Blind Jack Again

Would you like to hear some more of Blind Jack? This story tells how he

joined the army of the Duke of Cumberland, which was sent to fight

Prince Charlie and the Highlanders in 1745.

There was great excitement in York when the news came that the Scotch

were marching south, and measures were taken to raise 4,000 men for the

defence of the country. L90,000 was very soon subscribed in the county,

and this large sum was intended to clothe and pay volunteers during the

time their services were needed. The gentlemen of Yorkshire held a

meeting in the castle to discuss the matter, and Blind Jack's old

friend, Thornton, was present. When the meeting was over he rode back to

Knaresborough and sent for Metcalfe, whom he asked to help him enlist

some soldiers, and further begged him to join the company himself, which

Jack, always on the look out for a fresh adventure, was delighted to do.

He lost no time in going round to the men he knew in his native town,

and was ready to promise anything that he thought was likely to gain him

what he wanted. He even assured these carpenters and blacksmiths and

ostlers and ploughmen that they would find themselves colonels of

regiments, or holding some well-paid post under the king, as soon as the

war--or bustle as he termed it--was over.

Out of the hundred and forty men who agreed to enlist on receiving five

shillings a head from Captain Thornton, sixty-four were chosen and clad

in uniforms of blue cloth, with buff facings and waistcoats, made by

Leeds tailors. These tailors were not at all anxious to hurry, and

declined to work on Sunday, upon which the captain sent an indignant

message to ask whether, if their houses caught fire on a Sunday, they

would not try to put the flames out? The tailors were more easily

convinced than they would have been at present, and, on receiving the

message, instantly crossed their legs and took up their needles, and in

a very few days the new soldiers were strutting about in their fine

clothes or attending drill, while waiting for the swords and muskets

which were coming down from the arsenal in the Tower of London. Then the

captain invited them all to stay at Thorneville, and every other day a

fat ox was killed for their dinners.

At last they were ready, and off they marched to Boroughbridge, where

General Wade's army was halting on its way to the north. Very smart the

recruits looked, and none was smarter than Blind Jack, who stood six

feet two inches in his stockings. In the evenings he always went to the

captain's quarters, and played 'Britons, strike home,' and other popular

tunes, on his fiddle. The captain's friends, who came over to see what

was going on, pressed him to play one thing after another, and, when

they took their leave, pulled out their purses and offered the musician

a guinea or two. But Jack always refused the money, as he knew that

Thornton would not like him to take it.

From Boroughbridge they marched to Newcastle to join General Pulteney.

Winter had now set in, and snow often fell heavily, and during a heavy

storm the troops started on their march westwards to Hexham. They had a

terrible day's journey to their first stopping-place seven miles away,

and it sometimes took three or four hours to accomplish one single mile.

Although the ground was frozen hard, all sorts of obstacles had to be

overcome, and ditches filled up, so that the artillery and

baggage-waggons might pass over. When at last a halt was sounded, after

fifteen hours' march, the frost was so intense that no tent-pegs could

be driven into the earth, and the men were forced to be on the ground

without any cover.

After various marches backwards and forwards along the northern line,

Thornton's company, now attached to General Hawley's, reached Edinburgh

and proceeded to Falkirk, where the Highland army was encamped three

miles away. It was very cold and the wind blew the rain straight in the

faces of the English, and also wetted their powder, so that their guns

were quite useless. The general, observing this, ordered the troops to

fall back on Linlithgow, which afforded more shelter, and as soon as the

town was reached many of the tired men entered the houses to get their

wet clothes dried, or borrow fresh ones, little thinking that the

Highlanders were close upon them. A large number of English prisoners

were taken in the sudden surprise of the attack, and among them twenty

of Thornton's men. The captain himself was just leaving the house in

which he had taken refuge, when he heard the bagpipes close to him.

Quickly and noiselessly he rushed upstairs, and opening the first door

he saw, stood behind it. It was a poor chance of escape, but the only

one that offered itself. Luck, however, attended him, for a man merely

put his head into the room and exclaimed, 'None of the rascals are

here,' and went off to search the rest of the house in the same manner.

