Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John








IN every age and country young blood is hot blood, and in this reign it was particularly so. The wild blood of the Cavaliers still danced in the veins of the beaus in Anne's time, and nightly frolics and broils were of frequent occurrence. They had their predecessors in this work-as Sir Tope says in Shadwell's play of 'The Scowrers': ' Puh, this is nothing, why I knew the Hectors, and before them the Muns and the Titire Tus, they were brave fellows indeed; in those days a man could not go from the Rose Tavern to the Piazza once, but he must venture his life twice.' And Whackum, in the same play, describes the doings of the fraternity of Scourers. 'Then how we Scour'd the Market People, overthrew the Butter Women, defeated the Pippin Merchants, wip'd out the Milk Scores, pull'd off the Door Knockers, dawb'd the Gilt Signs.'

In Anne's reign these roysterers were called Mohockswhy, I know not, except that it was then a sort of generic term for North American Indians. In a later age this furore was termed Tom and Jerryism ; but then it had an intelligible origin, from Pierce Egan's 'Life in London, or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his elegant Friend Corinthian Tom &c.' It still exists, although it has no special name.

Brown, in his ' Letters from the Dead to the Living,' says


in that 'From Bully Dawson [1]  to Bully W . . . . n 'Therefore if ever you intend to be my Rival in Glory, you must fight a Bailiff once a Day, stand Kick and Cuff once a Week, Challenge some Coward or other once a Month, Bilk your Lodgings once a quarter, and Cheat a Taylor once a year, crow over every Coxcomb you meet with, and be sure you kick every jilt you bully into submission and a compliance of treating you ; never till then will the fame of W .... n ring like Dawson's in every Coffee House, or be the merry subject of every Tavern Tittle Tattle.'

There seem to have been two special outbreaks of Mohocks-one in , and the other in . Of the first Steele says [2] : ' When I was a middle-aged Man, there were many societies of Ambitious young men in England, who, in their pursuits after same, were every night employed in roasting Porters, smoaking Coblers, knocking down Watchmen, overturning Constables, breaking Windows, blackening Sign Posts, and the like immortal enterprizes, that dispersed their Reputation throughout the whole Kingdom. One could hardly find a knocker at a door in a whole street after a midnight expedition of these Beaux Esprits. I was lately very much surprised by an account of my Maid, who entered my bed chamber this morning in a very great fright, and told me, she was afraid my parlour was haunted; for that she had found several panes of my Windows broken, and the floor strewed with half-pence. I have not yet a full light into this new way, but am apt to think, that it is a generous piece of wit, that some of my Contemporaries make use of, to break windows, and leave money to pay for them.'

Gay notices the Mohocks, and their window-breaking, thus:-

Now is the Time that Rakes their Revells keep;

Kindlers of Riot, Enemies of Sleep.

His scatter'd Pence the flying Nicker flings,

And with the Copper Show'r the Casement rings.

Who has not heard the Scowrer's Midnight Fame ?

Who has not trembled at the Mohock's Name ?

Was there a Watchman took his hourly Rounds,

Safe from their Blows, or new invented Wounds?

I pass their desp'rate Deeds, and Mischiefs done,

Where from Snow Hill black Steepy Torrents run;

How Matrons, hoop'd within the Hogshead's Womb,

Were tumbled furious thence, the rolling Tomb

O'er the Stones thunders, bounds from Side to Side

So Regulus to save his Country dy'd.

The greatest scare, however, was in March , and that exercised the popular mind as much as the garotters of modern times. People, of course, were more frightened than hurt, and there is very little doubt but that this outbreak was much exaggerated. Still, we can only take the contemporary accounts, and this is one of them.

[3]  THE TOWN RAKES, or the Frolicks of the Mohocks or Hawkubites. With an Account of their Frolicks last night, and at several other Times: shewing how they slit the Noses of several Men and Women, and wounded others; Several of which were taken up last Night by the Guards, and committed to several Prisons, the Guards being drawn out to disperse them.

' There are a certain set of Persons, amongst whom there are some of too great a Character, to be nam'd in these barbarous and ridiculous Encounters, did they not expose themselves by such mean and vulgar Exploits.

