“My Bonny Black Bess (I)”


Dick Turpin gives a detailed account of Black Bess's speed and beauty and the good use to which he put them. He once robbed a horseman and sped to town, arriving so quickly that he appeared to have an alibi when the horseman at last arrived in town


This is much the more literary of the Turpin/Black Bess songs; based on the evidence in Laws, I am not convinced it is actually a traditional song. The following stanza will demonstrate this point and serve to distinguish the piece from Laws L9:

Let the lover his mistress's beauty rehearse,

And laud her attractions in languishing verse;

Be it mine in rude strain but with truth to express

The love that I bear to my bonny Black Bess.

Peter Underwood reports that the hoofbeats of the ghost of Black Bess (presumably with Turpin aboard) have been heard at the "Woodfield" estate in Bedfordshire, where Turpin was said to have had a safe house.

Which just shows the power of folklore, since Black Bess apparently never existed (for this and the rest of Turpin's history, see the notes on "My Bonny Black Bess (II) (Poor Black Bess; Dick Turpin's Ride)" [Laws L9]).

The Murray broadside lists this as to the tune of "Poor Dog Tray." I would assume that's supposed to be "Old Dog Tray." Though the tune I know isn't even vaguely similar. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1735 - Dick Turpin comes to the attention of the authorities as a robber
  • April 1739 - Hanging of Dick Turpin (by then retired from highway robbery; he was captured after getting drunk and shooting the landlor'd cockerel)

Cross references

  • cf. "My Bonnie Black Bess (II)" [Laws L9]
  • cf. "Dick Turpin and the Lawyer [Laws L10]" (subject)


  • Murray, Mu23-y1:027, "Poor Black Bess," James Lindsay Jr. (Glasgow), 19C


  1. Laws L8, "My Bonny Black Bess I"
  2. Randolph 167, "Bonnie Black Bess" (3 texts, 1 tune, but Laws assigns only Randolph's "C" text to this piece; the others belong with Laws L9)
  3. Fife-Cowboy/West 7, "Bonny Black Bess" (2 texts, 1 tune; the "B" text is this piece while the "A" text is Laws L9)
  4. LPound-ABS, 69, pp. 155-157, "My Bonny Black Bess" (1 text)
  5. Friedman, p. 369, "My Bonny Black Bess" (1 text)
  6. DT 569, BLCKBES3
  7. Roud #1904
  8. BI, LL08


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1915
Keywords: robbery horse outlaw
Found in: US(Ro,So)