Article MT168

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No.17: Rutterford the Poacher1

The three pieces immediately previous in this series each concentrated on a particular case of murder whilst endeavouring to give a context which, it is hoped, brought together evidence that can be used in a general survey of gallows literature.  This piece follows the same pattern of looking at the particular and the context and, like the previous three, turns up some twists in the story.  It is not, though, a survey of all known poaching ballads.  It concentrates on those ballads where a murder was involved although initially some reference is made below to ballads which do not involve murder as a way of offering context and also to sung repertoire where there has been a strong showing of certain pieces.  It should be added that some cases have not yet proved capable of actual historical verification - a matter of continuing investigation as in all cases of murder ballads discussed in this series.

The history of poaching can, of course, here be superficially related in the historical sense to, say, the establishment of Norman deerparks, the Robin Hood legends in part and, more recently, the notorious Black Acts, so brilliantly excavated by E P Thompson in his book, Whigs and Hunters.2  As a social phenomenon, though, poaching is, as might be expected, a complex affair.  In the nineteenth century it revolved around a clearly prevalent and continuing imbalance in which the availability of game for the rich as against the poor was prominent, and a lasting resentment can be found.  In this complex, there was also some ambivalence on the part of small farmers and tradesmen towards their poacher neighbours and evidence that the squirearchy itself dabbled in poaching and benefited from the exertions of its lesser brethren.  Harry Hopkins details this in a fascinating survey:

… a 'notorious poacher' could be a mighty convenience to the tradesmen and craftsmen of a small town …
Amongst other examples, that of organised gangs in London who provided fare in Leadenhall market is referred to in brief and expanded through similar evidence.  In a different illustration of possibly divided loyalties that of Romsey is given where a petition on behalf of a poacher reached into all levels of society (the petition was ignored); and in the case of James Turner in Andover, where there was no doubt that he had killed a gamekeeper, other keepers could or would not identify the man.  Hopkins also cites the activities of the rector of Sutton, Bedfordshire, who thought it fair that he should shoot on the lands of his neighbour, a view not entirely shared by the Lord Lieutenant, Samuel Whitbread.  And, as the century wore on and the fashion for preserving game for private shooting erupted amongst aristocrats and gentry, the blatant hypocrisy of exclusion of the poor from any benefit did not lessen the penalties imposed on the very same people.3  These are no more than acknowledgements of a deeper; diverse reservoire of evidence.

What emerges from this evidence (and much more) is that the main offensive against poaching would seem to have been on the part of the richer members of society and their main weapon, aside from what we perceive as a scandalously weighted legal position, various bodies of keepers employed. 

In this piece it is hardly possible to do justice to the ins and outs of the phenomenon when poaching was often considered as a virtue rather than an offence.  Our focus is on ballads.  We may, though, pause to remark that, in the general context, several poaching texts include a jaunty exposition, almost a defence, of poaching.  No ballads exactly take the keepers' side.  At the same time, this does not mean that broadside ballad printers were necessarily on the side of poachers: we take text here, as in other areas of balladry, as both news and hyperbole and, primarily, as commercial enterprise - the example of Harkness is discussed briefly below. 

In fact, there are fewer extant broadside texts - a score surveyed here - than one might have expected given the ongoing nature of keeper-poacher conflicts although it is always possible to dig up new material.4  There is, on the other hand, quite a strong representation of poaching in sung repertoire during the 'Folk-Song' Revival and in modern times - one thinks of Alfred Williams' versions of the Southrop Poaching Song, of In Rockley Firs and of I Keep my Dogs and Ferrets Too and of the songs Van Diemen's Land and Young Henry the Poacher, both paralleled in broadside text (and both to be examined in a separate piece in this series); and, again, of William Taylor.  Frank Kidson provided several examples of sung tradition in Traditional Tunes - Young Henry …, Bill Brown, Hares in the Old Plantation, Oakham Poachers and Sledmere Poachers (see also below).5

We can begin our survey with a look at ballads that do not involve murder - firstly, the piece often known as The Lincolnshire Poacher (Lincolnshire is apparently the setting as found in the earliest known version).  In printings it often has an extended title of It's My Delight …, and here the setting is changed6:

When I was bound apprentice in famed
I served my master truly for seven long years …
The earliest reference is, apparently, to 1776.  George IV is supposed to have favoured the piece, sung to a 'playhouse tune'.  It certainly did feature in the commercial context of theatre - copy in the Roud database refers to it as sung by a Mr Howell 'at the Surrey Rotunda'.  Indeed, another copy introduces it as a 'Celebrated Comic Song' as sung by the same Mr Howell at the same venue.  Yet another example is its form beginning with a reference to 'famous Zummerzetshire' as sung by a Mr Richards.  It is thought that the tune to Manchester Angel might have been the one first used.7

In the song, there is a hare at the centre of the poachers' attention, it being sold at a neighbour's house 'for a crown'.  Success to poaching is cried and bad luck to gamekeepers and the gusty final line is well-enough known:

It's my delight in a shiny night in the season of the year …
But in its general lightheartedness and although other pieces maintain a less than absolute serious face this piece is at a tangent to many other poaching songs.

