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Significant Scots
George Gordon


GORDON, GEORGE, commonly called lord George Gordon, one of the most remarkable Scotsmen who have flourished in modern political history, was the third son of Cosmo George, third duke of Gordon, by Catharine, daughter of William, earl of Aberdeen. He was born in Upper Brook Street, London, in Dec. 1750, and was baptized in Jan., 1752; George II. standing as his sponsor or god-father. Of his boyhood or education, we know little or nothing; nor does there appear to have supervened any peculiar trait of conduct, or bias of disposition, during his juvenile years, to distinguish him from his compeers, or forebode the singular eccentricity and erratic waywardness of his future career. At a very tender age he entered the navy, in which he arrived, by due gradation, at the rank of lieutenant. The reason of his afterwards abandoning the naval profession, was a pretended disappointment at non-promotion in the service, while it was, in fact, a mere job effected by some of the opposition members to win him to their ranks, as will afterwards be seen. In the year 1772, being then scarcely twenty years of age; he went to reside in Inverness-shire, with the view of opposing general Fraser of Lovat, as member for the county, at the next general election, which would, of necessity, take place in two years thereafter at farthest. This was indeed bearding the lion in his den, and appeared about as Quixotic an undertaking, as that of displacing one of the chieftain’s native mountains. Such, however, were his ingratiating qualities, the frankness of his manners, the affability of his address, and his happy knack of accommodating himself to the humours of all classes, that, when the day of election drew nigh, and the candidates began to number their strength, Lovat found, to his unutterable confusion and vexation, that his beardless competitor had actua1ly succeeded in securing a majority of votes! Nor could the most distant imputations of bribery or undue influence be charged upon the young political aspirant. All was the result of his winning address and popular manners, superadded to his handsome countenance, which is said to have been of almost feminine beauty and delicacy. He played on the bagpipes and violin to those who loved music. He spoke Gaelic and wore the philabeg, where these were in fashion. He made love to the young ladies, and listened with patience and deference to the garrulous sermonizing of old age. And, finally, gave a splendid ball to the gentry at Inverness,—one remarkable incident concerning which, was his hiring a ship, and bringing from the isle of Skye the family of the M’Leods, consisting of fifteen young ladies—the pride and admiration of the north. It was not to be tolerated, however, that the great feudal chieftain should thus be thrust from his hereditary political possession by a mere stripling. Upon an application to the duke, lord George’s eldest brother, a compromise was agreed on, by which it was settled, that upon lord George’s relinquishing Inverness-shire, general Fraser should purchase a seat for him in an English borough; and he was accordingly returned for Ludgershall, the property of lord Melbourne, at the election of 1774.

It would appear, that for some time after taking his seat, lord George voted with the ministry of the day. He soon, however, and mainly, it is affirmed, by the influence of his sister-in-law, the celebrated duchess of Gordon, became a convert to the principles of the opposition; and it was not long ere, at the instigation of governor Johnstone and Mr Burke, he fairly broke with the ministry, upon their refusal to comply with a most unreasonable demand for promotion over the heads of older and abler officers, which the gentlemen just named had incited him to make. From this time forward, he became a zealous opponent of government; especially as regarded their policy towards America, where discontents against their measures were becoming rife and loud. It was not, however, until the session of 1776 that he stood forth as a public speaker, when he commenced his career by a furious attack on ministers, whom he accused of a infamous attempt to bribe him over to their side by the offer of a sinecure of 1000 a year. Whether this charge was true or false, certain it is that ministers felt the effects of the imputation so severely, reiterated and commented on as was in the withering eloquence of Fox, Burke, and others, that an attempt was made to induce him to cede his seat in parliament, in favour of the famous Irish orator, Henry Flood, by the offer of the place of vice-admiral of Scotland, the vacant by the resignation of the duke of Queensberry. Notwithstanding that lord George’s fortune was then scarcely 700 per annum, he had the fortitude to resist the proffered bait, and seemed determined, like Andrew Marvel, to prefer dining for three days running on a single joint, rather than sacrifice his independence by the acceptance of court-favour. His lordship, indeed, soon began to estrange himself from both parties in the house, and to assume a position then entirely new in parliamentary tactics, and somewhat parallel to the course chalked out for themselves by a few of our patriots in the house of commons at a recent period. Disclaiming all connexion with either whigs or tories, he avowed himself as being devoted solely to the cause of the people. Continuing to represent the borough of Ludgershall, he persevered in animadverting with great freedom, and often with great wit, on the proceedings of both sides of the house, and became so marked, that it was usual at that time to say, that "there were three parties in parliament—the ministry, the opposition, and lord George Gordon."

