A daring robbery took place in the October of 1851 on Roborough Down and as crimes go the perpetrators must have received the swiftest of punishments in legal history. The tale begins at Okehampton where an old man by the name of Bellamy, who lived at the Union Workhouse, set out for a trip to Plymouth to visit some friends. It was a cold winter’s Monday morning when he set out in the company of a labourer called John Hartner, whom he had met at an Okehampton lodging house. The surprising thing is that in his pocket, Bellamy had a leather purse which contained 15 shillings which in 1851 was the equivalent of about £53 in modern money, a large amount for somebody living in a workhouse. By mid-day the couple of travellers had reached Tavistock where it was decided to have a beer or three, or four, after which they continued on their literally merry way. They got as far as the Magpie Inn when they decided that it would be rather rude to pass by and not pay their respects to the landlord. Having done so and consumed a few more ales they set off across Roborough Down.
Whilst the men were staggering across the down they heard the sound of some horses approaching and on turning around saw a rider leading two other horses. This was William Dilling who was a jockey in the service of a horse dealer from Plymouth called Thomas. Dilling stopped and offered the two men a ride to Plymouth on the two horses he was leading, both men eagerly accepted his kind offer. It did not take long to reach Roborough Rock near which stood the Buller’s Arms where it was decided to rest the horses. By the time Dilling suggested a third round Bellamy was beginning to realise that he had probably drunk enough for one day and that his purse was now a whole shilling lighter. But his travelling companions clearly wanted more ale, so Bellamy said that he would go on slowly to Plymouth and that the others could catch him up once they had finished their ale.
Roborough Rock, Yelverton end of Roborough Down.
About twenty minutes later, Bellamy heard the sound of a horse thundering up behind him and turned to see his newly found ‘friend’ Dilling. As the rider drew alongside, Bellamy suddenly felt the lashing pain of Dilling’s whip across his eyes and then again on his head, the result of which being that he fell from his horse. The next thing he knew was that Dilling had leapt of his horse and was kneeling on his chest as he rifled through his pockets in search of the leather purse. During this his original travelling companion, Hartner, sat astride his mount calmly looking on. Having found the purse, Dilling leapt onto his horse and the two men galloped off leaving Bellamy battered and dazed at the roadside. About an hour later a group of miners came along and found the forlorn figure of Bellamy still lead by the road. They administered as much first-aid as possible and asked what had happened, Bellamy then told them his sad tale. The miners listened and then promised the old man that if they caught up with the men, as they surely would, both would be given the whacking of a life-time. The old boy the staggered back to the Buller’s Arms where he received succour and comfort from the landlord’s wife.
The next day, two travellers called into the police station at Plymouth to report the fact that the following night they had come across a battered and profusely bleeding man by the roadside and how they had taken him to the inn at Jump where he was put to bed and had his wounds treated. The travellers said they could get little sense out of the injured man but it appears as he was travelling towards Plymouth he was approached by four men who for no reason what-so-ever suddenly viciously attacked him and left him for dead. The only description he was able to give was that they appeared to be dressed in the manner of local miners.
A few days later the whole story transpires in the fact that the second injured man was none other than Dilling who had met with the four miners whom had found Bellamy. They were true to their word and dished out a good ‘whacking’ to Dilling, and once the police had pieced this together arrested Dilling on a charge of Highway Robbery. What happened to Hartner you ask, well he managed to escape from the miners and hid on the moor until it was safe to make his get away.
This story was reported in The Times on the 9th of October 1851.