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The Tale of Thomas Redding, part two…

April 1, 2010

Whilst on this case, I was astonished to learn through a gentlemen of my acquaintance, two facts, which, although not directly pertinent to this case, both are certain considerations in mitigation. Firstly, each Excise officer, on successful conviction earns a bonus of twenty pound. It is clear that justice instigated under the terms of ‘mercenary twenty pounders’ is suffering a sickness in dire need of a quick cure. Secondly, not six months since, a man was caught in possession of some two or three gallons of Whiskey on board an Irish Steamer. It was seized, hut on application direct to the Commissioners of Excise, the gentleman to whom I allude was permitted the re-possession of the seized  Whiskey, on payment of the transit duty. When this case is compared with that of Redding, I asked myself if equal justice has been impartially dispensed.

On the Monday 4th. July 1827, to my astonishment I learnt that this victim to the vengeance of power and influence is no longer in the Bridewell! He was shipped on board The Racer cutter at her station in Portishead. How long he is to remain there, or whether he was to he smuggled out of Bristol without the licence of justice, I know not. But of this I am convinced, that he will not he expatriated in execution of his sentence, unless it should he deemed necessary that his absence should screen the witnesses on whose evidence alone he was convicted.

More determined than ever to prove his innocence of all charges, I sought to establish the perjury of the two witnesses Underwood and Hall. But the vexed thought crossed my mind, will the Magistrates of Bristol give me the opportunity of doing so?

Additionally, I was very much saddened to learn of the means that Redding was moved from his Bristol prison. Could no other officers be found than Underwood and Hall to convey their victim from the Bridewell to Portishead? Were they instructed to torment the poor fellow with the oft asserted lie that, but for ourselves, he would have been at liberty? Were they instructed to hurry him off before he could see the individual whom he esteems his best friend?  Was it a plan that I might not see him!?

If this be the case, their plans were frustrated! I managed to steal a few hours from a night devoted to the exposure of abuses, and I gave it to the succour of the injured. I saw the poor fellow on board The Racer on Monday night; and found him much troubled in mind – but manage to leave him comforted. For his comforts – his requirements being few, and consisting chiefly of tobacco, (of which he was a large consumer) and a few musical pieces for his flute, in which, common sailor as he was, he was somewhat proficient.

During the honest sailor’s detainment on board the King’s ship The Racer, off Portishead, every opportunity was made by my goodself to frequently visit him. On the Thursday evening I was at Portishead, with the hope of seeing this injured individual; but persecution still stalks, and this poor fellow is still the object on which the vengeance of power still shoots its bolts. An order had been received at the Cutter, ‘not to permit any person to have an interview with Thomas Redding.’

The first number of The Bristolian newspaper was published only a few day’s before the conviction of Redding, and if this paper had been any service to the citizens of Bristol, they owe a debt of gratitude to the Tory Aldermen who, however unintentionally, provoked its publication.

To resume my narrative – simultaneously with the issue of The Bristolian, there went forth an appeal to the lovers of justice to aid me in my effort to move the government to an enquiry into Tom Redding’s case so that we might procure his liberation. Among other steps in that direction, I memorialised the Lords of the Treasury and petitioned the Lord High Admiral the Duke of Clarence for his release, and after a delay of some three weeks, received his order of discharge upon the grounds that, in as much as the Act of Parliament under which he had been prosecuted and convicted, made the “landing and carrying away” of spirits which had not paid duty, material to the completion of the alleged offence; and, as the evidence clearly proved that both those acts had been performed by the Custom House Officer and not by the prisoner, the conviction was void and the prisoner was entitled to his release.

