The Poaching Wars

The "Poaching Wars" were a bitter conflict which smouldered and flared across England for 300 years from the mid seventeenth century.

    To quote from  "The Stuart Constitution " by J.P. Kenyon  (Cambridge University Press 1969)

    "A similar distinction between the God-given race of landowners and the rest was made by the  Game Act of 1671, the most stringent and comprehensive of the  famous Game Laws.  It gave gamekeepers the power to enter houses to search for guns, nets and sporting dogs, which those below the rank of esquire were nor only forbidden to use but even to own;  it gave a single justice - usually the landowner concerned-power to award summary punishment, and the decision of Quarter Sessions, staffed by neighbouring land owners was final.  Such blatant class legislation confirmed the social ascendancy of the squirearchy, but in the end their administration of the Game Laws, 'grossly partial, selfishly biased, and swayed by consideration of their own class interest even to the verge of corruption', wrecked the reputation of the rural justices and made an important contribution to their ultimate downfall."     In this war between Peasant and Landowner,  men were murdered, transported and executed for the sake of a rabbit or pheasant.  Historian G.M.Trevelyan in his English Social History (1942)  declares  "There never was a truce in the poaching war in old England".     A particularly vicious phase of the war started in 1816 on the passing of the Night Poaching Act which introduced transportation for seven years , if armed with net or stick, with intent to take game or rabbits. In 1828 a new Night Poaching Act  introduced transportation of 14 years for some poaching offences.
    In 1825 Lord Suffield said in the House of Lords:-
        "The recipe to make a poacher will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients which may be met whitch may be met with in every game county in England.  Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor man single man, having his natural sense of right and wrong....give him little more than a natural disinclination to go to work, let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved, keep him cool in the winter , by allowing him insufficient wages to purchase fuel ; let him feel hungry upon the small pittance of parish relief ; and if he be not a poacher it will only be by the blessing of God."
    If it was their acute distress which drove many agricultural labourers to poaching it was the fear of transportation which drove them to violence in resisting arrest.  Transportation to Australia, for most, meant they would never return their families and their native land.  Historians agree that it was unlikely for convicts transported for limited terms ever to return to their native land.  Those transported for life were banned from ever returning  although many were conditionally pardoned within the Australian colonies. Read below how Costessey
was a centre of the poaching war !

    In the early 19th Century the pages of the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette show that the village was a hotbed of poaching activity.  Its proximity to the City of Norwich made the disposal of poached game relatively easy and  from that city  many of the poachers of  the notorious "Cossey  Gang" were recruited.  Its crowded yards and courts provided excellent places for the planning of poaching forays into the pheasant preserves of the surrounding country estates.
    The newspaper reports show that in addition to the 'large gang' activity many individuals and small groups of poachers were operating around Costessey.   In 1818 both Richard Harvey and David Banham of Costessey were imprisoned for poaching in Taverham.  In the 1820's  the most frequently named offender was John Adcock, others poaching with him were Henry Harvey, James Edmunds,  Thomas Paul, Thomas Riches and James Harvey.
    John Adcock was sentenced on January 13, 1827 to be transported for seven years .  Adcock was subsequently transported to Van Diemans Land on the convict transport "Asia V " on 17th August 1827.  Accompanying him on the Asia V  were five members of the 'Costessey Gang ' which had finally met its Waterloo in the coverts of Heydon Hall  when 16 poachers had engaged the gamekeepers and watchers in a gun battle. One poacher was reported killed and two others wounded.  The Hon. George Edwardes the third son of Lord Kensington received gunshot wounds THE HEYDON HALL AFFRAY

      Poaching appears to be continuous  at this period but the climax came on the night of  December 11th/12th 1826 when the Heydon Hall Affray took place. The following account is from the report in the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette on Sat. 31st March 1827 of the Lent  Assizes held in Thetford :
                                                               ' POACHERS'

    "Wm.Howes, aged 32,  Edw. Baker, aged 34,  Wm. Elsegood, aged 28,  Geo Goffin , aged 30,  Richard Harvey, aged 27,  Wm. Skipper, aged 28,  James Harvey, aged 20,  Thos Paul, aged 26,  Jas Paul, aged 18,  Wm. Olley, aged 34,  Thomas Skipper, aged 17,  John Catchpole , aged 26, and  John Perry, (not in custody) were severally indicted for shooting at and wounding the Hon. George Warren Edwardes, on the 12 of December last."

