Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: Richard Parvin et al. the Waltham Blacks


The History of the WALTHAM BLACKS and their transactions to the death.

Such is the unaccountable folly which reigns in too great a part of the human species, that by their own ill-deeds, they make such laws necessary for the security of men's persons and properties, as by their severity, unless necessity compelled them, would appear cruel and inhuman, and doubtless those laws which we esteem barbarous in other nations, and even some which appear so though anciently practised in our own, had their rise from the same cause.

I am led to this observation from the folly which certain persons were guilty of in making small insurrections for the sake only of getting a few deer, and going on, because they found the leniency of the laws could not punish them at present, until they grew to that height as to ride in armed troops, blacked and disguised, in order the more to terrify those whom they assaulted, and wherever they were denied what they thought proper to demand, whether venison, wine, money, or other necessaries for their debauched feasts, would by letter threaten plunder and destroying with fire and sword, whomever they thought proper.

These villainies being carried on with a high hand for some time in the years 1722 and 1723, their insolence grew at last so intolerable as to oblige the Legislature to make a new law against all who thus went armed and disguised, and associated themselves together by the name of Blacks, or entered into any other confederacies to support and assist one another in doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of the king's subjects.

By this law it was enacted that after the first day of June, 1723, whatever persons armed with offensive weapons, and having their faces blacked, or otherwise disguised, should appear in any forest, park or grounds enclosed with any wall or fence, wherein deer were kept, or any warren where hares or conies are kept, or in any highway, heath or down, or unlawfully hunt, kill or steal any red or fallow deer, or rob any warren, or steal fish of any pond, or kill or wound cattle, or set fire to any house or outhouses, stack, etc., or cut down or any otherway destroy trees planted for shelter or profit, or shall maliciously shoot at any person, or send a letter demanding money or other valuable things, shall rescue any person in custody of any officer for any such offences, or by gifts or promise, procure any one to join with them, shall be deemed guilty of felony without benefit of clergy, and shall suffer pains of death as felons so convicted.

Nor was even this thought sufficient to remedy those evils, which the idle follies of some rash persons had brought about, but a retrospect was also by the same Act had to offences heretofore committed, and all persons who had committed any crimes punishable by this Act, after the second of February, 1722, were commanded to render themselves before the 24th of July, 1723, to some Justice of his Majesty's Court of King's Bench, or to some Justice of the Peace for the county where they lived, and there make a full and exact confession of the crimes of such a nature which they had committed, the times when, and the places where, and persons with whom, together with an account of such persons' places of abode as had with them been guilty as aforesaid, in order to their being thereupon apprehended, and brought to judgment according to Law, on pain of being deemed felons, without benefit of clergy, and suffering accordingly; but were entitled to a free pardon and forgiveness in case that before the 24th of July they surrendered and made such discovery.

Justices of Peace by the said Act were required on any information being made before them by one or more credible persons, against any person charged with any of the offences aforesaid, to transmit it under their hands and seals to one of his Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, who by the same Act is required to lay such information and return before his Majesty in Council; whereupon an order is to issue for the person so charged to surrender within forty days. And in case he refuse or neglect to surrender within that time, then from the day in which the forty days elapsed, he is to be deemed as a felon convict, and execution may be awarded as attainted of felony by a verdict.

Every person who, after the time appointed for the surrender of the person, shall conceal, aid or succour him, knowing the circumstances in which he then stands, shall suffer death as a felon, without benefit of clergy, and that people might the more readily hazard their persons for the apprehending such offenders, it is likewise enacted that if any person shall be wounded so as to lose an eye, or the use of any limb in endeavouring to take persons charged with the commission of crimes within this law, then on a certificate from the Justices of the Peace of his being so wounded, the sheriff of the county, if commanded within thirty days after the sight of such certificate, to pay the said wounded persons L50 under pain of forfeiting L10 on failure thereof, and in case any person should be killed in seizing such persons as aforesaid, then the said L50 is to be paid to the executors of the person to be killed.

It cannot seem strange that in consequence of so extraordinary an act of legislature, many of these presumptious and silly people should be apprehended, and a considerable number of them having upon their apprehension been committed to Winchester gaol, seven of them were by "Habeas Corpus", removed for the greater solemnity of their trial to Newgate, and for their offence brought up and arraigned at the King's Bench Bar, Westminster. There being convicted on full evidence, all of them of felony, and three of murder, I shall inform ye, one by one, of what has come to my hand in relation to their crimes, and the manner and circumstances with which they were committed.