The anxiety of mind of which my attendance on this event was naturally productive, and the excitement of gratification caused by the scarcely expected realisation of my wishes, have rendered me indifferently competent to the placing before my reader a detailed account of the many interesting circumstances connected with the mere matter of fact of how Thomas Redding was at length restored to the blessing of liberty. The enjoyment of such blessing in his assurance of innocence, with reference to the charge under which he has been deprived of that Englishman’s birthright the harmless exercise of personal free-will and free-action to do what it may please him to undertake, and to go where business, pleasure, or caprice may lead him. Yet, whatever the circumstances under which I resume my pen, the public will expect such exertion as may be calculated to attain the methodical arrangement of the facts in which they may feel, or be imagined to feel, an interest” Such exertion, therefore, is mine. The remaining days of this unfortunate story unfurls as follows.

I believe I am correct in saying that, immediately subsequent to my return from one fruitless errand which had carried me from Bristol to Portishead, the Captain of The Racer had effectually interested himself for the removal of this severe prohibitory mandate.

It was under this conviction that, on Sunday 8th July 1827, apprised of the fact that a letter from the Admiralty addressed to Thomas Redding had passed through the Post-Office of the City of Bristol, I was determined on repeating my jaunt to the scene of his imprisonment; and, on my arrival, late in the evening of that day, I, in the company of two friends, had the satisfaction of being permitted an interview with the individual whose unjust case has deservedly elicited the decided disapprobation of the Bristol public.

On handing him the note, we found him not even in possession of his usual portion of animal spirits; and his mental depression was sufficiently accounted for by a perusal of the following letter:-

Admiralty Office, 7th July 1827

Thomas Redding, – In answer to your letter of the 4th instant, I am commanded by His Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral, to acquaint you that His Royal Highness cannot interfere with the due course of the
law in your case. I am, your very humble servant,
(so far as our talent for deciphering enables us to give the signature.)

It being my business to excite such rational anticipation of release in the poor prisoner as might be justified by my belief or judgement, I had entered into a sanguine calculation of ways and means for the creation of a fund of £100, wherewith, all other means failing, to snatch him from the jaws of destruction, when the cutter was hailed from the shore. Our enquiry of its probable object, was answered by the information that the person so hailing was one of the crew, who had returned from the port of Pill, possibly with letters from the Post-Office; on which intelligence I decided awaiting the result of this errand, so far as poor Redding might chance to be concerned.

At about half-past eleven the messenger arrived on board with confirmation of the joyful news of poor Redding’s liberation. All hands were assembled in the cabin, when their comrade entered, and it is due to them, as men, to observe, that their congratulations of their late prisoner and brother sailor, on his approaching liberation, were such as might have been expected from friends, and more than could reasonably have been expected from gaolers.

To the reprieved captive the news appeared incredible. He seemed fearful of an unfeeling intention of playing on his sensibility; and his demand on the solemn asseveration of the messenger to the reality of his intelligence will better explain the state of the poor fellow’s mind than any laboured analysis of mine could possibly place before my readers.

It is not vanity which prompts my record of the fervent gratitude with which the honest tar next turned to me, and throwing himself on the ground would have kissed the feet of the individual to whom he attributes his restoration to liberty. A gentle remonstrance against such self-abasement w as answered by the information that he had sworn a vow that he would do so on his restoration to freedom.

Never shall I forget the expressive countenance of my injured friend, as, with a grateful pressure of the hand, he thanked me for the interest I had taken in his delivery from confinement. The man who would not envy our feelings, under such circumstances, must indeed be devoid of those finer feelings of humanity by which one man is induced to serve another to the inconvenience of himself, or at his personal risk of the oppressor’s enmity.

But, not to dwell on immaterial points, I closed my Sunday’s journal with the information that, having arranged to fetch Redding with the ensuing tide, I left the cutter, and returned with our party to Bristol, arriving at about 2 o’clock in the morning.

As we were returning, it occurred to us that the many who had taken an interest with us in the desired event of Redding’s liberation would be anxious to witness the triumph of justice over perjury and power; and that a manifestation of popular feeling on the subject would read a wholesome lesson to those who exert might, in the subversion of right, rather than in its protection. I was determined that the return of the restored captive should be as public as the few hours and few pounds at my disposal would permit.

My printer was set to work before 3 o’ clock, and all other arrangements perfected by half-past ten; when, accompanied by a band of music, and having hoisted a brilliant Union-Jack, we took water at Rownham, and proceeded down the river.