In sung repertoire it is always, as far as has been ascertained, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire that appear as settings.8

Another somewhat generic piece - that is, without specific names being given or one 'dateable' incident described - is that entitled Thorney Moor Woods (strictly speaking, Thornehagh-Moor Woods near Newark - though Thornehagh was, apparently, pronounced as Thorney), set out in uneven stanzas of four and then five lines; and it reveals some bravado:

I with my dogs went out one night,
The moon shone clear and the stars gave light,
O'er hedges, ditches, gates and rails,
With my two dogs just at my heels,
To catch a fat buck in Thorney Moor Fields.9
One of the poacher's dogs returned lame and the poacher concluded that:
Some keeper has done this out of spite,
I will range the woods till I find that man,
I will tan his hide right well if I can.
Thompson referred to the practice during the first quarter of the eighteenth century of deliberately laming a poacher's dog by chopping off three fore-claws; and described how keepers had the power:
to seize and kill hunting dogs.  No power provoked fiercer resentment than this.  A good greyhound or lurcher was a substantial investment; the dog may have been obtained with difficulty and from a distance, and its training - no less than that of an expert sheep-dog - may have occupied months.  Again and again the killing of dogs sparked off some act of protest or revenge.
In our text such deliberate-ness is not clear and how far the same conditions and powers obtained is not easy to quantify as far as the nineteenth century is concerned.  Hopkins, nonetheless, following Thompson in his own description of ownership of dogs (during the nineteenth century), emphasises how important that keepers thought it to destroy a poacher's dog - the famous 'lurcher' trained to sniff out and bolt game into nets.  One or two other ballads, as shown below, emphasise the value of a dog to a poacher. 

The threat from a poacher in the text here is bold enough too; but is not referred to again.10

In this case the buck is taken for sale - which may help date the piece, perhaps back to the eighteenth century, since the nineteenth century seems to have been a time when attention switched to hares and pheasants, particularly the latter:

You'd have laughed to have seen limping Jack,
To see how he strutted with the buck on his back …
A butcher was hired to skin the buck and the meat sold to an old 'w-e' who turned the poachers in - 'us three poor lads', the first mention! And the gentlemen at the Quarter Sessions laughed at the old 'w-e' and her antics - the poacher reckoned that 'She all to pieces ought to have been torn'.  The Sessions, indeed, cleared the poachers; and they enjoyed the 'best game I ever did see'.

Different printings alter the layout and some wording slightly (Such has 'woman' in place of 'w-e') but the substance of the narrative is exactly the same.  Significantly for our purposes there is, despite the threat indicated above, no suggestion of violence leading to murder. 

The piece has appeared several times in sung repertoire.11

Claughton Wood Poachers, amongst other printings where reference is made to Clayton Wood and Cloughton Wood and even Jolly Claughton Wood, refers, apparently, to an event that took place around 1827.12  There is, in form taking us back to the tenor of gallows literature already surveyed, a conventional opening which may be described as that of the 'Come-all-ye':

Come all you men of courage bold and listen unto me,
A dreadful tale I will unfold and that right speedily,
Of six men from Preston town, their courage being good,
They all six went a poaching into Claughton Wood. 
Keepers arrived and insisted that the poachers yield, but:
… they were men of courage bold, as quickly you shall hear,
They'd neither yield nor quit the field …
The keepers gained an upper hand by sending for reinforcements amongst farmers - six to one: and the poachers did yield and were sent for trial at Lancaster.  The ballad, rather confusingly, refers to 'that man' who, it was said, was murdered - though this suggestion was put aside and the eventual sentence was for poaching.  Unusually, the ballad declares that:
… the Judge he is above them all, and he will stand our friend
I'm afraid more game there will be slain unless the times do
Mend …
The ballad does its best, it seems, to be fair to judge and jury and it is doubly interesting, therefore, to find a direct comment on affairs as found in the last line above

And, after the details of sentencing - two poachers transported for seven years each, four others two years in prison with hard labour - there is an even more unusual stanza referring, it must be assumed, to game birds:

I'm sure there is no mark on them as any man can claim their own,
So if a man can finger one why can't he bring it home,
So now my lads keep up your hearts altho' they may be sore,
For when we get our liberty we'll range the woods once more.
We can surely only take this viewpoint to be that of the convicted poachers: a neat sleight of hand by Harkness since the piece seems to be sympathetic towards the poachers, despite the obvious let-down in their fate, and thus contrasts with The Blackburn Poachers, another Harkness offering, discussed below.

Sledmere Poachers follows the lighter-hearted vein of The Lincolnshire Poacher.  William Forth of Bridlington (near to Sledmere) would seem to have been the first printer to have issued it - his operative dates encompass printings of The Arethusa (1796), a piece on the death of Sir John Moore (1809), and The Rose of Lucerne (a piece by John Barnett (1802-1890) dating from 1823 and discussed in a previous article in this series); and, apparently, he finished printing around 1844.  This is the nearest so far that we can get to first dating.  Forth's son, John, in Pocklington, also near to Sledmere as it happens, printed it after 1844.13  William Forth's copy offers a representative text beginning with a conventional address:

Come all you gallant poaching lads and gan alang with me,
And let's away to Sledmere Woods, some game for to see …
John Forth's printing changes 'gan' to 'gang'.  Walker in Newcastle on a sheet he issued together with Stewart in Carlisle and Dalton in York (a well-founded nexus of printers operating mid-century), Stewart in Carlisle (separately) and Harkness in Preston all follow this mode and even when Such printed the piece - as far as can be ascertained, the only southern printer to take it up - the same wording was used.14  William Forth, however, included chorus lines:
We are all brave poaching lads, our names we dare not tell,
But if we meet the keeper boys, we'll make his head to swell.
Of the printers mentioned above, Stewart and the Walker nexus retained these lines but Harkness and Such did not.

