J.C. Bach & the Stage Coach Robbery

Portrait Photo of Johann Christian Bach

At the age of 27, Johann Christian Bach—the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach–settled in London, where he became known as John Bach. His music suited the tastes of the times and the congenial Bach prospered, enjoying the patronage of the royal family. On one occasion, though, his attempts to stay close to the nobility put his life in danger.

In 1775 John Bach rented a house in Richmond to be near the British royal family’s summer residence on the Thames River. There Bach took part in elegant evenings of chamber music and shipboard concerts and he taught the four young princes. Bach’s circle included the celebrated composer Karl Friedrich Abel and the famous painter Thomas Gainesborough.

The road from London to Richmond was notorious for its robbers. Writer Horace Walpole complained, “You are held up every hundred yards.”

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On July 7th, 1775, Abel, Gainesborough, and Bach were on their way from London to Richmond. Abel rode in one coach, Gainesborough and Bach followed in another. As evening darkened into night, Bach dozed off only to be awakened by someone yelling, “Your money or your watch!” The groggy Bach found himself face to face with a pair of highwaymen. For some reason they had taken pity on Abel and let him pass, but Bach and Gainesborough were not to be so lucky. The robbers were fast and thorough. They took Bach’s money and his gold watch, plus an expensive chain.

Since the holdup had endangered the lives of highly placed artists, it attracted considerable attention and eventually the highwaymen were caught. Bach was called on to testify but he was apparently not eager to prolong any kind of relationship with the robbers. He said that he was unable to identify any of them.

Apparently, his pleasant evenings of music making had enabled John Bach to put the incident behind him.

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