Posted by: Democratic Thinker | July 15, 2014

Baron De Berenger: How to Protect Life—VI

Natural Rights

In 1835 Charles Random de Berenger—owner of the Stadium Rifle Club outside of London—publishes the first self-protection book. Written in the manner of a series of letters from Lt. Col. Baron De Berenger to his son Augustus, letters III, VI, IX & XI treat the subject of crime.

Recollect that, to be prepared is a victory half gained! whilst to startle the unthinking, at least the unsuspecting, passenger, is the great engine employed by robbers, for they mostly have plundered such a person before he can have recovered his presence of mind sufficiently to make an effectual resistance.



Helps and Hints
How To
Protect Life and Property:
With Instructions
Rifle and Pistol Shooting, &c.






IF you walk along the highway, or near the outskirts of London, do not allow others, who are either behind or before, to come in close contact with you,—easily avoided as it is by your either passing them quickly, and at what distance you like, or, by your causing them to do so, by your loitering, or turning to one side or other. If a person following gains ground upon you, in any lonely part, do not in any way give him an idea of your being alarmed,—you may walk on more briskly, but refrain from running,—and also from turning frequently, as if looking for him; instead of the latter, listen to his steps, thus to ascertain whether he increases his speed, and if so, whether that increased speed is proportionate to your own, always making a proper allowance for the difference (if any) between his length of step and yours: if at night, and you cannot hear his step, every lamp, soon after you have passed it, will show you his long shadow, either before you or at your side, provided he has approached you near enough to be between the same two lamps with you.

Avoid, at all times, (but in such a case especially,) to pass too closely to gateways, corners of streets, mews, or lanes, or recesses in either; keep plenty of space between you and such places, and between gates or gaps in hedge-rows, lonely barns, outbuildings, or other places, from whence assailants, be it singly or connected with others in the road, may rush at you. Take the carriage-road, if circumstances will permit, in all hazardous or suspicious situations, and, if compelled to use the causeway, walk as close as possible to the edge nearest to the road or gutter; even then it is useful occasionally to cross to the other side of the road, to ascertain whether the suspected person will do the same: if he should cross also, try to outwalk him, but always carelessly, or even playfully, thus to prevent his supposing that you fear him; if still he keeps up with you, select the place most suitable to your own security, (which however will depend entirely upon your own judgment, and the nature of the locality,) and there make a sudden halt, facing about, as if to examine something, yet looking at him firmly as he comes on towards you, thus to make him pass you; but doing all this without anything like flurry or menace. Menace in almost any case is a confirmation of fear! those who are confident of success scorning to menace. Now slacken your pace, so as to cause his gaining a sufficient start before you, to enable you to leave that road for any other in view, and without his being aware of it; or, if you have occasion to continue on the same road, keep at the greatest distance you can without losing sight of him, as otherwise you may fall into an ambuscade, and also to prevent, besides being way-laid, his speaking, unobserved by you, to some confederate upon the road; wherefore, the best of all ways will be, to pass him when near to some houses, thereupon to distance him by a nimble pace, to facilitate your changing your route without his knowledge; but all this should be done without distressing your wind, for should he have better wind than you, he may not only overtake you, but also prove too much for you in a scuffle on that account, that is, before you can recover your own.

The reason why the edge nearest the coach-road or gutter is preferable to walking close to houses, walls, fences, or ditches, is, because, instead of being more readily hemmed up, you can quickly take the road, to avoid being surrounded; it will also enable you to use your stick more effectually, and which the proximity of any wall or other boundary will impede considerably. To keep your antagonist at arm’s length is good, but to keep him at your stick’s length is infinitely better: the middle of the road facilitates both; always taking care to draw a suspected person away from the causeway, in order to prevent his securing what usually is the higher, and therefore the “vantage ground.” Another reason for recommending the taking to the high road is, to guard against a prevailing practice with ruffians, namely, that of concealing themselves, in order to make a deadly blow at a passenger from some gateway, or other obscure place, on his passing closely to such; thereupon to drag or force him into what generally proves a carefully selected, because, for the work of plunder, convenient place, and which, from its situation, enables them, without fear of interruption, to wind up their robberies by other maltreatment. For such reasons, accustom yourself never to pass such places without expecting the possibility of some such attack; and think beforehand what you had best do to defeat it. So far from cowardice, this is the prudence of bravery, determining on resistance, and securing the assistance of presence of mind under the advantage of submitting well-regulated plans for prompt availment, according to circumstances. Recollect that, to be prepared is a victory half gained! whilst to startle the unthinking, at least the unsuspecting, passenger, is the great engine employed by robbers, for they mostly have plundered such a person before he can have recovered his presence of mind sufficiently to make an effectual resistance.

