Wednesday 31 July 2013

31st July 1813: A Longroyd Bridge cropper, Richard Brook, faces trial at York Summer Assizes

The York Summer Assizes commenced on Saturday 31st July 1813. Amongst the cases was that of Richard Brook, an 18 year-old cropper from Longroyd Bridge. He was accused of riotous assembly, breaking a Tenter and stealing iron pins belonging to John Drake senior on 12th May 1813.

Brook was found Not Guilty.

Saturday 27 July 2013

27th July 1813: Suicide of a Framework-knitter at Pentrich

On Tuesday 27th July 1813, the body of a framework-knitter from Nottingham called W Hall was found in a stable at Pentrich. He had hung himself. The local newspaper reported that he had suffered from depression for some time, and had left home the day before unbeknown to his family. He left a wife and seven children.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

17th July 1813: An attempted prosecution for Sedition at Bradford Sessions

On Saturday 17th July 1813 James Chapman, a worker at Bradley Mills in Huddersfield, stood trial at the Quarter Sessions at Bradford for uttering seditious expressions. The main witness against him was the zealous Huddersfield Constable George Whitehead, whom the Luddites had tried to assassinate in April 1812. The Leeds Mercury of 24th July carried a full report of the trial:



Mr. Wailes opened the pleadings by stating that James Chapman, the Defendant, by trade a Dyer, at Bradley Mills, was indicted for having a the 28th day of March last, in a public-house at Royds-Hall, near Huddersfield, used the following seditious words, with an intent to bring the Government of this country into contempt, and to alienate the minds of his Majesty's liege subjects:—"Damn the King, he is superannuated, and has been so for the last six and twenty years. We are governed by nothing but a set of damned whores, rogues and thieves. The Prince of Wales is a damned rogue, and the Princess of Wales a damned whore."

Mr. Maude very briefly stated the case for the prosecution. Some years ago he said offences of this nature were not uncommon, but happily of late charges of this kind very rarely engage the attention of the tribunals of this country. He lamented that a man in any situation should have subjected himself to be indicted for the use of such words as those charged upon the defendant, but more particularly that a person residing in a neighbourhood which had so recently been the scene of so much lawless outrage, should have expressed himself in such indecent and inflammatory language. It might have been supposed that the sacred character of Majesty with which the Prince Regent is at present clothed—that the deplorable malady under which it was the misfortune of our venerable sovereign at present to labour—and that the well established innocence of the Princess of Wales, after one of the most severe investigations that ever female conduct had been submitted to, would have protected those distinguished personages against the shafts of the defendant’s seditious malevolence; but this had not been the case, and he understood that the plea to be set up this day in his favour was drunkenness; but such a defence would not avail him, for it was well known that the effects of liquor were not to suggest seditious thoughts, but merely to remove those restraints under which evil disposed men were held by the terrors of the law while in a state of sobriety. If such a plea as this was to be admitted, Government would soon be brought into contempt and abhorrence, for it would then only be necessary for any man to drench himself with liquor, and he might while in that state be allowed to say or do whatever he thought proper. But such a defence, he was convinced, should not be tolerated by an intelligent Jury; for so far was drunkenness from forming a justification that it did in reality from an aggravation of the offence.

George Whitehead, the first witness called, said that he was the Constable of Huddersfield, and that on Sunday the 28th of March last, between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, he went to the house of Mrs. Haigh, who is a publican at Royds Hall. He found there five persons sitting drinking, Chapman the defendant, Crossley, Hanson, Thornton and Cliff, and when the witness had been in the house about twenty minutes he heard James Chapman use the seditious words stated in the indictment. He did not seem to be drunk, but was in a condition to understand the import of what he said.

On his cross examination by Mr. Hardy, the witness said, that the public-house where they were drinking is better than a mile from Huddersfield, it is out of his jurisdiction, and he got a glass of ale, are perhaps two. He entered into conversation with the company, and something was said about MAJOR CARTWRIGHT and Parliamentary Reform, but he does not recollect what. Something too was said about the Princess of Wales, but he cannot recollect what. He did not hear the defendant say that she had been ill used. Cannot recollect what the conversation was about, that brought all this abuse from Chapman! Witness dare say that he himself says something about the Princess of Wales and Major Cartwright, but does not remember what! He cannot charge his memory with any thing that was said that day but the words stated in the indictment! and these words were all spoken in succession and in connected sentences. All the other persons were present when these words were used, but he cannot remember whether they said any thing or nothing; except Hanson, who spoke highly in praise of Major Cartwright. The seditious conversation took place nearly at the time he was going out, and he thinks, what cannot be certain, that the information was laid the following day. He does not know whether a representation of this conversation has been made to Government or not.

John Cliff, the next witness called for the prosecution, said he was at Haigh Hall on the night of the 28th of March, and was in company with Chapman and Whitehead, some conversation took place about the Princess of Wales, and Chapman in reply to an observation made, he thinks by Whitehead, said, "then I must say that we are governed by a set of damned whores, rogues and thieves;" but he did not, in his hearing, apply any such terms as those mentioned by the former witness to either the King or the Prince of Wales, or the Princess of Wales. Witness had no acquaintance with Chapman, he never saw him before that day. He, the witness, was not "right steady," and he thinks Chapman was not "right steady." Nothing material came out in the man's examination, except that the witness was out of the room about twenty minutes.

