Perp: John Sheppard
Date: April, 1726
The Crime : Robbery. Breaking and entering
Victim: Too numerous to mention
Motive : Money and greed
Location : London
The Story : The prisoner, whose name heads this
article, was a companion and fellow in crime th the notorious Blueskin. The name of
Jack Sheppard is one which needs no introduction. His exploits are so notorious, that nothing more is necessary
than to recount them. Sheppard was born in Spitalfields, in the year 1702 ; his father was a carpenter and bore the
character of an honest man ; but dying when his son was yet young, he, as well as a younger brother, Tom Sheppard,
soon became remarkable for their disregard for honesty.
Our hero was apprenticed to a carpenter in Wych-street, like his father, and during the first four
years of his service he behaved with comparative respectability ; but frequenting a public-house, called the Black
Lion, in Drury Lane, he became acquainted with Blueskin, his subsequent companion in wickedness, and Wild, his
betrayer, as well as with some women of abandoned character, who afterwards also became his coadjutors.
His attentions were more particularly directed to one of them, named Elizabeth Lion, or Edgeworth
Bess, as she was familiarly called from the town in which she was born, and while connected with her he frequently
committed robberies at the various houses, in which he was employed as a workman. He was, however, also acquainted
with a woman named Maggott, who persuaded him to commit his first robbery in the house of Mr. Bains, a
piece-broker, in White Horse Yard, Drury Lane. He was at this time still resident at his master's house ; and
having stolen a piece of fustian, he took it home to his trunk, and then returning to the house which he was
robbing, he took the bars out of the cellar-window, entered, and stole goods and money to the amount of 22/. which
he carried to Maggott.
As Sheppard did not go home that night, nor on the following day, his master suspected that he had
made bad connexions, and searching his trunk found the piece of fustian that had been stolen ; but Sheppard,
hearing of this, broke open his master's house in the night, and carried off the fustian, lest it should be brought
in evidence against him.
This matter received no further attention ; but Sheppard's master seemed desirous still to favour
him, and he remained some time longer in the family ; but after associating himself with the worst of company, and
frequently staying out the whole night, his master and he quarrelled, and the headstrong youth totally absconded in
the last year of his apprenticeship.
Jack now worked as a journeyman carpenter, with a view to the easier commission of robbery ; and
being employed to assist in repairing the house of a gentleman in May Fair, he took an opportunity of carrying oft
a sum of money, a quantity of plate, some gold rings, and four suits of clothes. Not long after this Edgeworth Bess
was apprehended, and lodged in the round-house of the parish of St. Giles's, where Sheppard went to visit her; but
the beadle refusing to admit him, he knocked him down, broke open the door, and carried her off in triumph ; an
exploit which acquired him a high degree of credit among his companions.
Tom Sheppard being now as deep in crime as his brother, he prevailed on Jack to lend him forty
shillings, and take him as a partner in his robberies. The first act they committed in concert was the robbing of a
public-house in Southwark, whence they carried off some money and wearing apparel ; but Jack permitted his brother
to reap the whole advantage of this booty. Not long after this, in conjunction with Edgeworth Bess, they broke open
the shop of Mrs. Cook, a linen-draper in Clare Market, and carried off goods to the value of 55l.; and in
less than a fortnight afterwards, they stole some articles from the house of Mr. Phillips in Drury Lane.
Tom Sheppard going to sell some of the goods stolen at Mrs. Cook's, was apprehended, and committed
to Newgate, when, in the hope of being admitted an evidence, he impeached his brother and Bess; but they were
sought for in vain.
At length James Sykes, otherwise called Hell-and-Fury, one of Sheppard's companions, meeting with
him in St. Giles's, enticed him into a public-house, in the hope of receiving a reward for apprehending him ; and
while they were drinking Sykes sent for a constable, who took Jack into custody, and carried him before a
magistrate. After a short examination, he was sent to St. Giles's round-house ; but he broke through the roof of
that place and made his escape in the night.
Within a short time after this, as Sheppard and an associate, named Benson, were crossing Leicester
Fields, the latter endeavoured to pick a gentleman's pocket of his watch ; but failing in the attempt, the
gentleman called out " A pickpocket !" on which Sheppard was taken, and lodged in St. Ann's round-house, where he
was visited by Edgeworth Bess, who was detained on suspicion of being one of his accomplices.
On the following day they were carried before a magistrate, and some persons appearing who charged
them with felonies, they were committed to the New Prison ; but as they passed for husband and wife, they were
permitted to lodge together in a room known by the name of the Newgate ward. They were here visited by many of
their friends, Blueskin among the number ; and being provided by them with the implements necessary to enable them
to escape, Jack proceeded to secure the object which be had in view with that alacrity and energy which always
characterised his actions.
