HL Deb 23 February 1818 vol 37 cc568-75

The Duke of Montrose presented the following

REPORT of the Secret Committee of the House of Lords, appointed to examine into the matter of the several Papers, sealed up, presented to the House by command of the Prince Regent.

By THE LORDS COMMITTEES appointed a Secret Committee to ex-amine into the matter of the Papers presented to this House, in a Sealed Bag, by the command of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, and to report to the House as they shall see cause; And to whom were referred Additional Papers (sealed up,) also presented to the House by the command of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent.

Ordered to Report:—That the Committee have proceeded to examine the papers so referred to them.

In execution of this duty they have proceeded, in the first place, to consider such of the said papers as contained information as to the state of those parts of England in which the circumstances detailed in the two reports of the former committees appear to have arisen.

In the last of those reports, presented to the House on the 12th of June last, it was represented that the period of a general rising, of which the intention and object were stated in the reports, appeared to have been fixed for as early a day as possible after the discussion of an expected motion for reform in parliament; that Nottingham appeared to have been intended as the head quarters, upon which a part of the insurgents were to march in the first instance; and that they expected to be joined there, and on their march towards London, by other bodies with such arms as they might have already provided, or might procure by force from, private houses, or from the different depots or barracks, of which the attack was proposed. That concurrent information, from many quarters, confirmed the expectation of a general rising about the time above-mentioned, but that it was subsequently post- poned to the 9th or 10th of June, for which various reasons bad been assigned. The report added, that the latest intelligence from those quarters had made it highly probable that the same causes which had to that time thwarted the execution of those desperate, designs, viz. the vigilance of the government, the great activity and intelligence of the magistrates, the ready assistance afforded under their orders by the regular troops and yeomanry, the prompt and efficient arrangements of the officers intrusted with that service, the knowledge which had from time to time been obtained of the plans of the disaffected, and the consequent arrest and confinement of the leading agitators would occasion a still farther postponement of their atrocious plans.

It now appears that in the night of the 9th of June last, a rising took place in Derbyshire, headed by a person who went for that purpose from Nottingham, and was therefore called "The Nottingham Captain." The insurgents were not formidable for their numbers, but they were actuated by an atrocious spirit. Several of them had fire arms; others had pikes previously prepared for the purpose: and as they advanced towards Nottingham they plundered several houses of arms, and in one instance a murder was committed. They compelled some persons to join them, and endeavoured to compel others by threats of violence, and particularly by the terror of the murder which had been committed; and they proposed to reach Nottingham early in the morning of the 10th of June, and to surprise the military in their barracks: hoping thus to become masters of the town, and to be joined by considerable numbers there, and by a party which they expected would be assembled in Nottingham Forest, and which actually did assemble at that place, as after stated. The disposition to plunder, the resistance they met with, and other circumstances, so delayed their march, that they had not arrived near their place of destination at a late hour in the morning: and the country being alarmed, a military force was assembled to oppose them.

The language used by many persons engaged in this enterprise, and particularly by their leaders, leaves no room to doubt that their objects were the overthrow of the established government and laws; extravagant as those objects, were, when compared with the inadequate means which they possessed. In the course of their march, many of their body felt alarmed at the atrocious projects in which they had engaged, which had actually led to a cruel and deliberate murder; they found that their confederates had not arrived to their support, as they had been led to expect; and in the villages through which they passed, a strong indisposition being manifested towards their cause and projects, some of them threw away their pikes and retired, before the military force appeared; and on the first show of that force the rest dispersed, their leaders attempting in vain to rally them, many were taken prisoners, and many guns and pikes were seized.

This insurrection, of small importance in itself, is a subject of material consideration, as it was manifestly in consequence of measures detailed in the two reports above-mentioned, and appears to have been a part of the general rising proposed to take effect on the 9th or 10th of June, as stated in the last of those reports.

