The Adventures of Robinson (Background: Clifton)

The Rebel Tree, Clifton

The Highland commander, George Murray, saves Tom Robinson from execution at the hands of the Jacobites at Eamont Bridge in the '45'.

As the Jacobite army made its melancholy retreat through Westmorland and Cumberland in the late autumn of 1745, escaping from military and political failure in England into a brief refuge in Scotland, one Thomas Robinson of Clifton, just south of Penrith, had his own adventure to relate: one Westmerian villager’s narrative vignette to tell his grandchildren, set against a great drama of national, and indeed international, consequence. His story, put before the JPs in a petition for redress,[i] was an astonishing one of betrayal, high words and mockery, of a drumhead trial, a death threat, a sudden reprieve and a burning thirst for revenge.

Robinson’s exposure to, and then narrow escape from, execution by a Jacobite firing squad took place at some point in the week when the military situation in the Penrith area fluctuated between possession by Jacobite and Hanoverian forces. Over the weekend of 14-15 December Robinson, ‘with the rest of the Neighbourhood’, had taken part in the ‘Sunday hunting’, a vengeful manhunt against the hated Jacobites: Penrith’s ad hoc posse set off ‘in Persuit of the Duke of Perth [ii]and the other Rebells along with him upon Langwathby Moor and after a Tedious Persuit one Fitzgerlad [sic] a rebel Hussar was taken and Broh’t behind your petitioner [Robinson] on Horseback to Penrith’, which was at that point under Hanoverian control. There Fitzgerald - presumably one of the Irish Catholic followers of the Stuart claimant to the throne, the ‘Pretender’ Prince Charles Edward (1720-88) - was brought before three magistrates from the local gentry and remanded for further legal action.

Now, however, the wheel of fortune revolved against the area’s Hanoverian allegiance  - and against Tom Robinson for his close involvement in it - when the vanguard of the Jacobite army in the week after the ‘Sunday hunting’ took possession of Penrith and its vicinity. Eight Jacobite hussars were quartered in the house of Christopher Slater, an innkeeper in Eamont Bridge. There, Slater’s pro-Jacobite wife Lucy testified to the hussars that Robinson ‘had been in Persuit … of the Duke of Perth and had taken the … Hussar [Fitzgerad] and bro’t him to [into] Penrith’.

On receipt of these accusations, five of the hussars were sent to Robinson’s Clifton house, ‘broke the doors open, plundered his House & Broh’t him to Slaters’. Once Robinson was brought into the premises, Lucy Slater opened up a mocking tirade against him in the presence of the hussars:

 now Tom wod it not have been more satisfaction for you and your family to have been at yr own House than persuing the Duke of Perth?

Perhaps a little inadequately, Robinson replied ‘that the Thing was over and that he Cod.not help it now’. Once Lucy Slater had confirmed that he was the man who had captured the hussar at Langwathby, he was taken to the ancient earthworks known as King Arthur’s Round Table, near Eamont Bridge, and from there under escort into Penrith to appear before the commander of Charles Edward’s Life Guards, David Wemyss  (1721-87), Lord Elcho, where Lucy Slater’s accusations against him were repeated. Robinson’s prospects for a fair trial were not bright when he heard Elcho bawl out, ‘Dam him shout him’. When, however, the hussars were interrogated - by no less a person than the Pretender himself - it quickly became clear that it was not their testimony that convicted Robinson of having apprehended their colleague in arms but that he was guilty solely ‘upon the information of Lucy Slater … who had told them tht he was the man tht Took the Hussar & Carryed him to Penrith behind him’.

Robinson’s outlook was now at its most dire, when the Pretender himself ordered him

to be carryed out & to be Shot & thereupon the Rebells drew your Petitioner out Blindfolded Him &  Extended his Arms and Broh’t a Fyle of Musketeers  … who Broat Three Guns in order to Shoot him.

If this command typified Charles Edward’s rashness and cruelty, Robinson was next to learn that the second most important Jacobite commander was putting in a powerful word in his favour: the Scots aristocrat Lieutenant-General Lord George Murray (1700-60) took part in all the three Jacobite expeditions of that period, enjoyed a high European military reputation, defeated the Redcoats at Prestonpans in September 1745 and took Carlisle for the Stuart cause in same month. His plea in support of Robinson, which was to the effect that the only witness against the prisoner was of dubious reputation, would carry great weight, contradicting his overlord. Murray 

Spoke out & said Hold Hold and told the prince tht he Desired the Mans Life might be spared for tht he was Informed the Woman who made the Informt was a person of Bad Character & tht the matter might be further Inquired and thereupon the Execution was staid & your Petitioner was Carryed to Carlisle.

Murray’s intervention meant Robinson’s reprieve. The latter’s appearance before the Pretender was not a trial in law or even a court martial, nor is it clear that a witness’s moral character or reputation might disqualify her testimony. But the matter was political rather than forensic, in the sense that to kill a man for arresting a soldier who was only under detention by the Cumberland magistrates would hardly improve the Jacobites’ already disastrous public relations management - leaving, as they did, a trail of plunder and violence behind them in their withdrawal through the north west, converting a Clifton Friend from Quaker pacifism into loyalist militancy.

So fortunate Thomas Robinson remained under lock and key in Carlisle Castle prison until the city was recaptured at the very end of the year by the Hanoverian commander William Augustus (1721-65), duke of Cumberland. Thomas was not, however, disposed to let the events that had taken place at Eamont Bridge or his grievance against Lucy Slater slip from his mind. Under steady pressure from him, the case reached the duke’s private secretary, who ordered Slater’s arrest so that she was bound over by a Penrith magistrate to appear before the quarter sessions, Robinson seeking to persuade the justices to share his ‘Oppinion that [her] Offence is High Treason .. [and to] order Lucy Slater to be called to appear upon her Recognizances & be Committed to the County Goal in order to Take her Tryall the next Assizes’, which would review capital cases.

Whether or not Robinson hoped for a death sentence against Lucy Slater- for example on account of her treasonable espionage on behalf of the Jacobites, as was considered by the quarter sessions early in1746 - Lucy Slater’s name cannot be traced in the later lists of those convicted and sentenced for their parts in the rising [iii]: like her Clifton adversary, she had every reason to be thankful for her alleged ill-fame and for Lord George’s overruling his hasty Prince.  

Text by Michael Mullett

Photo by Lorna Mullett

To find out more about the history of the Township of Clifton, click here


[i] Cumbria Archives Service, Carlisle: Records of Cumberland Quarter Sessions [Q/11/1194-Q/11/1/268: 1745-6 Christmas petitions, no, 23. 

[ii] The Jacobite commander James Drummond (1713-47), 6th earl and 3rd titular duke of Perth. For the military background: Jonathan D. Oates, The Jacobite Invasion of 1745 in North West England (Lancaster: Lancaster University Centre for North-West Regional Studies, General Editor Jean Turnbull, 2006), pp. 81-91.

[iii] J. G. Arnot and B. S. Seton, ‘Prisoners of the 45’, Scottish Historical Review, 3rd Series13-15 (1928-9).