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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 7

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The people of Birmingham at once attributed this hand-bill to Priestley and his party, who were about to celebrate the anniversary of the 14th of July; but Priestley and his friends denied the charge, and attributed it to some bigot of the high church and tory party who desired to interrupt the dinner and create mischief. William Hutton, the celebrated antiquarian, whose house was burnt down in the riots which ensued, and whose integrity was of the highest kind, in his " History of Birmingham " declares that the hand-bill was fabricated in London, and he adds his belief that, after all, the riots would not have taken place had it not been for two men of desperate fortunes, who probably expected a place or a pension - a hungry attorney and a leading justice. Priestley attributes much of the mischief to a letter of a Dr. Tatham, which was industriously circulated, and which called the dinner an illegal and unconstitutional act. He says the plot was particularly directed against the unitarians by the high church party; and he was of opinion that, had Dr. Price been still living, the storm would have burst at Hackney instead of Birmingham. Before the dinner took place, such were the rumours of impending riots, that the party proposed to defer the celebration to a future day; but the landlord had prepared the dinner, and declared his opinion that there would be no danger if the party dispersed early, without stopping to drink many toasts. Darbley, the innkeeper, curiously enough, was a churchman, and in good odour with the tory party. Satisfied by his representations, about eighty persons determined to hold the dinner on the appointed day, though a considerable number stayed away, and amongst those Priestley himself. The company was hooted as they entered the inn, but chiefly by a crowd of dirty lads, who cried " Church and king! " On the table were ranged three figures: a medallion of the king encircled with a glory, an emblematical figure of British liberty, and another of French slavery bursting its chains.

The toasts given were, in general, perfectly unobjectionable, beginning with " The king and constitution," but unfortunately ending with " The national assembly and the patriots of France." This, however, was merely in accordance with the purpose of the meeting; there was nothing seditious or disloyal in it, and all would have passed off harmlessly enough, had it not been for the magistrates and church and state inhabitants, who, instead of exerting themselves to preserve order, met at an inn near the Swan, and there dined, and drank the most orthodox and illiberal of toasts. It was reported that the admirers of France and the national assembly, " whose virtue and wisdom had raised twenty-six millions from the meanest condition of despotism to the dignity and happiness of free men," had represented the king on their table with his head cut off, and had drunk "Destruction to the present government, and the king's head upon a charger." These misrepresentations, made, no doubt, for the purpose, roused the fury of the mob, which rushed to Darbley's hotel, after the dinner was over, and most of the people gone. There they raised the cry of " Church and king!" and began to throw stones. Some one cried out, " Don't break Darbley's windows; he is a churchman!" But the church-and-king magistrates and their set, now flushed with wine and loyalty, waved their handkerchiefs from the windows of their inn, and hurrahed the mob on. With this encouragement, which seemed to the ignorant crowd to legalise their proceedings, the mob rushed into the house, declaring that they wanted to knock the powder out of Dr. Priestley's wig. They did not find the doctor, so they smashed most of the furniture in the house, and dashed in the windows, notwithstanding the host's orthodoxy. Some one then cried, " You have done mischief enough here; go to the meetings!" and the mob rolled away, first to the new meeting-house, where Priestley preached, which they soon demolished and set fire to. They then proceeded to the old meeting-house, and served it the same, hounded on by people of decent station in the place, and made furious by the beer which was distributed among them.

This destruction accomplished, the mob marched away to the house of Priestley, which was at Fair-hill, where they utterly burned and destroyed all the invaluable library, philosophical instruments, and manuscripts, containing notes of the doctor's further chemical experiments and discoveries. Fire-engines were called out to prevent the flames of the meeting-houses communicating with the adjoining houses, but they were not suffered to play on the meetinghouses themselves, nor does any effort appear to have been made to save Priestley's house. The doctor and his family had made a timely retreat. He himself passed the two first nights in a post-chaise, and the two succeeding on horseback, but less owing to his own apprehensions of danger than those of others. An eye-witness asserts that the high road, for full half a mile from his house, was strewed with books, and that, on entering the library, there was not a dozen volumes on the shelves; while the floor was covered several inches deep with the torn manuscripts. This was the work of the night of the 14th of July.

