The Duel: Burr Kills Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were once able to make good in a common cause but those days were long past and by 1804 they had become bitter political rivals.

As the United States first Secretary of the Treasury and a major contributor to the Federalist Papers which outlined at length the form the new Republic should take Alexander Hamilton has his place in history. Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson’s Vice-President and is most remembered now for killing Alexander Hamilton.

With a Presidential Election on the horizon Burr was keen to keep his place as Jefferson’s running mate and so was furious when a letter was published from an acquaintance of Hamilton’s which suggested that he had made disparaging remarks regarding Burr’s fitness for high office. He demanded a retraction and an apology from Hamilton. When he refused on the grounds that he could not be held responsible for another man’s interpretation of what he may or may not have said, Burr in a state of high dudgeon challenged him to a duel. Despite the fact that duelling was illegal and the penalties for doing so often harsh a combination of honour and hatred saw Hamilton unable to decline.

The two men faced one another early on the morning of 11 July, 1804, in woods near Weehawken, New Jersey, their weapon of choice the pistol.

Hamilton, who may have been aiming deliberately wide of Burr did not receive the same generosity of spirit in return and was shot through just above the hip. The wound proved mortal and he died the following day.

Burr was charged with murder and fled south – it seems honour doesn’t extend to taking responsibility for one’s actions. In the event his case never came to trial but he was removed as the Vice-Presidential candidate and proved incapable of reviving his political career.

Hamilton’s second Nathaniel Pendleton and Burr’s second William van Ness along with the physician David Hasock who was also present would later come together to publish their account of events:

“Colonel Burr arrived first on the ground, as had been previously agreed. When General Hamilton arrived, the parties exchanged salutations, and the seconds proceeded to make their arrangements. They measured the distance, ten full paces, and cast lots for the choice of position, as also to determine by whom the word should be given, both of which fell to the second of General Hamilton. They then proceeded to load the pistols in each other’s presence, after which the parties took their stations. The gentleman who was to give the word then explained to the parties the rules which were to govern them in firing, which were as follows: The parties being placed at their stations, the second who gives the word shall ask them whether they are ready; being answered in the affirmative, he say shall say – present! After this the parties shall present and fire when they please. If one fires before the other, the opposite second shall say one, two, three, fire, and he shall then fire or lose his fire.

 

He then asked if they were prepared; being answered in the affirmative, he gave the word present, as had been agreed on, and both parties presented and fired in succession. The intervening time is not expressed, as the seconds do not precisely agree on that point. The fire of Colonel Burr took effect, and General Hamilton almost instantly fell. Colonel Burr advanced toward General Hamilton with a manner and gesture that appeared to General Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret; but, without speaking, turned about and withdrew, being urged from the field by his friend, as has been subsequently stated, with a view to prevent his being recognized by the surgeon and bargemen who were then approaching. No further communication took place between the principals, and the barge that carried Colonel Burr immediately returned to the city. We conceive it proper to add, that the conduct of the parties in this interview was perfectly proper, as suited the occasion.”

Dr Hosack now rushed to the prostrate Hamilton’s side:

When called to him upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr Pendleton. His countenance of deat I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, ‘This is a mortal wound, doctor;’ when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas I ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part. His pulses were not to be felt, his respiration was entirely suspended, and, upon laying my hand on his heart and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I, however, observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off. During all this time I could not discover the least symptom of returning life. I now rubbed his face, lips, and temples with spirits of hartshorn, applied it to his neck and breast, and to the wrists and palms of his hands, and endeavoured to pour some into his mouth.

When we had got, as I should judge, about fifty yards from the shore, some imperfect efforts to breathe were for the first time manifest; in a few minutes he sighed, and became sensible to the impression of the hartshorn or the fresh air of the water. He breathed; his eyes, hardly opened, wandered, without fixing upon any object; to our great joy, he at length spoke. ‘My vision is indistinct,’ were his first words. His pulse became more perceptible, his respiration more regular, his sight returned. I then examined the wound to know if there was any dangerous discharge of blood; upon slightly pressing his side it gave him pain, on which I desisted.

Soon after recovering his sight, he happened to cast his eye upon the case of pistols, and observing the one that he had had in his hand lying on the outside, he said, “Take care of that pistol; it is un-discharged, and still cocked; it may go off and do harm. Pendleton knows ” (attempting to turn his head towards him) ‘that I did not intend to fire at him.’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Pendleton, understanding his wish, ‘I have already made Dr. Hosack acquainted with your determination as to that’ He then closed his eyes and remained calm, without any disposition to speak; nor did he say much afterward, except in reply to my questions. He asked me once or twice how I found his pulse; and he informed me that his lower extremities had lost all feeling, manifesting to me that he entertained no hopes that he should long survive.”

 

 

 

Remembering Waterloo

In late February 1815, the former Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte escaped his enforced exile on the island of Elba landing on the mainland near Cannes on the French Riviera. Learning of his arrival King Louis XVIII in Paris soon took fright and fled.  He was right to do so, restored to the throne by the victorious Allied powers the Bourbons remained deeply unpopular and the French people soon rallied to their former Emperor who had made them proud.

By the summer he had reconstituted his army to something of its former glory and on 16 June he routed the Prussian Army at Ligny. Badly mauled he assumed they would retreat eastwards to protect their lines of communication and so now turned to confront the British Army commanded by the Duke of Wellington that had taken up a position near the village of Waterloo south of Brussels.

As the two armies faced one another the fate of Europe lay in the balance.

These are the reminiscences of Captain Rees Howell Gronow of the Grenadier Guards who was present throughout on that fateful day.

“On the morning of the 18th the sun shone most gloriously, and so clear was the atmosphere that we could see the long, imposing lines of the enemy most distinctly. Immediately in front of the division to which I belonged, and, I should imagine, about half a mile from us, were posted cavalry and artillery; and to the right and left the French had already engaged us, attacking Huguemont and La Haye Sainte. We heard incessantly the measured boom of artillery, accompanied by the incessant rattling echoes of musketry.

The whole of the British infantry not actually engaged were at that time formed into squares; and as you looked along our lines, it seemed as if we formed a continuous wall of human beings. I recollect distinctly being able to see Bonaparte and his staff; and some of my brother officers using the glass, exclaimed, ‘There he is on his white horse.’

I should not forget to state that when the enemy’s artillery began to play on us, we had orders to lie down, when we could hear the shot and shell whistling around us, killing and wounding great numbers; then again we were ordered on our knees to receive cavalry. The French artillery – which consisted of three hundred guns, though we did not muster more than half that number we committed terrible havoc during the early part of the battle, whilst we were acting on the defensive.

“About four P.M. the enemy’s artillery in front of us ceased firing all of a sudden, and we saw large masses of cavalry advance: not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after-life the awful grandeur of that charge. You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host. One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass. They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe. In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ The word of command, ‘Prepare to receive cavalry,’ had been given, every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers.

I should observe that just before this charge the duke entered by one of the angles of the square, accompanied only by one aide-de-camp; all the rest of his staff being either killed or wounded. Ou

r commander-in-chief, as far as I could judge, appeared perfectly composed; but looked very thoughtful and pale.

The charge of the French cavalry was gallantly executed; but our well-directed fire brought men and horses down, and ere long the utmost confusion arose in their ranks. The officers were exceedingly brave, and by their gestures and fearless bearing did all in their power to encourage their men to form again and renew the attack. The duke sat unmoved, mounted on his favourite charger. I recollect his asking the Hon. Lieut.-Colonel Stanhope what o’clock it was, upon which Stanhope took out his watch, and said it was twenty minutes past four. The Duke replied, ‘The battle is mine; and if the Prussians arrive soon, there will be an end of the war.’ “

“It was about five o’clock on that memorable day, that we suddenly received orders to retire behind an elevation in our rear. The enemy’s artillery had come up en masse within a hundred yards of us. By the time they began to discharge their guns, however, we were lying down behind the rising ground, and protected by the ridge before referred to.

The enemy’s cavalry was in the rear of their artillery, in order to be ready to protect it if attacked; but no attempt was made on our part to do so. After they had pounded away at us for about half an hour, they deployed, and up came the whole mass of the Imperial infantry of the Guard, led on by the Emperor in person. We had now before us probably about 20,000 of the best soldiers in France, the heroes of many memorable victories; we saw the bearskin caps rising higher and higher as they ascended the ridge of ground which separated us, and advanced nearer and nearer to our lines.

It was at this moment the Duke of Wellington gave his famous order for our bayonet charge, as he rode along the line: these are the precise words he made use of – ‘Guards, get up and charge!’ We were instantly on our legs, and after so many hours of inaction and irritation at maintaining a purely defensive attitude – all the time suffering the loss of comrades and friends – the spirit which animated officers and men may easily be imagined. After firing a volley as soon as the enemy were within shot, we rushed on with fixed bayonets, and that hearty hurrah peculiar to British soldiers.”

 

 

 

 

Witnessing the Charge of the Light Brigade

William Howard Russell was one of the first official War Correspondents working for both the Times Newspaper and the Illustrated London News. On 25 October 1854, he witnessed one of the most momentous events in the annals of warfare, the Charge of the Light Brigade under its commander James Thomas Brudenell, Lord Cardigan.

The Battle of Balaclava had started earlier in the day with a surprise Russian attack on the Allied positions. The assault had already begun to peter out when Lord Lucan, in command of the British Cavalry received the order to capture the enemy guns. But what enemy guns exactly? The only guns he could see were those at the end of a long treeless valley loaded, primed, and ready to fire with thousands of Russian troops on either side their aim unimpeded on a clear day.

There had clearly been a miscommunication but with Lucan and Cardigan, who was his brother-in-law, barely on speaking terms neither was willing to admit as much. So the Light Brigade would attack as ordered, let the blame fall where it may.

