Blind Jack Again
: The Strange Story Book
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 la
ge 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
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.