Travels with William Porden: London to Newark… an escaped prisoner!

On Monday 17 November, 1794, William Porden left London in the Newark stage coach on his way to Lincolnshire.  His fellow travellers didn’t particularly impress him:

My companions were a Quaker from Sheffield and a young man of York, neither of them entertaining in any shape whatever and not possessed of so much civility as may generally be found under the meanest Garb and in the most untutored mind. They however were not positively disagreeable.

Things got a bit more interesting when they got to ‘Kates Cabbin’, which now seems, appropriately enough, to be a service station by Peterborough.  There, a new passenger joined the coach: a Bailiff from York who had been taking a prisoner under sentence of transportation to London.

The Prisoner has been a servant to a Gentleman near Hull and having paid his addresses to a female servant either in the same or another family, the woman had robbed her master and prevailed upon the youth to secrete the stolen goods. This was the crime.  In other respects his character was uncommonly Good and his master and others had solicited his pardon.  He was low in stature and of a mild character, yet altho he was handcuff’d and had irons on one leg and was chained to an iron bar or rail on the top of the Coach he had the courage and dexterity to make his escape which he effected by throwing himself off and thereby breaking his chain.  This was about two o’clock in the morning, extremely dark.  The Bailiffe the Coachman and the Guard got down to pursue him but in vain, under cover of the darkness he eluded their search and got off but whether he was afterwards retaken or not I have not heard.  I think it probably that he had thrown himself into one of the ditches by the road and laid quiet otherwise the noise of his irons must have discovered him.  The Chain which he broke by the jerk was as thick as a common waggon-trace chain.  A piece of it was found next morning on the Road.

William Porden here, and in other diary entries (archive ref. D3311/4/4-5), , shows himself to be more merciful than the justice system of the day:

As his crime was not great and he had suffered a long confinement if the Bailiffe could justify himself, I wished he might not be retaken.  The end of punishment would probably be as perfectly answered by his future fears and anxieties as by transportation and perhaps his mind might escape the contagion and corruption of Newgate and the voyage to Botany Bay and he be preserved a useful and worthy member of society in his own Country.

With a bit of digging in the York Quarter Sessions or Assizes records for 1794, it would probably be possible to find out the name of the prisoner.  Whether it’s possible to find out what happened to him after his escape is another matter.  Like William Porden, I rather hope he got away, changed his name, and lived a long and happy life.  Of course if he did, he may well have created a future nightmare for some poor family historian trying to find his birth in the parish records!

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One thought on “Travels with William Porden: London to Newark… an escaped prisoner!

  1. Pingback: A tale of crime and punishment | Derbyshire Record Office

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