The piece proceeds to recount in some detail exploits in various coverts and there is one couplet of particular interest:

You gentlemen wanting pheasants unto me you must apply,
Both hares and pheasants you shall have and them right speedily.
Hopkins gives examples of this kind of collusion between 'master' or tradesman and poacher and it illustrates very well the grey area surrounding poaching which makes the sentencing of poachers an even more savage and hypocritical outcome.15

Sledmere Poachers, though, with its light tone, does not include reference to murder and may, therefore, in respect of Rutterford, be left aside except to remark that Kidson referred to it as a favourite Yorkshire poaching song and that it was sung to the tune of The (Lincolnshire) Poacher.16

In the general uncovering of text it becomes noticeable that Harkness was the printer who issued most poaching texts and some seem to have been exclusive to him.  One such is We Will Shoot Them as They Rise.17  It begins in familiar fashion - 'Come all ye gallant poachers …' and refers at one point to 'hairs and pheasants' (the mistake is corrected later in the piece).  A keeper is challenged and was 'banished then off his ground'.  The poacher's dog, Major, 'did make a point' and 'seven of the finest game' were killed.  The piece has a line repeated at the ends of each stanza:

So with powder, shot, and gun, my boys, we will shoot them as they rise.
However, in addressing poachers 'who in night hunting take a pride' the protagonist also advocates different timing:
And in the morning I will rise upon the mountains, my boys, where the moor cock flies.
We are reminded of songs set in Ireland such as The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcock Grows and Western Winds even if the lyrical quality of both these songs is little removed from the present context.18  The particular piece here concludes in light-hearted fashion.  There is no brutal confrontation between poacher and keeper. 

Another Harkness exclusive is Johnston's Escort Into Better Clime, again beginning in familiar fashion, reviews, briefly, an encounter where the keepers won out (a date of 1850 is given in the ballad):

You merry lads of Westmoreland attend unto my song,
And I'll try to gratify your taste and not detain you long,
I beg you'll give attention wherever you reside,
Who take delight in a moonlit night to shoot the feathered tribe.

         Young men all think on me,
         An exile doomed to cross the sea.19
It would be a useful exercise, perhaps, to try to fit this text to a tune …

Be that as it may, some time after the event described in this particular ballad, the protagonist was taken to Appleby to answer a charge of having lamed a keeper.  At this point the ballad degenerates in a sense as the protagonist is found guilty on the evidence of 'A man with visage long' and he 'Was sold unconsciously for California's gold' despite his counsellor having disproved the witness's statement.  The jury then returned a verdict of 'guilty … to merit nobles smiles' and the judge passed sentence of fifteen years' transportation

A convict bound to work in chains beyond the baltic [sic] sea
The rash of apparently confused references might even suggest that the piece was a fabrication without actual foundation save in general principle - which exposes a clash against the supposed specificity of the date given in the ballad. 

Turning from poaching songs which do not include murder to those that do, curiously, in a way, we turn first to the song Rufford Park Poachers: a singular example in the genre, there being no known text extant nor any sung version other than the one taken down by Percy Grainger from Joseph Taylor; and which version was augmented by Patrick O'Shaughnessy in his editing of Lincolnshire songs.20  The incident on which it was based took place in 1851 just outside Rufford Park within the domain of the Earl of Scarborough, near to Ollerton in Nottinghamshire; and Mr O'Shaughnessy based his own additions on details in a broadside covering the event which was dated October 13th 1851 and housed in the Borough Museum, Mansfield.  The piece describes not the apprehension of any individual, but a kind of set battle, as if the poachers, numbering some thirty or forty, were out to challenge the authority of the keepers.  Hopkins cites several instances of such pitched battles, drawing attention to the phenomenon as it operated from several northern towns as well as from country districts.  No guns, it seems, were used in this case, but one of the ten keepers involved, a man named Roberts, was struck and subsequently died from the effects of a fractured skull.  Four men were charged with manslaughter and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation each.

Owing to the circumstances of its discovery and subsequent history, this song is not quite representative.  On the other hand the O'Shaughnessy additions might well indicate ways in which broadside text and sung repertoire could be adopted and adapted.  As context for Rutterford it does not quite encompass the circumstances or the outcome but does proclaim the continual bitterness of the keeper-poacher confrontations of the nineteenth century.

And it bears out the effect of legislation introduced in 1828 when the penalty for a first poaching offence became three months' imprisonment, six for a second offence and transportation for a third.  If, though, three or more persons were found together in a wood, any of whom might be carrying a gun or bludgeon, then they could be transported for fourteen years each - obviously the case at Rufford Park. 

Just to place the Rufford Park incident: as broadside it was non-existent! On the other hand, a case of murder is presented.