'These Barbarities have been carry'd on by a Gang of 'em for a considerable time, and many innocent Persons have receiv'd great Injury from them, who call themselves Hawkubites; and their mischievous Invention of the Word is, that they take people betwixt Hawk and Buzzard, that is, betwixt two of them, and making them turn from one to the other, abuse them with Blows and other Scoffings; and, if they pretend to speak for themselves, they then Slit their Noses, or cut them down the Back.

'The Watch in most of the Out-parts of the town stand in awe of them, because they always come in a body, and are


too strong for them, and when any Watchman presumes to demand where they are going, they generally misuse them.

'Last Night they had a general Rendezvouz, and were bent upon Mischief; their way is to meet People in the Streets and Stop them, and begin to Banter them, and if they make any Answer, they lay on them with Sticks, and toss them from one to another in a very rude manner.

'They attacked the Watch in Devereux Court and Essex Street, made them scower; they also slit two Persons' Noses, and cut a Woman in the Arm with a penknife that she is lam'd. They likewise rowled a Woman in a Tub down Snow Hill, that was going to Market, set other Women on their Heads, misusing them in a barbarous manner.

'They have short Clubs or Batts that have Lead at the End, which will overset a Coach, or turn over a Chair, and Tucks [4]  in their Canes ready for Mischief.

'One of these Persons supposed to be of the Gang, did formerly slit a Drawer's Nose at Greenwich, and has committed many such Frolicks since. They were so outrageous last Night, that the Guards at White Hall was alarm'd, and a Detachment order'd to Patrole; and 'tis said, the Train Bands will be order'd to do Duty for the future, to prevent these Disorders; several of them were taken up last Night, and put into the Round Houses till order is taken what to do with them.'

The Spectator, whose living was by making the most of any popular subject of the hour, was specially exercised over the Mohocks. 'An outrageous Ambition of doing all possible hurt to their Fellow-Creatures, is the great Cement of their Assembly and the only Qualification required in the Members. In order to exert this Principle in its full Strength and Perfection, they take Care to drink themselves to a pitch that is beyond the Possibility of attending to any Motives of Reason and Humanity; then make a general Sally, and attack all that are so unfortunate as to walk the Streets through which they patrole. Some are knock'd down, others stabb'd, others cut and carbonado'd. To put the Watch to a total Rout, and mortify some of those inoffensive Militia, is reckon'd a Coup


d'eclat. The particular Talents by which these Misanthropes are distinguished from one another, consist in the various kinds of Barbarities which they execute upon their Prisoners. Some are celebrated for a happy Dexterity in tipping the Lion upon them; which is perform'd by squeezing the Nose flat to the Face, and boring out the Eyes with their Fingers; Others are called the Dancing Masters, and teach their Scholars to cut Capers by running Swords thro' their Legs; a new Invention, whether originally French I cannot tell; A third sort are the Tumblers, whose office it is to set Women on their Heads, and commit certain Indecencies or rather Barbarities on the Limbs which they expose.' [5] 

Sir Roger de Coverley was even somewhat nervous about them when he went to the play-and 'asked me, in the next place, whether there would not be some danger in coming home late, in case the Mohocks should be Abroad'; and we learn how, finally, the party went to the theatre. 'The Captain, who did not fail to meet me there at the appointed Hour, bid Sir Roger fear nothing, for that he had put on the same Sword which he made use of at the Battle of Steenkirk. Sir Roger's Servants, and among the rest my old Friend, the Butler, had, I found, provided themselves with good Oaken Plants, to attend their Master upon this occasion.'

Swift was in mortal fear of them, and, in his 'History of the Four Last Years of Queen Anne,' declares it was part of a deliberate plan to raise riot, during which Harley might have been assassinated-and accuses Prince Eugene of setting it afloat. He writes Stella-in Letter 43-fragmentary jottings of his feelings during this period of terror. 'Did I tell you of a race of Rakes, called the Mohocks, that play the devil about this town every night, slit peoples noses, and bid them, &c. . . . 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; and a great lady sent to me, to speak to her father and to lord treasurer, to have a care of them, and to be careful likewise of myself;


