Matthew Dean was making his way home to Seagrams Farm at Imber from Devizes market on 21st October 1839, when he was attacked by four men (Benjamin Colclough, Thomas Saunders, George Waters and Richard Harris) near Gore Cross Farm.
They pulled him to the ground from his horse and robbed him of three £20 notes from the North Wilts Bank, a sovereign and a half in gold, £2 in silver and his hat. The robbers ran off towards West Lavington.
When Mr Dean recovered, he followed the men on foot, enlisting the help of Mr James Morgan, John Baish and James Kite of Gore Cross Farm “take a stick in your hand as a man has been robbed” yelled Baish. The chase was on with one robber losing his pursuers and eventually the three other robbers were tracked down. Morgan left Baish and Kite to get further assistance from William Hooper who brought his gun.
The robbers were then surrounded and challenged, but denied all knowledge saying “we’ll fight for it first”. William Hooper told them to seize the robbers at which point Colclough shouted “you b…., I’ll blow your brains out!”
“Fire away, have the first shot” replied Hooper, but Kite and Baish were reluctant to grapple with them, so instead Hooper kept shouting in a loud voice to attract further attention “Robbers!” with the robbers retaliating by trying to drown out his voice by shouting “Fox hunters, Tally Ho, Tally Ho”
The robbers then ran off again and a 3-hour pursuit ensued with extra re-enforcements joining the party in the form of Hooper’s brother James, who happened to be crossing the down from Tilshead to Imber, Hooper’s shepherd and his son from Imber and Mr W Sainsbury to help them with the arrest.
One of the robbers, Benjamin Colclough, fell and was left , but the chase of the remaining two continued.
Exhausted, they were finally surrounded, but still put up a spirited resistance with their fold sticks, threatening Mr Sainsbury who retaliated by holding up his large whip and saying “If this is not enough for you, I have a brace of bulldogs (pistols) in my pocket. If you make the least resistance, I will shoot you dead on the spot”
At last they surrendered; the pursuit had lasted over three hours and the stolen pocket book was later found on the down and the notes safe.
The two robbers were escorted to the Lamb public House at West Lavington and given to the constable.
The next day, Morgan found the third robber (Benjamin Colclough) dead on the downs. His death certificate states he was 35 years old, a hawker, and that he died from ‘rupture of a vessel on his brain, produced by over exertion in running away to escape justice’.
The fourth robber, (Richard Harris), was later apprehended and committed to Devizes Prison with the others others (Thomas Saunders and George Waters), pending their trial.
The Jury at Benjamin Colclough’s inquest gave the verdict of felo-de-se one who ‘deliberately puts an end to his own existence, or commits an unlawful act, the consequences of which is his death’.
The three robbers were sentenced to 15 years transportation and embarked on board the convict ship Lord Lyndoch for Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on 5th September 1840, arriving on 5th February 1841.
There were many other instances of highwaymen accosting travellers on Salisbury Plain in the 16, 17 and 18 centuries, especially on market days with farmers having to travel well-armed. These two memorial stones were put up as a deterrent!
This article was created by Bridget Herniman from extracts of Lyn Dyson’s and Quentin Goggs’ book on The Robbers’ Stone. All proceeds of the sale of this book and others by Lyn Dyson go to support the West Lavington Youth Club.