a legend in his lifetime
The aristocratic Carews of Bickleigh were by reputation doughty adventurers, but none
more so than Bampfylde Moore Carew whose outrageous deeds were so extraordinary that before
long his notoriety as a master of disguise and cunning deception spread across the land,
far beyond his native Devon.
His exploits were chronicled during his lifetime in a popular collection first published
in 1745 entitled The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde-Moore Carew 
. As many as 30 editions were
produced over the next 50 years. Indeed, this picaresque tale was a best-seller for the
next one hundred years, and was also the subject of many pamphlets.
Our eponymous hero was destined to be no ordinary Carew; even his names were most unusual.
In July 1693 at his baptism the infant boy was christened using the surnames of his
illustrious godfathers, the Hon. Hugh Bampfylde and the Hon. Major Moore. But how was it
decided which name to put first?
There was some contention between these parties, which of their names should have
precedence, doubtlessly presaging the honour that should redound to them from the future
actions of our hero. 
The matter was decided in favour of Bampfylde following the toss of a coin.
the hunting scholar
At age 12 Bampfylde was enrolled at the famed Blundell's School in Tiverton, where by all
accounts he applied himself diligently to the study of Latin and Greek, the backbone of the
curriculum. His father, the Reverend Theodore Carew who was rector of Bickleigh, hoped that
one day his son would take the cloth also; but this was not to be.
At age 15 Bampfylde and some of his school-mates antagonized some local farmers and
landowners by damaging their crops while hunting. Fearing the severity of their impending
punishment, the boys ran away from the school.
Discipline was strict on the school premises, and the birch was applied freely to
miscreants. But out of school hours the pupils were given freedom to pursue their own
interests, which for Bampfylde and his schoolmates meant indulging in their passion for
hunting. The Tiverton scholars even had a pack of hounds to assist them in the chase. But
on this occasion the youngsters got carried away in their enthusiasm for the noble sport:
It happened that a farmer living in a [part of the] country adjacent to Tiverton who was a
very great sportsman, and used to hunt with the Tiverton scholars, came and acquainted them
of a fine deer he had seen with a collar about its neck, in the fields about his farm,
which he supposed to be the favourite of some gentleman not far off: this was very
agreeable news to the Tiverton scholars, who with Mr Carew, John Martin, Thomas Coleman,
and John Escott at their head went in a great body to hunt it: this happened a short time
before the harvest; the chase was very hot, and lasted several hours, and they ran the deer
many miles, which did a great deal of damage to the fields of corn, that were then almost
ripe. ...Those farmers and gentlemen that sustained the most damage came to Tiverton and
complained very heavily to Mr Rayner, the schoolmaster, of the havoc made in their fields
which occasioned strict enquiry to be made concerning the ringleaders, who proving to be
our hero and his companions, they were so severely threatened, that, for fear, they
absented themselves from school.
Bampfylde and his co-truants, having laid low overnight, next day entered a nearby
ale-house where they had a chance encounter with a lively gathering of gypsies. The wild
carousing and merry-making of these folk reminds me of the time I witnessed the unruly antics
of a band of itinerant Irish gypsies who had taken over a town centre hostelry for the
evening from their temporary caravan encampment outside the town. In 17th and 18th century
English parlance, calling someone a gypsy was to categorise them as a cunning rogue
rather than of Romany descent, but in Bampfylde's Life they are called beggars,
mendicants, and gypsies without differentiation. Today we might call them
travellers, that is they are itinerants that live life like a gypsy.
...the next day happening to go to Brick House, an ale-house about half a mile from
Tiverton, they accidentally fell into the company of a society of Gipsies, who were
feasting and carousing. This society consisted of seventeen or eighteen persons of both
sexes who met there that day with a full purpose of merriment and jollity: and after a
plentiful meal upon fowls, ducks, and other dainty dishes, the flowing of cups of
cyder, etc., went most cheerfully round, and merry songs and country dances crowned the
jovial banquet; in short, so great an air of freedom, mirth, and pleasure, appeared in the
faces of this society, that our youngsters from that time conceived a sudden inclination to
enlist into their company.