Russell’s dispatch from the Crimea did not arrive in London for some time and was not published in the Times editorial until 13 November by which time it was already old news to those present. Even so, it caused a sensation being seen as an event of outstanding courage as indeed it was and of reckless foolhardiness which it also was, making instant heroes of the participants. As the facts became more widely known however, it would instead become a great scandal; a story of stubborn pride, military incompetence, and a careless waste of human life:

“They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could hardly believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position? Alas! it was but too true – their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part – discretion.

The first line was broken – it was joined by the second, they never halted or checked their speed an instant. With diminished ranks, thinned by those thirty guns, which the Russians had laid with the most deadly accuracy, with a halo of flashing steel above their heads, and with a cheer which was many a noble fellow’s death cry, they flew into the smoke of the batteries; but ere they were lost from view, the plain was strewed with their bodies and with the carcasses of horses. They were exposed to an oblique fire from the batteries on the hills on both sides, as wed as to a direct fire of musketry.They advanced in two lines, quickening their pace as they closed towards the enemy. A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed than by those who, without the power to aid, beheld their heroic countrymen rushing to the arms of death. At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain.

Through the clouds of smoke we could see their sabres flashing as they rode up to the guns and dashed between ‘them, cutting down the gunners as they stood. We saw them riding through the guns, as I have said; to our delight we saw them returning, after breaking through a column of Russian infantry, and scattering them like chaff, when the flank fire of the battery on the hill swept them down, scattered and broken as they were.

The Russian gunners, when the storm of cavalry passed, returned to their guns. They saw their own cavalry mingled with the troopers who had just ridden over them, and to the eternal disgrace of the Russian name the miscreants poured a murderous volley of grape and canister on the mass of struggling men and horses, mingling friend and foe in one common ruin. It was as much as our Heavy Cavalry Brigade could do to cover the retreat of the miserable remnants of that band of heroes as they returned to the place they had so lately quitted in all the pride of life.Wounded men and dismounted troopers flying towards us told the sad tale. At the very moment when they were about to retreat, an enormous mass of lancers was hurled upon their flank. Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, saw the danger, and rode his few men straight at them, cutting his way through with fearful loss. The other regiments turned and engaged in a desperate encounter. With courage too great almost for credence, they were breaking their way through the columns which enveloped them, when there took place an act of atrocity without parallel in the modem warfare of civilized nations.

At twenty-five to twelve not a British soldier, except the dead and dying, was left in front of these bloody Muscovite guns.”

 

 

The Great Slave Auction

The Great Slave Auction that took place in Savannah, Georgia, 2/3 March, 1859, was the largest and last of its kind in the United States prior to the Civil War and eventual black emancipation,  the 436 slaves to be sold coming from the combined estates of Pierce Mease Butler, a reckless and foolish man desperate to settle his gambling and business debts.

In the days immediately prior to the sale the slaves were gathered in the stables at the Ten Broeck Race Course for inspection. It was stipulated that family groups – husband, wife and children – were not to be broken up and sold separately, though how strictly this was adhered to after purchase remains unknown.

The auction was a success raising over $303,000, or almost $7,000,000 in today’s money, for Mr Pierce Butler’s creditors. But he had in fact been a little hasty in its organisation, had he held off for just another year then the outbreak of war, between the States would have wiped out the debt to his mostly Northern creditors. But he did at least retain ownership of his Plantations after the war, even if in the changed circumstances he, and later his family, struggled to make them profitable again.

This is a report on the Great Slave Auction as it appeared in the New York Tribune the week after its conclusion. It was written by Mortimer Thompson who had been sent by the Tribune’s abolitionist editor Horace Greely to pose as a potential buyer to uncover the true iniquities that underscored the trade in human lives.

”The slaves remained at the race-course, some of them for more than a week and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly visited by speculators. The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound or; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments.”

The following curiously sad scene is the type of a score of others that were there enacted:All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur and in some instances with good-natured cheerfulness – where the slave liked the appearance of the proposed buyer, and fancied that he might prove a kind ‘mas’r.’

‘Elisha,’ chattel No. 5 in the catalogue, had taken a fancy to a benevolent looking middle-aged gentleman, who was inspecting the stock, and thus used his powers of persuasion to induce the benevolent man to purchase him, with his wife, boy and girl, Molly, Israel and Sevanda, chattels Nos. 6, 7 and 8. The earnestness with which the poor fellow pressed his suit, knowing, as he did, that perhaps the happiness of his whole life depended on his success, was interesting, and the arguments he used were most pathetic. He made no appeal to the feelings of the buyer; he rested no hope on his charity and kindness, but only strove to show how well worth his dollars were the bone and blood he was entreating him to buy.

‘Look at me, Mas’r; am prime rice planter; sho’ you won’t find a better man den me; no better on de whole plantation; not a bit old yet; do mo’ work den ever; do carpenter work, too, little; better buy me, Mas’r; I’se be good sarvant, Mas’r. Molly, too, my wife, Sa, fus rate rice hand; mos as good as me. Stan’ out yer, Molly, and let the gen’lm’n see.’

Molly advances, with her hands crossed on her bosom, and makes a quick short curtsy, and stands mute, looking appealingly in the benevolent man’s face. But Elisha talks all the faster.

‘Show mas’r yer arm Molly – good arm dat mas’r – she do a heap of work mo’ with dat arm yet. Let good mas’r see yer teeth Molly – see dat mas’r, teeth all reg’lar, all good – she’m young gal yet. Come out yer Israel, walk aroun’ an’ let the gen’lm’n see how spry you be.’

Then, pointing to the three-year-old girl who stood with her chubby hand to her mouth, holding on to her mother’s dress, and uncertain what to make of the strange scene.

‘Little Vardy’s on’y a chile yet; make prime gal by-and-by. Better buy us mas’r, we’m fus’ rate bargain” – and so on. But the benevolent gentleman found where he could drive a closer bargain, and so bought somebody else…

“The buyers, who were present to the number of about two hundred, clustered around the platform; while the Negroes, who were not likely to be immediately wanted, gathered into sad groups in the background to watch the progress of the selling in which they were so sorrowfully interested. The wind howled outside, and through the open side of the building the driving rain came pouring in; the bar down stairs ceased for a short time its brisk trade; the buyers lit fresh cigars, got ready their catalogues and pencils, and the first lot of human chattels are led upon the stand, not by a white man, but by a sleek mulatto, himself a slave, and who seems to regard the selling of his brethren, in which he so glibly assists, as a capital joke. It had been announced that the Negroes would be sold in “families,” that is to say; a man would not be parted from his wife, or a mother from a very young child. There is perhaps as much policy as humanity in this arrangement, for thereby many aged and unserviceable people are disposed of, who otherwise would not find a ready sale…

…The expression on the faces of all who stepped on the block was always the same, and told of more anguish than it is in the power of words to express. Blighted homes, crushed hopes and broken hearts was (sic) the sad story to be read in all the anxious faces. Some of them regarded the sale with perfect indifference, never making a motion save to turn from one side to the other at the word of the dapper Mr. Bryan, that all the crowd might have a fair view of their proportions, and then, when the sale was accomplished, stepping down from the block without caring to cast even a look at the buyer, who now held all their happiness in his hands. Others, again, strained their eyes with eager glances from one buyer to another as the bidding went on, trying with earnest attention to follow the rapid voice of the auctioneer. Sometimes, two persons only would be bidding for the same chattel, all the others having resigned the contest, and then the poor creature on the block, conceiving an instantaneous preference for one of the buyers over the other, would regard the rivalry with the interest, the expression of his face changing with every bid, settling into a half smile of joy if the favorite buyer persevered unto the end and secured the property, and settling down into a look of hopeless despair if the other won the victory…

The auctioneer brought up Joshua’s Molly and family. He announced that Molly insisted that she was lame in her left foot, and perversely would walk lame, although, for his part, he did not believe a word of it. He had caused her to be examined by an eminent physician in Savannah, which medical light had declared that Joshua’s Molly was not lame, but was only shamming. However, the gentlemen must judge for themselves and bid accordingly. So Molly was put through her paces, and compelled to trot up and down along the stage, to go up and down the steps, and to exercise her feet in various ways, but always with the same result, the left foot would be lame. She was finally sold for $695.

Whether she really was lame or not, no one knows but herself, but it must be remembered that to a slave a lameness, or anything that decreases his market value, is a thing to be rejoiced over. A man in the prime of life, worth $1,600 or thereabouts, can have little hope of ever being able, by any little savings of his own, to purchase his liberty. But, let him have a rupture, or lose a limb, or sustain any other injury that renders him of much less service to his owner, and reduces his value to $300 or $400, and he may hope to accumulate that sum, and eventually to purchase his liberty. Freedom without health is infinitely sweeter than health without freedom.

And so the Great Sale went on for two long days, during which time there were sold 429 men, women and children. There were 436 announced to be sold, but a few were detained on the plantations by sickness…

 

 

Gentleman Jim Corbett Defeats John L Sullivan

In New Orleans on 7 September, 1892, John L Sullivan defended his World Heavyweight Title against Gentleman Jim Corbett. The legendary Sullivan who had not fought for almost four years was most people’s favourite to win but some with a keener eye thought better – they were right. Corbett, who adopted a more scientific approach to the ring easily avoided Sullivan’s crude attempts to engage him in a brawl handing out a boxing lesson to the aged Champion in the process. In the 21st Round he delivered the coup de grace knocking out the Champion for the first and only time in his career. It had been a long time coming. This is his account of the fight taken from his1926 autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd.

“Now, I knew that the most dangerous thing I could do was to let Sullivan work me into a corner when I was a little tired or dazed, so I made up my mind that I would let him do this while I was still fresh. Then I could find out what he intended doing when he got me there. In a fight, you know, when a man has you where he wants you, he is going to deliver the best goods he has.

From the beginning of the round Sullivan was aggressive-wanted to eat me up right away. He came straight for me and I backed and backed, finally into a corner. While I was there I observed him setting himself for a right-hand swing, first slapping himself on the thigh with his left hand-sort of a trick to balance himself for a terrific swing with his right. But before he let the blow go, just at the right instant, I sidestepped out of the corner and was back in the middle of the ring again, Sullivan hot after me.