Gallant Poacher, many times reprinted, is a generic piece like The Lincolnshire Poachers and Thorneymoor Woods but does involve the murder of a poacher by a keeper.  In this case, in a relatively complex form, there is a high-sounding opening stanza:

Come all you lads of high renown,
That love to drink strong ale that's brown,
And bring the lofty pheasants down,
         With powder, shot, and gun;
                  He is a gallant youth,
                  We will tell the truth,
He has cross'd all life's tempestuous ways,
No mortal man in life could save,
He now lies sleeping in the grave,
         His deeds on earth are done.
The viewpoint changes, and 'Me and five more a poaching went'.  During the course of the night's poaching, a keeper ran to the spot:
And swore, before the rising sun,
         That one of us should die.
And 'The bravest youth among the lot' was killed.  There follow stanzas lamenting the deed and offering repentance - since 'Our comrades were to prison sent'.  However, the poachers, themselves unspecified, were in some unspecified fashion let loose again.  There is no doubt about the blame.  The keeper's 'murderous hands':
Must wander sore against his will,
And find no resting place.
And, again, the keeper:
He must wander through the world forlorn,
And ever feel the smarting thorn,
And pointed at with fingers scorn,
         And die in sad disgrace.
The text, then, clearly surrounds the deed with lament and an invitation to sympathy both for the poacher who was shot and, in an implied fashion, perhaps, for the keeper himself.  The various printings contain certain changed elements.  Jackson in Birmingham, unaccountably, broke the piece up, ending a first stanza with 'We will tell the truth' and thereafter amalgamating the last lines of one stanza with the first of another and so ending up with four spare lines.  Birt altered the first line of the penultimate stanza, referring to the comrade slain, where it is usually rendered as 'His name it makes our hearts lament' whereas Birt changes it to 'It makes our heart to repent', thus ignoring metre; and the first line of the final stanza where it then appeared as 'Now the murderous man who did him kill' - which makes strict sense.  Such changed the same lines, the first to 'It makes our hearts to mourn', thus making nonsense of rhyme, and then using the same line as did Birt in the final stanza.21  The narrative impulse is, though, always the same.

Sung repertoire can be pinpointed during the Revival and after - in the song list from Henry Burstow and versions in the collections of Henry Hammond and Alfred Williams; and later in a version from George Dunn.22

In The Blackburn Poachers, based on an incident that took place in December 183923, and, apparently, again exclusive to Harkness, there is, amongst other features that we recognise from murder ballads considered previously, a conventional opening:

Come all you wild and thoughtless youths, and list awhile to me,
A dismal tale I will relate that should a warning be,
'Tis of four men from Blackburn town, on killing game intent
Upon the lands of Billington one night a poaching went.

         Now all be aware lest you're drawn into a snare.
A very similar chorus line can be found in another ballad, Young Henry the Poacher, a version of which Harkness printed:
Young men all beware,
Lest you are drawn into a snare.24
Eventually, four keepers arrived.  They insisted that the poachers lay down their arms but:
Some angry words arose, and then began the bloody fray,
Which ended in the keeper's death upon that fatal day.
The poacher was taken and lay 'In Lancaster' to await trial.  The ballad continues with an echo of previous gallows literature:
Oh! what must be the torturing pangs that ring the guilty breast,
As lingers on the dreary night his soul can have no rest.
Even further connections can be seen.  The poacher has 'gone beyond the grave to meet his Maker face to face'.  And, finally, there is a warning:
Ye wild young men from this sad tale a solemn lesson learn,
If e'er enticed by wicked men, from their allurements turn,
The ways of virtue are the best, they bring us peace at last,
Contented is the poor man when all his toil is past.
This might be thought of as sententious stuff; and it is noticeable that this piece is very much inclined towards the status quo in social relationship.  So what were Harkness' motives?  In this case, were they to do with protecting Harkness's position in Preston, adjacent to Blackburn or, perhaps, more to do with simple exploitation of a current event as, it seems, happened with the Fish murder of Emily Holland described in an earlier piece in this series.25  If we take the Harkness pieces discussed above as illustrating contrasting motives - some neutral, some (it seems) favourable towards poachers - then mixed messages are evident.  Like election pieces in some ways, 'party' did not matter … commercial opportunity did.

Blackburn Poachers, incidentally, seems not to have survived in sung repertoire.

Another Harkness piece entitled Oakham Poachers, Or The Lamentation Of Young Perkins 26 which did survive in sung repertoire, begins, like Blackburn Poachers, with reasonably clear conventional expression as follows:

Young men of every station; that dwell within this nation,
Pray hear my lamentation - a sad and mournful tale,
Concerning of five fine young men, that lately were confined,
And heavily bound in irons in Oakham county jail.
Then a specific date is given - that of the ninth of January (but it has not proved possible yet to pinpoint the year), when, in Uppingham woods, the five men 'fired at pheasants random'.
The keepers did not enter, nor dare the grounds to venture,
But outside near the centre in ambush there they stood.
There is no obvious connection between the poachers' explicit activity and the ambush but, it seems, 'At length Young Perkins fired and spilt the keepers' blood'.

The viewpoint immediately changes - it was on 'Our way home' (my italics) … another keeper fired and the fire was returned:

He on the ground lay dying, like one who was a dying,
And no assistance nigh him, his blood in streams did flow.
The poachers were taken and sent to prison.  Unfortunately for three of them, the brothers John, Robert and George Perkins,
The assizes drawing near, one of our comrades swore,
That we three brothers fired, for which we now repent.
Supposedly, in poaching legend, one never told tales … One never 'peached'.  Hopkins notes that in over two hundred cases in the Cannock Chase area extending over a period of a half-century, only eight are recorded as being instigated through the testimony of friends and associates …27  Our ballads include more than one where this tradition was not kept up.

