Despite his elegant cane with its bejewelled neck and silver foot, the Squire of Alsatia is a gentleman in appearance only, a rogue and a petty criminal in reality.
His true identity appears in his title; he is the Squire of Alsatia, a ghetto in London known for its gambling, drinking, lewdness, and sedition named after the war-torn frontier between France and Germany.
Alsatia was the cant name for Whitefriars, and was a sanctuary for the disaffected and the criminal, a ‘theatre of sin’ where immunity from the law derived from the indifference of the authorities and the solidarity of the community.The real Squire was a notorious swindler, card shark, and womanizer named ‘Bully’ Dawson. Dawson earned his reputation as a ruffian by cutting off a knight’s thumb in a duel and keeping it in his pocket as a tobacco stopper.
Bully Dawson lived in Whitefriars at the same time as our Mashbornes. Whitefriars was a close-knit community. There is no doubt that the Mashbornes knew (or knew of) Bully Dawson.
He was renowned for his punch making abilities but his name soon became a synonym for a swaggering fool. Some idea of his reputation can be gleaned from the various works of contemporary literature that mention him:
- Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer – Hardcastle refers to him in Act 3: “And can you be serious? I never saw such a bouncing, swaggering puppy since I was born. Bully Dawson was but a fool to him.”
- Charles Lamb – “Bully Dawson kicked by half the town, and half the town kicked by Bully Dawson”.
- Joe Miller’s Jests – Bully Dawson was overturned in a Hackney-Coach once, pretty near his Lodgings, and being got on his Legs again, he said, ’Twas the greatest Piece of Providence that ever befel him, for it had saved him the Trouble of bilking the Coachman.
- The Spectator No. 2 – Sir Roger de Coverley (the creator of a dance that later was known as the Viginal Reel) is mentioned in The Spectator No. 2 as having “kicked” Bully Dawson in a public coffee house for being called “youngster.”
- Thomas Shadwell’s “The ’Squire of Alsatia” (1688) – Dawson is reputed to be the model for Captain Hackum:
“Captain Hackum, a blockheaded bully of Alsatia, a cowardly, impudent, blustering fellow, formerly a sergeant in Flanders, who has run from his colours, and retreated into Whitefriars for a very small debt, where by the Alsatians he is dubb’d a captain, marries one that lets lodgings, sells cherry-brandy, and is a bawd.”
- The Newgate Calendar – Another time, getting into a gaming-house frequented much by Bully Dawson, and perceiving he had won a great deal of money, Davy Morgan requested the favour of speaking a word or two with him in the next room. Dawson, taking him to be some chub or cully, went along with him, where, shutting the door, Davy pulls out a pistol, and presenting it to his breast, quoth he: “I want money, sir, for a very extraordinary occasion; therefore deliver what you have without any resistance, for if you make but the least noise soever I’ll shoot you through the heart, though I were sure to die on the spot.” Bully Dawson, being strangely surprised at these words, and dreading what a desperate man might do in his rage, gave him all his money, which was about eighteen guineas. Then, tying him hand and foot, Davy went about his business. By that time the bully thought this bold robber was gone, so calling out for help, several sharping gamesters came out of the gaming-room to him and, untying him, asked how that adventure came to pass. Which Dawson relating through several volleys of loud oaths, they fell a-laughing heartily at him, and cried: “Dawson, ’twas a fair nick.”
A man of ‘mean’ birth and parentage, Dawson made his livelihood by dressing as ‘quality’ and courting gentlewomen and ladies with fortunes. By this chicanery, he managed well, until, leaving the protection of Alsatia to woo a widow in the north of England, he was discovered to the woman by one who accidentally recognised him. On his next visit, her ladyship’s footmen stripped him almost stark naked, cuffed him soundly, and chased him off. Stealing a horse in Yorkshire, he made a saddle from a bundle of hay, a bridle from a hayband, and, in this state, rode through the country to London.
Safely back in Alsatia, he returned to his life of gambling, cheating and conning. He died poor and diseased in the Lock of Southwark at the age of 43, to the great satisfaction of his eighteenth-century biographer, Theophilus Lucas.
The picture is taken from The Cryes of the City of London, drawne after the Life, a set of 74 portraits of London characters by Marcellus Laroon, first published in 1687. One of them is The Squire of Alsatia, the reproduction above taken from a reprint of 1813.
Bully Dawson’s Punch Recipe
Makes 8 to 10 servings
- 10 ounces Jamaican rum
- 5 oz VSOP Cognac–we like Maison Rouge, if you can find it. It’s an exceptional value for a genuine VSOP Cognac, good enough to sip and great for mixing.
- 1 oz Batavia arrack–this is not the anise flavor liqueur popular in the Middle East, but a sort of older cousin to rum. If you can’t find Batavia arrack, use cachaca.
- 3 oz good porter or stout ale
- 3 oz lemon juice
- The peel of 2 lemons–just the zest, in big strips. Avoid as much as the white pitch as you can.
- 4 oz demerara sugar
- 20 oz boiling water
- grated nutmeg
- Boil the water.
- In a large, stout, heat-safe bowl muddle the sugar and the lemon peels thoroughly.
- Add 8 oz of the boiling water, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Add the lemon juice, rum, Cognac, arrack, and ale.
- Slowly stir in the remaining boiling water.
- Grate nutmeg over the top.