Early in the Eighteenth century, French missionaries were spreading propaganda among the Native Americans that Jesus Christ had been born in Paris and had been crucified in London by the barbarous English. In a bid to counter these lies, Queen Anne invited four ‘Indian Kings’ of the Mohawks to London and sought to impress them with the magnificence of Buckingham Palace and the sights in the capital. The Four Kings were an immediate sensation – when they went to a theatre production of Macbeth, the audience demanded that they were seated on chairs on the stage, in order to see them better.
|The Four 'Indian' Kings|
But in 1712, a street gang calling themselves The Mohocks began a reign of terror on the streets of London. These street gangs were nothing new in the city – Jacobean gangs called the Muns, the Tityre Tus, the Hectors or the Scowerers terrorised the population with their nocturnal activities. These gangs, or clubs as they preferred to call themselves, were composed of violent young bullies who would drink to excess, break up property, assault people on the streets and generally wreak havoc wherever and whenever they could. One group, the Nickers, would break windows by hurling handfuls of halfpennies at them. In 1711, a new ‘club’ called the Hawkubites came to the fore. They were noted for their extreme violence and it was rumoured that they were upper-class rakes who used their money and connections to remain beyond the reach of the law. But their savagery was nothing to that of the Mohocks.
Anne Johnson, Lady Stafford, wrote in a letter of March 11th 1712,
“… Here is nothing talked about but men tbat goes in partys about the street and cuts people with swords or knives, and they call themselves by som hard name that I can nethere speak nor spell.”
|Sir Richard Steele|
In The Spectator for March 10th 1712, Richard Steele wrote,
“They took care to drink themselves to a pitch beyond reason or humanity, and then made a general sally, and attack all who were in the streets. Some were knocked down, others stabbed, and others cut and carbonadoed.”
Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) wrote,
“What kind of passion or humour it gratifies, to murder or wound an unconcerned stranger, who has not given the least affront, is such a crime that the like of it has not been heard of for some ages in the world.”
Among the crimes committed by the Mohocks were ‘tipping the lion’ which involved flattening a victim’s nose to their face and gouging the eyes with the fingers, ‘tumbling’ by which women were turned head over heels and assaulted, and the so-called ‘dancing masters’ who surrounded a victim and stabbed them in the legs with swords. At Snow Hill, an old woman was put in a barrel and rolled down the hill; carriages were tipped over into rubbish heaps, people –men, women and children alike – were beaten with clubs weighted with lead, fish-hooks were pushed through cheeks and then the victim was lead about on the end of the line, people had their nostrils cut with razors.
Lady Stafford, in a later letter, says,
“ … they cut of soms nosis, others hands, and severel barbarass tricks, without any provocation. They are said to be young gentlemen, they never take any money from any.”
|Dean Jonathan Swift|
Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) was terrified of them, and was said to be one of their intended victims,
“My man tells me that one of the lodgers heard in a coffeehouse, publickly, that one design of the Mohocks was upon me, if they could catch me … I came home in a chair, for fear of the Mohocks.”
(Letter to Stella, March 12th 1712),
“… young Davenant was telling us at court how he was set upon by the Mohocks, and how they ran his chair through with a sword. It is not safe being in the streets at night for them. The bishop of Salisbury's son is said to be of the gang. They are all whigs.”
(Ibid. March 8th)
John Gay (The Beggar’s Opera) wrote a tragic-comic play called The Mohocks (1712) –
“We will scower the Town,Knock the Constable down,Put the Watch and the Beadle to fight:We'll force all we meetTo kneel down at our FeetAnd own this great Prince of the Night.”
A Royal Proclamation of March 17th 1712 offered a bounty of £100 for the capture of a Mohock. An anonymous pamphlet (actually written by Jonathan Swift) with the wordy title “An Argument, proving from History, Reason, and Scripture, that the present Race of Mohocks and Hawke-bites are the Gog and Magog mentioned in the Revelations; and therefore that this vain and transitory World will shortly be brought to its final Dissolution. Written by a reverend Divine, who took it from the Mouth of the Spirit of a Person who was slain by the Mohocks,” contained the lines,
“From Mohock and from Hawkubite,Good Lord, deliver me!Who wander through the streets at night,Committing cruelty.They slash our sons with bloody knives,And on our daughters fall;And if they murder not our wives,We have good luck withalCoaches and chairs they overturn,Nay, carts most easily;Therefore from Gog and Magog,Good Lord, deliver me!”
Some commentators began to question the existence of the Mohocks,
“Others are apt to think that these Mohocks are a kind of Bull-Beggars, first invented by prudent married Men, and Masters of Families, in order to deter their Wives and Daughters from taking the Air at unseasonable Hours; and that when they tell them the Mohocks will catch them, it is a Caution of the same nature with that of our Fore-fathers, when they bid their Children have a care of Raw-head and Bloody-bones.”
(The Spectator, April 8th 1712)
Others accused Whigs seeking a Stuart restoration of orchestrating the attacks to undermine public confidence in the law and the governments’ ability to handle a crisis. A satirical ballad of the day says,
“You wicked Whigs!What can you mean?When will your plotting cease,Against our most renowned Queen,Her Ministry and peace?You sent your Mohocks next abroad,With razor’s arm’d, and knives;Who on whom night-walkers make inroad,And scared our maids and wives:They scoured the Watch, and windows broke,But ‘twas their true intent,(As our wise ministry did smoke,)T’ o’erturn the Government.”
Shortly afterwards, the attacks ceased almost as quickly as they had started. Some say that they never happened in the first place, and were the invention of the sensationalist press pandering to public fears (think of a proto-Daily Mail’s coverage of asylum seekers). Others have said that the £100 bounty was too great an incentive for vigilantes, which made potential perpetrators think better of risking their liberty.
One telling incident is the case of the assault made on John Bouch, a watchman, who was beaten in Essex Street, just off The Strand. Of the eight men who attacked him, three ran away but were later captured and handed into the custody of John Salt, high constable of the Westminster division, who inexplicable released them (for which malfeasance he was dismissed). Four others, Sir Mark Cole (a baronet), Captain John Reading, Robert Squibb (a gentleman of Lincoln’s Inn) and Hugh Jones (Cole’s servant) were brought to court on June 6th 1712, where they argued that they were ‘scourers’, attempting to rid the streets of Mohocks. The jury begged to differ, and found them guilty, and for the charges of assault and riot they were each fined three shillings and fourpence (a tiny sum for men of such means). At the same court, men and women convicted of petty property offences were sentenced to stand in the pillory or to be whipped at the tail of a cart.
|Viscount Hinchingbroke aged 8|
Edward Richard Montagu, (Viscount Hinchingbroke - son of the 3rd Lord Sandwich), was also arrested and spent the night in the Round House. The next year, he was elected as Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, and later became Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire and a colonel of the 37th Regiment of Foot. One law for one, one law for another? You decide.