Chap. This was the Cato Street Conspiracy, which may well x' take its place beside the worst outbreaks of Italian crime, 1820- and showed to what frightful extremities the English mind, when violently excited by political passions, is capable of being led. The author of the plot was Arthur Thistlewood, who was born in 1770, had received a tolerable education, and had served both in the militia and in a West India regiment. He soon, however, resigned his commission, and, notwithstanding the war, succeeded in making his way to Paris, where he arrived shortly after the fall of Robespierre. He there embraced all the extravagant ideas which the Revolution had caused to germinate in France, and he returned to England firmly persuaded that the first duty of a patriot was to massacre the Government, and overturn all existing institutions. He was engaged in Watson's conspiracy, already menlAntc, c. tioned,1 and, like him, acquitted in the face of disiv. § 68. tixict. proof, chiefly from the indictment having been laid for high treason, which was straining a point, instead of conspiracy and riot, as to which the evidence was clear. On his acquittal he sent a challenge to Lord Sidmouth, for which he was handed over to the civil authorities, by whom he was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. He came out of prison at its expiration thirsting for vengeance, and burning with revolutionary passions, at the » Am Beg very t'me ^cn the "Manchester massacre," as it was 1820,29; called, had excited such a ferment in the country, and he 408g; Mm-' immediately engaged himself in the furtherance of a con242?u'spiracy, the object of which was to murder the Ministers and overturn the Government.2 45 He soon succeeded, in that period of excitement, in Design of collecting a band of conspirators as determined and reckraton!"pi less as himself—men fit, indeed, "to disturb the peace of the whole world," though certainly not to "rule it when 'tis wildest." Ings, a butcher; Davidson, a creole; Brunt and Tidd, shoemakers, were his principal associates, but with them were collected forty or fifty more,

Feb. 19.

who were to be employed in the execution of their de- Chap. signs. They met twice a-day, during February, in a x' hired room near Gray's Inn Lane, and their first design 1820was to murder the king, but this was soon laid aside for the massacre of his ministers, who were to be despatched separately in their own houses. On Saturday, February 19th, their plans were arranged. Forty men were to be set apart for these detached murders, and whoever faltered in the great work was to atone for it with his life; while a detachment was, at the same time, to seize two pieces of artillery stationed in Gray's Inn, and six in the artillery ground. The Mansion House was to be immediately attacked, and a provisional government established there, the Bank assaulted, and London set on fire in several places. But this design was modified, in consequence of information given by Edwards, one of their number, who afterwards revealed the conspiracy, that the whole Cabinet was to dine at Lord Harrowby's in Grosvenor Square, i Tllistie. Thistlewood immediately proposed to murder them allTM^'8,^ at once when assembled there, which was assented to ;45; "for," said he, "as there has not been a dinner for so 3o,:ii; Marlong, there will no doubt be fourteen or sixteen there ; aTTM"' and it will be a rare haul to murder them all together."1 In pursuance of this plan, two of the conspirators were stationed in Grosvenor Square to see what was going on Their final there; and a room was taken above a stable in Cato r'a"s' Street, off the Edgewarc Road, where the conspirators were to assemble on the afternoon of the 22d February, when the dinner at Lord Harrowby's was to take place. The only access to this room, which was large enough to hold thirty persons, was by a ladder, which led up to a trap-door, and there, at six in the evening, Thistlewood, and twenty-four of the conspirators, fully armed, were assembled. It was arranged that one of the conspirators was to call at Lord Harrowby's with a note when the party were at dinner, and on the door being opened the whole were to rush in, murder the Ministers, and as

Chap, trophies of their success bring out the heads of Lords Sidx' mouth and Castlereagh, for which purpose bags were pro1820. yided. Meanwhile the cavalry barracks in King Street, Portman Square, were to be set on fire by throwing fireballs into the straw depot, and the Bank and Mansion House attacked by those left in the city. Everything was in readiness, arms and ammunition provided, fire-balls prepared, the treasonable proclamation ready, and at half-past seven the conspirators were arming themselves in the Cato Street loft by the light of two small candles. But meanwhile Ministers had information of their designs from the information of Edwards, who had revealed the whole conspiracy, and instead of dining at Lord Harrowby's they dined together privately in Downing Street. The preparations for the dinner at Lord Harrowby's, however, were allowed to proceed without any interruption, and a party of fourteen police, under that able police magistrate, Mr Birnie, proceeded to the place of rendezvous, where it had been arranged they were i Thistle- to be supported by a detachment of the Coldstream Trisj'se Guards. The Guards, however, were not ready to start £4; A?,TM instantly when Birnie called with the police at their

Reg. 1820, J . , . , .

