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Sunday

James Maclaine - a Highwayman

Source: outlawsandhighwaymen.com,
the Hon. Mr. Horace Walpole's letters
James Maclaine (1724-1750) came from an Irish clergy family.
Educated to become a merchant, MacLaine ran through his inheritance on fine clothes, prostitutes and gambling. In London he married the daughter of an innkeeper.
With five hundred pounds of the dowry, he started a grocery store. His wife died in 3 years, and he ruined his business in adopting the airs of a gentleman to attract a new wealthy wife.

James Maclaine - Highwayman, author unknown

Soon he joined bankrupt apothecary William Plunkett as a highwayman.
They were responsible for about 20 highway robberies in 6 months in Hyde Park.
Their first robbery brought them £60.
In 1748, he set himself up in lodgings in St James's Street and for two years he passed in society as a wealthy gentleman with his 'servant' Plunket.
"M’Lean had a quarrel at Putney bowling-green two months ago with an officer, whom he challenged for disputing his rank; but the captain declined, till M’Lean should produce a certificate of his nobility, which he has just received".

Plunkett and Maclaine robbing the Earl of Eglinton on Hounslow Heath in 1750


The attempt to dispose of fine clothing led to MacLaine's arrest — he stripped the lace from a waistcoat taken in the robbery and tried to sell it to a pawnbroker, who by chance took it to the same man who had just sold the lace and recognised it.
Quantities of stolen goods were found at his lodgings: "there was a wardrobe of clothes, three-and-twenty purses, and the celebrated blunderbuss found at his lodgings, besides a famous kept mistress".

His arrest became a fashionable society occasion, "here are as many prints and pamphlets about him as about the earthquake" and "we have no generals worth making a parallel", wrote XXXX.

"..he confesses everything, and is so little of a hero, that he cries and begs.. He himself was a grocer, but losing a wife that he loved extremely about two years ago, and by whom he has one little girl, he quitted his business with two hundred pounds in his pocket, which he soon spent, and then took to the road with only one companion, Plunket.."

"The first Sunday after his condemnation, three thousand people went to see him; he fainted away twice with the heat of his cell".

It even exists a James Maclaine’s letter to Horace Walpole (who also had been robbed by the notorious highwayman) -- James Maclaine anonymously offered to Walpole to buy out his belonings "..we have likewise seen the advertisem[en]t offering a Reward of twenty Guineas for your watch and sealls which are very safe and which you shall have with your sword and the coach mans watch for fourty Guineas and Not a shilling less as I very well know the Value of them and how to dispose of them to the best advantage.."

Maclaine suggested that Walpole would sent his servant to Tyburn with a white hankerchif in his hand as a signal - they (he and Plunket?) would deliver his things and in an hour they would expect the same servant back with money. They also warned that if they realised they had been betrayed, they had friends who personally knew Walpole and "would for ever seek your Destruction".
On 3 October, 1750 Maclain was hanged.
William Plunkett escaped.


William Hogarth. The reward of cruelty, fourth and last of series of engravings

MacLaine is thought to be the original model for Macheath the Knife, antihero of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. A modern, although fictionalised, portrayal of his life appears in the 1999 film Plunkett & Macleane. His skeleton appears in the final plate of William Hogarth's The Four Stages of Cruelty -- two skeletons to the rear left and right of the print are labelled as James Field, a well-known boxer and Macleane, an infamous highwayman. Both men were hanged shortly before the print was published.



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