From evidence given by John Perry:
    On the  11th December 1826 after much to-ing and fro-ing between Costessey and Norwich fourteen men met up under a tree outside St. Augustine's Gates , Norwich where they held a meeting to plan a poaching foray : they were   (1) Edward Baker,   (2) John Catchpole,  (3) William Elsegood,   (4) John General, (5) George Goffin, (6) James Harvey, (7) Richard Harvey, (8) William Howes, (9) William Olley,  (10) James Paul, (11) Thomas Paul,  (12) John Perry , (13) Thomas Skipper  and (14) Richard Turner .    Realising that they only had four guns, James Paul and Perry said  '' We'll go to Costessey to get some more '' The main body then went to the Red Lion at Drayton where they were met by (15) Matthew Howlett.  . Thos. Paul and Perry and (16) William Skipper then arrived saying they had managed to get two more nippers (guns)

    Mary Howard gave the following evidence;
   " My father keeps the Red Lion at Drayton.  I remember the 11th Dec. last ; know Howlett; he came to my house in the evening of the 11th of Dec. between seven and eight o'clock; shortly after three or four joined him; the first man who came called the corporal: Edward Baker the two Skippers, Wm. Howes, Geo. Goffin, the two Pauls, the two Harveys and Elsegood; I don't remember Catchpole and Olley; they were all at my house and gone by half- past nine; they were some smoking and some drinking; hear Perry say to one of them he'd bet five shillings he would not miss a shot that night.   I heard some of them were going to the Taverham Guild, and some to Tasburgh Bird-in-hand  I don't know Heydon- hall, nor how far off Lord K. lives.  I heard the toast drank d---n the flincher; but James paul said he would not drink that, for he would flinch if he could.  Thy had a pot a-piece; one of them drank the toast and said  "d---n and b---st the first that flinches."   When they left the house they took the Attlebridge road. "
Cross examined.-" there were no other persons in the kitchen that belonged to them at the time;-
There were people coming in and out .  Did not see the prisoners after till I saw them at the Shirehall, when  they were shown to me , to see if I knew them.  I knew some of them before that night; Elsegood I did not.  I did say before the Magistrates I could not swear to him : but did recollect him as doon as I got out of the room, because he sung a song.  When the men were talking  about flinching, they had drink before them; never heard people who would not drink accused of flinching; the man who said he would not drink the toast had beer before him. "

