Friday, 4 January 2013

4th January 1813: Baron Thomson's charge to the Grand Jury at the York Special Commission

The Judges at the York Special Commission: Baron Alexander Thomson (left) & Sir Simon le Blanc (right)
The York Special Commission had formally opened on Saturday 2nd January 1813, but the business of the Commission started the following Monday 4th January, with the swearing in of the Grand Jury by one of the Judges, Baron (Sir Alexander) Thomson. The other Judge was Sir Simon Le Blanc. Both Judges had presided over the Lancaster Special Commission 8 months previously, where they had handed down 8 death sentences.

The Grand Jury, which including the West Riding magistrate Joseph Radcliffe, were as follows:

The Hon. Henry Lascelles of Stainsby, Foreman
The Hon. William Gordon of Rudding Park
Sir Bellingham Reginald Graham, of Norton Conyers, Baronet
Sir Henry Carr Ibbetson, of Denton Park, Baronet
Sir Mark Masterman Sykes, of Sledmere, Baronet
James Archibald Stuart-Wortley, of Wortley Hall, Esquire
Robert Frankland, of Thirkleby, Esquire
John Robinson Foulis, of Heslerton, Esquire
Thomas Davison Bland, of Kippax Park, Esquire
John Lister Kaye, of Grange, Esquire
Thomas Norcliffe, of Langton, Esquire
John Bell of Thirsk, Esquire
Ralph Creyke, of Marton, Esquire
Hall Plumer, of Stockton Hall, Esquire
Thomas Dunscombe, of Towlston Lodge, Esquire
John York, of Halton Place, Esquire
Richard Bethell, of Catfoss, Esquire
Richard Stainforth, of Hutton Lodge, Esquire
Joseph Radcliffe, of Milnsbridge, Esquire
Robert Harvey, of Farnham, Esquire
John Wilmer Field, of Heaton, Esquire
Henry Willoughby, of Hutton, Esquire
Richard York of Wighill Park, Esquire

There appear to have been different Juries for different trials.


Counsel for the Crown were: Messrs Park, Topping, Holroyd & Richardson; Attornies, Messrs Hobhouse (London), Allison (Huddersfield), and Lloyd (Stockport)

Counsel for the Prisoners were: Messrs Brougham, Hullock, and Williams; Attorney, Mr Blackburn (Huddersfield)

Thomson's charge to the Grand Jury was as follows:
Gentlemen of the grand Inquest;—We are assembled, by virtue of his majesty's commission, to exercise the criminal judicature in this county, at this unusual season of the year for the occurrence of such solemnities. None of us, however, can be insensible of the necessity which exists for a speedy investigation of the charges against the very numerous class of prisoners in your calendar. You will perceive I allude to those persons, who are accused of having participated (and several of them in repeated instances) in those daring acts of tumultuous outrage, violence, and rapine, by which the public tranquillity has been disturbed throughout the great manufacturing district in the West Riding of this county, for a period comprising, with little intermission, almost the whole of the year which has just elapsed.

Those mischievous associations, dangerous to the public peace, as well as destructive of the property of individual subjects, and in some instances of their lives seem to have originated in a neighbouring county, and at first to have had for their object merely the destruction of machinery invented for the purpose of saving manual labour in manufactures: a notion, probably suggested by evil designing persons, to captivate the working manufacturer, and engage him in tumult and crimes, by persuading him that the use of machinery occasions a decrease of the demand for personal labour, and a consequent decrease of wages, or total want of work. A more fallacious and unfounded argument cannot be made use of. It is to the excellence of our machinery that the existence probably, certainly the excellence and flourishing state of our manufactures are owing. Whatever diminishes expense increases consumption, and the demand for the article both in the home and foreign market; and were the use of machinery entirely to be abolished, the cessation of the manufacture itself would soon follow, inasmuch as other countries, to which the machinery would be banished, would be enabled to undersell us.

The spirit of insubordination and tumult, thus originating, has spread itself into other manufacturing districts; and when large bodies of men are once assembled to act against law, the transition unhappily is too easy from one irregular act to another, even to the highest of crimes against society. And thus we find that the destruction of tools has been succeeded by destroying the houses and the workshops of the manufacturers; it has led to the violent robbery of arms, to protect the tumultuous in their illegal practices, and to enable them to resist or to attack successfully; and from the robbery of arms they have proceeded to the general plunder of property of every description, and even to the murder, the deliberate assassination, of such as were supposed to be hostile to their measures. A temporary impunity (for the law, though sure, is slow) has led on these deluded persons from one atrocious act to another; from the breaking of shears to the stealing of arms, to nightly robberies, to the destruction of property, and of life itself.

