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
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, 1.lb 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.
I always enjoyed the unusual emanating from the Courts and many column inches of The Bristolian were filled with these cases. A particular favourite of mine was heard on Saturday 26th May 1827. The proceedings of this morning were unusually barren of interest” There were indeed very many cases originating in drunken squabbles, and complainants and defendants were alike anxious to put in their bruises as evidence of ill usage, but of more solid matter there was great lack” The most curious charge was that of the landlady of a Public House on the Quay, against a young woman for eating a vinegar cruet. The Magistrate stared, as well he might; the girl cried, and the landlady with a most serious aspect, assured his Worship that she did not wish to punish the poor girl, but really could not afford to lose the value of the property. “What was it worth?” “Two shillings, if you please, Sir,” was the reply. Some elucidation of the glass eating affair was now sought, but nothing beyond the assertion that she had ground the cruet and ate it, could be elicited from the whimsical epicure, who, in the event, was doomed to The Bridewell until Monday.
Of all the Schools for the study of life, there is none that surpasses that exhibition of folly, fraud, and fun, than that found in a Police Court. Nor can a novice in the ways of this wonderful world derive greater advantage from any source than a perusal of the animated volume of nature there presented to the observation of the bye-stander.
Thus, one fine summer’s day during that year, patrolling Clare Street and Corn Street, for lack of better occupation, I observed a small knot of men in front of the Council House and among them two municipal police, notably one Barrell, of whom I enquired what was going on. “The Alderman is getting through the night charges,” was the reply. I asked if it were an open Court, and was answered in the affirmative, and told I might go on in if I pleased: and I did please; and, escorted by Barrell, went in.
Alderman Fripp was the sitting Magistrate, and a charge of smuggling was being preferred and investigated. The prisoner at the bar was named Thomas Redding, and the Custom House Officer, William Underwood, told his tale. He said the prisoner had arrived on the Cork steamer the previous evening, and as the passengers landed across a plank gangway from the vessel’s deck to the quay, several had passed the ordeal of the Officer’s scrutiny at the marine end of the plank, and had duly landed. When Redding, carrying a two gallon stone bottle, was about to follow their example, he was prevented by the questioning of the Officer as to the contents of his suspicious looking bottle.” “Whiskey, Sir” was the prompt reply of honest Tom; whereupon he was turned off the ship’s deck with the intimation that he was to await the convenience of the Officer in the cabin. Underwood stated that the sailor had admitted that he had not paid duty on the whiskey, and so Redding and the spirit were duly taken into custody and walked across the temporary gangway, the criminal first and his captor, carrying the whiskey, in close attendance, to be placed in a lock up for the night and then on to the Court of Justice in the morning.
Then came the turn of the accused, whose simple defence was that he was a seaman on board H.M.S. Revenge and had obtained a fortnight’s leave, for the purpose of seeing a married sister residing in Cork. Aware of his intended visit, she had written to her brother asking him to purchase and bring two gallons of London stout, promising to replenish the bottle with the best Cork whiskey on his return to England. This contract was strictly adhered to and hence his present difficulty. He knew nothing about spirit duties; he meant no harm to anybody; and hoped the Magistrate would let him go back to his ship at once within the period of his leave. The worthy Alderman told him he could do nothing of the kind, the of fence had been cleanly proved and unless he paid a penalty of a hundred pounds, he would have to serve for five years on the coast of Africa.
On hearing the decision, the poor fellow burst into tears, and falling on his knees, implored mercy. He said that he had injured no one; that he had never been in trouble before, and that he had always maintained a good character whether on board ship or ashore.
The Alderman said that he could not help it. The prisoner had broken the law and must abide the consequences. Feeling this to be a very hard case, and acting upon mere impulse, I advanced to the desk of the Magistrate and, apologising for my interference, said that I thought if he again read the evidence, he would see that it did not bring the prisoner within the terms of the Act of Parliament.
“And who may you be, and by what right do you interfere?” enquired the Worship.
I replied that whilst my name was immaterial, the legal bearing of the evidence of the Custom House Officer and the sufficiency of that evidence to the conviction of the prisoner was very material to the poor man at the bar and to the legal administration of justice.
