Jack Sheppard, Jail-Breaker

Saturday 25 July 1724   Yesterday one Shepheard, a notorious house-breaker, who lately made his escape from New-Prison, and had impeach’d his own brother, was committed to Newgate, having been re-taken by Jonathan Wild; he is charged with several burglaries, &c. (The Daily Journal)

14 August 1724   [Sheppard is convicted of burglary.]

Tuesday 1 September 1724   Yesterday . . . a most surprising accident happen’d at Newgate, which is as followeth, viz. John Sheppard, the malefactor afore-mention’d, finding himself order’d for execution, and being provided of saws, files, and other implements, found an opportunitiy to cut off one of the great iron spikes over the door of the Condemn’d Hold, (at which the prisoners usually converse with their friends) and being of a very slender body, got himself thro’ into the Lodge, and from thence into the street, and so escap’d, assisted by his wife and another woman, several persons being in the Lodge at the same time, at a table engag’d in a deep discourse concerning his dexterity, in his formerly escaping from New-Prison; he went off in his irons, which were hid by a night-gown, and he is suppos’d to have immediately taken coach, the other condemn’d prisoners intended to follow his example, but were prevented by a timely discovery. This misfortune falls the more heavy upon the Officers of this Prison, by reason they are esteen’d the most careful, vigilant, and, at the same time, the most human and Gentlemen-like of any in the Kingdom. (The Daily Journal)

Wednesday 2 September 1724   We are certainly inform’d, that John Sheppard went off by water, at between seven and eight on Monday night last, at Black-Fryers-Stairs; the Waterman saw his irons under his night-gown, and was much terrified thereat. He landed him at the Horse-Ferry at Westminster, and for which he rewarded him with seven pence. (The Daily Journal)

I thank you for the favour you intended me this day: I am a Gentleman, and allow you to be the same, and I hope can forgive injuries; fond Nature pointed, I follow’d, Oh, propitious minute! and to show that I am in charity, I am now drinking your health, and a Bon Repo to poor Joseph and Anthony. I am gone a few days for the air, but design speedily to embark, and this night I am going upon a mansion for a supply; it’s a stout fortification, but what difficulties can’t I encounter, when, dear Jack, you find that bars and chains are but trifling obstacles in the way of your Friend and Servant
From my residence in Terra Australies incognito.
     P.S. Pray my service to Mr. Ordi[nar]y [i.e. the Chaplain of Newgate Prison] and Mr App[le]bee [the publisher of criminal biographies].
The Daily Journal)
[*"Jack Ketch" is the generic term for the hangman]

Sunday 4 September 1724   [Joseph Ward and Anthony Upton were executed on this day. Sheppard had been destined to accompany them to the scaffold.]

Friday 11 September 1724   Yesterday, about noon, John Sheppard, the malefactor, who made his excape from the Condemn’d Hold of Newgate, on Monday the 31st of August, was apprehended and taken, by the Officers and Turnkeys of that Prison, at the town of Finchley, near Highgate, in company with one William Page, an apprentice to a butcher in Clare-Market: The last patiently surrender’d, and Shepard took to the hedges, where being closely pursued and discover’d, and pistols presented to his head, he begg’d them, for God’s sake, not to shoot him on the spot, trembled, was in great agony, and submitted. There were found upon him two silver watches, a large knife, and a chisel, and a knife only upon his companion; they were both disguised in butchers blue frocks, and woollen aprons. Being brought to town, Sheppard was immediately caried to Newgate, loaded with heavy irons, and put into the Condemn’d-Hold, and chain’d. William Page was carried before Sir Francis Forbes, examined, and committed to Newgate, with orders to be doubled iron’d, and to be kept from Sheppard, and he was accordingly put into the Castle, and his friends are not permitted to see him.
     In the evening a Divine and several Gentlemen went into the condemn’d Hold to Sheppard, who seem’d compos’d and chearful, and acknowledg’d the manner of his escape, viz. That having got out of the condemn’d Hold he took coach at the corner of the Old-Bailey, (along with a person, whom he refus’d to name) went to Black-Fryers-Stairs, and from thence by water to the Horse-Ferry, at Westminster, and came in the niddle of the night to Clare-Market, where he met his companion, and there disguis’d themselves in the manner above-mention’d. From thence rambled to a relation of Page’s, within seven miles of Northampton, where they were entertain’d a few days, and growing uneasy at their not being able to make satisfation for their board, returned towards London. He has hinted in dark terms, that he hath committed robberies since his escape, and denies that he was ever married to the woman who assisted him therein, and who is now in the Compter for the same, declaring that he found her a common strumpet in Drury-Lane, and that she hath been the cause of all his misfortunes and misery; he takes great pains to excuse his companion Page of being any ways privy to his crimes, whom he says only generously accompanied him after his escape; he hath promised to clear his conscience as this day, and to be more particular in his confessions, as entertaining no hopes of life.
     This morning a Gentleman goes to Windsor to procure an order or warrant for his speedy execution, and ’tis thought that the same will be on Monday next. (The Daily Journal)

