Sunday, 8 July 2012

8th July 1812: The Committee of Secrecy give their report to the House of Commons about the Luddite disturbances

On Wednesday 8th July, nine days after it was appointed, the parliamentary committee of secrecy gave their report into the Luddite disturbances. The report was read out in the House of Commons:

The Committee of Secrecy, to whom the copies of the information which has been received, relative to certain violent proceedings which, in defiance of the laws, have taken place, and continue to be carried on, in several counties of England, (sealed up) were referred—have, pursuant to the Order of the House, examined the matters thereof, and have agreed to the following Report:—

“Your Committee having examined the papers and documents referred to them, are concerned to state, that from the several sources of information therein contained, it appears that some months past serious alarming disturbances, destructive to property, and highly dangerous to private safety and the public peace, have prevailed in a very extensive populous manufacturing district, comprising certain parts of Lancashire and of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and certain part of Cheshire bordering upon Lancashire.

“That the outrages in the above district, brought to the notice of your committee, commenced about the end of February last, and continued (though not without occasional variation and temporary abatement) to the latest period (the 23d of June) at which any information has been received. During this period, rioters in large numbers have assembled in the night time; some of them, disguised by blackened faces, some armed with guns and pistols, and others with the implements of their trade, to be used as offensive weapons, have broken into various houses, particularly those of manufacturers who made use of shearing frames, have destroyed machinery, sometimes plundered the inhabitants, and burnt their houses and factories, exciting and keeping a perpetual terror in the country, by threatening letters and other means of intimidation, occasionally executing a threat against proprietors and others, not only by the destruction of the property, but by firing into the houses. It appears also, that in some instances attempts have been made on the lives of those who had been actively employed in endeavouring to suppress the tumults; and the atrocious murder of Mr. Horsfall, a very respectable manufacturer in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, in the month of April, by four men who fired at him with slugs in the public road, in broad day, together with the other acts of violence, caused a great and general consternation over all the district.

“It may be proper to add, that parties of the rioters assemble, have, in several instances, demanded and obtained money from individuals by threats and terror.

“Your committee do not think it necessary to describe the numerous acts of outrage that have been committed, conceiving it sufficient for the purposes of the report, to inform the house of the general state of the disturbed parts, without any particular detail of specific facts.

“The object of these lawless proceedings, at the commencement of them, appears to have been the destruction of machinery:—but very early in their progress another object, still more formidable to the public security, has been developed; large bodies of men having assembled in the night, breaking open houses, and demanding arms with threats and violence.—This practice has been actively persevered in; and though in some cases the plunder of property has accompanied both the destruction of machinery and the demanding of arms, yet it is material to observe, that in general these two objects seen exclusively to have been aimed at; and when these had been attained, every other species of property, though within their reach, has, in most instances, remained untouched. It is stated, that in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, all the arms have been taken; and that in other parts the seizure of them has been considerable; and there is reason to apprehend, that the rioters have different sorts of arms concealed. It appears evident to your committee, that these outrages have not been committed from any sudden impulse of unconnected individuals, but have been the result of organized systems of unlawful violence; that language of the most mischievous nature has been used among the rioters, and a sort of military training and discipline has been established.

“In making attacks upon houses, they sometimes appear to have been under the control of their leaders, but have acted upon signals. Rolls have been called over, distinguishing every man, not by his name, but by number; rockets and blue lights have been seen at night, which are stated, by the persons making the communications, to have been signals made use of by the rioters. It is also represented, that there are establishment of committees, under the name of local committees, secret committees, and executive committees; that they use signs and countersigns, to guard them against the intrusion of informers; and that they carry on their proceedings with the greatest secrecy and caution.

“It appears also the delegates for various places have been appointed, and meetings of those delegates occasionally held; that there is a frequent communication between the several committees and towns, not through the ordinary conveyance of the post-office, but through the medium of delegates; and that the following Oath has been extensively administered:

“ ‘I A.B. of my own voluntary will, do declare and solemnly swear, that I will never reveal to any person or persons, in any place or places under the canopy of heaven, the names of the persons who compose the secret committee, either by word, deed, or sign; their proceedings, meeting place, abode, dress, features, marks, complexion, connections, or anything else that may lead to discovery of the same; on the penalty of being put out of the world by the first brother that shall meet me, my name and character blotted out of existence, and never be remembered but with contempt and abhorrence. I further swear, that I will use my best endeavours to punish by death any traitor or traitors, should any rise up amongst us, he or them; and though he should fly to the verge of nature, I will pursue him with unceasing vengeance. So help me God, to keep this Oath inviolable.’

“It appears that they who were sworn in, were to pay the weekly sum of twopence; that in the meetings of delegates at Manchester, from the neighbouring towns, discord has occasionally arisen from some of the delegates not bringing from their respective districts the contributions that were due. No evidence or information, that has been laid before your committee, justifies the supposition, that any sums of money have been distributed amongst the rioters.

“It appears also, that attempts have been made to create a persuasion amongst the persons engaged in the disturbances, that their proceedings are likely to be supported by similar combinations in London and in other parts of Great Britain, as well as in Ireland; and that they are countenanced by individuals of a higher class and description, who are to declare themselves at a future time. But no evidence has been laid before your committee sanction any such reports.

“It appears to your committee, that even in the cases in which the outrages have been most clearly ascertained, it has been found extremely difficult, and in some instances impossible, to obtain evidence as to the persons by whom they were committed.

“Of the numbers associated in the different parts of the disturbed district, your committee have not any information that can be satisfactorily relied upon; but that it is considerable, the papers laid before them give sufficient ground to think. Neither can they presume to state, what is the ultimate object the persons thus associated, have in view, nor for what precise purpose it is, that these extensive combinations have been formed. But whatever may be the object, or whoever may be the secret movers, whether these combinations are confined to purposes relating exclusively to trade, or whether advantage has been taken of the distresses of the times to draw together, under that pretence, all discontented persons, with views hereafter to be developed; yet the secrecy and method apparent in the whole arrangement, the system of terror so industriously enforced by threats, assassination, and attempts at assassination, the oath administered, the eagerness and activity in procuring arms, and the training, before mentioned, are all circumstances which have not failed to impress upon the minds of your committee, a strong sense of the danger arising from such combinations, to the peace and security of the country.”

July 8, 1812.

This is from Parliamentary Debates, vol.23 (pp.951-956)

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