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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 3


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The new parliament of Great Britain and Ireland met on the 16th of November. It was found that government had secured a strong majority in it, and Mr. Abbot was re-elected speaker. The speech from the throne breathed a spirit of war. The conduct of Buonaparte, both towards this country and others, had incensed the nation, and it was no difficult matter for government to obtain large supplies, on the ground that war was but too probable. Sheridan had now deserted the Fox party, for substantial reasons, as was generally suspected, and he declared that the invasion of this country was the first thought of Napoleon every morning, and his last prayer at night, to whatever deity that prayer was addressed, whether it was Jupiter, Mahomet, the goddess of Battles, or the goddess of Reason. No one, however, yet seemed to be aware of the uselessness of fighting for all the world, and the reasonableness of con- tenting ourselves with defending our own coasts and colonies. Fox alone appeared sensible of this fact. He declared that it was continental connections, and not mere self-defence, which had made great standing armies necessary, and had loaded us with such mountains of debt. It was, however, readily agreed to maintain our army at the Scale of two hundred thousand men, including militia and yeomanry. Of troops of the line, the amount was fixed at one hundred and twenty-nine thousand. The voting the necessary supplies for this force was the only business of importance before Christmas. On the 21st of December, indeed, the commons passed a resolution for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the frauds and abuses of the naval department, where the monstrous jobbing of commissioners, contractors, &c., still robbed the country of enormous sums, and perpetually furnished the worst of food and clothing to the seamen. But this measure was completely defeated, in the house of lords, by the lord chancellor, who carried a motion exempting all officials who were called before the committee from criminating themselves. The committee thus became a dead letter, and all the abominable abuses remained, as they were destined to do, for many a long year.

The year 1803 was opened by the charge of a conspiracy to destroy the king and overturn the government, by a colonel Despard and others. On the 7th of February colonel Despard was brought to trial at the Surrey sessions-house, Newington, before a special commission, at the head of which was the lord chief-justice Ellenborough. Mr. Abbot, afterwards lord Tenterden, opened the case against Despard, followed by the attorney-general, the hon. Spencer Perceval. It appeared that Edward Marcus Despard was an Irish officer, who had served with much bravery and distinction; that at the close of the American war he was on duty in the West Indies, and on the Spanish main. Pie was sent with Nelson, when the latter was but a post-captain, to take the fort of St. Juan, in Nicaragua, situated where the lake Nicaragua flows into the Atlantic. He ably supported Nelson, and they took the fort, though Nelson afterwards said that it was one of the most perilous and arduous undertakings that he had ever been engaged in; and that out of one thousand eight hundred men, including Indiana, only three hundred and eighty returned alive. For his services Despard was made lieutenant-colonel; and, in 1784, was appointed Superintendent of English affaire at Honduras. On some- complaints of the settlers against him, he was recalled, and, on demanding an investigation of his conduct, it was refused by the government, as well as his claims upon it. This injustice appears to have embittered his mind, and, on his using strong language, he was arrested, and thrown into Coldbath-fields prison, and afterwards removed to the house of Industry, at Shrewsbury, and finally to Tothill-fields' Bridewell. This treatment, which certainly seems harsh and unjustifiable towards a very meritorious officer, had the effect of exciting him to seek a reform of the government, by associating with men of a condition inferior to his own, and engaging in schemes of violent opposition to the king and government, whom he deemed to have treated him with gross injustice. On the oaths of Blades and Windsor, two soldiers belonging to the guards, both of indifferent character, who had been encouraged to discover and reveal all they could, by one Bownas, a government spy, he, as well as a number of working men, Macnamara, an Irish carpenter, Wood, a soldier, Francis, another soldier, and shoemaher by trade, Broughton, a carpenter, Graham, a slater, and Wratten, a shoemaker, were arrested and brought to trial. These men charged him, on oath, with conspiring to kill the king, seize the Tower, and the arms in the Bank of England, and overturn the government. They charged colonel Despard with being the originator of these plans, but they could produce no other written or documentary proofs of the fact than an oath printed on a card, as follows: " In the awful presence of Almighty God, I, A.B., voluntarily declare that I will exert myself to the utmost to recover those rights which the Supreme Being has conferred upon his creatures, and that neither fear, hope, nor reward, shall prevail upon me to divulge the secrets of this society, or to give evidence against a member of this or any other society of a similar kind. So help me God! " On the same card there were the following words, also explanatory of their object: " Constitutional Independence of Great Britain and Ireland. Equalisation and extension of rights. An ample provision for those heroes who fall in the contest. A liberal reward to all those who exert themselves in the cause of the people. These are the objects for which we unite, and we swear never to separate until we have obtained them." All the rest of the charges were based on the mere oaths of the soldiers, who had been members of this society, and then had been induced to betray it. The charge, in addition to those stated above, was that they meant to shoot the king as ho went to parliament. Lord Nelson, general Sir Alured Clarke, and Sir E.Nepean all gave the highest character to Despard for bravery and loyalty. Mr. Gurney, his counsel, showed that the two soldiers were of most infamous character, and that their stories did by no means agree. Sergeant Best said that the colonel had, undoubtedly, attended some of the meetings of these reformers, but that there was no proof of his having organised them, or that he knew them to be of a treasonable character; that words, if proved on satisfactory evidence, were not overt acts; and that there was no overt act of any kind established; therefore, there could be no establishment of a charge of treason. But, notwithstanding, both the colonel, and afterwards six of the other prisoners, were declared guilty; and, though the jury recommended the colonel strongly to mercy, both he and they were hanged and beheaded on the 2Ist of February.