Firmness, backed by a good cause, is a powerful ally. Generally deficient of the former, and engaged in a criminal pursuit, thieves usually endeavour to make up the difference by ferocity and cruelty. The gallows, ever haunting their imagination, creates more terror with them than we should feel if compelled to fire an overloaded pistol, with the consciousness of its having a dangerous flaw besides. I doubt that we should hit the mark, since very little would cause us to miss it: in the same way, very little will defeat robbers when so inspired, and which with them must be more than frequent.

Make it a rule to look firmly, searchingly, and even sternly, at the faces of all suspicious characters, especially if you have reason to suspect that their approaching or passing you is under the contemplation of robbery. After this test, the pickpocket, and most of the swell mob, will quit you speedily; but if a fellow on the highway hangs down his head, as if to baulk your scrutiny, still to continue about you, prepare yourself instantly to make even the most desperate resistance possible, for he not only has determined on attacking you, but he will conclude his robbery with ill-treatment, to continue it perhaps as long as symptoms of life appear, from fear lest you should swear to his person; wherefore to any timid or feeble person my advice is reversed, for such should refrain from scrutinizing the features of robbers; nay, they should not appear to know (if even they should recognize him,) any felonious assailant, much less be so foolish as to call him by name.

Many years ago, when the road to Kilburn was not built upon, and indeed was a truly lonesome road, and very famed for robberies, I had a cottage there, more frequently to walk to it than to ride, especially when late at night. Three men, residing in a row of cottages, chiefly occupied by labourers belonging to that neighbourhood, were then suspected of being footpads, as highway robbers on foot are called, (a suspicion borne out by one of them having been hanged since, and one of the others having been transported): my groom had informed me that they had asked him whether I was not afraid, and whether I carried much money about me, &c.; to which he had carelessly replied, that, much or little, it was his master’s rule to resist robbery, and that he carried pistols for such ends. Whenever I met this worthy trio, and which was very frequently, one was generally about 200 yards in advance of the other two, and these latter again walked separately, although rarely more than twelve or fifteen yards from each other; my invariable rule was to walk nimbly up to them, (with the road open to me,) in passing—to wish a good night, coupled with his name, to each of them, firmly pronounced, yet without coarseness or swagger; they always returned it civilly, and without provoking another sort of salute, which they were allowed to perceive, although carelessly, was in readiness, for the end of one pistol projected from the bosom part of my coat, whilst my left hand carried another ready cocked, a good blackthorn occupying my right: how to use these I will state in some subsequent letter.

I NEVER was molested by these men, although I was attempted twice by two others, yet to themselves unprofitably: my practising pistol as well as rifle shooting, in a field at the back of my stables, and under observation from some of the children belonging to the man that was transported, may have had a desirable influence; for, as the display of well-served artillery has often changed the plans of an enemy, why should the display of a certainty of fatal results not be similarly employed, although towards a very different class? at any rate, there is more gratification in averting the attempts of a robber, than there can be in taking his life, or in making him a cripple. It may certainly be necessary to self-preservation, but we should spare rather than sacrifice, and, bear in mind, spare as long as possibly you can, consistent with the duty you owe to yourself and your family; even when in imminent danger, endeavour to secure your life by disabling a robber, (that is, if effectually you can do so,) rather than to take his life. Although the laws may sanction your killing a robber, your conscience should be equally consulted and obeyed; yet not to throw away your life as an offering to too much generosity. A moderate display on the road and at dusk, of fire-arms, such as may show that you are perfectly ready, may prevent an attack; but, unless you are both determined and able to use them, and properly too, even the carrying of arms had better be left alone; but there is another sort of display of arms, which, in my opinion, is a decided avowal of fear,—I mean that of placing blunderbusses, &c. in the windows of houses in the country, or in the suburbs; indeed such a display, in my opinion, is more likely to invite robbers, from its being an indirect confession of apprehension, &c., at least so I should take it, were I a housebreaker. But the most foolish of all useless practices, is the firing off of guns and pistols at night, without being actually attacked. As nobody takes notice of these alarms after a week or so, it will be found, when firing is resorted to for the purpose of securing help when actually attacked, that the effect had been spoiled, and that the remedy is lost by having prevented the hoped-for help, in a way similar to that where the boy cried Wolf,—to fall the victim of mistrust that had been occasioned by his own folly.

