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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 26

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The Christmas holidays necessarily postponed the plans of the conspirators by the ministers going out of town, and the deaths of the king and of the duke of Kent produced further impediments by preventing the regular cabinet meetings. At one moment the plan appeared to be in jeopardy, from the ministers being in danger of dismissal, for their refusal to procure the new king a divorce; but all these hinderances only the more enabled Edwards to ply his arts, and stimulate his victims to their destruction. So thoroughly had he brought them to this point, that, on the 19th of February, they came to the resolution to assassinate the ministers each at his own house, as they could not get them all together; but at this moment Edwards brought them word that the ministers were going to have a cabinet dinner the next day. To make sure they sent on for a newspaper, and finding that it was so, Thistlewood remarked, that as there had not been a cabinet dinner for a long time, there would be fourteen or sixteen there, and it would be a fine haul to murder them altogether. The dinner was to be at the house of lord Harrowby, and it was planned that one of the conspirators should call with a note, and then the rest should rush in and put the ministers all to death, and bring away the heads of Sidmouth and Castlereagh in bags provided for that purpose. They were then to fire the cavalry barracks by throwing fire-balls into the straw-sheds, and the people rising, as they hoped, on the spread of the news, they were to take the Bank and the Tower.

The whole of these preparations were conveyed to their employers, the ministers, by Edwards and Hidon. As for Edwards, he had risen from extreme poverty to plenty during this time, employed in drawing on the conspirators. He had not only money for himself, but supplied Thistlewood occasionally. On their trials some of the conspirators declared that they were directly led into the scheme by Edwards, and not by Thistlewood and his associates: that he had gone about distributing hand-grenades, and endeavouring to persuade them to blow up the house of commons.

The ministers being duly informed of all, the preparations for the dinner were carried on ostensibly as though nothing was suspected. On Tuesday, February 22nd, when the evening had arrived, carriages began to collect about the house of lord Harrowby, and the scouts who were sent out to see that there were no soldiers or police stationed there, reported all right. But the carriages were driving to the house of the archbishop of York, which joined lord Harrowby's, and this had deceived the conspirators. The ministers had remained at home to dine, and then had assembled at lord Liverpool's to await the news of the result. The police, conducted by the spies, meantime reached the rendezvous of the conspirators, which was a stable in Cato Street, near the Edgeware Road. The soldiers had orders to be in readiness, and surround the place immediately, and assist in securing the desperadoes. But it seems that the soldiers were not ready at the moment, and on the police entering the stable, they found that the conspirators were in the hay-loft over it. They were proceeding up the ladder to the loft, and Smithers, one of the police, had just entered it, when Thistlewood, seeing that they were betrayed, stabbed the man to the heart, blew out the light, and made his escape. There was a confused firing of pistols in the dark, and the soldiers coming up, nine of the conspirators were secured, with a quantity of arms and ammunition; but fourteen were said to have succeeded in escaping.

The next morning London was thrown into consternation by the announcement of this conspiracy, and by a reward of one thousand pounds being offered in the Gazette for the apprehension of Thistlewood. He was captured before eight o'clock that morning, whilst in bed, at the house of a comrade, in Moorfields. But his arrest did not diminish the wild alarms which not only seized the capital but the country. This was immediately believed to be only the centre of that universal conspiracy which government had taken so much pains to propagate an impression of. People everywhere were arming for the defence of their own neighbourhoods, and magistrates and yeomanry were turning out by night to keep watch against a surprise, whilst people in town took great care to lock and barricade their houses against the invisible foe. There were wanting, moreover, no few who pointed this out as a proof of the mischief of allowing education to the lower classes, it being asserted that these men had read newspapers, and thus inflamed their partially enlightened minds with the pernicious diatribes of demagogues, who had also disseminated their plans of conspiracy by means of the press.

The circumstance was a political godsend to the ministers, as they certainly intended it to be: it went to prove that all which they had asserted of the seditious character of the working-classes was correct; that conspiracy was on foot; and that their rigorous six acts had not been passed on mere groundless surmises. They could with ease and quiet- ness have put their hands on Thistlewood and all his gang a considerable time before, and that with sufficient evidence of treasonable intentions to convict them; but this would have produced no sensation. Therefore they had entered freely, and with full knowledge, into communication with men whom they had paid to foment plans of assassination, and had paid them well to do it. It is curious that the same historians who, in the case of Oliver and his corps of spies, denied the guilty knowledge of ministers of their traitorous acts, and assert that lord Sidmouth was a man who, not for a moment, would descend to such criminal acts, in this case forget themselves, and as freely admit that he and his colleagues entered fully into this plan with Edwards and others.

On Sunday, the 27th of February, these ministers re- turned public thanks for their preservation in the royal chapel at St. James's, knowing, at the same time, that they never were in any danger, but had due notice of the progress of their snares, and, therefore, could not possibly be taken themselves by surprise. The king being informed of the upshot of the two conspiracies - that of ministers against Thistlewood and Co., and Thistlewood and Co. against ministers - expressed his thankfulness for their escape.

On the 13th of March parliament was dissolved by a speech delivered by commission, in which the king thus solemnly expressed himself: - " Deeply as his majesty laments that designs and practices, such as those which you have been lately called upon to repress, have existed in this free and happy country, he cannot sufficiently commend the prudence and firmness with which you directed your attention to the means of counteracting them. If any doubt had remained as to the nature of those principles by which the peace and happiness of the nation were so seriously menaced, or of the excesses to which they were likely to lead, the flagrant and sanguinary conspiracy which has lately been detected must open the eyes of the most incredulous, and must vindicate to the whole world the justice and expediency of those measures to which you thought it necessary to resort, in defence of the laws and constitution of the kingdom."