At the assizes at Derby, in the month of July following, the grand jury found bills of indictment for high treason against forty-six of the persons charged with having been engaged in this insurrection; and several of those persons having been taken were arraigned upon the indictment before a special commission issued for that purpose, which sat at Derby in the month of October following. Four of the principal offenders were separately tried and convicted; three of them were executed! and the capital punishment of the fourth was remitted, on condition of transportation. The conviction of these four induced nineteen of the other persons indicted, whose conduct had been, deemed in the next degree most criminal, to withdraw their pleas of not guilty, and to plead guilty to the indictment, in hopes of thus avoiding a capital punishment; and the sentence of death on these persons was afterwards remitted, on different conditions. Against all the other persons indicted, who were in custody, the law officers of the Crown declined producing any evidence and they were accordingly- acquitted. The rest of the persons included in the indictment, had fled from justice, and have not yet been taken.

The fact of this actual insurrection first proved to the satisfaction of a most respectable grand jury of the county of Derby, who found the bill of indictment, and afterwards proved in open court, to the satisfaction of the several juries, sworn on the four several trials of the persons convicted; proved also, by the acknowledgment of the same guilt by those who withdrew their pleas of not guilty, and pleaded guilty to the same indictment, and thus submitted themselves to the mercy of the Crown, appear to the committee to have established beyond the possibility of a doubt, the credit due to the information mentioned in the last report, respecting the plans of more extended insurrection, which had previously been concerted, and respecting the postponement of these plans to the 9th or 10th of June.

But this insurrection in Derbyshire was not the only circumstance occurring since the period described in the last of the two reports before-mentioned, which demonstrates the correctness of the information en which the committee who made that report proceeded, in representing such a general rising to have been intended, and to have been postponed; and that Nottingham was the head quarters upon which a part of the insurgents were to march in the first instance; and that they were expected to be joined there by insurgents from different quarters.

Early in the same night on which the Derbyshire insurgents began their operations, the town of Nottingham was in a state of considerable agitation. It appears from the evidence given upon the trials at Derby, that during the march of the Derbyshire insurgents towards Nottingham, one of their leaders, afterwards convicted of high treason, was sent forwards on horseback, to obtain intelligence. On his return to the main body of the Derbyshire insurgents, it was pretended that the state of Nottingham was favourable to their designs; the actual state of Nottingham and its neighbourhood, appears from the evidence given on the trials at Derby. In the night of the 9th of June, some persons, stated to be in number about one hundred, had assembled on the race course, in Nottingham Forest, where the Derbyshire insurgents, according to their original plan, were to have arrived at an early hour on the morning of the 10th, and expected to be joined by such a party. This party was seen about twelve at night; they were drawn up in line, two deep, and a part of them were armed with pikes or poles. They remained assembled on the race ground until past two o'clock in the morning, about which time they dispersed. Some appearances of disturbance in the town of Nottingham early in the night of the 9th, induced the magistrates to send for a military force from the barracks; and order being quickly restored, the military returned to their barracks, and were not again called out, until the morning of the 10th, when they were required to assist in dispersing the Derbyshire insurgents, who were then on their march.

Connected with these disturbances in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, a disposition to similar conduct was manifested in a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. On the 6th of June a meeting of delegates was assembled at a place called Thomhill Lees, near Huddersfield; and at this meeting it was understood, that the time to be fixed for a general rising would be announced. The persons assembled at that meeting were surprised by the magistrates, assisted by a military force, and some were taken into custody. This arrest deranged the plans of the disaffected; and the greater part of the districts in that part of Yorkshire, in which a general rising had been proposed, remained quiet. But in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, in the night of the 8th of June, a considerable body assembled, some with fire arms, and others with scythes fixed on poles, and proceeded to various outrages, plundering Houses for arms, and firing on the head constable of Huddersfield, and upon a person of the Yeomanry cavalry, who went out of the town to learn their objects. Indictments were preferred both for the felonies and the burglaries at the assizes at York in the month of July. The facts of the outrages there committed appears to have been established by the finding of the bills by the grand jury; but sufficient evidence was not produced on the trial to bring the crimes home to any individuals.

From the evidence given at the trials at Derby, it appeared that the Derbyshire insurgents had expected a considerable reinforcement from this part of Yorkshire, believing that a general rising would take place at the time to be fixed for that purpose; and it appears likewise, that in Yorkshire, as well as in all the other districts where these designs were carrying on, great reliance has uniformly been placed upon the hope of powerful support and co-operation from London, however erroneous such an expectation may have been, with respect to the extent to which it was supposed to have existed.

