The Murder of Captain Sargent

Part of the Crime & Punishment in Cocking in the Nineteenth Century” series

In the early years of the 19th century, travellers through and around the South Downs were frequently held up by armed highwaymen, who would demand that the traveller hand over all his money and valuables in exchange for having their life spared. In late 1807, one such footpad infested the roads between Chichester and Arundel in the south, and Midhurst and Petworth in the north, easing graziers and farmers of their heavy purses as they returned from market, until the fateful day when a robbery set in motion a chain of events which would end in tragedy.

Over the next few days and weeks, various stories of the events of early November 1807 appeared in the local, regional and national press, many highly sensationalised and full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. This is what I think actually happened.

At about noon on Sunday 1 November 1807, Thomas Rhoades was riding from Chichester towards Midhurst. On his way up Cocking Hill, he was stopped by the highwayman, who levelled his gun at Mr. Rhoades and demanded that he hand over his property. Rhoades produced a gold watch, a pound note and a pocket-book, all of which the robber relieved him of. Mr. Rhoades requested the return of the pocket-book, saying that it contained “memorandums of very great consequence to him, but which would be of no service to the robber”. The robber threw the book down and made off into the forest in an easterly direction.

A pound note from 1813. Its equivalent value today is about £120

Thomas Rhoades was a Chichester based attorney, who had been mayor of the city in the previous year. He quickly recovered from the shock of being robbed, and returned to Singleton to the home of his friend, George Tyson, at Drove House (now Drovers). A messenger was sent to Chichester to notify the magistrates of the robbery while Tyson and his coachman, Charles Walker, made for Midhurst, where they were joined by a Mr. Symons and William Poyntz, a former MP for St Albans, who was the then owner of Cowdray Park.

There was already “violent suspicion” that the highwayman was Jim Allen (also known as Marshall), a native of Graffham, a deserter from the militia. The party (Tyson, Walker, Symons and Poyntz) quickly made their way to Graffham to the house of Allen’s father, which they found locked and empty.  They rode on to nearby Lavington House and asked the squire (also the village priest), Revd. John Sargent, to keep a watch on the house, while they went in pursuit of the robber. John Sargent’s brother, Captain George Sargent of the 9th Regiment of Foot, offered to join in the hunt.

The five men rode to the top of the downs, where they split into two groups, with Capt. Sargent accompanying Mr. Symons. Messrs. Poyntz, Tyson and Walker headed in the direction of Tegleaze wood, when Poyntz spotted a man answering the description of the fugitive. When Poyntz was within 20 yards of the man, he challenged him, before the footpad ran off. Poyntz was convinced that this was their prey, so called for the others to join him in the pursuit. The man then pulled out his gun, before fleeing into some thick bushes. By now Capt. Sargent had joined them and the men surrounded the thicket. Walker then spotted a hat and gloves on the ground, and dismounted to examine them, when he spotted the fugitive in the bushes about two yards away, lying flat on his stomach with the muzzle of his gun pointed at Walker.

Seeing the gun cocked, Walker jumped sideways and called out. The man sprang up and ran further into the woods without hat or shoes. After a chase, only Captain Sargent, who was the only one of the group who was armed, was able to stay close to the fugitive. Poyntz was unable to see either man but heard Sargent say: “Ah, Jim, I have found you—l don’t want your life, but you must surrender yourself. If you don’t stop, I will shoot you – but no, I can’t shoot a man. I won’t take away your life.” The villain responded: Damn you, then, I’ll take away yours.” Poyntz was making his way to the sound of the words, when he heard gunshots about 30 yards from him in the thickest part of the coverts. By the time that he had reached the spot, the culprit had fled, but Sargent had fallen from his horse and was lying dead on the ground. Two balls were found to have entered him; one had passed through his cheek, and the other his breast.

Tyson and Walker were left to take care of the body, while the other three scoured the woods, searching for the murderer, without success. By now, it was starting to get dark, and being unarmed and mindful of their own safety, they abandoned the chase for the night, and returned to Graffham with the corpse.

The following day, Monday 2 November, a large search party was formed at Graffham, with newspapers reporting that there were as many as 300 men from Petworth and Arundel and surrounding areas, many of whom were armed with guns and others with clubs and prongs, plus another 100 Dragoons on horseback. The woods in all directions were searched and there were a few brief sightings when shots were fired, but without effect.

Despite the size of the search party, the quarry remained elusive and by 5 o’clock, with darkness approaching again, only 30 searchers remained, when some of the party spotted fresh footprints in a field to the west of Graffham. They followed the trail which took them into a coppice called Gunters, near the present day Woodcote Farm.