“You have no right to interfere, Sir, and if you say another word, you will be turned out of the Court,” was the Alderman’s reply”
“God bless you Sir; do stand by me. I haven’t another friend in the world, this will ruin me for ever,” said Tom Redding with a trembling voice, and still on his knees.
Again I protested against the illegality of the conviction and besought a hearing as to the insufficiency of the evidence.
Without another word Alderman Fripp ordered: “Barrell, put that man out!”
I felt a grip on my collar and speedily found myself outside the door of the Justice-room, where I remained until the prisoner was brought out by one of the officers, whom I accompanied to the lock-up, cheering the down-cast prisoner and promising to visit him in the evening. I well remember my dear father, Headley, saying to me, “My boy, always act upon impulse, and ten to one you will act rightly; for impulse is from the heart; whilst if you dally with natural impressions, and natural feeling and natural instinct, you are very likely to argue yourself into wrong conclusions, subjecting blood to brain, the heart to the head.”
This may possibly need some qualification; but I am not about to argue the wisdom of my father and only, refer to his advice by way of accounting for my unconsidered intervention between Messrs. Fripp and Redding. I had clearly acted upon impulse and I have never felt that I acted unwisely.
That evening, and the next day, and the next, I made myself thoroughly acquainted with my imprisoned client and determined upon my course of action for the purpose of effecting his liberation and circumventing Magisterial illegality and injustice.
On Saturday June 16th; I attended the Council House where The Right Worshipful the Mayor; Alderman Daniel and Alderman Brook were the residing Magistrates.
As their worships were about to retire, I observed that I had been waiting for some time at the convenience of the worthy Magistrates, to whom I was desirous of making a pro forma application.
The Mayor (resuming his seat, and motioning the worthy Aldermen to support him on either side), asked, “Well Sir, what is it?”
“My application, gentlemen, has reference to the unfortunate seaman recently convicted in this Court of the offence of smuggling, and whose severe punishment has, very naturally, interested myself and many others on his behalf. It will be in the recollection of Mr. Alderman Daniel, that I yesterday applied to him for an order to visit the poor fellow, with a view to effect such arrangements as might be best calculated to procure his restoration to liberty. The necessary instructions having been given to Mr. Evans, the keeper of Bridewell Prison, I this morning obtained an interview with Thomas Redding. Having good reason for desiring other communication with the poor fellow than could be afforded by the small opening in the door of the room in which he is confined, I made a request to the under Keeper for admission to the apartment. This having been refused me, and that refusal having been repeated by Mr. Evans himself, on the plea that it would be contrary to the custom of the prison so to admit me without an order from your worships. I now make application for the required permission.”
The Mayor considered for a moment and then said, “The hardship of this man’s case is admitted by the Court, and I am sure I should be very glad to promote his liberation; but I consider…. I consider Sir, that we cannot give you the permission you ask. I, for one, should have no objection; but, as I said before, I don’t think we can permit you to go into his room to speak with him.”
“No, certainly we cannot,” Alderman Daniel interjected, “besides, of what use would it be? I can’t see that any good could arise from it, for we all know it is a hard case, and I believe the Magistrates intended to send a petition to London for a mitigation of his punishment.”
Mr Harford, a clerk, informed the Court that it was sent off that morning.
Continuing, Alderman Daniel said, “And, therefore, it would be useless for you to interfere in it; besides, we can’t grant your application.”
This open dialogue continued with the Mayor adding, “The poor man’s case was brought before me some days ago, and I remember I thought the offence was very trifling, and innocently committed; indeed, I told the Custom-House people that they ought to consider well before they proceeded against him. Redding was then remanded, and I confess I was much surprised when I heard that the officers were determined to prosecute him to the full extent of the law.”
Alderman Daniel, exhibiting signs of anxiety interrupted to say, “But we already petitioned on behalf of this man, and so no permission to go into his room can be granted.”
