By the time that this £200 information-bounty over his head was announced, Turpin had based himself in Lincolnshire, a largely rural county in the north of England. The Artist Formerly Known As Dick Turpin, Violent Highwayman and Robber Extraordinaire, was now simply John Palmer, ‘horse-dealer’. We know of Turpin’s activities as John Palmer from evidence given at his trial (see below). One of the chief witnesses was William Harris, innkeeper of the Ferry Inn at Brough and Turpin’s occasional landlord, on the Yorkshire side of the Humber Estuary, who gave the following account of Turpin’s time in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
‘One John Palmer came to this informant’s house in Brough aforesaid and boarded with this informant at Brough four or five months and during this time went from this examinant’s house over the water into the county of Lincoln at divers times and the said times returned to this informant’s house att Brough aforesaid with severall horses at a time which he sold and disposed of to divers persons in the county of York… the said John Palmer told this informant that he lived at Long Sutton with his father and that his sister kept his father’s house there’.
As you’ve probably guessed, Turpin/ Palmer was stealing the horses to sell in Yorkshire. Although it is tempting to see Harris as incredibly gullible, given the circulation of physical descriptions of Turpin and his notoriety, it seems that information from the South East had not reached Yorkshire. Dealing in horses meant that he rubbed shoulders with the gentry and Turpin, apparently, ‘often went out a hunting and shooting with several gentlemen of the neighbourhood’. This is perhaps the only humorous side to Turpin’s real story: a criminal hobnobbing with the gentry shows the absurdity of the 18th-century’s rigid class distinctions.
We know of several horse thefts Turpin committed in Lincolnshire. In July 1737, Turpin stole a horse, rode it to Hempstead to visit his family, and left it there, leading to his father’s arrest for horse theft. He then stole a mare, foal, and gelding in August from one Thomas Creasy, selling the former two and keeping the gelding for himself. Legal records also suggest that Turpin was arrested for sheep-stealing around this time, but escaped, possibly with the aid of Creasy’s horses. It was for the theft of Creasy’s livestock that John Palmer was eventually tried and convicted.