The removal of his fetters by means of a file was a work which occupied him a very few minutes, and
he then, with the assistance of his companion, prepared for flight. The first obstacle which presented itself to
them was in the shape of the heavy cross-bars which defended the aperture, by which light and air were admitted to
their cell ; but the application of their file soon removed the difficulty.
There was then another point of a more dangerous character to overcome—the descent to the yard.
Their window was twenty-five feet in height, and the only means of reaching the earth was by the employment of
their blankets as ropes. These, however, would not enable them to touch the ground ; but they found that there was
a considerable distance for them to drop, even after they should have arrived at the extreme end of their cord.
Gallantry induced our hero to give the first place to Bess, and she, having stripped off a portion of her clothes,
so as to render herself lighter, descended in perfect safety.
Jack followed, and they found some consolation in their being at least without the gaol, although
there were yet the walls of the yard to climb. These were topped with a strong chevaux de frise of iron, and were
besides twenty-two feet high ; but passing round them until they came to the great gates, the adventurous pair
found means by the locks and bolts, by which they were held together, to surmount this, apparently the greatest
difficulty of all, and they once again stood on the open ground outside the gaol. Bess having now re-assumed the
clothes, of which she had denuded herself, in order that she might be the more agile in her escape, and which she
had taken the precaution to throw over the wall before her, she and her paramour, once more enjoying the free air
of liberty, marched into town.
It may readily be supposed that our hero's fame was increased by the report of this exploit, and
all the thieves of St. Giles's soon became anxious to become his " palls." He did not hesitate to accept the
companionship of two of them, named Grace, a cooper, and Lamb, an apprentice to a mathematical instrument maker ;
and at the instigation of the latter they committed a robbery in the house of his master, near St. Clement's
church, to a considerable amount.
The apprentice, however, was suspected, and secured, and being convicted, received sentence of
transportation. Our hero meanwhile escaped, and joining with Blueskin, they did not fail in obtaining considerable
booty. The mode of disposing of the plunder which they adopted was that of employing a fellow named Field to
procure them a market ; and having committed the robbery at Kneebone's, already mentioned in Blake's memoir, they
lodged its proceeds in a stable, which they had hired, near the Horse Ferry, Westminster. Field was applied to, to
find a eustomer for the property, and he promised to do so, and was as good as his word ; for breaking open the
stable, he carried off the goods himself, and then conveyed information of the robbery to Wild, alleging that he
had been concerned in it. Blueskin, it will have been seen, was tried and convicted for the robbery, and suffered
execution ; and Sheppard having also been secured, he too was sentenced to death.
On Monday, 30th August, 1724, a warrant was sent for his execution, together with that of some
other convicts, but neither his ingenuity nor his courage forsook him upon this, any more than upon any previous
occasion. In the gaol of Newgate there was a hatch within the lodge in which the gaolers sat, which opened into a
dark passage, from which there were a few steps leading to the hold containing the condemned cells. It was
customary for the prisoners, on their friends coming to see them, to be conducted to this hatch ; but any very
close communication was prevented by the surveiltance of the gaolers, and by large iron spikes which surmounted the
gate The visits of Edgeworth Bess to her paramour were not unattended with advantage to the latter, for while in
conversation, she took the opportunity of diverting the attention of the gaoler from her, while she delivered the
necessary instruments to Sheppard to assist him in his contemplated escape.
Subsequent visits enabled Jack to approach the wicket ; and by constant filing he succeeded in
placing one of the spikes in such a position as that it could be easily wrenched off. On the evening on which the
warrant for his execution arrived, Mrs. Maggott, who was an immensely powerful woman, and Bess, going to visit him,
he broke off the spike while the keepers were employed in drinking in the lodge, and thrusting his head and
shoulders through the aperture, the women pulled him down, and smuggled him through the outer room, in which the
gaolers were indulging themselves, into the street.
This second escape not a little increased his notoriety ; but an instant pursuit being made, he was
compelled to lie close. Consulting with one Page, a butcher, it was determined that they should go to Warnden, in
Northamptonshire, together where the relations of the latter lived; but on arriving there, being treated with
indifference, they immediately retraced their steps to London.
On the night after their return, they were walking through Fleet-street, when they saw a
watchmaker's shop attended only by a boy, and having passed it, they turned back, and Sheppard, driving his hand
through the window, stole three watches, with which they made their escape. They subsequently retired to Finchley
for security ; but the gaolers of Newgate gaining information of their retreat, took Sheppard into custody, and
once more conveyed him to " The Stone Jug."
Such steps were now taken as it was thought would be effectual to prevent his future escape. He was
put into a strong room, called the Castle, handcuffed, loaded with a heavy pair of irons, and chained to a staple
fixed in the floor. The curiosity of the public being greatly excited by his former escape, he was visited by great
numbers of people of all ranks, and scarce any one left him without making him a present in money. Although he did
not disdain these substantial proofs of public generosity, which enabled him to obtain those luxuries, which were
not provided by the city authorities for his prison fare, his thoughts were constantly fixed on the means of again
eluding his keepers ; and the opportunity was not long wanting when he might carry his design into execution.
