Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Abershaw, Louis Jeremiah

ABERSHAW or AVERSHAWE, LOUIS JEREMIAH (1773?–1795), generally known as Jerry Abershaw, was a notorious highwayman, and was for many years the terror of the roads between London, Kingston, and Wimbledon. An inn near Kingston named the ‘Bald-faced Stag’ obtained an unenviable reputation as his headquarters, and few who passed by it escaped Abershaw's violence. When in hiding he frequented a house in Clerkenwell near Saffron Hill, known as the ‘Old House in West Street,’ which was noted for its dark closets, trap-doors, and sliding panels, and had often formed the asylum of Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard (Pink's History of Clerkenwell, ed. Wood, p. 355). All efforts to bring Abershaw to justice for a time proved futile, but in January 1795 he shot dead one of the constables sent to arrest him in Southwark, and attempted to shoot another; for these crimes he was brought to trial at the Surrey assizes in July of the same year. Although a legal flaw in the indictment invalidated the case of murder against him, he was convicted and sentenced to death on the second charge of felonious shooting.

On Monday, 3 Aug. 1795, Abershaw was hanged on Kennington Common; his body was afterwards set on a gallows on Putney Common. The coolness with which Abershaw met his death prolonged his notoriety, and his name was commonly used as a synonym for a daring thief in the early years of the present century. He received his sentence with extraordinary sangfroid, putting on his own hat at the same moment as the judge assumed the black cap, and ‘observing him with contemptuous looks’ while pronouncing judgment. The few days that intervened between his conviction and execution he spent in sketching with cherries on the walls of his cell scenes from his daring exploits on the road. While being driven to the gallows he ‘appeared entirely unconcerned, had a flower in his mouth . . . and he kept up an incessant conversation with the persons who rode beside the cart, frequently laughing and nodding to others of his acquaintances whom he perceived in the crowd, which was immense’ (Oracle and Public Advertiser, Tuesday, 4 Aug. 1795). In a pamphlet on his career, entitled ‘Hardened Villany Displayed,’ which was published soon after his death, he is described as ‘a good-looking young man, only 22 years of age.’ Anecdotes of Abershaw credit him with the rude generosity commonly ascribed to men of his vocation. On one November night, it is said, after several hours spent upon the road, he was taken ill at the ‘Bald-faced Stag,’ and a doctor was sent for from Kingston. Abershaw entreated the doctor, who was in ignorance of his patient's name, to travel back under the protection of one of his own men, but the gentleman refused, declaring that he feared no one, even should he meet with Abershaw himself. The story was frequently repeated by the highwayman, as a testimony to the eminence he had gained in his profession.

[Knapp and Baldwin's Newgate Calendar, iii. 241–3; Criminal Recorder (1804), i. 28–32; The Oracle and Public Advertiser for 31 July 1795 and 4 Aug. 1795; Hon. G. C. Grantley Berkeley's Life and Recollections, i. 198; Brayley and Mantell's History of Surrey, iii. 56; Timbs's English Eccentrics (1875), p. 546; Gent. Mag. (4th series) iv. 79; Walford's Old and New London, vi. 335, 497.]

S. L. L.