Biography of Jailbreaker Jack Sheppard Part 1

About the English jailbreaker Jack Sheppard, biography and history of the man who escaped from numerous prisons.


Jack Sheppard

As criminals go, Sheppard was strictly run-of-the-mill. In his brief life--ended by the hangman's noose in London's Tyburn Prison at age 22--he failed to achieve lasting notoriety. His real talent, which made his name known in high-society drawing rooms in 1723-1724, was his ability to escape from all but one of the prisons in which he was incarcerated. He was written up in pamphlets and books, gossiped over in pubs and on the seamy London streets, sung about in doggerels and ditties, and even excoriated by zealous vicars as an unrepentant backslider. The Drury Lane Theater catapulted him to even greater fame through a short pantomime called Harlequin Sheppard and a three-act comedy that described his vocation more accurately: The Prison-Breaker. Newgate Prison made its own contribution by allowing Sir James Thronhill, the famous painter responsible for the dome work of St. Paul's Cathedral, to do a portrait of the skinny, callow escape artist.

Sheppard began his chosen career humbly, as a nimble pickpocket working London's foggy streets. Apprenticed to a carpenter for four years, Sheppard quickly saw an easier way to make a living. Once inside a house he was to remodel or repair, he mentally inventoried the owner's valuables as he worked, eyeballing the easiest way to gain access when he surreptitiously returned. The stolen articles were passed along to two female fences, "Edgeworth" Bess and Poll Maggott. The arrangement nearly caused Sheppard's undoing when Poll urged him to rob a merchant named Bains. Sheppard broke into Bain's shop at midnight and selected a quantity of dry goods, after he had emptied the till. Unable to carry all of his booty away, he hid a piece of fustian--a velveteenlike fabric--in his toolbox, intending to retrieve it the next morning. Unfortunately, Bains was suspicious, checked the box, and found the damaging evidence. But before the merchant could press charges, Sheppard had restolen the fustian, thus saving his neck.

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