HL Deb 24 February 1817 vol 35 cc546-51
Lord Holland

presented a petition from Mr. Hunt, which was read as follows:

"The Petition of Henry Hunt, of Middleton Cottage, in the County of Southampton.

"Humbly sheweth,

"That your petitioner, who had the honour to be the mover of the petitions at the recent meetings held in Spa-fields, one of which petitions has been received by his royal highness the Prince Regent, and two of which petitions have been presented to, and received by, the honourable the House of Commons, has read, in the public prints a paper entitled a Report of the Secret Committee of your Right Honourable House, and which report appears to your petitioner, as far as his humble powers of disentanglement have enabled him to anatyse the same, to submit to your right honourable House, as solemn truths, the following assertions; to wit:

  1. 1. "That the first public meeting in Spafields, which had for its ostensible object, a petition for relief and reform, was closely connected with and formed part of, a conspiracy to produce an insurrection for the purpose of overthrowing the government.
  2. 2. "That Spa-fields was fixed upon as the place of assembling, on account of its vicinity to the bank and the tower; and that, for this same reason 'care was taken 547 to adjourn the meeting to the 2d of December, by which time it was hoped that preparations for the insurrection would be fully matured '
  3. 3. "That, at this second meeting, flags, banners, and all the ensigns of insurrection were displayed, and that, finally, an insurrection was begun by persons collected in the Spa-Fields, and that notwithstanding the ultimate object was then frustrated, the same designs still continue to be prosecuted with sanguine hopes of success.
  4. 4. "That a large quantity of pike-heads had been ordered of one individual, and that 250 had actually been made and paid for.
  5. 5. "That delegates from Hampden Clubs in the country have met in London, and that they are expected to meet again in March:

"That as to the first of these assertions as your petitioner possesses no means of ascertaining the secret thoughts of men, he cannot pretend to assert, that none of the persons, with whom the calling of the first Spa-Fields meeting originated, had no views of a riotous or revolutionary kind: but he humbly conceives, that a simple narrative of facts will be more than sufficient to satisfy your right honourable House, that no such dangerous projects ever entered the minds of those he constituted almost the entire mass of that most numerous meeting. Therefore in the hope of producing this conviction in the mind of your right hon. House, your petitioner begs leave to proceed to state': that he, who was then at his house in the country, received, a short time before the 15th of November last, a letter from Thomas Preston, secretary of a committee, requesting your petitioner to attend a public meeting of the distressed inhabitants of the metropolis, intended to be held in Spa-Fields on the day just mentioned; that your petitioner thereupon wrote to Thomas Preston to know what was the object of the intended meeting;—that he received, in the way of answer, a newspaper called the Independent Whig of November 10th, 1816, containing an advertisement in these words; to wit: "At 'a meeting held at the Carlisle, Shore-ditch, on Thursday evening, it was determined to call a meeting of the distressed manufacturers, mariners, artizans and others of the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of South-wark and parts adjacent, in Spa-Fields, on Friday the 15th inst, precisely at 12 o'clock, to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning the Prince Regent and legislature to adopt immediately such measures as will relieve the sufferers from the misery which now overwhelms them. (Signed) John Dyall, chairman, Thomas Preston, se-tary;"—that your petitioner upon seeing this advertisement, hesitated not to accept of the invitation;—that he attended at the said meeting:—that he there found ready prepared, a paper, called, to the best of his recollection, a memorial which some persons then utter strangers to him, proposed to move for the adoption of the meeting—that your petitioner, perceiving in this paper, propositions of a nature which he did not approve of, and especially a proposition for the meeting going in a body to Carlton-house, declared that he would have nothing to do with the said memorial—that your petitioner then brought forward an humble petition to the Prince Regent, which petition was passed by the meeting unanimously, and which petition, having been by your petitioner delivered to lord Sidmouth, that noble lord has, by a letter, informed your petitioner, was immediately laid before his royal highness the Prince Regent. And your petitioner here begs leave further to state, upon the subject of the afore-mentioned memorial, that John Dyall, whose name, as chairman of the committee who called the meeting (and of which committee Thomas Preston was secretary), having before the meeting took place, been called before Mr. John Gifford, one of the police magistrates had furnished Mr. Gifford with a copy of the said memorial, and that that copy was in the hands of lord Sidmouth at the moment when the meeting was about to assemble, though (from an oversight, no doubt) neither the police magistrates nor any other person whatever gave your petitioner the smallest intimation of the dangerous tendency, or even of the existence of such memorial or of any improper views being entertained by any of the parties calling the meeting, though it now appears that the written placards intituled "Britons to Arms" are imputed to those same parties, though it is notorious that that paper appeared in all the public prints so far back as the month of October, and though, when your petitioner waited on lord Sidmouth with the petition to the Prince Regent, that noble lord himself informed your peti- tioner, that the government were fully apprized before-hand of the propositions intended to be brought forward at the meeting. So that your petitioner humbly begs leave to express his confidence that your honourable House will clearly perceive that if any insurrection had taken place on the day of the first Spa-Fields meeting, it would have been entirely owing to the neglect, if not connivance, of those persons who possessed a previous knowledge of the principles and views of the parties with whom that meeting originated.

