Outlaws and Highwaymen

Passage from Daniel Defoe’s A Tour through England and Wales
Daniel Defoe, A Tour through England and Wales, intr. G. D. H. Cole, 2 vols, Everyman’s Library (London, J. M. Dent, [1928]), I, pp. 103–105 [Text follows that of first edition]


From Gravesend we see nothing remarkable on the road but Gad’s-hill, a noted place for robbing of sea-men after they have receiv’d their pay at Chatham. Here it was that famous robbery was commited in the year 1676 or thereabouts; it was about four a clock in the morning when a gentleman was robb’d by one Nicks on a bay mare, just on the declining part of the hill, on the west-side, for he swore to the spot and to the man; Mr. Nicks who robb’d him, came away to Gravesend, immediately ferry’d over, and, as he said, was stopp’d by the difficulty of the boat, and of the passage, near an hour; which was a great discouragement to him, but was a kind of bait to his horse:1 From thence he rode cross the county of Essex, thro’ Tilbury, Hornden, and Bilerecay to Chelmsford: Here he stopp’d about half an hour to refresh his horse, and gave him some balls; from thence to Braintre, Bocking, Wethersfield; then over the downs to Cambridge, and from thence keeping still the cross roads, he went by Fenny Stanton to Godmanchester, and Huntington, where he baited himself and his mare about an hour;2 and, as he said himself, slept about half an hour, then holding on the North Road, and keeping a full larger gallop most of the way, he came to York the same afternoon, put off his boots and riding cloaths, and went dress’d as if he had been an inhabitant of the place, not a traveller, to the bowling-green, where, among other gentlemen, was the lord mayor of the city; he singling out his lordship, study’d to do something particular that the mayor might remember him by, and accordingly lays some odd bett with him concerning the bowls then running, which should cause the mayor to remember it the more particularly; and then takes occasion to ask his lordship what a clock it was; who, pulling out his watch, told him the hour, which was a quarter before, or a quarter after eight at night.

Some other circumstances, it seems, he carefully brought into their discourse, which should make the lord mayor remember the day of the month exactly, as well as the hour of the day.

Upon a prosecution which happen’d afterwards for this robbery, the whole merit of the case turn’d upon this single point: The person robb’d swore as above to the man, to the place, and to the time, in which the fact was committed: Namely, that he was robb’d on Gad’s-Hill in Kent, on such a day, and at such a time of day, and on such a part of the hill, and that the prisoner at the bar was the man that robb’d him: Nicks, the prisoner, deny’d the fact, call’d several persons to his reputation, alledg’d that he was as far off as Yorkshire at that time, and that particularly the day whereon the prosecutor swore he was robb’d, he was at bowles on the publick green in the city of York; and to support this, he produced the Lord Mayor of York to testify that he was so, and that the mayor acted so and so with him there as above.

This was so positive, and so well attested, that the jury acquitted him on a bare supposition, that it was impossible the man could be at two places so remote on one and the same day. There are more particulars related of this story, such as I do not take upon me to affirm; namely, That King Charles II. prevailed on him on assurance of pardon, and that he should not be brought into any farther trouble about it, to confess the truth to him privately, and that he own’d to his majesty that he commited the robbery, and how he rode the journey after it, and that upon this the king gave him the name or title of Swift Nicks, instead of Nicks; but these things, I say, I do not relate as certain ...3

Daniel Defoe


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