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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 10


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The whole of London was thrown into great agitation, and Sir John Anstruther that evening, in the house of commons, was very severe on the ministers for not taking more decided measures for the protection of the metropolis. The next day the letter of Sir Francis was taken into consideration. Many severe strictures were made on his conduct, and even Whitbread contended that the speaker's warrant was perfectly legal, and that Sir Francis had done a great injury to reform by stirring up a riot in the prosecution of a constitutional question. He asked what must be the position of the house in event of a reform if it had no power to exert its authority? But the fact was, that it was a vast need of reform which had brought it to this pass, and especially its resistance to all appeals on its behalf. As to reform, it was quite competent to the house to submit to it, without any exercise of such powers against the press as had provoked these occurrences. There was a call for the expulsion of the radical baronet from the house; but, as this would have produced a new election in Westminster, by which he would certainly have been returned afresh, that was prudently abandoned.

On the 13th of April the speaker read to the house a notice which he had received, that a bill would be filed against him, in the court of King's Bench, to try the validity of his warrant in this case, and the house ordered the letter and the notice to be entered on the journals. On the 16th, Sir Samuel Romilly moved for the discharge of Gale Jones; but Windham observed that a meeting of the electors of Westminster was announced for the morrow, to take into consideration the case of their representative, and that to liberate Jones at that moment would be sure to be attributed to fear on the part of the commons. The motion was therefore rejected.

The meeting of the Westminster electors the next day, held in Palace Yard, under the very walls of parliament, was attended by vast crowds, and the tone of the speakers was most indignant. They justified the letter of their representative to themselves; denounced the conduct of the commons as oppressive, arbitrary, and illegal, tending to destroy the popular liberties; and they approved highly of the baronet's spirited resistance to the breaking into his house. They called for his liberation, and for that of the unjustly incarcerated Mr. Gale Jones. They drew up a letter to Sir Francis to this effect, to be presented to him in the tower by the high bailiff of Westminster; and they drew up a petition and remonstrance to the house of commons in equally spirited terms, which was presented the same evening by lord Cochrane. The honourable J. W. Ward, afterwards lord Dudley and Ward, opposed the reception of the petition as highly indecorous, and as violating the dignity of the house; but Whitbread defended it, and even Canning and Perceval excused, in some degree, the tone of the petition under the circumstances. It was ordered, therefore, to be laid on the table..

In the meantime, coroners' inquests were held on the two men who had been shot by the military. In the one case, the jury brought in a verdict of "justifiable homicide;" but, in the other, of " wilful murder " by the soldiers. On the other hand, the government offered a reward of five hundred pounds for the discovery of. any one who had been guilty of firing at the soldiers, and an additional one of five hundred pounds for the discovery of the person who had fired at and wounded ensign Cowell, whilst on duty at the Tower, the night after the committal of Sir Francis. The reform party in the commons demanded whether the government did not intend to offer a reward for the discovery of the soldiers who had fired at and wounded several of the people, and killed two of them. Whitbread moved that an inquiry should be instituted into the justice of the verdict of "wilful murder" against the soldiers, and in this he was seconded by William Smith, of Norwich; but captain Agar, who had been on duty, declared that the people had fired the first shot, and the premier got rid of the question by asserting that an inquiry was already going on into the circumstances of the riot, and that it was not for parliament to anticipate it.

During the Easter recess, popular meetings were held, condemning the conduct of ministers, and calling for parliamentary reform. On the meeting of the house again, a very strong petition, bearing rather the character of a remonstrance, was presented from the electors of Middlesex by Mr. George Byng, on the 2nd of May. The ministerial party declared that the petition was an insult to the house; but the reformers maintained that not only the language of the petition, but the whole of the unhappy events which had taken place, were the direct consequences of the corrupt character of the representation, and of the house screening from due punishment such culprits as the duke of York, lord Castlereagh, &c. The petition was rejected; but the very next day a petition of equal vigour and plainness was voted by the livery of London, and was presented on the 8th, and rejected too. The house had grown so old in corruption, that it felt itself strong enough to reject the petitions of the people - little dreaming the length to which these reforms would hereafter be pushed. A memorial was presented also on the same subject from major Cartwright, one of the most indefatigable apostles of reform, by Whitbread, and that was rejected too, for the major pronounced the committal of Sir Francis a flagrantly illegal act.