for she heard they had malicious intentions against the Ministers and their friends. ... I walked in the Park this evening, and came home early to avoid the Mohocks. ... Here is the devil and all to do with these Mohocks. Grub Street papers about them fly like lightning, and a list printed of near eighty put into several prisons, and all a lie; and I almost begin to think there is no truth, or very little, in the whole Story. He that abused Davenant was a Drunken gentleman; none of that gang. My man tells me, that one of the lodgers heard in a Coffee House, publicly, that one design of the Mohocks was upon me, if they Could Catch me; and though I believe nothing of it, I forbear walking late, and they have put me to the Charge of some shillings already. ... I came home in a Chair for fear of the Mohocks.... I came afoot but had my Man with me. Lord treasurer advised me not to go in a Chair, because the Mohocks insult Chairs more than they do those on foot. They think there is some mischievous design in those villains. Several of them, lord-treasurer told me, are actually taken up. I heard at dinner, that one of them was killed last night. . . . Lord Winchelsea told me to day at Court, that two of the Mohocks caught a maid of old Lady Winchelsea's at the door of their house in the Park, with a candle, and had just lighted out somebody. They Cut all her face, and beat her without any provocation. . . . I staid till past twelve, and could not get a Coach, and was alone, and was afraid enough of the Mohocks.'

This dreaded association was supposed to be under the orders of a chief or 'Emperor,' who wore a crescent on his forehead, and is so described both in the Spectator and in Gay's very amusing play of 'The Mohocks,' which is a delicious burlesque on the scare. Here is a sample of it. Some of the watch are talking about this dreaded band, and their doings. Says one: ' I met about five or six and thirty of these Mohocks -by the same token 'twas a very windy Morning-they all had Swords as broad as Butcher's Cleavers, and hack'd and hew'd down all before them-I saw-as I am a Man of credit,in the Neighbourhood-all the Ground covered with Nosesas thick as 'tis with Hail Stones after a Storm.' Says another :


That is nothing to what I have seen-I saw them hook a Man as cleverly as a Fisher Man would a great Fish-and play him up and down from Charing Cross to Temple Barthey cut off his Ears, and eat them up, and then gave him a swinging slash in the Arm-told him bleeding was good for a fright, and so turned him loose.' A third relates his experience: ' Poh! that's nothing at all-I saw them cut off a Fellow's Legs, and, if the poor Man had not run hard for it, they had Cut off his Head into the bargain.' And the fourth tells how 'Poor John Mopstaff's Wife was like to Come to damage by them-for they took her up by the Heels, and turn'd her quite inside out-the poor Woman, they say, will ne'er be good for anything More.'

Gay also wrote another skit on these awful beings. 'An ARGUMENT proving from History, Reason, and Scripture, that the present Mohocks and Hawkubites 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.' It is not particularly amusing, being a parody on scriptural prophecy, and it winds up with the following:-

From Mohocks and from Hawkubites

Good Lord deliver me,

Who wander through the Streets by Night

Committing Cruelty.

They slash our Sons with Bloody knives,

And on our Daughters fall;

And if they ravish not our Wives,

We have good Luck withal.

Coaches and Chairs they overturn,

Nay Carts most easily;

Therefore from GOG and eke MAGOG

Good Lord, deliver me.

Public feeling on the matter, however, was so strong, that on March 17, , the Queen issued a Royal Proclamation.

'Anne, R. The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty being watchful for the Publick Good of Her Loving Subjects, and taking notice of the great and unusual Riots and Barbarities which have lately been committed in the Night time, in the


open Streets, in several parts of the Cities of London and Westminster, and Parts adjacent, by numbers of Evil dispos'd Persons, who have combined together to disturb the Publick Peace, and in an inhuman manner, without any Provocation, have Assaulted and Wounded many of her Majesty's good Subjects, and have had the Boldness to insult the Constables and Watchmen, in the Execution of their Office, to the great Terror of Her Majesty's said Subjects, and in Contempt and Defiance of the Laws of this Realm, to the Dishonour of Her Majesty's Government, and the Displeasure of Almighty God &c. &c. &c. ..... Her Majesty doth hereby promise and declare, That whosoever shall before the First Day of May now next ensuing, discover to any of Her Majesty's Justices of Peace, any Person who, since the First Day of February last past, hath, without any Provocation, Wounded, Stabb'd or Maim'd, or who shall before the said First Day of May, without any Provocation, Wound, Stab, or Maim, any of Her Majesty's Subjects within the said Cities of London and Westminster, and Parts adjacent, so as such Offender be brought to Justice, shall have and receive the Reward of One Hundred Pounds, &c.'