The three brothers were convicted and sentenced to death.  Then - and we see that the ballad ends before any hanging - there is another familiar aspect of balladry, the warning:

So all young men take warning and don't the laws be scorning,
So in our days just dawning we are cut off in our prime,
For don't the laws encroach on, - two of three are transported,
And the other hung at Oakham, - may God forgive their crime. 
Hodges produced a slightly different copy entitled Oakham Poachers presenting the piece in eight-line stanzas and beginning 'Young men in every station…' (my italics) before changing another line to 'A solemn mournful tale'.  The setting is also changed to 'Epping old wood' - Harkness, we recall, has 'Uppingham'.  In the next stanza lines are reversed, four beginning 'He on the ground lay crying' and, the next four continuing with Harkness' opening lines to the stanza 'Our way for home were taking …'.  The rest of the narrative is as it can be found in Harkness but several words are altered.  This form is found also in printings from Watts of Lane End, Jackson in Birmingham, Forth in Pocklington and Such in London.  The most important point to note is that the inversion in lines suggests that Perkins was the offended party … Why would he, then, be hanged? In this printing reversal of fate Watts (no details of this printer's operative dates have yet been found), Forth (after 1844), Jackson (after 1839), Hodges (after 1846) and Such have all changed the course of the ballad.  Further, why is it that Watts and Jackson have 'Emping old Wood' as setting and Forth, Hodges and Such 'Epping old Wood'? There is, after these changes, a lack of sense in the narrative, nothing to do with any possible north-south parting of the ways as was found in the case of Fanny Blair, discussed in a previous piece in this series.  In one way, we have the beginnings of a 'new' ballad.  Perhaps the more remarkable thing is that, in essence, the ballad remained unaltered.  But we still now have a headache when trying to fathom the mysteries of ballad-printing.28

Such mysteries are extended in the case of two ballads on the death of a Bill Brown which are based on an affair that took place in 1767.  Roy Palmer wrote that the hero, from Brightside, near Sheffield, together with his companions George Miller and Ned Greaves, went out poaching unarmed; and that Brown was shot by a gamekeeper at Dalton Brook.  Only a fragment of text (together with a tune (The Mill, Mill-O) is given and this is the same fragment that Frank Kidson included in Traditional Tunes with the same tune reference.  Mr Palmer gives the name of the keeper as Shirteliff and includes reference to the York Courant, where, is was stated, a John Shirteliff, Gamekeeper, had been charged with shooting William Brown but acquitted.  This evidence is dated 3rd April 1770.29

Harkness, in fact, printed a full text on the affair in which much time is spent on the approach to but less on the fatal incident and much more again on subsequent events:

With wires strong they march'd along,
Unto brave Thriberg town then,
With nut brown ale that ne'er did fail,
And many a health went round then,
Bright Luna bright did shine that night,
To the woods they did repair then,
True as the sun their dogs did run
To trace the lofty hare then. 
Shirtliffe lay in wait 'like Cain … seeking for blood', with both bayonet and gun, and shot Brown.  Farewells are made and Brown supposedly declares:
This cruel man's murdering hand,
         Has caused me for to yield then.
He lies on the ground unaided:
In grief and pain till death it came,
         To embrace his dear soul then.
Who took its flight to heaven straight,
         Where no man can control then.
The country round was ready 'to find the rogue'.  George Miller gave evidence:
But gold did fly they can't deny,
         Or at Tyburn he'd be hung then …
The ballad finally praises Ned Greaves and George Miller for their remembrance of Bill Brown and 'Vengeance cries amain then'.

It is a full narrative but entirely retrospective - the date of the incident was announced in the very first line: as 1769.  Whether or not Harkness was simply exploiting an old favourite or, as it were, commenting elliptically on cotemporary events is an open matter.30

The intrigue deepens.  Kidson included the full text of another version of the story 'reprinted from a broadside' (with a tune got from Charles Lolley, one of Kidson's most prominent informants) which is the same as that found as yet another Harkness printing, entitled The Death of Bill Brown, beginning, in conventional fashion,

Ye gentlemen both great and small,
Gamekeepers, poachers, sportsmen all,
Come listen to my simple clown,
I'll sing you the death of your poor Bill Brown,
I'll sing you the death of your poor Bill Brown …
This piece, following the story in outline as given in the first Brown ballad (the Harkness numbering sequence gives the first as number 345 and the second 503), would appear to have begun with actuality as in the piece quoted above, retrospective or not, and then to have added a vengeful killing.  After the conventional appeal to an audience as noted above it continues in a second stanza:
One stormy night as you shall hear,
(It was in the season of the year,)
We went to the woods for to catch a fat buck,
But, ah! That night we had bad luck,
Bill Brown was shot, and his dog was struck.
It may be that the presence of 'a fat buck' betrays the earlier origin of this piece.  At length, Bill Brown, dying on the ground, cried:
“Revenge my death,”  “I will,” said I …
And then, 'I knew the man that shot Bill Brown'; and the poacher waits until the clock strikes nine before ranging the woods all over (and looking at his watch: our journalistic touch for adding authenticity31) and finding the keeper, one Tom Green:
I fired and brought him down,
My hand gave him his deep death wound.
So revenge 'my hopes have crowned' as well as the memory of Bill Brown.  There is no remorse, no following up of the case; the piece is bald and maybe even a little bloodthirsty in character; but, in terms of actuality, there is no evidence that a revenge killing took place.32