As soon as the Highlanders had disappeared down the street, the mistress

of the house, who had seen the captain's hurried flight up the

staircase, went to him and begged him to hide in a closet at one end of

the room, which he gladly did. She next dragged a sort of kitchen

dresser in front of the cupboard and piled plates and dishes on it, so

that no one would have guessed there was any door behind. Fortunately

the closet door did not touch the floor by a couple of inches, so that

the woman was able to thrust in food underneath. In his dripping wet

clothes and in this cupboard about five feet square, the captain

remained for nearly a week, in a room which was constantly full of

Highlanders, among them being Prince Charlie's secretary, Murray of


All this time Blind Jack was busy searching for his master. He had been

present at the battle of Falkirk with the rest of the company, and when

the order for retreat was given he found his way to a widow's house a

little way from the town, where the captain had left two of his horses.

There they were, safe in the stable, and Metcalfe hastily saddled them

both. He was leading out the first when some Highlanders came up.

'We must have that beast,' said they.

'You will have nothing of the sort,' answered Metcalfe.

'Shoot him,' said one of the men, and as Metcalfe heard them cock their

muskets he exclaimed quickly:

'Why do you want him?'

'For the Prince,' they replied; and Jack, understanding that he must

give way, answered:

'If it is for the Prince, you must have him of course,' and waited till

the sound of their footsteps died away. He then led out the other horse,

which they had not noticed, and was about to jump on his back when

Thornton's coachman, who had also been seeking his master, came up. They

both mounted the horse and rode to join the army, with which Metcalfe

marched on to Linlithgow and afterwards to Edinburgh.

Thornton's company were one and all very anxious about their captain and

could not imagine what had become of him. They knew the names of the men

who had been taken prisoners and of those who were killed in battle, but

Thornton had disappeared as completely as if the earth had swallowed him

up. The matter reached the ears of the superior officers in Edinburgh,

and, hearing that Metcalfe was one of the troop, sent for him to give

them what information he could, and also because they were curious to

see this blind volunteer. But Jack could tell them nothing new; only

that, if the captain was alive, he would find him.

Now he happened to have met in Edinburgh a Knaresborough man who had

joined Prince Charlie, and this fellow might, Jack thought, be of great

help to him in his search. So he sought the man out, and told him that

he was tired of serving with the English and felt sure they would be

badly beaten, and he would like a place as musician to Prince Charlie.

The Knaresborough man at once fell into the trap and replied that an

Irish spy was going to join the Prince at Falkirk immediately, and

Metcalfe might go with him and ask for an interview.

The first difficulty was with the English sentries in Edinburgh, who

refused to let them pass; but Jack overcame this by demanding to be

taken before the officer on guard, to whom he explained the real object

of his journey.


'Give it up, give it up! my good fellow,' said the captain; 'it is

certain death to a man with two eyes, and you have none, though you

manage to do so well without them.' But Metcalfe would not listen, so he

and the Irishman were allowed to proceed, and after various adventures

arrived safely in Falkirk.

All this time, as we have said, Thornton had been caged up in the

cupboard in his wet clothes, till he was almost too stiff to stoop to

pick up his food when the woman thrust it under his door. He caught a

bad cold besides, and more than once could not restrain his cough, even

when he knew the soldiers were in the room. They heard it of course, but

as the partitions were very thin, they took for granted it was next

door, for the dresser completely hid all trace of an opening.

But by Monday night he felt he could not stay in the closet any longer,

and when the woman brought him his provisions for the next day he told

her that he would not die there like a rat in a hole, but would come out

whatever it cost him.

'Remain there till to-morrow night,' she said, 'and I will contrive some

way of escape for you,' and so the poor captain was forced to pass

another twenty-four hours in his most uncomfortable prison. Then, when

the soldiers had all gone off to their night duty, the landlady brought

a carpenter whom she could trust to take away the dresser. Oh! how

thankful the captain was to stretch himself again, and to put on a

Highland dress and a black wig which the woman brought him. He had only

ten guineas with him, and eight of them he thankfully gave to the

landlady while the other two he bestowed on the carpenter. As he was

bid, he slung over his shoulder a bag of tools, and hid himself

downstairs till it grew light and people were setting out to work, when

he and the carpenter started together just four hours before Metcalfe

entered Falkirk. On the way to Edinburgh they had a terrible fright, and

narrowly escaped falling into the hands of a large body of Highlanders,

but at length they reached a house belonging to a friend of the

carpenter's, who lent Thornton a horse, which carried him in safety to


Metcalfe meanwhile had fared rather badly. His dress, consisting of a

plaid waistcoat which he had borrowed, and a blue coat faced with buff,

the uniform of his company, had attracted the attention of the

Highlanders. He told them that he had been fiddling for the English

officers, who had given him the coat (which belonged, he said, to a man

killed in the battle) as payment. The men would have been satisfied had

not a person chanced to pass who had often seen Jack at Harrogate, and


'You had better not let him go without a search; I don't like the look

of him.' Accordingly Metcalfe was removed to the guard-room and his

clothes examined all over to see if they concealed any letters. The

guard even split in two a pack of cards which Metcalfe had in his

pocket, imagining that he might have contrived to slip a piece of thin

paper between the thick edges of the cardboard then used. The cards,

however, had not been employed for this purpose, and after three days'