Richard Parvin was master of a public-house at Portsmouth, a man of dull and dogmatic disposition, who continually denied his having been in any manner concerned with these people, though the evidence against him at his trial was as full and as direct as possibly could have been expected, and he himself evidently proved to have been on the spot where the violences committed by the other prisoners were transacted. In answer to this, he said that he was not with them, though indeed he was upon the forest, for which he gave this reason. He had, he said, a very handsome young wench who lived with him, and for that reason being admired by many of his customers, she took it in her head one day to run away. He hearing that she had fled across the forest, pursued her, and in that pursuit calling at the house of Mr. Parford, who keeps an alehouse in the forest, this man being an evidence against the other Blacks, took him it seems into the number, though as he said, he could fully have cleared himself if he had had any money to have sent for some witnesses out of Berkshire. But the mayor of Portsmouth seizing, as soon as he was apprehended, all his goods, put his family into great distress and whether he could have found them or not, hindered his being able to produce any witnesses at his trial.

He persevered in these professions of his innocency to the very last, still hoping for a reprieve, and not only feeding himself with such expectations while in prison, but also gazed earnestly when at the tree, in hopes that pardon would be brought him, until the cart drew away and extinguished life and the desire of life together.

Edward Elliot, a boy of about seventeen years of age, whose father was a tailor at a village between Petworth and Guildford, was the next who received sentence of death with Parvin. The account he gave of his coming into this society has something very odd in it, and which gives a fuller idea of the strange whims which possessed these people. The boy said that about a year before his being apprehended, thirty or forty men met him in the county of Surrey and hurried him away. He who appeared to be the chief of them told him that he enlisted him in the service of the King of the Blacks, in pursuance of which he was to disguise his face, obey orders of whatsoever kind they were, such as breaking down fish ponds, burning woods, shooting deer, taking also an oath to be true to them, or they by their art magic would turn him into a beast, and as such make him carry their burdens, and live like a horse upon grass and water.

He said, also, that in the space of time he continued with them, he saw several experiments of their witchcraft, for that once when two men had offended them by refusing to comply in taking their oath and obeying their orders, they caused them immediately to be blindfolded and stopping them in holes of the earth up to their chin, ran at them as if they had been dogs, bellowing and barking as it were in their ears; and when they had plagued them awhile in this ridiculous manner they took them out, and bid them remember how they offended any of the Black Nation again, for if they did, they should not escape so well as they had at present. He had seen them also, he said, oblige carters to drive a good way out of the road, and carry whatsoever venison or other thing they had plundered to the places where they would have them; that the men were generally so frightened with their usage and so terrified with the oaths they were obliged to swear, that they seldom complained, or even spoke of their bondage.

As to the fact for which they died, Elliot gave this account: that in the morning when that fact was committed for which he died, Marshall, Kingshell and four others came to him and persuaded him to go to Farnham Holt, and that he need not fear disobliging any gentlemen in the country, some of whom were very kind to this Elliot. They persuaded him that certain persons of fortune were concerned with them and would bear him harmless if he would go. He owned that at last he consented to go with them, but trembled all the way, insomuch that he could hardly reach the Holt. While they were engaged in the business for which they came, viz., killing the deer, the keepers came upon them. Elliot was wandered a considerable way from his companions after a fawn which he intended to send as a present to a young woman at Guildford; him therefore they quickly seized and bound, and leaving him in that condition, went in search of the rest of his associates. It was not long before they came up with them. The keepers were six, the Blacks were seven in number, so they fell to it warmly with quarter-staffs. The keepers unwilling to have lives taken, advised them to retire, but upon their refusing, and Marshall's firing a gun, by which one of the keepers belonging to the Lady How was slain, they discharged a blunderbuss and shattered the thigh of one Barber, amongst the Blacks. Upon this three of his associates ran away, and the two others, Marshall and Kingshell were likewise taken, and so the fray for the present ended.

Elliot lay bound all the while within hearing, and in the greatest agonies imaginable, at the consideration that whatever blood was spilt he should be as much answerable for it as these who shed it; in which he was not mistaken, for the keepers returning after the fight was over, carried him away bound and he never had his fetters off after, till the morning of his execution. He behaved himself very soberly, quietly and with much seeming penitence and contrition. He owned the justice of the Law in punishing him, and said he more especially deserved to suffer, since at the time of the committing this fact, he was servant to a widow lady, where he wanted nothing to make him happy or easy.