The whole of this proceeding was marked by revolting features of injustice and savage severity. Had the guilt in the colonel been most clearly proved, which on the scaffold he solemnly denied, yet the cold rejection of all his demands for official inquiry into his conduct as governor of Honduras, and of his claims on government, ought to have pleaded as a palliation of proceedings into which his natural irritation might have led him. But, though the most energetic appeals were made by his wife, by the jury which condemned him, and by other parties, the king refused to listen to them. The Irish had lately shown themselves rebellious, and were still unsettled, and Despard was an Irishman. Besides, George III. had a fondness for hanging, which will for ever leave a dark stain upon his memory. The criminal code, during his reign, was a thorough code of Draco, and he resisted its amelioration, and the efforts of Romilly and other» already at work for this ends with a pitiless pertinacity. The case of Despard was but the forerunner of a long melancholy catalogue of such during the whole of this reign.

Everything in parliament and in ministerial movements now denoted the near approach of the renewal of war. On the 8th of March a message was received by both houses of parliament from his majesty, stating that great military preparations were going on in Holland and France, and that his majesty deemed it highly necessary to take measures for the security of his dominions. It added that negotiations were going on with France, the issue of which was uncertain, but it neither stated what these negotiations were, nor the measures called for. The message was taken for what it was - a note of war, and, both in the lords and commons, strong expressions were used of defiance to France. This seemed to have encouraged ministered to a plainer expression of their intentions, for only two days later another message came down, calling for an increase of the navy. The next day, the 11th, the commons formed themselves into a committee, and voted an addition of ten thousand seamen to the fifty thousand already voted. Sheridan was very zealous for war; ministers, however, professed to desire the continuance of peace, if possible; and Fox, justly complaining that government was calling on parliament for fresh armaments without giving it any reasons for the necessity of them, declared that the principles upon which the last war had been conducted were most detestable and hypocritical; that to go to war, on pretence of protecting religion and social order, was most disgraceful and dishonest. There were rumours of negotiations going on for a return of Pitt to power; but, as Mr. Addington showed no disposition to resign altogether in favour of Pitt, these came to nothing, for the pride of Pitt, so far from permitting him to serve under the son of his father's physician, and a man of greatly inferior abilities to his own, would never submit to serve under any one, but; on the contrary, must have every one completely under him.

