Deathbed confession from an 18th-century highwayman reveals a surprising failed gay hookup

Emma Powys Maurice
·2-min read

A deathbed confession from an 18th-century highwayman includes a surprisingly progressive description of an unsuccessful gay hookup from nearly 300 years ago.

The “incredibly rare” 24-page pamphlet tells the life story of Thomas Munn, a brickmaker-turned-smuggler who was hung in chains for robbing the Yarmouth Mail in 1750.

The papers were handed to his gaoler on the morning of his execution and have now been acquired by the Horsham Museum, which noted the “the degree to which Thomas was self-aware and reflective on his life”.

Among his many tales is one incident in a Southampton inn when Munn was joined in bed by the innkeeper’s son, who surprised him with the timeless chat up line: “I love to lie with a naked man”.

“He had not been long in Bed but began to act a Part so Contradictory to Nature that I started up in Bed, wanted Words to express my Confusion, Surprise and Passion, at his Propositions,” Munn writes.

The hopeful “chap” eventually leaves after Munn threatens him with a penknife, and is said to have made “many excuses” the next day.

However, the highwayman was more forgiving than many others of this time, commenting that he had no right to judge another as he himself had committed many crimes.

As Munn tells it: “It was what I never met with before, nor since, but had Philosophy enough in me, to think it a pity to expose a young Man, tho’ he pointed at a very heinous Sin; and certainly we that commit Crimes beyond what is common, ought to be pitied, for no Man is certain if he comes under the same Temptation, that he shall be able to withstand it.”

Horsham Museum curator Jeremy Knight told the Guardian that it was notable the highwayman had this reaction, and also that he had chosen to give a public account of it.

“To give it space in his confession – the only space he had to give a public account of himself – is really interesting,” he said.

“The printer also could have taken offence and not included it – after all the author wouldn’t have any recourse … Yet both thought it important enough to recount. And what Munn states is although it is seen as a sin, his immediate reaction was conditioned by his upbringing and social norms.

“He is not so sure as he was aroused by the lad, and who are we to judge when we ourselves have that reaction? A desire for toleration and acceptance – it’s human nature.”