Bampfylde the gypsy
After initial scepticism in view of the bearing and appearance of our young absconders, the
gypsies decided that they were genuine in their desire to be admitted to their number, and
following completion of the required ceremonies and oath-taking the matter was concluded to
the satisfaction of all.
Very soon Carew was initiated into the wily ways of the gypsies and demonstrated his
natural skill as a master of disguise and deception. It wasn't long before he entrapped his
first gullible victim:
...Madam Musgrove, of Monkton, near Taunton, hearing of his fame, sent for him to consult
in an affair of difficulty: when he had come, she informed him, that she suspected a large
quantity of money was buried somewhere about her house, and if he would acquaint her of the
particular place she would reward him handsomely. Our hero consulted the secrets of his art
upon this occasion, and after long toil and study, informed the lady, that under a laurel
tree in the garden lay the treasure she sought for.
Carew advised the dear lady that she should not dig for it until a particular date and time
when her planet of good fortune would reign. She thanked him for his advice and rewarded
him with 20 guineas. Needless to say, no treasure was to be found below the roots of the
master of disguise
After 18 months in the company of the gypsies, on hearing of the sadness of his parents at
his absence, the young Carew decided to visit home. He arrived in disguise, a stratagem
which had learned to perfection by this time. Upon revealing his true identity his parents
were overjoyed and did all in their power to persuade him to remain, but before long he was
missing the conviviality and freedom of the traveller's life. The pleasures and
entertainments that his friends laid on for him could not compare with
...the uncommon pleasure he had enjoyed in the community he had left, the freedom of their
government, the simplicity and sincerity of their manners, the frequent change of their
habitation, the perpetual mirth and good humour that reigned among them...
and before long Bampfylde slipped away without bidding farewell, and made his way to Brick
House; the mendicants imbibing there welcomed him back to the fold and there was much
rejoicing by all.
Within this gypsy society it was regarded as decent and honourable to deceive for
financial gain whose who were not of their kind, provided no personal harm was done and
the victims were not severely impoverished by such actions. This they justified on the
grounds that "mendicants are in a constant state of hostility with all other people".
Bampfylde carried out his mumping expeditions with consummate
skill, sparing no detail in his impersonation of characters seemingly deserving of
These included a ship-wrecked seaman, an old woman, a householder whose house had been
destroyed by fire, and a Kentish farmer whose lands had been flooded drowning his cattle.
Later, while dressed in little more than a blanket, he feigned to be the poor demented
This is how he assumed the appearance and demeanour of a ship-wrecked mariner:
...with an old pair of trousers, enough of a jacket to cover his nakedness, stockings such
as nature gave, shoes, (or rather the body of shoes, for soles they had none,) which had
leaks enough to sink a first rate man of war, and a woollen cap so black that one might
safely swear it had not been washed since Noah's flood. Being thus attired, our hero
changed his manners with his dress; he forgot entirely his family, education, and
politeness, and became now nothing more nor less than an unfortunate ship-wrecked seaman.
The only trade that our young scoundrel pursued in earnest was that of rat-catcher. He paid
an expert to teach him the techniques to use. Once he had mastered this skill he applied it
without fear or favour, providing this service to his own community and the general public
Carew keenly scoured the newspapers for reports of disasters so that he could find new
disguises as an unfortunate victim of these tragic events. To authenticate his deception he
would forge letters purporting to be from worthy individuals such as clergymen, noblemen, or
others of good repute. To enhance his ship-wrecked seaman ruse, he even took a sea voyage to
Newfoundland, picking up all the local knowledge he could, so that on his return...