These ramblings more than astonished me, “I had thought, gentlemen, that the permission solicited by me would be a matter of course; but, as you do not seem to view it in this light, I enter somewhat more at length into the circumstances under which I have applied to you. As a friend and advisor of this ill-used seaman, I am desirous of establishing his innocence by convicting the man, on whose evidence he was committed and sentenced, of wilful and purposed perjury. Thus, from the evidence in my possession, I believe I shall be enabled to do; but it is necessary that I should have an opportunity of private conversation with Redding, in order to fully develop the circumstances of his case, and make final arrangements of the measures which might be thought preferable to adopt with reference to any ulterior proceedings.” [Here there was a sudden rush of several individuals from the passage into the room.] “Keep the door shut! exclaimed the Mayor. I continued, “My conversation with Redding cannot, under the present arrangement, be so perfectly confidential as I desire. It will be obvious to you when I state that, at whatever hour I visit him, there are individuals present, before whom I, of necessity from such particular explanation of the plans by which it is proposed to obtain our object, as is desirable and indeed indispensable to the furtherance of the ends of justice. What assurance can I have that the under-keeper is other than the bosom friend of the man about to be charged with as gross perjury as ever was committed? And it will not, surely, be expected by you, gentlemen, that I should so endanger the safety of poor Redding as to put it in the power of any stranger to betray, prevent, and counteract those measures which are, by the conviction of your witness, to liberate your prisoner. It is under these inconveniences I apply to you for such an order on the Keeper of the Bridewell as may enable an innocent convict to establish that innocence of which he has been robbed, in estimation at least, by the wilful and deliberate perjury of another.”
“You have been told, Sir, that an application has already been made on Redding’s behalf by the Magistrates,” said Alderman Daniel;” and really you will not assist in the attainment of your object by interfering any further, I have no doubt the application will be successful.”
Exasperated by the blindness of the Court to my point, I none the less continued, “Supposing it is as successful as could be desired, his mere liberation would be an act of mercy; a favour for which it becomes not the innocent to sue. Gentlemen, this poor fellow is entitled to justice, and if we shall be enabled to show that the evidence on which he was convicted was false in some part of its most essential points, it is surely preferable that the guiltless and the guilty should participate in equal distribution of justice, than that the former should be considered as an object of mercy and the latter be permitted to escape that punishment which might operate as a wholesome caution to others subjected to a similar temptation. Besides, Gentlemen, it is less a question with this unfortunate seaman, whether he shall obtain his liberty in six days, rather than seven, than it is whether he is to be set free with the unspotted character he has hitherto maintained, or with the blasted name which the sentence on a convicted smuggler will forever be attached to him.
With due courtesy Alderman Daniel asked, “But, Sir, suppose the advice you should give this poor man might be such as ought not to be given him?”
“That is a supposition, Sir, which you are not justified in advancing,” I replied.
Alderman Daniel asked if I were a Solicitor, to which I replied in the negative. He continued, that if I had been legally qualified then there would have been no objection to my admission”
“Gentlemen,” I said, “Redding has not the means of employing a Solicitor, and I should feel obliged to Mr. Alderman Daniel if he would have the kindness to define the precise difference between a rich man’s Solicitor and a poor man’s friend; especially as I am ignorant of any legal enactment bestowing privileges on the former to the prejudice of the latter.”
Alderman Daniel attempted a reasoned reply by stating that it was more than probable that I would not provide him the same advice as that given by professional legally qualified gentlemen.
My brain was running with the well oiled wheels of the mill, “Then Gentlemen, to meet this objection, I will state, and I do so with much gratification, that a highly respectable Solicitor of this City has kindly promised his gratuitous assistance in the case of this unfortunate man; but it can scarcely be expected of him that he should lose half his day in dancing attendance at the Bridewell, when, by the interposition of another, the object may be sufficiently attained” It is, then, as the direct medium of communication between the poor client and the humane Solicitor, that I conceive I can advance the justice of this case, and I trust your worships will not refuse my application in this particular instance; and I then more confidently rely on your support, from the liberal and just view which your observations lead me to conclude you have taken on the subject of Redding’s imprisonment and sentence.”