From various witnesses:-;
They left the Red Lion before half past nine and went up the Attlebridge Road and then across country to Felthorpe where WilliamOlley obtained a gun from a cottage which he gave to James Harvey . Seven men now had guns Edward Baker, William Elsegood, John General, James Harvey, Richard Harvey, John Perry and William Skipper. The others armed themselves with stakes from a hurdle.
    At  'Blackbridge' wood in Heydon Park they formed up with the guns in front of the men with stakes.  It was a bright moonlight night and they birds (pheasants ) were quick to fly.
    Lord Kensington's gamekeeper James Carmin armed with two pistols and the watch Phillip Brewster, William Southgate, William Spray (armed with Carmin's gun) Richard Carmin and George West were already in the wood,  between midnight and one o'clock.  Hearing a gun shot the keeper and watch ran towards the poachers .  Carmin fired his pistols in the air to attract the attention of the rest of the watch left in the house.  On seeing a group of the poachers Carmin challenged them saying ''......we mean to take you tonight if we can ! ''.  One of the poachers threatened to give Carmin a ''damn good beating'' another said '' We'll shoot him out of the way''.  Someone immediately shot at Carmin, shot going into his ear and eye and others into his hand. Carmin took his gun back from Spray and fired at the poachers.  Richard Turner saw a flash and shot whistled past him.  James Harvey said to Turner,  '' Take hold of my gun, they have shot my eyes out ''.   While Turner bandaged  Harvey's head with a handkerchief they were both hit with another discharge. James Paul  came up and said he also had been shot in the hand and face.   The watch then ran out of the wood followed by the poachers firing at them. William Southgate (of the watch) was knocked down with a stone and beaten by William Olley until William Elsegood pleaded with Olley to stop or ''for God's sake you'll kill him''  The poachers chased the gamekeeper and watch into Seaman's farm where they hid under a manger.  Carmin heard them searching for twenty minutes uttering threats such as,  ''Where is Carmin ?  We'll learn him to shoot first !''
    The poachers regrouped on not finding the watch and went to a large wood were they shot three or four times .  They then disputed whether to go back to the first wood (Baker and Perry) or whether it was wiser to go home (Elsegood).
    The gamekeeper and watch in the meantime came out of hiding and on the way  back to the Hall for reinforcements met the Hon.G.W.Edwardes who was going down to Newell wood where the poachers were.  Baker first spotted them and taunted Elsegood who had panicked and wanted to run.  The poachers ran towards the shelter of a hedge and bank where they argued whether to fight the watch or get over the bank and run.
    The Hon. G.W. Edwardes  stood on the bank and said  ''What do all you people do here at this time of night''.......Richard Harvey answered ''Your people shot us at first, and if you do not stand back you will stand the chance of sharing the same fate''.  This was probably a reference  to John General who it is believed was fatally wounded earlier in the night ( he was not charged ) . It was reported ''one of the keepers being hard pressed , discharged his gun at one of the poachers who immediately fell, and the short distance at which the person received the shot  makes it probable that he must have been seriously, if not fatally wounded .
    Edwardes told them they had better not fire. He was almost immediately struck in the face by a stone thrown by Perry which made blood flow from his mouth and nose . Edwardes fell on one knee and hand and as he was rising was shot by Perry and another poacher in the side and shoulder. In the return of fire from the watch James Paul said  '' They have cut me all to pieces '' -he was severely wounded in the thigh.  The poachers had no more stomach for the fight and and decided to retreat with Perry leading them away.  Edwardes' servant Ensor  helped him to get back to the Hall.
    The learned Judge having summed up the case to the Jury, after about 20 minutes consultation, they found all the prisoners Guilty; but recommended them to mercy as did the prosecutor, which his Lordship said should be communicated where it would meet with due attention; ............. ...........
The Jury and prosecutor's humane recommendation should be represented to the Throne , and he doubted not would be duly attended to  etc. etc.
    The learned Judge earnestly entreated them all to pursue that line of conduct which would fit then for death..

(from Colonial and Home Office records and other genealogical records)


(1) John GENERAL  Newspaper reports indicate that GENERAL may well have been fatally wounded and hence not charged, he was carried off by his companions. This requires further research.

 The following were SENTENCED TO DEATH
(but with Royal Mercy commuted to transportation for life. )

Transported on the ship "ASIA V "--ex Portsmouth 17 August 1827 arrived Hobart  7 December 1827

 (2) Edward BAKER   Aged 34 , native place Catton, Norfolk.
                               Farm labourer and Brickmaker.  (worked for Mr Blake )
                               Wife and children on parish in Norwich.
                               Assigned to W. Gunn Esq., Supt of Prisoners Barracks,
                                Bourbon Sorrell, Drummond Parish
                                Once admonished for insolence.     Drowned South Esk River 13 Aug.1835.

(3) George GOFFIN   Aged 30, native place West Ba?
                                Ploughman and Brickmaker. Married wife at Norwich.
                                Assigned to Mr Phillip Pitt of Beaufort Parish.
                                No Colonial offences, Conditional pardon 20 Sept. 1837.
                                Pardon extended to the Australian colonies 12 August 1845.

(4) Richard HARVEY  Aged 27,native place Costessey, Norfolk.
                                Bapt. 30 Sept. 1798, son of Richard HARVEY and Sarah (Lovett)
                                Married Susannah PARNELL, 26 Aug. 1823, Costessey.
                                Children Thirza and William at Costessey with family.
                                Assigned to Lieut. Hawkins and Mr Isaah Ratcliffe.
                                Many Colonial offences.  Sentenced to Tread-Wheel, Chain Gang,
                                Working in irons, Imprisonment with hard labour, Solitary Confinement,
                                Bread & water etc.
                                Ticket of leave 2 Aug 1836.  Conditional pardon 10 May 1836.
                                Pardon extended to Australian colonies 8 Dec 1846.

