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Great Expectations character
Magwitch and Copeyson struggling, by F.A. Fraser.jpeg
Magwitch and Compeyson struggling, by F.A. Fraser, c. 1877
Created by Charles Dickens
Gender Male
Occupation Criminal
Significant other(s) Miss Havisham
Nationality British

Compeyson was a male character in Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, whose criminal activities harmed two people, who in turn shaped much of Pip's life.[1] He abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar, and later got Abel Magwitch arrested. After Magwitch returned to England, Compeyson died after drowning in the River Thames while fighting with Magwitch.[2]

Criminal career[edit]

Compeyson had a good education when he was a child. His appearance was attractive and his manners gentlemanly and smooth. He started his own business of forgery. One of his fellows in crime was Arthur Havisham, Miss Havisham's half brother. They conspired against her, as she inherited more of their father's estate.[3] Compeyson fooled Miss Havisham that he loved her and would marry her. Before the marriage, he got her to agree to buy the brewery Arthur inherited from their father. When the day of the marriage came, Compeyson left her a letter saying that he would not be present. This scarred Miss Havisham for life; she stopped her life at the moment she received that note. Clocks were not set, her clothes were never changed, the wedding meal was left in place at her home, Satis House. She adopted a young girl, meaning to raise her never to be hurt as she had been hurt.

In a later crime, he involved Magwitch in a counterfeiting scheme. Both were arrested, but Compeyson set it up so that the most evidence of criminality fell to Magwitch, though Compeyson set up and ran the whole scheme. At their trial, Compeyson insisted on separate defence, so his own lawyer could play up the differences in appearance and social status of the two men. Magwitch got fourteen years, whilst Compeyson received a sentence of seven years in jail. They were imprisoned in the same prison ship. Magwitch escaped on his own. Compeyson did not realize Magwitch escaped, then escaped himself. When Magwitch learned from young Pip that a second convict was in the marshes, Magwitch pursued and attacked Compeyson. Magwitch was tried again, earning the sentence of transportation for life, in Australia. Compeyson was released at the end of his term, and returned to his same schemes and network of contacts. He knew that Magwitch left Australia, and when he arrived in London, at which time he did two things: he spread false information of his own plans that Wemmick would hear and advise Pip and Herbert to act on as to when to take Magwitch out of England; and he worked with the police, offering to identify Magwitch when they planned to pick him up on his way out of England.

That set up the last encounter between the two convicts. Magwitch leapt on Compeyson. The two boats were jostled by tides and two large steamers in the river, so the fight between them put them in the water. Compeyson drowned, while Magwitch survived, though he was likely injured against a steamboat paddle in the scuffle.

Compeyson's appearance of gentility did not free him of prison time, but the judge and jury looked upon him more favorably solely due to his social level compared to Magwitch, a boy with no parents, brought up by chance among lower class people, and nearly always hungry.[1]


  1. ^ a b Badri Raina. "Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth". p. 124. Retrieved 2015-10-08. 
  2. ^ TV and Radio. "Mud, dust and Dickens: Great Expectations at BBC One". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-08-14. 
  3. ^ Dickens, Charles (1861). Great Expectations.