A bill had been brought into parliament, in the session of 1778, by Sir George Saville, who is described by a writer of the whig party as one of the most upright men which perhaps any age or country ever produced, to relieve the Roman catholic subjects of England from some of the penalties they were subject to by an act passed in the eleventh and twelfth year of King William III,—an act supposed by many to have originated in faction, and which at all events, from many important changes since the time of its enactment, had become unnecessary, and therefore unjust.

On the passing of this bill, which required a test of fidelity from the parties who claimed its protection, many persons of that religion, and of the first families and fortunes in the kingdom, came forward with the most zealous professions of attachment to the government; so that the good effects of the indulgence were immediately felt, and hardly a murmur from any quarter was heard. This act of Sir George Saville did not extend to Scotland; but in the next winter, a proposition was made by several individuals to revise the penal laws in force against the catholics in that kingdom also: at least a report prevailed of such an intention. The people in general, having still a keen recollection of the religious dissensions of the preceding century, were strongly excited by this rumour, and formed numerous associations throughout the country, for the purpose of resisting, by petition, any remission of the catholic penalties. In this movement, they were countenanced generally by the less moderate section of the national clergy, and, perhaps, the public fervour was raised by no circumstance so much as by the indifference with which the majority of that body had treated the subject in the General Assembly of 1778, when the idea of a prospective declaration, against the measure, was coldly negatived. The proceeding in Scotland, and some inflammatory pamphlets, published about the same time gradually awakened the public mind in England, or at least the less informed part of it, to a conviction of the danger of Sir George Saville’s act, and a powerful society was formed at London, under the name of the "Protestant Association," for endeavouring to procure the repeal of the bill. Large subscriptions were raised in different parts of the kingdom, a secretary was publicly chosen, and correspondences set on foot between the different societies in England and Scotland. To crown all, in November, 1779, lord George Gordon, M. P., was unanimously invited to become president of the association, of which situation he accepted. One thing ought here to be observed, in judging of the sincerity of this nobleman in the part he took in the subsequent public proceedings on this subject, both in and out of parliament, that he offered no opposition whatever to the passing of Sir George Saville’s repeal act.

In detailing the fearful events which ensued both in England and Scotland, in consequence of this struggle of parties, it is necessary that some regard be had to chronological order; and we must, therefore, first of all turn our attention to the posture of affairs in our own country.

Soon after the passing of the tolerating act in favour of the English and Irish Catholics, those of that creed in Scotland, encouraged, as we have said, by demonstrations in their favour in various influential quarters, prepared a petition to parliament, praying for the enjoyment of the same rights and privileges which had been extended to their more fortunate brethren. At this juncture an anonymous pamphlet appeared at Edinburgh, which caused an extraordinary sensation throughout the country. Its effects were first developed by the proceedings in the provincial synods, by almost all of which (excepting that of Lothian and Tweeddale) violent and angry resolutions were passed against the papists, and the firmest determination expressed to oppose their petition. These resolutions being published in the newspapers, soon propagated the ferment and fanned the popular excitement into a blaze. Numerous societies were organized at Edinburgh, Glasgow, and elsewhere, who severally passed resolutions to the same effect. That at Edinburgh, together with all the incorporations of the city, excepting the surgeons, the merchant company, and the society of candlemakers, petitioned the town council early in Jan. 1779, to oppose the bill, which was agreed to; and the members for the city and county were instructed accordingly. Similar proceedings also took place at Glasgow.