(5) William HOWES
                                 Aged 32, native place Little Brandon, Norfolk.  Groom and Coachman .
                                Wife and children at Norwich.         .
                                Assigned to Mr Seagrim and then served as a Constable.
                                Five minor Colonial offences - admonished or Ticket of leave
                                suspended 1 month.
 .                              17 March 1836 Sentenced for 1 month Hard Labour on road gang for
                                being drunk and striking his wife.
                                Conditional pardon 24 May 1839.

(6) William OLLEY    Aged 34, native place Drayton, Norfolk,  Farmer,Ploughman
                                Malster and Brewer.
                                Wife and children in Norwich on the parish
                                Assigned to Mr.Andrew Tolney (Ormaig Parish)
                                Once reprimanded for being absent from Church Muster.
                                Ticket of leave 1836. Conditional pardon 20 June 1840.

   SENTENCE OF DEATH - Commuted to 7 years transportation

(7) John CATCHPOLE   Sent to hulk  'Leviathan' 27 April 1827 with others but no
                                          further record found.

(8) William SKIPPER  Aged 27,  Native place Stoke, Norfolk
                                   Wife SARAH and 6 children at Costessey on the parish-
                                   William, Mary, Hannah, Isabella, Anthony and Anastasia
                                   Sent to hulk  'Leviathan' 27 April 1827 with others, transferred to the
                                   'Hardy' 28 May 1830.
                                    Discharged with Free Pardon 30 June 1831
                                    Skipper was not transported on the appeal of Lord STAFFORD
                                    to the Home Secretary
                                    At the 1881 Census he was still living at 17 The Croft, Costessey,
                                    a widower.

Transported to New South Wales on 'Phoenix 1' Ex Spithead 7 March 1828 arrived Sydney 14 July 1828

(9) William ELSEGOOD  Aged 28,
                                        Assigned to Sir John Jamison of Evans, N.S.W.
                                        ( 1828 list of Convicts NSW No.4119 )

(10) James HARVEY    Aged 20,  baptised 6 July 1808 Costessey.
                                        Son of Richard HARVEY and Sarah (nee LOVETT )
                                        Assigned to Mr. Spark of Botany Bay. ( 1828 list No. 5772)
                                        Harvey was already under sentence of 7 years transportation
                                        for poaching in a plantation of Lord STAFFORD with
                                        John ADCOCK and Thomas PAUL on 25 Nov.1826


(11) James PAUL                 Aged 18, native place Costessey, Norfolk. Baptd. 9 July 1806.
                                       son of Thomas PAUL and Mary (nee BAILEY ) of Costessey.
                                       Married 26 October 1830 to Harriet SKIPPER
                                       Death sentence commuted to 4 months in Swaffham Gaol.

(12) Thomas PAUL        Aged 26, native place Costessey, Norfolk. baptised 22
                                        February 1802.
                                        son of Thomas PAUL and Mary (nee BAILEY ) of Costessey
                                        Death sentence commuted to 2 years in gaol at Swaffham.

(13 ) Thomas SKIPPER  Aged 17, native place Costessey, Norfolk. Baptised 4 Feb. 1810.
                                          son of Thomas SKIPPER and Mary (nee LAKAY ) of Costessey.


(14) John PERRY      At the time of the trial PERRY was not in custody although in the
                                    evidence it was seen that he was a ringleader. Nothing further has been
                                    discovered about him.
                                    On 18 September 1826 a child Ellen E. PERRY daughter of John
                                    Perry and Martha was baptised at Costessey Church


(15) Richard TURNER      It was reported that TURNER had been a gentleman's servant
                                    twelve months before who turned King's Evidence and escaped punishment.
                                    On 17 May 1828 a Richard TURNER married Anne SIMMONS at
                                    Costessey,  witnesses John PANK and Anne POWELL.
                                     Is it possible that he was planted in the gang !