...he was able to give an exact account of Newfoundland, the settlements, harbours,
fishery, and inhabitants thereof, he applied with great confidence to masters of vessels,
and gentlemen well acquainted with those parts; so that those whom his prudence would not
previously permit him to apply to, now became his greatest benefactors.
romance in Newcastle
A short while after this Carew took a trip to Newcastle in a collier; this time without
disguise and looking at his best he met and fell in love with the beautiful daughter of an
apothecary and surgeon. He was loath to tell this Miss Gray that he was nothing more than a
gypsy, so with the connivance of the captain with whom he was acquainted, he told her that he
was the mate of the collier and persuaded the young lady to elope with him back to Dartmouth
against the wishes of her father.
On arrival at the Devonshire port he could no longer conceal his true occupation from his
would-be bride. Naturally she was troubled by this revelation, but upon being told how
worthy a family the Carews were, and that the community of gypsies was more happy and less
disreputable than she imagined she was entirely satisfied.
The lovers in a few days set out for Bath, where they lawfully solemnized their nuptials
with great gaiety and splendour.
The lovers spent some days in Bath living in grand style until Carew's money ran out. Then
our newlyweds made their way across southern England, eventually ending up at the Dorset
house of an uncle of Bampfylde. This kindly clergyman tried hard to persuade the Carews'
black sheep to abandon his gypsy lifestyle, offering to assist Bampfylde so he could make a
fresh start and embark on an occupation worthy of the family name. This was to no avail;
Bampfylde chose instead to observe closely his uncle's speech and demeanour so that he
could henceforth better impersonate a man of the cloth, and on their departure he acquired
a cassock, bands, and a black gown. Dressed in this attire, he posed as a Jacobite
clergyman from Aberystwyth who had fallen on hard times after he felt obliged to quit his
benefice. This he did because his political leanings were no longer in keeping with the
times following a change in government.
When he discoursed with any clergyman, or other person of literature, he would now and then
introduce come Latin or Greek sentences, that were applicable to what he was talking of,
which gave his hearers a high opinion of his learning: all this, and his thorough knowledge
of those persons whom it was proper to apply to, made this stratagem succeed even beyond
his own expectation.
Not long after this, on hearing that a ship bound from Philadelphia with many Quakers
onboard had foundered on rocks off the coast of Ireland, he abandoned his clergyman's
clothes for a plain suit and adopted a demure manner so as to pass himself off as one of
the Quaker bretheren who where only too ready to part with their money on hearing of his
Here we end the first part of the story of Bampfylde Moore Carew. The second part of this
feature - the middle years - tells of his being crowned King of the Beggars, and also how
he was arrested, tried, and transported to Maryland where he was to be sold into slavery on
a plantation, but twice managed to escape, eventually returning to England.
A second 1749 edition was called An Apology for the Life of Mr. Bampfylde-Moore
Carew. In Devonshire Characters and Strange Events Vol.2 (1908) Sabine
Baring-Gould suggests that An Apology is the template for all later versions: "To
An Apology for the Life of Mr. Bampfylde-Moore Carew ... all the Lives of
this disreputable man are indebted". He was referring here to the second version of An
Apology which he dated tentatively as 1753.
This was actually an autobiography, as dictated to the publishers Robert Goadby and W. Owen
who embroidered the tales, making the book a more literary, semi-fictional work competing
with Henry Fielding's recently published History of Tom Jones
. There is a long and
sarcastic dedication to Fielding in this version, whose morality (as expressed in Tom
) is questioned. This was later dropped, although some derogatory references to
Fielding remain within the text in many later versions of the book (including the one
linked to in Note 2).[return]
The picture of Bampfylde in various disguises is taken from Two Accounts of The Life
and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew, The King of the Beggars published by The
Kennard Press in 1985. This booklet consists of the text and line drawings from two 19th
century pamphlets that are shortened versions of the full Adventures, with an
engaging introduction by Hugo Breitmeyer. This picture shows what was the cover of the
first of the two pamphlets.