Sunday, 6 May 2012

6th May 1812: Lieutenant-General Maitland gives his assessment of the situation in the North to the Home Office

6th May 1812


Conceiving myself now, able to give an Opinion from pretty good Information on the General state of this Part of the Country—I have the honor to submit the result of the most serious consideration I have been able to give this important subject.

It must be allowed that the high Price of Provisions, in itself must lead, to considerable degree of distress & to that species of dissatisfaction which must tend to facilitate the Views of the Promoters of any Revolutionary System.

The State of the case as far as relates to the Price of Provisions and as connected with it, the diminution of the Value of labour, stands nearly as follows.—Potatoes a great Article of consumption has risen from seven shillings to Eighteen the Load. In retail from three Pounds weight for a Penny, One Pound is only now to be had. Other Articles of the first necessity have risen, some more, some less, but all to an extent much to be regretted: Still however had the Price of Wages kept up, the distress would have been by no means considerable, these however have unfortunately fallen nearly in the same Ratio, to that in which Provisions have risen, so that where the common Weaver used to receive a Guinea and Half or Thirty shillings a Week, ten shillings I am well informed is the outside they now earn, and so that they must work six days in the Week and hard.

There are some Classes, who however still get the first mentioned Sum, and it is remarkable if I am rightly informed, that these are to the full as clamorous, as those who received a small Sum.

Under such circumstances it must naturally be expected, that great sourness & irritability will exist; This certainly is according to universally the case, and I do not think, I ever saw such strong marks of it in any instance, but were this all, the evil would be removed whenever the Price of Provisions fell, even though the Price of labour was not considerably to rise. Unfortunately however I have no doubt, there is a most mischievous spirit abroad, aiming at nothing more or less, than the subversion of the Government of the Country, and the destruction of all Property:—That such a Spirit must be guided, by some secret Head, I can have no doubt, that it is in a great state of Activity, and acquiring daily Prosylites, from the causes I have above mentioned, I think it is equally clear; At the same time I neither hold it, to be in that state of Organization or general combination credited by many:―

Were I to stay my own Opinion I would be inclined to say that this has been in some degree the case in this part of the Country for a great length of time, that it always shewed itself when circumstances were favorable to its advancement, that it has shrunk back when the state of the Country was unfavourable to its Views; and from this I am undoubtedly inclined to think, the general disposition of the People is hostile to it, and that it is only likely to gain great ground Ground, should unfortunately the Price of Provisions for a length of time continue at their present height:

At the same time, it will require I am well aware great exertion, and management to keep it down in its present shape, and this I hold is only effectually to be done by great individual exertion, on the part of the Individuals of Rank and Property in the Country.

Could we get thoroughly at the bottom of it, I am convinced it would be found to have its source almost entirely in the lower Classes of the Community, or in some ruined Man of desperate Fortune; But I fear it will be extremely difficult with any degree of certainty to come at this desirable object, and as far as I have been able to get information here, and I have seen every Body who been in the habit of giving Information to Government, and some others, I am inclined extremely to doubt whether the principal parties of this place, are themselves aware of those who are actually at the Head of this System of disorganization: As far as the intelligence goes, it is extremely contradictory in this point, Persons of various discriptions have been stated up their Meetings and in one Instance, they have gone the absurd & ridiculous length of naming of the very Highest Persons in this Kingdom: To all such statements I lend a deaf Ear, and it only proves to me, their total Ignorance of their real Heads, who naturally aware of their own insignificance wish to prop their cause with Names totally disconnected with either them or their projects.

In regard to their Organization; That they have some understanding, and more of Method than at any former Period is I apprehend indoubted: For several days they were in the habits, of making Signals, by rockets, & on the 1st of May, they undoubtedly made a Signal of a different kind, supposed by those who believed in the Intention of a general rising to be a Signal that such Rising would not take place.

For my own part however I am a total disbeliever that either such Rising was seriously intended, or that they were in a state of Organization to admit of it. I have no doubt in my own Mind, that the Policy they are pursuing, and not an unwise one for their object, is that of endeavouring by Reports of the consequence of the Individuals stated to be their real Head; By reports of various kinds of their great Strength and Organization, and of their intentions to use, to keep the Mind of the Public in that feverish State which will lead many of the Weak and timid to enter into their Views; and that they have succeeded in this Object, to a very considerable extent, is I think but too clear.—On the whole however I do not think there is any considerable Danger to be apprehended at present with proper precaution and due attention.

As to any immediate danger in this Quarter now that the Troops are assembled it is totally out of the question.

On the subject of the measures that ought to be adopted, it appears to me self obvious that presuming this is a System of disorganization, and destruction of Property; That it is in some degree of combination, and that it is proceeding somewhat systimatically to its object; The only salutary and effectual counteracting power is to be found in a similar combination of the Property to protect itself:—Here however several difficulties stand in the way.—

It is impossible to state generally the real situation in which the thing stands, which induces a very general belief, that the whole is a mere disposition to Riot, from the circumstance of the times and there is no other source whatsoever.

