Outlaws and Highwaymen

James Maclaine’s arrest and execution, from Horace Walpole’s letters
The Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Mrs Paget Toynbee (Helen Toynbee), 16 vols, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1903–5), III, pp. 5–7, 13, 18, 20–21

August–October 1750

To Horace Mann, Strawberry Hill, Aug. 2, 1750.

I have been in town for a day or two, and heard no conversation but about M’Lean, a fashionable highwayman, who is just taken, and who robbed me among others; as Lord Eglinton, Sir Thomas Robinson of Vienna, Mrs. Talbot, &c.1 He took an odd booty from the Scotch Earl, a blunderbuss, which lies very formidably upon the justice’s table. He was taken by selling a laced waistcoat to a pawnbroker, who happened to carry it to the very man who had just sold the lace. His history is very particular, for he confesses everything, and is so little of a hero, that he cries and begs, and I believe, if Lord Eglinton had been in any luck, might have been robbed of his own blunderbuss. His father was an Irish Dean; his brother is a Calvinist minister in great esteem at the Hague. He himself was a grocer, but losing a wife that he loved extremely about two years ago, and by whom he has one little girl, he quitted his business with two hundred pounds in his pocket, which he soon spent, and then took to the road with only one companion, Plunket, a journeyman apothecary, my other friend, whom he has impeached, but who is not taken. M’Lean had a lodging in St. James’s Street, over against White’s, and another at Chelsea; Plunket one in Jermyn Street; and their faces are as known about St. James’s as any gentleman who lives in that quarter, and who perhaps goes upon the road too. M’Lean had a quarrel at Putney bowling-green two months ago with an officer, whom he challenged for disputing his rank; but the captain declined, till M’Lean should produce a certificate of his nobility, which he has just received. ... There was a wardrobe of clothes, three-and-twenty purses, and the celebrated blunderbuss found at his lodgings, besides a famous kept mistress. As I conclude he will suffer, and wish him no ill, I don’t care to have his idea, and am almost single in not having been to see him. Lord Mountford, at the head of half White’s, went the first day: his aunt was crying over him: as soon as they were withdrawn, she said to him, knowing they were of White’s, ‘My dear, what did the lords say to you? have you ever been concerned with any of them?’2 — Was it not admirable? what a favourable idea people must have of White’s! — and what if White’s should not deserve a much better! But the chief personages who have been to comfort and weep over this fallen hero are Lady Caroline Petersham and Miss Ashe: I call them Polly and Lucy, and asked them if he did not sing

Thus I stand like the Turk with his doxies around. 3


To Horace Mann, Arlington Street, Sept. 1, 1750.

My friend M’Lean is still the fashion: have I not reason to call him my friend? He says, if the pistol had shot me, he had another for himself. Can I do less than say I will be hanged if he is? They have made a print, a very dull one, of what I think I said to Lady Caroline Petersham about him,

Thus I stand like the Turk with his doxies around!


To Horace Mann, Arlington Street, Sept. 20, 1750

M’Lean is condemned, and will hang. I am honourably mentioned in a Grub ballad for not having contributed to his sentence.4 There are as many prints and pamphlets about him as about the earthquake. His profession grows no joke: I was sitting in my own dining-room on Sunday night, the clock had not struck eleven, when I heard a loud cry of ‘Stop thief!’ a highwayman had attacked a post-chaise in Piccadilly, within fifty yards of this house: the fellow was pursued, rode over the watchman, almost killed him, and escaped.


To Horace Mann, Arlington Street, Oct. 18, 1750.

Robbing is the only thing that goes on with any vivacity, though my friend Mr. M’Lean is hanged.5 The first Sunday after his condemnation, three thousand people went to see him; he fainted away twice with the heat of his cell. You can’t conceive the ridiculous rage there is of going to Newgate; and the prints that are published of the malefactors, and the memoirs of their lives and deaths set forth with as much parade as—as—Marshal Turenne’s—we have no generals worth making a parallel.

Horace Walpole


Notes and page design © Gillian Spraggs 2001, 2007
Text added to site on 20 October 2001 | Page last modified on 28 August 2007

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