It was now apparent to me that however clear the argument was put the stubborn Aldermen were set to have their way; Alderman Daniel added, “Why, if we were to admit you into his room, all Bristol might apply to us in a similar manner.”
I returned, “But the anticipation of so improbable an occurrence is surely unfair towards the first applicant. I would submit, Sir, that on the realisation of your fears, the objection now urged would have more weight than it can have at present.”
“We cannot permit it,” Alderman Daniel replied, “besides, we have no right to grant your application: you must go to the committing Magistrates.”
This took me somewhat by surprise, “Of whom I am entirely ignorant. Perhaps you will permit me to observe that I conceived the present Bench fully competent to the exercise of this power; and, if so, I trust you will not send me all over the City to hunt for others. I do not even know who are the committing Magistrates.”
“Alderman Fripp, and……. ,” the Mayor paused and beckoned to the clerk for the additional information, which he gave as Alderman George Hillhouse.
In turn, each member of the Bench told me again that they could not give me the permission I require, even though they would be happy to do so if it was in their power, and I was told that I must put my request to Alderman Hillhouse or Alderman Fripp. I left the Council-House with the distinct feeling of being ‘fobbed off.’
I immediately set myself the task to investigate the current situation concerning the Petition, or Memorial, or Remonstrance that had been said, by Mr. Harford, to have been sent by the Magistrates of the City of Bristol to the proper quarter for the remission of the sentence on this unfortunate sailor. I was clearly informed, at 3 o’clock on Saturday June 16th, that it had been sent; an answer therefore might have been received on Monday morning; but four posts since have arrived and gone, and the poor fellow is still in the Bridewell.
I refrained from any active interference at this point, in the way of preparing a Petition, in case such action might have appeared invidious, and proved detrimental rather than otherwise to the interest of Redding. But now sufficient time had passed that I now conceive I may act on the supposition either that the proceeding had not been sufficiently prompt and energetic, or that there is some foul play, of which I am as yet ignorant. I shall therefore throw away any false feeling, and act upon the impulse of the heart, which truly obeyed, will seldom prove detrimental in its result.
All eventualities were being considered and by way of the most uncomfortable access through the part opened door of Redding’s cell I helped my poor friend to write a Petition pleading for his freedom. The copy read as follows:-
To his Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence, Lord High Admiral of Great-Britain.
The humble Petition of Thomas Redding, now a Prisoner in The Bridewell of the City of Bristol,
That your Petitioner was paid off from H.M.S. Revenge, at Portsmouth, on the 11th of May, last. That your Petitioner, being naturally desirous of seeing a sister and brother-in-law from whom he had been separated for seventeen years, proceeded to Cork for such purpose on the second instant, in The Severn,’ Steam-packet, from the City of Bristol. That your Petitioner returned by the same conveyance to Bristol on the sixth instant. That on arrival of the packet in the dock, your petitioner had in his possession a two gallon keg of Irish Whiskey, for which he had paid the sum of 19s. at a spirit store in Cork, under the declaration, that he purposed taking it with him to London, and under the supposition that the high price charged him included all duty. That the person of your petitioner was seized on board such vessel, and before he had landed or attempted to land, by a Custom-House officer with the name of William Underwood. That he was detained a prisoner in the cabin, until the said officer left the packet, and that he was then landed in his custody, and placed in confinement on shore. That on the fourteenth instant, he was charged before the Magistrates of the aforesaid City of Bristol with the offence of smuggling – that he was convicted on the oath of the aforesaid Wm. Underwood, who swore that the capture was effected when your petitioner was on land” That your Petitioner is now under sentence to serve on board the Royal Navy for five years. That your Petitioner is prepared to establish the charge of perjury against the witness, Underwood, by proving that he effected his caption on board The Severn Steam-packet. That your Petitioner conceives his case one of peculiar hardship, and can refer your Royal Highness to the convicting Magistrates Messrs. Aldermen William Fripp and George Hillhouse, who in common with the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Bristol, have severally expressed their regret that the Act of Parliament on which the Customs’ Supervisor in this City had thought proper to proceed, did not allow any mitigation of the sentence. Your Petitioner humbly and respectfully conceives that to your Royal Highness, the case of an oppressed seaman cannot hut he one of considerable interest, and he therefore, in full confidence, throws himself on the justice of your Royal Highness, beseeching such and as early relief, as may be consistent with the elevated rank and truly British character of your Royal Highness, and necessary to the relief of an imprisoned seaman, convicted for an offence ignorantly committed and on the perjured testimony of an interested witness. And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.
