16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books

Natasha sheldon - December 17, 2018

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
Photograph of St Eunan’s Cathedral, Raphoe, Co. Donegal, Ireland. Picture Credit: JohnArmagh. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

6. Philip Twysden: The Bishop turned Highwayman.

Philip Twysden was a member of a respectable Kent dynasty and the Bishop of Raphoe in Ireland. In 1752, he died mysteriously after being taken ill on Hounslow Heath. His family gave out the story that Bishop Twysden had died of an inflammation of the bowels. However, a rumor began to spread that the bishop had died of a pistol shot, acquired when he was out robbing passers-by on Hounslow Heath. According to nineteenth-century English writer and politician, Grantley Berkeley, Bishop Twysden was “found suspiciously out at night on Hounslow Heath and was most unquestionably shot through the body,” by none other than one of his own brother’s dinner guests, returning home!

Understandably, the Twysden family wanted to hush up such a shameful death. But why would a bishop be driven to highway robbery in the first place? Money troubles are the explanation given by Ronald and Christopher Hatton. The Twysden family fortunes were already on the wane because of the spendthrift habits of the bishop’s grandfather. The bishop’s father had attempted to mend the family fortunes. However, it was not enough to help Philip Twysden who, not long before his ignominious death, had been declared bankrupt after spending the family’s savings in London. Perhaps, like so many others, Bishop Philip Twysden saw highway robbery as a solution to his money troubles.

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
The execution of Robespierre and his supporters by guillotine. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

5. Nicolas Jacques Pelletier: The French Highwayman who was the first person executed by Guillotine.

In November 1791, Frenchman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier committed his last crime, a highway robbery in Paris. Pelletier and his gang waylaid a traveler along the Rue Bourbon-Villeneuve and robbed and murdered him. The crime was public, and locals quickly raised the hue and cry was quickly raised. Pelletier’s accomplices escaped. However, Pelletier was captured, tried and condemned to die – a sentence that was ratified by three separate courts. Pelletier’s punishment was due to be carried out on December 31, 1791. However, it was delayed because the newly appointed National Assembly was looking for a quick, clean method of execution applicable to rich and poor alike.

So, while Pelletier spent three months anticipating his execution, surgeon Antoine Louison oversaw the construction of the first guillotine in Strasburg. The official executioner, Sanson then tested the machine, using live animals before moving onto human corpses. On March 23, 1792, the National Assembly signed off the guillotine and on April 25, 1792, Pelletier became its first victim. A large crowd had assembled, curious to see what manner of death the ominous contraption set up on the scaffold could inflict. Sadly, it was less spectacular than they hoped. Pelletier was quickly despatched, immediately rousing several disappointed members of the crowd to call out “Give me back my wooden gallows,”

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
Dick Turpin. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

4. George Davenport: The Leicestershire Highwayman who cheated the Hangman.

When frame knitter George Davenport turned to a life of crime, he preferred to remain in his home county of Leicestershire rather than head for the bright lights of London. After cutting his teeth on fraud and deserting from 40 army regiments, Davenport joined the army properly and fought in the American war of Independence. However, once his army career was over, he returned home to Wigston and took to the roads of Leicestershire. Here, Davenport became something of a local hero as he was known to prey only on the wealthy and, like Robin Hood, shared some of his ill-gotten gains with the local poor.

No one would betray George Davenport- although Davenport himself often courted capture. One evening, he was drinking in an inn when he saw a poster offering a reward for his arrest. “I am George Davenport, catch me if you can” he announced to the astounded drinkers, hightailing it off the premises before anyone could follow. In August 1797, Davenport was finally captured and sentenced to hang at Red Hill Gallows. However, he had to have the last laugh. Hangmen could claim any of the possessions of the executed criminal found “outside the shroud”. So, to cheat the hangman of his due, Davenport went to his death wearing his shroud over his clothing.

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
Robert Snooks’ gravestone, Boxmoor, Hertfordshire, UK. Picture Credit: Rob Farrow. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

3. Robert Snooks: The Last Person in England Hanged for Highway Robbery

By the early nineteenth century, highway robbery began to die. However, some still tried their luck on the road- probably because if caught, offenders were more likely to be transported than hung. The last man executed for highway robbery was James Robber or RobertSnook, who met his end on March 11, 1802, on desolate Boxmoor Common in Hertfordshire. On May 10, 1801, Snook stole six leather bags of letters and bank and promissory notes from the mail coach. Theft of the post was a serious offense because it threatened the commercial interests to the country.” Sothe Postmaster General added a £200 reward to the standard £100 offered by the Parliament for the apprehension of highwaymen.

It was a broken saddle girth left behind at the scene of the crime that several people had seen Snook trying to mend earlier that day, that identified Snook as the thief. He was captured during another robbery, and convicted because he used one of the stolen banknotes to purchase some cloth. Snook was sentenced to hang. He met his end bravely. While taking his final drink at a local pub, he joked with spectators hurrying to see him die “Its no good hurrying-they can’t start the fun until I get there.”

