The Highwayman’s Story: 1710s

Dr. Lushington had been employed in the inquiry which ensued, and had personal knowledge of all he narrated. I must record one more story which he told me—in his words:—

“I had a great-uncle, and as I am a very old man, you may imagine that my great-uncle was alive a very long time ago. He was a very eccentric man, and his peculiar hobby when in London was to go about to dine at all sorts of odd places of entertainment, to amuse himself with the odd characters he fell in with. One day he was dining at a tavern near St. Bride’s in Fleet Street, and at the table opposite to him sat a man who interested him exceedingly, who was unusually amusing, and quaint, and agreeable. At the end of dinner the stranger said, ‘Perhaps, sir, you are not aware that you have been dining with a notorious highwayman?’—‘No, indeed,’ said my great-uncle, not the least discomposed. ‘What an unexpected pleasure! But I am quite sure, sir, that you cannot always have been a highwayman, and that your story must be a very remarkable one. Can I not persuade you to do me the honour of telling it to me?’—‘Well,’ said the stranger, ‘we have had a very pleasant dinner, and I like your acquaintance, and I don’t mind if I do tell you my story. You are quite right in thinking that I was in early life as free as you are, or indeed, for that matter, as I myself am now. But one day, as I was riding over Hounslow heath, I was surrounded by highwaymen. They dragged me from my horse, and then said, “We don’t want your money, and we don’t want your life, but we want you, and you we must have. A great many of us have been taken, and we want recruits; you must go with us.” I protested in vain; I said it was impossible I could go with them; I was a respectable member of society, it was quite impossible that I could become a highwayman. “Then,” they said, “you must die; you cannot be allowed to live, to go out into the world, and tell what has been proposed to you.” I was in a terrible strait, and eventually I was obliged to promise to go with them. I was obliged to promise, but I made such difficulties that I was able to exact two conditions. One was that at the end of seven years I should be allowed to go free, and that I should never be recognised or taken by them again. The other was that in the seven years I was with them, no deed of actual cruelty should ever be committed in my presence.

“‘So I rode with the highwaymen, and many strange things happened. I saw many people robbed and pillaged, and I helped to rob and pillage them, but no deed of actual cruelty was ever committed in my presence. One day, after I had been with the band four years, we were riding in Windsor Forest. I saw a carriage approaching down the long avenue. It was sure to have ladies in it; there was likely to be a disagreeable scene; it was not necessary that I should be present, so I lingered behind in the forest. Presently, however, I was roused by so dreadful a scream from the carriage that I could no longer resist riding forward, and I spurred on my horse. In the carriage sat a lady, magnificently dressed, evidently just come from Windsor Castle, and the highwaymen had torn the bracelets from her arms and the necklace from her neck, and were just about to cut off her little finger, because there was a very valuable diamond ring upon it, which they could not otherwise get off. The lady implored me to have pity upon her, to intercede for her, and I did. I represented that the highwaymen had made me a solemn promise that no deed of personal cruelty should ever be committed in my presence, that on that condition only I was with them, and I called upon them to keep their promise. They disputed and were very angry, but eventually they gave in, and rode off with the rest of their booty, leaving me alone with the lady.

“‘The lady then said she owed me everything. She certainly owed me her life, for she was quite sure that she should never, never, have survived the loss of her little finger. She was quite sure, she said, that I could not like being a highwayman, and she entreated me to abandon the road and reform my life. “I can get you a pardon,” she said, “I can set you up in life—in fact, I can do anything for you.” Then I told her my story. I told her how the highwaymen had made a promise to me, and they had kept it; and I told her how I had made a promise to them, and I must keep it also. I had promised to go with them for seven years, and I had only been with them four; I must go with them for three years more. “Then,” said the lady, “I know what will happen; I know what stringent measures are going to be enforced for the suppression of highwaymen. I am certain you cannot escape for three years: you will be taken, and you will be condemned to death. When this happens, send for me, and I will save your life. I am Mrs. Masham.”

“‘It was indeed Mrs. Masham, the great favourite of Queen Anne.

“‘Before the expiration of the three years I was taken, I was tried, and I was condemned to death. While I was lying in Newgate under sentence of death, I sent to Mrs. Masham, and Mrs. Masham flung herself at the feet of Queen Anne, and the Queen spared my life.’”

This was the story of Dr. Lushington’s great-uncle’s friend.

Story of My Life, Vol. 2, Augustus Hare, 1896: pp. 306-309

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One rarely thinks of highwaymen replenishing their ranks by impressing innocent passers-by in the manner of the Royal Navy. Given the glamour of the profession and highwaymen’s status as folk-heroes, celebrated in ballad and broad-sheet, Mrs Daffodil would imagine that there were scores of young apprentices, toiling away at their trades, who would have given much to join the ranks of the Gentlemen of the Road.

Augustus Hare tells us that he heard this story from Dr. Stephen Lushington, an eminent Judge and MP. Hare, a travel writer, gifted storyteller, indignant complainer, and semi-professional invalid, had a life more interesting than the title of his book would suggest. As a child he was given away by his parents to be adopted by his aunt, as casually as one would hand over a parcel. Throughout his life he was neglected, browbeaten, and misunderstood by those from whom he had a right to expect kindness and consideration. For example, certain foods made him ill. He was told that he was being singular and forced to eat them, then berated for being sick. Despite his delicate health and his selfish family, he travelled widely and became a writer with a superb ear for dialog, a deadpan delight in eccentricity, and a gift for telling the ghostly tale.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s