Robert Kingshell was twenty-six years old, and lived in the same house with his parents, being apprentice to his brother a shoemaker. His parents were very watchful over his behaviour and sought by every method to prevent his taking to ill courses, or being guilty of any debauchery whatever. The night before this unhappy accident fell out, as he and the rest of the family were sleeping in their beds, Barber made a signal at his chamber window, it being then about eleven o'clock. Upon this Kingshell arose and got softly out of the window; Barber took him upon his horse, and away they went to the Holt, twelve miles distant, calling in their way upon Henry Marshall, Elliot and the rest of their accomplices. He said it was eight o'clock in the morning before the keepers attacked them, he owned they bid them retire, and that he himself told them they would, provided the bound man (Elliot) was released and delivered into their hands, but that proposition being refused, the fight at once grew warm. Barber's thigh was broken, and Marshall killed the keeper with a shot; being thereupon very hard pressed, three of their companions ran away, leaving him and Marshall to fight it out. Elliot being already taken, and Barber disabled, it was not long before they were in the same unhappy condition with their companions. From the time of their being apprehended, Kingshell laid aside all hopes of life, and applied himself with great fervency and devotion to enable him in what alone remained for him to do, viz., dying decently.

Henry Marshall, about thirty-six years of age, the unfortunate person by whose hand the murder was committed, seemed to be the least sensible of any of the evils he had done, although such was the pleasure of Almighty God that till the day before his execution, he neither had his senses, nor the use of his speech. When he recovered it, and a clergyman represented to him the horrid crime of which he had been guilty, he was so far from showing any deep sense of that crime of shedding innocent blood, that he made light of it, said he might stand upon his own defence, and was not bound to run away and leave his companions in danger. This was the language he talked for the space of twenty-four hours before his death, in which he enjoyed the use of speech; and so far was he from thanking those who charitably offered him their admonitions, that he said he had not forgot himself, but had already taken care of what he thought necessary for his soul. However, he did not attempt in the least to prevaricate, but fairly acknowledged that he committed the fact for which he died, though nothing could oblige him to speak of it in any manner as if he was sorry for or repented of it, farther than for having occasioned his own misfortunes; so strong is the prejudice which vulgar minds acquire by often repeating to themselves and in company certain positions, however ridiculous and false. And sure, nothing could be more so than for a man to fancy he had a right to imbrue his hands in the blood of another, who was in the execution of his office, and endeavouring to hinder the commission of an illegal act.

These of whom I have last spoken were all concerned together in the before-mentioned fact, which was attended with murder; but we are now to speak of the rest who were concerned in the felony only, for which they with the above-mentioned Parvin suffered. Of these were two brothers, whose names were John and Edward Pink, carters in Portsmouth, and always accounted honest and industrious fellows before this accident happened. They did not, however, deny their being guilty, but on the contrary ingenuously confessed the truth of what was sworn, and mentioned some other circumstances that had been produced at the trial which attended their committing it. They said they met Parvin's housekeeper upon that road, that they forced her to cut the throat of a deer which they had just taken upon Bear Forest, gave her a dagger which they forced her to wear, and to ride cross-legged with pistols before her.

In this dress they brought her to Parvin's house upon the forest, where they dined upon a haunch of venison, feasted merrily and after dinner sent out two of their companions to kill more deer, not in the King's Forest, but in Waltham Chase, belonging to the Bishop of Winchester. One of these two persons they called their king, and the other they called Lyon. Neither of these brothers objected anything, either to the truth of the evidence given against them, or the justice of that sentence which had passed upon them, only one insinuating that the evidence would not have been so strong against him and Ansell, if it had not been for running away with the witness's wife, which so provoked him that they were sure they should not escape when he was admitted a witness.

These like the rest were hard to be persuaded that the things they had committed were any crimes in the eyes of God. They said deer were wild beasts, and they did not see why the poor had not as good a right to them as the rich. However, as the Law condemned them to suffer, they were bound to submit, and in consequence of that notion, behaved themselves very orderly, decently and quietly, while under sentence.

James Ansell, alias Stephen Philips, the seventh and last of these unhappy persons, was a man addicted to a worse and more profligate life than any of the rest had ever been; for he had held no settled employment, but had been a loose disorderly person, concerned in all sorts of wickedness for many years, both at Portsmouth, Guildford, and other country towns, as well as at London. Deer were not the only things that he had dealt in; stealing and robbing on the highway had been formerly his employment, and in becoming a Black, he did not as the others ascend in wickedness, but came down on the contrary, a step lower. Yet this criminal as his offences were greater, so his sense of them was much stronger than in any of the rest, excepting Kingshell, for he gave over all manner of hopes of life and all concerns about it as soon as he was taken.

