The Bow Street Runners and the Sussex Shipwreck

The origins of our Police are interesting.  Although most people have heard of the Bow Street Runners, they were not like the police of today and surprisingly they operated not only in London, but across the country, often in Sussex.

The Middlesex Justices Act 1792 saw the creation of seven offices in the capital, each staffed by three Magistrates and six constables. They were a cross between a Magistrates Court and a Police station. The principle office was at Bow Street and two of their best men were Daniel Bishop and John Vickery.  They are recorded in ‘Rider’s Publick Kalandar’ of 1818 which actually lists the officers AND their home addresses!


Bishop and Vickery were mentioned in a report to the House of Commons in 1828 when they were described as two of the eight ‘Principle Officers’ of the Bow Street Runners.  The report says that the men were ‘runners of the first class’ and that their long experience and ‘professional scent’ rendered even a single visit by them as valuable.   Their wages were £1 and 5 shillings per week but any organisation requiring their services were expected to pay a guinea a day plus 14 shillings a day expenses. By the way, at that same time, two other principle officers by the names of Townsend and Sayer were in Brighton as it was there job to ‘attend to his Majesty when he is out of town’. In other words they were on Royalty Protection Duty.  But let us take a closer look at Bishop and Vickery.

Daniel Bishop was a sharp and brave detective.

The 1828 report shows that Daniel Bishop was regularly required to travel across the country to assist with the apprehension of criminals. The previous year he had been sent down to Dorchester to assist with the local smuggling problem.  He witnessed over 70 armed smugglers landing 120 barrels of spirits.  During the following melee, two smugglers were killed but the majority escaped.

Daniel Bishop makes an arrest

You must remember that justice was tough in those days. In 1816 Bishop arrested a thief in Canterbury; he had to arrest him from behind as the man had a loaded pistol in one hand and a dagger in his other. The crook was duly executed. In 1818 Bishop arrested the inappropriately named Thomas Dugood (17 years old) for stealing a watch to the value of £6. For his crime he too was executed. 

However Bishop was not always so exemplary – in 1829 he was dismissed when it was found he was accepting bribes from Isaac Solomon a known fence (receiver of stolen goods). However Sir Robert Peel gave him his job back shortly afterwards.

Bishop’s partner, John Vickery had been a harness-maker in Basingstoke but got a job as an officer at Worship Street in Shoreditch.  When the chief Magistrate there was promoted to be chief at Bow Street, he took Vickery with him.  He was obviously very smart and very trusted. One of his regular duties was escorting bullion from the Royal Mint in London to the Assay Office in Birmingham.

Vickery once informed the General Post Office that their vault was about to be robbed.  When the authorities doubted him he arranged a meeting at the GPO with the Postmaster General and the GPO solicitor.  He astounded them by letting himself into the premises and opening every set of doors until he was in the vault!  No doubt a swift security review followed!   On another occasion he traced some stolen jewellery through France, Holland and Germany and returned to London with the £20,000 haul.


It appeared that Bishop and Vickery worked well together. In 1808 they worked together in Cambridgeshire to recover a stolen horse. The following year they arrested a London burglar by apprehending him ‘early in the morning before he was up’. In 1821 they were sent to Dublin to thwart a gang of pickpockets.  In March 1814 Vickery and Bishop had travelled to Berden, a village on the Essex Hertfordshire border to investigate the murder of the parish watchman. The couple most high profile arrest as in 1820 when they arrested Arthur Thistlewood, an anarchist who was executed for treason following the infamous ‘Cato Street Conspiracy‘  When Thistlewood was arrested he had been ‘in bed but wearing his breeches and stockings’. Giving evidence Bishop said that he had entered the bedroom with his ‘pistol in one hand and his staff in the other’  saying “Mr Thistlewood, my name is Bishop, a Bow Street Officer!” On arrest, they took Thistlewood to Bow Street and then to the Secretary of State to be interviewed. For this arrest they were paid £160 each.

In February 1815 they travelled to Hertfordshire to investigate a number of burglaries but later that year they were on the Sussex coast.     

One cold and wintery December evening in 1815 a copper-bottomed ship called ‘The Adamant’ sank in Seaford Bay. The ship (which had previously been a gun-boat called the ‘Thrasher’ ) was sailing from Malta to London with a full cargo of wine, almonds, oil, quicksilver (mercury), Turkish carpets, books, linen, cumin-seeds, feathers, skins, gall-nuts (used for medicine), lace opium and sulphur. The ship had struck rocks off Seaford Head cliffs during a storm. The pilot and other boats from Newhaven Harbour managed to pull her away from the rocks but she sank nearby. Luckily the crew were able to take to their boats and there was no loss of life.


It was said that the people of Seaford would sleep with their doors open during bad weather so that they didn’t miss the unexpected bounty of a ship-wreck. Known as ‘Seaford Shags’ they considered that the goods of a wrecked ship were rightfully theirs.

The authorities managed to salvage forty out of sixty barrels of wine but the rest of the varied cargo was left to the elements.

The Sussex Advertiser of 11th December 1815 reported that the majority of the valuable cargo had been ‘picked up by country people’.  The Morning Post however is more forthright saying the wreck had been ‘attacked by hundreds of people from miles around the country who considered the cargo fair game for plunder’. They even stole the copper from the hull of the ship.    The owners offered rewards including £10 for each barrel of quicksilver and a quarter of the value of the rest.   A couple of weeks later a sale was made of the officially recovered items (anchors, cables, masts, sales and rigging) by Mr Harison, the Collector of Customs. The sale was made at the nearby Tide Mills with its owner, William Catt representing the ships owners.

The majority of the cargo however was missing. There was only one thing to do  – call in Bishop and Vickery!

The two London detectives arrived in Seaford at Christmas and immediately set to work. Accompanied by Harison they proceeded to search houses, not only in the town but also in Blatchington, Bishopstone, Newhaven and Alfriston. They were no doubt heavily armed.  It was reported that they found a part of the cargo concealed in every house they raided.  Whilst searching the Pelham Arms in Seaford (later the Hole in the Wall) they became suspicious of two large herring barrels.  They removed the fish and found not only a quantity of brass, ‘stamped with the King’s Broad ‘R’ ‘ but also bags of opium.  The landlord was arrested and the Lewes Magistrates detained him to appear at the Horsham Assizes.

Our detectives Bishop and Vickery were good – very good.  On later attending Horsham to give evidence they recognised a known criminal walking past them with a sack over his back.  They stopped and searched him and found stolen property in the sack.   What great detectives!

Vickery went on the be a keeper of a House of Correction (prison) and Bishop retired on the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. The men were given good pensions of £230 per year. Lets hope these hard working officers had a long and happy retirement!


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