One of the men from Petworth, John Meachen, a mason’s labourer, heard a rustling in the bushes; he turned and spotted a man about six yards away, climbing out of a small brook where he had been hiding. Meachen immediately fired his gun and the man fell, uttering the words: “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” in a tone of agony and despair. Another man fired a second shot and Allen fell back into the water. He was dragged out and left on the grass, where he lay on his back gasping for about fifteen minutes before he died.

When the body was examined, he was found to be holding his weapon, loaded and cocked. The first shot had been from a musket and the ball had penetrated between his shoulder blades; the second weapon was a fowling piece and the slugs had damaged his right arm and slightly penetrated his side. In his pocket were Mr. Rhoades’s watch and the stolen pound note.

The body was taken to the public house in Graffham, where it was confirmed as that of James Allen. At the subsequent inquests, the coroner returned a verdict of “Wilful Murder” by Allen, in respect of Captain Sargent and of “Justifiable Homicide” in respect of James Allen.


Sources                UK, Land Tax Redemption, 1798

British Mercury:                 11 November 1807. Offences

The Englishman:                 8 November 1807. Offences: Robbery and Murder

Exeter Flying Post:             12 November 1807. Robbery and Murder

General Evening Post:      12 November 1807. Murder of Capt. Sargent

Graffham & Selham Scrapbook, 1947. “A Sensational Tragedy Happened in 1807”

Hampshire Chronicle:

9 November 1807. Horrid Murder

9 November 1807. Local News: Chichester

Hereford Journal:               11 November 1807. Murder

Kentish Gazette:                13 November 1807. Murder of Mr. Sargent

Kentish Weekly Post:         6 November 1807. Robbery and Murder

Oxford University & City Herald:   14 November 1807. The Murder of Mr. Sargeant

Saint James‘s Chronicle :  10 November 1807. Murder of Mr. Sargent

Salisbury & Winchester Journal. 

9 November 1807. Robbery and Murder

16 November 1807. News

The Scots Magazine:        

1 December 1807. Deaths

1 December 1807. Extraordinary Robbery and Murder

Stamford Mercury:            6 November 1807. Horrid Murder – The Inferno of Sussex

The Star (London):             3 November 1807. News

The Times:

4 November 1807. Robbery and Murder

5 November 1807. Murder near Chichester

10 November 1807. Murder of Mr. Sargent

Westminster Journal & Old British Spy:     14 November 1807. Offences

West Sussex Gazette:     

25 December 1856. Local Sketches for Christmas: Allen, The Sussex Highwayman

The story of the Sussex highwayman has become part of local folklore, although the facts and events have frequently been much altered.

Thus, in The Fish, the Goatsucker and the Highwayman published in 2019 by the South Downs National Park Authority, Janet Goring tells the story of Jerry Allen from Graffham. Here, Allen served under Captain Sargent before deserting to take up a life of crime, during which he stopped a coach in which Mr Rhodes(sic) was travelling through Lavington, en route from Chichester to Petworth. While the killing of Captain Sargent as told by her is broadly correct, the resulting killing of Jerry Allen by a duck hunter on the banks of a pond is pure fiction.

In the February 2023 edition of the Arundel edition of Sussex Local, Mark Phillips in his article “Afraid of the Dark” tells the story slightly differently. Here, James Allen rode a black mare on his nightly outings, and held up “elderly” Mr Rhoades “on the main road out of Graffham”. The pursuit was by a troop of mounted men who had been patrolling the roads in search of Allen. In other respects, this version is more or less in accordance with the facts.

Sargent’s tree in Tegleaze Wood (David Earley)

In a Facebook posting in October 2019, Chris Benham tells the story correctly, although he casts doubt upon the date of the final killing of Jim Allen, implying that his death was a week after the killing of Captain Sargent. He also specifies the precise location of the murder of George Sargent which is marked by a plaque at the foot of a mature beech tree in Tegleaze Wood. (at 50.931087, -0.675984)

In the April 2010 edition of Graffham Parish News, Joscelyn Johnston tells the story of “The Highwayman – A Legend of Lavington in Days Gone By”. (Republished by the Chichester Society in “Secrets Of The Downs – The Chichester Society Festival Walk 2014”.) She tells the story of Mr Rhodes travelling by coach up Cocking Hill when he was held up. From there, her story more or less concurs with the contemporary press reports, although she also says that the killing of Jim Allen took place in a pond by duck hunters a week later.

Jim Allen

James Allen was an army deserter born in Graffham, who turned to crime as a highwayman. In November 1807, he held up Thomas Rhoades on Cocking Hill. In the ensuing pursuit, he shot dead one of his pursuers, Captain George Sargent. He himself was killed the following day.


