The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
Height: 248.000 mm
Width: 350.000 mm
Prints and Drawings
Charles Mosley, An Exact Representation of Maclaine, the highwayman, etching and engraving
Published by P Angier, engraver and printseller, at the Plume of Feathers in Windmill Street, St. James's, London, 1750
James Maclaine (1724-50) came from a respectable Irish clergy family. 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 though in fact - with his 'servant' Plunket as his accomplice - he was a highway robber. One of his victims was Horace Walpole whom he robbed of a gold watch in Hyde Park in November 1749. Maclaine was finally caught on 27 July 1750 through attempts to dispose of fine clothing taken from a passenger on the Salisbury coach at Turnham Green a month earlier. Quantities of stolen goods were found at his lodgings and he was found guilty at the Old Bailey on 13 September. The trial caused a tremendous stir among those who had been taken in by his gentlemanly appearance; according to Walpole 3,000 people visited him in Newgate Prison on the Sunday after his trial. He was hanged at Tyburn on 3 October. The story gave rise to a large number of prints, broadsides, pamphlets and newspaper accounts. Plunket was never apprehended.
Tyburn, at the north-east corner of Hyde Park, had been a place of execution since the twelfth century. Eighteenth-century residents in fashionable Mayfair objected to the proximity of public executions and the rowdiness that accompanied them, and in 1783 the principal place of execution for London was moved to the wide space of the Old Bailey outside Newgate Prison. Executions ceased to be public in 1868. The death penalty applied to about 200 offences, but its main function was to act as a deterrent. During the 1750s a total of 281 people were executed; one third of those sentenced were reprieved.
This print - priced at 6d plain, 1s coloured - shows Maclaine and Plunket holding up Lord Eglinton's coach on Hounslow Heath on 26 June 1750. They are wearing elegant Venetian masks of the sort worn at masquerades.