‘daylight robbery’: meanings and early occurrences

The phrase daylight robbery denotes:
– literally: a robbery committed during daylight hours, often characterised as particularly conspicuous or risky; also, the action or practice of committing this type of robbery;
– figuratively: blatant and unfair overcharging or swindling; also, occasionally, an instance of this.

This phrase occurs, for example, in the title of a restaurant review, by Jay Rayner, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 2nd February 2020:

The Yard by Robin Gill, London: ‘Unappealing, ill-conceived, overpriced’—restaurant review
On the site of the old Scotland Yard building, some of the prices feel like daylight robbery

The earliest occurrences of the phrase daylight robbery that I have found are as follows in chronological order:

1-: From the review of An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa. Volume the Second (London: Cadell and Davies, 1804), by John Barrow—review published in The Monthly Review; or Literary Journal (London, England) of September 1804:

The nature of our contest with France, without disjointing parties, has united all individuals in a zealous and vigorous preparation for resistance against the common enemy. No one indeed can view its large and day-light robberies, or its foul and mid-night murders, without abhorrence!

2-: From The Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury (Stamford, Lincolnshire, England) of Friday 3rd August 1821:

A daring day-light robbery was committed between Apethorpe and Cliffe on Thursday evening the 26th ult. A young woman of Apethorpe, named Sarah Narroway, was stopped on the road a short distance from her father’s house, by a ruffian, who stripped her of part of her clothes, and cut off her pocket, with which he made off.

3-: From the account of a court case, published in The Morning Herald (London, England) of Tuesday 30th September 1828—Mr. Rawlinson was the magistrate:

Mr Taylor, the proprietor of a respectable lodging-house, at 72, Wimpole-street, complained that he had been robbed of two damask napkins under the following circumstances:—A respectable-looking lady came to his house on Friday afternoon, about three o’clock, and gave the name of Gwynn. She said she wanted a lodging for herself and son, who was coming up on Monday (yesterday) from Sunbury, and was going to be married. She must, she said, be under the necessity of borrowing a pair of sheets till he came, but she should not want them longer, as he would bring with him his own plate and linen. She told her story so well, that she was allowed immediately to take possession of the apartments she selected. Her stay, however, was less than twenty-four hours; for, on the following day, she decamped, taking with her the property above-mentioned; and he also understood that, in the few hours she remained with him, she had the art and adroitness to prevail on several tradesmen in the neighbourhood to furnish her with goods. Of Mr. Mallilieu, a grocer, living at the next house, she ordered goods amounting to 2l 15s 11d which he supplied, after obtaining a favourable account of her respectability from Mr. Taylor’s housekeeper, whom she had completely deceived. She next obtained six bottles of wine from Mr. Best, a wine-merchant, at the corner of Queen Anne-street; a ham from Mr. Roberts, of Great Mary-le-bone-street; a handsome dessert of Mr. Smith, of Welbeck-street; and she tried to get a large quantity of linen-drapery from Mr. Green, of Great Mary-le-bone-street, but there she did not succeed, as the amount of the order created suspicion; oils and pickles she found no difficulty in procuring from Mr. Bentham, of Great Mary-le-bone-street; and also bread and biscuits, in great abundance, from a neighbouring baker. The orders all being given in the same neighbourhood, occasioned a conversation among the tradespeople, and they having determined that her conduct was suspicious, their conjectures were confirmed when in the evening she sent again to Mr. Best for an additional bottle of rum and a bottle of brandy. This second application was communicated to the other tradespeople, and it was then agreed that Mr. Best should, in the morning, make application for his money. The servant whom he saw on that occasion, and who was with her when the orders were given, told him her mistress was ill, and that he must return again in an hour. He did so, and then found the parties had left the place, carrying with them all the goods they had obtained, together with the napkins before alluded to.
Mr. Rawlinson observed that the greatest mischief resulted to tradesmen from the facility with which these characters got admission into respectable houses, and he much regretted that Mr. Taylor had not been more cautious in taking her into his house.
Mr. Taylor said he had suffered a great deal by these swindlers, and he would undertake to say that he could tell 99 out of 100 of them; but in this case he had been deceived by her servant, whom, by her manners, he really thought had been with her more than 15 years.
Mr. Rawlinson jocosely remarked that, if he was so good a judge, he would make a good thief-taker, but he was sorry to find that on this occasion he had fallen in with the hundredth rogue.
Mr. Taylor replied that he assuredly had, but really this was a day-light robbery.