James Allen was born at Graffham and baptised at St. Giles Church on 22 September 1782. He was the third of nine children born to John Allen and Sarah née Trigg. He appears to have had a least two aliases being also known as “Jim Marshall” and “Jim Galder”.

He had no formal education, and has been described as “an indolent man”. He had worked as a groom for Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond at Goodwood House; after five years’ service, he was dismissed and then took up employment with John Lane, a corn merchant in Arundel. After a year, he was called up by the army, joining the 13th Dragoons, but soon deserted and returned to his former employment at Arundel. John Lane interceded on his behalf with the Commanding Officer of the regiment, and Allen was pardoned, on condition that he returned to the regiment.

He deserted again and returned to live with his father at Graffham and started his life of crime. Several newspaper sources state that “about three years ago, he robbed a gentleman in whose service he then was, of his trunk and clothes.” At first, his crimes were petty, mostly burglary and theft, before branching out into highway robbery. According to newspaper reports, “he is supposed to be the principal concerned in all the robberies committed for some time past in these parts of the county“.

He was described as being of “rather small stature, slim made, … [and] dressed in a dirty round frock, torn at the bottom, and had on a shabby hat” and as “a boney, muscular man, 5 feet 9 inches high“.

On the Wednesday before his demise, he had been spotted several times in the Arundel district, when he held up a Mr. Ibbetson who was travelling from Petworth through Rewell Wood down a lane known as “The Rough”. Allen held up his gun and demanded that Mr. Ibbetson stopped, which he refused. Instead, he spurred his horse into a gallop and made his escape. The villain fired at Ibbetson and narrowly missed him. When Ibbetson reached Arundel, he called out the militia who set off in pursuit but by this time Allen was long gone.

He was an imprudent criminal, robbing in broad daylight, making no attempt to hide his face and was actually known by some whom he robbed. Two days before his death, on the Friday evening, he was openly drinking in an inn in Petworth and boasting of his exploits.

Allen was aged 25 when he died; he was buried at St James’s church, Heyshott on 15 November 1807. The parish register includes a note: “A Deserter who shot and killed Capt. George Sargent was buried at Heyshott“. The grave was said to be marked by a small stone on which were scratched the initials “J.A.”.

After his death, several newspapers carried reports suggesting that Allen was the probable culprit in the murder of Mr. James Wigmore in October 1805. Wigmore was a farmer from East Knoyle in Wiltshire, who had attended the fair at Winchester. He was riding home after the fair on his way to Stockbridge, approximately 40 miles from Allen’s home at Graffham, when he was shot and killed by a man on foot. The Salisbury & Winchester Journal of 23 November 1807 opines: “The spot where the deed was perpetrated is not so remote from Allen’s residence, but that the prospect of plunder in consequence of the fair, might induce him to cross the country into that road.”



West Sussex, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812

Baptism register. Graffham. Allen. 1782

Burial register. Heyshott. Allen. 1807

General Evening Post:  12 November 1807. Murder of Capt. Sargent

Hampshire Chronicle: 28 October 1805. Inquisition on the Body of Mr. James Wigmore              

Kentish Gazette: 13 November 1807. Murder of Mr. Sargent

The News (London):  29 November 1807. Murder of Mr. James Wigmore

Oxford University & City Herald: 14 November 1807. The Murder of Mr. Sargeant

Salisbury & Winchester Journal: 23 November 1807 The Murder of Mr. James Wigmore

The Times:   10 November 1807. Murder of Mr. Sargent

Westminster Journal & Old British Spy:  14 November 1807. Offences

West Sussex Gazette:     

25 December 1856. Local Sketches for Christmas: Allen, The Sussex Highwayman

George Hanway Sargent

George Hanway Sargent, from Graffham, was a Captain in the 9th Regiment of Foot. He was killed during the pursuit of a highwayman, Jim Allen, in November 1807.


George Hanway Sargent was born in Woolavington (now East Lavington) in 1782 and baptised on 13 September 1782 at St. Peter’s in that parish. He was the second son (of ten children) of John Sargent (1749–1831) and Charlotte née Bettesworth (1754–1841).

John Sargent was a politician who served as M.P. for Seaford in (East) Sussex from 1790 to 1793, then for Queenborough in Kent from 1784 to 1802, and finally for Bodmin in Cornwall from 1802 to 1806. He was then Audit Commissioner from 1806 to 1821. His father (also John) was a merchant and politician who served as MP for Midhurst from 1754 to 1761 and West Looe, Cornwall from 1765 to 1768. Charlotte was the only daughter and heiress of Richard Bettesworth of Petworth.

George Sargent’s elder brother, John (1780–1833) was rector of Graffham from 1805 and also for Woolavington from 1813, holding both parishes until his death.