The magistrates, the next day, when they had become sober, began to be alarmed at the effects of their most un- magisterial encouragement of the mob, and these effects had every appearance of becoming much more disastrous. The people were pouring in from the country around - colliers, and iron-founders, and nail-makers from Walsall; men, and women as fierce and brawny as men, armed with bludgeons, ready to join in the work of destruction. There was no military force for the magistrates to call out, and their only chance was to swear in a good body of special constables, which they set about. But this required time, and the mob lost no time in doing their work of destruction. They attacked the villa of Mr. John Ryland, a dissenter, and friend of Priestley, at Easy-hill, which they set fire to, and maddened themselves with the wines in the cellar, valued at three hundred pounds. Whilst drinking, the burning roof Ml in, and killed several of them. Ryland had been a man active for the best interests of the town, but this had no weight with the drunken mob; it was enough that he was a dissenter, and must suffer to the cry of " Church and king!" Bordesley Hall, the house of another dissenter, Mr. John Taylor, was the next assailed. There a gentleman cried out that he would give the mob a hundred guineas to go away and do no harm; but they shouted " No bribery! no bribery! " and fell to work. It was soon in full blaze, with the outbuildings and a number of hayricks, after the house had been plundered. They then marched away, broke open the town prison, and liberated the prisoners. About three o'clock in the afternoon they appeared, drunk and raging, before the paper warehouse of William Hütton, the historian of the place, of Derby, and the author of several antiquarian treatises. Hutton was a man who had raised himself from the deepest poverty, for his father was a poor stocking-weaver of Derby. He had found Birmingham without a paper warehouse; had opened one, and, by that shrewdness and carefulness in business, which are so conspicuous in his Autobiography, and afford a most valuable study for young men, had acquired a competence. He was not only an honour to the town by his upright character, and great reputation as a self-taught author, but he had been an active benefactor to it. He had been the first to establish a circulating library in the town; was always an advocate and co-operator in works and institutions of improvement, and was the most active and able commissioner of the court of requests. It was William Hutton's constant aim to reconcile the parties that came before him, and, without any salary for his trouble, he had often the satisfaction of sending away litigious parties reconciled, and that at free cost. But all this did not screen him; it was enough that he was a dissenter, and an advocate of toleration and of liberal principles. Besides, as he observes in his Life, " the fatal rock upon which I split was, I never could find a way to let both parties win!" Accordingly, a gentleman, whom Hutton well knew, said to the mob, " If you will pull down Hutton's house, I will give you two guineas to drink, for it was owing to him that I lost a cause in court."

Hutton had been on friendly terms with all parties, and the preachers of both church and chapel were often to be found at his house. So far was he from sympathising with Priestley's controversial zeal, that he says, in his Autobiography, that the ardent desire of making proselytes had been the bane of the world; and that, if Dr. Priestley chose to furnish the world with candles, it certainly conferred a lustre on him, but there was no necessity to oblige every man to carry one; that it was the privilege of an Englishman to walk in darkness, if he chose. Yet the mob broke into his warehouse, and demanded money; he gave them all he had, but they insisted on more, and began to carry off his goods and break his windows. He then borrowed more money from his neighbours; but, when the mob had that, they demanded drink, dragged him away to a public-house, and ran up a score, in his name, of three hundred and twenty- nine gallons. The special constables dispersed the mob for a time; but going away, to endeavour to save Ryland's house, they left Hutton's unguarded, and the mob broke into Hutton's warehouse, and ransacked it, and then into his house, to which it was attached, gutted it, throwing the furniture into the street, and demolishing a very good library. Hutton himself had retired to his suburban villa at Bennett's Hill, where he was not long safe, but his son remained on the spot, and did all he could to buy off the mob, and save the property, but in vain.