4-: From the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) of Saturday 10th July 1830:

A paragraph will be found in to-day’s paper, relating another instance of outrage upon the public road in the broad face of day. In this instance Mr. Lethbridge, of Prospect, a Magistrate of the Colony, was the unfortunate victim of these desperadoes. It appears they stripped him of every thing but his shoes, and even cut away the reins of his gig, but offered no personal violence. We had hoped this dreadful system of day-light robberies was at an end, and if our voice could reach the unhappy men who pursue it, we would earnestly recommend them to desist from a course which cannot but lead to a fatal termination and, by surrending [sic] in good time, to cast themselves upon the mercy of Government. We do not write from authority, but we are sure the best means of obtaining mercy is to give themselves up without delay.

5-: From the Evening Mail (London, England) of Monday 19th July 1830:

Day Robbery.—(From a Correspondent.)—Notwithstanding the improvements in the police establishment, it is still insufficient for the prevention of even day-light robberies, not only in fields and by-paths, but in the very beats of policemen.

6-: From the transcript of a speech that one John Colquhoun, Esq., delivered during a meeting of the members and friends of the established Church, “held at the Freemasons’ Tavern […], for the purpose of petitioning Parliament against any plan for the extinction of church rates which shall compromise the principle of a national establishment”—transcript published in The Morning Post (London, England) of Monday 20th February 1837:

The “rights and liberties” which the people of England desired consisted in the privilege of having a place of divine worship to resort to on the seventh or Sabbath Day, and there to receive that religious instruction which was calculated to raise them above the brute creation, the serfs of Poland or of Russia, or the slaves of Italy—(Cheers)—in having instruction from men educated for and consecrated as teachers of divine truths, which, according to the word of God, could only be communicated to man by means of the human voice. (Hear, hear.) These were the “rights and liberties” which the people of England desired, and these were the rights and liberties of which the opponents of the Establishment would plunder and rob them. It was not an open, daylight robbery that was attempted, but a filching, midnight, burglarious one.

7-: From a letter to the Editor, by one Thomas Mathews, published in The Mechanic and Chemist. A Magazine of the Arts and Sciences (London, England) of Saturday 16th May 1840:

Sir,—I have just seen the specification of Mr. Hall’s “Reefing Paddle-wheel.” It is a piece of consummate impudence—a day-light robbery, by taking possession of other men’s ideas, and yelping them as his own.

8-: From The Australian (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) of Tuesday 1st December 1840:

DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.—FIFTY POUNDS REWARD.—Whereas, on Sunday, the 22nd instant, on the road from Darlington to Scone, nearly opposite to Dr Bowman’s Fence, two drays hired by me, and one of my own, were attacked, about mid-day, by three armed bushrangers and property destroyed and carried off to a very considerable amount. I hereby offer a Reward of Twenty Pounds for the apprehension and conviction of the ruffians who committed the robbery; also, an additional Reward of Thirty Pounds for the detection of the receivers of said plunder to conviction.
St Aubins, November 23, 1840.

9-: From a poem by a person signing themself ‘G. C. M.’, published in The Northern Star, and Leeds General Advertiser (Leeds, Yorkshire, England) of Saturday 26th June 1841:


What should a nation do
When its wants and woes abound;
When the many by the few
Are in galling fetters bound;
And to-morrow brings more ills than to-day?
When the smile of Hope is gone.
And when Patience, with a groan,
As Despondence takes her throne,
                    Hastes away?

When the mania for place
Seems as strong as love of life,
And no meanness or disgrace,
Is regarded in the strife,
And the statesman’s unsought pledge proves a lie?
When a daylight robbery
On the purse of Industry
Keeps the bowl of Luxury
                    Riot high?—

10-: From The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) of Saturday 5th August 1843:

Royal City Theatre.—This elegant little theatre presented a very animated appearance on Thursday night. The performance was by a company of amateurs, for the benefit of the Benevolent Asylum. […] Upon the whole we were highly gratified, and it was not without indignation that we heard some envious critic in the pit remark, that “if it had not been for the Benevolent Asylum, the whole thing would have been a day-light robbery.”

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