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NEVINSON, JOHN (1639–1685), highwayman, is said to have been born at Pontefract in Yorkshire in 1639. He distinguished himself at school by stealing apples and poultry, and finally stole the schoolmaster's horse and fled to Holland. Nevison bore arms for a time in one of the English regiments in the Spanish service, but he returned to England soon after the Restoration, and betook himself to highway robbery. The chapbook life of him gives a detailed account of his exploits and escapes (History of the Life and Death of that noted Highwayman, William Nevison, London; printed for the booksellers, n.d.). In March 1676 he was tried and convicted at York assizes for robbery and horse-stealing. The depositions show that Nevison robbed in company with Thomas Tankard of Lincoln and Edmund Bracy of Nottingham, and passed by the name of John Bracy or Brace (Depositions from York Castle, ed. by James Raine, Surtees Soc. 1861, pp. 219–221). On promising to discover his accomplices he was reprieved, and remained in gaol for some years after, but, as he did not give the expected information, was drafted into ‘Captain Graham's company designed for Tangier.’ Nevison speedily escaped from his regiment, and began his old trade again. Sir John Reresby, to whose endeavours his apprehension had originally been due, urged Charles II to issue a proclamation for his apprehension, representing that Nevison, besides his notorious robberies, ‘had threatened the death of several justices of the peace wherever he met them’ (Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, ed. Cartwright, p. 222). The king consented to put a notice in the ‘London Gazette,’ offering a reward of 20l. to any one who arrested Nevison (Gazette, 27–31 Oct. 1681). The notice states that Nevison ‘hath lately murdered one Fletcher, who had a warrant from a justice of peace to apprehend him.’ The confession of Elizabeth Burton, a member of Nevison's gang, gives a detailed statement of a number of robberies committed by them on butchers, merchants, and other wayfarers. Their headquarters were at the Talbot Inn at Newark, and York, Lincoln, Nottingham, and Derby were the scene of their operations (Depositions from York Castle, pp. 259–262). Nevison was arrested on 1 March 1684–5 by Captain Hardcastle, at a public-house at Thorp, near Wakefield. Hardcastle conveyed him to York, where he was hanged on 15 March following, or, according to Gent, on 4 May 1685. ‘This,’ says the chapbook, ‘was the end of the remarkable Mr. Nevison, who was a person of quick understanding, tall in stature, every way proportionable, exceeding valiant, having also the air and carriage of a gentleman.’ A popular ballad records his virtues in the same style:

    He maintained himself like a gentleman,
    Besides he was good to the poor;
    He rode about like a bold hero,
    And gained himself favour therefore.

(Ingledew, Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire, 1860, p. 125). A tradition noticed by Macaulay represents Nevison as the real hero of the ride from London to York, popularly attributed to Turpin (History of England, 8vo, 1858, i. 397). Macaulay and the chapbook life both call him William, but the ‘Depositions’ and the proclamation in the ‘Gazette’ give his name as John Nevison, or Nevinson.

[Authorities cited in the article. A life is also given in Charles Johnson's Lives of Highwaymen and Pirates, folio, 1742, p. 103. See also Gent's History of York, 1730, p. 227; Twyford and Griffiths's Records of York Castle, 1880, pp. 24–28; Bloody News from Yorkshire, or the Great Robbery committed by twenty Highwaymen, 4to, 1674.]

C. H. F.