Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

man of the ward of Farringdon-Without; and on the second of February he was again expelled the House of Commons for publishing some prefatory remarks to a Letter written by Lord Weymouth, and which the House voted to be "insolent, scandalous, and seditious."

In April 1770, Mr. Wilkes was discharged from confinement; on which occasion the metropolis was partially illuminated, and transparencies, with No. 45, blue candles, &c. were exhibited, from respect to the man whom the people regarded as the Martyr of Liberty.

In the year 1771, the Case of the Printers, as it has been termed, greatly agitated the public mind. The House of Commons, on alleged charges of breach of privi◄ lege in reporting the speeches of the members, ordered the publishers of two newspapers to appear at their bar; which order was not obeyed. The Serjeant at Arms was then ordered to take them into custody; but he not suc◄ ceeding, a royal proclamation was issued, offering a reward for their apprehension. Soon afterwards, Mr. J. Wheble, one of the offenders, was taken by a journeyman printer, and carried before Wilkes, who happened to be the sitting Alderman at Guildhall. Finding that there was no other authority for the detention of Wheble than the proclamation, Mr. Wilkes ordered him to be discharged; and then bound him over to prosecute the man who had forcibly taken him.

The House of Commons were greatly irritated at this contempt of their authority, and ordered the Lord Mayor and the two Aldermen to appear before them. Wilkes refused to appear, unless he was summoned as member for Middlesex ; but the others attended in their places as Members, and were committed to the Tower.

In the year 1778, it having become the general opinion of liberal-minded men that the laws against Papists were much too rigorous to be enforced in an enlightened age, an Act of Parliament had been passed for "relieving his Majesty's subjects, professing the Romish religion, from certain penalties and disabilities imposed upon them in the eleventh and twelfth years of the reign of King William the Third." This act led many of the lower class of rigid Protestants to express great apprehensions of the increase

of Popery, and to exclaim against the late act, by which they thought it was countenanced and supported. A petition was framed for its repeal, and so much industry was employed to procure signatures, that the names of upwards of 120,000 persons were affixed to it: many of whom Lord North, the minister, declared to be fictitious persons.

The petition being thus prepared, a general meeting of the Association was held on the evening of May the twentyninth, 1780, at Coachmakers' Hall, Noble Street; when Lord George Gordon moved the following resolution: "That the whole body of the Protestant association do attend in St. George's Fields, on Friday next, at ten of the clock in the morning, to accompany his Lordship to the House of Commons on the delivery of the Protestant Petition.' This was carried unanimously. His Lordship then said, if less than twenty thousand of his fellow citizens attended him on that day, he would not present their Petition.'

[ocr errors]

Accordingly, on Friday, June the second, the day appointed, about ten o'clock in the morning, a vast concourse of people from all parts of the city and suburbs, assembled in St. George's Fields near the Obelisk. The main body, amounting to at least 50,000, took their route over London Bridge, marching in order, six or eight in a rank, through the city towards Westminster. Each division was preceded by its respective banner, having the words No Popery. At Charing Cross, the multitude was increased by additional numbers on foot, on horseback, and in carriages; so that by the time the different parties had met together, all the avenues to both Houses of Parliament were entirely filled with the crowd.

[ocr errors]

Thus were commenced the dreadful proceedings distinguished by the appellation of the Riots of the year 1780.' The rabble took possession of all the passages leading to the House of Commons, from the outer doors to the very entrance for the members, which they twice attempted to force open; and a like attempt was made at the House of Lords, but happily they did not succeed in either instance. They then separated into parties, and commenced the work of destruction by partly demolishing the Roman Catholic chapels in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

Warwick Street, Golden Square; and all the furniture, ornaments and altars of both chapels were commited to the flames.

On Sunday afternoon, a mob of many thousands assembled in Moorfields, and with the cry of No Papists! Root out Popery!' they attacked the Catholic chapel in Ropemaker's Alley; and having demolished the inside, they carried the altars, pulpit, pictures, seats, &c. into the street, and committed them to the flames. More mischief was prevented by the arrival of a party of the guards, when the rioters immediately began to disperse. Early on the following morning, however, they assembled again on the same spot, and demolished the school, and three dwellinghouses belonging to the Priests, in Ropemaker's Alley, together with a valuable library. They now divided into parties, and threatening destruction to all who should oppose them, they proceeded to different quarters of the town, burning and destroying everywhere.

