Wednesday, 30 May 2012

30th May 1812: Henry Hobhouse writes to the Home Office about the outcome of the Chester Special Commission

May 30. 1812.


The Proceedings under the special Commission at this Place having closed, I have the Honor of inclosing to you for the Information of Mr Secretary Ryder a Calendar of the Prisoners, with the several Sentences set against their respective Names, from whence it will be seen at the general Result is as follows.

Of the 47 prisoners committed for Trial 15 have been capitally convicted, & received Sentence of Death; one of these & one other have been convicted on Indictment for a capital Offence, but their Sentence has been respited that the Opinion of the Judges may be taken on a Point of Law: 8 have received Sentence of Transportation for seven years: two are to be imprisoned for three years, & four for one year: 11 having pleaded guilty to Indictment for Riot have been discharged upon Recognizance for their good Behaviour & to appear when required: 3 been acquitted: one has been admitted on Evidence for the Crown; & two discharged by Proclamation.

The worst Cases, as well in respect to the Nature of the Offences committed, as the previous Characters of the Offenders, are those of John Temple & Joseph Thompson; whom the Judges me to leave for Execution. They likewise instead (as I have collected from Mr. Burton) to leave some others to undergo their Sentences, but I am not informed accurately of the Individuals. In my View of the Matter, it would be desirable to inflict capital Punishment on some one of each of the three Classes of capital Convicts, viz. Robbers under colour of begging, Robbers under colour of purchasing, & Breakers of Machinery.

The case on which I have had the greatest Anxiety, is that of Whittaker, whom it appeared to me very important to convict, not merely on Account of his Crime, but because he is a man of superior Ability & Education, & of proportionate importance among his Confederates. By the Exertion of Mr. Lloyd (whose merit you know too well to need any Eulogies from me) Evidence of various minute Circumstances was obtained to corroborate the Accomplice, & the Conviction was affected. On the Approval of the Trial (which was that brought forward till this day) the Prisoner intimated to the Goaler a Disposition to make some Disclosures. Yesterday Evening he was supplied with Pen & Ink, & wrote a Paper, of which I inclose a Copy for Mr Ryder's Information. Altho’ it is not unimportant, yet as it afforded no Ground for any legal Proceedings against any of the Persons mentioned in it, it was not deemed sufficient to justify us in forbearing to try Whittaker, & I hope that his subsequent Conviction will induce him to make further Discoveries, capable of being followed up with Effect. I have communicated the Contents of this Paper to Mr. Lloyd, who tho’ he suspected several of the Persons named to be of the Stockport Committee, had before no certain Information respecting some of them, & no Information at all respecting others.

The Consideration of the Act agt unlawful Oaths to which I have been led by these Cases, induces me to submit to Mr. Ryder's judgement two Points with regard to the Act which is now before Parliament. 1. Whether the great Disparity of Guilt between the Party who administers & the Party who takes the Oath (the latter of whom is frequently quite ignorant of it’s Import) may not render it expedient to leave the latter Offence to be punished by Transportation (extended perhaps to 14 years) while the former is made punishable with Death. 2. Whether it may not be advisable to allow a longer Term than four Days for the Taker of the Oath to redeem himself by giving Information to the Magistrate.

The Questions reserved for the Opinion of the Judges in the Case of Heywood & Ellis, are, first whether a Shear-Frame (wch is adapted to finishing the Cloth after it is made) be a Tool used for the making of Cloth within the 1st. Section of the Statute 22 Geo. 3. c. 40.; & secondly, whether such a Frame being fixed to a Building, & turned by a Shaft worked by a Water-Wheel, be a part of the Works of a Mill within the meaning of the 9 Geo. 3. c. 29. Recourse was had to the last Charge, on Account of the Doubt existing with regard to the first. And this leads me to draw Mr. Ryder's Attention to the Law for the Protection of Machinery; & observing the Discrepancy between the Laws Statutes relating to different Manufactures, & even between the various Clauses of the 22 Geo. 3. c. 40., I venture to suggest whether it may not be fit to pass a general Act to punish capitally the malicious Destruction of all Machinery applicable to each of the Staple Manufactures of the Kingdom throughout it’s Progress.

I shall not go from hence till tomorrow; & if I find that any of the Convicts are inclined to make Discoveries, I will remain as long as my Stay is likely to be useful.

I have [etc]

[To] John Beckett Esq

This letter can be found at HO 42/123.

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