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SWIFTNICKS, ACCORDING TO DEFOE

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Swift NicksAn account by Daniel Defoe
A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain 1724.,
vol. i., letter ii.
Published in The Newgate Calendar.

Mr Nicks made the famous epic ride from Kent (or perhaps Barnet) to York in less than a day. Others state that it was the infamous Yorkshire highwayman, Nevison. It is also claimed by some that Nicks and Nevison are the same. In this story from the Newgate Calendar, Mr Nicks is credited with the the ride. Nevison was certainly real and famous, what does seem less certain is the true identity of the man who made the journey. One thing is clear, the story that it was Dick Turpin who made this ride is a work of fiction.

Mr Nicks' Christian name may have been Samuel according to a footnote in the Newgate Calendar. He is also referred to as "Swift Nick" (no "s"), but that's the least of the puzzles surrounding his true identity.


The Complete Newgate Calendar, Vol. I
APPENDICES

NO. I

DEFOE'S ACCOUNT OF SWIFTNICKS' RIDE TO YORK

From Gravesend we see nothing remarkable on the road but Gad's-Hill, a noted place for robbing of seamen after they have received their pay at Chatham. Here it was that the famous robbery was committed in the year 1676 or thereabouts; it was about four a clock in the morning when a gentleman was robbed by one Nicks on a bay mare, just on the declining part of the hill, on the west side, for he swore to the spot and to the man.

Mr Nicks, who robb'd him, came away to Gravesend, immediately ferry'd over, and, as he said, was stopp'd by the difficulty of the boat, and of the passage, near an hour; which was a great disappointment to him, but was a kind of bait to his horse : From thence he rode cross the county of Essex, thro' Tilbury, Hornden, and Bilerecay to Chelmsford: here he stopp'd about half an hour to refresh his horse, and give him some balls; from thence to Braintre, Bocking, Wethersfield; then over the downs to Cambridge, and from thence keeping still the cross roads, he went by Fenny Stanton to Godmanchester, and Huntington, where he baited himself and his mare about an hour ; and, as he said himself, slept about half an hour, then, holding on the north road, and keeping a full larger gallop most of the way, he came to York the same afternoon, put off his boots and riding cloaths, and went dress'd as if he had been an inhabitant of the place, not a traveller, to the bowling-green, where, among other gentlemen, was the Lord Mayor of the city; he singling out his Lordship, study'd to do something particular that the Mayor might remember him by, and accordingly lay some odd bett with him concerning the bowls then running, which should cause the Mayor to remember it the more particularly ; and then takes occasion to ask his Lord ship what a clock it was ; who, pulling out his watch, told him the hour, which was a quarter before, or a quarter after eight at night.    Some other circumstances, it seems, he carefully brought into their dis-course, which should make the Lord Mayor remember the day of the month exactly, as well as the hour of the day.

Upon a prosecution which happen'd afterwards for this robbery, the whole merit of the case turn'd upon this single point: The person robb'd swore as above to the man, to the place, and to the time, in which the fact was committed: namely, that he was robb'd on Gad's-Hill in Kent, on such a day, and at such a time of the day, and on such a part of the hill, and that the prisoner at the bar was the man that robb'd him : Nicks, the prisoner, deny'd the fact, called several persons to his reputation, alleg'd that he was as far off as Yorkshire at that time, and that particularly, the day whereon the prosecu tion swore he was robb'd, he was at bowles on the publick green in the City of York ; and to support this, he produced the Lord Mayor of York to testify that he was so, and that the Mayor acted so and so with him there as above.

This was so positive, and so well attested, that the jury acquitted him on a bare supposition, that it was impossible the man could be at two places so remote on one and the same day. There are more particulars related of this story, such as I do not take upon me to affirm; namely, that King Charles II. prevailed on him, on assurance of pardon, and that he should not be brought into any farther trouble about it, to confess the truth to him privately, and that he own'd to His Majesty that he committed the robbery, and how he rode the journey after it, and that upon this the King gave him the name or title of Swift Nicks, instead of Nicks.

Daniel Defoe A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724., vol. i., letter ii.



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