Bampfylde Moore Carew: the final years

Return to exeter

After departing from Bristol, Bampfylde continued his impostures on route to Exeter, visiting well-to-do acquaintances to whom he eventually revealed his true identity upon which they expressed great surprise but treated him handsomely nevertheless. On reaching Exeter, when news of his arrival spread, a small crowd gathered to hear from him of his adventures in America.

Two months after this came home Captain Froade laden with tobacco; as soon as he came to an anchor, several gentlemen of Exeter going on board him, enquired, what passage? and where he left Mr Carew? damn him, replied the captain, you will never see him again; he ran away, was taken, put in New Town gaol, brought back again, and whipped, had a pot-hook put on him, ran away with it on his neck, and has never been heard of since; so that, without doubt, he must either be killed by some wild beast, or drowned in some river. At which the gentlemen fell a laughing, telling the captain he had been at home two months before him. Captain Froade swore it could never be; however they confirmed it to him that it was so.

Carew meets his match

There now follows the strange story of Carew's encounter with Lord Weymouth who was himself predisposed to indulge in cunning deception.

One day Bampfylde was begging in the town of Maiden Bradley as a shipwrecked seaman when he saw on the other side of the street a similarly attired beggar, who on seeing Carew, crossed over to speak to him and asked him where he had stayed last night, and where was he heading. Using the canting language, he asked Carew if he would brush into a boozing-ken and be his thrums, to which he agreed readily. They talked of this and that over their ale: of various questions concerning the country, of families that were more charitable and those less so, of the moderate and severe justices, and those countries that would and would not permit begging in their territories.

The next Day they beg the Town, one on one side of the Street, the other on the other, each on his own separate Story. They then proceeded to the Houses of several Gentlemen in that Neighbourhood; among others they came to Lord Weymouth's, where it was agreed that Mr. Carew should be the Spokesman. Upon their coming up to the House the Servants bid them begone, for should Lord Weymouth detect them in any Falsehood, he would horsewhip them without Mercy. Our Travellers, however, were not the least daunted thereat. Therefore they went up to the Kitchen door and Mr. Carew broke the Ice, telling the deplorable Story of their Misfortune in his usual lamentable Tone. At length the Housekeeper gave them the greatest part of a cold Shoulder of Mutton, half a fine Wheaten Loaf, and a Shilling, but did it with great Haste and Fear, lest my Lord should see her. Of the Butler they got a Copper of good Ale, and then departed.

After they had travelled some distance from the house they began to argue over who was to carry the victuals, neither wanting to encumber themselves, not having a wife or child nearby to give it to. Carew was for throwing it in the hedge, but his companion urged against this, saying it was a shame to waste good victuals; so they both agreed to go to The Green Man, about a mile away, and exchange it for liquor. They tarried some time at this alehouse, and snacked the arget; then, after a parting glass, each went his separate way.

The Reader cannot but be surprised, when we assure him that this Mendicant Companion of his was no less a Person than my Lord Weymouth himself, who, being desirous of sounding the Tempers and Dispositions of the Gentlemen, and other Inhabitants of his Neighbourhood, put himself into a Habit so vastly beneath his Birth and Fortune. Nor was this the first Time that this great Nobleman had metamorphosed himself into the despicable Shape and Character of a Beggar. He took especial Care to conceal it even from his own Family, one Servant only, in whose Secrecy he greatly confided, being entrusted therewith.

This Lord Weymouth was Thomas Thynne, born in 1710, who succeeded to the title of the second Viscount Weymouth in 1714, and died in 1751.

Bampfylde Moore Carew

As soon as Carew and his companion had parted company, Lord Weymouth slipped home by a private route, divested himself of his disguise, and, calling for his servants, said that he had been informed that two mendicant sailors had visited his house, that they were impostors, and he ordered two of his men to mount their horses and bring them before him. Naturally the servants were only able to capture Carew, and he was taken back to the mansion. The Viscount accosted him in a very rough manner, asking him where the other fellow was, and told him he should be made to find him.