I allowed him to back me into all four corners, and he thought he was engineering all this, that it was his own work that was cornering me. But I had learned what I wanted to know – just where to put my head to escape his blow if he should get me cornered and perhaps dazed. He had shown his hand to me.

In the second round he was still backing me around the ring. I hadn’t even struck at him yet, and the audience on my right hissed me for running away and began to call me ‘Sprinter.’ Now I could see at a glance that Sullivan was not quite near enough to hit me, so suddenly I turned my side to him, waved both hands to the audience and called out, ‘Wait a while! You’ll see a fight.’

So far Sullivan hadn’t reached me with anything but glancing blows, and it was my intention, when the third round started, to hit him my first punch, and I felt that it must be a good one! If my first punch didn’t hurt him, he was going to lose all respect for my hitting ability.

So, with mind thoroughly made up, I allowed him to back me once more into a corner. But although this time I didn’t intend to slip out, by my actions I indicated that I was going to, just as I had before. As we stood there, fiddling, he crowding almost on top of me, I glanced, as I had always done before, first to the left, then to the right, as if looking for some way to get out of this corner. He, following my and thinking I wanted to make a getaway, determined that he wouldn’t let me out this time!

For once he failed to slap himself on the thigh with his left hand, but he had his right hand all ready for the swing as he was gradually crawling up on me. Then, just as he finally set himself to let go a vicious right I beat him to it and loosed a left-hand for his face with all the power I had behind it. His head went back and I followed it up with a couple of other punches and slugged him back over the ring and into his corner. When the round was over his nose was broken.

At once there was pandemonium in the audience! All over the house, men stood on their chairs, coats off, swinging them in the air. You could have heard the yells clear to the Mississippi River!

But the uproar only made Sullivan the more determined. He came out of his corner in the fourth like a roaring lion, with an uglier scowl than ever, and bleeding considerably at the nose. I felt sure now that I would beat him, so made up my mind that, though it would take a little longer, I would play safe.

From that time on I started doing things the audience were seeing for the first time, judging from the way they talked about the fight afterwards. I would work a left-hand on the nose, then a hook into the stomach, a hook up on the jaw again, a great variety of blows, in fact; using all the time such quick side-stepping and footwork that the audience seemed to be delighted and a little bewildered, as was also Mr. Sullivan. That is, bewildered, for I don’t think he was delighted.

In the twelfth round we clinched, and, with the referee’s order, ‘Break away,’ I dropped my arms, when Sullivan let go a terrific right-hand swing from which I just barely got away; as it was it just grazed the top of my head. Some in the audience began to shout ‘foul!’ but I smiled and shook my head, to tell them, ‘I don’t want it that way.’

When we came up for the twenty-first round it looked as if the fight would last ten or fifteen rounds longer. Right away I went up to him, feinted with my left and hit him with a left-hand hook alongside the jaw pretty hard, and I saw his eyes roll. . . . Summoning all the reserve force I had left I let my guns go, right and left, with all the dynamite Nature had given me, and Sullivan stood dazed and rocking. So I set myself for an instant, put just ‘a little more’ in a right and hit him alongside the jaw. And he fell helpless on the ground, on his stomach, and rolled over on his back! The referee, his seconds and mine picked him up and put him in his corner; and the audience went wild.”

 

 

 

Alfred Noyes: The Ballad of Dick Turpin

The daylight moon looked quietly down
Through the gathering dusk on London town

A smock-frocked yokel hobbled along
By Newgate, humming a country song.

Chewing a straw, he stood to stare
At the proclamation posted there:

“Three hundred guineas on Turpins head,
Trap him alive or shoot him dead;
And a hundred more for his mate, Tom King.”

He crouched like a tiger about to spring.
Then he looked up, and he looked down;
And chuckling low, like a country clown,

Dick Turpin painfully hobbled away
In quest of his inn – “The Load of Hay”…

Alone in her stall, his mare, Black Bess,
Lifted her head in mute distress;
For five strange men had entered the yard
And looked at her long, and looked at her hard.

They went out, muttering under their breath;
And then – the dusk grew still as death.

But the velvet ears of the listening mare
Lifted and twitched. They were there – still there;

Hidden and waiting; for whom? And why?
The clock struck four, a set drew nigh.

It was King! Dick Turpins’ mate.
The black mare whinnied. Too late! Too late!

They rose like shadows out of the ground
And grappled him there, without a sound.

“Throttle him – quietly – choke him dead!
Or we lose this hawk for a jay, they said.”

They wrestled and heaved, five men to one;
And a yokel entered the yard, alone;

A smock-frocked yokel, hobbling slow;

But a fight is physic as all men know.

His age dropped off, he stood upright.
He leapt like a tiger into the fight.

Hand to hand, they fought in the dark;
For none could fire at a twisting mark.

Where he that shot at a foe might send
His pistol ball through the skull of a friend.

But “Shoot Dick, Shoot” gasped out Tom King
“Shoot! Or damn it we both shall swing!
Shoot and chance it!” Dick leapt back.

He drew. He fired. At the pistols crack
The wrestlers whirled. They scattered apart
And the bullet drilled through Tom Kings heart…

Dick Turpin dropped his smoking gun.
They had trapped him five men to one.

A gun in the hand of the crouching five.
They could take Dick Turpin now alive;

Take him and bind him and tell their tale
As a pot house boast, when they drank their ale.

He whistled, soft as a bird might call
And a head rope snapped in his birds dark stall.

He whistled, soft as a nightingale
He heard the swish of her swinging tail.

There was no way out that the five could see
To heaven or hell, but the Tyburn tree;

No door but death; and yet once more
He whistled, as though at a sweethearts door.

The five men laughed at him, trapped alive;
And – the door crashed open behind the five!

Out of the stable, a wave of thunder,
Swept Black Bess, and the five went under.

He leapt to the saddle, a hoof turned stone,
Flashed blue fire, and their prize was gone…..

**

He rode for one impossible thing; that in the
morning light
The towers of York might waken him-
from London and last night.

He rode to prove himself another,
and leave himself behind.
And the hunted self was like a cloud;
but the hunter like the wind.

Neck and neck they rode together;
that, in the day’s first gleam,
each might prove that the other self
was but a mocking dream.

And the little sleeping villages, and the
breathless country side
Woke to the drum of the ghostly hooves,
but missed that ghostly ride.

The did not see, they did not hear as the ghostly
hooves drew nigh,
The dark magnificent thief in the night
that rode so subtly by.

They woke, they rushed to the way-side door,
They saw what the midnight showed,-
A mare that came like a crested wave,
Along the Great North Road.

A flying spark in the formless dark,
a flash from the hoof-spurned stone,
And the lifted face of a man –
that took the starlight and was gone.

The heard the sound of a pounding chase
three hundred yards away
There were fourteen men in a stream of sweat
and a plaster of Midland clay.

The starlight struck their pistol-butts as they
passed in the clattering crowd
But the hunting wraith was away like the wind
at the heels of the hunted cloud.

He rode by the walls of Nottingham,
and over him as he went
Like ghosts across the Great North Road,
the boughs of Sherwood bent.

By Bawtry, all the chase but one has dropped
a league behind,
Yet, one rider haunted him, invisibly, as the wind.

And northward, like a blacker night, he saw the moors up-loom
And Don and Derwent sang to him, like memory in the gloom.

And northward, northward as he rode, and sweeter than a prayer
The voices of those hidden streams,
the Trent, the Ouse and the Aire;

Streams that could never slake his thirst.
He heard them as he flowed
But one dumb shadow haunted him along the
Great North Road.

Till now, at dawn, the towers of York rose on
the reddening sky.
And Bess went down between his knees,
like a breaking wave to die.

He lay beside her in the ditch, he kissed her lovely head,
And a shadow passed him like the wind and left him with his dead.

He saw, but not that one as wakes, the city that he sought,
He had escaped from London town, but not from his own thought.

He strode up to the Mickle-gate, with none to say him nay.
And there he met his Other Self in the stranger light of day.

He strode up to the dreadful thing that in the gateway stood
And it stretched out a ghostly hand that the dawn had stained with blood.

It stood as in the gates of hell, with none to hear or see,
“Welcome,” it said, “Thou’st ridden well, and outstript all but me”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfred Noyes: The Highwaymen

Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) was an English author, poet, and balladeer whose work though popular throughout his lifetime has largely been neglected since his death. This has been partly the result of his now unfashionable patriotism. Even so, his poem The Highwayman published in the August 1906 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine has remained one of Britain’s most loved, particularly among children.

 

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

 

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.

They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

 

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.

He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked

Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.

His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,

But he loved the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.

Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

 

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,

But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,

Then look for me by moonlight,

Watch for me by moonlight,

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

 

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,

But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand

As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;

And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

 

PART TWO

 

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;

And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,

When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,

A red-coat troop came marching—

Marching—marching—

King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

 

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.

But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.

Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!

There was death at every window;

And hell at one dark window;

For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

 

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.

They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!

“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—

Look for me by moonlight;

Watch for me by moonlight;

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

 

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!

She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!

They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years

Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,

Cold, on the stroke of midnight,

The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

 

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.

Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.

She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

 

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?

Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,

The highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

 

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!

Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.

Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,

Then her finger moved in the moonlight,

Her musket shattered the moonlight,

Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

 

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood

Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!

Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear

How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

 

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.

Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;

When they shot him down on the highway,

Down like a dog on the highway,

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

.      .       .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—

         Riding—riding—

A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

 

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

Highwaymen: ‘Stand and Deliver!’

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

   The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

   The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

   And the highwayman came riding—

         Riding—riding—

   The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door. *

Eighteenth century England was a violent place and a country of extremes; of great wealth but greater poverty still with a politics shorn of scruple and a law without justice. In such a world even heroes are often more to be feared than admired – pickpockets and thieves, fraudsters and robbers on the highway – as long as they stole from the rich regardless of whether they gave to the poor they were to be honoured in the darker recesses of the human soul.

