At a time when crime, and the fear of it features heavily on the national agenda, I came across a Court case in The Times dated 20th September 1856 which offers some remarkable parallels between crime today and crime, one hundred and fifty years ago. The other feature of the report is the unintentional humour!

THE EFFECT OF LITERARY GARBAGE - At the Sheffield Police Court on Thursday a fork-grinder named W.M'Dermott aged 17 years was charged on remand from the previous Tuesday, with attempting to shoot and rob Mr. B. Moxon, a cutler, resident at the village of Crookes near Sheffield. Mr Moxon was going home with his wife about half past 11 o'clock on Saturday night, and when passing along a newly-formed road leading into Leavy-greave, a suburb, was met by the prisoner who presented a pistol at his head demanding "Your money or your life - I'm hard up". Mrs Moxon, in great trepidation, implored her husband to give up his money, but the latter suddenly struck the fellows hand with his walkingstick. The pistol went off without doing any harm, and the prisoner immediately ran away pursued by Mr Moxon, who caught him on the Glossop-road and soundly belaboured him with the walking-stick. Prisoner escaped but was almost immediately recaptured and given in charge to a policeman.

When asked his trade, prisoner replied " What I've being doing tonight" and when requested to give up his "tools" produced from his trousers pocket a pistol, saying " This is the little boy that has done the job". He afterwards said he had committed the offence "for a living" and because he had "nothing to take to". The latter statement was subsequently found to be untrue (the prisoner having during the evening given his mother with whom he resides 9s as his earnings, and paid 2s 6d for the pistol besides 3d for powder and shot) and a very different cause for the daring act was assigned.

From a statement made by his brother, it appeared that the prisoner had recently been reading some literary garbage obtained at a circulating library purporting to narrate the adventures of "Claude Du Val", or the "Dashing Highwayman", and has been greatly excited by the "brilliant exploits" of the redoubtable Claude. The story so wrought upon his youthful imagination as to lead him to purchase powder, shot and pistol, and attempt to become a humble imitator of the fabulous highwayman. The prisoner had previously said sorry for the offence but smiled when the brother revealed the secret of his strange conduct, and appeared to rather to pride himself on what he had done.

He was committed to take his trial at the ensuing assizes at York.    

The same report appeared in the Reynolds's Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, September 28, 1856; Issue 320 under a different title "A Modern Highwayman"

An earlier report appeared in the Leeds Mercury dated 18th September 1856 provides additional information on the incident

Unfortunately I do not know "Claude Du Val's" ultimate fate - the records for York Assizes are not on-line and so a trip to the York Reference Library is necessary. However, the references to "Claude Du Val", or the "Dashing Highwayman" are actually true - there was a famous highwayman of that name who met a grisly end on 21st January 1670 at Tyburn (London) . 

Of course nowadays, Mr. Moxon would have been charged with using excessive force when confronting his attacker whilst young M'Dermott would be initiating a civil compensation case for the effects of the assault. In the meantime, the government would put an immediate ban on the said publication and talk, in worrying terms, about the damage such articles have on the lower orders. And of course, Mr. and Mrs. Moxon should have known better than to be in the West Street area at half past eleven on a Saturday night - these attacks still occur one hundred and fifty years later - 


Leeds Mercury dated 18th September 1856

The Times dated 20th September 1856

Reynolds's Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, September 28, 1856; Issue 320

Return To Main Homepage

This page was last updated on 26/07/10 12:21