This might be thought a typical example of how broadside text was adapted (even 'fiddled') and this can be further underlined.  Roy Palmer wrote that the ballad as described in its first manifestation here was re-shaped in 1837 'to commemorate a pitched battle between twenty-five poachers from Sudborough and a party of Lord Cardigan's keepers' - indicative of the savagery of some of the encounters.  In the ballad, Sudborough Heroes, we find that one poacher was killed:

Mourn all you gallant poachers mourn,
         Poor May's [sic] is dead and gone,
An hero brave laid in his grave,
         As ever the sun shine on.
Several names are mentioned in the ballad - Lea, Swan, Newton and 'brave Jim Stevens', for example who:
                           … ne'er will fail,
To crown poor Sam May's name …
The ballad is defiant and, initially, jaunty:
With net so strong they march'd along,
         Unto brave Deanthorpe town,
With nut brown ale that ne'er did fail,
         And many a health drank round.
The battle between keepers and poachers is hinted at rather than fully described and always interspersed with reference to Sam May:
But little did we think that night,
         Poor May was doomed to die.
One wonders what they did think.  The affair was obviously pre-planned and large-scale in the manner of gang activity as cited by Hopkins.  And, after May's death, 'vengeance cries amain' although we do not see it in operation.

The viewpoint finally switches to that of May:

Farewell dear heart since I must part,
         From wife and children dear,
To pay my doom it was too soon,
         That ever I came here.
Farewell unto those dear brave lads,
         Whomsoever range the fields,, [sic]
That cruel man is murdering hand
         Has caused us for to yield.
The rights and wrongs disappear … and the circumstances have clearly altered the whole tenor of the ballad.  It is as well to pause, though.  Evidently, May did not die of wounds but of the exertion brought on in being chased.  33

The point, in ballad terms, is that there are touches of familiar murder ballad literature and this becomes pertinent as context for Rutterford's case, as will be seen.

The case of certain Liverpool poachers (1843) can be found in a piece entitled The Fate Of The Liverpool Poachers.34  (Harkness, be it noted, again got in on the act):

Of five gallant Poachers,
         As you shall understand,
One night they went a Poaching,
         Into Lord Derby's land …
One poacher then declared that they should have game 'Or spill some human blood':
John Roberts, [sic] said, to Nathan Shaw,
         What did you say to me?
Thou said, Let's fire at Kenyon,
         And keep each other free …
The events are telescoped.  The next stanza, indeed, has Nathan Shaw in court along with Roberts, who, Shaw declared:
         … stood along with me;
I saw him fire at Kenyon,
         As I was standing by,
And he received the fatal wound that night,
         Which caused him for to die.
Roberts, in turn, protested:
I little thought thou would come here,
         To swear my life away;
We all agreed in Knowsley Park,
         Our deed not to betray …
Roberts was tried and found guilty.  Then, with a small echo of gallows ballads already discussed in this series, he makes his peace with God and:
Redemption stands before my eyes,
         And Heaven, for to regain,
A crown of righteousness I know,
         I shortly shall obtain.
The hope seems to be, at this distance in time, pious and gratuitous.

The piece, however, is confirmed in some detail in a ballad, once more from Harkness (and no other imprint has so far been found), entitled Lines On The Execution Of Roberts The Poacher.35  The same deeds are recounted, beginning in conventional fashion:

Come all you good people I hope you'll attend,
Unto these few verses that I have penn'd,
These lines are concerning five young men's fate,
All for the crime of murder - most shocking to state.
A date of the tenth of November is given for the excursion into Lord Derby's park where 'poor Kenyon got wounded of which he soon died'.  After trial, it was John Roberts who was to hang, the other four allowed to 'escape from the tree' and some familiar-sounding lines can be found:
Unhappy John Roberts, the lot fell on he,
His life for to forfeit on the gallows tree;
It should be a warning unto all mankind,
To see him cut off at the height of his prime.
Some 'thousands drew near'; Roberts makes his peace with God 'and happy I die'; and another warning, against bad company, is given before 'the bolt is drawn most awful to tell'.  The date of the execution of Roberts was 23rd January 1844 which suggests that the November of the ballad was in 1843.

So far, then, we have found a variety of texts.  Some are similar in form and intention to certain ballads involving domestic murder as discussed in previous pieces in this series but lacking several of their characteristics - no blood runs cold, no slur is cast on a Christian country, there are few insights into the murderer's mind; all this (its absence, that is) suggesting a sympathy or at least an open mind about poaching.  Others, like ballads about Michael Barrett, reveal even more changed appearance and apparent intention according to the special circumstances.  Quite clearly, poaching ballads occupy a niche of their own in broadside printing terms.  Amongst the texts surveyed here a half involve murder. 

How does James Rutterford fit into this context?

Rutterford's case is not unlike other poaching cases in its apparently random, savage outcome and in the fact that Rutterford knew his victim and his victim knew him (we recall the exchanges between keeper and poacher in both the Bill Brown and the Blackburn pieces) - an essentially local affair, then.  Newspaper reports in Bury St Edmunds, close to the scene of the murder, confirm this (see below).  But for the fact of murder, Rutterford as poacher might have had an automatic sentence to transportation.  But it was revealed that he had said to his accomplice, David Heffer, on the spot, that he would 'make a clean job' of his attack on his victim and that he would as lief be hung as transported.36  Murder, then, brings it into our present purlieu and uncovers surprising twists in the tale.