Yet even he had no notion of making discoveries, unless they might be beneficial to himself, and though he owned the knowledge of twenty persons who were notorious offenders in the same kind, he absolutely refused to name them, since such naming would not procure himself a pardon; talking to him of the duty of doing justice was beating the air. He said, he thought there was no justice in taking away other people's lives, unless it was to save his own, yet no sooner was he taxed about his own going on the highway than he confessed it, said he knew very well bills would have been preferred against him at Guildford assizes, in case he had got off at the King's Bench, but that he did not greatly value them. Though formerly he had been guilty of some facts in that way, yet they could not all now be proved, and he should have found it no difficult matter to have demonstrated his innocence of those then charged upon him, of which he was not really guilty, but owed his being thought so to the profligate course of life he had for some time led, and his aversion to all honest employments.

Bold as the whole gang of these fellows appeared, yet with what sickness, what with the apprehension of death, they were so terrified that not one of them but Ansell, alias Philips, was able to stand up, or speak at the place of execution, many who saw them affirming that some of them were dead even before they were turned off.

As an appendix to the melancholy history of these seven miserable and unhappy persons, I will add a letter written at that time by a gentleman of the county of Essex, to his friend in London, containing a more particular account of the transactions of these people, than I have seen anywhere else. Wherefore, without any further preface, I shall leave it to speak for itself.

A letter to Mr. C. D. in London.

Dear Sir,

Amongst the odd accidents which you know have happened to me in the course of a very unsettled life, I don't know any which hath been more extraordinary or surprising than one I met with in going down to my own house when I left you last in town. You cannot but have heard of the Waltham Blacks, as they are called, a set of whimsical merry fellows, that are so mad to run the greatest hazards for the sake of a haunch of venison, and passing a jolly evening together.

For my part, though the stories told of these people had reached my ears, yet I confess I took most of them for fables, and I thought that if there was truth in any of them it was much exaggerated. But experience (the mistress of fools) has taught me the contrary, by the adventure I am going to relate to you, which though it ended well enough at last, I confess at first put me a good deal out of humour. To begin, then; my horse got a stone in his foot, and therewith went so lame just as I entered the forest, that I really thought his shoulder slipped. Finding it however impossible to get him along, I was even glad to take up at a little blind alehouse which I perceived had a yard and a stable behind it.

The man of the house received me very civilly, but when he perceived my horse was so lame as scarce to be able to stir a step, I observed he grew uneasy. I asked him whether I could lodge there that night, he told me no, he had no room, I desired him, then, to put something to my horse's foot, and let me sit up all night; for I was resolved not to spoil a horse which cost me twenty guineas by riding him in such a condition in which he was at present. The man made me no answer, and I proposed the same questions to the wife. She dealt more roughly and freely with me, and told me that truly I neither could, nor should stay there, and was for hurrying her husband to get my horse out. However, on putting a crown into her hand and promising another for my lodging, she began to consider a little; and at last told me that there was indeed a little bed above stairs, on which she should order a clean pair of sheets to be put, for she was persuaded I was more of a gentleman than to take any notice of what I saw passed there.

This made me more uneasy than I was before. I concluded now I was got amongst a den of highwaymen, and expected nothing less than to be robbed and my throat cut. However, finding there was no remedy, I even set myself down and endeavoured to be as easy as I could. By this time it was very dark, and I heard three or four horsemen alight and lead their horses into the yard. As the men returned and were coming into the room where I was, I overheard my landlord say, "Indeed, brother, you need not be uneasy, I am positive the gentleman's a man of honour", to which I heard another voice reply, "What could our death do to any stranger? Faith, I don't apprehend half the danger you do. I dare say the gentleman would be glad of our company, and we should be pleased with his. Come, hang fear, I'll lead the way." So said, so done, in they came, five of them, all disguised so effectually that I declare, unless it were in the same disguise, I should not be able to distinguish any one of them.

Down they sat, and he who I suppose was constituted their captain "pro hac vice", accosted me with great civility, and asked me if I would honour them with my company to supper. I acknowledge I did not yet guess the profession of my new acquaintances, but supposing my landlord would be cautious of suffering either a robbery or a murder in his own house, I know not how, but by degrees my mind grew perfectly easy. About ten o'clock I heard a very great noise of horses, and soon after men's feet tramping in a room over my head. Then my landlord came down and informed us supper was just ready to go upon the table.