3p.',33;Mar- barracks, and in consequence, thinking not a moment 242,243. was to be lost, that intrepid officer hastened on with his fourteen policemen alone.1 * 47 The first of the police who ascended the trap-stair was Coniiic'tin an active and brave officer, named Smithers, who, the the cato in moment he got to the top of the ladder, called on the Feb!2art' conspirators to surrender. As they refused to do so, he advanced to seize Thistlewood, and was by him run

* Tho delay in getting the detachment of Foot Guards ready when Birnie called at the barracks with the police, was not owing to any want of zeal or activity on tho part of that gallant corps, the detachment of which, under their noble leader, Captain Fitzclarenco, behaved with the utmost spirit, and rendered essential service in the affray when they did come up. It arose from a different meaning being attached by military men and civilians to tho words, "ready to turn out at a moment's warning." Tho former understood these words to moan, "ready to take their places in file, and be told off," when ordered to do so ; the latter, ready to face about and march straight out of the through the body and immediately fell. The lights were Chap.

instantly extinguished, and a frightful conflict began in

the dark between the police officers and the gang, in the J820course of which some dashed headlong down the trapstair, and others, including Thistlewood, made their escape by the back windows of the loft. At this critical moment the Foot Guards, thirty in number, came up with fixed bayonets, and, hastening in double-quick time to the door of the stable, arrived there as some of the conspirators were rushing out. Captain Fitzclarence, who was at their head, advanced to seize the sentinel at the door, who instantly aimed a pistol at his head, the ball of which was averted by his covering Sergeant Logge, whom it wounded. Fitzclarence upon this ordered his men to follow him into the stable, himself leading the way. He was met by a mulatto, who aimed a blow at him with a cutlass, which one of the soldiers warded off with his musket. Both these men were made prisoners. They then mounted the ladder, and five men were secured in I Tri»i of the loft, making, with those previously taken by the police, nine in all. The rest, in the darkness and con- jji fusion, had escaped, among whom was Thistlewood; but ^hronPP' a reward of £1000 having been offered for his apprehen- ss6,m;. sion, he was made prisoner the following morning in his 4iof 4eii.vl" bed.1

The Ministers, whose lives had been saved by the discovery of this conspiracy, returned thanks publicly at St Execution Paul's a few days after, and the whole respectable classes *ejmton. in the country were horror-struck at the intelligence. ay Thistlewood, Ings, Tidd, Brunt, and Davidson, were

barrack gate. The difference should be known, and is often attended with important consequences. In this instance, if the Guards had been drawn up and told off in the barrack-yard, and marched out with Birnie the moment ho arrived, the whole conspirators would at once have been taken in the loft, and perhaps no lives lost. They had been ordered to be in readiness to start at a moment's warning, but some little time was lost in putting them in their places and telling off. Another instance will occur in the sequel of this history, where a similar misunderstanding as to the meaning of these words between the magistrates and military occasioned the loss of five lives.

Chap, arraigned for high treason on the 17th of April, found

^! guilty, and sentenced to death, on proof which, though

1820- consisting in part of the testimony of two of the conspirators who were taken as king's evidence, was so confirmed by the police officers, military, and others engaged in the capture, that not a doubt could exist of their guilt. Five were sentenced to transportation for life, and one, after sentence, received a free pardon. Indeed, so far from denying their guilt, Thistlewood and Brunt gloried in it at their trial, alleging that assassination was fully justifiable in the circumstances, and that it was a fit retribution for the high treason committed against the people by the Manchester massacre.* They were executed on the 1st May, in presence of an immense crowd of spectators, many of whom evinced a warm sympathy with their fate. They behaved with great firmness in their last moments, exhibiting that mixture of stoicism and ruffianism so common in persons engaged in political conspiracies. All attempts to awaken them to any sense of religion or feelings of repentance failed, except with Davidson. "In ten minutes," said Ings, as he ascended the scaffold, " we shall v"^1}?' know the great secret." The frightful process of decapi1820 32?' tating, prescribed by the English law for cases of high cfron°946 treason> was executed, it is to be hoped for the last time, 949; Mar-' on their lifeless remains, amidst the shudders of the crowd, 243. who were more horror-struck with this relic of ancient barbarity than impressed with the guilt of the criminals.1

* "High treason was committed against the people at Manchester, but justice was closed against the mutilated, the maimed, and the friends of those who were upon that occasion indiscriminately massacred. Tho Prince, by the advice of his Ministers, thanked the murderers, still reeking in the gore of their victims. If ono spark of honour, if one spark of independence Btill glimmered in the breasts of Englishmen, they would have risen as one man. Insurrection then became a public duty, and the blood of the victims should have been the watchword for vengeance on their murderers. Albion is still in the chains of slavery. I quit it without regret. I shall soon be consigned to the grave; my body will be immured beneath the soil whero I first drew breath. My only sorrow is, that tho soil should bo a theatre for slaves, for cowards, and for despots. I disclaim any personal motives. My every principle was for the prosperity of my country. My every feeling, the height of my ambition, was

« ForrigeFortsett »