The populace, however, were far too highly irritated to await patiently the issue of these decided measures, and on the 2d of February their fury burst out at Edinburgh with uncontrollable violence. Incendiary letters had previously been distributed in the streets, calling upon the people to meet at the foot of Leith Wynd on the above day, "to pull down that pillar of popery lately erected there"—alluding to a house, occupied, along with other families, by a Roman catholic bishop, and which was supposed to contain a catholic place of worship. A large mob accordingly assembled, and in spite of the exertions of the magistrates, backed by a regiment of fencibles, the house was set on fire and reduced to ashes. The house of another popish clergyman in Blackfriars’ Wynd was completely gutted. The catholics in all the other parts of the town were indiscriminately abused, and their houses pillaged. Nor against these alone was the violence of the mob directed. Every liberal protestant, known to favour toleration towards the catholics, became equally the objects of popular fury. Amongst these were the celebrated professor Robertson, and Mr Crosbie, an eminent advocate, whose houses were attacked, and which, but for the timely interference of the military, would doubtless, like the rest, have been fired and razed to the ground. Seeing no likelihood of a termination to the tumults, the provost and magistrates, after several days’ feeble and ineffectual efforts to restore order, at length issued a proclamation of a somewhat singular description, assuring the people that no repeal of the statutes against papist: should take place, and attributing the riots solely to the "fears and distressed minds of well meaning people." This announcement, nevertheless, had the effect of partially restoring quiet. The example of Edinburgh was in part copied in Glasgow; but the disturbances there, owing to the exertions and influence of the principal merchants and others, were soon got under;—the provost and magistrates, finding it necessary, however, to issue a notice similar to that of their civic brethren at Edinburgh. But notwithstanding that these magisterial assurances were corroborated by a letter to the same effect, from lord Weymouth, home secretary, dated 12th February, addressed to the lord justice clerk, the excitement throughout the country every day increased, instead of abating. At no period of our history, unless, perhaps, during the political crisis in 1831-32, has either branch of the legislature been addressed or spoken of in language half so daring, menacing, or contemptuous. The resolutions passed by the heritors and heads of families in the parish of Carluke, Lanarkshire, may vie with the most maledictory philippies poured forth on the heads of the "Boroughmongers" in modern days. To such a height did this anti-catholic feeling at last rise, that the papists deemed it at last prudent to memorialize parliament on the subject, and pray for protection to their lives and property, as well as redress for what they had already suffered. This petition was laid before the house by Mr Burke on the 18th of March, and it is in the debate which thereupon ensued, that we first find lord George Gordon standing forth in parliament as the champion of the protestant interests. In the following August, after the rising of the session, lord George paid a visit to Edinburgh, where he was received with extraordinary attention, and unanimously chosen president of the "committee of correspondence for the protestant interest." We ought to have mentioned that, in the month of April, the sum of 1600 had been adjudged by arbitratior to the catholics in compensation of their loss in the city of Edinburgh, which amount was paid from the city’s funds.

The remarkable respect and honours which lord George experienced from the protestant societies in Scotland, appear to have operated like quicksilver in his veins. He forthwith devoted himself heart and hand to their cause; and on his return to London he was, as we have already mentioned, chosen president of the formidable Protestant Association.

Encouraged by the deference paid by government to the wishes of the Scottish protestants, the members of the London association entertained the most sanguine hopes of getting a repeal of the late toleration act for England. The most strenuous exertions by advertisement and otherwise were therefore made to swell the numbers of the society; meetings were called, and resolutions passed, to petition the house of commons for an abrogation of the obnoxious act.

After various desultory motions in parliament, which it is unnecessary to specify, lord George, on the 5th of May, presented a petition from Plymouth, praying for a repeal of Sir G. Saville’s act. Finding, however, the government and legislature little disposed to pay any attention to these applications, the members of the association resolved upon adopting more active and unequivocal measures to accomplish their object. A meeting was accordingly held in Coach-maker’s Hall, on the evening of the 29th May—at which lord George, who was in the chair, addressed them in a long and inflammatory harangue upon the wicked designs of the papists, the fearful increase of popery in the kingdom, in consequence of the late act—and the measures indispensably necessary to be adopted for the salvation of protestantism. He said their only resource was to go in a body to the house of commons, and express their determination to protect their religious privileges with their lives; that for his part, he would run all hazards with "the people," and if they were too lukewarm to do the like with him, they might choose another leader. This speech was received with tremendous acclamations; and resolutions were passed, that the whole protestant association should assemble in St George’s fields, on the following Friday, (June 2d,) to accompany his lordship to the house of commons, where he was to present the protestant petition, and that they should march to the house in four divisions, and by different routes. His lordship also added, that unless 20,000 people, each decked with a blue cockade, assembled—he would not present the petition. Next evening, lord George gave notice in the house of commons, of his intention of presenting the petition on the appointed day, as also of the proposed processions of the association; and it is a remarkable fact, that although by the act of 1661, such a proceeding was declared quite illegal, not the slightest intimation was given to him by the ministry, to that effect.

On the day appointed, an immense concourse of people, not less it was computed than 100,000, assembled in St George’s fields. Lord George, arrived about twelve o’clock, and after haranguing them for a considerable time, directed them how they were to march. One party, accordingly, proceeded round by London bridge, another over Blackfriars, and a third accompanied their president over Westminster bridge. The petition, to which the subscriptions of the petitioners were appended, on an immense number of rolls of parchment, was borne before the latter body. On their assembling at the two houses of parliament, which they completely surrounded, they announced their presence by a general shout, and it was not long ere the more unruly of them began to exercise the power they now felt themselves to possess, by abusing and maltreating the members of both houses, as they severally arrived. At the door of the house of lords, the archbishop of York, the bishops of Litchfield and Lincoln, the duke of Northumberland, lords Bathurst, Mansfield, Townshend, Hillsborough, Stormont, Dudley, and many others, were all more or less abused, both in character and person. Lord Boston, in particular, was so long in the hands of the mob, that it was at one time proposed that the house should go out in a body to his rescue. He entered at last, unwigged, and with his clothes almost torn from his person.