As we neared Pill we determined on treating the Custom-House folks there with a little harmony. The windows of the building were soon filled with wondering faces, and the band played the  appropriate air of ‘Oh! dear! what can the matter be?’ following it with ‘Rule Britannia,’ and ‘God save the King.’

At this time Hall, one of the twenty-pounders, was pleased to descend the slip, and the cunning musicians choose this moment to gave him the following musical advice: “Go to the devil and shake-yourself.”

Leaving Pill, we proceeded into the Road, and soon came into sight of The Racer. As we drew towards her, the band again stuck up the nation air of ‘Rule Britannia.’ The late convict appeared on the gangway of the cutter, surrounded by her kind little crew, and a few minutes enabled us to carry an honest tar from the grasp of the land-lubber Hall by whom he had been so roughly handled”

Landing at Portishead Point, we made earnest preparations for a convivial hour, and, joined by some of the cutter’s crew, sat down to a hasty dinner, not omitting to pledge ourselves to the cause of the oppressed.

Re-embarking at about 4 o’clock, we returned with a brisk gale towards poor Redding’ s City of refuge; and, as we re-passed Pill, again treated the collected inhabitants with some loyal and humorous airs.

At the Powder-House we were joined by a few boats; and, as we passed upwards, were saluted by several discharges of fire-arms from the warm-hearted people, who were aware of our errand.

Below the Hotwell House, we were joined by a gaily-caparisoned boat, in which my worthy printer, with his zealous and able establishment, had embarked. Among the flags with which this boat was decorated, I observed the “Royal Arms,” “Bristol Arms,” and the “Printer’s Arms.”

At Rownham Ferry, there were collected some hundreds of the population of the neighbourhood, who greeted our arrival with deafening cheers. Redding, over whose head was a flag, bearing the appropriate inscription of “JUSTICE TRIUMPHANT,” returned the cheers of his friends with repeated bows; and the well freighted boat glided up the Avon, followed by crowds, and arrived at Bathurst Basin Steps about half past 5 o’clock.

Here the assembled people received the object of public gratulation with reiterated shouts, and many a grasp of the weather-beaten hand of our tar, as he ascended the steps, bespoke the sympathy of honest hearts in the poor fellow’s happily terminated sufferings.

A car-driver insisted on our acceptance of his vehicle, and thought himself amply  repaid by the honour of assisting in the effort  to obliterate the memory of injustice by kindness. It pleased the omnipotent crowd, by whom we were received at our landing place, to unharness the horse and drag the cart triumphantly through the different streets. The route taken was – Redcliff Street, Bristol Bridge, Back, Queen Square, Quay, Clare Street, Corn Street, Wine Street, Dolphin Street, Bridge Street, High Street, Broad Street; and it is scarcely necessary to add that the public manifestation of interest throughout this long line was such as at once to gratify the hero of the day and do credit to those by who his return to liberty was warmly welcomed.

The procession reached my Office at about 6 o’clock; and, the flags having been suspended from the windows, Redding then presented himself to the notice of the collected thousands, thanking them briefly, but sincerely, for the friendly protection which the Inhabitants of Bristol had afforded him, and assuring them that his grateful recollection of their kindness could cease only with his existence.

The cry of “Acland!” now resounded, and in obedience to the call, I appeared, addressing them (as the Reporter of The Bristolian says) as follows:-