As Sir Francis Burdett had commenced suits, not only against the speaker, but also against the sergeant-at-arms, and against earl Moira, the governor of the Tower, for his arrest and detention, the house of commons appointed a select committee to inquire into the proper mode of defence, and it was determined that the sergeant-at-arms should appear and plead to these indictments, and that the attorney- general should be directed to defend them. Though these trials did not take place till May and June of the following- year, we may here note the result, to close the subject. In the two first, verdicts were obtained favourable to the government, and in the third the jury, not agreeing, was dismissed. These trials came off before lord Ellenborough, one of the most steady supporters of government that ever sate on the judicial bench; and the results probably drew their complexion from this cause, for the feeling of the public continued to be exhibited strongly in favour of the prisoner of the house of commons. He continued to receive deputations from various parts of the country, expressive of the sympathy of public bodies, and of the necessity of a searching reform of parliament. Whatever irregularity might have marked the proceedings of the radical baronet, there is no question that the discussions to which they led all over the country produced a decided progress in the cause of a renovation of our dilapidated representation.

The prorogation of parliament, on the 21st of June, liberated both Sir Francis and the unfortunate president of the debating society, Mr. John Gale Jones. On the morning of this day vast crowds assembled before the Tower to witness the enlargement of the popular baronet. There was a great procession of reformers with banners and mottoes, headed by major Cartwright, and attended by Mr. Sheriff Wood and Mr. Sheriff Atkins; but as Sir Francis apprehended that there might be some fresh and fatal collision betwixt the military and the people, he prudently resolved to leave the Tower quietly by water, which he effected, to the great disappointment of the populace. No such excitement as this had taken place, on a question of right betwixt the house of commons and an individual member, since the days of Wilkes.

The other measures of parliament during this session were these: - In the house of lords lord Holland, and in the commons Henry Brougham, moved for addresses to his majesty, exhorting him to persevere in his efforts to induce the governments of other nations to co-operate in the abolition of the slave trade, and to take measures for putting a stop to the clandestine practice of British subjects yet carrying on this trade in a fraudulent manner, as well as to adopt plans for preventing other evasions of Mr. Wilber- force's act. Mr. Bankes introduced a motion for rendering perpetual his bill to prevent the grant of offices in reversion, and such a bill was passed in the commons, but rejected in the lords.

A bill for parliamentary reform was introduced by Mr. Brand, and debated with unusual interest, owing to the events connected with Sir Francis Burdett, but was, of course, rejected by a large majority. The day for such a measure was yet far off. There was a motion made by Mr. Parnell regarding tithes in Ireland; another by Grattan and lord Donoughmore for catholic emancipation; and a third by Sir Samuel Romilly for reform of our criminal code - ail necessary, but yet long-to-be-deferred measures. Lord Melville also introduced a plan of great importance into the house of peers, namely, to Substitute government war vessels for the conveyance of troops to their destinations abroad. He showed that not only was there immense and flagrant jobbing going on betwixt the government transport board and the merchants from whom they hired ships on such occasions, but that these ail tended to the misery and mortality of the soldiers; that the transport vessels hired were often not only inconveniently small, necessitating very uncomfortable and unhealthy crowding, but they were also frequently crazy, unseaworthy craft, badly manned, and ignorantly commanded by very ordinary skippers. He showed that a great amount of the mortality attending the transport of our troops to distant shores was owing to this cause, and that ail might be avoided, and a considerable pecuniary saving effected, by employing none but government vessels, roomy and clean, and commanded by officers duly qualified. But no such necessary and humane scheme was likely to be cordially supported by an unreformed parliament. Mr. George Rose also obtained leave to bring in a bill for a more questionable object. It was to augment our navy by bringing up the children of such people as became chargeable to parishes at government naval schools, and thus regularly appropriating them as sailors. He estimated these children at ninety thousand, and calculated that these schools would furnish seven thousand sailor-boys per annum. It was a scheme for a press-gang system commencing with the cradle.

The supplies for the present year were voted to the amount of fifty million one hundred and eighty-five thousand pounds. No new taxes were to be levied, but there was to be a loan of eight million pounds. This money was distributed as follows: twenty-five million pounds to the land service and ordnance, twenty million pounds to the navy, a subsidy to Portugal of nine hundred and eighty-eight thousand pounds, and to Sicily of four hundred thousand pounds.

