Wednesday, 22 August 2012

22nd August 1812: General Maitland gives the Home Office his view of the recent West Riding riots

22nd August

My dear Sir

I wrote you a short note the night before last from Sheffield.

Yesterday there was no Post, but I had a good deal of conversation with the Magistrates of Sheffield, and with Lord Fitzwilliam & St Francis Wood.

I find it is their united Opinion, that the late occurrences at Sheffield, entirely arise from the high Price of Flour, & in this Opinion I am not only inclined to concur, but I own, I think this kind of tumultuous Proceeding is so far salutary, that it completely explains its Object, and End, and naturally leads one to suppose, there is nothing beyond what shews itself.

On my arrival here last night, I understood there had been some symptoms of the same Spirit shewn here, & in seeing this Morning Coll. Campbell from Leeds, I have received from him a Report, of similar Proceedings having taken place there: All this however is in itself nothing, & it must be acknowledged, the Price of which the People complain, is unaccountably high, and I understand too, from every Enquiry, infinitely higher than in London.

The unfortunate circumstance that took place in Sheffield of their not suffering Voluntarily, but tolerating without proceeding to Extremity the Sale of Flour at Three shillings, instead of Seven Shillings, has led considerably I believe to the appearances of Tumult at Leeds, and some trifling symptoms of it here: But all these have no relation to, or connexion with the System that is alone dangerous here “To Wit”, that of Secret Meetings, and treasonable Oaths.—

A Relief from the immediate high Price, will set all this to rest, and I should apprehend that Relief, is nearly at hand, for the Price of Wheat fell considerably in the Market here yesterday, though the Price of Flour kept up, and if I am not grossly misinformed, there was too yesterday a small Importation of Wheat from London, which in itself must produce an immediate fall.—

In regard to the general state of this Riding, looking at it in quite a Separate View, from these Symptoms of Riot, I can say not much in its favor—

I own it appears to me, that we have never looked at it here fully in the Face, but that we are trying to suppose, that tranquillity exists where every thing is at the same time to the knowledge of all, Hollow, and Unsound.—

One would naturally think, that where Reports were made so favorable, as I understand they have been, by the Committees of the Lieutenancy, and Magistracy, that Security, and Confidence, would have been reestablished, and that the common course of the Law, would have been administered with Promptitude and Cordiality; This I apprehend, however, is by no means the Case, I believe that a System of Terror universally prevails, and that we are merely shutting our Eyes to an Evil small in Amount, but serious in its Nature, from the dread of trying totally to extirpate it.

I have not yet had time sufficient, to make myself so thoroughly Master of the Subject, as to give any decided Opinion, either of the exact State of the Riding, or of the Measures adviseable to be pursued as I could wish.—

My general Opinion however is, from every thing I have heard here, coupled with what I have seen elsewhere, that I have been perfectly correct, in the Statements I have frequently made to Lord Sidmouth, that the Thing has no Head, and I am now rather inclined to believe, the numbers of the Active are smaller than I have heretofore supposed, but I cannot have a doubt, that the Spirit is most Mischeivous, and as far as my Opinion at present goes with regard to Measures, I have no difficulty in saying, that I believe the only Thing that will give Security to this part of the Country in the long Nights that are approaching, will be, a most Active Use of the Troops, under proper Police Officers, for the Period we have antecedent to the Setting in of Winter.—

I shall write more fully upon this Subject tomorrow and

My dear Sir
Ever Your’s—
T Maitland

[To] John Becket Esqr.
&c &c &c

THis letter can be found at HO 42/126.

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