In this brutal world and with their trademark address beloved by generations of children, ‘Stand and deliver. Your money or your life’, ­none was more admired than the highwayman who terrorised with impunity by night those who governed with an iron fist by day.

Portrayed in popular ballad and verse as both dashing and brave they infested the main arteries of England making travel a perilous pursuit undertaken with trepidation, and for good reason. Most highwaymen made no pretence of gallantry but were violent thugs who would kill without compunction. But there were exceptions and James Hind was one. Indeed, he was to become the first criminal as folk hero since perhaps the time of Robin Hood.

Born in the small town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire the humble son of a saddler, he would rise in status to become an Officer in the King’s Army during the war with Parliament where his devotion to duty was acknowledged, but he could do little to alter the tide of a war that had turned decisively in Parliaments favour. Following the Royalist defeat he briefly returned home but fearing retribution soon fled to London, a Republican city, but one upon whose teeming streets he could easily disappear and did into its many brothels and taverns, and it was in one such tavern that he met Thomas Allen, a career criminal who had already committed a number of robberies on the highway and was looking for a partner.

Lucrative though it was highway robbery was fraught with danger and not just for its victims. Few coach passengers travelled unarmed and the coachman himself would often carry a blunderbuss, a scattergun with a flared nozzle that fired a multitude of musket ball that could kill both a horse and its rider with a single shot. It was important then for one man to keep the passengers covered while the other would deprive them of their goods and money.

Hind, who had remained a vocal critic of the new regime, a dangerous preoccupation, was eager to be that man but unlike many others who had also shed a tear at the King’s execution his grief turned to anger and he desired their partnership to be more than a mere criminal enterprise, he wanted it to be a continuation of the war by other means. Allen, whose sympathies likewise lay with the Cavalier cause, did not object – they would target the Regicides when the opportunity arose.

Those they stopped who could prove their loyalty to the King would be permitted to continue on their way unmolested but not so the Commonwealth Men whose lives they would threaten, their valuables they would steal, sometimes even their clothes. Many a wealthy Republican would fall foul of James Hind and Thomas Allen much to the delight of the public at large but an attack upon the arch-Regicide himself, Oliver Cromwell, would prove a step too far when they found the Lord Protector to be very well protected indeed.

Cromwell travelled nowhere without an armed escort and it appears unlikely that Hind and Allen would have been unaware of this. They probably blundered then into the Lord Protector’s entourage rather than targeted it specifically. If so, they soon wished they hadn’t.

In the gloom of an early evening Thomas Allen’s sudden appearance and demand that they ‘stand and deliver’ seemed palpably absurd and he was quickly seized and overpowered. In the meantime, Hind fought desperately with those trying to grab the reins of his horse and pull him from the saddle. He barely escaped their clutches and with no prospect of helping his friend galloped off in the direction of London with Cromwell’s men in hot pursuit. He had been fortunate indeed, Thomas Allen less so, and he would shortly pay with his life for his audacity.

Hind may only just have eluded justice but his attack upon Cromwell made him a hero among all those who loathed the new Puritanism, and there were many, or simply had a disdain for authority, of which there were even more. Hind revelled in his new fame and now without Allen he could act without restraint and so it was on the road to Salisbury that he intercepted the carriage of John Bradshaw, the Chief Justice who had presided at the trial of the King. Notorious for having sat on the bench wearing a breastplate under his judicial robes and a helmet to protect against assassination he seemingly took no such precautions when on his travels. It was an astonishing arrogance on his part and it very nearly cost him his life as with an ill-grace and a curse upon his lips he handed over all he had.

The next high-profile Commonwealth Man to fall victim to the Cavalier Thief was Hugh Peters, the firebrand preacher to Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army who in his eagerness to see the King executed had fulminated from the pulpit:

“So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for the blood it defileth the land:  and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.”

Having similarly admonished his current assailant with verses from the Bible it soon became Peters turn to be on the end of a sharp tongue as Hind accused him of humbug and hypocrisy, of treason and of sanctioning the murder of his divinely anointed King. If he did not comply with his demands then a similar fate awaited him. The old preacher for all his bluster did not need to be told twice – his life would be spared but not his cloak and purse.

With each robbery of a Republican, a Regicide, or a Puritan Divine, Hind’s popularity soared and his reputation along with it. It seemed there was nothing he wouldn’t do in the Royalist cause, that he was not only a confidante of the exiled heir to the throne but had helped him escape the clutches of Cromwell’s Ironsides following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester.  It was even rumoured that he led a secret countrywide organisation dedicated to the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Hind revelled in the attention that came his way and would openly toast the King’s health and damn the King killing Republicans whenever the opportunity arose but he was to engage in the drunken ribaldry of a crowded tavern once too often – overheard boasting of his exploits he was reported to the authorities and arrested.

James Hind acted in a higher cause or so he claimed, a fact not lost on the Authorities. As such he was tried not for robbery or murder but treason. An example would be made of him and speaking from the scaffold he made plain why:

“The robberies I committed were upon the Republican Party of whom I have an utter abhorrence. It troubles me greatly that I shall not live to see my royal master established upon the throne  from which he has been so unjustly and illegally excluded by rebellious and disloyal men who deserve to hang more than I.”

Having died a traitor’s death, hung, drawn, and quartered, his severed head was put on public display as a warning to others.

If the Cavalier Thief had stirred the blood of young men it was an émigré French aristocrat who stole the heart of the young ladies.

The very model of the gallant highwayman Claude Duval had been born in Paris in 1643, to an impoverished noble family that had been stripped of its land and titles. With no future for him in France he moved to England where his aristocratic connections at least ensured him gainful employment; but It was never enough, and so he turned to crime to maintain a lifestyle that was otherwise beyond his means and where his courteous behaviour and dignified manner was to see the image of the highwayman romanticised as never before.

Stalking the remoter byways of North London between Islington and Highgate it was said that no one was ever harmed in a Duval robbery; that he would rather charm his victims into handing over their valuables than demand they do so, though the very notion that charm alone could induce someone to comply without the corresponding threat of a pistol to the head or a sword thrust to the chest seems unlikely. Nonetheless charm prevailed in most cases as removing his hat he would quote verse or wax lyrical upon the vicissitudes of fortune before bowing before the lady who would curtsey in return. Then kissing her by the hand he would ask her to dance, should she agree to do so it was said he would take only half of her husband’s purse.

It was the stuff of legend and so popular did he become that many a lady of quality expressed a desire to be waylaid by the charming French aristocrat, not something likely to endear him to a jealous husband or a timorous fiancée in fear of his life. Personal enmity aside, a popular criminal dashing or otherwise could not be tolerated and the authorities were willing to pay to secure his arrest.

Sensing it was no longer safe for him in England he fled briefly to France and there he should have remained but the lure of London’s riches proved too great. If he believed his Gallic charm and aristocratic connections would protect him he was mistaken for not long after his return he was arrested while drinking at the Hole-in-the-Wall Tavern in Covent Garden.

Despite a public appeal for clemency Claude Duval was hanged at Tyburn on 21 January 1671, before, regardless of the great many women weeping into their silk handkerchiefs, a cheerful crowd for a cold day.

In a brief criminal career that lasted barely six months Plunkett and MacLaine made quite a name for themselves and one that far surpassed their deeds; but then it was always their intention to make an impression. That at least remained a shared ambition for two otherwise very different men.

James MacLaine was born in Ireland, the son of a Scots Presbyterian Minister but there any nod towards sobriety ended. He was a young man on the make, flamboyant and gregarious, who openly defied his father while also burdening the old man with his many debts. Forced to marry early in the hope that the responsibility of family life might restrain him he instead moved to London where having set himself up as a grocer in name only, he proceeded to squander his wife’s inheritance on a lifestyle he believed was his by right, if not necessarily by birth.

William Plunkett was an earnest but failed businessman whose penurious situation was hardly improved on account of his association with MacLaine to whom he loaned money with little prospect of it ever being repaid.  Indeed, it was MacLaine who suggested crime may be the way out of their predicament. Plunkett, who had an equally high opinion of himself agreed, but they would do so as gentlemen; and so it was wearing fancy clothes, their faces hidden by Venetian masks and with the exaggerated mannerisms they believed appropriate for men of their station they embarked upon a life of crime.

Operating for the most part in the wasteland that was then Hyde Park they committed robbery after robbery stopping carriages almost at will; so much so that one of their more high profile victims the  Gothic novelist and son of a former Prime Minister Horace Walpole would write:

“One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one is going into battle.”

The thunder and fury of war may have been an exaggeration but no robbery was unworthy of a theatrical gesture and so while MacLaine wooed the ladies with a silver tongued charm the more morose Plunkett stripped them and their male companions of everything of value with a grimly determined but always polite menace.

Indeed, so conscious were they of their public image that when it was reported shots had been fired at Walpole’s carriage MacLaine wrote a letter of apology along with a corresponding demand for money:

“Sir, seeing an advertisement in the papers of today of you being robbed by two highwaymen on Wednesday last in Hyde Park and during the time a pistol was fired intended or accidental obliges us to take this method of assuring you it was the latter and was designed by no means to frighten or hurt you for we are reduced by the misfortunes of the world to have recourse to this method of getting money. Yet we have humanity enough not to take anybody’s life where there is not a necessity.

We have likewise seen the advertisement offering a reward of 20 guineas for your watch and seals which are very safe and which you shall have along with your sword and the coachman’s watch for 40 guineas and not a shilling less.”

The missive then provided for the delivery of the money before once again burnishing their image as latter day Robin Hood’s by promising to return the few pennies and scant belongings they had stolen from Walpole’s poor footman.

