Friday, 2 November 2012

2nd November 1812: Earl Fitzwilliam seeks General Maitland's opinion on a Special Commission to try the West Riding Luddites

November 2nd. 1812

Dear Sir

Since I had last the pleasure of seeing you, many committals to York Castle have been made, for divers of those Acts, which have been considered as of the most serious and atrocious nature. Mr. Radcliffe is now of Opinion, that he has evidence to convict both the Murderers of Horsfall, and the Assailants of Cartwrights premises, there is likewise strong presumptive nay positive evidence against Schofield for the attempt on Hinchliffe's life. It is possible likewise that Twisting in may be brought home against those committed from Barnsley.

At all events York Castle is full of Luddites: Mr. Radcliffe has alone committed 43, and when I last heard from him, had Warrants out against others.

The Evidence to be brought forward in the principal Cases, has been transmitted for the consideration of the Crown Law Officers, should it in their Opinion, be sufficient for convicting any of the Parties, or rather should they think, there was no risk of failure in every Case, the question then arises, whether it will not be adviseable to petition for a Special Commission to be sent down as early as possible. This is much the Opinion of All the Magistrates and Gentleman I have seen, the long dark Nights are now fast approaching; daring attacks on Houses by most considerable numbers, (manifestly from their modes of proceeding in a State of organized discipline,) have been very frequent of late: it is true, their chief object now appears to be Plunder; Arms they take, if they fall in their Way, but they appear no longer their first and ultimate object, as they did when the Luddite system first sprung up.

Hitherto the Luddites have in this Riding appear’d invulnerable: the system of Oaths seems to render the Parties concern’d, secure, and out of the reach of the Law, An appearance leading to an extreme danger to the peaceable part of Society, who have no Protection, but what the Law affords.

To restore therefore to the Law its efficacy, by bringing under its lash those, who set it at defiance, is indispensable, and that this should be done immediately is the anxious wish of All I see; but the restoration of tranquillity is so much placed in your hands, and you have done so much towards it, that without knowing your Opinion respecting the propriety of petitioning for a Special Commission I cannot think of making that request.—

Have the goodness to let me hear what you think on this point.—

I have [etc]
Wentworth Fitzwilliam

[To] Lt: Genl
&c &c &c

This letter can be found at HO 42/129.

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