Richard “Dick” Turpin was probably the most famous highwayman of the Georgian Era. He was born on the 21st September 1705, in Hempstead, Essex to John Turpin and Mary Elizabeth Parmenter. Following his execution on the 7th April 1739 aged in 33, his rebellious feats were romanticized although he was a murderer, thief, and convicted criminal.
His education was very brief. Following in his father’s footsteps, as a teenager, he became an apprentice butcher. At 20 years of age, he married Elizabeth Millington. In 1730 he opened his own butcher’s shop and began stealing sheep and cattle. When caught stealing oxen, he fled to Essex.
There he joined the infamous Gregory Gang, members included, but are not limited to: Thomas Barnfield, Mary Brazier, John Fielder, Jasper, Jeremy and Samuel Gregory, Herbert Haines, John Jones, James Parkinson, Joseph Rose, Thomas Rowden, Ned Rust, William Saunders, Humphry Walker, and John Wheeler.
The gang broke into farm houses and stole valuables, terrorizing the inhabitants by forcing them into giving up their valuables. In one famous story, they heard if an old widow who was said to keep around 700 pounds (an extraordinary amount of the time) in her house. After refusing to give them her money and valuables they hoisted her up above the burning fireplace and keep her there until she revealed the hiding place.
A confident Turpin frequently used torture as a method of getting what he wanted. He raped, tortured and robbed hundred of people including children, elderly and the feeble. In 1735 a reward of 50 pounds for the capture of the Gregory gang was announced. Eventually, two police officer arrested the gang, Turpin making a narrow escape by jumping out a window.
Turpin moved back near his hometown and collaborated with another famous highway made of the era “Captain” Tom King. They would hide in a cave that was unseen from the road and they’d jump out at unsuspecting passers-by, robbing them of all valuables.
After numerous robberies, everyone traveling on that route would carry a weapon. A 100 pound bounty was placed on his head.
Turpin once forced a man to swap his flashy horse for Turpin’s worn out a horse. The man who fell victim to the criminal duo put up flyers around the town of his horse. His horse was traced to a pub in Whitechapel, London.
When King went to retrieve the two horses, officers lay in wait for him. In a scuffle Turpin ended up accidentally shooting King instead of the officers, so he ran. As King lay dying he gave the officers enough info about Turpin for him to not show his face publicly for some time.
Turpin moved to Yorkshire under the name of John Palmer where he continued to steal chickens and sheep. one unsuccessful day ‘John’ decided to shoot one of his landlord roosters, and when the landlord confronted ‘Palmer’ he threatened to kill the landlord. He was taken into custody and authorities made an enquiry into how he earned his money. Whilst these enquiries were being made, allegations of his criminal activity came out.
Whilst these charges were serious Turpin was almost off the hook, but his undoing was not a criminal offence, but none other than a badly timed letter. He wrote a letter to his brother as King them to help give him a sort of alibi to save him. Turpin signed this letter “John Plamer”.
Regrettably, for Turpin, his brother didn’t want to pay the postage cost, which at the time was paid by the receiver, not the sender, and so the letter was returned to the post office. At the post office was his former school teacher, who immediately recognised the handwriting and took the letter to the magistrate. The letter was opened and the school teacher was sent to confirm Turpin’s identity.
Charged with two serious offences Turpin was sentenced to death and was hung on the 7th of April 1739. he was buried in the St George’s churchyard, York. His body was dug up by a labourer soon after his burial and his body was illegally dissected. He was reburied and the physician and labourer were heavily fined.
So the tales of the infamous outlaw Dick Turpin live on.