Upon this we were all desired to walk up, and he whom I before called the captain, presented me, with a humorous kind of ceremony, to a man more dignified than the rest who sat at the end of the table, telling me at the same time, he hoped I would not refuse to pay my respects to Prince Oroonoko, King of the Blacks. It then immediately struck into my head who those worthy persons were, into whose company I was thus accidentally fallen. I called myself a thousand blockheads for not finding out before, but the hurry of things, or to speak the truth, the fear I was in, prevented my judging even from the most evident signs.

As soon as our awkward ceremony was over, supper was brought in; it consisted of eighteen dishes of venison in every shape, roasted, boiled with broth, hashed collops, pasties, umble pies, and a large haunch in the middle, larded. I easily saw that of three ordinary rooms of which the first floor of the house consisted, ours (by taking down the partitions) was very large, and the company in all twenty-one persons. At each of our elbows there was set a bottle of claret, and the man and woman of the house sat down at the lower end. Two or three of the fellows had good natural voices, and so the evening was spent as merrily as the rakes pass theirs in the King's Arms, or the City apprentices with their master's maids at Sadler's Wells. About two the company seemed inclined to break up, having first assured me that they should take my company as a favour any Thursday evening, if I came that way.

I confess I did not sleep all night with reflecting on what had passed, and could not resolve with myself whether these humorous gentlemen in masquerade were to be ranked under the denomination of knight-errants, or plain robbers. This I must tell you, by the by, that with respect both to honesty and hardship, their life resembles much that of the hussars, since drinking is all their delight, and plundering their employment.

Before I conclude my epistle, it is fit I should inform you that they did me the honour (with a design perhaps to have received me into their order) of acquainting me with those rules by which their society was governed.

In the first place their Black Prince assured me that their government was perfectly monarchial, and that when upon expeditions he had an absolute command; "but in the time of peace", continued he, "and at the table, government being no longer necessary, I condescend to eat and drink familiarly with my subjects as friends. We admit no man", continued he, "into our society until he has been twice drunk with us, that we may be perfectly acquainted with his temper, in compliance with the old proverb--women, children and drunken folks speak truth. But if the person who sues to be admitted, declares solemnly he was never drunk in his life, and it plainly appears to the society in such case, this rule is dispensed with, and the person before admission is only bound to converse with us a month. As soon as we have determined to admit him, he is then to equip himself with a good mare or gelding, a brace of pistols, and a gun of the size of this, to lie on the saddle bow. Then he is sworn upon the horns over the chimney, and having a new name conferred by the society, is thereby entered upon the roll, and from that day forward, considered as a lawful member."

He went on with abundance more of their wise institutions, which I think are not of consequence enough to tell you, and shall only remark one thing more, which is the phrase they make use of in speaking of one another, viz., "He is a very honest fellow and one of us." For you must know it is the first article in their creed that there's no sin in deer-stealing.

In the morning, having given my landlady the other crown piece, I found her temper so much altered for the better, that in my conscience I believe she was not in the humour to have refused me anything, no, not even the last favour; and so walking down the yard and finding my horse in pretty tolerable order, I speeded directly home, much in amaze at the new people I had discovered. You see I have taken a great deal of pains in my letter; pray, in return, let me have as long a one from you, and let me see if all your London rambles can produce such another adventure.

I am, yours, etc.

Before I leave these people, I think it proper to acquaint my readers that their folly was not to be extinguished by a single execution. There were a great many young fellows of the same stamp, who were fools enough to forfeit their lives upon the same occasion. However, the humour did not run very long, though some of them were impudent enough to murder a keeper or two afterwards. Yet in the space of a twelvemonth, the whole nation of Blacks was extinguished, and these country rakes were contented to play the fool upon easier terms. The last blood that was shed on either side was that of a keeper's son at Old Windsor, whom some of these wise people fired at as he looked out of the window, by which means they drew on their own ruin and that of several numerous families by which the country was put in such terror that we have heard nothing of them since, though this Act of Parliament[1] as I shall tell you, has been by construction extended to some other criminals, who were not strictly speaking of the same kind as the Waltham Blacks.


[1] The Black Act (9 Geo. I, cap. 2) was repealed so late as 1827.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals