Gervase Thompson, a tapster at the White Swan inn at Ferrybridge in the West Riding of Yorkshire, suffered a most unfortunate death in the February of 1781.
A gentleman, named as Charles Frederick Vanburgh, Esquire, an officer in the Guards, (and not, as mistakenly reported, a son of Lord V___), was travelling in his carriage with his new wife. They were returning from a ‘matrimonial excursion’ to Scotland, and stopped at the White Swan, an old coaching inn with grounds stretching down to the river Aire.
After the couple had rested and refreshed themselves, they alighted into their carriage and continued on their journey. When the staff at the White Swan were cleaning up, after their departure, they found that the gentleman had left behind his purse.
The landlord was obviously an honest man for he dispatched Gervase to follow the carriage, and to return the purse. Gervase, alternately referred to as the under-tapster (bartender) and the bootcatcher (a servant responsible for cleaning the guest’s shoes) saddled a horse and set off in hot pursuit along the London Road.
Although the carriage was travelling fast he soon caught up with it and, in his eagerness to return the purse, he pulled alongside, shouting through the window, “Your purse, your purse, Sir.”
But it was seven o’clock in the evening on that night in early February and so pitch black; the frightened couple inside the carriage didn’t recognize Gervase and, yes, you’ve guessed it! They thought that he was a highwayman, that they were being held up and that he was demanding their purse, not returning it. And so the gentleman let the window down, took aim with his pistol and, in what he thought was self-defense, shot the unfortunate Gervase Thompson dead.
The carriage did not stop and had reached Doncaster before they realized the truth of the matter. The gentleman, full of remorse, and his lady were taken to Pontefract where the subsequent coroner’s jury agreed that it was an unfortunate and accidental death.
The lady was overcome and took to her bed, and the gentleman tried to make some small amends by giving five guineas to Gervase Thompson’s wife, Ann, and, when he discovered that she had been left with three young children to provide for (the youngest daughter, named Ann for her mother, had only been baptized on the 2nd November 1780) settled a yearly annuity of ten pounds upon her for the term of her life. Gervase Thompson had married his wife, Ann Tomlinson, in the nearby village of Darrington on the 8th November 1774 and the other two children were Thomas Thompson, baptized in the church of St. Edward the Confessor at Brotherton on the 10th December 1776, and another daughter, Mary, baptized at Darrington with Wentbridge on the 9th January 1778.
Gervase Thompson was buried, on the 6th February 1781, in the churchyard of the nearby church of St. Andrew at Ferry Fryston, where his youngest daughter had been baptized only three months earlier.
Ferry Fryston, Brotherton and Darrington with Wentbridge parish registers
The Old Inns of Old England, vol ii, Charles G. Harper, 1906
London Chronicle, 10th February 1781
Leeds Intelligencer, 13th February 1781
Derby Mercury, 16th February 1781