Old Maltonians will remember one or more instances of “Flint Jack” (alias Edward Simpson) being before the Malton magistrates for some kind of fault. On 24 March 1871, for instance, he was tried in what was then Mr. Simpson’s office, before Mr. H. J. Lesley, for sleeping in a stack near the town. His defence was that he had no money to hire a lodging. He was sent to Northallerton Gaol for a month, with hard labour. In this and in other cases, drink was his undoing.
I have an indistinct remembrance of seeing “Flint Jack” in the town, and I treasure an old pamphlet published at the “Messenger” office in 1877, which gives some account of his life. The writer of this pamphlet tells us that
“throughout the British Isles, Flint Jack has nonplussed the geologist, the archaeologist, and the historian; his life is one long imposture (fortunately, now well understood), and his victims are found in every grade of society ... ... Jack’s dupes are found alike in the curator of the British museum, and in the curiosity fancier of the Yorkshire village.”
Edward Simpson was a native of Sleights, near Whitby, although I understand that that pretty village is not anxious for the fact to be known! And in the “Whitby Repository” (1863), in an outline of Flint Jack’s life given by himself, Jack said he “believed” he was born at Carlisle, and that he had wandered from there to Hexham, Sunderland, and Newcastle, and finally to Scarboroug. Probably, however, these statements were as much fabricated as were some of Flint Jack’s antiquities! As a youth he showed his intelligence and enterprise by dealing in fossils, and so far as can be ascertained traded fairly in his profession. The first wrong course he took was when he endeavoured, at the suggestion of Mr. Dodgson, of Whitby, (in 1843) to imitate a British barbed arrow-head. The instrument he selected for forging flints was discovered almost as much by chance as the way in which the Cave Men discovered some of their weapons.
In 1884, Flint Jack appeared at Bridlington and began to manufacture British and Roman urns, some of which he sold in Scarborough and other places. He set up an ancient pottery of his own on the cliffs, and afterwards at Staintondale. His first visit to Malton was about 1846, where he set out to deceive Mr. Pycock, the antiquarian, who later on purchased an “ancient piece of armour found by Jack near Cawthorne Camps” – really nothing but an old tea tray picked up in Pickering! Then followed a “Roman milestone” and various inscribed stones, the former being sold to Mr. Copperthwaite at Malton.
The alleged mile-stone bore the inscription “IMP CONSTAN EBVR” round the Christian symbol. It was wet, dirty and heavy, and seemed a genuine antiquity. The British Museum Authorities were quite puzzled by it, and the stone remained a mystery until Flint Jack’s escapades became known.
Unfortunately, Jack now began to drink. “Till then,” he confessed later, “I was always possessed of £5. I have since been in utter poverty, and frequently in great misery and want.”
Hi journeys extended into the eastern counties, to Peterborough, Cambridge, Newcastle (where he sold out his accumulation of “fossils” at the Museum). And Ireland. Scotland was too hard a nut for him to crack. The Scots, he said, were “too canny. My journey would hardly bear expenses.”
His actual downfall followed an unwise explanation of his methods to a joint meeting of the Geological and Archaeological Societies in London. He had the satisfaction of astonishing many learned men at the evening meeting, but the news of his forgeries spread right through the country and prevented sales. Some of the articles he made were so exceedingly near the originals that experts stated that it was almost impossible to tell which were the originals and which the copies.
One of the most laughable frauds was perpetrated on Mr. Charles Hartley, the Malton chemist. Jack called upon him in 1864 with “the tooth of a mastodon,” which he said was taken from Kimmeridge clay in a brick yard in the Marishes. Unfortunately, someone who had known what Jack was doing stated publicly that the grinder had been found among a cargo of foreign bones received at Mr. Wise’s bonemill, and had been stolen by Jack and converted into his famous relic!
Flint Jack carried an old greasy hat in one hand, and in the other a small bundle tied in a red cotton handkerchief. He had plenty of assurance, which no doubt materially assisted him in his objects. The engraving at the head of this article shows the nature of the man better than any description which could be given. This portrait was taken by the desire of Mr. Stevens, the hon. curator of Salisbury Museum, in 1863. The late Mr. Edwin Hall, of Malton, also published a photograph of this strange character. In addition to the history of his life already mentioned, a friend has shown me the following pamphlets:- “Flint Jack: A Memoir and an Appeal,” by Llewellyn Jewitt, F.S.A. (1867); “Flint Jack: With an examination of his Cranium.” By professor Fowler (published about 1863 by William King, of Whitby; and Professor Fowler’s “Examination of the Cranium of Flint Jack,” reprinted from the “Malton Messenger,” 21 Aug., 1869.