On the fourteenth of October, the sessions began at the Old Bailey, and the keepers being much
engaged in attending the court, he thought rightly, that they would have little time to visit him, and, therefore,
that the present juncture would be the most favourable to carry his plan into execution. About two o'clock in the
afternoon of the following day, one of the keepers carried him his dinner ; and having carefully examined his
irons, and found them fast, he left him.
Sheppard now immediately proceeded to the completion of the great work of his life, his second
escape from Newgate ; in describing which we shall extract from, Mr. Ainsworth's work of " Jack Sheppard," in which
that gentleman has given a lasting fame to our hero, and has founded a most interesting romance on the real
circumstances of the life of this daring and extraordinary offender. He says, " Jack Sheppard's first object was to
free himself from his hand-cuffs. This he accomplished by holding the chain that connected them firmly between his
teeth, and, squeezing his fingers as closely together as possible, he succeeded in drawing his wrists through the
manacles. He next twisted the heavy gyves round and round, and partly by main strength, partly by a dexterous and
well-applied jerk, snapped asunder the central link, by which they were attached to the padlock. Taking off his
stockings, he then drew up the basils as far as he was able, and tied the fragments of the broken chains to his
legs, to prevent them from clanking, and impeding his future exertions." Upon a former attempt to make his way up
the chimney, lie had been impeded by an iron bar which was fixed across it, at a height of a few feet.
To remove this obstacle, it was necessary to make an extensive breach in the wall. With the broken
links of the chain, which served him in lieu of more efficient implements, he commenced operations just above the
chimney-piece, and soon contrived to pick a hole in the plaster. He found the wall, as he suspected, solidly
constructed of brick and stone ; and, with the slight and inadequate tools which he possessed, it was a work of
infinite skill and labour to get out a single brick. That done, however, he was well aware the rest would be
comparatively easy ; and as he threw the brick to the ground, he exclaimed triumphantly, "The first step is
taken—the main difficulty is overcome."
" Animated by this trifling success, he proceeded with fresh ardour, and the rapidity of his
progress was proclaimed by the heap of bricks, stones, and mortar, which before long covered the floor. At the
expiration of an hour, by dint of unremitting exertion, he made so large a breach in the chimney that he could
stand upright in it. He was now within a foot of the bar, and introducing himself into the hole, he speedily worked
his way to it. Regardless of the risk he ran by some heavy stones dropping on his head or feet,—regardless also of
the noise made by the falling rubbish, and of the imminent risk to which he was consequently exposed of being
interrupted by some of the gaolers, should the sound reach their ears, he continued to pull down large masses of
the wall, which he flung upon the floor of the cell. Having worked thus for another quarter of an hour, without
being sensible of fatigue, though he was half stifled by the clouds of dust which his exertions raised, he had made
a hole about three feet wide and six high, and uncovered the iron bar. Grasping it firmly with both hands, be
quickly wrenched it from the stones in which it was mortised, and leapt to the ground. On examination it proved to
be a flat bar of iron, nearly a yard in length, and more than an inch square. ' A capital instrument for my
purpose,' thought Jack, shouldering it, and worth all the trouble I have had in procuring it.' While he was thus
musing, he thought he heard the lock tried. A chill ran through his frame, and grasping the heavy weapon, with
which chance had provided him, he prepared to strike down the first person who should enter his cell. After
listening attentively for a short time without drawing breath, he became convinced that his apprehensions were
groundless, and, greatly relieved, sat down upon the chair to rest himself and prepare for future efforts.
Acquainted with every part of the gaol, Jack well knew that his only chance of effecting an escape
must be by the roof. To reach it would be a most difficult undertaking. Still it was possible, and the difficulty
was only a fresh incitement. The mere enumeration of the obstacles which existed would have deterred any spirit
less daring than Sheppard's from even hazarding the attempt. Independently of other risks, and the chance of
breaking his neck in the descent, he was aware that to reach the leads he should have to break open six of the
strongest doors of the prison. Armed, however, with the implement he had so fortunately obtained, he did not
despair of success. ' My name will not only be remembered as that of a robber,' he mused, ' but it shall be
remembered as that of a bold one; and this night's achievement, if it does nothing else, shall prevent me from
being classed with the common herd of depredators.' Roused by this reflection, he grasped the iron bar, which, when
he sat down, he had laid upon his knees, and stepped quickly across the room. In doing so, he had to clamber up the
immense heap of bricks and rubbish which now littered the floor, amounting almost to a cart-load, and reaching up
nearly to the chimney-piece ; and having once more got into the chimney, he climbed to a level with the ward above,
and recommenced operations as vigorously as before. He was now aided with a powerful implement, with which he soon
contrived to make a hole in the wall.
