasional highway robbery. Once when he came home with some other gentlemen, he shot a cockerel belonging to his landlord. He was called up in front of the magistrate at Beverley and was taken to Bridewell prison on the 2nd of October 1738 as he couldn't provide his bail payment. Local authorities then started investigating how Turpin earned his income. With no proof of gainful employment, the investigation was furthered and his previous crimes in Lincolnshire were discovered.

Turpin was transferred to the Debtor's prison at York Castle. Whilst there he wrote a letter to his brother. This letter read,

"Dear Brother,

I am sorry to acquaint you that I am now under confinement in York Castle for horse stealing. If I could procure an evidence from London to give me a character, that would go a great way towards my being acquitted. I had not been long in this country before my being apprehended, so that it would pass off the readier.

For Heaven's sake, dear brother, do not neglect me. You will know what I mean when I say

I am yours

John Palmer."

This letter was returned to the post office unopened by his brother as he refused to pay the postage. By chance, Mr James Smith, Turpin's old headmaster who taught him how to read, saw the letter and recognised the handwriting on the envelope as Turpin's. He went to the magistrate with the letter asking permission to open it. When it was confirmed that the letter came from Turpin, Smith was taken to York to identify Palmer as Turpin. He did this, and Turpin was sentenced to death by hanging. Whilst in prison, Turpin was visited by many people all who wanted to see the famous highwayman.


Turpin's father pleaded for his release for transportation, but this did not happen. Turpin bought a frock made from fustian cloth and a new pair of pumps to wear on the day of his execution. He then gave his possessions to his friends, which included giving a ring to a married woman from Lincolnshire with which he was acquainted. He then hired five male mourners for 10 shillings each to follow the cart on which he travelled to the gallows at Tyburn, York. From this cart he bowed to the people who had come to see him. He climbed the ladder to the top of the gallows, and stood chatting to the guards and executioners for half an hour before jumping off to his death. In minutes he was dead.

Later that day, the 19th of April 1739, his corpse was taken to the Blue Boar public house on Castle Gate in York. The body stayed there until the morning. His coffin was inscribed with his initials "R.T" and his age, 34. His body was buried several times, as body snatchers kept stealing it. One time Turpin's body was found in the garden of a surgeon. He was taken back by his mourners to be buried yet again, but this time was buried in quicklime at St George's church in York.


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