Thistlewood and nine others were put upon their trial on the 13th of April, and, after a trial of three days, he and eight of them were pronounced guilty, and himself and four of the most desperate were condemned to death; three others were sentenced to transportation for life; and one man, who was proved to have been amongst them without being aware of their object, was pardoned. Thistlewood and the four others were executed on the 1st of May. The next day alderman Wood moved in the house of commons for an inquiry into the conduct of Edwards, but it was rejected by a large majority. On the 19th he again returned to the subject, and supported his motion by producing depositions from many persons brought before him as a magistrate, demonstrating, in the plainest manner, that Edwards had recommended to them the murder of ministers and the destruction of parliament, has furnished plans for these objects, and had done all in his power to seduce needy men into these measures. He proved, also, from the same depositions, that Edwards himself had been living for six weeks in great affluence in the house of a schoolmaster in St. George's Street, Hanover Square, who was not aware of the occupation of Edwards till the wretch himself informed him of it, Alderman Wood called on parliament to act on this unquestionable evidence, and purge itself of any sanction of such disgraceful transactions. But ministers again resisted all inquiry, and their friends openly defended them in the use of such means, even ridiculing alderman Wood, and those who supported his motion, for supposing that lord Sidmouth would proceed against Edwards through any depositions furnished by magistrates. The motion was, of course, thrown out.

Before these discussions took place, an attempt had been made by similar means to lead the people of Scotland into insurrection. Emissaries appeared in the towns and villages informing the people that there were preparations made for a general rising, and they were ordered to cease all work and betake themselves to certain places of rendezvous. On the morning of Sunday, the 2nd of April, the walls of Glasgow were found placarded everywhere by a proclamation, ordering all persons to cease labour, and turn out for a general revolution. The next morning the magistrates called out the military, and they were drawn up in the streets in readiness for the appearance of an insurrection, but none took place. The people were all in wonder, and assembled to see what would happen; but there appeared not the slightest disposition to make any disorder, and some of the cotton mills were at work as though nothing was expected to take place. But still, the mischief had not altogether failed. Some fifty poor ignorant men had been decoyed out of Glasgow to near Kilsyth, on the assurance that four or five thousand men would there join them, and proceed to take the Carron Ironworks, and thus supply themselves with artillery. These poor dupes were met on the road, on some high ground on Bonnymuir, by a detachment of armed men sent out against them, and, after some resistance, and some of them being wounded, nineteen were made prisoners, and the rest fled. Other arrests were made in different parts of Scotland, and they were tried in the following July and August; but, so little interest was felt in this attempt, or in the details of what was called " the Battle of Bonnymuir," that three only were punished, and the rest discharged.

There remained only the trials of Hunt and his associates in the meeting at Manchester to close the events which arose out of circumstances originating under the reign of George III. These took place at York spring assizes, whither they had been prudently removed out of the district, where both parties were too much inflamed for a fair verdict to be expected. During the time that they lay in prison, the conduct of Hunt had greatly disgusted his humble associates. He showed so much love of himself that Bamford says he began to think that he could never have really loved his country. He was greatly incensed that no bail was found for him. At the trial he showed the same care for himself and indifference to the convenience of his friends. He desired Bamford to talk against time in his defence, that he himself might not be called on till the next morning. Hunt did not want to make his defence in the fag-end of a day, but to come fresh into court, and have the day wholly before him for that personal display in which he delighted to indulge. Bamford, who must have fatally injured his own cause by merely talking to drive on the time, did not understand making such sacrifices for a man who would make none for others, but, on the contrary, had maligned various absent friends during his imprisonment, much to the disgust of his fellow-prisoners. " At times," says Bamford, " I had some difficulty to avoid laughing in Hunt's face; at times I was vexed at being a party in such a piece of contemptible vanity. I contrasted all this glare and noise with the useful results of calm, sober thought and silent determination; and I made up my mind that, when once out of this, I would not in future be a party in such trumpery exhibitions - in the unworthy setting up of the instrument, instead of the principle of a great cause."

The government had found it necessary a second time to lower its charge against the Manchester prisoners. At first it was high treason, then it subsided to treasonable conspiracy, and now, at last, it was merely "for unlawful assembling for the purpose of moving and inciting to hatred and contempt of the government." Of this they were all convicted, and were confined in different gaols for various periods, and were called upon to give substantial security for good behaviour in future before being set at liberty. Hunt was imprisoned for three years in Ilchester gaol. It is only justice to him to state that though, during this imprisonment, he was continually sending to the newspapers complaints of ill treatment, he was instrumental in making known to the public some flagrant malpractices going on in the gaol, and which, through these exposures, were afterwards corrected. Henry Hunt had commenced life as a zealous loyalist; and in 1801, when there was so strong an apprehension of invasion, he offered to put at the service of the country the whole of his farm-stock, valued at twenty thousand pounds; and, besides this, he offered to enter, with three of his servants, at his own cost, into any volunteer regiment of cavalry which might make the first charge on the enemy; and for this he received the thanks of the lord-lieutenant of the county. At this time he was lord of the manor of Glastonbury, and was considered to act very impartially at his court-leet. He farmed extensively at Upton in Wiltshire, and was a regular attendant at Devizes market. After his liberation from Ilchester gaol, he embarked in extensive business as a blacking manufacturer. A few years before his death, when his head was white as snow, I met him on his blacking tour, at Farquharson's Hotel, at Truro, in Cornwall, when his demeanour was marked by modesty and good sense. Experience had evidently done good work on him. He was finally seized with paralysis, whilst alighting from his phaeton, at Alresford, and died there in February, 1835, in his sixty-third year, having lived to witness the triumph of reform, in the struggles for which, notwithstanding some personal defects, he had taken a prominent share.

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