The ward which Jack was endeavouring to break was called the Red-room. from the circumstance of its
walls having once been painted in that colour: all traces of which, however, had long since disappeared. Like the
Castle, whieh it resembled in all respects, except that it was destitute even of a barrack bedstead, the Red-room
was reserved for state prisoners, and had not been occupied since the year 1716, when the gaol was crowded by the
Preston rebels. Having made a hole in the wall sufficiently large to pass through, Jack first tossed the bar into
the room and then crept after it. As soon as he had gained his feet, he glanced round the bare Mack walls of the
cell, and, oppressed by the misty close atmosphere, exelaimed, I will let a little fresh air into this dungeon :
they say it has not been opened for eight years, but I won't he eight minutes in getting out: In stepping across
the room, some sharp point in the floor pierced his foot, and stooping to examine it, he found that the wound had
been inflicted by a long rusty nail, which projected from the boards. Totally disregarding the pain, he picked up
the nail, and reserved it for future use. Nor was he long in making it available. On examining the door, he found
it secured by a large rusty lock, which he endeavoured to pick with the nail he had just acquired : but all his
efforts proving ineffectual, he removed the plate that covered it with the bar, and with his fingers contrived to
draw back the bolt.
" Opening the door, he then stepped into a dark narrow passage, leading, as he was well aware, to
the Chapel. On the left there were doors communicating with the King's Bench Ward, and the Stone Ward, two large
holds on the master debtors' side. But Jack was too well versed in the geography of the place to attempt either of
them. Indeed, if he had been ignorant of it, the sound of voices, which he could faintly distinguish, would have
served as a caution to him. Hurrying on, his progress was soon checked by a strong door, several inches in
thickness and nearly as wide as the passage. Running his hand carefully over it in search of the lock, he
perceived, to his dismay, that it was fastened on the other side. After several vain attempts to burst it open, he
resolved, as a last alternative, to break through the wall in the part nearest the lock. This was a much more
serious task than he anticipated. The wall was of considerable thickness, and built altogether of stone ; and the
noise he was compelled to make in using the heavy bar, which brought sparks with every splinter he struck off, was
so great, that he feared it must be heard by the prisoners on the debtors' side. Heedless, however, of the
consequences, he pursued his task. Half an hour's labour, during which he was obliged more than once to pause to
regain breath, sufficed to make a hole wide enough to allow a passage for his arm up to the elbow. In this way he
was able to force back a ponderous bolt from its socket ; and to his unspeakable delight, found that the door
instantly yielded. Once more cheered by daylight, he hastened forward and entered the Chapel.
" Situated at the upper part of the south-east angle of the gaol, the Chapel of Old Newgate was
divided on the north side into three grated compartments, or pens, as they were termed, allotted to the common
debtors and felons. In the north-west angle there was a small pen for female offenders ; and on the south, a more
commodious inclosure appropriated to the master debtors and strangers. Immediately beneath the pulpit stood a large
circular pen, where malefactors under sentence of death sat to hear the condemned sermon delivered to them, and
where they formed a public spectacle to the crowds 'which curiosity generally attracted on those occasions. To
return. Jack had got into one of the pens at the north side of the chapel. The inclosure by which it was surrounded
was about twelve feet high ; the under part being composed of oaken planks, the upper part of, a strong iron
grating, surmounted by sharp iron spikes. In the middle there was a gate : it was locked. But Jack speedily burst
it open with the iron bar. Clearing the few impediments in his way, he soon reached the condemned pew, where it had
once been his fate to sit ; and extending himself on the seat endeavoured to snatch a moment's repose. It was
denied him, for as he closed his eyes—though but for an instant—the whole scene of his former visit to the place
rose before him. There he sat as before, with the heavy fetters on his limbs, and beside him sat his three
companions who had since expiated their offences on the gibbet. The chapel was again crowded with visitors; and
every eye fixed upon him. So perfect was the illusion, that he could almost fancy he heard the solemn voice of the
Ordinary warning him that his race was nearly run, and imploring him to prepare for eternity. From this perturbed
state he was roused by the thoughts of his present position, and fancying he heard approaching voices, he started
up. On one side of the chapel there was a large grated window, but, as it looked upon the interior of the gaol,
Jack preferred following the course he had originally decided upon, to making any attempt in this quarter.