confinement in a loft Metcalfe was tried by court-martial and acquitted,

and given besides permission to go to the Prince. By this time, however,

he had somehow discovered that Thornton had escaped from Falkirk, so he

was only anxious to return to the British army as fast as he could. The

Irish spy was equally desirous of taking letters to Edinburgh to some of

the friends of Prince Charlie, who were to be found there, but did not

know how to pass the English sentries, a difficulty easily solved by

Blind Jack, who assured him that he would tell them he was going to

Captain Thornton.

Not far from the English outposts the two travellers met with an officer

who knew Metcalfe, and informed him to his great delight that the

captain was in Edinburgh, so when the sentries were passed he bade

farewell to the Irishman after promising to meet him the next night, and

went straight to the captain.

'You have given me a great deal of trouble,' was Metcalfe's greeting.

'Really, people might manage to come home from market without being


'Well, so I did,' answered Thornton with a laugh. 'But what is to be

done now, as I have neither clothes nor cash?'

'Oh, I can get you both!' replied Metcalfe; 'some friends I have here

have often heard me speak of you, and they will trust you for payment.'

And he was as good as his word, and quickly borrowed thirty pounds,

which provided the captain with all the clothes he wanted.

In January 1746 the Duke of Cumberland, Commander-in-Chief of the

English army, arrived in Edinburgh, and as Thornton was a great friend

of his, the Duke heard all his adventures and the share Blind Jack had

taken in them. He then sent for Metcalfe, and being much interested in

his story often watched him on the march, and noticed, to his surprise,

that, by listening to the drum, Jack was able to keep step with the


The British forces proceeded northwards as far as Aberdeen, where the

Duke suddenly determined to give a ball to the ladies and begged that

Thornton would allow Metcalfe to play the country dances, as the wind

instruments of the German musicians were unsuitable. It must have been

rather a strange ball, as up to the last moment it was quite uncertain

whether they might not have to fight instead of dance, and the

invitations were only sent out at five o'clock for the company to

assemble at six. Twenty-five couples were present and kept Metcalfe hard

at work till two the next morning; the Duke, then about twenty-five,

dancing away with the rest.

The English then turned westwards and defeated the Highlanders at

Culloden, near Inverness, after which all British prisoners were set

free, and the volunteers returned home.

Captain Thornton and Metcalfe rode back together as far as

Knaresborough, where they parted company. Blind Jack's wife had suffered

a great deal of anxiety during the eight months of his absence, for she

knew that his love of adventure would thrust him into all kinds of

unnecessary dangers. But here he was, none the worse for the hardships

he had gone through, and in the best of spirits, but, to Dolly's great

relief, quite ready to stay at home for a bit.

According to his own account--and again we ask ourselves how much we

may believe of Metcalfe's amazing story--there was no end to the

different trades he carried on successfully for the rest of his life. He

soon grew restless and went to Aberdeen to buy a large supply of

stockings, which he sold at a profit among his Yorkshire friends; for a

while he became a horse dealer, feeling the animals all over before he

made an offer to purchase, so that he knew exactly what condition they

were in, and their good and bad points. He next turned smuggler, getting

a great deal of excitement out of cheating the Government, and finally

took to building bridges and making roads. In 1751 he started a coach

between York and Knaresborough, which he drove himself. It ran twice a

week in the summer and once in the winter; and as soon as he grew tired

of this employment, for he detested being obliged to do things at stated

times, he managed with his usual luck to get the business taken off his


We bid farewell to him in 1795 when he was seventy-eight, but still

strong and active and able to walk ten miles in three and a half hours.

His friendship with Colonel Thornton was as fast as ever, and he

remained a welcome guest in several of the big houses round York and

Knaresborough. And if perhaps he was not quite so wonderful a person

as he thought, and saw some of his deeds through a magnifying glass,

there is no doubt that he was a very uncommon man, worthy of all

admiration for not allowing his life to be spoilt by his blindness.

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