George was educated at Eton College from Michaelmas term, 1793 before being commissioned as a lieutenant in the 9th Regiment of Foot on 13 August 1799, aged 17. On 15 January 1803, still only 20, he was promoted to the rank of Major.

In November 1805, shortly after the Battle of Trafalgar, he was with the 1st Battalion on board the troop transport Ariadne as they sailed for Holland en route to join the Hanover Expedition, when a storm wrecked the vessel on the northern French coast. The Times of 11 January 1806 reported that some 300 men had been captured, including 11 officers (two of them colonels). There were also 20 women and 12 children aboard. Crew and passengers were saved and conducted to Calais, while the officers were imprisoned at Verdun.

At that time, Verdun was probably the largest French citadel and prisoner-of-war camp for captured British officers, both naval and military. Arriving officers were obliged to sign a paper, promising upon their honour to conform to the regulations of the depot, and not to escape, if permitted to reside in the town. A year or so after their imprisonment, George and his fellow officers heard news that the French authorities had decided to move the British captives into a more secure prison. They viewed this prospect with horror, but managed to escape from Verdun and make their way back to England, where they arrived in the autumn of 1807.

Following his murder on 1 November 1807, the Hampshire Chronicle described George as “of a lively, open, and generous disposition; and, from his own good qualities, and the real worth of his nearest relations, his premature death excites the deepest regret through all the neighbourhood“.

He was 25 years old at his death.  He was buried in Woolavington churchyard on 5 November.

Extract from Woolavington parish burial register



England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

Eton School Lists, 1791-1850

West Sussex, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812

Brown: Steve. Register of British Officer Prisoners Held at Verdun 1804–1813

Find-a-Grave:  East Lavington churchyard. George Hanway Sargent

Baptism register: Woolavington. George Hanway Sargent 1782

Burial register: Woolavington. George Sargent. 1807

Hampshire Chronicle:       9 November 1807. Horrid Murder

London Gazette:

10 August 1799 Issue: 15167 Page: 798

11 January 1803 Issue: 15549 Page: 62

The Times:

11 January 1806.  The Second Hamburg Mail (Paris Dec. 21)

10 November 1807. Murder of Mr. Sargent

War Office: A List of the Officers of The Army 1803 p.459


Thomas Rhoades

Thomas Rhoades was a Chichester based attorney, who had just completed a year as Mayor of the city, when he was held up by Jim Allen, a highwayman, on Cocking Hill in November 1807. In the ensuing pursuit, Captain George Sargent was killed, as was Allen the following day.


Thomas Rhoades was born in Portsmouth in 1763 and baptised on 21 April 1763 at St. Thomas’s Church (now The Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, or Portsmouth Cathedral). He was the fourth of five sons born to Willoughby Rhoades (c.1730–1787), a farmer, and his wife Sarah née Cluer (c.1735–1774).

No details of his early life or education have been found, until his marriage on 5 October 1785, when (aged 22) he married 23-year old Sarah Cobden at Midhurst parish church. At the time of his marriage, he was resident in the parish of St. Peter the Great, Chichester. Sarah was the daughter of Richard Cobden (1738–1800); her brothers included William Cobden (1775–1833), father of Richard Cobden, the great campaigner for free trade and peace.

The couple had eight children over the next 17 years, three of whom died as infants. Of their sons, only two survived into adulthood: William Cobden Rhoades (1791–1878), who became a solicitor and served as Mayor of Chichester in 1831, and James Peter Rhoades (1802–1852), who was ordained as a priest in 1825, becoming rector of Clonmel in Ireland.

Thomas Rhoades was a solicitor by profession: in the 1791 Universal British Directory, he was one of six attorneys listed in Chichester. He served as mayor of Chichester twice: in 1806/07 and again in 1817/18. At the time of the 1841 census, he was living in South Street, Chichester with two of his (unmarried) daughters and three servants.

He died on 14 June 1844, aged 81, and was buried at St. Peter the Great Church, opposite the cathedral, on 20 June. The brief obituary in the Sussex Advertiser said that he served for many years as the Treasurer of the Western Division of Sussex. He was “much respected by his relatives and many friends”.



1841 England Census

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858

UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946

UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893

UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811

West Sussex, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812

West Sussex, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1995

West Sussex, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936

Chichester City Council: Mayors of Chichester – historical list

Marriage register: Midhurst. Rhoades – Cobden 1785

Burial register: Chichester. Rhoades 1844

Hampshire Chronicle:

29 September 1806. Chichester

29 September 1817. Chichester

Sussex Advertiser: 18 June 1844. Deaths

Sussex Online Parish Clerks: 1791 Universal British Directory: Chichester

Sussex Records Society: Marriage Licences Chichester 1775-1800 p.360