Such apparent generosity did little to deflect from their avarice but no matter how valuable their haul MacLaine in particular, never failed to spend it. Residing In expensive lodgings with a wardrobe of fine clothes and a live-in mistress bought and paid for, he even now struggled to make ends meet and it was his pawning of some expensive lace that lead to their downfall.  In attempting to sell the lace the pawnbroker inadvertently approached the tailor who had made the original waistcoat from which it had been unpicked. Aware that the waistcoat had been stolen in a robbery he reported it to the relevant authorities and MacLaine was subsequently arrested.

There is of course no honour among thieves and MacLaine immediately revealed Plunkett’s whereabouts and declared he was willing to turn King’s Evidence against him for a guarantee of immunity from prosecution. But it was the dashing MacLaine they wanted to make an example of not the dour Plunkett and it was the latter not the former who would ultimately betray his friend.

Hundreds of well-wishers visited MacLaine while he was in prison awaiting trial but his popularity was to prove no defence and he was hanged at Tyburn on 3 October, 1750. William Plunkett meanwhile, remained free to spend his ill-gotten gains and disappear into well-earned obscurity on the other side of the Atlantic..

Plunkett and MacLaine’s notoriety as highwaymen was fleeting as was that of others such as John Nevinson referred to as ‘Swift Nicks’ by no less than the King himself and ‘Sixteen String’ Jack Rann so named because of the colourful silk stripes he had elaborately sewn into his breeches. None however acquired a fame as enduring as Dick Turpin’s, his was a legend that grew largely after his death the result of William Ainsworth Harrison’s popular 1830 novel Rookwood in which he appeared as a peripheral but particularly vivid character.

Richard Turpin was born in the Bluebell Inn, Hempstead, Essex, in September 1705, the son of a butcher in whose trade he followed and it was in fencing stolen livestock and poached meat that he became part of the local crime scene. It was after all easier money that the long hours and hard graft of butchery and by 1734 he was operating as a member of the Essex Gang led by the brothers Samuel and Jeremiah Gregory. So it was not as a highwayman that Dick Turpin cut his teeth as a career criminal but in street robbery and burglary, and as part of a large organised gang.

In February 1735, Turpin along with four other members of the Essex Gang broke into the isolated farmhouse of 70 year old Joseph Lawrence who, while his two maidservants were bound and gagged and made to look on, was and severely beaten and forced to strip. Even so, he stubbornly refused to reveal where he had hidden his money. A furious Turpin pistol-whipped the old man before the other members of the gang took him and began roasting his bare buttocks over the open fire. They even poured a kettle of boiling water over his head but even in great pain and in fear of his life he would not give up his fortune. In their fury the Gang ransacked the house while the Gregory brothers took the maidservants to an upstairs room and raped them.

Later that same month the Gang broke into another isolated house, this time belonging to an elderly widow Elizabeth Shelley who they again brutalised before escaping with £100 and her silver plate.

This is not the popular image of Dick Turpin the highwayman we have today but the Lawrence and Shelley robberies were just two of a series of violent such incidents that occurred in fairly quick succession. Indeed, the fear they spread forced the Authorities to act and using paid informers and Government spies the Gang was infiltrated, broken up, its members arrested, and in the case of the Gregory brothers hanged. Only Dick Turpin of the dozen or so gang members escaped justice but e was now a marked man. While the Duke of Newcastle offered a substantial reward for his arrest his description was circulated to the press. This one appeared in the London Gazette:

“A butcher by trade about 26 years of age, a tall fresh coloured man very much marked with the smallpox. Lived some time ago in Whitechapel and wears a blue grey coat and natural wig.”  

Turpin had indeed fled to the anonymity of the smog-bound city but he did not lie low for long before turning once more to crime, this time highway robbery but it wasn’t for the most part well-armed carriages he targeted but lone travellers vulnerable and defenceless amid the woodland and bleak moors that still surrounded much of London. He also rarely worked alone his most regular accomplice being Matthew King with whom he carried out a great many robberies, but a partner in crime is not necessarily a friend as he was soon to discover.  Cornered while attempting to steal some horses King was overpowered and called upon Turpin who had initially fled the scene to return and save him. Turpin did return and drawing his pistol shot King dead.  It may have been unintentional the result of a confused melee, but with his partner’s death Turpin’s whereabouts for now remained secret. Even so, he took the precaution of moving to Epping Forest an area he knew well but with a £200 reward on his head familiarity alone provided little cover and on 4 May 1737 he killed Thomas Morris, a servant to one of the Keepers of the Forest, who having recognised the notorious highwayman had attempted to apprehend him.

The cold blooded murder of Thomas Morris, a respected public servant who had been shot without warning in a cowardly attack was widely reported the length and breadth of the country making Turpin for a time at least the most wanted man in England. One such report appeared in the Gentleman’s Quarterly of June, 1737:

“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 Tomson, 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. He is by trade and butcher , about 5 feet and 9 inches high with a brown complexion very much marked by the smallpox, his cheek bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom, his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders.”

Turpin was forced to flee once more this time in haste and it was now that according to legend he rode his trusty mare Black Bess through the night on an epic 11 hour 200 mile race to York pausing only briefly to cool her down with a mixture of water and brandy. It did prove enough to save her life and no sooner had they reached their destination than her heart burst and with blood pouring from her nostrils she dropped dead of exhaustion.

It was a great story and it almost certainly wasn’t true. A similar journey had been undertaken by John Nevinson many years before when he sought an alibi for a vicious robbery committed in London by being seen to play a game of bowls with the Mayor of York not long after but it was at least true that Turpin had fled to the city where he lived under the alias of John Palmer.

Throughout Yorkshire and neighbouring Lincolnshire Turpin embarked upon a crime spree teaming up with others to commit robberies but more often than not he engaged in poaching and particularly lucrative horse theft but he had also taken to drinking heavily and his behaviour had become increasingly erratic as a result. It would land him in a heap of trouble.

On 2 October 1738, having returned from a hunting trip with friends the worse for wear and in a foul mood he shot dead another man’s expensive cockerel  in what appears to have been an act of malice. Reported to the local Magistrates, John Palmer as he was known was arrested. Although he was able to pay the fine that was imposed upon him he instead refused to do so pleading his innocence. Detained in prison an investigation was now undertaken into the true identity of this man who lived the high life in York’s taverns and brothels while seemingly having no gainful employment. He was certainly not the simple butcher he claimed to be and was suspected of being a horse thief, poacher, and rustler of sheep and cattle but not yet the notorious Dick Turpin.

Following his arrest Turpin was also accused of stealing a horse which had been a capital offence since 1545 and though it was by now rare for such a harsh penalty to be imposed it might have been wise at this point to plead guilty and pay the subsequent penalty but still he stubbornly refused to do so – his case would come to trial.

With no Defence Counsel provided for the accused he would be expected to represent himself and Turpin was to prove a particularly poor advocate in his own defence. Indeed, it was his ham-fisted attempt to find character witnesses willing to testify on his behalf that was to prove his undoing.

One of those he approached was his brother-in-law who not wanting to get involved refused even to open the letter he had received but neither did he choose to destroy or conceal it. James Smith who had taught the young Richard Turpin how to write and was still in contact with the family saw the envelope and recognising his distinctive style wrote to the Court in York to inform them that it was not John Palmer they had under arrest but the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.

The Judge presiding at the trial Sir William Chapple was determined that Turpin should hang and now charged with horse theft he had the crime with whch to do so. There was no need to seek further proof of his true identity or charge him with further felonious acts the capital crime had already been committed. In its haste to conclude the trial became a farce with incorrect dates, doubtful eyewitness accounts, and tainted evidence. Any competent Defence Counsel would have seen the case thrown out of court but Turpin had none – he was sentenced to hang.

The most notorious criminal in England hundreds of people visited Dick Turpin while he was in jail and thousands would attend his execution to see how he died – he would not disappoint. He bought a new frock coat and shoes for the occasion, paid for mourners to accompany his cart as it took him through the streets of York to his place of execution. He even joined in the carnival atmosphere:

“Turpin behaved himself with amazing assurance and bowed to spectators as he passed.”

 But for all the bravado Dick Turpin was no less fearful of imminent death than anybody else and as he ascended the ladder to the scaffold his right leg trembled, so much so that he had to pause and stamp his foot to bring it under control and regain his composure. Perhaps he could sense his nerve was failing him or maybe it was to avoid the short drop that ensured slow strangulation that compelled him to jump with force before reaching his destination. If he thought his leap into eternity would snap his neck then he was mistaken and he would dangle from the rope struggling for breath for a full five minutes before he finally died.

Dick Turpin’s notoriety like others before was fleeting but would be revived in William Ainsworth Harrison’s novel and become legend. Yet the day of the highwayman had already passed.  Indeed, it was only a year after the novels publication that the last such recorded incident occurred. It had been then, a crime of a very specific period and there was already a nostalgia for it long before one era had evolved into another. For those who were never its victim and were in little danger of ever becoming so the highwayman was a folk hero, a man to be admired by the many who would never dare trespass the law of their own volition. It was not the first time the criminal has been elevated to a status unbecoming his profession, there is perhaps just something in the human condition restrained by a common decency that seeks validation in the activities of those who have no such qualms, as long as they do so in a manner otherwise acceptable to polite society. So those like John Hind who had the noble cause, Claude Duval the charm, and Plunkett and MacLaine the daring, would be idolised.  Yet it would fall to Dick Turpin, a man who could lay claim to few redeeming features who would live on in time and space and come to epitomise the highwayman as something other than a common criminal in the historical narrative.

 

 

  

  

  

     

 

 

 

 

 

Tolpuddle Martyrs

The fate of the Tolpuddle Martyrs has long formed a central plank of socialist propaganda, a cause celebre around which all factions of the Left no matter how moderate or extreme could unite in condemnation. It was the moment when the thin veneer of respectability was torn from those in authority who claimed to know best and do right in all good conscience. Instead the mask slipped and they revealed themselves to be the martinets of a cruel indifference concerned merely with the preservation of their own wealth and power.

There is more than an element of truth to this of course, but nothing occurs in a vacuum.