Monday 14 September 1724   Sheppard . . . is visited by the Reverend Mr Wagstaff and the Reverend Mr Hawkins in the Condemn’d-Hold; and yesterday he was carried up to the Chapel in Newgate, for the first time, since his being retaken, where was a very great concourse of people to see him. He hath confess’d, that on Teusday the 8th instant, two days before he was taken, he came from Finchly into Bishopsgate-street, and drank at several publick houses; and in the evening came into Smithfield, went thro’ Christ’s Hospital, and pick’d two people’s pockets in the Cloysters, and from thence pass’d under Newgate, down the Old-Bailey, and into Fleet-street; where taking notice of Mr Martin’s, a watchmaker’s shop, against St Bride’s Church, and only a little boy to look after it, he meditated to robb the same, and perfected his villainous design in the manner following, viz. He first fix’d a nail-piercer into the post of the door, next fasten’d the knocker thereto with a packthread, and then cut out a pane of glass, and took three silver watches out of the shop window; the boy seeing him take the watches, but could not get out to pursue him, by reason of his subtle contrivance; one whereof he pawn’d for a guinea and an half, and the two others were taken upon him at Finchly. He denies that his fellow-traveller Page was privy to this robbery; but if we are rightly instructed, Mr Page was accompanying him all that night, and was aiding and assisting in this fact; and, just before it was executed, came into the shop, and ask’d the boy some trifling questions, the better to observe the inside, &c. This, with some other circusmtances, will, as we are told, be prov’d against Page: if so, in all probability he may accompany his friend Sheppard (according to our witty brother) in his Cart and Two.
     On Saturday night the Keepers found a small file conceal’d in a Bible, which was lent him for his preparations. (The Daily Journal)

Thursday 17 September 1724   Yesterday morning the Keepers of Newgate, going into the Condemn’d-Hold to Sheppard, found two files, a chissel, and a hammer, hid in the bottom of a matter chair, with which he had begun to file his irons, who when he perceiv’d his last effort to escape thus discovered and frustrated, his wicked and obdurate heart began to relent, and he shed abundance of tears; he was carried up to an apartment call’d the Castle, in the body of the Goal, a place of equal, if not superiour strength to the Condemn’d-Hold, and there chain’d down to the floor. (The Daily Journal)

21 September 1724   [Sheppard confesses that he and Blueskin were the ones who robbed Mr Pargiter on Hampstead Road on 20th July, for which Francis and Benjamin Brightwell were tried and acquitted] — the weight of which charge sate so heavy upon the spirits of the first [i.e. Francis Brightwell], that it broke his heart, and he died in a week after the trial. (The Daily Journal)

22 September 1724   We are now assured, that it must be proved in a regular and judicial way, that he [i.e. Sheppard] is the same person who was so convicted, and escaped, before a fresh order can be made for his execution [so Sheppard is to be tried again at the next Sessions]. (The Daily Journal)

3 Ottober 1724   [Joseph Blake, alias Blueskin, with two others, is apprehended by Jonathan Wild and taken to Newgate.] (The Daily Journal)

Monday 5 October 1724   [Blueskin is committed to Newgate], being charged upon the oath of William Field, a noted evidence [his accomplice in robbing Mr Kneebone]. This Blewskin was formerly himself an evidence against Junks alias Levee, Flood, and Oakey, who were executed at Tyburn for robbing the Honourable William Yonge, Esq and Colonel Cope near Hamstead. (The Daily Journal)

10 October 1724   [Sheppard’s brother is transported to the Plantations. Sheppard makes repeated attempts to escape during the month.]


