Dickey Dung Prong Titheridge a rogue who converted to Christianity
When you begin family history you hope to find ancestors who are rich and famous and full of noble connections, alas this is not reality for most people and when your ancestors come from Hampshire it is more likely that you find agricultural labourers upon agricultural labourers. Imagine our excitement when we found a colourful ancestor with a name like “Dickey Dung Prong”, we had to find out more. We discovered a man who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, who was a hero and saved someone’s life, but who was also an army deserter, a murderer, a criminal sentenced to transportation to Australia but who ended his days as a devout Christian. This is the story of our most notorious ancestor.
Our attention was drawn to this individual back in 1989 by an index in the Hampshire Record Office referring to a pamphlet entitled “A Narrative of the Life and Death of Richard Titheridge by W. Day – A native of Alresford and better known in Southampton as Dickey Dung Prong”. The pamphlet was printed in 1857 and cost two pence each or twelve shillings per hundred. It had first been printed in 1835, when three thousand booklets were printed and sold out within three days! It was a colourful account of the life of Richard Titheridge and his conversion to Christianity by Rev J. Crabb and the author W. Day. The pamphlet had been compiled chiefly from statements made by Richard himself to Mr Day and mixed with page upon page of biblical quotations. To quote from the book, it was written “that it might be a means of leading many poor sinners to reflect upon their sin and danger, while neglecting their immortal souls and of leading their wandering feet into the way of eternal life.” The pamphlet was written in a very melodramatic style and it was difficult to be sure whether it was fact or fiction, but gradually we have verified much of the story.
Richard’s grandparents were William Titheridge and Ann Cranston, who were married in 1761 at Old Alresford, where their son William was christened in 1762. William married Ann Smith at New Alresford on 8.11.1782. Their marriage produced seven children two of whom died in infancy, with Richard Cranston Titheridge being baptised 23rd January 1788 in New Alresford.
The family lived in New Alresford, Hampshire where Richard’s father was a tailor. Richard’s description of his boyhood is “When I was a lad I was generally with idle and vicious lads like myself; I seldom entered a place of public worship and very early learnt to swear and to take God’s holy name in vain and afterwards guilty of robbing orchards and committing other depredations of a similar kind and though repeatedly detected and severely punished I never forsook my evil practices. I was sent to school but refused to learn even to read”.
Tragedy struck the family when Richard was nearly seven. His father died and was buried in Old Alresford on 26 December 1794. Richard’s version of events stated that his father had gone to Winchester and failed to return. The next morning, he was found on the Winchester to Alresford Road, near Mattingley Farm. Richard claimed he was murdered by a person in the neighbourhood but there was no evidence against him. We believe that some forty years later, the wife of this person confessed that it was her husband who had murdered William Titheridge, after quarrelling with him about William being in the company of his wife. This report supposedly appeared in the local newspaper but we are yet to find the report. The only report of William’s death we have yet found appeared in the Hants Chronicle on December 29 1794. It reads
“Wednesday morning (December 24) an inquisition was taken before Mr Newlyn, at the house of Mr John Clark, at Mattingley farm, in the parish of Easton, on the body of William Titheridge, many years a tailor at New Alresford, when, after a careful and minute investigation of all the circumstances, and together with the examination of a surgeon from Alresford, and other persons, it appeared, that the deceased had gone from Alresford to Winchester the preceding Sunday, and the following morning, about nine o’clock, he was discovered lying on the road side, about fifty yards from Mr Clark’s house, near his garden-pales, by one of the Southampton stage coachmen, who, on meeting two persons named King and Huntley on the road, informed them of the same; they accordingly hastened to the spot, and there found the deceased speechless, and on the same being communicated to Mr Clark he humanely ordered his servants to carry him into his house, where every care was taken, and medical assistance immediately procured; and, after using the remedies for recovering persons perishing with cold, for near three hours, which was thought to be the case of this unfortunate man, he survived until next morning about six o’clock when he expired, leaving a wife and five children to lament his loss – The jury unanimously returned a verdict that he died by the visitation of God, and not from any hurt, violence, or injury, of any person or persons whomsoever”.
The Titheridges had to go into the workhouse. Richard claimed that he and one of his brothers decided to maintain themselves but this seems doubtful for a boy of seven. Richard took up various employment, such as working in a stable, as an errand boy for a butcher, as postilion to Collyer’s coach and he also broke in horses. He was very good with horses and it was claimed he had been known to stand on the back of a horse while travelling at full speed carrying a basket of meat on his arm. He later moved to Southampton and worked for one year at the Dolphin tap.
On 1st March 1806 at the age of eighteen he enlisted in the army while they were in camp at Netley. This was the period of the Napoleonic War (1797 –1815) and between 1808 and 1814 the Duke of Wellington fought the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain. Richard soon sailed from Southampton to Holland and later to Portugal. Being an excellent horseman he was employed as a Rough Rider. He fought against the French and refers to a sword fight with a French soldier, where he himself was injured and the Frenchman killed. From 1811 – 1816 we can trace Richard’s military service with 20th Light Dragoons from the records in the Muster Books and Pay lists. He spent much of this time is Sicily, then to Egypt then in December 1813 to Villa Franca Spain, then Reux Spain, before returning to Sicily and finally home to England in September 1815. During this time he spent a total of six musters (months) in hospital. Richard claimed that when the regiment returned home, of the 925 men who originally left England only 17 returned.