(16) Matthew HOWLETT  Howlett who was with the gang at the Red Lion,  Drayton is not
                                            mentioned in the report of the affray and seems not to have
                                            been charged.

Transported on Ship 'ASIA V' ex Portsmouth 17 Aug. 1827 arrived Hobart 7 Dec. 1827.
sentenced to 7 years transportation 10 JAN.1827 for Night Poaching in a plantation of Lord Stafford at Costessey (accompanied by Thomas PAUL and James HARVEY) (17) John ADCOCK    Aged 28 at trial, native place Costessey, Norfolk.
                                      Farm Labourer. and Ploughman. baptised 12 Nov.1797.
                                      son of Richard ADCOCK and Elizabeth (nee CUTLER )
                                      of Costessey.
                                      Married  4 Oct. 1825 to Sarah GURNEY of Costessey.
                                      witnesses William & Amelia BANHAM.
                                      children : Maria Eliza bap. 17 April 1825
                                                    Sarah Ann bap. 1827
                                        Sarah ADCOCK was on parish relief all through 1827.
                                        Assigned to Mr Anthony Geiss of Wellington Parish.
                                        11 March 1830 Absented himself from master's service-Reprimanded
                                        1832/33  Ticket of leave.
                                        23 January 1834 Free Certificate issued. It is to Lord STAFFORD'S credit that he appealed to the Home Secretary to have ADCOCK'S sentence remitted . The appeal was unsucessful. TRANSPORTED ON BARQUE "STATHFIELDSAY"B EX PORTSMOUTH 18 FEB. 1836 ARRIVED SYDNEY 15 JUNE 1836
James PAUL           Sentenced to 14 years transportation for night poaching at Norfolk
                                        Assizes 28 March 1835
                                Aged 29, baptised 9 November 1806. Costessey.
                                        son of Thomas PAUL and Mary (nee BAILEY)
                                        Married  28 October 1830 to Harriet SKIPPER of Costessey.
                                        Assigned to Mr. Jones , Berrima N.S.W.
                                        Ticket of leave 14 Sept. 1842.
                                        DIED 5 March 1844 at Hilloo INSt. Berrima N.S.W.
John PAUL             Sentenced to 14 years transportation for night poaching at Norfolk
                                        Assizes 28 March 1835
                                   Age (on Conviction) 35, native place Costessey, Farm labourer
                                        Baptised 7 July 1799 son of Thomas and Mary PAUL.
                                        Married 1 May 1820 to Mary DRAKE
                                        Witnesses John BANHAM and Mary LOVICK
                                        Assigned to Van Diemans Land company on arrival
                                        27 Nov. 1838 drunkeness late 7 nights- to be worked during day.
                                        31 March 1842 Ticket Of Leave.
                                        30 Aug. 1842 Misconduct T.L. reduced.
                                        30 Aug. 1844 Recommended to the Queen for a conditional pardon.
                                        5 July 1849 Free Certificate
Unsuccesful attempts were made by W.R. Staff Esq., R.M.Bacon a Newspaper editor  and other influential persons to get the PAUL brothers sentence of transportation commuted.

T.G. Barley,  December 1998.

Bibliography and sources of reference ;-

The Village Labourer 1760-1832.    L.L.Hammond and Barbara Hammond                      - First publ. 1911 Longmans, London&<

The History of Costessey by T.B. Norgate publ. by Author , August 1972.

The Diary Of A Country Parson.  1758-1802.  James Woodforde. ed by James Beresford
                                                                            - OUP 1978

The Long Affray. The Poaching Wars 1790-1914.  Harry Hopkins.
                                                                        - Macmillan (PAPERMAC) London 1985

Peasants & Poachers. A study in rural disorder in Norfolk
                                                                            -The Boydell Press, Woodbridge Suffolk 111980

Tasmanian Archives  Convict Records -Hobart, Tasmania

Australian Joint Copying Project-- Home Office Papers. Alexander Library, Perth, Western Australia

Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette - Sat. 31st March 1827

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