Mr. Carew in the mean Time stood thunder-struck, expecting nothing less than Commitment to Prison ; but upon Examination, made out his Story as well as he could. After having thus terrified and threatened him for a considerable Time, away goes his Lordship, and divesting himself of his Habit and Character of a Nobleman, again puts on his Rags, and is by his Trusty Valet de Chambre (alone in the Secret) ushered into the Room where his Brother Beggar stood sweating with Fear. They confer Notes together, whispering to each other what to say, in order that their Accounts might agree when examined apart. The Steward took Mr. Carew aside into a private chamber, and there pretending that the other Fellow's Relation contradicted his, proved them to be both Counterfeits; a Prison must be the Portion of them both; indeed nothing was omitted that might strike Mr. Carew with the greatest Terror and Confusion. By this Time my Lord having thrown off his Rags and put on his fine Apparel, Mr. Carew was again brought into his Presence to receive his Sentence; when my Lord, having sufficiently diverted himself with the Consternation of his Brother Mumper, discovered himself to him.

After that Lord Weymouth, to whom Bampfylde had confided his real name, showed him considerable hospitality, taking him to the Warminster horse-races, and they parted the best of friends. On subsequent visits to his lordship, Carew was presented with a hearty welcome at his house and offered a guinea. On one occasion, recalling the events just described, Weymouth jokingly remarked that he was more expert at the science of mumping even than Carew himself.

Further adventures

Carew continued his mendicant activities across the West of England and further afield, including a visit to Stockholm in Sweden where he disguised himself as Presbyterian parson called Slowly, a castaway from a vessel bound for Revel; on another occasion he went to Paris dressed as a devout Roman Catholic who had left England out of an earnest zeal to spend his days in the bosom of Catholicism.

Some time later on a return visit to Exeter with his wife to see friends, while out walking on his own in Topsham nearby he was accosted by merchant Davey who was accompanied by several captains of other vessels.

"Ha! Mr. Carew you are come in a right time; as you came over for your own pleasure, so you shall go over for mine". Then they laid hands on him who found it in vain to resist, as he was overpowered by numbers; he therefore desired to be carried before some magistrate but this was not hearkened to, for they forced him on board a boat, without the presence or authority of any officer or justice, not so much as suffering him to take leave of his wife, or acquaint her of his misfortune though he begged the favour almost with tears; the boat carried him on board the Phillory, under Captain Simmonds bound for America with convicts, which lay then off Powderham Castle, waiting only for a fair wind.

Thus it was that Carew was kidnapped and transported to Maryland for a second time. Once more he escaped, slipping off in a canoe unnoticed during the convict sales. To avoid recapture he travelled during the night, and hid in trees during the day; he stealthily stole food from empty homes when the occupants were out tilling the fields. To cross the mighty River Delaware he clutched at one of a number of horses grazing near the banks, and making a crude bridle from his handkerchief, persuaded the horse to swim the river with Carew on its back. He eventually made it to Boston where he was able to secure his passage back to England.

Carew joins the Jacobite rebels

In 1745, on hearing news each day of the progress of the Jacobite rebels under Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Young Pretender, Carew decided to travel north to join with them. Leaving his wife and child in Devon, he made his way to Edinburgh where he met up with the rebels. Not having the stomach for combat, he pretended to be very lame and sick. He hobbled on with them to Carlisle and then on to Manchester where he had his first sight of the young Prince. From there they moved on to Derby where a rumour was spread that the Duke of Cumberland was coming to fight them. Though the Young Pretender was game to fight, his followers were less courageous and they retreated to Carlisle. At this point Carew decided to depart for home.

Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie

Settling down in bickleigh

After being reunited with his wife and daughter on his return from the north of England, they paid a visit to Sir Thomas Carew of Hackern, a relative of Bampfylde's, who offered to provide for them if he would give up his wandering life. The offer was declined. Some time later, much to the delight of his wife, he at long last decided to settle down, and having acquired sufficient wealth by some means, purchased a house in Bickleigh, his birthplace. There he spent his remaining years in obscurity, outliving his wife. He lived to see his daughter marry a gentleman before his death, believed to be in 1758; he was buried in the churchyard at St Mary's Church in Bickleigh.

  • King Carew's race at length is run,
  • His wanderings are all o'er;
  • No more his tricks, nor wit, nor fun,
  • Will make the table roar.
  • Bickleigh church-yard is now his home,
  • Peace rests upon him there;
  • And when the final day is come,
  • May he no danger fear!


title page of the original Life and Adventures
Title page of The Life and Adventures...

We conclude this portrayal of Bampfylde Moore Carew with a brief consideration of these two themes: the authenticity of the published accounts of his exploits, and the reasons for his enduring popularity.

It is beyond dispute that Bampfylde was a real person born into the venerable Carew family of Bickleigh, and that he ran away from school, choosing thereafter to lead the life of an itinerant beggar or vagabond. He travelled widely and was undoubtedly forcibly transported to Maryland from where he escaped and eventually returned to England. It is most likely that the first edition of the Life and Adventures was based on Bampfylde's own version of events, as the title page opposite reveals:

As related by Himself, during his Passage to the Plantations in America.

Carew may well have been a master of disguise, especially as begging by an impostor (or mumping as it was known) was not uncommon at the time. However, the relationship between Carew and the supposed community of the gypsies, and the account of the death of Clause Patch and his replacement by Carew as King of the Mendicants, are fanciful elaborations introduced by Robert Goadby to serve his own political agenda in the second expanded version of Carew's life, An Apology for the Life of Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew. This was written and published by Goadby in collaboration with W. Owen; it is also noteworthy for the vehemently sarcastic passages directed at Henry Fielding and his novel Tom Jones. Hugo Breitmeyer[1] sums up the gypsy thread in the Carew biographies like this:

The truth seems to be that Bampfylde never had any connection with the real gipsies and, even if the word was only intended to mean nothing more than wandering mendicants, there is no evidence that there was any large organization of these people. There can be no doubt that Bampfylde knew the canting language, that he had confederates, and that these men allowed him, with his superior education, experience and intelligence, to plan their campaigns. Beyond these established facts, the rest must be regarded as mere fiction.

Why was it that Bampfylde Moore Carew became a folk hero, revered and admired by younger readers almost as much as Robin Hood? Although he is largely forgotten today, the popularity of his life story lasted at least until the early 20th century.

English society from when Bampfylde was born in the late 17th century until the 20th century was organized in a strictly hierarchical system of class divisions, with a privileged few at the top of the pyramid. About five percent of the population constituted the gentry, and above them, the nobility. It was this small minority who controlled most of the country's wealth, and in rural areas owned most of the land. They wielded all the power and made all the decisions affecting the inferior majority.

It is in the context of this narrow conformity that the picaresque tales depicting the lives of rogues and vagabonds flourished in the literature 17th and 18th centuries. Here in the case of Bampfylde was the true story, albeit embellished, of the well-educated scion of the noble Carews giving up all his privileges to become an idler, a swindler, and a practical joker whose victims came from the rich and powerful from which he had himself broken away.

The popularity of Bampfylde was sustained through the 19th century by the adoption of his character in place of other favourites such as Aladdin as the leading role in pantomimes. For example, in 1825 there was a production called Bampfylde Moore Carew, or the Gipsey of the Glen, while nine years later the pantomime Bampfylde Moore Carew, Or Harlequin King of the Beggars was pulling in the crowds.


This section of Breitmeyer's introduction to Two Accounts of The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew, The King of the Beggars published by The Kennard Press in 1985 leans heavily on C H Wilkinson's introduction to The King of the Beggars - Bampfylde Moore Carew. This 1931 work contains reprints of the original Life and Adventures and Goadby's first version of An Apology for the Life. [return]