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Highwayman Tom's Unfortunate Escapade

Born in Shaftesbury, Tom Dorbel was apprenticed to a glove maker in Blandford. Deciding on a change of career at the age of 17 years, he ran away to London to become a highwayman.

At the time, Hounslow Heath, near London was one of the most dangerous places in the country. Across the Heath ran the Exeter and Bristol roads used by wealthy travellers. They provided rich pickings for highwaymen like Tom Dorbel.

Crossing Hounslow Heath, Tom came across a Welshman named, Twm Sion Cati. He stopped Twm at gunpoint and demanded his money or alternatively he would take the Welshman’s life. Twm replied that he had no money of his own but was carrying sixty pounds which belonged to his mistress. Reluctantly, Twm surrendered this money. Bizarrely, he then begged the highwayman to put several bullets through his coat. He explained he wanted evidence to show his mistress that he had put up quite a fight before giving up her treasure.

Twm took off his coat so that the slightly bemused highwayman could dutifully comply with the request. Behaving like an idiot, Twm said ‘that was very good of you indeed and if you was able to put another in my hat it would be better still.’  Tom wondered what kind of idiot he had happened across but fired his last shot into the hat as desired.

‘Now’ said Twm producing a pistol ‘it’s my turn, so out with your coinage or I’ll put a hole through your body.’ Twm had not only saved his mistress’ money but had robbed the highwayman as well!

Twm Sion Cati was in fact a shameless trickster, thief and con artist whose quick-witted exploits were to make him something of a Robin Hood-like, Welsh folk hero. Tales of Twm’s exploits even featured in the television series,  Hawkmoor which was filmed in 1978.

Tom Dorbel, the Dorset born highwayman, became equally notorious. On another occasion he robbed the Duke of Norfolk near Salisbury but his horse was shot and he was arrested. At the next Assizes, he was condemned to be executed. While under sentence he found a lawyer who for fifty guineas agreed to obtain his reprieve. The lawyer rode to London, was successful and arrived back only just in time before the highwayman was led to the scaffold. The lawyer had ridden so hard that his horse fell dead. Such was the rascal's ingratitude that he refused to pay the lawyer. He alleged that any obligation given by a man under sentence of death was invalid.

Eventually, Tom's crimes caught up with him and he was executed at St. Michael’s Hill, Bristol in March 1714. He had been arrested after he had assaulted and robbed a young girl.


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