Tuesday, 17 April 2012

17th April 1812: Colonel Fletcher's Manchester spy, John Bent, meets an Irish Rebel, Patrick Cannovan

On Friday 17th April, Colonel Ralph Fletcher's spy in Manchester, the cotton dealer John Bent or 'B' submitted another report.

Two days earlier, he had met with a man called Smith from Northenden. Smith was an activist who had been travelling as far as Congleton to further 'the business', and his group was receiving help from Stockport and were familiar with the use of arms.

Bent remarked that he felt the country was in a bad state: people openly damned the government, and that discontent was widespread, so much so that no one is surprised when such sentiments are expressed.

On the 16th, he had met a man called Eastwood from Burnley. Eastwood had observed that 'jacks' (i.e. Jacobins) were beginning to take an interest in affairs given the atmosphere. He and Bent discussed the situation at Accrington, noting that many of the 'bad set' of shawl printers in that town had left because business was so bad. They had gone to Scotland, where the trade was less mechanised.

At 7.00 p.m., Bent was passed a note, informing him that the Irish delegate, Patrick Cannovan, had arrived in Stockport, and he made his way there to meet him. They met with some others at an un-named public house on Edward Street, and Cannovan proceeded to relate to them his travels in Scotland and Ireland and dealings with underground Committees in Belfast and Glasgow. He related the numbers enrolled in 'the business' in each town that he learned about and spoke about the Belfast Committee in details and at length. The committee gave Cannovan £6 towards his expenses and pledged their support for anything that might occur in England.

Bent stayed at his sister's overnight, and went to meet Cannovan again the next day, this time alone. They met at the Brown Bull on Hillgate, and talked in detail about Cannovan's dealing with a secret Committee in Dublin, who pledged their support for fellow Committees in England and Scotland. They talked of how the authorities in Ireland had seized arms and how they were hard to come by, which meant that Dublin castle would have to be seized to gain control. The Dublin Committee were so impressed with Cannovan that they gave him a silver medal with the word 'integrity' emblazoned on it. They met in a 'genteel house' on St Stephen's Green in the city where 'no one would suspect' them.

Cannovan told Bent he was due to leave for London on Monday 20th and planned to travel via Birmingham and return via Derby to take in as many towns as he cold before returning to Stockport.

In his report, Bent described Cannovan as "one of the dengerst men I heaver was with in all the that I have Been Concerned with", and revealed he had been an officer under General Holt in the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. He gave a physical description too: he stood 5 feet 10 inches high, with a wound on his left arm above the elbow, which he had shown to Bent. He was aged about 40, had a dark complexion, dark eyes and was slender, with a genteel appearance and a sharp nose, well-dressed in Black with Hessian boots. Bent said he spoke good English and was "free from the Irish Twang as maney of the Irish Make use of in their discors".

Bent's report can be found at HO 40/1/1. What is notable about this report is that despite the fact that extensive rioting had taken place in Stockport on the 14th of April, Bent does not remark upon it at all. Also, Bent seems to mix up the days and the dates in the report - he says he met Cannovan with others in Stockport on the evening 17th (Friday), but then goes on to say he stayed with his sister on Thursday and met Cannovan privately the next day at 10.00 a.m. I have assumed he was notified of Cannovan's presence and met him late on the 16th, stayed overnight at his sister's and then met him again privately the next day, this being Friday 17th.

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