Can the following advertisement have any possible relation to the midnight orgies of the Mohocks ? Post Boy, Dec. 18/20, : 'Lately found, several Pair of Stockings, some Night Caps, and several Pair of Shooes, with two Brazill Rolling Pins, and some Brass Knockers of Doors.'

Brass knockers evidently were attractive, for in we find a genius advertising ' There is to be Sold at the Sign of the Plow on Fleet Ditch, New Fashion Brass Knockers of all Sizes that cannot be broke off so easily as any that have yet been made. However, this is to Satisfy all Gentlemen and others that do buy any of them, that if any should be broke off, upon their bringing me a Piece of that which I sold, I will give them gratis one as good and as large as they bought.'

The fright soon passed off, for we find Budgell [6]  writing on April 8, , that some began to doubt 'whether indeed there were ever any such Society of Men. The Terror which


spread itself over the whole Nation some Years since, on account of the Irish, is still fresh in most Peoples Memories, tho' it afterwards appeared there was not the least Ground for that general Consternation. The late Panick Fear was, in the Opinion of many deep and penetrating Persons, of the same Nature.' But there is no doubt there was a substratum of reality, mixed with a great deal of exaggeration.

The civil power was utterly unable to cope with riots of

this description. What were the watchmen like? From the time of Dogberry to the institution of the present police they have ever been a laughing-stock. Old, infirm men, badly paid, incumbered with a long staff and a lantern, perambulated the streets under the authority of a constable. Who cared for them ? Certainly not a Mohock. Nay, their very honesty was called in question. 'Two of them like honest fellows, handed me home to my Chambers, without so much


as stealing my Hat or picking my pockets which was a Wonder.'

Ward gives an amusing little sketch of their venality.

'Civil and Sober Persons, said he, how do I know that, Mr. Prattle Box? You may be Drunk for ought I know, and only feign yourselves Sober before my presence to escape the penalty of the Act.

'My Friend puts his Hand in his Pocket, plucks out a Shilling, Indeed, Mr. Constable, says he, we tell you nothing but the Naked Truth. There is something for your Watch to Drink ; We know it is a late Hour, but hope you will detain us no longer. 'With that Mr. Surly Cuff directs himself to his right hand Janizary, Hem, hah, Aminidab, I believe theyare Civil Gentlemen Ay, ay, said he, Master, you need not question it; they don't look as if they had Fire balls about 'em. Well, Gentlemen, you may pass; but Pray go civilly home.. Here, Colly, light the Gentlemen down the Hill, they may chance to Stumble in the Dark, and break their Shins against the Monument."

What sings Gay of watchmen ?

Yet there are Watchmen, who with friendly Light,

Will teach thy reeling Steps to tread aright;

For Sixpence will support thy helpless Arm,

And Home conduct thee, safe from nightly Harm;

But if they shake their Lanthorns, from afar,

To call their Breth'ren to confed'rate War,

When Rakes resist their Pow'r; if hapless you

Should chance to wander with the Scow'ring Crew;

Though Fortune yield thee Captive, ne'er despair,

But seek the Constable's consid'rate Ear;

He will reverse the Watchman's harsh Decree,

Mov'd by the Rhetrick of a Silver Fee.

Thus, would you gain some fav'rite Courtier's Word;

Fee not the petty Clarks, but bribe my Lord.


[1] Bully Dawson is supposed to be the original of Captain Hackum in Shadwell's play of ' The Squire of Alsatia,' and is mentioned by Steele in No. 2 of the Spectator, when he speaks of Sir Roger de Coverley having 'kick'd Bully Dawson in a publick Coffee House for calling him Youngster.'

[2] Tatler, 77.

[3] Brit. Mus. 816m.19/74.

[4] A tuck was a short sword.

[5] Spectator, 324.

[6] Spectator, 347.