The peaceful and industrious inhabitants of the country where these enormous practices have been committed, have had the misfortune to suffer in their persons and property from the acts of men confederated against society, and executing the purposes of their association under circumstances carrying with them the utmost terror and dismay. Armed bodies of these men, in some instances several hundred in number, apparently organised under the command of leaders, and generally with their faces blacked or otherwise disguised, have attacked the mills, shops, and houses of manufacturers and others, by day as well as by night, destroyed tools worked by machinery, and in some instances shot at the persons whose property they have thus attacked. But the worst of these misdeeds is yet behind, a most foul assassination. While such outrages as those mentioned were carrying on in that part of the country, a person in a respectable station of life, returning from Huddersfield to his residence at Marsden, was fired at and shot from behind the wall of an inclosure near the road, receiving several wounds, of which he died shortly after. With this murder some of the prisoners in the calendar stand charged; and it will be your province to inquire into the foundation of that, as well as every other charge to be preferred before you against any of the prisoners, and to treat them as the evidence before you, in your judgment, shall require.

Probably it may be thought requisite, in order to substantiate the charges against the persons accused of being concerned in this murder, or other offences that may come before you, that the testimony of an accomplice should be produced; which is necessary, in many cases, in order to prevent the worst offences from escaping punishment. You will, however, attend to it with caution, taking into consideration all such circumstances as may be laid before you, tending to confirm his evidence, and to satisfy you, that in his narrative of the transaction, in which he would involve others with equal guilt with himself, he is worthy of credit. Such testimony (that is, of an accomplice) is undoubtedly competent, and it is at all times to be received and acted upon, though with a sober degree of jealousy and caution; and with such caution, you, gentlemen, in the first instance, and more especially those who shall be charged with the determination of these important issues in their final resort, will consider them.

With regard to the guilt, which persons may incur by engaging in any riotous assembly, the statute of 1 Geo. I. commonly called the Riot act, has enacted, that if any persons, to the number of twelve or more, who shall be unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace, shall not disperse, but continue in that state for the space of an hour after such proclamation made as is directed in the act, they shall be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy. And by the same statute, if any persons, so unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace, shall unlawfully and with force demolish or pull down any dwellinghouse or other buildings therein mentioned, they shall also be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.

So also by the statute of  9 George III. it is made a capital felony, for persons, being riotously and tumultuously assembled, to pull down or demolish, or to begin to pull down or demolish any wind saw-mill or other windmill, or any watermill or other mill, or to set fire to the same. In addition to which, the act of 43 Geo. III. cap. 58, has provided against the maliciously setting fire (among other things) to any mill, warehouse or shop, with intent to injure or defraud any of the king's subjects, by subjecting the offenders, their counsellors, aiders and abettors, to a capital punishment.

I do not know whether the offences, of which any of the prisoners are accused, were committed under such circumstances as will bring them within any of the acts I have stated, so that indictments may be framed upon them; but it seemed not unnecessary to state these statutes, in order to call your attention to them, in case any such indictment should be preferred.

But there is one statute, which appears to apply to the charges against the greater number of the prisoners: those who are accused of having destroyed shears employed in the woollen manufacture. By the statute of 22 Geo. III. cap. 40, if any person shall by day or night break into any house or shop, or enter by force into any house or shop, with intent to cut or destroy any serge or other woollen goods in the loom, or any tools employed in making thereof, or shall wilfully and maliciously cut or destroy any such serges or woollen goods in the loom or on the rack, or shall wilfully or maliciously break or destroy any tools used in the making any such serges or other woollen goods; every such offender shall be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.

Several of the charges, in the calendar, will probably be brought before you in the shape of indictments, either at common law for burglaries, or robberies by violence from the person, and will deserve your serious attention. Other indictments will probably be preferred for maliciously shooting at persons; which, by the statute of Geo. I, is made a capital felony, though death does not ensue.

I do not know, whether any indictments will be brought before you against any persons as accessaries, either before or after the fact, to any felonies which may become the objects of your inquiry; but it may not be unnecessary to state, upon this occasion, that there may be accessaries to all felonies committed before and after the fact, whether felonies at common law, or created such by statute: an accessary before the fact being one, who, being absent at the time of the crime committed does yet procure, counsel, or command, another to commit a felony; and an accessary after the fact being a person, who, knowing a felony to have been committed, receives, succours, comforts, or assists the felon: and generally any assistance given to the felon, to hinder his being apprehended or tried, or suffering punishment, makes the assistant an accessary; and, in some instances, accessaries to felonies are deprived of the benefit of clergy, as well as principals.

There is also an offence, which the law denominates misprision of felony; which is, the concealment of a felony which a man knows; and which is punishable as a high misdemeanor.

