William Plunkett (highwayman)
William Plunkett was a highwayman
A highwayman was a thief and brigand who preyed on travellers. This type of outlaw, usually, travelled and robbed by horse, as compared to a footpad who traveled and robbed on foot. Mounted robbers were widely considered to be socially superior to footpads...

 and accomplice of the famed "Gentleman Highwayman," James MacLaine
James MacLaine
"Captain" James MacLaine was a notorious highwayman with his accomplice William Plunkett. He was known as the "Gentleman Highwayman" as a result of his courteous behaviour during his robberies. He famously robbed Horace Walpole, and was eventually hanged at Tyburn...


Plunkett lived during the mid-eighteenth century in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, on Jermyn Street
Jermyn Street
Jermyn Street is a street in the City of Westminster, central London, to the south, parallel and adjacent to Piccadilly.It is well known as a street where the shops are almost exclusively aimed at the Gentleman's market and is famous for its resident shirtmakers Jermyn Street is a street in the...

, and was said to have been an apothecary
Apothecary is a historical name for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons and patients — a role now served by a pharmacist and some caregivers....

 who was also presumed to be a gentleman
The term gentleman , in its original and strict signification, denoted a well-educated man of good family and distinction, analogous to the Latin generosus...

. With stolen pistols and horses, and their faces hidden by Venetian masks, Plunkett and MacLaine had a short but highly successful career as outlaw
In historical legal systems, an outlaw is declared as outside the protection of the law. In pre-modern societies, this takes the burden of active prosecution of a criminal from the authorities. Instead, the criminal is withdrawn all legal protection, so that anyone is legally empowered to persecute...

s. While MacLaine was eventually hanged for his exploits, Plunkett escaped with both his illicit gains and his life.

William Plunkett was portrayed by the actor Robert Carlyle
Robert Carlyle
Robert Carlyle, OBE is a Scottish film and television actor. He is known for a variety of roles including those in Trainspotting, Hamish Macbeth, The Full Monty, The World Is Not Enough, Angela's Ashes, The 51st State, and 28 Weeks Later...

 in a fictionalized account of the highwaymen, the 1999 film Plunkett and Macleane.

Maclaine's Testimony of Plunkett

According to the records of Maclaine's trial, and his testimony, Plunkett was impoverished and led Maclaine into the life of highway robbery. While Maclaine was still applying himself to trade he met Plunkett, who spoke to him of his travels abroad, and had fine clothes to match his story, and induced Maclaine to lend him a hundred pounds. After making sundry repayments (claimed Maclaine), Plunkett offered to repay him partly in goods, and gave him some clothes which were afterwards identified as having been stolen in one of the Hounslow Heath mounted robberies. Plunkett is supposed to have encouraged Maclaine by telling him that they had a right to live, but that the means were not available to them unless they overcame a few scruples and took from the improvident wealthy. Maclaine sought to turn evidence against Plunkett, but was refused an agreement.(Such was Maclaine's defence.)

Contemporary observations

On one occasion, when taking clothes belonging to a priest (who objected), Plunkett replied that they stole because necessity obliged them to do so, not from wantonness: and on another, he put aside his pistol while robbing a lady because he saw she was alarmed by it. It is said of Plunkett that 'he loved his bottle and a woman.'

Reputed emigration to America

Plunkett was not tried or sentenced in connection with the robberies.

In 1845, Charles Miner reported the claim that the Colonel William Plunket who commanded one of the two earliest battalions of the Northumberland Militia in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
-Appalachian Mountains and Allegheny Plateau:Lycoming County is divided between the Appalachian Mountains in the south, the dissected Allegheny Plateau in the north and east, and the valley of the West Branch Susquehanna River between these.-West Branch Susquehanna River:The West Branch of the...

 in 1775 was the same person as MacLaine's former accomplice. Miner quotes from the Gentleman's Magazine for September 1750 to summarize the association of Plunkett with MacLaine in the attack on Lord Eglintoun on Hounslow Heath
Hounslow Heath
Hounslow Heath is a public open space and local nature reserve to the west of Hounslow, a London borough. It now covers about , the residue of the historic Hounslow Heath that covered over .-History:...


Miner then adds a transcript of a manuscript note found (before 1845) in a bound copy of the Gentleman's Magazine in the Athenaeum Library in London, at this point in the text, stating that Plunkett became a magistrate in Pennsylvania, that he acknowledged he had been the associate of Maclaine, and that persons in America who had known Plunkett in England had recognised him.

Plunketts Creek
Plunketts Creek (Loyalsock Creek)
Plunketts Creek is an approximately tributary of Loyalsock Creek in Lycoming and Sullivan counties in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Two unincorporated villages and a hamlet are on the creek, and its watershed drains in parts of five townships...

in Lycoming County bears the namesake of Col. William Plunkett. He reputedly died aged around 100 at Sunbury (Pennsylvania), quite blind, and was buried there, in 1791. But if this is true, and if he was the same man, he must already have been sixty at the time of the highway robberies on Hounslow Heath, and almost 85 when commanding the Northumberland Militia. The facts can be reconciled if the estimate of his age at death is exaggerated.
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