Jail Breakers

10 February 1722   Last Wednesday the Keepers of Newgate had notice given them, that the four malefactors ordered for execution the next day had resolved to attempt an escape when they were to be carried out of the Condemn’d Hold to Chapel at 3 in the afternoon, and that their friends had accordingly provided them with loaded pistols, and proper instruments for cutting off their irons. Search being made, the pistols were found, and as the officers were conducting them up to the Chapel, Jonas Burgess, with a penknife (which he had concealed) cut his own throat very dangerously, insomuch that ’tis believed he could not live to be executed; he was removed to a place called the Castle, and two persons were to attend him that night. The night before Colthurst, another of the criminals, took a large quantity of opium to destroy himself, but it had not the desired effect. ( Weekly Journal or Saturday’s-Post)

24 February 1722   Benjamin Child, the reputed highwayman, who stands charg’d with robbing the Bristol Mail, and was brought up from Salisbury to Newgate, did on Saturday last, about 7 at night, attempt an escape out of the Press-yard in the said Goal; who having first saw’d off his irons very artificially, (in which operation he owns he had spent about three days) and having afterwards dress’d himself in a woman’s apparel, painted his eye-brows, and otherwise disguised his face, was, upon his ringing the bell, let out; but happening to exceed in his complements and curt’sies to the Turnkey, he was discover’d, and his journey stop for that time, and, as ’tis believ’d, for ever after. (Weekly Journal or Saturday’s-Post) (Child had exchanged clothes with his mother when she visited him.)

4 September 1725   On Monday at the Old Baily . . . about 3 or 4 a clock in the evening, during the hurry of the Sessions, 12 convicts that lay for transportation, and two others that lay for fines, found an opportunity to cut the chain that fasten’d the main door on the common side of Newgate, and to make their escape, the lock and keys having been sent to be mended above 10 days before; and if the lower door had not been immediately secured, many more would have escap’d, and had a gaol delivery their own way. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

18 September 1725   Maidstone, Sept. 9. On Monday last in the afternoon, about seven of the convict felons in our gaol, who lye for transportation, began a riot in the following manner. A scheme having been laid some time before, and an association drawn up by Matthias Cater, formerly servant to the Earl of

Suffolk, he obtain’d leave to go up stairs to dine with Mrs. Horne, his fellow-convict; and being conducted down again by the Keeper and his Deputy, as the latter open’d the door for him, he was assaulted and pull’d into the gaol by the felons, who lock’d him up; and afterwards attack’d the Head Keeper, to get the key of the outer door from him; but he, with great presence of mind, instantly threw the key out of a window into the street, and getting up a few steps, turn’d a folding door down upon them, and by that means secur’d them and himself. They then set their matts on fire, and threaten’d to burn the gaol; but an engine being brought, that blaze was soon extinguished. However, they still continued in defiance, till one of the Keeper’s Assistants happening to fire a pistol with a brace of bullets in it, through the grate, shot Cater in the side, both bullets lodging in his body. The rest seeing their champion fall, soon yielded. Cater dy’d the next morning. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

16 October 1725   York, Oct. 4. The felons convict, who are order’d for transportation, to the number of 40, and confin’d in the Castle, made an attempt to break the gaol; which, not being able to accomplish, they fortify’d themselves in a strong room, and defy’d the Gaoler and all his possee; upon which he sent to the Lord Mayor, who got a File of Musqueteers to assist him; they endeavour’d to break in with their drawn swords, but a shower of stones came that oblig’d ’em to stand further off, and one of the soldiers had his eye beat out: Upon which they charg’d their musquets with small shot, and fir’d upon ’em thro’ several holes made in the door, and wounded some of them, and then they surrender’d immediately. They complain, that the Gaoler is the occasion of this by starving them, not giving their due allowance of victuals. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

27 April 1732
Saturday, April 22.   Yesterday about 4 o’ clock one Brown, under the custody of the Keeper of Bridewell, for taking up butter, &c. by counterfeit notes, and a bill being found against him at Hick’s Hall, upon his return coming into Clerkenwell Church-yard, and enquiring for Mr. Stevens, then supposed to be making the grave, under pretence of asking charity, drew the Keeper’s servant to the side of the grave, dug upwards of 8 foot deep, threw him headlong on the back of the grave-digger’s deputy; and almost broke his back, and so made his escape. C. (Grub-street Journal)

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Jail Breakers", 18 March 2002, updated 5 June 2007 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/escapes.htm>

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