On the 6tli of May lord Pelham communicated to the lords, and Mr. Addington to the commons, another message from his majesty, informing them that he had ordered lord Whitworth, our ambassador, to quit Paris immediately, unless he saw a prospect of closing the negotiations with the first consul within a certain date; and that M. Andréossi, the French ambassador, had applied for his passport, in order to quit London when lord Whitworth should quit Paris. In consequence of the uncertainty of the result there was an adjournment, and then a second; but, on the 16th of May, all suspense was terminated by the announcement of ministers, that lord Whitworth had quitted Paris, and M. Andréossi, London. The papers which had passed betwixt this government and France, in the late negotiations, were ordered to be produced, and an order in council was issued, directing reprisals to be granted against the ships, goods, and subjects of the French republic, and also for an embargo not only on all French ships in British ports, but on all Dutch vessels, and vessels of any power under the military rule of France. We were once more at war. A manifesto was also issued, detailing the causes of the rupture. These were, the injustice practised towards British subjects in the ports of France; the sending of military engineers and spies into this country, in the character of consuls; and menaces by France against the independence of Turkey and the Ionian Islands; also a boast that England singly could not contend with the power of France. These were all the alleged causes as directly concerning England -, and these, surely, were causes wholly insufficient to warrant a war, had there been none other. They were very proper subjects of negotiation and of offence, but, being remonstrated against, were too trivial for war, until they grew into actual aggressions. But there were a great many other causes alleged, and these, it will be observed, were the causes which, as in the former war, did not concern us, but the continent: the occupation of Holland, Belgium, Switzer- land, and great part of Italy, It was still assumed that the whole continent together was incapable of defending itself, and that the defence of it was the proper business of England. It would have been sufficient for Great Britain to have made a firm protest against the injustice of such occupation by France, and then to have left those countries to assert their own liberties and independence, though ready at any time to assist, by our influence, in promoting their rights by negotiation. We have learned that now, by reflecting on our debt and on the unsatisfactory result of propping up continental despots, but we had not learned it then. On the 23rd of May both houses of parliament went into the question of the addresses in reply to his majesty's message, and there was in each house a scene of deep excitement. All approaches to the houses were crowded. In the lords, an amendment was moved on the address by lord King, to expunge the statements that France had broken the treaty, but it was rejected by one hundred and forty-two against ten. In the commons, Pitt was in his place, and delivered a most elaborate speech in commendation of the war, which was replied to with equal ability by Fox. Fox confessed that Buonaparte had been unreasonable in demanding that we should abridge the liberty of the press in England to oblige him, and should expel all French emigrants on the same ground, but he contended that we had broken the treaty by not giving up Malta. This retention was defended by Perceval, Windham, and others, on the grounds which we have already stated, and the amendment was rejected by three hundred and ninety-eight against sixty-seven. In fact, parliament, and a large class in the country, were mad for war. Fox, however, made another effort to avert it if possible. On the 27th of May lie moved that his majesty should be addressed to pray him to use the mediation of Alexander, the young emperor of Russia, who was most friendly towards us, and was Willing to undertake the task. Pitt professed to approve of the suggestion, but recommended that Fox should leave it to the ministers, who he was sure would concur in the wish; and lord Hawkesbury, the secretary for foreign affaire, stated that, though they could not suspend the necessary preparations for war, government would be ready to accept the emperor's mediation, provided the first consul would accede to it on reasonable terms. This was only a polite mode of getting rid of the proposal, and this was followed by the opposition in both houses moving votes of censure on the Addington administration, but without success.

On the 17th of June the king announced, by message, that, in consequence of the Batavian republic refusing to order the French troops to quit Holland, which, indeed, would not have paid any attention to such orders, he had recalled his ambassador from the Hague, and had issued letters of marque and reprisals against that republic. Thus, we were also at war with Holland. At the same time, a demand was made for a grant of sixty thousand pounds, and a pension of sixteen thousand pounds per annum to the. prince of Orange, the ex-stadtholder, on the plea that lie was an exile and destitute; and the grant was voted. Parliament was now daily occupied in passing fresh measures for the defence of the country. It was voted, on the 20th of June, that a reserve army of fifty thousand should be raised by ballot, like the militia; and, indeed, it was no other than an extension of the militia, for this division was to serve only during the war in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Channel Islands. On the 18th of July it was proposed to pass a bill enabling his majesty to raise a levy en masse, in case of invasion. Pitt strongly supported it, and proposed fresh fortifications on the coasts, which he afterwards carried out in his useless and ridiculous martello towers. Military and engineer officers, members of the house, immediately broached the most extensive plans of fortifications. Colonel Crawford, in particular, desired to have a great many more troops, and to fortify the coast from Yarmouth to the North Foreland; to fortify London, and all the high roads to it. The very extravagance of these proposals defeated them; ministers replied, and truly, that our fleet and army were security enough with the bill for the levy en masse, which was passed by both houses.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 3

Island of Malta
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Napoleon Buonaparte
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French troops
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Naples
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Shuja ud Dowlah
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Battle of Assaye
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Spencer Perceval
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Execution of the Duc dEnghien
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