Decades of social upheaval and rural unrest had seen a deep mutual mistrust develop between factory owner and hand, tenant and landlord, not easily overcome.  The increased use of machine technology such as the Spinning Jenny, a multi-spindle frame with which one operator could do the work of eight men and the Threshing Machine which had a similar impact on the land, had seen the workplace environment change irrevocably and the value of labour diminish. As a result thousands were left without work or forced to do so for reduced wages.

Times then were harsh and made worse still by the imposition of the Corn Laws in 1815 which kept the price of bread artificially high, and the enclosure of the Common Land which deprived the labourers of an alternative means of subsistence. There was also no mechanism for the redress of their grievances other than to petition parliament and hope for a favourable response which despite the occasional voice raised in their defence such as that of Lord Byron below, were far and few between:

“I have been in some of the most oppressed provinces of Turkey but never, under the most despotic of infidel governments, did I behold such squalid wretchedness as I have seen since my return to the heart of a Christian country,”

The discordant voice of a charitable poet who rejected the well-rehearsed protocols of acceptable behaviour and had a penchant for bedding the wives of his fellow peers elicited little sympathy and carried even less weight, and so it was with other Radicals tainted by the stigma of extremism who likewise aired their concerns – the poverty and starvation remained.

Where goodwill was absent loathing filled the void, where reason had failed intimidation became the preferred weapon of both sides. The landowners would use the full force of the law, the workers threats of violence with those they considered most responsible for their plight specifically targeted for retribution:

”Sir, your name is down amongst the black hearts in the black book and this is to advise you and the likes of you, the Parson and the Justice, to make your wills. You have been the Blackguard Enemies of the People on all occasions. You have not done as you ought.”

 

A refusal to meet with a delegation of workers one day could result in the destruction of the, landowners property the next. An attack on your home or even upon your person might follow and the countryside at night became a fearful place with isolated homes vulnerable to robbery and arson often plunged into darkness as candles were snuffed out at the first sound of the unexpected on the still air or the glimmer of an unsolicited light in the distance.

The towns were barely any safer with large gatherings often turning violent and even when the worst of the disturbances appeared over communities remained divided and the atmosphere tense.

The governing class, the nobility and landowners, did not take kindly to threats and there was no desire on their part to reach an accommodation – they would meet force with force. Their suppression of the Luddites had been brutal and the Magistrates would be kept no less busy when confronting the Captain Swing riots twenty years later.

During the years of rural unrest over a thousand men, women, and children had been imprisoned or transported to Australia, and 19 had been hanged. More still had lost both their livelihoods and their homes. It was in this atmosphere of mutual loathing and mistrust that the events at Tolpuddle would unravel.

Tolpuddle is a small village barely distinguishable from those others around it somnolent among the rolling hills, green pastures, and lush meadows of the Dorsetshire countryside but the beauty of the surroundings belied the squalor in which most lived; dilapidated cottages with broken roofs, shutters for windows, and little insulation against the harsh winter climate. Farming provided the only means of subsistence for most and working the land was hard, the soil difficult to till and plant, and the days long, twelve hours or more in the summer spent at the plough or at work with the scythe. Yet for this they were paid little and the landowners sought to pay them even less.

In the autumn of 1831, at the height of the disturbances in Dorset a 37 year old ploughman and Methodist lay preacher George Loveless, formed part of a delegation of agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle and elsewhere who having seen their wages reduced from 12 to 9 shillings a week met with employers to demand it rise to 10 shillings a week in line with that in neighbouring counties.

The man who presided over the meeting was James Frampton, a local landowner, magistrate, and former commander of the Dorset Yeomanry not known to be sympathetic towards the labourers and so it proved. In no uncertain terms he told them:

“There is no law which compels masters to give anything extra to their servants. You must work for whatever your employers think fit to give you.”

Rather than a pay rise over the coming months and years the farm labourers of Tolpuddle would experience further reductions in their income down to as little as 7 shillings a week. It was difficult enough for anyone to survive on such meagre scraps but it was to prove an intolerable burden for those with families to support.

With 20 shillings to a pound and the shilling itself divided into 12 pennies (or 24 half-pennies) what follows is a list of staple household items of the time and their cost. It is worth bearing in mind that George Loveless for example, had a wife, Betsy, and three children to provide for:

Rent 1/2d, Potatoes 1s, Coal 9d, Salt 5d, Butter 5d, Cheese 3d, Soap 3d, Candles 3d, Tea 3d, Thread 3d.  A loaf of bread, that staple of most diets would often cost more than the farm worker made in a week while meat was only available if bought from a local poacher which was itself a criminal offence.

The six men who would soon become the notorious Tolpuddle Martyrs were for the most part related to one another or close friends. They were:

George Loveless mentioned previously was a self-taught man well known to the local magistrates and treated with suspicion.

James Loveless, the younger brother of George and also a Methodist lay preacher he had already been singled out as a troublemaker following riots in the nearby village of Piddleton.

Thomas Standfield, aged 42 who was married to the Loveless’s sister, Diana.

John Standfield, his son

James Brine, who at just 20 years of age was the youngest of the group and the close friend of John Standfield.

James Hammett was the outsider of the group neither a Methodist nor a close friend he was a convicted felon who had seen the inside of a prison cell more often than he had a church.

Rumours circulating that their employers intended to reduce wages even further to just 6s a week caused some despair among the agricultural labourers of Tolpuddle that George Loveless was eager to exploit.  Meeting regularly beneath the Sycamore Tree in the centre of the village they shared their woes and pondered what to do about them.  Loveless knew what they needed to do, they needed to organise. Trade Unions had been de facto legal ever since the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824 since when there had been a proliferation of so-called Friendly Societies. Looking to form just such a society George Loveless contacted the socialist factory owner Robert Owen who was seeking to bring all such societies under the umbrella of his Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (GNCTU) for how to do so.  He had committed no crime by his actions and he was encouraged to proceed but was also warned of the possible consequences of doing so.

Trade Unions may have been permitted but they were not welcome and those who were members of or sought to form one would be threatened, spied upon, and ostracised from their local community. As Methodists most of the Martyrs were used to being thought outsiders. The Church of England might be mocked as the Tory Party at prayer but it was still central to the life of every village community and dissenters such as the Methodists who did not attend Anglican Church Service were thought suspect and unreliable. With its Biblical mantra, “in all labour there is profit but the talk of the lips leadeth only to penury,” the Established Church may have been in the pocket of the ruling class but the order, deference, and obedience it preached was widely accepted even if the labour was hard, the profit slight, and the penury great.

In October 1834, George Loveless and the other five men who met regularly and in public beneath that old Sycamore Tree formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. It would be 1 shilling to join and 1penny a week subscription thereafter and the men would meet in the upper room of John Standfield’s cottage where an initiation ceremony would take place and an oath of allegiance sworn.

On 9 December just such a ceremony occurred where all present agreed to abide by the societies rules and to keep its secrets.  Then kneeling before a copy of the Bible and the picture of a skeleton they swore the oath.

One of those in attendance that night was a labourer named Edward Legg who whether or not he was already a paid spy or was simply looking to make a little money reported events to Squire Frampton and agreed to provide testimony to any preliminary court proceedings that might occur.

Squire Frampton wasn’t one to turn a blind eye to such events and swearing an oath of allegiance to anyone other than the Monarch had been illegal ever since the passage of the Illegal Oaths Act that followed in the wake of the Nore and Spithead Naval Mutinies of 1797. Yet the swearing of oaths was hardly uncommon whether it be to join a guild, a literary society or even the Freemasons.

Armed with evidence of illegal activity Squire Frampton now wrote to his old friend the Home Secretary Lord Melbourne:

“Sir, it is with extreme regret  that I feel myself obliged to communicate to your Lordship so unfavourable a report on the state of the agricultural population of this part of Dorsetshire but our earnest desire for the welfare of these labourers whose manners have undergone a significant change and who becoming remarkably restless and unsettled since unions have been established begs us most anxious that some measures should be adopted that will restore their good sense and order.”

Lord Melbourne urged caution he had no desire to stir up trouble where none existed but Squire Frampton was insistent telling him, “dangerous and alarming combinations are being entered into to which they are bound by oaths administered in secret.” His Lordship did not require much persuading and would not stand in his friend’s way should he choose to pursue the miscreants.

On the morning of 24 February 1834, George Loveless was served with a warrant for his arrest and taken into custody. The other five members of the Tolpuddle Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers were likewise arrested – their crime, the administering and swearing of an illegal oath.

Any prospect of a fair trial appeared slight, Squire Frampton sat on the jury while its chairman John Ponsonby the local M.P and brother-in-law of Lord Melbourne had it seemed already made up his mind:

“A conviction is essential the working class have attached great importance to this trial. The sentence passed must serve as a warning to others then we will put an end to his growing restlessness which is exceedingly disgusting.”

The Judge presiding Baron Williams agreed:

“The object of all legal punishment is not altogether with the view of operating on the offenders themselves. It is also for the sake of offering an example and a warning.”

Regardless of the animus evident in the preliminary hearings the trial itself was conducted with all due respect to the law. The Defence argued that the Oath administered, if that is what it was, could not be judged illegal as in forming a Union the defendants were not engaged in an illegal pursuit. Also, the Act under which they were charged was specific to mutiny and seditious activity within the Armed Forces. Judge Williams thought otherwise and surmising it had a wider application declared that if the jury found an oath had been taken then it was an illegal oath and that therefore a crime had been committed. This remains a matter of conjecture and the jury in passing a guilty verdict could perhaps be exonerated of bias but the sentence then passed is much more difficult to justify. Though there had been no withdrawal of labour, no threats made, or acts of violence committed the men were given seven years hard labour in the Australian Colonies. With little possibility of being able to return it was in effect a life sentence – a moving statement delivered by George Loveless from the dock did little to alleviate the pain.

