Saturday, 23 June 2012

23rd June 1812: Major General Stevenson expresses concerns about the situation in the West Riding to the Home Secretary

Wakefield 23 June 1812

My Lord

In times like the present when the Government of the Country is in jeopardy, the important measures which imperious necessity calls for makes me believe your Lordship will not think a Letter on the subject troublesome. I have been here sometime Inspecting the Local Militia of this disturbed District (the West Riding) & I have found the Country in the State which I predicted last year on my return to London from this duty. I gave his R Hs the Duke of York a Letter upon the subject. He was struck with the Defenceless state of this populous Riding & proposed sending me to take the Command, but HM Ministers informed him last Septr that they had it not in contemplation to continue an Officer beyond the Three Inspection Months. HRH having thus fulfilled his Duty had nothing more to do than wait until Events should induce his M Ministers to direct Him to take some steps to check this Mischief of which he had been forewarned but not permitted to check, this observation does not apply to your Lordship but it is justice to the Comr in Chief who attends to the reports of his Generals and who would but [from] [them] at present my Lord I am sorry to say the Civil Power is parelized & the Democratical Party know it. They govern the Country by a System of Terror and make no hesitation in declaring their intentions of destroying such a Person or such a Property if any Informations are given by the Inhabitants, and they have in several instances carried these threats into execution, the Magistrates are afraid to Act, these Republicans (for such is their object) meet 2 or 3 times in the Week on the Moors at 12 oclock PM & generally Drill their Troops two Hours, the Magistrates say they have no other power than to recommend to the People to go quietly home. I have offered to march some Troops & take these people, but they say the Law will not authorize them—These Republicans are organized &, have regularly their Centinels on Duty, & demand the Countersign & [illegible], they have the regular System of War, should it unfortunately be true that, the Civil Power can only give good advice, instead of Proving the Protection of the Law, it, will prove the Cradle of the Rebellion, the Country is armed & should be disarmed, this measure would force the Rebels into Action before, they were ready, shd they resist, we shall know their strength and if they could not make resistance, would prevent the Rebellion breaking out, the Military Force of England is weak when compared to the Armed & well Drilled Population of England. Your Lordship will recollect that this year the, Services of most of the Local Militia expires, & that whole Regts of well disciplined Men are let loose — the Halifax Regt which I inspected last week, are as firm a Regt & as well disciplined as the Troops of the Line, above 700 of them have served their term, & will not re engage, their Officers have [tried] it, the Non Commissd Officers say the Men are all Luddites, & will join those disturbers of the Public Peace, your Lordship will receive some reports from the Neighbourhood of Halifax, of a serious nature — here I am obliged to Barrack Troops in the Villages around this place, my head Quarters here is in the midst of these Redressers—I could have reengaged many of the Local if Authorized to have paid them the £2. 20d on the day previous to the Expiration of their Drill, indeed my Lord it is necessary that Lieut Genl Grey should have discretional Powers, to enable him & his Generals to avail themselves of any favorable occurrences. The Local Militia shd have a longer term of Service, & the Age extended to 45 — the Volunteers shd be disbanded or obliged to do the Duty if Piquit with, the Regular Forces in every Market Town, the late Lord Melville told me that, was their duty, & called them Armed Constables, at present they are useless & expensive &, have only entered into that association to avoid the Militia. The Luddites have Emissaries going about the Country to gain Proselytes yet they keep so near the Pale of the Law that they cannot be taken up, as matters now stand (Mr Wendhams sentiment of a Vigor beyond the Law, Mr Pitt acted upon & kept the Country quiet, he then got a Bill of Indemnity passed — It is not generally understood that Livery Stable Keepers shd Billet Troops — this ought to be made Public as some Magistrates doubt it – and it becomes extremely necessary now, in Order not to separate the Troops when assembled for Exercise—I am concerned your Lordship will see the necessity of the Troops being withdrawn as much as possible from the People least they should be seduced from or neglect their Duty. I have told the Court of Lieutenancy here that I will give no Detachments to the Villages except they will Barrack them, as they would otherwise be assassinated. The Court have consented & when I have finished this Letter I shall get on Horseback & visit the Villages around this Place. I never can move Troops without the Spies of these Redressers communicating it to their Party—at this place Govermt ought to have a small Barrack that many good houses which might be bought Cheap for this purpose (provided it was not known for what purpose) & then if a Company of the Corps of Articifers were sent here to arrange & finish them the expense would be trifling—the Commg Officers would be able to buy the cheap as a Private Person who was going to reside — probably, as any Inspections will cease about the middle of next Month Genl Grey will direct me to proceed to London & report to the Comr in Chief all that has passed, or that I think may pass in this disturbed District. I have thrown these few observations on paper as I wish your Lordship to be of importance service to any Administration you may join I beg your Lordship to be assured of the respectable esteem & regard of your Lordships

Sincere friend & Humbl Servt
Chas Stevenson

[To] Viscount Sidmouth
& c &c

[From: Major General Stevenson]

This letter can be found at HO 42/124.

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