15 October 1724   [Jonathan Wild attended the Sessions to give evidence against Blueskin, whereupon Blueskin ...] with a small clasp knife cut his throat even to the windpipe in a very dangerous manner, and afterwards rejoyced, saying, he should be hang’d with pleasure if Wild did but die before him. (The Daily Journal)

Saturday 17 October 1724   On Wednesday last the Sessions began at the Old-Baily, when Joseph Blake, alias Blueskin (lately taken by Mr Jonathan Wild, and charged as an accomplice of Shephard, in the felony, for which he was condemn’d) was, among others, brought down from Newgate to the Old-Baily to be arraign’d, who, as he was talking with Mr Wild in the Yard, just under the leads of the Court, he, on a sudden, took out of his pocket a little knife, and catching hold of Jonathan round the neck, attempted to cut his throat, and had it not been for a thick muslin stock that stopp’d and blunted the knife, it is thought he had done it before the Turnkey could turn himself about to take him off; he wounded him much, but happily missed his windpipe, but the wound being sow’d up, and able surgeons attending him, it is not doubted but that he will do again: The desperate villain triumphed afterwards in what he had done, lamented that he had not done it more effectual, and bitterly swore that then he should have died with satisfaction; nay, he wished he could have cut off his head, and thrown it over the wall into the Yard among the rable [sic]; so that honest Jonathan stands a fine chance among those rogues. (The Weekly Journal or Saturday’s-Post)

17 October 1724   [Sheppard makes yet another escape from Newgate.]

29 October 1724   [Sheppard’s mother goes to St James’s Palace] to beg a pardon for her unfortunate son. (The Daily Journal)

Friday 30 October 1724
John Sheppard’s LETTER to Joseph Blake, alias Blewskin, under sentence of death in Newgate.
Dear Joe,
I would come and give thee an Act of Grace, if I thought thee worthy. I am living, thou art dying, and Jonathan recovers; curse on thy little dull clasp knife; must I be plagu’d to finish what you so clumsily begun? had I wrought with such impliments? well, comfort thy self, a couple of kicks, a shrug, a wry neck, and a piss’d pair of breeches will make thee snug and easy. But if thou art still a man, show thyself such, step forth, bilk the prigs, and return to thy confederate and dear friend,
     John Sheppard.
(The Daily Journal)

2 November 1724   [Sheppard is captured.]

3 November 1724   Yesterday several Noblemen and persons of distinction went to Newgate to see the famous John Sheppard. ... Two persons are appointed to watch him night and day. (The Daily Journal)

4 November 1724

Eronania or the heinous Crime of Self-Defilement ... On this crime in single persons, married, widowers, women-haters, or Molles. ... Of a certain person of quality who made his servant privy to this crime, and cut his tongue out that he shou’d not tell. ... Also, The History of the surprizing Life and Adventures of John Sheppard, and A Print of John Sheppard, with his Fetlocks and Handcuffs on, chain’d to the Floor in the Castle.
(The Daily Journal)

10 November 1724   Yesterday petitions were deliver’d to several of the Nobility, on the behalf of John Sheppard the famous thief, house-breaker, and goal-breaker [sic], beseeching them to intercede with his Majesty for his being transported beyond sea. (The Daily Journal)

Wednesday 11 November 1724   Yesterday morning, between ten and eleven, the notorious John Sheppard was convey’d in a hackney-coach from Newgate to Westminster, being handcuff’d and fetter’d, and guarded by a great number of Constables, &c. from Temple-Bar. In Westminster-Hall, his handcuffs were taken off; and being brought before the Court of King’s-Bench, the Record of his conviction for burglary and felony at the Sessions in the Old-Baily, was read, and he making no objections, Mr Attorney-General mov’d that his execution might be speedy, and a Rule of Court made for Friday next. Sheppard address’d himself to the Bench, earnestly beseeching the Judges to intercede with his Majesty for mercy, and desired a copy of a petition he had sent to the King, might be read, which was comply’d with; but being ask’d how he came to repeat his crimes after his escapes, pleaded youth and ignorance, and withal his necessities; saying he was afraid of every child and dog that look’d at him, as being closely pursued; and had no opportunity to obtain his bread in an honest way, and had fully determin’d to have left the Kingdom the Monday after he was retaken in Drury-Lane: He was told, the only thing to entitle him to his Majesty’s Clemency, would be his making an ingenious discovery of those who abetted and assisted him in his last escape; he averr’d, that he had not the least assistance from any persons, but God Almighty, and that he had alrdady named all his accomplices in robberies, who were either in custody or beyond sea, whither he would be glad to be sent himself. He was reprimanded for prophaning the name of God. Mr Justice Powis, after taking notice of the number and heinousness of his crimes, and giving him admonitions suitable to his sad circumstances, awarded sentence of death against him, and a Rule of Court was order’d for his execution on Monday next. He told the Court, that if they would let his handcuffs be put on, he, by his art, would take them off before their faces. He was remanded back to Newgate, thro’ the most numerous crowds of people that ever was seen in London; and Westminster-Hall has not been so crowded in the memory of man. A Constable who attended, had his leg broke; and many other persons were hurt and wounded at Westminster-Hall Gate. (The Daily Journal)