I cannot here refrain from expressing my disgust at the conduct of persons whom, not unfrequently, we hear accounts of, as having exposed themselves purposely, that they might be enabled to shoot some wretched desperado, who may thus be tempted to place his life in their power. If it is done to give proofs of courage, it will ever be viewed as a failure, since they might find a more convincing, and also a more becoming mode; if it is to free the community from danger, it is a decided interference, marked by bad taste besides, with the business of Bow Street and similar officers, to whom alone credit is due, for exposing themselves for such ends; at any rate it will be very Quixotic, to say the least of it, if even this should be the motive. Self-defence is not only justifiable, since self-preservation is the first law of nature, but it also is manly, creditable, and noble, in proportion to the circumstances connected with it; but can it be called self-defence, when a person becomes “a trap?”

Never degrade yourself by such a propensity! It brings an anecdote to my recollection which caused much talk, when I was little more than your present age.

A certain person of rank had the bad taste of travelling for the avowed purpose of shooting highwaymen who might be tempted to attack him, (highwaymen were a gentlemanly sort of robbers when compared with the present race of footpads; they rode excellent horses, and generally levied contribution upon the road, often very politely, and generally without cruelty, they are quite extinct now.) To effect this, he travelled in hack post-chaises, with his pistols always ready, and frequenting the roads most famed for danger; he had wounded, and I believe killed, several highwaymen.

Travelling one moonlight night, along (I believe,) the Hounslow road, a highwayman stopped his chaise, immediately to receive the fire of the gentleman, who had shammed sleep, the more to throw the knight of the road off his guard! the man staggered, and nearly fell from his horse, but, recovering himself, gallopped off: arrived at the next inn, the hunter of highwaymen told his tale, assured every body that, having mortally wounded the fellow, he must lay dead, and not far from where he had stopped the chaise; ostlers, post-boys, and others, began a search, but returned without any additional information, much less with the positively expected corpse. The same personage, travelling on the same road several months after, was stopped again, and nearly on the same spot, by a highwayman, wearing a crape over his face, mounted on a very superior horse; tapping, with his pistol, at the glass of the chaise, he demanded the purse, &c. of the inmate, who immediately let down the glass, with one hand, at the same time, to present a pistol with the other, and to pull the trigger, but only to miss fire; quickly, however, to present another, and to no better effect. The highwayman thereupon coolly addressed him thus, “Now, sir! it seems to be my turn, and with a sanguinary spirit like yours, I should shoot you dead, or at least wound you as severely as you did me hereabouts, some months ago, thereupon to boast with exultation at the inn, and every where, that you had killed a man, whose misery you are a stranger to,—one, however, whose courage is as much above your own, as his means are below yours. But I scorn to take advantage of your present forlorn situation; I scorn to hurt a hair of your head, nay, I will not even take a shilling’s worth of value from you,—I will content myself by hurting your mind, for I will humble you by shaming you. Keep your watch and money, sir, (the gentleman had offered them,) but deliver your pistols to me;” they were given to the highwayman, who broke both against the hind-wheel of the chaise, saying, “Now farewell, sir; pick up the fragments of your arms, and tell your friends that the very highwayman whom you wounded, whom twice you sought to kill, merely for sport,—that he gave you your life, to shame you into more humanity. I scorn your money, but next time you fire at me, I’ll rid the world of a blood-thirsty, because irreclaimable, monster!”

The knight of the road gallopped off; the man of consequence held down his humbled face, for the story was not easily sealed up in the mouths of post-boys. On examination of the fragments of the pistols, it was discovered that the touch-holes had carefully been filled up with wax, and which confirmed the general belief, that the highwayman must have had some confederate at one of the inns where the gentleman had either slept or staid; a thing not at all uncommon in those days, these confederates (waiters, post-boys, and hangers-on generally,) acquainting these road-collectors if, and where, booty was to be looked for, &c. At any rate, so lofty a revenge, and the talent, perseverance, and forbearance employed in it, would have done credit to a better cause, wherefore it is to be lamented, if this offender should not have been placed into a situation to enable him to quit so unworthy a pursuit.

[(Continued in LETTER IX.)]