In the army Richard was notorious for every vice, including theft, drunkenness, fornication, a great scoffer of religion and profane swearing. His list of punishments included being flogged, dungeoned, drilled, picketed and receiving three hundred lashes. In 1816 the regiment went to Fermoy in Ireland and it was while here that Richard deserted the army. His version of events is that one night he took his cavalry horse from the stable and rode to Dublin, where he sold the horse. He sailed to Liverpool and then made his way to Bristol, Winchester and then Windsor. Here he obtained employment in a stable. A soldier discovered he was a deserter and came to arrest him. Richard defended himself with a dung fork, which he stuck into the back of the soldier. It was this incident that gave him his nickname “DICKEY DUNG PRONG”. He escaped, but was eventually caught at Egham and brought back to Windsor, and then sent to Ireland. In Ireland he was tried by a court martial and sentenced to be shot. He was escorted back to England to await execution of his sentence, his coffin being placed in his cell with him. At the last moment, just before the fatal shot was to be fired, an officer rode up with a free pardon from King George III. The pardon was based on the grounds that Richard had once saved this officer’s life in battle. How much or Richard’s version is correct we don’t know having found no collaborative evidence for this melodramatic description. The army records we have found so far simply say “Deserted from Captain Jackson’s troops at Fermoy on 3rd October 1816, leaving debts of £1 15s 10d. Returned to the army on 12th Feb 1818 at Cork. (Remarks – General Service (Court Martial)) “. He appears on the pay list at Cork barracks from March to June 1818 and was discharged at Cork on 8th August 1818.)
After being dismissed from the army he returned home to see his mother. According to Richard (but unproved) while he was at Alresford, he seduced a young woman under the promise of marriage. The banns were read, the wedding day arrived and he went with her to the church. Using some pretence he left the church and instead of returning to the church made his way to Southampton. It is unclear whether this was before or after his army career. While at Alresford he was also convicted of theft and sentenced to three months imprisonment and to be whipped through the streets with a cat’s tail. At Winchester he was found guilty of stealing cheese from a wagon at Magdalen Hill fair, near Winchester. He was sentenced to seven years transportation, of which he served five and was forgiven the remaining two. We have found the record to this “Richard Titheridge aged 33 committed August 3 1819 on suspicion of felony in stealing at New Alresford on the 2nd day of August instant two cheeses of the value of ten shillings, the property of William Winter Yeoman.” As far as we can tell although he was sentenced to transportation to New South Wales there is no record of him actually travelling to Australia. We have however found records of him being received on the Prison hulk ship “Justica” and being pardoned and released from there in 1819.
There are two records showing Richard on the Justica. This appears to be his arrival
Name Richard Titheridge
Age at time of conviction 33
Where and when convicted Winchester 18 October 1819
Sentence NSW 7 years
Pardoned 14 July 1824
This appears to be his release records from Prison Hulk Register for Justica
Name Richd Titheridge
How disposed of Pardoned 14 July 1824
Goalers report orderly in prison
Once sentenced to transportation Dickey would first have spent time in Winchester gaol, probably in solitary confinement. He then would have been moved to a prison hulk, The Justica, where he would wait to be transported to New South Wales on a convict ship. The Justica was an old navy ship moored in London on the Thames at Woolwich. In the early nineteenth century prison hulks were used as holding prisons for prisoners waiting transportation because there was a shortage of space in the prisons. Conditions on the ships were terrible, with poor hygiene and outbreaks of disease such as typhoid and cholera, resulting in a high mortality among the prisoners. In the day time the convicts were put to hard labour on shore in the docks or dredging the Thames. At night the prisoners were chained to their bunks to prevent them escaping. Some prisoners carried out their whole sentences on the hulks in England, instead of being transported, and it seems likely this is what happened to Dickey.
Still unchanged in ways, on 7th April 1825 aged 38 he was committed at Winchester for two months imprisonment to hard labour for a misdemeanour. Later he was also imprisoned in Southampton bridewell.
His last years were spent in Southampton, where he made his living by selling fruit in the streets. He spent his money on drink and was so poor he had only one set of clothes. By early in 1834 his health was declining and it was in August of this year that the Rev. J. Crabb and the author of the pamphlet, W. Day, visited him “with a view to leading his mind to the all-important concerns of salvation.” We believe the Rev Crabb was probably the preacher at Zion Chapel. These two gentlemen introduced Richard to Christianity. A few weeks before his death, his fellow lodgers wheeled him to Zion Chapel, the only time he had voluntarily gone to church in his life. He was converted to Christianity and repented his sins. His health failed fast and on 11th December he sent for Mr Day and Rev. Crabb. An account is given of his last meeting and prayers with these individuals. His last words were “Come Jesus Christ and receive my departing spirit and pardon my sin.” He died at 3.00 on Friday morning 12 December 1834 aged 46 and “on the following Sunday afternoon his emaciated remains were carried to the grave by four men from the poorhouse, a man and a woman, his fellow lodgers following as mourners”.
In the burial section of the Parish records of St. Michael Southampton, we found the following entry:
14th December 1834 Richard Titheridge of Simnel Street aged 57.
Recently an e-book copy of the pamphlet “A Narrative of the Life and Death of Richard Titheridge by W. Day – A native of Alresford and better known in Southampton as Dickey Dung Prong”. has appeared on the Internet. This is a copy of the pamphlet held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It is unclear when this edition was published but it is a different edition than the copy in Winchester. While the story is similar the Oxford edition goes into far more detail about Richard and his mischievous ways and does not contain the pages upon pages of quotations from the Bible, but it is only 10 pages long compared to 19 pages for the Winchester edition.
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