Accordingly he proceeded to a gate which stood upon the south, and guarded the passage communicating with the
leads. It was grated, and crested with spikes, like that he had just burst open ; and thinking it a needless waste
of time to force it, he broke off one of the spikes, which he carried with him for further purposes, and then
climbed over it. A short flight of steps brought him to a dark passage, into which he plunged. Here he found
another strong door, making the fifth he had encountered. Well aware that the doors in this passage were much
stronger than those in the entry he had just quitted, he was neither surprised nor dismayed to find it fastened by
a lock of unusual size. After repeatedly trying to remove the plate, which was so firmly screwed down that it
resisted all his efforts, and vainly attempting to pick it with his spike and nail, he at length, after half an
hour's ineffectual labour, wrenched off the box by means of the iron bar, and the door, as he laughingly expressed
it, was his humble servant.'
" But this difficulty was only overcome to be succeeded by one still greater. Hastening along the
passage, he came to the sixth door. For this he was prepared : but he was not prepared for the almost
insurmountable difficulties which it presented. Running. his hand hastily over it, he was startled to find it one
complicated mass of bolts and bars. It seemed as if all the precautions previously taken were here accumulated. Any
one less courageous than himself would have abandoned the attempt from the conviction of its utter hopelessness;
but though it might for a moment damp his ardour, it could not deter him. Once again he passed his hand over the
surface, and carefully noted all the obstacles. There was a lock, apparently more than a foot wide, strongly
plated, and girded to the door with thick iron hoops. Below it a prodigiously large bolt was shot into the socket,
and, in order to keep it there, was fastened by a hasp, and further protected by an immense padlock. Besides this,
the door was crossed and recrossed by iron bars, clenched by broad-headed nails. An iron fillet secured the socket
of the bolt and the box of the lock to the main post of the door-way. Nothing disheartened by this survey, Jack set
to work upon the lock, which he attacked with all his implements ;— now attempting to pick it with the nail ;—now
to wrench it off with the bar, but all without effect. He not only failed in making any impression but seemed to
increase the difficulties, for after an hour's toil he had broken the nail, and slightly bent the iron bar.
Completely overcome by fatigue. with strained muscles and bruised hands, streaming with perspiration, and with lips
so parched that he would gladly have parted with a treasure if he had possessed it for a draught of water, he sunk
against the wall, and while in this state was seized with a sudden and strange alarm. He fancied that the turnkeys
had discovered his flight, and were in pursuit of him—that they had climbed up the chimney—entered the
bed-roomstracked him from door to door, and were now only detained by the gate, which he had left unbroken in the
chapel. So strongly was he impressed with this idea, that grasping the iron bar with both hands he dashed it
furiously against the door, making the passage echo with the blows. By degrees his fears vanished, and, hearing
nothing, he grew calmer. His spirits revived, and encouraging himself with the idea that the present impediment,
though the greatest, was the last, he set himself seriously to consider how it might best be overcome. On
reflection, it occurred to him that he might, perhaps, be able to loosen-the iron fillet—a notion no sooner
conceived than executed. With incredible labour, and by the aid of both spike and nail, he succeeded in getting the
point of the bar beneath the fillet. Exerting all his energies, and using the bar as a lever, he forced off the
iron band, which was full seven feet high, seven inches wide, and two inches thick, and which brought with it, in
its fall, the box of the lock, and the socket of the bolt, leaving no further hindrance. Overjoyed beyond measure
at having vanquished this apparently insurmountable obstacle, Jack darted through the door.
" Ascending a short flight of steps, Jack found at the summit a door, which, being bolted on the
inside, he speedily opened. The fresh air, which blew in his face, greatly revived him. He had now reached what
were called the Lower Leads—a flat, covering a part of the prison contiguous to the gateway, and surrounded on all
sides by walls about fourteen feet high. On the north stood the battlements of one of the towers of the gate. On
this side a flight of wooden steps, protected by a hand-rail, led to a door opening upon the summit of the prison.
This door was crested with spikes, and guarded on the right by a bristling semi-circle of similar weapons. Hastily
ascending the steps, Jack found the door, as he anticipated, locked. He could have easily forced it, but he
preferred a more expeditious mode of reaching the roof which suggested itself to him. Mounting the door he had last
opened, he placed his hands on the wall above, and quickly drew himself up. Just as he got on the roof of the
prison, St. Sepulchre's clock struck eight. It was instantly answered by the deep note of St. Paul's ; and the
concert was prolonged by other neighbouring churches. Jack had been thus six hours in accomplishing his arduous
" Though nearly dark, there was still light enough left to enable him to :discern surrounding
objects. Through the gloom he distinctly perceived the dome of St. Paul's, hanging like a black cloud is the air ;
and, nearer to him; he remarked the golden ball on the summit of the College of Physicians, compared by Garth to a
gilded pill.' Other towers and spires ;—St. Martin's, on Ludgate-hill, and Christ Church, in Newgatestreet, were
also distinguishable. As he gazed down into the courts of the prison, he could not help shuddering, lest a false
step might precipitate him below. To prevent the recurrence of any such escape as that just described, it was
deemed expedient, in more recent times, to keep a watchman at the top of Newgate. Not many years ago, two men
employed in this duty quarrelled during the night, and in the morning their bodies were found stretched upon the
pavement of the yard below. Proceeding along the wall, Jack reached the southern tower, over the battlements of
which he clambered, and crossing it, dropped upon the roof of the gate. He then scaled the northern tower, and made
his way to the summit of that part of the prison which fronted Giltspur-street. Arrived at the extremity of the
building, he found that it overlooked the flat roof of a house, which, as far as he could judge in the darkness,
lay at a depth of about twenty feet below.