The Times, as well as a Bury and Norwich Post supplement, took close interest and the two newspapers furnish us with both an outline as well as details.  Two men, James [David] Heffer and James Rutterford had apparently been involved in the death of a young gamekeeper, John Hight, on December 31st 1869 whilst on the preserves of the Maharajah Duleep Singh and Rutterford was indicted for the wilful murder of John Hight.37  Rutterford's trial took place at the end of March.  An opening statement revealed that Hight had gone into a belt of wood containing a great deal of game, had been missed, and discovered lying dead, having been beaten about the head and partially covered up.  Suspicion fell on Heffer and Rutterford - as recounted below.

At the trial, Mr Justice Byles - His Lordship - in addressing the jury, said that an application had been made to him to allow David Heffer to give evidence on the part of the Crown.  He warned the Jury, though, that:

If Heffer were present, aiding and abetting or consenting in, any way, he is guilty, and if he did not disclose his knowledge as soon as he ought to have done he would be guilty of misprision of felony, at the very least …38
Yet Heffer was freed from his charge in order to act as witness and his evidence indicated that, when confronted by Hight, he (Heffer) dropped his cap, stooped to pick it up and was partially held by the keeper whereupon Rutterford objected and struck Hight's arm.  Hight backed away.  Rutterford followed him and hit him on the head with his gun.  Hight fell and Rutterford insisted on making a 'clean job' of it and struck Hight several times with both the barrel and the breech of the gun.  Hight was then partially hidden and the two poachers left the scene.  One witness described how he found Hight:
He was lying a little on his right side, with his arms extended over his head.  Some furze and a velvet frock were covered over him.  Some of the furze that covered him was growing there and some of it was cut.  This shows it must have been a deliberate act, this covering the body …39
Charles Peck, a policeman, had approached Heffer and Rutterford just after the event, suspecting them of having been poaching.  Heffer ran but Peck was able to take the gun that was in Rutterford's possession.  He also found a cap on Rutterford's person which the prisoner said was his.  Peck observed that he was already wearing a cap whereupon Rutterford declared the second one to be a spare.  Peck, at any rate, left the cap in Rutterford's possession, let him go but took the gun to John Allen, a gamekeeper on a neighbouring estate.  He, it turns out, had seen both Heffer and Rutterford on the road at an earlier time, before the murder had been committed.  On examination, the barrel was found to have been dented and distorted as if used as a bludgeon and it transpired that unused shot found in the vicinity of Hight's body matched shot that had remained jammed in the barrel of the gun.

Some weeks later, Hight's cap was found, saturated in part with blood and partly hidden in a bank in the direction of Mildenhall, the same direction that Rutterford had taken after having been questioned by Charles Peck.  A search of Rutterford's home had revealed that his clothes had been spattered with blood (and possibly washed).40

Heffer's evidence continues the story.  It appeared that the gun was his but that it was Rutterford who had used it first to shoot pheasants and then to batter Hight.  Heffer went on to affirm that just prior to the murder Hight had said that he knew Rutterford and that Rutterford knew him (our local touch).

Heffer insisted that he had made attempts to persuade Rutterford to stop and to run but the latter refused and continued to beat Hight and then drag his body away from the spot and to cover it.  Heffer and Rutterford then met up with Peck whereupon Heffer did run.  He still had the nerve to sell his pheasant in Mildenhall and to visit The Prince of Wales for a pint, perhaps two and, further, to call on Rutterford the next morning, not quite the actions of a total innocent.41

Heffer's evidence had certainly implicated him in the crime although he apparently thought that he would not be indicted since he had not done the deed.  And so it turned out.  A dozen witnesses offered corroborating evidence and it was Rutterford who was charged with murder and sentenced to death. 

However, one twist in the tale is that, after sentencing, Rutterford was respited because, on medical evidence:

Owing to a malformation of the convict's throat, the consequence of a severe burn in early life, there might be great difficulty in executing the sentence of the law without risk of failure.  42
Rutterford was reprieved.  The reason seems, at this distance, to have been in the nature of an irony and, in detail, somewhat gruesome:
He cannot be hanged by the ordinary means, for, to secure against the risk of failure and a prolongation of suffering, it will be necessary to use a very considerable and unusual amount of constricting force before the rope can be adjusted in such a manner as to sustain the weight of the prisoner's body.43
A ballad has surfaced which involved Rutterford, as printed by Disley, entitled The Trial and Condemnation Of James Rutterford … and found in the Bodleian Allegro archive.44  In it, a second twist in the tale begins to emerge.  The ballad begins in the conventional way that many murder ballads did:
You Suffolk lads of each degree,
And all young men of each degree,
And when my mournful tale you hear,
For my sad end shed a silent tear
         Upon the dreadful scaffold high,
         A murderer's death I am doom'd to die.