In the meantime, the rioters had got complete possession of the lobby of the house of commons, the doors of which they repeatedly tried to force open; and a scene of confusion, indignation, and uproar ensued in the house, almost rivaling that which was passing out of doors. Lord George, on first entering the house, had a blue cockade in his hat, but upon this being commented upon as a signal of riot, he drew it out. The greatest part of the day was consumed in debates (almost inaudible from the increasing roar of the multitude without,) relative to the fearful aspect of affairs; but something like order being at last obtained, lord George introduced the subject of the protestant petition, which, he stated, was signed by 120,000 protestants, and moved that it be immediately brought up. Leave being given, he next moved that it be forthwith taken into consideration. This informal and unprecedented proposition, was, of course, resisted; but lord George, nevertheless, declared his determination of dividing the house on the subject, and a desultory but violent debate ensued, which was terminated by the motion being negatived by 192 to 9. During the course of the discussion, the riot without became every moment more alarming, and lord George was repeatedly called upon to disperse his followers; but his manner of addressing the latter, which he did from the top of the gallery stairs, leaves it doubtful whether his intention was to quiet or irritate them still farther. He informed them, from time to time, of the progress of the debate, and mentioned by name (certainly, to put the best construction upon it, an extremely thoughtless proceeding,) those members who opposed the immediate consideration of the petition; saying, "Mr so and so is now speaking against you."—He told them that it was proposed to adjourn the question to the following Tuesday, but that he did not like delays; that "parliament might be prorogued before that, and there would be an end of the affair." During his harangues, several members of the house warmly expostulated with him on the imprudence of his conduct; but to no purpose. General Grant attempted to draw him back, begging him "for God’s sake not to lead these poor deluded people into danger;" and colonel Gordon, (Or, as other authorities say, colonel Murray, uncle to the duke of Athol,) a near relative of his lordship’s, demanded of him—"Do you intend, my lord George, to bring your rascally adherents into the house of commons? If you do, the first man that enters, I will plunge my sword not into his body, but yours."—In this state did matters continue until about nine o’clock at night, when a troop of horse and infantry arrived. Lord George then advised the mob to disperse quietly, observing "that now their gracious king was made aware of the wishes and determination of his subjects, he would no doubt compel his ministers to comply with their demands." Those who attended from purely religious motives, numbering, it is said, not more than 600 or 700, immediately departed peaceably, first giving the magistrates and soldiers three cheers. The remainder also retired about 11 o’clock, after the adjournment of the house; but soon began to display the villanous designs which had congregated them. Dividing themselves into two bodies, one proceeded to the chapel of the Sardinian ambassador in Duke street, Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, the other to that of the Bavarian ambassador in Warwick Street, Golden square, both of which edifices they completely gutted, burning the furniture, ornaments, &c., in heaps on the public street. A party of guards arrived, but after the mischief was over, who succeeded in capturing thirteen of the rioters. In concluding our account of this eventful day’s proceedings, we must mention, that great negligence was charged, and seemingly not without reason, against government as well as the magistracy, for the absence of every thing like preparation for preserving the peace,—aware, as they perfectly were, of the intended multitudinous procession.

Next day (Saturday) passed over without any disturbance; but this quiescence proved only a "lull before the storm." In the afternoon of Sunday, an immense multitude met simultaneously, and evidently by previous concert, in Moorfields, and raising the slogan of "No Popery," "Down with the Papists," &c., immediately attacked and utterly demolished the catholic chapel, burning the altar, images, pictures, &c., in the open street. Here again, the guards arrived (to use an Iricism) in time to be too late; and encouraged by this circumstance, as well as by the lenient deportment of the military, who up to this time, had refrained from the use of either sabre or fire-arms, the rioters hourly grew more daring and outrageous. They renewed their violence early on Monday, (the king’s birth-day,) by destroying a school-house and three dwelling houses, with a valuable library, belonging to papists, in Rope-maker’s Alley. Separating their force into several detachments, they proceeded into various quarters of the city at once,—thus distracting the attention of the authorities, who appeared to be paralyzed by the fearful ongoings around them—lost all self-possession, and of course, their efficiency in checking the career of the rioters. The houses of Sir George Saville and several other public and private gentle men, together with several popish chapels, quickly fell a prey to pillage and flame. The violence of the mob also received an accession of fury this day from two circumstances—viz, a proclamation offering a reward of 500, for the discovery of those concerned in destroying the Bavarian and Sardinian chapels; and the public committal to Newgate of three of the supposed ringleaders on those occasions.

