Saturday, 30 June 2012

30th June 1812: Colonel Fletcher writes to the Home Office with news of plots here, there & everywhere

Bolton 30th June 1812

Dear Sir

The following is a copy of a Letter which I received several days ago from Mr Higgin the Gaoler of Lancaster Castle — The Information appeared to me important and conceiving that some further disclosure might be made by Samuel Ratcliffe (one of the Convicts now under Sentence of Transportation administering an Unlawful Oath to Serjeant Holland Bowden) I requested Mr Higgin to elicit from him (if he could) all the Information possible. —Mr Higgin has sent me Word that he will take every opportunity of complying with my request – and it has been under an Expectation of such further Intelligence that I have delayed to transmit this Copy.

I find Ratcliffe has not been sent off with the other convicts but still remains at Lancaster — and for this I presume will meet his Lordship's Approbation—if it has not already been signified to Mr Higgin—

Lancaster - Castle 15 June 1812

Dear Sir

I have had some Conversation with Samuel Ratcliffe one of the Convicts now under Sentence of Transportation from Bolton.

He tells me that the Gentlemen concerned in the late present treasonable practices are extremely cautious in their Conduct. After they have held a meeting it is not known which of them forwards the Intelligence to the next organized place. For Instance, if any new Information is to be sent from Bolton to Preston, the papers go through several Hand in [illegible] before they are given to the real messenger, who is called a Delegate. He finds the papers by going to a Field where there is an appointed Mark. With the papers. With the papers he finds a Counterpart Card, which he takes with him to another Field near Preston where he finds another Mark, and the Counterpart of his Card. Here he leaves the Papers until they are fetched away by a Stranger in the night. Next night he resorts to the same Place and finds the answer. The meetings are held every 3 or 4 Weeks, and if a Delegate is detected or suspected, the Sign, Countersign and Counterpart Card are immediately altered. He says there is a meeting held at Manchester for the District, and a large Fund for the maintenance of active members.—From what he has heard he believes there are many Thousand Pikes already made of a particular Construction. The Pike Part is called the Drill because it is like the Pointril of a Blacksmiths drill. The Crescent with two Edges is called Sniggar. The Whole Pike consists of 3 Parts and can be taken in Pieces. It fits together by a Socket with a Pin & Screw.—It is a general Rule never to keep any Books or Pikes in a House longer than Part of a night for Fear of a Search, therefore every thing is left out of Doors.

He supposes the printed papers are done by what are called the Opposition Printers in every Town—no name is placed in the usual Way. All Information is conveyed from Town to Town by the Delegate messengers. He believes the Union or Combination began in London, goes through Nottingham and from thence to Manchester and Carlisle. Small towns lying between principal places are not yet organized, only some of the Trades in them have taken the first Oath. There is a second Obligation taken by superior Persons. When a list of Names is transmitted there is a mark opposite the Name to denote the Profession or Trade. Ratcliffe has mentioned several Names, that are very familiar to you, apparently respectable Characters in your Town, such as Crook - Taylor - Hartley - Belshaw - Hulme and Cross. Should there be any thing that will be new in this account to Mr Hay, your Chairman, you may forward this Letter to him – you must excuse this Scrawl, for I have been employed all Day in sending Letters to my Friends in the House of Commons in Vindication of my own Character. I intend to send another Party of Convicts by Coopers Coach on Friday next—

I am
Dear Sir
Yours very respectfully
Signed—John Higgin

To Ralph Fletcher Esqr
Some of the Persons named above, as connected with the Seditious I am told are under some degree of alarm — Taylor is a doctor of Physic and during his academic Studies at Edinburgh in the early part of the French Revolution held such violent language against Government and in Favor of an Invitation of the French, as drew upon him the course of the [Superior] and had nearly caused his Expulsion — He (as was also his late Father) is of the Socinian School, and holds [deep], on every occasion when not deterred by prudential Considerations—both the established Religion & Government of the Country to the Hatred of the people—He is connected with the Edinburgh Review—and there is reason to believe corresponds with Brougham. The enclosed Note from R: Needham informs me that Taylor & Crook were collecting Evidence—to form the Subject of a Motion to Parliament I am not surprized at the Intelligence as knowing it to be the System of that desperate Faction to exhibit, as far as within lies—all Magistrates & others in Authority to the odium of the People—both Taylor & Crook (his Brother in Law) attended the last Special Assizes—and through them came the Money for the Expence of the Defence of the Prisoners. Hartley is a Printer for the Party – as described by Ratcliffe — Belshaw I know nothing of — Hulme is the most notorious – having proceeded in Encouragement of his Servants by seditious Language to a Length little short of Treason.—It is supposed that some of these persons are on their Way to Town at the Call of Mr Brougham.

Cross is an attorney of this Town & in considerable Business, In the Employment of the Party he may have gone certain Lengths but was not suspected by me of having engaged in the Business con amore untill Ratcliffe assertions as contained in the letter.

On the 26 instant I sent a Note to General Maitland acquainting him that Six of the militia quartered at Mottram a Village in Cheshire about 4 miles distant from Ashton Under line (in Lancashire) had been twisted in, the Sunday before, on a moor in the Neighbourhood on the Sunday morning before. The information came from B and he assures me it may be depended upon—I have no doubt but the General will cause that Detachment to be watched.

The Manchester Luddites are busied presumably with raising money for the Support of the 37 men lately committed to Lancaster and for the maintenance of their Families. I am not without hopes that the Extent of the Sums necessary for these Purposes will give our People a good opportunity of discovering the Sources from whence the pecuniary aid must flow.—Contributions from the Weavers cannot I think be great—The other Trades are more organized—such as Spinners Taylors &c &c – and probably something considerable may be derived from those Sources;—but I cannot help concluding that there is a Secret Fund—supplied by aid from from Quarters yet undiscovered.

B is confident that in the neighbourhood of Stockport Ashton - Mottram &c the Luddites are possessed of considerable numbers of Stands of Arms—and that many of them are acquainted with military Discipline—many of the Delegates that have visited B. from the Country before mentioned seem eager to make a Start (as they term a Firing) before the Trial of those lately committed from Manchester should take place—and the Intelligence derived from others seems to point out the projected Rising – after the Hay-Harvest.—But unless the disaffected in Ireland shall lead the Way in the Rebellion I trust the Luddites in England will not dare to come forward in the open Field—The Obstacles to Revolution are yet considerable – and the Parliamentary Pioneers of Faction must first level these Obstacles before their Rebellion can be waged with any prospect of Success—It is their Plan & will incessantly be attempted to [prostrate] the Barriers of the Constitution—considering wisely enough though in a bad Cause—that the Capture of the Citadel will be sooner & more easily accomplished by breaking Ground & maintaining Batteries at the shortest distance from it.—

I remain [etc]
Ra: Fletcher

To John Beckett Esqr

This letter can be found at HO 42/124.

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