« ZurückWeiter »
and therefore rather suppose that they were parts of a willow or alder, or some such aquatic tree.
This lonely domain is a very agreeable haunt for many sorts of wild fowls, which not only frequent it in the winter, but breed there in the summer; such as lapwings, snipes, wild-ducks, and, as I have discovered within these few years, teals. Partridges in vast plenty are bred in good seasons on the verge of this forest, into which they love to make excursions: and in particular, in the dry summer of 1740 and 1741, and some years after, they swarmed to such a degree, that parties of unreasonable sportsmen killed twenty and sometimes thirty brace in a day.
But there was a nobler species of game in this forest, now extinct, which I have heard old people say abounded much before shooting flying became so common, and that was the heath-cock, or black game. When I was a little boy I recollect one coming now and then to my father's table. The last pack remembered was killed about thirty-five years ago ; and within these ten years one solitary grey hen was sprung by some beagles in beating for a hare. The sportsman cried out,“ A hen pheasant !" but a gentleman present, who had often seen black game in the north of England, assured me that it was a grey hen.* Nor
does the loss of our black game prove the only gap in the Fauna Selborniensis ; for another beautiful link in the chain of beings is wanting, I mean the red deer, which toward the beginning of
• Black game, long extinct in the district, have again made their appearance in small numbers. Some imported birds having been turned out about Chobham have strayed to this wild district, and into the New Forest, and even as far as Dorset and Devonshire.-ED.
this century amounted to about five hundred head, and made a stately appearance. There is an old keeper, now alive, named Adams, whose great grandfather (mentioned in a perambulation taken in 1635) grandfather, father, and self, enjoyed the head keepership of Wolmer forest in succession for more than a hundred years. This person assures me, that his father had often told him, that Queen Anne, as she was journeying on the Portsmouth road, did not think the Forest of Wolmer beneath her royal regard. For she came out of the great road at Lippock, which is just by, and, reposing herself on a bank smoothed for that purpose, lying about half a mile to the east of Wolmer pond, and still called Queen’s-bank, saw with great complacency and satisfaction the whole herd of red deer brought by the keepers along the vale before her, consisting then of about five hundred head. A sight this worthy the attention of the greatest sovereign! But he farther adds that, by means of the Waltham blacks, * or, to use his own expression, as soon as they began blacking, they were reduced to about fifty head, and
* Waltham blacks were broken men, sometimes political refugees, at others professional robbers, and the off-scouring of society, who took to the forest, disguised themselves by blacking their faces, and committed all sorts of depredations : stealing the deer, robbing the warrens, cutting down trees, setting fire to houses, shooting at the person, and sending threatening letters with fictitious names, demanding money, of the neighbouring gentlemen. These depredations had attained such a pitch that the Black Act, 9 Geo. I. cap. 22, was passed, rendering all such acts, and a great many others, felony without benefit of clergy. The act was made perpetual by 31 Geo. II. cap. 42, but was virtually repealed by 16 Geo. III. c. 30, which substituted the milder punishment of a fine for a first offence, and and transportation for a second, for deer stealing.-ED.
so continued decreasing till the time of the late Duke of Cumberland. About the year 1737, his highness sent down a huntsman, and six yeomenprickers, in scarlet jackets laced with gold, attended by the stag-hounds; ordering them to take every deer in this forest alive, and to convey them in carts to Windsor. In the course of the summer they caught every stag, some of which showed extraordinary diversion : but, in the following winter, when the hinds were also carried off, such fine chases were exhibited as served the country people for matter of talk and wonder for years afterwards. I saw myself one of the yeomen-prickers single out a stag from the herd, and must confess it was the most curious feat of activity I ever beheld. The exertions made by the horse and deer much exceeded all my expectations; though the former greatly excelled the latter in speed. When the devoted deer was separated from his companions, they gave him, by their watches, law, as they called it, for twenty minutes; when, sounding their horns, the stop-dogs were permitted to pursue, and a most gallant scene ensued.
MHOUGH large herds of deer do much
harm to the neighbourhood, yet the injury to the morals of the people is of
more moment than the loss of their crops. The temptation is irresistible; for most men are sportsmen by constitution : and there is such an inherent spirit for hunting in human nature, as scarce any inhibitions can restrain. Hence, towards the beginning of this century, all this country was wild about deer stealing. Unless he was a hunter, as they affected to call themselves, no young person was allowed to be possessed of manhood or gallantry. The Waltham blacks at length committed such enormities, that government was forced to interfere with that severe and sanguinary act called the black act (9 Geo. I. c. 22), which comprehends more felonies probably than any law that ever was framed before. And therefore, Dr. Hoadley, the bishop of Winchester, when urged to re-stock Waltham-chase, refused, from a motive worthy of a prelate, replying, that “it had done mischief enough already.”
Our old race of deer-stealers are hardly extinct yet: it was but a little while ago that they used to recount over their ale the exploits of their youth ; such as watching the pregnant hind to her lair, and, when the calf was dropped, paring its feet with a penknife to the quick to prevent its escape, till it was large and fat enough to be killed; the shooting at one of their neighbours with a bullet in a turnip-field by moonshine, mistaking him for a deer; and the losing a dog in the following extraordinary manner : -Some fellows, suspecting that a calf new-fallen was deposited in a certain spot of thick fern, went with a lurcher, to surprise it; when the parent-hind rushed out of the brake, and, taking a vast spring with all her feet close together, pitched upon the neck of the dog, and broke it short in two.
Another temptation to idleness and sporting, was a number of rabbits, which possessed all the hillocks and dry places : but these being inconvenient to the huntsmen, on account of their burrows, when they came to take away the deer, they permitted the country-people to destroy them all.
Such forests and wastes, when their allurements to irregularities are removed, are of considerable service to neighbourhoods that verge upon them, by furnishing them with peat and turf for their firing; with fuel for the burning their lime; and with ashes for their grasses; and by maintaining their geese and their stock of young cattle at little or no expense.*
The manor farm of the parish of Greatham has an admitted claim, I see (by an old record taken from the Tower of London), of turning all live stock on the
* The Enclosure Act, under which so many commons have been enclosed, has sadly interfered with these privileges of the rural population.- ED.