It must here be recorded, that early on the same morning (Monday 5th June,) the Protestant Association distributed a circular, disclaiming all connexion with the rioters, and earnestly counselling all good protestants to maintain peace and good order.

Tuesday the 6th, being the day appointed for the consideration of the protestant petition, a multitude not less numerous than that of the previous Friday, assembled round both houses of parliament, coming in however, not in one body, but in small parties.. A disposition to outrage soon manifested itself, and lord Sandwich, who fell into their hands, with difficulty escaped with life, by the aid of the military, his carriage being smashed to pieces. The house of peers, after several of their lordships had commented on the unprecedented circumstances in which they were placed, unanimously decided on the absurdity of transacting business, while in state of durance and restraint, and soon broke up, after adjourning proceedings till the Thursday following. In the house of commons, after several remarks similar to those in the upper house, and the passing of various resolutions to the same effect, a violent attack was made upon ministers by Mr Burke, Mr Fox, and others of the opposition, on account of the relaxed state of the police, which had left the legislature itself at the mercy of a reckless mob. Lord George Gordon said, if the house would appoint a day for the discussion of the petition, and to do it to the satisfaction of the people, he had no doubt they would quietly disperse. Colonel Herbert, remarked that although lord George disclaimed all connexion with the rioters, it was strange that he came into the house with their ensign of insurrection in his hat, (a blue cockade,) upon which his lordship pulled it out. A committee was then appointed "to inquire into the causes of the riots &c.," and the house adjourned to Thursday. Upon the breaking up of the house, lord George addressed the multitude, told them what had been done, and advised them to disperse quietly. In return, they unharnessed his horses, and drew him in triumph through the town.

In the meantime, a furious attack had been made on the residence of lord North, in Downing Street, which was only saved from destruction by the interposition of the military. In the evening, the house of justice Hyde was surrounded, sacked, and all the furniture, pictures, books, &c., burned before his door. The rioters then directed their steps towards Newgate, for the purpose of releasing their companions in outrage, who were there confined. On arriving at the gates, they demanded admittance; which being refused by Mr Akerman, the governor, they forthwith proceeded to break his windows, and to batter in the doors of the prison, with pick-axes and sledge-hammers. Flambeaus and other firebrands being procured, these were thrown into the governor’s house, which, along with the chapel, and other parts of the prison, was speedily in flames. The prison doors were also soon consumed, and the mob rushing in, set all the prisoners, to the number of 300, (amongst whom were several under sentence of death,) at liberty. One most remarkable circumstance attending this daring proceeding must not be passed over in silence,—that from a prison thus enveloped in flames, and in the midst of a scene of such uproar and confusion, such a number of prisoners, many of them shut in cells to which access was at all times most intricate and difficult, could escape without the loss of a single life, or even the fracture of a limb! But what will appear, perhaps, scarcely less astonishing, is the fact, that within a very few days, almost the whole of the individuals thus unexpectedly liberated were recaptured, and lodged either in their old or more secure quarters.

Still more emboldened by this reinforcement of desperate confederates, the rioters proceeded in different detachments to the houses of justice Cox and Sir John Fielding, as also to the public office in Bow Street, and the new prison, Clerkenwell; all of which they broke in upon and gutted, liberating the prisoners in the latter places, and thereby gaining fresh numbers and strength. But the most daring act of all, was their attacking the splendid mansion of lord chief justice Mansfleld, in Bloomsbury Square. Having broken open the doors and windows, they proceeded, as was their custom, to fling all the rich and costly furniture into the street, where it was piled into heaps and burned, amid the most exulting yells. The library, consisting of many thousands of volumes, rare MSS., title-deeds, &c., together with a splendid assortment of pictures—all were remorselessly .destroyed. And all this passed, too, in the presence of between 200 and 300 soldiers, and under the eye of the lord chief justice himself, who calmly permitted this destruction of his property, rather than expose the wretched criminals to the vengeance of the military. At last, seeing preparations made to fire the premises, and not knowing where the conflagration might terminate, a magistrate read the riot act,; but without effect.. The military were then reluctantly ordered to fire; but although several men and women were shot, the desperadoes did not cease the work of destruction until nothing but the bare and smoking walls were left standing. At this time the British metropolis may be said to have been entirely in the hands of a lawless, reckless, and frenzied mob! The vilest of the rabble possessed more power and authority than the king upon the throne; the functions of government were, for a time, suspended; and the seat of legislation had become the theatre of anarchy and misrule. So confident now were the rioters in their own irresistible strength, that on the afternoon of the above day, they sent notices round to the various prisons yet left standing, to inform the prisoners at what hour they intended to visit and liberate them! If any one incident connected with a scene of such devastation, plunder, and triumphant villany, could raise a smile on the face of the reader or narrator, it would be the fact, that the prisoners confined in the Fleet, sent to request that they might not be turned out of their lodgings so late in the evening; to which a generous answer was returned, that they would not be disturbed till next day! In order not to be idle, however, the considerate mob amused themselves during the rest of the evening in burning the houses of lord Petre and about twenty other individuals of note - protestant as well as catholic,—and concluded the labours of the day by ordering a general illumination in celebration of their triumph—an order which the inhabitants were actually compelled to obey!

