Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 52.djvu/70
[Rollright Registers; Athenæ Oxon.; Alumni Oxon.; Luttrell's Brief Relation; Hatton Correspondence; Pepys's Diary; Prior's Poems; Rochester's Poems, 1707, p. 25. There appears in the Annual Register (September 1768, p. 175) the erroneous statement: ‘There is now living, at his seat in Essex, Sir Fleetwood Sheppard (a friend of the late celebrated Mr. Prior), who is in perfect health, though at the age of 120 years’.]
ness to an English merchant's family in Stockholm, and wrote under the signature of ‘Leonora’ two ‘moving’ letters to the editor of the ‘Spectator’ (Nos. 140, 163, anno 1711), is stated to have been a collateral descendant of Sir Fleetwood ‘of facetious memory’ (cf. Chalmers, British Essayists, 1823, vol. v. p. lxvi; Say Papers, ap. Monthly Repository, 1809, pp. 303 sq.).
SHEPPARD, JOHN (1702–1724), criminal, known as Jack Sheppard, son of Thomas Sheppard, an honest carpenter of Spitalfields (whose father and grandfather had likewise been carpenters), was born at Stepney in December 1702. His father died early in 1703, leaving several children. An elder brother, Thomas, went to sea, but took to thieving in 1723, and was transported in July 1724. John, brought up in the workhouse of Bishopsgate, seems to have begun life as a cane-chair mender, but, being ill-used, deserted his master. He was befriended by Mr. Kneebone, a woollendraper, who had employed his father. Kneebone, whose attentions he acknowledged by robbing at a later date, taught him to write and cipher, and apprenticed him to Owen Wood, a carpenter of Wych Street. At the Black Lion in Drury Lane, hard by, Sheppard fell into bad company, making the acquaintance of a loose woman, Bess Lyon or ‘Edgeworth Bess,’ who, with another girl, known as Poll Maggott, incited him to most of his crimes. The first larceny recorded against him was the theft of two silver spoons from the ‘Rummer Tavern,’ Charing Cross, celebrated in Hogarth's picture of ‘Night.’ A further robbery of a bale of fustian came to the ears of his master, whom he left in September 1723 for a lodging in May Fair, at the western extremity of Piccadilly. Thence he subsequently removed with ‘Edgeworth Bess’ to Parson's Green. At the close of 1723 he was brought up as a runaway apprentice on a warrant to St. Clement's Roundhouse, but his old master Owen Wood procured his release. Thenceforth, Sheppard avows, ‘I fell to robbing almost every one that stood in my way.’ His chief ally was ‘Blueskin’ (Joseph Blake). In April 1724, owing to the treachery of his brother Thomas and another associate, he was committed to St. Giles's Roundhouse, but he skilfully made his escape. Like adventures, distinguished by unparalleled coolness and impudence, followed in quick succession. On Whit Monday, 25 May 1724, he broke out of New Prison, where he was awaiting trial on a charge of stealing a gentleman's watch. His escape involved getting rid of his irons, cutting through a double grille of oaken and iron bars, descending twenty-five feet by means of a sheet and blanket, and then scaling a wall of twenty-two feet, which he surmounted with a companion on his back. In June and July scarce a day passed without a theft, a highway robbery, or a burglary. Unluckily for himself, Sheppard had either offended or alarmed Jonathan Wild [q. v.], who was not only the largest broker of stolen goods in London, but was also informer-in-chief against thieves. Wild effected his capture in Rosemary Lane on 23 July.
Sheppard was tried at the Old Bailey on 14 Aug. and condemned to death, but, owing to the absence of the court at Windsor, his warrant was not signed until the end of the month. On 31 Aug., with the help of a file, supplied by the ingenuity of Poll Maggot and ‘Edgeworth Bess,’ he managed to escape from the condemned hold (cf. Weekly Journal, 5 Sept. 1724), and, after a short excursion into Northamptonshire, returned to his accustomed haunts and practices. Though well known in the neighbourhood of Wych Street, no one dared lay hands on him ‘for fear of pistols.’ Eventually, on 10 Sept., Sheppard and a friend Page were seized near Finchley Common by a posse of armed men, led by Austin, one of the turnkeys through whose hands he had lately slipped. In spite of the heavy shackles with which he was now laden, he managed to secrete a small file (found in his Bible on 12 Sept.) and a complete set of tools (found in the rushes of his chair on 16 Sept.). He was consequently removed to a stronger part of the prison, known as the ‘Castle,’ and chained with two ponderous iron staples to the floor. On Sunday, 13 Sept., ‘a vast concourse’ flocked to see him in Newgate, the chapel being crowded. On 16 Sept. his keepers, having carefully inspected his irons at 2 p. m., left him for the remainder of the day. Sheppard thereupon effected his last and most remarkable escape. After freeing himself of his manacles and snapping the chains that held him to the floor, he removed a stout iron bar from the chimney, up which he climbed. After forcing the heavily bolted doors of many strong rooms by an almost incredible exertion of