“BRISTOLIANS , I am too much fatigued to occupy your attention for any length of time, were it not possible that time may be better engaged than in being devoted to anything that I may have to say; but I willingly obey the call which such a numerous body of the public have made” The plain, simple sentiments of the honest tar which you have just heard, and the evident emotion with which he spoke his gratitude, is far more powerful, and more likely to touch the heart, than any observations that I can make (cheers). But, I assure you, that I feel that all that a man can be supposed to experience, placed in the situation that I now am, I have as lively sensations of joy within my bosom as any whom I now behold; but I have not the time or the power to give them utterance; for it was not until late Sunday that I visited Redding, and when I ascertained that the poor fellow was free (cheers), that, “Justice was triumphant,” (loud cheers), I lost not a moment in making preparations for his arrival in Bristol, and, by the means of placards, to afford you an opportunity of expressing your feelings to a deeply oppressed and injured individual. I say he was oppressed, because he was not permitted to witness his examination at the Council House (cheers), because I was not allowed to be present at his conviction (cheers). He was injured, because he was made the victim of an officer, and innocently convicted (long continued cheering). What, I would ask, can a sailor know of the laws, much less one who has spent eighteen years of his life on the seas, an honest and faithful servant of his King and Country? (Bravo, he could not.) There are many among you, I am convinced, who would have done the same as he did, who wishing to have a little of that which a sailor is so fond, (laughing) would, after entering a store in Ireland and giving a high price for Whiskey, think that, by so doing, the duty was paid. Many, under such circumstances, might be grasped just as the poor fellow was whose liberation is now effected, and a little keg of liquor with which it was intended to regale relatives and friends, changed its owner and become the properly of a custom-house officer. I hope to see justice still more triumphant; and, this very session, if there is a possibility of gaining the requisite evidence, my every exertion shall be made to convict of perjury those who were the means of placing poor Redding within the walls of a prison. — (cheers.) I care not by whom they are protected, (cheers) however well filled may be their purses; however powerful or numerous may be their friends (cheers); you are with me! the public voice is superior to private power — the people are omnipotent! (much cheering). Justice, in a country like England, should always be fair; and those whose care it is entrusted, should be men possessing the capacity to govern, and the ability to dispense its sacred attributes. If they are of a contrary description, then all the poor will be oppressed, the rich man upheld, and the innocent convicted. — (loud cheering). Let it be understood that I speak not of this Mayor or that Alderman; that I allude not to one officer in particular more than to another. I speak in a general sense. Cases generally start up in various parts of England that warrant my assertion, and it confirms me in opinion, that no body of men, however superior in mind, or honest in heart, should be allowed, with closed doors, to rob a fellow-creature of his liberty. — (long and loud cheering.) I shall try the question. I intend preferring a Bill at Gloucester; and then we shall see whether the public have or have not an undoubted right to be present in any room appropriated for, and sacred to, the administration of justice.” — (Cries of “that’s right, ’tis a shame you was expelled,” and much cheering.) I have only now to thank you for the honour you have done me; – to express again, on behalf of Redding, his heartfelt gratitude for the liberal manner in which you contributed to his funds, and for the handsome way in which you have acted towards him this day. I am sure that he cannot forget it; and I think I should speak but the truth, if I asserted, that never will the kindness and generosity of Bristolians be erased from his remembrance. I have now done, and only in conclusion to recommend all of you who are friends to the cause which has been nobly espoused, peacefully to withdraw yourselves – return to your dwellings, and retire quietly and respectably into the bosoms of your families.”

During the still of night, just before sleep had taken its hand I relived the afternoon; . . . .  finding a carriage and pair with some thousands of elated Bristolians awaiting our arrival at the place of landing, then the triumphal procession through the City. . . . and all the time, alongside with these most  pleasing thoughts were those of  the sentencing Magistrates whose “remarkable judicial ability” had been so conspicuous in the Bristol Council Chamber, went home (it is hoped) to reflect upon their past folly and resolve upon future good conduct in the justice room. Arr, the stuff that dreams are made of. . . . .