On Wednesday, this horrible scene of tumult and devastation reached its acme. A party of the rioters paid a visit to lord Mansfield’s beautiful villa at Caen-wood in the forenoon, and coolly began to regale themselves with the contents of his larder and wine-cellar, preparatory to their commencing the usual work of destruction. Their orgies were interrupted, however, by a party of military, and they fled in all directions. It was not until the evening that the main body seriously renewed their diabolical work; and the scene which ensued is described by contemporary writers, who witnessed the proceedings, as being too frightful for the power of language to convey the slightest idea of. Detachments of military, foot and horse, had gradually been drawing in from different parts of the interior; the civic authorities, who up to that time had been solely occupied consulting and debating upon the course they should pursue in the awful and unparalleled circumstances in which they were placed, began to gather resolution, to concentrate their force, and to perceive the absolute necessity of acting with vigour and decision—a necessity which every moment increased. The strong arm of the law, which had so long hung paralyzed over the heads of the wretched criminals, once more became nerved, and prepared to avenge the cause of justice, humanity, and social order. The struggle, however, as may well be conceived, was dreadful; and we gladly borrow the language of one who witnessed the awful spectacle, in detailing the events of that ever-memorable night. The King’s Bench, Fleet Prison, Borough Clink, and Surrey Bridewell, were all in flames at the same moment, and their inhabitants let loose to assist in the general havoc. No less than thirty-six fearful conflagrations in different parts of the metropolis, were seen raging simultaneously, "licking up every thing in their way," as a writer at the time expressively described it, and "hastening to meet each other."

"Let those," observes the writer before alluded to, "call to their imagination flames ascending and rolling in vast voluminous clouds from the King’s Bench and Fleet Prisons, the Surrey Bridewell, and the toll houses on Black-friars bridge; from houses in flames in every quarter of the city, and particularly from the middle and lower end of Holborn, where the premises of Messrs Langdale and Son, eminent distillers, were blazing as if the whole elements were one continued flame; the cries of men, women, and children, running up and down the street, with whatever, in their fright, they thought most necessary or most precious; the tremendous roar of the infernal miscreants inflamed with liquor, who aided the sly incendiaries, whose sole aim was plunder; and the repeated reports of the loaded musquetry dealing death and worse than death among the thronging multitude!" But it was not what was doing only, but what might yet be done, that roused the fears of all classes. When they beheld the very outcasts of society every where triumphant, and heard of their attempting the bank; threatening Doctors-Commons, the Exchange, the Pay-Office; in short, every repository of treasure and office of record, men of every persuasion and party bitterly lamented the rise and progress of the bloody and fatal insurrection, and execrated the authors of it. Had the bank and public offices been the first objects of attack, instead of the jails and houses of private individuals, there is not the smallest reason to doubt of their success. The consequences of such an event to the nation may well be imagined!

The regulars and militia poured into the city in such numbers during the night of Wednesday and the morning of Thursday, that, on the latter day, order was in a great measure restored; but the alarm of the inhabitants was so great that every door remained shut. So speedily and effectually, however, did the strict exercise of authority subdue the spirit of tumult, that on Friday, the 9th of June, the shops once more were opened, and business resumed its usual course.

So terminated the famous riots of 1780; an event which will long be memorable in the history of our country, and ought to remain a warning beacon to future popular leaders, of the danger of exciting the passions of the multitude for the accomplishment of a particular purpose, under the idea that they can stop the career of the monster they have evoked, when the wished-for end is attained. It was impossible to ascertain correctly the exact number of the unhappy beings, whose depravity, zeal, or curiosity hurried them on to a fatal doom. The sword and the musket proved not half so deadly a foe as their own inordinate passions. Great numbers died from sheer inebriation, especially at the distilleries of the unfortunate Mr Langdale, from which the unrectified spirits ran down the middle of the streets, was taken up in pailfuls, and held to the mouths of the deluded multitude, many of whom dropt down dead on the spot, and were burned or buried in the ruins.