The aspect of affairs in Spain at the commencement of 1810 was gloomy in the extreme. Scarcely a town, a fortress, or an army remained to the Spaniards; yet, perhaps, never did Napoleon feel a deeper anxiety concerning it. The spirit of the people had shown that it could not be easily subdued. He might beat its regular troops, and compel the surrender of cities, after long and severe sieges, but there still remained a whole population hostile to him. Throughout ail the mountain districts the population might be said to be still in arms against him; the guerrillas everywhere harassed, surprised, and destroyed his foragers and detached parties; and there was a fire burning in the general Spanish heart that might at any moment blaze up into a dangerous flame, or, if not, must wear out his troops, his energies, and his resources. It is impossible to subdue the people of a mountainous country, so as to rule them in peace, if they are at heart opposed to the ruler.

Yet, looking at Spain from a mere momentary point of view, its condition was sad enough. Saragossa had undergone a second siege, in which the inhabitants had again made a brilliant stand, and caused the French much loss and suffering, though compelled at length to surrender. The battle of Ocana, in November of 1809, had been lost by Areizaga, and left Spain without a single considerable army. During the latter part of the last year, general Reding, the patriotic Swiss general, had been defeated at Valls. Blake had sustained two heavy defeats near Saragossa and Belchite, with the loss of the greater part of his artillery and men. Gerona had withstood a desperate siege, but was compelled to capitulate on the 10th of December. Tarragona and Tortosa had suffered the same fate. In some of these towns the Spaniards had not yielded till they had killed and eaten their horses and mules.

Towards the end of the year Soult had been recalled to Madrid, to take the place of Jourdan, who was remanded to Paris. Soult then determined to make an expédition into the south, to subdue Seville and Cadiz - the last places of. consequence left to the Spaniards. He took king Joseph with him, or, rather, perhaps, king Joseph was afraid to be left in the capital without his protection. The battle of Ocana, and the destruction of Areizaga's army, left the passes of the Sierra Morena ail open, and, on the 21st of January, Soult was at Baylen, where the army of Dupont had surrendered. Thence he pushed forward for Seville, sending other divisions of the army to traverse Malaga and Grenada. Nothing could be more favourable to the visit of Soult than the then condition of Seville. The stupid, proud, ignorant, junta had refused ail proffers of aid from the English, and they had, at the same time, worn out the patience of the people, who had risen upon them, and expelled them from the place. They then fled to Cadiz, in the hope of renewing their authority there; but they met with a still fiercer reception from the people of Cadiz, and were compelled formally to resign. As for the inhabitants of Seville, they talked of defending the city against the French, but there was no order amongst them, no authority, and they did nothing. Soult marched on from town to town, collecting a rich spoil everywhere, which the Spaniards had left behind them. They seemed to think of carrying away with them only their money, but a mass of other wealth fell into the hands of the French, and amongst it, as usual, great quantities of English cannon, muskets, and ammunition, which assisted in enabling the French to fight with us. Soult entered Cordova. in triumph on the 17th of January, and Seville on the 1st of February, and there king Joseph established his court for some time.

Soult sent on marshal Victor, without delay, to surprise and seize Cadiz - a most important object, as it kept up an inlet for the English, and for supplies of arms to the Spaniards. But the duke of Albquerque, with eight or ten thousand men, had been called at the first alarm, and, making a rapid march of two hundred and sixty English miles, reached the city just before him. The garrison now consisted of twenty thousand men - English, Spanish, and Portuguese - commanded chiefly by general Graham, an officer who had distinguished himself at Toulon, at the same time that Buonaparte first made his merit conspicuous. The British troops had been offered by lord Wellington, and, though insolently refused by the junta before, were now thankfully accepted. Some were hastened from Torres Vedras, under command of the hon. major-general Stewart, and some from Gibraltar. The British, independent of the Portuguese under their command, amounted to six thousand. The Spanish authorities, having their eyes opened at length to the value of the English alliance, now gave the command of their little fleet to admiral Purvis, who put the ships, twenty in number, into tolerable order, and joined them to his own squadron. With these moored across the harbour, he kept the sea open for all necessary supplies; and, though Soult, accompanied by king Joseph, arrived on the 25th of February, and sate down before the place, occupying the country round from Rota to Chiclana, with twenty-five thousand men, he could make no impression against Cadiz, and the siege was continued till the 12th of August, 1812, when the successes of Wellington warned them to be moving. It was an essential advantage to Wellington's campaign that twenty-eight thousand French should thus be kept lying before this place.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 10

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