" Not choosing to hazard so great a fall, Jack turned to examine the building, to see whether any
more favourable point of descent presented itself, but could discover nothing but steep walls, without a single
available projection. Finding it impossible to descend on any side, without incurring serious risk, Jack resolved
to return for his blanket, by the help of which he felt certain of accomplishing a safe landing on the roof of the
house in Giltspnr-street. Accordingly he began to retrace his steps, and pursuing the course he had recently taken,
scaling the two towers, and passing along the walls of the prison, he descended by means of the door upon the Lower
Leads. Before he re-entered the prison he hesitated, from a doubt whether he was not fearfully increasing his risk
of capture; but, convinced that he had no other alternative, he went on. During all this time he had never quitted
the iron bar, and he now grasped it with the firm determination of selling his life dearly if he met with any
opposition. A few seconds sufficed to clear the passages through which it had previously cost him more than two
hours to force his way. The floor was strewn with screws, nails, fragments of wood and stone, and across the
passage lay the heavy iron fillet. He did not disturb any of the litter, but left it as a mark of his prowess. He
was now at the entrance of the chapel, and striking the door over which he had previously climbed a violent blow
with the bar, is flew open.
To vault over the pews was the work of a moment ; and having gained the entry leading to the Red
Room, he passed through the first door, his progress being only impeded by the pile of broken stones, which he
himself had raised. Listening at one of the doors leading to the master-debtors side, he heard a loud voice
chanting a Bacchanalian melody; and the boisterous laughter that accompanied the song, convinced him that no
suspicion was entertained in that quarter. Entering the Red Room, he crept through the hole in the wall, descended
the chimney, and arrived once more in his old place of captivity. How different were his present feelings, compared
with those he had experienced on quitting it ! Then, full of confidence, he half doubted his power of accomplishing
his designs. Now he had achieved them, and felt assured of success.
The vast heap of rubbish on the floor had been so materially increased by the bricks and piaster
thrown down in his attack upon the wall of the Red Room, that it was with some difficulty that he could find the
blanket, which was almost buried beneath the pile. He next. searched for his stockings and shoes, and when found,
put them on. He now prepared to return to the roof, and throwing the blanket over his left arm, and shouldering the
iron bar, he again clambered up the chimney, regained the Red Room, hurried along the first passage, crossed the
chapel, threaded the entry to the Lower Leads, and in less than three minutes after quitting the Castle, had
reached the northern extremity of the prison. Previously to his descent, he had left the nail and spike on the
wall, and with these he fastened the blanket to the coping-stone. This done, he let himself carefully down by it,
and having only a few feet to drop, alighted in safety.
" Having now got fairly out of Newgate, for the second time, with a heart throbbing with
exultation, he hastened to make good his escape. To his great joy he found a small garret door in the roof of the
opposite house open ; he entered it, crossed the room, in which there was only a small truckle-bed, over which he
stumbled, opened another door and gained the stair-head. As he was about to descend, his chains slightly
0 lud ! what's that ?' cried a female voice from an adjoining room ' Only the dog,' replied the
rough tones of a man, and all was again silent Securing the chain in the best way he could, Jack then hurried down
two pair of stairs, and had nearly reached the lobby, when a door suddenly opened, and two persons appeared, one.of
whom held a light. Retreating as quickly as he could, Jack opened the first door he came to, entered a room, and
searching in the dark for some place of concealment, fortunately discovered a screen, behind which he crept."
Having lain down here for about two hours, he once more proceeded down stairs, and saw a gentleman
take leave of the family and quit the house, lighted by the servant ; and as soon as the maid returned, he resolved
to venture at all hazards. In stealing down the stairs he stumbled against a chamber door, but instantly recovering
himself, he got into the street.