The committee have the satisfaction of delivering it as their decided opinion, that not only in the country in general, but in those districts where the designs of the disaffected were most actively and unremittingly pursued, the great body of the people have remained untainted, even during the periods of the greatest internal difficulty and distress.

The arrests and trials which have taken place, and the developement of the designs of the leaders of the disaffected, together with the continued activity and vigilance of the magistrates and of the government, must have had the salutary effect of checking the progress of disaffection, where it existed; and the improved state of the country, and the increased employment now afforded to the labouring classes, have contributed to render those who were most open to seduction, less disposed to embrace the desperate measures which the pressure of distress might have led them to hazard.

Some of the persons engaged in these projects, particularly in London, are still active, and appear determined to persevere, though with decreasing numbers and resources. It appears, therefore, to the committee, that the continued vigilance of government, and of the magistrates in the several districts which have been most disturbed, will be necessary.

Having thus taken a view of the state of the country in the disturbed districts, from the period described in the report made to the House towards the close of the last session of parliament, the committee have proceeded to examine such of the papers referred to them, as relate to the arrests of several persons under warrants issued by one of his majesty's principal secretaries of state, and the detentention of several of the persons so arrested under the authority of two acts passed in the last session of parliament, to empower his majesty to secure and detain such persons as his majesty shall suspect are conspiring against his person and government.

With respect to those against whom bills of indictment were found by different grand juries, and those who have been brought to trial or have fled from justice, the committee conceive that it is unnecessary for them to make any particular statement. Warrants were issued by the secretary of state against ten persons, who have not been taken. Forty-four persons appear to have been arrested under war- rants of the secretary of state, on suspicion of high treason who have not been brought to trial; of these, seven were discharged on examination, without any subsequent warrant of detention. Against thirty-seven, warrants of detention, on suspicion of high treason, were issued by the secretary of state: but one, who was finally committed, was soon after released; another was soon discharged on account of illness; and a third died in prison. The grounds' upon which those warrants were issued, have been severally examined by the committee; on that examination it has appeared to the committee, that all these arrests and detentions have been fully justified by the various circumstances under which they have taken place; and in no case does any warrant of detention appear to have been issued, except in consequence of information upon oath.

It appears to the committee, that all the persons who were so arrested and detained, and who were not prosecuted, have been at different times discharged, as the state of the country, and the circumstances attending the several trials which had taken place, were judged to permit.

The committee understand that, up to a certain period, expectations were entertained of being able to bring to trial a large proportion of the persons so arrested and detained; but that these expectations have from time to time been unavoidably relinquished.

On the whole, therefore, it has appeared to the committee, that the government, in the execution of the powers vested in it, by the two acts before mentioned, has acted with due discretion and moderation; and as far as appears to the committee, the magistrates in the several disturbed districts have, by their activity and vigilance, contributed materially to the preservation of the public peace.

The Report was ordered to be printed.

Earl Grosvenor

observed, that the report afforded no new information to the House. It was little more than a transcript of what had been stated by the former committees, and what had passed on the trials at Derby. There was nothing like any proof that the state of the country required such measures as those which had been adopted on the recommendation of ministers. He must express his regret that the Habeas Corpus act had been suspended on such slender evidence. Their lordships had now a view of all the mighty danger through which they had passed; but to enable the House to judge of the conduct of ministers, it was desirable that the whole evidence presented to the committee should be laid before parliament; and lest the publicity might be attended with danger to any individuals, he suggested that the evidence might be given in blank.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, it was the intention of lord Sidmouth to present a bill on Wednesday, founded on the subject matter of the report of the Secret Committee.

The Earl of Carnarvon

presented a petition from the inhabitants of Manchester and Salford, the same as the petition presented by Mr. Philips in the House of Commons on the 10th instant. The noble earl also presented petitions from William Ogden, and James Sellers, similar to those presented to the House of Commons, complaining of outrage and ill-treatment in the mode of their arrest and confinement, and praying against a bill of indemnity.

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