9 November 1724   (Blueskin is executed.)

Friday 13 November 1724   The Constables and Headboroughs of the Liberty of Westminster, &c. have orders to be out to preserve the peace on Monday next, when Sheppard is to be executed; and the Sheriffs have also order’d an extraordinary number of their officers to guard him to Tyburn, he is to be carried thither in his handcuffs and fetters.
     Last night the body of Joseph Blake alias Blueskin, was buried from Chick-lane at St Andrew’s Parish in Holborn. (The Daily Journal)

Saturday 14 November 1724   Yesterday morning an eminent painter came into the Condemn’d Hold, and took a draught [i.e. drawing] of the famous John Sheppard. (The Daily Journal)

Tuesday 17 November 1724   Yesterday morning, about nine of the clock, the famous John Sheppard was carried up from the Condemn’d Hold to the Chapel in Newgate, where having heard prayers and received the Holy Sacrament, he was brought down again to the Press-Yard between ten and eleven, when Mr Watson came in the name of the sheriffs to demand his body; Mr Perry and Mr Reuse, after taking the proper receipt, deliver’d the same: Mr Watson told the prisoner, that he must put him on a pair of handcuffs for his security; he vehemently resisted the same, flying into the greatest passion, and endeavour’d to beat the Officers; upon searching him, they found a penknife conceal’d about his cloaths, with which ’tis apprehended, he design’d to have cut the ropes, and attempted to escape out of the car; never was such a concourse of people ever seen in Holborn, and the places leading to Tyburn. When he arrived at the Tree, he sent for Mr Applebee, a printer, into the cart, and in the view of several thousands of people, deliver’d to him a printed pamphlet, Entitled, a Narrative of all the Robberies and Escapes of John Sheppard, giving an exact Description of all his Robberies and Escapes, together with the wonderful Manner of his Escape from the Castle in Newgate, and of the Methods he took afterward for his Scurity, &c. which he desired might be forthwith printed and publish’d.
     N.B. The said Narrative is now publish’d by John Applebee, Printer, in Black-Fryers; and sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster. (The Daily Journal)

5 December 1724   On Saturday last, ... at the Theatre in Drury-Lane, was a new entertainment call’d Harlequin Shepherd, which was dismiss’d with a universal hiss. — And, indeed, if Shepherd had been as wretched, and as silly a rogue in the world, as the ingenious and witty Managers have made him upon the stage, the lower gentry, who attended him to Tyburn, wou’d never have pittied him when he was hang’d. (The Weekly Journal or Saturday’s-Post).

10 December 1724   [Page is convicted of robbery to the value of 4s. and 10d. and assisting Sheppard. Catherine Manone was fined six Nobles and ordered four months’ imprisonment for receiving stolen goods from Sheppard. Elizabeth Lyon, alias Sheppard, alias Edgeworth Bess ...) who had been many weeks confined in the Compter for assisting him in his escape ... was discharg’d without bail. (The Daily Journal)

20 February 1725   Monday about 5 in the evening, the well-known Mr. Jon. Wild was taken up at his house in the Old-Baily, and being caried before Sir John Fryar, was by him committed to Newgate. The particulars of his accusation are as yet uncertain, but we hear that very great bail has been refus’d, which occasions various speculations, some being apprehensive of the loss of his intelligence and protection, by his being oblig’d to travel, and others entertaining the more dismal opinion, that he’ll leave the world in his own way, and die in his shoes. (The Weekly Journal, or British Gazetteer)

3 April 1725   Edgeworth Bess, alias Elizabeth Lyon, alias Elizabeth Sheppard, an accomplice of the late John Sheppard executed at Tyburn, and who assisted him in several of his escapes, was last week committed to Tothill-Fields Bridewell, for seducing a shopkeeper’s son to go a thieving with her. (The Weekly Journal, or British Gazetteer)

(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, "Jack Sheppard, Jail-Breaker", 9 October 2003 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/sheppard.htm>

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