Among the most famous highwaymen in the history of Europe, is Richard Turpin. Born in the year 1705, Turpin came from the family of a butcher. He became a criminal later on in life, stealing horses, robbing people on their travels and even committing murder. In the early 1730s, Turpin had a gang of thieves who used to help each other in accomplishing their missions. He remained a disturber of the peace in England, until his execution in York, 1739.
Turpin’s Early Life
In the early life of Turpin, he was a promising and intelligent boy. James Smith, the village postmaster, as well the schoolmaster, was the person who taught Turpin to read, write and ride horses. It seems that his father had some connections with the smugglers at the East Anglia coast, where he used to purchase ale. It’s possible that his father introduced him to the criminal way of life during his young age.
At the age of sixteen years, Turpin started working with a butcher in the district of Whitechapel in London. During his stay here, many people thought the boy was not in the right career. He conducted himself in a disorderly manner. In 1928, he married Elizabeth Millington, moved to the north and opened his own butcher’s shop in Buckhurst Hill.
His Criminal Life
In the early 1730s, Turpin joined the Essex gang that comprised of deer thieves. During these years, deer stealing was deemed a violent act, and those caught in the act faced trials in “justice of the peace.”
Historians tell us that the Essex gang, needed contacts to help them sell the stolen deer. The group consisted of Samuel Gregory, Jasper, Jeremiah, Joseph Rose, John Jones, John Wheeler, Mary Brazier, and Thomas Rowden. Most of the members came from the same family.
By joining the group, Turpin began gaining a large amount of money, which convinced him to change his career, making crime a more frequent option.
He went on to become the lord of public houses, such as the crown and Rose located in Clay Hill. By this time, Dick Turpin was well cemented as part of the Essex gang.
Authorities captured most of the gang members by 1734, as the gang was still striking and steeling from families and farms.
In 1736, Turpin led the group to Croydon armed with pistols, with another four members of the Essex gang. A series of other attacks followed, making Turpin the most feared man of his day. Turpin lived in Whitechapel while the group operated within the city of London.
Life as a Highwayman
After the authorities destroyed the Essex gang, Turpin turned his attention to becoming a highwayman. It wasn’t his first time as a highwayman though, as he and other members of the Essex gang participated in the act quite often in the early 1730s.
For him to succeed in his mission, Turpin combined forces with known highwaymen, Matthew King, known as Tom king, alongside Stephen Potter. The three formed a strong force conducting serious robberies between March and April of 1737. These attacks ended at Whitechapel when King stole a horse belonging to Joseph Major. After reporting the matter to Richard Bayes, the lord tracked the horses and found them at the Red Lion.
It was in this incident that Matthew King received severe injuries that later resulted in his death, on the 19th of May the same year. That marked the end of the trio. Later that year, the officers caught Potter, but they lacked evidence against the smuggler. As a result, the court released him.
After the incident, Turpin was a lone survivor, and the only dangerous highwayman left in the city. The day that King died, Turpin narrowly escaped his arrest when Thomas Morris saw him in Epping Forest. He then killed the forest keeper to ensure his escape.
On 6th and 7th of May 1737, Turpin engages in two more highway robberies around Epping. After the Killing of Morris, the authorities offered a bounty of 200 pounds on anyone who captures Turpin.
Life as John Palmer
After escaping arrest and years of theft, Turpin rented at Ferry Inn taking the name of John Palmer. Here, he worked as a horse trader alongside several other men. On 2nd of October 1738, he threatened to kill John Robinson. After Justice George Crowle, Marmaduke Constable and Hugh Bethell charged him guilty of the incident, but Turpin refused to pay the fine. As a result he was taken to Beverely jail.
It’s at this moment that questions started to arise regarding Turpin’s source of capital. Several people, including the three justices and lord Delamere, confirmed that Turpin engaged in several acts of theft. After refusing the accusations, they transferred him to York Castle.
The court later dropped the charges against him on 5th of March 1739.
Turpin went on to steal three horses belonging to Thomas Creasy. These are the horses that see him tried and executed.
Trial and Execution of Dick Turpin
After the tracking of the three horses, the authorities found Mr. Turpin guilty and arrested him at Grand July house for horse-rustling. During this day, the punishment for stealing horses was the death penalty. His father tried to plea for waiver of the sentence, but no one was there to save his son.
Turpin sent a letter to his brother in law, but he didn’t recognize the pseudonym Turpin has used in the letter. The letter was returned to the postmaster who, by chance, taught Turpin as a boy and recognized his writing. He then informed the local authorities, that their prisoner was the infamous Richard Turpin, not John Palmer.
The authorities allowed Turpin to enjoy a peaceful death with dignity. As a result, Turpin used his last money buying new clothes. He also hired ten mourners paying each of them 10 shillings. On 7th of April 1739, Turpin rode in an open cart through the streets of York. He later addressed the crowd for half an hour by entertaining them at York Knavesmire. After the execution by Thomas Hadfield, they buried him in a churchyard belonging to St Georges Church of York.