Tom’s anxiety to rejoin his old ship the Revenge, which has been recommissioned, hurried him away from Bristol on Wednesday. 18th July 1827. Certain folks have pleased to take advantage of the circumstance to propagate falsehoods, coined for the sole purpose of personally annoying the Proprietor of The Bristolian. Immediately I heard of the whispered calumny, I exhibited the account, of which the following is a copy, having, however, a few notes added to it by way of explanation:-

DR.             James Acland in account with Thomas Redding.                      CR

June 27, 1827                                                                                                       July 16, 1827
£.    s.   d.                                                                                                             £.    s.   d.
To money recd.                                                                               By cash paid to
as advertised (a)          11     1    0                                                   Redding up to this date (b)           3    12    6
To ditto not                                                                                     By Mrs. Evens, bed in
advertised (a)                     13     0                                                  the Bridewell (c)                                 10    0
To expenses not                                                                           By Mrs. Parry, washing (d)                   4    0
charged Redding,                                                                            By 1.1/2 lb. Tobacco                            7   0
or rather incurred                                                                           By Advertisements,
by J. Acland beyond                                                                       (duty only) (f)                                     14   0
the receipts                    2  17     0                                                  By expenses to
Portishead, three trips (g)            1    15    6
By Printing and Posting (h)               15    6
By Band (i)                                 1    18    0
By Boat (b)                                 1    10    0
By Expenses with R.
at Portishead (j)                           1    14    0
By cash, Redding                              10    6
18 July.
By cash, Redding (b)                  1      0    0

Totals      £14  11     0                                                                                                                      £14     11    0

To Redding’s declaration of the accuracy of this account, three  witnesses are forthcoming if necessary.


(a) The original list of subscriptions, “advertised” and “not advertised,” lies at The
Bristolian Office for public inspection.

(b) Amounts having Redding’s initials to them as paid by himself. The first amount of
£3 12s 6d. is Redding own account, and may be seen in his hand writing.

(c) Mr. Evens can vouch for this item.

(d) Perry, the Bridewell turn key, can vouch for this item.

(e) Of this, was purchased of Mr. Dadd, and half a pound at a shop opposite the
Black Boy, at the foot Durdham Down.

(f) The Stamp Office may be referred to.

(g) These visits where on urgent business, which it was not thought prudent to entrust
to Johnny Mills, or any other deputy.

This item is not precisely correct, but considerably under the real amount. The
gig thrice at 9s. Boat to the cutter, after dark, twice at 2s 6d. will leave but 3s. 6d.
for road expenses.

(h) Mr. Somerton, the printer, 10s. for bill; and the bill sticker 5s. 6d.

(i) The band was under the conduct of Cook, who lives in Cider house passage, Broad street.

j) This item includes a dinner, in acknowledgement of the great kindness Redding
experienced from each individual connected with the Cutter. Eight dined, and
they were grog-drinkers; there were besides musicians, and these had something
to moisten their throats. In short, the expense was considerably more than
charged, as may be known on application to Mr. Withy, landlord of the
public house at Portishead. And, notwithstanding less is charged than was actually
paid, the Trustee of the Public can afford to deduct £2 17s. 0d. from the amount –
so charged, and the credit side would then be equal to the debit.

One word on the remaining point. Every expense was incurred with the knowledge and consent of Redding. If it were said chiefly at his request, it would still be true. The procession expenses might have been omitted, and even then the account could have been made a just one, by merely charging other really necessary expenses.

There appeared, however, no need of juggling, and as the sailor’s antipathy to “lubberly land-lolloping” has let his persecutors off, so far as prosecution goes; we are quite sure there will he few indeed of the contributors to the fund, who will object to the means resorted to for proclaiming that an act of justice to an innocent man, which, there are some who would consider, mere mercy to an ignorant culprit, (Messrs. Johnny Mills and Thomas John Manchee for instance.)

I abstain from further observation for the present, and conclude this explanatory article with assuring Johnny Mills, that his subscription shall be returned him – as soon as he sends it!

In conclusion, after passing over some £15 raised by the good people of Bristol, a very trifling effort procured Tom Redding’s restoration to his shipmates of the Revenge, and that is the last I heard of him. This episode would forever stay with me, and was the first of many times that I lent my assistance to side with the sturdy sailor. Enough that they have to risk their. lives against the wroth of mother nature and all that the sea can put upon them; or by the ill-health bought upon by their long sea-journeys or the grape-shot of our enemies; enough to suffer these and more but to suffer the cruel overseer with their savage punishments is more than any man or animal should ever have to bear.

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