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
Picture of a highwayman. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

2. Michael Martin aka Captain Lightfoot, The Last New England Highwayman

In 1816, twenty-year-old Michael Martin of Conahy, County Kilkenny had a chance encounter that changed his life. Martin met a man he thought was an Anglican vicar in a pub. The pair got drunk together and the vicarcoaxed Martins life story from him. The next morning, the vicar revealed himself to be none other than John Doherty, aka Captain Thunderbolt, Ireland’s most famous highwayman. Doherty was impressed by Martin’s exploits and his apparent resourcefulness and offered to take the young man under his wing. So Martin adopted the name “Captain Lightfoot” and took to the road with Doherty.

However, after three years there was nowhere left to hide. In 1819, the pair separated, and Martin boarded a ship for a new life in America. Martin tried to turn over a new leaf. However, when he found himself in debt, Captain Lightfoot returned to the road. Lightfoot’s enjoyed many American adventures, including escaping with his life from twenty Native American braves after he robbed their chief. He even reset his own dislocated his shoulder in a barn using his cravat and suspender while fleeing a mob after his final robbery in Medway. However, on this occasion, he was caught and in December 1821 became the last man to hang for highway robbery in New England.

16 Highway Robbers So Bad They Made it Into the History Books
Wood engraving of Australian bushranger Dan Morgan by Samuel Calvert, 1864. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

1. ‘Mad’ Dan Morgan: The Unstable Australian Bushranger who held up landlords and helped their employees.

“Bushrangers” were the highway robbers of the Australian outback and Mad Dan Morgan was one of the most notorious. In 1860, Morgan absconding from a ticket of leave after being released early from a twelve-year sentence for highway robbery. He headed into the bush and began work as a station hand. However, Morgan just couldn’t stick at honest work. In August 1860, he stole a horse from his employers and escaped into western New South Wales where he began his criminal career in earnest, robbing bush stations and coaches.

By 1864, Morgan had a £1000 price on his head for the murders of Henry Baylis, a police magistrate, police Sergeant, David Maginnity and overseer John Mclean. However, Morgans victims were usually exploitative landowners. Morgan delighted in forcing them to make amends to their workers. However, he was also erratic and unstable, and just as likely to kill his victims on a whim as he was to toy with them. It was this behavior that earned him the name “Mad Dan”. Mad Dans reign of terror ended in 1865 when he was shot from behind while fleeing a botched robbery at the Peechelba Station near Wangaratta, Victoria. After his death, ghoulish souvenir hunters harvested his characteristic long black locks and beard.


Where Do We Get This Stuff? Here are our Sources:

Juraj Jánošík, Legendary Slovak Thief Turned Hero, Lucia F, Slavorum

Juraj Janosik, Dr.Jana Kurucárová, tikzilina.eu

1652: Captian James Hind, Royalist Highwaymen, Headsman, Executed today, September 24, 2008

The Newgate Calendar, Vol 1, Ed. Donal Ó Danachair, Ex-Classics project, 2009

The Newgate Calendar: Comprising Interesting Memoirs of the Most Notorious Characters Who Have Been Convicted of Outrages on the Laws of England Since the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century; with Occasional Anecdotes and Observations, Speeches, Confessions, and Last Exclamations of Sufferers, Volume2, Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, J Robins and Company, 1825

The Annual register, Longmans, Green, 1800

The Little Book of Leicestershire, Natasha Sheldon, The History Press, 2017

Joan Philips, Highwaywoman, West Bridgeford and District Local History Society.

Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past, John Higgs, Hachette UK, 2017

Notes on the Family of Twysden and Twisden, By Ronald G. Hatton, C.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S., and the Rev. Christopher H. Hatton, O.S.B., Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 58 – 1945 page 46. Kent Archaeological Society.

Highwaymen: capture and punishment, The Gazette: Official Public Record.

Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, Wikipedia.

The Guillotine’s First Cut, Christopher Klein, History, April 25, 2012

Robert Snooks, Wikimedia Commons.

Snook’s Grave, Boxmoor Common, Hertfordshire, Paul Grantham, The Granthams, February 17, 2004

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, the highwaymen who raised hell in New England, Eoin Butler, The Irish Times, January 28, 2017

Lightfoot and Thunderbolt – The Last New England Highwaymen, The New England Historical Society.

Morgan, Daniel (Dan) (1830-1865), John McQuilton, Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2005

Morgan the Bushranger, The Argus. Melbourne. 14 April 1865. p. 6. via National Library of Australia, 2012

Mary Frith, 17th-Century London’s Smoking, Thieving, Foul-Mouthed “Roaring Girl”, Mental Floss, October 31, 2018