The following is said to be a copy of the returns made to lord Amherst of the killed and wounded by the military, during the disturbances:—

By association troops and guards, 109 killed
By light horse, 101 killed
Died in hospitals 75
Prisoners under cure, 173
Total 459

To this fatal list, which, it will be seen, is exclusive of those who perished by accident, or their own folly or infatuation, may be added those whom the vengeance of the law afterwards overtook. Eighty-five were tried at the Old Bailey, of whom thirty-five were capitally convicted, forty-three acquitted, seventeen respited, and eighteen executed. At St Margaret’s Hill forty were tried under special commission, of whom about twenty were executed. Besides these, several of the rioters were afterwards from time to time apprehended, tried, and executed in various parts of the country. Amongst those convicted at the Old Bailey, but afterwards respited, probably on account of the immediate occasion for his services, was the common hangman, Edward Dennis, the first of his profession, we believe, who was dubbed with the soubriquet of Jack Ketch. In concluding our account of these riots, we may mention that similar disturbances also broke out at the same time at Hull, Bristol, Bath, and other places, but were suppressed without almost any mischief, and no bloodshed.

On Thursday the 8th, the commons met, according to appointment, but as it was still thought necessary to keep a guard of military round the house, a state of investment incompatible with free and deliberative legislation, they immediately adjourned to the 19th. On Friday, a meeting of the privy council was held, when a warrant was issued for the apprehension of lord George Gordon. This was forthwith put into execution, and lord George was brought in a hackney coach to the Horse Guards, where he underwent a long examination, and was afterwards committed a close prisoner to the Tower, being escorted by a strong guard of horse and foot. It is scarcely necessary to state, before tracing the subsequent career and fate of this singular individual, that no repeal of the toleration act took place. The question was taken up in the house of commons on the very first day after the recess, when all parties were unanimous in reprobating tile desired repeal, and the "Protestant Petition," which had given occasion, or been made the pretext for so much mischief and loss of life, accordingly fell to the ground.

Having given such ample details of the cause, rise, and progress of what some zealous protestant writers of the day termed, rather inconsistently, the "Popish Riots," it would be equally tedious and supererogatory to enter into a lengthened account of the trial of the individual upon whom government charged the onus of the fatal events. The proceedings, as may be imagined, engrossed the undivided attention of the whole kingdom, during their progress, but almost the sole point of interest connected with them now, after such a lapse of time, is the speech of the celebrated honourable Thomas Erskine, counsel for the prisoner, which has been regarded as one of the very highest of those flights of overpowering eloquence with which that remarkable man from time to time astonished his audiences, and, indeed, the whole world. The trial of lord George Gordon did not come on until the 5th of February, 1781; the reason of this delay—nearly eight months—we do not find explained. During his confinement, lord George was frequently visited by his brother the duke, and other illustrious individuals, and every attention was paid to his comfort and convenience. He was accompanied from the Tower to Westminster hall by the duke, and a great number of other noble relatives. His counsel were Mr (afterwards lord) Kenyon, and the honourable Thomas Erskine. The charge against the prisoner was that of high treason, in attempting to raise and levy war and insurrection against the king, &c. His lordship pleaded not guilty. The trial commenced at nine o’clock on the morning of Monday the 5th, and at a quarter past five next morning, the jury returned an unqualified verdict of acquittal. Twenty-three witnesses were examined for the crown, and sixteen for the prisoner. The evidence, as may be imagined, was extremely contradictory in its tendency, proceeding, as it did, from individuals whose impressions as to the cause and character of the fatal occurrences, were so very dissimilar,—one party seeing in the conduct of lord George merely that of an unprincipled, callous-hearted, and ambitious demagogue, reckless of consequences to the well-being of society, provided he obtained his own private ends; while another looked upon him as an ill-used and unfortunate patriot, whose exertions to maintain the stability of the protestant religion, and indicate the rights, and privileges of the people, had been defeated by the outrages of a reckless and brutal mob. By the latter party, all the evil consequences and disreputability of the tumults were charged upon the government and civic authorities, on account of the lax state of the police, and the utter want of a properly organized defensive power in the metropolis. A third party (we mean in the kingdom) there was, who viewed lord George merely as an object of compassion, attributing his certainly unusual behaviour to an aberration of intellect,—an opinion which numerous subsequent eccentricities in his conduct, have induced many of a later era to adopt.