The very arrival too, of so large a Body of Troops has had a considerable tendency to conteract exertion from the temporary security it affords: And the true state of the Case, I believe to be, that when there were few Troops, universal terror existed, now that there are many, disposition to to great Security.―The usual habit is on the slightest cause of Alarm, to apply for Troops, and at present, instead of looking to themselves for Protection in the first instance and which is the only mode of securing their Property, they look solely to the Military.—It will be most essential I humbly apprehend under these and under the general circumstances of the Case, that Government should adopt measures, to stimulate the exertions of the Well disposed and Persons holding Property, to combine and to array themselves against these Violators of all Property

At present the Bodies we have to look to with this View, how the Local Militia and Yeoman Cavalry, and those called out, under the Watch and Ward Bill.—

In regard to the first the Local Militia, it is a most powerful Engine indeed, if properly made use off: Butt it requires management & Judgement so to use it, nor will it ever answer its End, if without reference, or communication, even among themselves of the General Officers Commanding Districts; The Lieutenancy of Counties call them out, without reference to Local Information, or of the Parties best informed of the occasion.―

You will have seen, the Proceedings of a Meeting of the Lieutenancy of this County, held on the 1st of May, which took place certainly without any communication with the General Officer Commanding, and I believe without any communication with many of the Magistrates of the most disturbed Parts of the County: it would be well if this were immediately obviated: It has occasioned very considerable Confusion in some Instances, and by drawing out Men by no means necessary, and which they themselves would have been convinced off had they known the real State of the Case: Of course it proportionally diminishes their power of calling them out, hereafter on any exigency or Emergency that may arise.

A wise and frugal use of this Arm would go far, in itself, to give ample security;—In respect to Yeomanry Cavalry I own it appears to me our addition to this Arm beyond its present Strength would be extremely desirable.—

In respect to the operation of the Ward and Watch Bill it has been carried into effect in various Parts of this District, and I have no doubt, that it ought to be carried into effect every where in these Parts:—Thus far the arrangements of Government are concerned, but when you come, to what the People themselves have done, you will find a terrible Blank inefficiency: It is true that under the Watch & Ward Bill they have sworn in Special Constables in great Numbers in various Parts: There have been partial Patroles made of these Constables, and I really believe, their Loyalty and good intentions are most undoubted, but there is a total want of all kind of organization of System among them.―

In this place I suppose near Four Thousand are sworn in, all excellent Men, but of no use till organized.—When I say this, I do not mean a regular Military organization but that species of consistency at will render them effective; by being combined in Bodies, manageable and at the same time respectable: For instance in Divisions of One Hundred or Fifty Men, with places of Alarm, assigned them, to assemble at in case of any tumult and such a Sate of Armament as would make them useful; Such bodies would be at once manageable and formidable, at present their very Numbers give no Strength and becomes in itself from its total disorganization a source of weakness, rather than of Strength.—

I stated my sentiments upon this subject yesterday to the Magistracy here, and the most Respectable Inhabitants, and I took an occasion to state at the same time, that the protection of the Military could only extend to general objects, that Individuals must combine to protect their Property; and that without such combination and great individual exertion, it would be impossible, if the present Spirit continued to prevail, for them to look either for perfect Security or Quiet.

I half promised to state my sentiments in writing upon this most important subject to the Magistracy, and I could wish to do so in a Circular letter to all the Magistracy in the Counties adjacent, but I wish to hear your Sentiments upon it, before I did it, and I meant to extend it, not only to those sworn in special Constables, but also to suggest to the persons in the Country at large, the Propriety of combining in smaller or larger Bodies as might be convenient for the same end.—Should you approve it, I have no doubt it will have a good effect and you may rely upon it, I shall be cautious in my mode of stating it.

As you have before you, most of the Information I have received, I shall not this day enter into discussion on this subject, but shall be obliged to state in a day or two my Sentiments with regard to this Head.

I have given a letter to a Mr. Loyd, who is inclined to go up, and I did not wish to stop him, though generally speaking, they could do much more good, by remaining here; I must however submit that when you see this Gentleman, or hear from others, in the Neighbourhood; That you would be good enough to signify your Wish that they should communicate with me, on all the topics they state to you in writing; As by having personal communications with them, I may be able to form a more correct judgement that can be done by mere writing, and which of course I shall communicate to you.—

The only point I shall further say a word on now, is the undoubted an almost total want of Silver Currency. Mr. Perceval has already been written to upon the occasion, and without entering for the moment into the cause of it, I shall satisfy myself with saying, I am convinced it is of the greatest importance, that some relief should immediately be granted on this Head.

I have [etc]
[Thos] Maitland

This letter can be found at HO 40/1/1.

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