The prison of Newgate was the next object of attack; but the mob, "like regular assailants, did not proceed to storm before they had offered terms." They demanded from the keeper, Mr. Ackerman, the release of their confined associates, as the only means to save his mansion. He refused to comply, yet dreading the consequence, he went to the Sheriffs to know their pleasure. On his return he found that his house was in flames; and the gaol itself was soon in a similar situation. The doors and entrances had been broken open with pick-axes and sledge-hammers; and it is scarcely to be credited with what celerity the gaol was destroyed.

The Public-Office in Bow Street, and the house of that active magistrate Sir John Fielding, adjoining, were presently gutted, to use the language of the rabble, and all their furniture and effects, books, papers, &c. committed to the flames. Justice Coxe's, in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, was similarly treated; the two prisons at Clerkenwell were set open, and the prisoners liberated. Many outrages were committed in the borough of Southwark; several Catholic chapels and private dwellings were burnt in various parts, particularly about Kent Street and its environs. The King's Bench Prison, with three houses

adjoining, a tavern, and the New Bridewell, were also set on fire, and almost entirely consumed.

The rioters now appeared to consider themselves as superior to all authority; and not only openly avowed their intention to destroy certain private houses of the Catholics, but also declared an intention to burn the public prisons, and demolish the Bank, the Temple, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, the New River Head, the Royal Palaces, and the Arsenal at Woolwich. The attempt upon the Bank was actually made twice in the course of the day, but both attacks were feebly conducted, and the rioters easily repulsed, several of them falling by the fire of the miltary, and many others being wounded.

To form an adequate idea of the distresses of the neigh bouring inhabitants, and indeed of the inhabitants in every part of the city, is perhaps impossible. Men, women and children, were running up and down with beds, glasses, bundles, or whatever they wished most to preserve; and in streets where there were no fires, numbers were removing their goods and effects at midnight. The shouts of the rioters were heard at one instant, and at the next the dreadful report of soldiers' muskets, as if firing in platoons, and at various places: in short, every thing which could impress the mind with ideas of universal anarchy and approaching desolation seemed to be accumulating. Sleep and rest were things not thought of; the streets were swarming with people; and uproar, confusion, and dismay, reigned in every part." Six-and-thirty fires were all to be seen blazing at one time in the metropolis during night.

The numerous victims to insulted justice which military interference spread before the eyes of the rioters, and the continual arrival of fresh troops from all parts of the country within fifty or sixty miles of the metropolis, had their full effect of intimidation. The riots were quelled; and many inconsiderate wretches who had engaged in them were secured on the Thursday in various parts of the town. On this day, London may have been said to have borne great similarity to a city recently stormed. The RoyalExchange, the public buildings, the squares, and the principal streets, were all occupied by troops; the shops

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

were closed, and business was entirely at a stand, whilst immense volumes of dense smoke were still rising from the ruins of consumed buildings. No disturbance occurring during the night, the alarm gradually subsided, and on Friday business was began to be transacted as usual.

The number of lives that were lost during the continuance of the Riots, was never perhaps correctly ascertained. The return given of the killed and wounded by the military was as follows: killed by the Association, Militia, and Guards, 109; ditto by the Light Horse, 101; died in hospitals, 75; total, 285. Prisoners under cure, 73. Within a few days after the suppression of the mob, a Special Commission was issued for trying the rioters in Southwark; but those of London were left to the regular course of the sessions at the Old Bailey, which chanced to be near. The number of persons tried for rioting in the latter court was eighty-five, of whom thirty-five were capitally convicted in Southwark, fifty persons were tried as rioters, twentyfour of whom were adjudged guilty. Between twenty and thirty of the most active of the convicted rioters were executed in a few days after their trials in different parts of the town, but immediately contiguous to the scene of their respective devastations.

Two events of minor importance excited a great degree of the public attention in the course of this year, 1784. The first was the Commemoration of Handel in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon; and the other, the ascent of Vincent Lunardi, an Italian, in aBalloon from the Artillery Ground: this was the first aërial voyage that was ever carried into effect in Great Britain; and from 150,000 to 200,000 spectators are supposed to have assembled to witness the experiment.

On the third of February, 1794, a dreadful accident happened at the Little Theatre, in the Haymarket, through the pressure of the crowd, who had assembled in great numbers, in consequence of the play on that night having been commanded by their Majesties. On opening the pit door, the rush was so strong, that a number of persons were thrown down, and fifteen persons deprived of life, and upwards of twenty others materially injured, by bruises and broken limbs. Most of the sufferers were respectable

« AnteriorContinuar »