By this time it was after twelve o'clock, and passing by the watch-house of St. Sepulchre, he bid
the watchman good night ; and going up Holborn, he turned down Gray's Inn Lane, and at about two in the morning, he
got into the fields near Tottenham Court Road, where he took shelter in a cow-house, and slept soundly for about
three hours. His fetters were still on his legs, and he dreaded the approach of daylight lest he should be
discovered. His mind, however, was somewhat relieved for the present, for at seven o'clock the rain began to fall
in torrents, so that no one ventured near his hiding-place. Night coming on, the calls of hunger drove him to seek
some refreshment , and going to Tottenham Court Road, lie ventured to purchase some bread and cheese and small-beer
at a chandler's shop. He had during the day been planning various means to procure the release of his legs from the
bondage of his chains, and now having forty-five shillings in his possession, he attempted to procure a hammer. His
efforts, however, proved ineffectual, and he was compelled to return to his shelter for the night. The next day
brought him no relief; and having again gone to the chandler's shop, he once more went back to his place of
concealment. The next day was Sunday, and he now beat the basils of his irons with a stone, so that he might slip
them over his heels, but the master of the cow-house coming, interrupted him, and demanded to know how he came
there so confined by irons. The answer given was, that he had escaped from Bridewell, where he had been confined
because he was unable to give security for the payment of a sum of money for the maintenance of a child he had had
sworn to him, and the master of the house desiring him to be gone, then quitted him. A shoemaker soon after coming
near, Jack called him, and telling him the same story, induced him, by a bribe of twenty shillings, to procure him
a hammer and a punch. They set to work together to remove the irons, and his legs were at length freed from this
encumbrance at about five o'clock.
When night came on, our adventurer tied a handkerchief about his head, tore his woollen cap in
several places, and also his coat and stockings, so as to have the appearance of a beggar; and in this condition he
went to a cellar near Charing Cross, where he supped on roast veal, and listened to the conversation of the
company, all of whom were talking of the escape of Sheppard. On the Monday he sheltered himself at a public-house
of little trade in Rupert-street, and conversing with the landlady about Sheppard, he told her it was impossible
for him to get out of the kingdom, and the keepers would certainly have him again in a few days ; on which the
woman wished that a curse might fall on those who should betray him.
On the next day he hired a garret in Newport Market, and soon afterwards, dressing himself like a porter, he went
'to Blackfriars, to the house of Mr. Applebee, printer of the dying speeches, and delivered a letter, in which he
ridiculed the printer and the Ordinary of Newgate, and inclosed a communication for one of the keepers of the
Some nights after this he broke open the shop of Mr. Rawlins, a pawnbroker, in Drury Lane, where he
stole a sword, a suit of wearing apparel, some snuff-boxes, rings, watches, and other effects to a considerable
amount ; and determining to make the appearance of a gentleman among his old acquaintance in Drury Lane and Clare
Market, he dressed himself in a suit of black and a tie-wig, wore a ruffled shirt, a silver-kilted sword, a diamond
ring, and a gold watch, and joined them at sup*, though he knew that diligent search was making after him at that
very time. On the 31st of October he dined with two women at a public-house in Newgate-street, and about four in
the afternoon they all passed under Newgate in a hackney-coach, having first drawn up the blinds. Going in the
evening to a public-house in Maypole Alley, Clare Market, Sheppard sent for his mother, and treated her with
brandy, when the poor woman dropped on her knees, and begged that he would immediately retire from the kingdom. He
promised to do so ; but now being grown mad from the effects of the liquor he had drunk, he wandered about from
public-house to public-house in the neighbourhood till near twelve o'clock at night, when he was apprehended in
consequence of the information of an ale-house boy, who knew him. When taken into custody he was quite senseless,
and was conveyed to Newgate in a coach, without being capable of making any resistance, although he had two loaded
pistols in his possession at the time. He was now lodged securely enough ; and his fame being increased by his
recent exploits, he was visited by many persons of distinction, whom he diverted by a recital of the particulars of
many robberies in which he had been concerned, but he invariably concluded his narration by expressing a hope that
his visitors would endeavour to procure the exercise of the royal mercy in his behalf, to which he considered tnat
his remarkable dexterity gave him some claim.
Having been already convicted, it was unnecessary that the forms of trial should be again gone through, and on the
10th of November he was carried to the bar of the Court of King's Bench ; when a record of his conviction having
been read, and an affidavit made that he was the same person alluded to in it, sentence of death was passed upon
him by Mr. Justice Powis, and a rule of court was made for his execution on the following Monday. He subsequently
regularly attended chapel in the gaol, and behaved there with apparent decency, but on his quitting its walls, he
did not hesitate to endeavour to prevent any seriousness among his fellow prisoners
All his hopes were still fixed upon his being pardoned, and even when the day of execution arrived,
he did not appear to have given over all expectations of eluding justice ; for having been furnished with a
penknife, he put it in his pocket, with a view, when the melancholy procession came opposite Little Turnstile, to
have cut the cord that bound his arms, and, throwing himself out of the cart among the, crowd, to have run through
the narrow passage where the sheriff's officers could not follow on horseback, and he had no doubt but he should
make his escape by the assistance of the mob. It was not impossible that this scheme might have succeeded ; but
before Sheppard left the press-yard, one Watson, an officer, searching his pockets, found the knife, and was cut
with it so as to occasion a great effusion of blood. He, however, had yet a farther view to his preservation even
after execution ; for he desired his acquaintance to put him into a warm bed as soon as he should be cut down, and
to try to open a vein, which he had been told would restore him to life.
