The true story of John Sinkler.

The grim exterior of the Police and Prison Museum in Ripon Prison & Police Museum
  • Prison & Police Museum
  • Stories
time 3 min read
Image of John Sinkler the notorious poacher and convicted criminal from Pately Bridge

Discover the true story of John Sinkler’s misadventures.

The true story of John Sinkler is fascinating. Our rogue, a small time local poacher from a rural village in North Yorkshire is convicted, sent to Australia but chooses to return for more misadventure. 

We start our story on August 25th, 1831, brothers John and Elisha Sinkler were caught poaching grouse on land at Dallowgill near Ripon by gamekeeper John Barker. A quarrel ensued, leading to a serious assault on Barker by the brothers.

In September 1831, Elisha Sinkler was arrested by 4 local police officers near Pateley Bridge for poaching and assault. During the arrest, his wife Esther called for help, and a group including his brother John and friend William Longthorne intervened. Armed with knives and bludgeons, they attacked the police officers, threatening to kill at least one and severely injuring Thomas Dinsdale. After a desperate half-hour struggle, they rescued Elisha, leaving three officers injured but all alive.

Off scot-free?

Despite a 30-guinea reward (£2000 in today’s money) for their capture, the men evaded authorities – Elisha for over 2 years and John for ten years. Elisha was finally arrested in Pateley Bridge in 1833 and sentenced to a capital felony which initially carried a death sentence. After a petition to commute his sentence he was transported to Norfolk Island, Australia as a convict.

John, also known as John Hebden, evaded capture until 1843 when he was finally arrested for the incident in Pately Bridge. He was taken to Ripon Gaol and then onto York for trial where he was found guilty. Yet again sentenced to death this was reduced to transportation for fifteen years and off John went to Australia as a convict.

Both brothers served their sentences and with their strong homing beacons flashing returned to Pateley Bridge in 1854 and 1857 respectively. In 1870, John was again arrested for assaulting a police officer and sentenced to six months of hard labour in Ripon gaol. The following year, he yet again found himself in trouble facing another charge for assaulting a gamekeeper, and this time receiving two additional months of hard labour.

Notably, the prosecutor in the latter case was the Marquis of Ripon himself, and the magistrates included local landowners and the Mayor of Ripon. Arguably a hostile audience for John.

John passed away in 1879 at the age of 68, five years after his brother Elisha’s death at 67.

Ripon Theatre Festival

During the Ripon Theatre Festival on July 6th 2pm – 3pm at the Ripon Courthouse, actors from Fell-Foss Theatre will re-enact the story of John Sinkler’s trial. With a script mirroring the real events, we are able to get as close as possible to seeing what went on in a Victorian courthouse in 1870.
Join us and choose your side! Tickets are £4 and available now to book.

Read about the other Ripon Museum Live History events happening across the city on the 6th July and how you can get involved. 

Credit to Jon Price for research and content and Nidderdale Museum for the images featured.

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