John Thornton the third and last witness called for the prosecution, said, he was in the room at the time that Whitehead came in. They were talking about Parliamentary Reform, and Chapman, in answer to some remark made by Whitehead, said, "We are governed then by a set of damned whores, rogues and thieves. What would have become of the poor woman (meaning the Princess of Wales) if they had found her guilty? I suppose they would have hanged her." Witness heard Chapman say this, but he heard him say nothing about the King of the Prince of Wales. The evidence against the Defendant having closed,

Mr. HARDY rose and spoke in substance as follows: "I beg leave to claim the attention of the Court and Jury for a few moments, and only a few moments will be necessary to defeat this attempt to fix upon my client the words imputed to him in this indictment. I regret extremely that this prosecution should ever have been instituted—if it could be supposed that such a proceeding had the connivance of Government, the natural consequence would be, to bring the persons intrusted with the administration of our public affairs into contempt and derision; but I will venture to say, that it has been instituted without any direction from Government, and that though they have no doubt had before them the deposition of this notable Mr. Whitehead, they have very properly refused to take a single step in the business, and I wish it to be distinctly understood, that this is not a Government prosecution, but that it is Mr. Whitehead's prosecution. This party, it appears, were all sitting drinking in a public-house on the Sunday evening, and the conversation turned upon Major Cartwright and Parliamentary Reform; and the defendant, I imagine, spoke in terms of approbation of the Major, but there is, I hope, no sedition in that. Major Cartwright had been called, and deservedly so, the Veteran of Parliamentary Reform, for I believe he acts under the influence of motives the most pure and patriotic; and though for myself I may not coincide in sentiment with the Major, knowing, as I do, that there is no country under heaven where so much liberty and happiness is enjoyed as in this country, and feeling that the reform he contemplates might endanger these inestimable privileges, yet I must say, that whoever see, or imagine they see, any corruption in the State, it is a sacred duty due from them to their country, to endeavour to stem that corruption and to remove that abuse. Passing from these general observations to an examination of the evidence in support of this temporary prosecution, we find that Mr. Whitehead, whose memory is so tenacious as to recollect the worst said in the indictment with marvellous precision, can recollect nothing else; and these persons that are brought to bolster up this prosecution, not only do not confirm Mr. Whitehead’s testimony, but they absolutely contradict it. Mr. Whitehead swears that the observations of Chapman was not in reply to any remarks made by himself, the other witnesses say it was.

Mr. Whitehead says the defendant damned the King, the Prince of Wales, and even the Princess of Wales; but the other witnesses, though Mr. Whitehead has positively sworn that they were all present, declare that they heard no such expressions: and it is perfectly clear that no such words were used; for is it to be imagined that a man supporting the Princess of Wales, commiserating her unfortunate situation, condemning her persecution, should stigmatize the person whose character he was endeavouring to uphold, with the opprobrious epithet sworn to by Whitehead? The defendant too, it is to be observed, was at the time in question, and still is, in the employment of Mr. Atkinson, of Bradley-Mills: and can it be supposed that a man of Mr. Atkinson's well-known loyalty would retain in his employment a wretch so destitute of every loyal and virtuous feeling as to express himself in the way stated by Mr. Whitehead? Certainly not; and Mr. Atkinson is perfectly convinced that Mr. Whitehead, in the blaze of his loyalty, if he has not foisted words into defendant’s mouth, has at least put a construction upon his expressions that they would not fairly bear. What application could such expressions have to the subject of Parliamentary Reform; or how could they be supplied to our Governors? The Government of this country is vested in the three estates of the realm;—and how Mr. Whitehead can make the King, Lords, and Commons into "whores" he can best explain.—(a laugh)—Is this a case for a prosecution for sedition? Sedition implies an intention to bring the Government into hatred and contempt:—this is the essence, the gist of the offence, and where, I should be glad to know, is the proof of such an intent to be found in this pot house conversation? In sedition, as in murder, the attendant circumstances constitute the crime. I may kill a man without committing murder; and I may use expressions in one situation, and under certain circumstances, that would, in other situations, and under different circumstances, be grossly seditious. If the defendant, instead of talking politics in a public-house, (as Englishmen are in a constant habit of doing, and to do which they have an undoubted right) had stood up in the market-place at Huddersfield, and endeavoured to excite the populace to tumult—then malice might have been inferred from his conduct; but where, I should be glad to know, are we to look for malice in this case, or for a design to bring the Government into contempt and abhorrence? Mr. Justice Foster, in his observations on the Act passed in the reign of Anne, inflicting the penalty of praemunire on any person that should, by preaching, &c. deny the competency of Parliament, says—"a rash expression will not render a man criminal: words are transient, easily misunderstood, and often misrepresented; and therefore a wicked intention must be shown to constitute the offence:" and this definition of the law was given after a long life of legal experience. I will put the case. Suppose, while I am engaged in my study, and enter on some subject that I wish to pursue without interruption, my servant should come and say—"The Tax-Gatherer, Sir, has called for the Taxes:"—and I should reply, in the moment of irritation—"The devil take the Tax-Gatherer!"—could it be fairly inferred that I was seditiously inclined, and that I really meant to consign this officer of the public revenue to perdition? All this, you will perceive, I have said on the supposition that the other witnesses have confirmed Whitehead's testimony; tho’, what is the fact, they have not confirmed, but, as I have already stated, they have contradicted him.

But I will not waste more of your time. You cannot, and I am sure you will not, under such circumstances, give a verdict against the defendant. To your hands I commit him, and if you would not be called to account for every hasty word you utter—if you can discriminate between truth and error—if you have a veneration for the laws, and wish to guard them against being perverted to vindictive purposes, you will return a verdict of not guilty, and thereby prove, that you concur with the Government of your country considering this trumpery prosecution as too despicable to occupy the attention of a Court of Justice.—(Loud cheers burst from every part of the Court at the conclusion of Mr. Hardy’s eloquent and argumentative to speech, of which the above is a mere outline.)

The Bench conceiving that there could be only one opinion on the subject, sent the cause to the Jury without summing up the evidence; and the Jury, without a moment’s hesitation, returned a verdict of Not Guilty, to the universal satisfaction of a crowded Court.