There is yet one species of offence contained in your calendar, which deserves to be particularly adverted to, because it is, in all probability, that which has been the means of procuring many of the deluded people who have been guilty of the outrages imputed to them, to embark and to continue in such crimes: I speak of the offence of administering unlawful oaths. By the statute of 37 George 3rd, cap. 123, it is enacted, that any person who shall, in any manner or form whatsoever, administer or cause to be administered, or be aiding or assisting at, or present at and consenting to, the administering or taking of any oath or engagement purporting or intending to bind the person taking it to engage in any mutinous or seditious purpose, or to disturb the public peace, or to be of any association, society, or confederacy, formed for any such purpose, or to obey the orders or commands of any committee or body of men not lawfully constituted, or of any leader or commander, or other person not having authority by law for that purpose; or not to inform or give evidence against any associate, confederate, or other person; or not to reveal or discover any unlawful combination or confederacy; or not to reveal or discover any illegal act done or to be done; or not to reveal or discover any illegal oath or engagement, which may have been administered or tendered to or taken by such person or persons, or to or by any other person or persons, or the import of any such oath or engagement; this offender shall be guilty of felony, and may be transported for any term not exceeding seven years: and every person who has taken any such oath or engagement, not being compelled thereto, shall also be adjudged guilty of felony, and may in like manner be transported: with a proviso, that compulsion shall not excuse any party taking such oath or engagement, unless he shall, within four days after the taking of it (unless prevented by actual force or sickness, and then afterwards within four days), declare the same, together with the whole of what he or she shall know, touching the same, and the person or persons by whom and in whose presence, and when and where such oath or engagement was administered or taken, by information on oath, in such manner as is directed by the act: and all persons aiding and assisting at, or present and consenting to, the administering or taking of any such oath or engagement, as well as all who cause such to be administered or taken, though not present at the administration of them, shall be deemed principal offenders, and be tried as such, though the person who actually administered such oath or engagement shall not have been tried or convicted. It is also enacted, that it shall not be necessary, in any indictment against any person or persons administering or causing to be administered or taken, or taking any such oath or engagement, or aiding or assisting at, or present at and consenting to the administering or taking thereof, to set forth the words of such oath or engagement, and that it shall be sufficient to set forth the purport of them, or some material part thereof: with a proviso, that any engagement or obligation whatsoever, in the nature of an oath, shall be deemed an oath within the meaning of the act, in whatever form or manner it shall be administered or taken.
By a recent statute, the 52nd of the present king, cap. 104, and which took effect from the ninth of July last, it is provided, that every person who shall administer, or be aiding or assisting at the administering of any oath or engagement, purporting or intending to bind the person taking the same to commit any treason or murder, or any felony punishable by law with death, shall suffer death as a felon without benefit of clergy; and every person who shall take any such oath or engagement, not being compelled thereto, shall be guilty of felony, and be transported for life, or for such term of years as the Court before which lie shall be tried shall adjudge: with provision for indemnifying a person taking the oath, on his discovering the same, and complying with the terms prescribed by the act.

No one, who seriously reflects on the infinite mischiefs that may happen to society, from persons associated for any unlawful purpose whatsoever, thus binding themselves to each other under what they are taught to consider as the sanction of an oath, and cementing their union in wickedness by this profane appeal to the Almighty to witness their desperate engagements, can conceive that the punishment which the legislature has provided for such offences, is in any the least degree severe.

You will perceive, that in the course of the address, with which I have now troubled you, I have forborne to advert to any other offences in the calendar than those which appear to be connected with the fatal disturbances in the West Riding, which have produced such dreadful consequences; because I am not aware that any other indictments will be brought before you upon this occasion. And if there should be such, those other offences do not appear to me to be of a nature, that to gentlemen of your description, and accustomed to such inquiries, would call for any observation from me.

I cannot conclude without expressing the utmost confidence that the country may safely rely on the vigilance and attention, with which you will proceed in the examination of the different charges to be brought before you. No indignation at the outrages which have been committed, will excite any prejudice in your minds, when you are weighing the evidence against each individual accused, and deciding how far he is personally implicated in the crime imputed to him. And however those who have been engaged in those, desperate outrages which we deplore, have thereby despised and set at nought the laws and their authority; yet, the persons who are now the objects of your inquiry, will find, that those laws will continue to be administered, not more for the detection and punishment of the guilty, than for the protection and safety of the innocent.

I cannot conclude without also expressing a thorough confidence, that, having discharged the duty which has assembled you at this time, and returned to those parts of the county where you respectively reside, your earnest endeavours will constantly be exerted to restore and preserve the public peace, and to convince those who are liable to be seduced from their duty by the arts and delusions of wicked and designing men, of the fatal consequences attendant on their giving way to such evil solicitations, or engaging in any disturbance of the public peace and tranquillity; and that you will, on all occasions and in every situation in which the country enjoys the benefit of your services, be earnest and zealous to inculcate a firm allegiance to his majesty's throne, and a reverence to the laws, and thus to promote that general regularity and order, upon which depend the peace and the comfort of civil society.

The charge to the Grand Jury is from Howell (1823, pp.966-971). The details of the Jury and legal teams can be found in the Leeds Mercury Extraordinary Edition of 9th January 1813.

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