King of the Gypsies - Bamfylde
Moore Carew was born in July 1693, in Bickleigh, near Tiverton in
, less than twenty miles
from Witheridge, the birthplace of Mary Willcocks, alias Princess
Caraboo. He was the son of the reverend Theodore Carew, the Carews being
an ancient local family, and his godfathers at his baptism were Hugh Bampfylde
and a Major Moore, hence his name. At the age of twelve Carew was sent to
progressed well in his first four years there, excelling in Latin and Greek., and
also less scholarly pursuits, especially hunting with his school friends.
his attention was taken up entirely by hunting, and on one occasion while
chasing a deer through fields of ripening corn his hunting party caused a great
deal of damage to the crops. Complaints were made to the headmaster by the
affected farmers and Carew and his school mates were so severely threatened
about what might become of them that they ran away from school. They eventually
found themselves at an alehouse just outside Tiverton where they fell in with a
group of gypsies and spent the night drinking with them. Impressed by the
freedom of the gypsy life-style Carew and his companions decided to join their
numbers there and then. This agreement meant following the gypsies particular
laws and form of government, and paying allegiance to an elected gypsy king.
his actions and buoyant personality it wasn’t long before Carew became
notorious and respected among the gypsies, mainly for his skill in disguise and
trickery. Outside the gypsy fraternity, amongst the more gullible, he had a
local reputation as an astrologer and fortune teller.
On one occasion he was
consulted by a certain Madam Musgrove who suspected that there was a large
amount of money buried somewhere around her house, and promised a large reward
if he located it. Carew pretended to study his ‘secret art’ and told the
lady that the treasure lay under a laurel tree in her garden, but she should
delay the search until her planet of good fortune was in the right position. The
lady was delighted and rewarded Carew with twenty guineas. Of course when the
poor woman finally decided to dig beneath the laurel tree she found nothing
a year and a half of gypsy living Carew returned home to his parents but grew
bored with home life and left once more to join the gypsies. Over the next few
years using various ingenious disguises, such as a lunatic called ‘Mad Tom’,
a seaman, a zealous clergyman, a rat catcher, and even an old woman, he
extracted money from various gentlemen throughout the West Country, some of whom
knew him well but were apparently unable to see through his disguises.
eloped with the daughter of a respectable apothecary and
was subsequently married at Bath,
with his wife to
and Hampshire. In Gosport
they paid a visit to Carew’s
uncle who offered him money to quit the gypsy life and return to his family –
Carew refused – he was having too much fun.
Patch, the king of the gypsies, lay dying and a vast number of gypsies descended
to choose a new king. Carew
was duly elected ‘King of the Mendicants (beggars)’.
There followed more
disguises – often that of a shipwrecked sailor looking for alms – and scams
until he was captured at
where he was
imprisoned for two months and then brought up for trial loaded with chains at
the quarter sessions at Exeter
asked by the judge which countries he had travelled in Carew answered – Denmark,
France, Spain, Portugal,
Ireland, proving that he had
imagination at least. The judge answered that he must prepare himself for a
hotter climate as he was to be transported as a convict to Maryland.After
an eleven week voyage the prison ship arrived at its destination and all one
hundred prisoners were ordered to tidy themselves up for sale the next day. The
planters arrived next morning to view the slaves and while a group of them were
arguing over his purchase Carew managed to escape into the woods.
recaptured, whipped for his trouble and like Henry
More Smith fitted
with a heavy iron collar. He escaped again, and concealing himself in the day
only by night eventually met with a tribe of friendly Indians who released him
from the neck-iron. Carew left them and travelled through
in the guise of a Quaker
and subsequently as a sailor conning money out of wealthy merchants using
various tall stories.
made his way to New York, at that time a city of around seven thousand
inhabitants, and got passage on a boat sailing to
Bristol. But wary of
rearrest in England
pricked his hands and face with the point of a dagger, rubbed them in salt and
gunpowder and groaned in agony to convince those who tried to arrest him that he
was suffering from smallpox.