He behaved with great decency at the place of execution, and confessed that he had committed two
robberies, for which he had been tried, but had been acquitted. His execution took place at Tyburn, on the 16th of
November, 1724, in the twenty-third year of his age. He died with difficulty ; and there were not wanting those
among the crowd assembled, who pitied him for the fate which befel him at so early a period of his fife. When he
was cut down, his body was delivered over to his friends, who carried it to a public-house in Long Acre ; from
which it was removed in the evening, and buried in the church-yard of St. Martin's-in the-Fields.
The adventures of this notorious offender excited more attention than those of many of our most
celebrated warriors. He was, for a considerable time, the principal subject of conversation in all ranks of
Histories of his life issued from the press in a variety of forms. A pantomimic entertainment was
brought forward at Drury-lane theatre, called " Harlequin Sheppard," wherein his adventures, prison-breakings,
and extraordinary escapes, were represented ; and another dramatic work was published, as a farce of
three acts, called " The Prison-Breaker ;" or, " The Adventures of John Sheppard ;" and a part of it, with songs,
catches, and glees added, was performed at Bartholomew Fair, under the title of "The Quaker's Opera.'
The arts too, were busied in handing to posterity memoranda for us never to follow the example of
Sir James Thornhill *, the first painter of the day, painted his portrait, from which engravings in
mezzotinto were made ; and the few still in preservation are objects of curiosity. On this subject the following
lines were written at the time :—
Thornhill, 'tie thine to gild with fame
The obscure, and raise the humble name ;
To make the form elude the grave,
And Sheppard from oblivion save.
Though life in vain the wretch implores,
An exile on the farthest shores,
Thy pencil brings a kind reprieve,
And bids the dying robber live.
This piece to latest time shall stand,
And show the wonders of thy hand :
Thus former masters graced their name,
And gave egregious robbers fame.
Apelles Alexander drew,
Caesar is to Aurelius due ;
Cromwell in Lily's works doth shine,
And Sheppard, Thornhill, lives in thine."
In modern times, the adventures of Sheppard and his contemporaries have become even better known
and more remarked, in consequence of the work to which we have already alluded, and from which we have made an
extract which details his exploits with great exactness ; but at the same time gives to them a degree of romantic
interest to which they are hardly entitled. The rage for house-breakers has become immense, and the fortunes of the
most notorious and the most successful of thieves have been made the subject of entertainments at no fewer than six
of the London theatres.
Blewitt, whose name is mentioned in the foregoing sketch, as one of the earliest companions of
Sheppard, was eventually hanged, with others, for the murder of a fellow named Ball, a publican and ex-thief, who
lived in the Mint, and who had provoked the anger of his murderers, by threatening to denounce them.
Their execution took place on the 12th of April, 1726.
* This celebrated painter, whilst decorating the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, nearly fell a to his
zeal in that undertaking. One day, when pursuing his task on the scaffold erected round the dome for that purpose,
he kept walking backwards, surveying the effect of his work, until be had nearly approached the edge, from which
another step would have precipitated him. At this instant his servant, who perceived the danger his master was in,
with a wonderful presence of mind seized a pot of colour, and threw it over the painting. This caused Sir James to
rush forward for the preservation of his work, and he was thus saved from being dashed to pieces, which, but for
this timely intervention, must have been his fate.
This eminent man painted the whole of the cupola of St. Paul's, and also the halls of Greenwich
Hospital and Blenheim. He was born in 1675, and was originally a house-painter, but afterwards applied nimself to
historical subjects, and equalled the best painters of his time. In 17l9 he was appointed Historical Painter to
George I., and shortly afterwards was created a knight. He was employed in several extensive works, for which he
was in general very inadequately paid ; and, at times, even found it difficult to obtain the stipulated price. His
demands were contested at Greenwich Hospital, although he only received 2.5s. a square yard ; about the same time a
foreigner, for doing less work at Montague House, received 20001. for his work, besides 5001. for his diet. For St.
Paul's he received 40s. a square yard. He also decorated More Park, but was obliged to sue Mr. Styles for it ; he,
however, not only recovered 3,5001. the sum agreed to he paid him, but 5001. more for decorations about the house.
Notwithstanding these diffi culties, he acquired a considerable fortune, and was several years in parliament ; he
was also a Fellow of the Royal Society. His genius was equally happy in history, allegory, landscape. and
architecture ; he even practised the last science as a man of business, and built several houses. He died in 1734,
in the same place where he was born. He left a son, who followed his father's profession; and a daughter, who
married the celebrated Hogarth.