Horace the Modern Highwayman
Tracing your family history is about exploring your roots and understanding the lives of your ancestors. You’ll find shocks and revelations, twists and turns. You may uncover mysteries and scandals.
Findmypast In collaboration with the British Library has built an online repository of over 28 million historical newspaper pages dating back to 1710 and they are home to the largest collection of UK parish records available online.
A good example of the remarkable levels of detail that can be uncovered by searching historical newspapers is the case of 22-year-old medical student and Oxfordshire native, Horace Wright. Horace appears in an 1869 Calendar of Prisoners and is listed as being tried at Oxfordshire Assizes for "unlawfully assaulting Frank Strange Copeland with intent to rob him". This appears to be a fairly unremarkable charge at first glance, but after searching for Horace in local newspapers, a number of remarkable details surrounding his case emerge.
Newspaper reports printed in a variety of publications across both Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire reveal how the robber originally gave his name as Charles Trevor before further investigations uncovered his true identity. The authorities were shocked to learn this would-be Dick Turpin was actually a wealthy medical student training under an eminent surgeon in Soho, the son of a respected Oxfordshire doctor and the Nephew of the distinguished physician Dr Samuel Wright.
They also tell how Horace, after growing tired of his studies, became fascinated by glamour and romance surrounding the celebrated highwaymen of the 18th century. Determined to enact his fantasy, Horace purchased a black horse, an authentic highwayman kit complete with 'Napoleon boots, mask and hat', loaded two pistols with paper wadding and began holding up coaches in Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Berkshire. Numerous highly detailed reports describe how he would wait at remote locations and ambush isolated travellers at gunpoint, shouting: "your money or your life". A number also included first-hand accounts of the robberies presented to the court by his victims and a detailed description of how the "gentleman highwayman" was eventually apprehended after leaping from the window of a roadside inn.
Horace's trial was widely publicized due to his upper middle-class background and the eccentric nature of his crime spree. Direct quotes from Horace himself can be found within the various articles, as Horace absolved himself of any responsibility by claiming that a serious addiction to highway robbery meant that his actions were outside of his control. He also claimed to believe that highway robbery was his purpose in life and that he was likely to re-offend. Despite the serious nature of his crimes, Horace was only sentenced to 1-month hard labour.
If you are interested in tracing your family history, you should do some detective work using the remarkable choice of online resources at Findmypast
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