he travelled around the West Country extracting money by begging, usually
disguised as a shipwrecked seaman, and at Maiden Bradley in Wiltshire met an
even more desperate looking beggar than himself. They joined company and begged
together through the town and at the house of Lord Weymouth, a local noble well
known for his severe treatment of impostors. It took some time for Carew to find
out that his ragged companion was actually Lord Weymouth himself – disguised
as he often was to gauge the response and attitudes of local residents to such
time after this, with Carew in disguise as a decrepit old man selling matches
and collecting old rags, he met another ragman and they arrived together at a
place called Gutter-Hall in Porlock, north Devon.
Here they found no lodgings but were told of a house they could stay in for free
with food thrown in, they soon found out why - the house was haunted. The local
farmer asked the two beggars to lay the ghost of an old woman who haunted the
place, if they were successful the reward would be twenty shillings. They stayed
the night there accompanied by the farmer’s solidly-built son, whom they
scared out of his wits by throwing handfuls
of stones down the stairs. Next morning they reassured the farmer that they had
laid the ghost and received their reward. Apparently, the house was quiet after
On one occasion, whilst out
walking in Exeter, Carew was recognized, captured and forced without trial into
a ship sailing once again to Maryland.
During the sixteen week journey the captain died and Carew himself was infected
with fever. On arrival in Maryland Carew again escaped, this time in a canoe,
and made for the woods. He travelled by night to avoid his pursuers and hid in
trees by day, stealing food from houses and farms when he could. According to
his own account he crossed the River Delaware on horseback before arriving at Rhode
and thence to
estimating the population then at twenty-four thousand and comparing a beacon
hill there, where pulleys drew up a lighted barrel of tar to warn the country in
case of invasion, to Glastonbury Tor.
home, he was again reunited with his wife and daughter. Visiting a relation of
his, Sir Thomas Carew, the gypsy king was again offered a comfortable living if
he would forsake his vagabond way of life. Again he refused.
1745, curious about news of the Jacobite
rebellion under Bonnie Prince Charlie (or the Young Pretender
as he was known) he travelled north to Edinburgh,
there meeting up with the rebels. Because of his apparent enthusiasm for their
cause he was asked to join their number, but feigned illness and lameness and
was excused. Nevertheless, he apparently travelled among the rebels south to Carlisle
and on to Manchester
and then Derby,
where he heard a report that the Duke of Cumberland was coming to fight them. Lack
of support from English Jacobites and French allies persuaded the rebels to
withdraw to Carlisle,
though Bonnie Prince Charlie himself was against this. After the withdrawal
Carew headed homewards being careful to change his note to ‘God bless King
George, and the brave Duke William!’
more reunited with his wife he began to feel too old for his former exertions
and devoted himself to revising the laws of the gypsy community, but a serious
illness forced him to resign his kingship and spend his last years in his
hometown of Brickleigh. One story goes that he came into some money on the death
of a relative, another through winning a lottery, and bought a house in the
country. He lived to see his daughter’s marriage and grandchildren, and died
around 1758. He is buried in the local churchyard at Brickleigh.
seems to have been the consummate 18th century rogue and vagabond,
though his stories also suggest real ingenuity in matters of disguise and
trickery – making him a sort of Frank Abagnale of the 1700s. The
first account of his life – The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde-Moore
Carew – was published in 1745, whilst he was still living. Unfortunately
its not known how much of the book is fact, as alternative reliable sources for
his escapades are extremely limited. However, It is clear he was a nationally
renowned figure - he was mentioned in
contemporary magazines, and is even referred to in the popular literature of the
day, such as Thackeray's Vanity Fair.
In the West Country he was a local hero and known throughout
the region as ‘King Carew’.
Sources and Further Reading
Bampfylde Moore. The Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew, King of the Mendicants.
London, William Tegg, no date [1880?].
John. Princess Caraboo – Her True Story.
, Pan Books, 1994, pp264-5.
© Copyright 2003 by Brian
Haughton. All Rights Reserved.