The sentence passed was clearly disproportionate to the crime committed, if any crime had been committed at all, and it was widely assumed that Lord Melbourne would commute it. When he did not but instead proceeded to confirm it the outrage was manifest even among the reliably partisan press:

“This sentence seems to us too severe, but it may be useful if it spreads alarm among those powerful disturbers of the town populations who combine in spite of high wages and whose combinations are so destructive.” (The Times)

“Trade Unions are bad things, they are bad in principle and lead to bad consequences, but let those who have sinned in ignorance have the benefit of that ignorance. Let the six poor Dorsetshire fellows be restored to their cottages.” (Morning Herald)

“The whole nation has been surprised at the sentence, not one man in the whole community appearing to know there was any law to punish men for taking oaths.” (Cobbett’s Register)

Upon sentencing five of the six men were taken from the cells beneath Dorchester Assizes in chains to the prison hulks York and Leviathan moored in Portsmouth Harbour. Condemned ships of multiple decks overcrowded and damp where prisoner’s awaited transportation the prison hulks were a grim portent of what was to come. George Loveless who was too sick to be moved would join them later.

Taken deep into the hold of the ship the hatches overhead shut tight and locked the prisoners would often remain manacled and chained to their bunks for the entirety of a voyage that could take up to six months. Sea sickness was ever present and disease rife particularly cholera and dysentery and some already weakened by time spent aboard the Prison Hulks would not survive the journey.  By the time of the Martyrs transportation the payment of bonuses and rewards for the safe delivery of prisoners had improved conditions somewhat. The surgeons were more diligent and the food adequate if uninspiring. On occasion they might be permitted on deck for fresh air and exercise but that remained at the discretion of the ship’s Captain.

Even aboard those ships that adopted a more tolerant regime the gloom, stench, damp, heat, and sheer boredom made conditions intolerable and conditions barely improved upon their arrival where sent to camps they were put to work for up to twelve hours a day in the most appalling and unimaginable heat barefoot and in threadbare clothes, cut, bruised, sunburnt, with heatstroke a constant threat. Poorly fed and frequently dehydrated they received little sympathy from their overseers who saw them not just as indentured slaves to be worked but criminals to be punished as the law required.

James Brine, who like all Tolpuddle Martyrs with the exception of James Hammett left a detailed account of their experiences, described how he had to walk miles every day to dig post holes for hours end and was made to spend seventeen consecutive days up to his waist in water washing sheep. Having earlier been robbed and stripped of the few possessions he had by Aborigines he was forced to sleep at night on the hard ground without so much as a blanket to cover him. When he requested one he was told he had been provided for and would receive no further help – he was there to be punished, after all.

It was a servitude for which it seemed they would never be redeemed and they could have had no knowledge of the campaign already underway in their homeland to secure their return.

The fledgling trade union movement had been quick to act displaying an ability to organise that surprised many.  Under the guidance of Robert Owen’s  GNCTU and supported by a number of radical MP’s among the most prominent of whom were William Cobbett, Joseph Hume and Thomas Wakeley who maintained the pressure in Parliament they campaigned relentlessly on the men’s behalf.

On 24 March 1834 a rally was held in London which addressed by Robert Owen attracted 10,000 people. Soon after Owen along with other leading trade unionists and social reformers formed the London Dorchester Committee to raise funds to fight the legal case and secure the men’s return.

Their most immediate concern however, would be the welfare of the Martyr’s families.

Having no income with which to support themselves and their children the women had little option but to apply for poor relief but it was Squire Frampton who was responsible for its distribution and he did not look kindly upon them. Holding them to blame for their own distress he refused any help whatsoever, stating bluntly that if they could afford to pay the union dues then they could afford to feed themselves.

They begged him to reconsider but he would not, and so when no help from church or charity materialised they wrote with some urgency to the London Dorchester Committee:

“Tolpuddle has for many years been noticed for its tyranny and oppression and cruelty and now the union is broke up here. They mean us to suffer for the offences of our husbands.”

The Dorchester Committee responded with haste supporting the families from funds raised. They responded with a collective letter of thanks:

“Sir, on Tuesday last a gentleman came from London and relieved us £2.3s each, all equal alike, had it not been for this I cannot tell you what we should have done.”

On 21 April, a grand procession threaded its way through the streets of London to Copenhagen Fields where more than 100,000 people attended a rally carrying placards and where trade union banners were unfurled in open defiance of a government that had ordered the army be present and for thousands of Special Constables to line the route.

It was a show of strength and a tense stand-off ensued while the latest petition (one of sixteen in total) which Lord Melbourne refused to accept in person was delivered to Parliament.

The future mentor to the young Queen Victoria knew full well that the sentence passed upon the men from Tolpuddle could not be justified but he had tacitly approved the actions of the Dorchester Magistrates and was not inclined towards a mea culpa or to admitting his mistakes – as long as he remained in Office the protests would fall on deaf ears.

However, called upon by the King to form a minority Whig Administration by July 1834 Lord Melbourne had stood down as Home Secretary to become Prime Minister. The task of keeping unified an increasingly fractious Whig Party was difficult enough and he was glad to wash his hands of the Tolpuddle nonsense. His replacement at the Home Office was John William Ponsonby, Lord Duncannon, who as we have already seen was no friend to those he deemed outside the law.

By November however, he too had gone to be replaced by Lord John Russell, a more sympathetic character who was unwilling to take ownership of his predecessor’s mistakes.

In June 1835, he bowed to pressure and pardoned the six men but there were conditions attached one of which insisted that the convictions remain in place. The men who continued to maintain their innocence refused to accept any pardon that did not exonerate them of all wrongdoing.

It was a fight Russell was unwilling to engage in despite being counselled to the contrary on the grounds that bowing to the mob set a dangerous precedent. So, on 14 March 1836, King William IV acting on the recommendation of the Home Secretary granted the Tolpuddle Martyrs a full and absolute pardon – they could return home as free men.

It is easy to paint Squire Frampton as the villain of the peace, and indeed he was, but it was never as straightforward as mere contempt for his social inferiors.  He believed in the old verse, “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate. He made them high and lowly, He ordered their estate,” But with that belief came a responsibility, to maintain order and secure the status quo that benefited all and made England a country governed according to the rule of law and the home of free men. It was a responsibility he took seriously, and having witnessed from afar the chaos and bloodshed of the French Revolution and the lack of respect shown for private property which had been such a central feature of Luddism he was determined that no such thing should ever occur in that small part of the English countryside which fell under his jurisdiction. Even so, no one was hanged during the Captain Swing riots while he was a Magistrate. Neither was he negligent of the needs of ordinary people building a schoolhouse for the village children and paying for the repair of workers cottages out of his own pocket, but such largesse came at a price – deference to the social order and obedience to the law of the land.

The campaign for the release and return of the Tolpuddle Martyrs had proven a resounding success and the first to arrive back in England on 13 June 1837 was George Loveless who was soon putting pen to paper to give his account of events. The others returned over the coming months but to surprisingly little fanfare given their role in the cause that had dominated the public discourse for so long. Events had moved on and Chartism, the campaign for an extension of the franchise and greater working class representation in Parliament, had trumped trade union rights as the burning issue of the day. Robert Owen’s GNCTU had already collapsed and it might be said a little intimidation goes a long way for many unions now drew up the drawbridge, ceased to work with others, kept their secrets and secured their finances.

The Martyrs weren’t expected to return to Tolpuddle and the London Dorchester Committee had used the funds raised to purchase the lease on a number of farms in Essex for their use. Only James Hammett among them refused any help and instead did return home and resume work as an agricultural labourer. The others soon showed themselves not to be the innocents so often portrayed but committed radicals and trade union activists who not long after arriving in the village of Greensted established a branch of the Chartist Association. It did not make them popular in their new homes. The Essex Standard wrote of George Loveless:

“Instead of quietly fulfilling the duties of his station he is still dabbling in the dirty waters of radicalism and publishing pamphlets to keep up the old game.”

 

Preached against by the Church and ostracised by their local community once more, it soon became clear that the Martyrs would never be free of suspicion or indeed pressure from their friends to keep up the good fight. They also struggled make a success of running their own farms in a hostile and unsupportive environment. So over the next few years with the help of benefactors they all ,with the exception of James Hammett, made a new life for themselves in Ontario, Canada, where they remained what they had always been, a close knit community of friends.

It falls to few Martyrs to live long and prosper but for the most part those from Tolpuddle did:

George Loveless farmed his own land and became a respected Minister and Church Elder. He died in 1874, aged 77.

James Loveless, as he had most his life followed in his older brothers footsteps becoming both a farmer and a Sexton in the Methodist Church. He died in 1873, aged 65.

Thomas Standfield also purchased land with the money provided to him. He died in 1864, aged 74.

John Standfield ran a hotel, was elected Mayor, and later become a Justice of the Peace. He died in 1896, aged 83.

James Brine married Thomas Standfield’s daughter Elizabeth with whom he sired 11 children.  In between times he was a successful businessman. He died in 1902, aged 90.

James Hammett who as we have seen returned to Tolpuddle found gainful employment for a time as a building labourer but often fell into penury. In old age he committed himself to the Dorchester Workhouse to avoid becoming a burden to his family. He died in 1891, aged 80.

The events at Tolpuddle are now commemorated in the third week of July with a rally and festival in the village attended by leading trade unionists, representatives of the Labour Party, and other non-affiliated left-wing groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omaha Beach

Tuesday, 6th June, 1944 would be D.Day, start of Operation Overlord the Allied invasion of Nazi Occupied Europe. It had originally been intended for the day before but storm conditions at sea, high winds and poor visibility had forced a postponement but it could not be delayed indefinitely however, with the Armada ready to sail and the required high tides and full moon imminent any further delay could only lead to outright cancellation.

The atmosphere at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) was then understandably tense and opinions as to a course of action sharply divided, so it was with some relief that General Dwight David Eisenhower, the man burdened with the responsibility received the report of his Chief Meteorologist that the coming few days would present a brief window of improved conditions, but improved did not suggest good and it certainly did not mean calm.