James Rutterford it is my name,
I now must end my life in shame;
Repentance, alas! It is too late,
I must prepare to meet my fate.
We may pause to note that Disley was well enough prepared to offer a ballad of this sort (we remind ourselves that Disley issued over forty murder ballads) and it is no surprise that the initial appeal to 'young men' and the reference to repentance occur together with the familiar description of the scaffold.  And so it goes on - 'My parents raised me tenderly…' (a phrase found in Young Henry's Downfall); the events are skimmed through…'With Heffer I went in search of game', encountering 'poor John Hight' - 'I owed him no spite' because he was doing his duty:
I know you Rutter, poor John Hight said
Those words they fill'd my mind with dread …
And Rutterford:
                           … did him kill,
And his precious blood on the ground did spill.
He admits that 'As Heffer says, I then struck him down' (Hight, that is), dragged him 'in his gore' and covered him - 'But the eye of God brought my crime to light'.  Heffer, Rutterford declares in the ballad, was innocent.  He himself, in another typical Disley touch, owns that of Hight:
His form is ever before my eyes,
And for vengeance on his murderer cries.
We can recall several cases where such hauntings form part of a ballad's expressive armoury.45  At length, the sentence, Rutterford declares in the ballad, was just.  He bids farewell to friends.  Finally:
How can I meet my offended God,
With my soul bow'd down with guilt and
It is a brief enough excursion, employing details that could have been found also in newspaper reports as evidenced above, and, significantly, the piece concludes before any hanging.  Thus far, then, Disley has titillated his audience; and remained true to his style of delivery and to broadside convention.

However, a second version of the ballad, entitled Execution of J Rutterford …can be found in Hindley's Curiosities 46  Here, there is a brief prose excursion but its tenor is presumptive:

This morning, at the county prison, Bury St Edmunds, James Rutterford underwent the last dread sentence of the law …
The malformation in Rutterford's throat, the fact of which was exposed during his trial, is noted; but, after a government inspector's visit:
The inspector came to the conclusion that there was nothing in the neck to prevent his being hanged in the usual manner.
Accordingly, 'The sheriff arrived …', the prisoner was pinioned, a procession formed and then:
The cap and rope having been adjusted, the bolt was drawn, and the wretched man soon ceased to exist …
However, at the foot of the page in Hindley, completing a second twist in the telling, the following appeared:
“This man was to have been hung, but they let him off because they thought it would hurt him, good Christians.” - MSS.  NOTE attached to our copy of the above by the intended Printer and Publisher.
We cannot be sure, then, that this piece was even issued nor assert that it was a Disley piece although the text is, word for word, exactly as the Disley ballad above had it.  There is nothing in the physical appearance of the ballad that could easily attach it to the Disley stable - but that may just have been because Hindley's printer altered the typeface.  The illustration, of a hanged man and a clergyman looking on, is an amalgam of prints, finely drawn and uncharacteristic of the general run of illustrations in murder ballads - perhaps, again, due to the intervention of Hindley's printer.  It leaves us with yet one more intrigue amongst the myriad others in gallows literature, some intimated above: in the order of Constance Kent's reprieve and subsequent history and, more particularly, the change of verdict in the cases of the murder of Susan Owen by William Willson and of Margaret Bell's murder of her baby; and, again, in the verdict of manslaughter for the starvation of John Moss - none of the last three ending up with judicial hanging.47  The only possibility is that commercial pressure prompted the second version of the Rutterford ballad.

Finally, it is clear that there is much more to say about poaching ballads outside the parameters of events where a murder took place.  Why does it seem, for instance, that, in general, southern printers did not issue poaching ballads.  It could not have been that there were fewer instances of poaching as Harry Hopkins made clear in The Long Affray … both through his central study of the cases of Charles Smith in Romsey and James Turner in Andover (both hanged in 1822) and of other instances - in Cranborne Chase, in the New Forest in Hampshire, in Chelmsford, at Charlton Down, Andover and around Reading - and in much more incidental detail: numerous cases in Kent, Essex and Surrey and, again, at Goodwood, in Maldon and at Farnham Castle… His book is crammed with evidence and convincing in its enumeration of continual strife in the south of England (and, of course, in the north) to which we may add, with barely a deliberate glance, instances reported in, say, the Bury and Norwich Post - Joseph Seeley and Charles Crown charged with having trespassed for the purpose of taking game; Joseph Wright and John Wright guilty of might poaching; William Hooks and Robert Ayers charged with shooting at a gamekeeper; James Roberts convicted of poaching …48  But, where ballads are in view, how far can we pursue the kinds of expression and the thrust of them which reveal differences in their patterns compared to those in which domestic murder featured?  And how far did printers - the case of Harkness is relevant - distinguish between the sorts?  We can, at this stage, at least say that within the operative conventions of ballad composition there is sufficient leeway for a variety of form and intention to make its presence felt. 

It is hoped that some further consideration can be offered.  Meanwhile, for the afficionado, versed in the recent history of Blaxhall Ship, which itself is not a million miles away from Eriswell and the Elvedon estate of the Maharajah Duleep Singh, the scene of James Rutterford's downfall, there is a miniature to consider.  Harry Hopkins drew attention to a reference, got through oral reconstruction by George Ewart Evans and recounted in Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay.  At the Ship (it does seem that the name embraces a local pronunciation of 'sheep'):

Underneath the inn is a cellar built for the cool storage of beer and wine; but at one time the cellar stored another commodity as well.  Until recent years there were a number of hooks fixed in the beams of the cellar.  They were used for hanging up game - partridges and pheasants chiefly.  They were kept out of sight in the cellar because they had been poached.  This was a very necessary precaution when poaching was punishable by long terms of imprisonment or even by transportation …
Evans' informants also suggested that 'In addition the landlord incurred the suspicion of being in league with smugglers …', not surprising in an area where fishermen took on such extra duties and the results were distributed far and wide - but that is another story.49

Roly Brown - 26.9.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France Article MT168


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