From his house at Bennett's Hill, William Hutton saw Bordesley Hall, the mansion of Mr. Taylor, in full flames; and, about four o'clock of the morning, now the 16th, arrived the mob at Bennett's Hill. The attempts to burn down his house in the town had been prevented by the tradesmen, who feared for their own adjoining ones, and who beat off the rabble; but at the villa they were more successful. They broke up the furniture, piled it into heaps, and thus set fire to and burnt down this pleasant mansion, with its coach-house and stables. Whilst these were burning, the mob employed themselves in laying waste his gardens and shrubberies, cutting down his trees, which the old man had carried to the spot on his back, and planted with his own hands, and trampling on the ornamental grounds which he had laid out with love. Amongst the devastators were throngs of women, swearing that they would not do their work by halves, and they left the place a desert. They then adjourned to another country-house belonging to Mr. John Taylor, Moseley Hall, inhabited by lady Carhampton, the mother of the duchess of Cumberland, a lady very old and blind. To show that their vengeance was intended for the dissenter, John Taylor, and not for the titled lady, they allowed her to have her furniture removed; and then they burnt down the house, as they had done Bordesley Hall and the villa at Bennett's Hill. They attacked two other houses at Moseley Wake Green, and pillaged them, burnt the house of Mr. William Russell, a rich dissenter at Showel Green, and plundered and damaged the houses of Mr. George Humphries, of Mr. Coates, another unitarian minister, of the presbyterian minister on Balsarr Heath, of a Baptist minister, &c.

During these disgraceful days, the church - and - king party took no measures to prevent the destruction of the property of dissenters. Noblemen, gentlemen, and magistrates rode in from the country, on pretence of doing their duty, but they did little but sit and drink their wine, and enjoy the mischief. They could have called out the militia at once, and the mob would have been scattered like leaves before the wind; but they preferred to report the outbreak to the secretary-at-war, and, after the time thus lost, three troops of the 15th light dragoons, lying at Nottingham, were ordered to march thither, which, though they rode thither, fifty-nine miles in one day, to the great damage of their horses, did not arrive till the evening of Sunday, the 17th, this frightful state of things having lasted five days. The magistrates, meantime, had contented themselves with issuing very gentle proclamations, in the blandest terms, telling the rioters, whom they styled u friends and brother- churchmen," that they had done enough; that these " gentlemen of the church-and-king party, the real true blue," would, by any further violent proceedings, more offend their king and country than serve the cause of him and the church. They mildly assured them that the losses already sustained would not have to be ultimately borne by the individuals victimised, but by the county at large; that the damages would at least amount to one hundred thousand pounds, which "the rest of the friends of the church would have to pay." The whole of their language tacitly admitted that these drunken demons had really been doing acceptable work for the king and country. No riot act was read, and even the services of two recruiting parties in the town, which were offered, and would soon have protected property, were rejected.

On the Sunday, many of the rioters had drunken themselves into sheer stupidity. Mr. Hutton now venturing to return from Tamworth, to which town he had fled, found the high road and fields scattered with them, like the dead of an army. Others, however, were still in full activity, and, in their inebriated fury, were mistaking the houses of good churchmen for those of dissenters. They were in the act of breaking into the house of Dr. Withering, at some distance from the town, when the light dragoons arrived. Other parties were ranging about at greater distances; they burnt down the dissenting chapel and the minister's house at Wharstock; at King's Wood, they burnt the meeting-house, and so far had they now lost their nicety of distinction, that they there burnt the church parsonage too. In the parish of King's Norton, a manor belonging to the king they professed to be serving, they destroyed nine houses. Other parties were reported to be up in the country, especially towards Hagley and Hales-Owen. The colliers of Wednesbury were out, and were pouring in to Birmingham to join in the plunder. But the arrival of the light dragoons showed what might have been done at first, if the magistrates had been so minded. The mob did not stay even to look at the soldiers; at their very name they vanished, and Birmingham, on Monday morning, was as quiet as a tomb. Government itself took a most indifferent leisure in the matter. It did not issue a proclamation from the secretary of state's office till the 29th, when it offered one hundred pounds for the discovery and apprehension of one of the chief ringleaders!

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