"With regard to the second assertion, namely, that, "care was taken to adjourn the meeting to the 2nd of December," your petitioner, begs leave to state, that it will appear upon the face of the proceedings of that day, that there was nothing like previous concert or care in this matter for, that a resolution first proposed to adjourn the meeting to the day of the meeting of parliament, and then to meet in Palace-yard, of course not so much in the vicinity of the Bank and the Tower; and that when this resolution was awarded so as to provide for a meeting on the 2d of December on the same spot, it was merely grounded on the uncertainty as to the time when the parliament might meet. Your petitioner further begs leave to state here, as being, in a most interested manner connected with this adjournment of the meeting, that when your petitioner waited on lord Sidmouth with the petition to the Prince Regent, he informed his lordship, that the meeting was to reassemble on the 2d of December, when your petitioner had engaged to carry his lordship's answer and deliver it to the adjourned meeting, and, that his lordship, so far from advising your petitioner not to go to the said meeting, so far from saying any thing to discourage the said meeting, distinctly told your petitioner, that your petitioner's presence and conduct appeared to his lordship to have prevented great possible mischief. Whence your petitioner humbly conceives, that he is warranted in concluding, that there did, at the time here referred to, exist in his lordship no desire to prevent the said meeting from taking place.

"Your petitioner, in adverting humbly to the third assertion of your secret committee, begs to be permitted to state, that the persons who went from Spa-Fields to engage in not on the 2d of December, formed no part of the meeting called for that day; that these persons came into the fields full two hours before the time of meeting; that they left the fields full an hour before that time; that they did not consist, at the time of leaving the fields, of more than forty or fifty individuals; that they were joined by sailors and others, persons going from witnessing the execution of four men in the Old Bailey; that your petitioner, who had come up from Essex in the morning, met the rioters in Cheap-side; that he proceeded directly to the meeting, which he found to be very numerous; that there a resolution was immediately proposed by your petitioner strongly condemning all rioting and violence, which resolution passed with the most unanimous acclamations, that a petition, which has since been signed by upwards of 24 thousand names, and received by the House of Commons, was then passed; and that the meeting though immense as to numbers, finally separated, without the commission of any single act of outrage, or violence. And here your petitioner humbly begs leave to beseech the attention of your honourable House to the very important fact of a third meeting having taken place on the 10th instant, on the same spot, more numerously attended than either of the former; and that, after having agreed to a petition, which has since been received by your honourable House, the said meeting separated in the most peaceable and orderly manner; which your petitioner trusts is quite sufficient to convince your honourable House that, if as your secret committee reported, designs of not do still continue to be prosecuted with sanguine hopes of success, these designs can have no connexion whatever with the meetings for retrenchment, relief, and reform held in Spa-Fields.

"That, as to the pike-heads, your petitioner begs leave to state to your right hon. House, that while he was at the last Spa-Fields meeting, an anonymous letter was put into the hands of your petitioner's servant, who afterwards gave it to your petitioner; that this letter stated that one Bentley, a Smith, of Hart-street Covent Garden, had been employed by a man, in the dress of a game-keeper, to make some spikes to put round a fish pond; that the game-keeper came and took a parcel away and paid for them; that he came soon afterwards and said the things answered very well, and ordered more to be made; that, in a little while after this the said Bentley was sent for to the Bow-street office, and, after a private examination, was desired to make a pike, or spike, of the same sort, and to carry it to the office, which he did. That your petioner perceives that the information which it contains may possibly be of the utmost importance in giving a clue to the strict investigation, which he humbly presumes to hope will be instituted by your honourable House into this very interesting matter.

"That as to the fifth assertion, that delegates have assembled in London from Hampden Clubs in the country, your petitioner has first to observe, that these persons never called themselves delegates, and were not called delegates by any body connected with them; that they were, called, and were, "Deputies from petitioning bodies" for parliamentary reform; that your petitioner was one of them, having been deputed by the petitioners at Bristol and Bath; that these deputies met three times, and always in an open room, to which news-paper reporters were admitted; that an account of all their proceedings was published; that they separated at the end of three days, not upon a motion of adjournment, but of absolute dissolution, which motion was made by your petitioner, who is ready to prove that your committee has been imposed upon as to the fact that these delegates, or deputies, are expected to meet again in March.

"That your petitioner is ready to prove at the bar of your right hon. House all the facts and allegations contained in this petition, and that he humbly prays so to be permitted there to prove them accordingly. And your petitioner will ever pray. HENRY HUNT."

The petition was ordered to lie on the table.