Maclaine, James (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

MACLAINE or MACLEAN, JAMES (1724–1750), 'gentleman highwayman,' born at Monaghan in 1724, was second son of Lauchlin Maclaine, a presbyterian minister of good Scottish family, who became a pastor at Monaghan in Ireland. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of James Milling. An elder brother, Archibald Maclaine [q. v.], was pastor of the English congregation at the Hague. James was educated for a merchant, but after running through the patrimony to which he became entitled on his father's death in 1742, he entered domestic service in London and fell under the influence of fast women. About 1746, however, he succeeded in winning the hand of the daughter of a Mr. Maclogen, a substantial horse-dealer, 'of the Golden Fleece in the Oxford Road.' With his wife's money he set up as a grocer and chandler in Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, and for a time lived honestly. On the death of his wife in 1748 his 'extraordinary itch for a gay appearance' returned, and, with an apothecary named Plunket, a man of the worst character, who had attended his wife, he formed a partnership of fraud. In the disguise of a 'flaming beau,' with Plunket acting as his servant, Maclean gamed and ruffled at Bath and Tunbridge Wells in the hope of entrapping a lady of fortune into a marriage. Before the end of 1748 his own and Plunket's resources were exhausted. Thereupon the allies took to the highway, their first exploit being to lift over 60l. from a grazier crossing Hounslow Heath. After a few more successful encounters, fine lodgings were taken in St. James's Street, opposite the Old Bagnio, and Maclean, who passed for an Irish squire of 700l. a year, became a well-known figure in the West End. One moonlight night in November 1749 the pair stopped Horace Waipole in Hyde Park, as he was returning from Holland House, and Maclean's pistol going off accidentally razed the skin under Waipole's eye. After the robbery Maclean sent Walpole two letters of excuses, appointing a meeting by Tyburn at midnight, 'where the gentleman might purchase again any trifles he had lost' (Walpole, in the World, No. 103, p. 621). Subsequently the confederates committed a series of robberies on the Chester Road, and Maclean, who had previously contemplated emigration to Jamaica, visited his brother, the minister at the Hague. Meanwhile he concocted by letter with Plunket, who was in Ireland, a grand matrimonial scheme, the prize being 'adoe of 40,000l.' The plot failing, on 26 June 1750 Maclaine nerved himself for a desperate venture. With Plunket's aid he stopped, first, the Salisbury Flying Coach at Turnham Green, and then, on Hounslow Heath, Lord Eglinton's coach. Traced by means of an advertisement respecting some finery, of which he had relieved a Mr. Higden, Maclaine was arrested on 27 July 1750, and carried to the Gatehouse, whence he was committed for trial at the Old Bailey by Justice Lediard. At his lodgings were found twenty-three purses, a quantity of clothes and wigs, and a 'famous kept mistress.' His arrest created an extraordinary stir. Troops had to attend him to and from the Gatehouse, many people of quality attended his examination, and great ladies 'shed tears in abundance.' Soame Jenyns appended to the line in his 'Modern Fine Lady', 1750, 'She weeps if but a handsome thief is hung,' the note 'Some of the brightest eyes were at this time in tears for one Maclean.' The prisoner hinting his poverty, 'several persons made him considerable presents.' Yet his conduct was the reverse of heroic. He confessed, retracted his confession, and strove to save himself by giving evidence against Plunket, who was, however, not taken. He was tried on 13 Sept. 1750, and the jury found him guilty without leaving the box. A speech was expected from the condemned after sentence, but the poor wretch could only whimper 'My lord, I cannot speak,' an incident to which Gray alluded in his 'Long Story:'

A sudden fit of ague shook him,
He stood as mute as poor Maclean.

The first Sunday after his condemnation, according to Walpole, three thousand people went to see him in Newgate, and White's Club, it was stated, visited him en masse. He fainted away twice with the heat of his cell. His brother 'early renounced him, though he made all the interest he could for him,' and wrote a letter to him after condemnation, which is given in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1750, p. 436). He was executed at Tyburn on 3 Oct. 1750, a fulsome account of his pious behaviour being drawn up by the Rev. Dr. Allen at Maclean's 'own earnest desire.' Many portraits of 'the gentleman highwayman,' or 'the ladies' hero,' as he was called, are extant. His features were good, but his face broad and pitted with small-pox. ' He was of sandy complexion, square-shouldered, andwell made downwards.' One of two daughters survived him.

[A Complete History of James Maclean, 1750 (portrait); A Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of James Maclean, 1750; Allen's Account of the Behaviour of Mr. James Maclaine, 1750; M—cL—n's Cabinet broke open, or his Private List of the Duchess Dowagers, Countesses, Widow Ladies, Maiden Ladies, Widows, and Misses of Honour, Virtue, and Large Fortunes in England (a burlesque), 1750; Walpole's Correspondence, ed. Cunningham, 1857, ii. 218-230; The World, 19 Dec. 1754; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 452; Gent. Mag. 1750, freq., and other London papers of that date; Wheatley and Cunningham's London; Caulfield's Remarkable Characters, iv. 87.]

T. S.