The plan was for a massive Armada of 5,000 vessels with 11,000 planes providing aerial support to land 156,000 men on 5 designated beaches along the Normandy coast. One of these landing sites was codenamed Omaha, a five mile stretch of crescent shaped beach situated between the villages of Vierville-sur-Mere and Coleville-sur-Mer with sheer cliffs to both its left and right and high bluffs in front. It was by far the least promising of the landing sites but it had to be taken to link up with the British at Gold Beach and with their fellow Americans on Utah Beach.

An Allied invasion of Fortress Europe was hardly unexpected so the possibility of gaining any strategic advantage from the assault was already lost but there was still the opportunity for operational surprise – where would the invasion come, where exactly would the landings be made?

The most obvious place was the Pas de Calais the shortest distance across the Channel from England and great efforts of deception were undertaken to convince the Germans that this was indeed the case. Certainly Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the legendary Desert Fox, and man responsible for fortifying the so-called Atlantic Wall thought so and he focussed his attention on just that region but never to the level of neglect elsewhere that had been anticipated and planned for.

Despite his frustration at being denied a battlefield command since his return from North Africa, Rommel approached his new remit with gusto trawling over maps, studying blueprints, and making regular tours of inspection. He also pondered at length the best strategy to be adopted in the event of any invasion and was convinced that it had to be confronted where it landed, on the beaches, and when the enemy would be at his most vulnerable.

The German Commander in the West Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt disagreed however, preferring instead a defence in depth. The argument between two of the most respected Senior Officers in the German High Command would fester and prove increasingly divisive particularly over the distribution of the Panzer Divisions which were held under Hitler’s personal command, and though a compromise would eventually be reached it did little to smooth relations or create a coordinated response.

With his plans to drive the enemy back into the sea thwarted Rommel remained determined instead to create killing zones on the shoreline too costly in human flesh and blood for the Allies to endure.

The troops assigned the task of storming Omaha Beach were men of the 1st Infantry Division, the ‘Big Red One’, veterans of the campaigns in North Arica and Sicily and the 29th Infantry Division men barely out of their teens as yet untried and untested – a deliberate fusion of the old and the new, the careworn and the cynical with the young and the enthusiastic.

Now after months of intense training and preparation the moment of decision had come; their precise destination remained a mystery to most and rumours were rife but pledged to silence they were whispered rather than shouted. So aboard the ships many had already been on for some days time was spent reading, writing letters home, attending church service, playing cards or simply resting and thinking of what lay ahead.

Before they departed they heard a message from General Eisenhower:

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air defences have seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory.”

What they didn’t hear was the other short note the General had penned and kept about his person:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the Air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

In the event it never had to be broadcast.

Amazingly the 5,000 ship Armada, the largest sea-borne operation in the history of the world went virtually undetected in the narrow straight that separated England from mainland Europe. Field Marshal von Rundstedt was far away at his Headquarter in Koblenz on the Rhine oblivious to the invasion that was imminent while Rommel had returned to Germany to attend his wife’s birthday party. It seemed then, that the many acts of deception had worked beyond the protagonists wildest dreams and little, if any, attempt was made to hinder the Armada’s deployment off the French coast, so as the sun rose and the mists cleared that dreary summer morning the surprise was almost total.

At 05.50 on 6 June 1944, after 1,738 days of war 138 Allied ships of various types some 13 miles out to sea began to bombard German coastal defences. Around the same time bombers of the Royal Air Force followed soon after by those of the United States Army Air Force began flying the first of some 13,688 sorties against enemy communications, transport hubs, and rear areas.

Meanwhile, in a heavy swirl, buffeted by six foot waves, 18 mph winds, and weighed down by 60 pounds and more of equipment troops began descending scrambling nets into waiting landing craft where tightly packed, weakened by fear, tormented by thoughts of death and distracted by memories of home the squally damp conditions only added to the sense of foreboding.

Many of the men green to the gills were violently sick vomiting into their helmets while others more able to keep their breakfast where it belonged used theirs to bail out the craft just to keep it afloat. Even so, ten landing craft in that First Wave would be abandoned at sea swamped, holed below the water-line, or destroyed by enemy fire.

Forced to take a circuitous route to avoid the six 155 mm guns located atop Pointe du Hoc a few miles further down the coast that could target the landing craft as they approached the shore the troops hunkered down  cold and wet for what seemed an eternity. In the meantime, a  Ranger Battalion undertook the perilous task of scaling the cliffs with rope ladders and grappling hooks to eliminate the threat only to find no guns (they had in fact been moved further inland the previous month) only telegraph poles. The 500 men still in their boats who had not participated in the initial ascent would later be landed elsewhere on Omaha Beach to telling effect.

The Pointe du Hoc fiasco would not prove the only failure of intelligence that day, the defences at Omaha were believed to be manned by just 1,000 troops many of whom were barely motivated Russian volunteers and aged Reservists but these had in fact been reinforced the previous March by 352nd Infantry Division veterans of the Eastern Front; and they were well dug-in behind barbed wire and minefields in 15 separate strong points or Resistance Nests with 35 pill boxes connected by tunnels and defended by heavy machine guns, light artillery pieces and anti-tank weapons.

And at Omaha, as elsewhere, there would be no free ride to the beach – the Desert Fox had been thorough:

Four lines of obstacles had been constructed in the inner-tidal zone, the area of shore that is under water at high tide; 270 yards out from the high water line were 200 Belgian Gates, heavy steel fences some 2 metres high with mines attached; at 235 yards out was a continuous line of sharpened logs pointing seaward each third one armed with a mine; at 202 yards out were a series of ramps also armed with mines which were designed to tip over and capsize those landing craft that ran onto them; at 160 yards out were numerous hedgehogs, X-shaped anti-tank obstacles with explosives attached – all this had to be encountered and overcome before the troops even disembarked.

Neither was it ever intended for the troops to storm Omaha Beach unsupported but few of the amphibious tanks assigned to provide fire support made it ashore, the rest were swamped in the heavy seas and their crews drowned while those that did with no radio communication and unable to coordinate their fire proved largely ineffective.

As the ramps came down on the landing craft many men, aware they would be targeted, chose instead to exit over the sides. Some craft also stopped too far out to sea forcing the shorter men to inflate their life preservers merely to stay afloat while some who had fitted them incorrectly tipped upside down, were submerged, and drowned.

Raked by machine gun fire the landing craft quickly became death traps as the men who abandoned them in haste blundered into minefields or were shattered by the shellfire that now peppered the beach. Many did not make it out of the sea their bodies left to bob in the water or washed up with the surf. Others lay wounded on the beach unable to move waiting to be drowned as the tide came in. Army medics did what they could but they were no less vulnerable to enemy fire than anybody else.

The survivors who made it across the almost 400 yards of open beach huddled behind a low shingle wall where wet, cold and uncertain what to do some nervously lit cigarettes while others tried to unclog the sand from their rifles. In the meantime, engineers worked to clear the beach of mines and any other obstacles incurring almost 50% casualties as they did so.

The Second Wave that landed fared better but only by comparison with the First and to General Omar Bradley, commanding U.S ground troops witnessing events on Omaha from a destroyer moored offshore it appeared the landing had failed and he more than once considered cancelling any further attempt.

Seeing little on the beach other than the detritus of war and dead Americans the Germans felt victory was already theirs and had they counter-attacked at that moment they would almost certainly have driven the invaders back into the sea and been proved right, a  vindication perhaps of Rommel’s preferred strategy; but regardless of the carnage no hands had yet been raised, no white flag was visible and those Americans who had taken shelter behind the shingle wall were beginning to fire back.

Bradley taking his cue from a number of vessels which had already done so ordered others to risk mines and the fire of shore batteries to close within a few miles of the beach and provide big gun support. It was gratefully received if not by those who were their target.

Among those who landed with the Second Wave was Brigadier-General Norman ‘Dutch’ Cota the highest ranking Officer to engage in combat on D.Day who immediately began to bring some order to the chaos. Finding himself amongst a unit of Rangers relocated from Pointe de Hoc he ordered an advance from the shingle wall. Upon learning that some troops were refusing to budge he shouted:

“God damn it then Rangers, lead the way!”

It was a sentiment echoed elsewhere on the beach by Colonel George A. Taylor in command of the 16th Infantry Regiment who rallied his men with:

“There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach, those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here!”  

Using Bangalore Torpedoes (an explosive charge set within a series of interconnected tubes) to blast through the defences they began to leave the relative safety of the shingle wall and advance up the bluffs first in small groups, then by the dozen, and finally by the hundred. Now forced to defend their own positions the Germans could no longer target the beach area with impunity as before and with ammunition running low their rate of fire began to slow. With the fresh troops being landed now able to cross the beach at pace through lanes cleared of mines  and tanks able to provide the fire support so lacking earlier the tide of battle began to turn as one by one the pill boxes and machine gun nests fell or were abandoned in haste.

As the pressure intensified the German will to resist began to wilt and those who had not already surrendered were withdrawn further inland. By mid-afternoon the worst of the fighting was over and a beachhead secured, but barely.  The Americans had advanced little more than a mile from the beach but it was enough.  When reinforcements were landed the following morning (D.Day+1) it was so peaceful the troops could barely believe the rumours circulating of the intensity of fighting the day before. That is except for the discarded equipment, abandoned craft, burned out vehicles, and bodies that still floated in the water.

Accurate figures for the dead and wounded at Omaha Beach are difficult to ascertain with any accuracy on both sides but it is believed at least 1,300 Americans were killed and 4,500 wounded including 80% of the First Wave. German losses though fewer were not too dissimilar and were mostly the result of ship to shore bombardment.

Yet the Allied casualties on D.Day as a whole were far lighter than had been anticipated only 4,414 killed in all operations and 10,000 wounded. It was only on that slither of elongated sand known as Omaha Beach that the Allied High Command’s worst fears appeared about to be realised. That they were not was the result of German failure to exploit the opportunity presented to them and the raw courage and perseverance of those American troops who held on amid the carnage that threatened to engulf and overwhelm them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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