The speech of Mr Erskine was distinguished for that originality of style and boldness of manner which were the chief characteristics of his forensic displays. One very remarkable passage in it has been considered by his political friends and admirers as the ne plas ultra of rhetorical tact and effective energy, although we confess, that, as a precedent, we would reckon the employment of such terms more honoured in the breach than the observance. In reviewing lord George’s conduct and deportment during the progress of the unhappy tumults, the orator abruptly broke out with the following emphatic interjection :—"I say, BY GOD, that man is a ruffian who will dare to build upon such honest, artless conduct as an evidence of guilt!" The effect of this most unexpected and unparalleled figure of oratory, is described by those who heard it to have been perfectly magical. The court, the jury, the bar, and the spectators were for a while spell-bound with astonishment and admiration. It is acknowledged by all, that the speech of Mr Erskine on this occasion was almost the very highest effort of his powerful and nervous eloquence. The speech of Mr Kenyon was likewise remarkable for its ability and effect. Great rejoicings took place on account of his lordship’s acquittal, amongst his partisans, particularly in Scotland. General illuminations were held in Edinburgh and Glasgow; congratulatory addresses were voted to him; and 485 subscribed to reimburse him for the expenses of his trial. Although, however, lord George continued in high favour with the party, just named, and took part in most of the public discussions in parliament, as usual, his credit seems to have been irretrievably ruined with all the moderate and sober-minded part of the nation. He was studiously shunned by all his legislative colleagues, and was in such disgrace at court, that we find him detailing to his protestant correspondents at Edinburgh, in language of the deepest mortification, his reception at a royal levee, where the king coldly turned his back upon him, without seeming to recognize him. Repeated efforts appear to have been made by his relatives at this time, to induce him to withdraw from public life, but without success; and his conduct became daily more eccentric and embarrassing to his friends. It is impossible, indeed, to account for it upon any other ground than that of gradual aberration of mind.

In April, 1787, two prosecutions were brought against Lord George at the instance of the crown; one for preparing and presenting a pretended petition to himself from certain prisoners confined in Newgate, praying him to intercede for them, and prevent their being banished to Botany Bay; the other for a libel upon the queen of France and French ambassador Mr Wilkins, the printer of the petitions, was also proceeded against. Both pleaded not guilty. It is a somewhat curious fact, that on this occasion Mr Erskine, Lord George’s former counsel; appeared against him. Lord George acted as his own defendant, on the score of being too poor to employ counsel. The Newgate petition, evidently his Lordship’s production, was a mere farrago of absurdity, treason, and blasphemy, reflecting on the laws, railing at the crown-officers, and condemning his majesty by large quotations from the book of Moses. He was found guilty, as was also Mr Wilkins. Upon the second charge, the gist of which was a design to create a misunderstanding betwixt the two courts of France and England, he was also found guilty. His speech on this last occasion was so extravagant, and contained expressions so indecorous, that the attorney general told him "he was a disgrace to the name of Briton." The sentence upon him was severe enough: upon the first verdict he was condemned to be imprisoned two years,—upon the second, a further imprisonment of three years; at the expiration of which he was to pay a fine of 500, to find two securities in 2500 pounds each, for his good behaviour for fourteen years; and himself to be bound in a recognizance of 10,000. In the interval, however, between the verdict and the passing of the sentence, he took an opportunity of escaping to Holland; where he landed in May. Here, however, he was not allowed to remain long. He was placed under arrest, and sent back from Amsterdam to Harwich, where he was landed in the latter end of July. From that place he proceeded to Birmingham, where he resided till December; having in the meantime become a proselyte to Judaism, and performing rigidly the prescribed rites and duties of that faith. Information having reached government of his place of residence, and the increasing eccentricities of his conduct evidently pointing him out as an improper person to be allowed to go at large, a messenger was despatched from London, who apprehended him and brought him to town, where he was lodged in Newgate. His appearance in court when brought up to receive the sentence he had previously eluded, is described as being miserable in the extreme. He was wrapt up in an old greatcoat, his beard hanging down on his breast; whilst his studiously sanctimonious deportment, and other traits of his conduct, too evidently showed an aberration of intellect. He bowed in silence, and. with devout humility, on hearing his sentence. Soon after his confinement, he got printed and distributed a number of treasonable handbills, copies of which he sent to the ministry with his name attached to them. These, like his "prisoners’ petition," were composed of extracts from Moses and the prophets, evidently bearing upon the unhappy condition of the king, who was then in a state of mental alienation.

In the following July, 1789, this singular and unhappy being addressed a letter, or petition to the National Assembly of France, in which, after eulogizing the progress of revolutionary principles, he requests of them to interfere on his behalf with the English government to get him liberated. He was answered by that body, that they did not feel themselves at liberty to interfere; but he was visited in prison by several of the most eminent revolutionists, who assured his lordship of their best offices for his enlargement. To the application of these individuals, however, lord Grenville answered that their entreaties could not be complied with. Nothing further worthy of mention remains to be told in the career of this unhappy man. After lord Grenville’s answer, he remained quietly in prison, occasionally sending letters to the printer of the Public Advertiser, written in the same half-frenzied style as his former productions. In November, 1793, after being confined ten months longer than the prescribed term of his imprisonment, for want of the necessary security for his enlargement, he expired in Newgate of a fever, having been delirious for three days previous to his death.


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