(signed) THOMAS REDDING.
Bristol, June 26, 1827
Towards the end of January 1826 I again returned to the City of Bristol, but why or how I wended my course in this direction I cannot remember. For the first few weeks I kept house and home together raising the necessary funds by giving talks to the citizens of this great City. My first lecture was gratis and on the “Power of Memory” and held at the local Mechanics Institute in February of 1826. During April of that year I developed this theme still further and gave a lecture on ‘Mnemonics, as applied to the learning of modern languages,’ to a hall of over 300 people. Each paid a shilling to learn of the method that I used so effectively a few years earlier in Calais, whilst teaching the rudiments of the English language to the French. Advertisements in the Bristol Mirror were taken to encourage people to attend these lessons. This, as well as a very popular series of eight lectures on Biblical history helped to confirm my thoughts that the City of Bristol had sufficient population for me to make an independent living.
It was during these times that I acquired a feel for the common grievances of the good citizens and how they felt towards the incumbent Corporation. The plain fact is, up to the date of my unsolicited appearance in the Bristol Council Chamber and my unwelcome interference with the course of Magisterial incapacity the all potent municipality had for too long, had its own way, none daring to question its immaculacy or provoke its malevolence. The Aldermen were the Gogs and Magogs before whom the citizens bowed in humility, if not adoration; and it seemed that the slave drivers in Jamaica imagined that they had a prescriptive right to be slave drivers in Bristol. To such an extent had they assimilated their- dealings in the West Indies with their dealings in the capital of West England that their white slaves here had scarcely the courage to look at them in the face in assertion of their mere humanity! I had that courage, I claim no merit on that account; for, not being a Bristolian, and only a foreigner, I had the conviction that Bristol was but a portion of Britain and that the atmosphere of the British constitution and British law permeated the social system of even this benighted City.
With the welfare of my dear wife Elizabeth and baby daughter Eliza Annie, very much in mind an attempt to secure a more reliable income was undertaken; and on 28th May 1827, I printed the first issue of The Bristolian. From the beginning great care was taken not to, in anyway upset other established papers and in the first issue I declared that the paper had not originated with any proposed opposition to the periodical works already established in this City. Neither shall it be conducted with the acerbity which is ever calculated to excite inimical feelings and degrade that which should be devoted to the public service into a mere vehicle of personal enmity or party annoyance. This, at the time, was secretly my attempt to sideline any adverse attention by competitors from the unstamped nature of this publication. A battle that was forever at the front of my priorities in my battle for the freedom of the press.
TO THE RIGHT WORSHIPFUL THE MAYOR, AND THE
OF THE CITY OF COUNTY OF BRISTOL
(The Bristolian,. Saturday 14th August, 1830)
About three years since I contested the right of access to your Police Court, and was turned out by the order of a Magistrate and by the strength of an officer. I subsequently prosecuted the parties for an assault, but a Bristol Jury acquitted them.
The right of the Public to enter a Court of Justice is undeniable and has been recently recognised, in distinct terms, by the Judges of the Court of the Kings Bench. It is of the utmost importance that the judicial proceedings on the part of the Magistracy, should be divested of that privacy in which they are too frequently enwrapped; and it is my intention, again to try this question of right, with regard to the Police Court of this City. I indulge the hope you have profited somewhat by the added experience of the last three years; and I trust, you need not to be informed, that the very attempt to repress publicity will justly excite suspicion that you have too much reason to Court secrecy. If I do not deceive myself in this point, you will hesitate before you provoke a reference to superior authority, in respect of a question on which an adjudication has been formally made; you will be no less anxious than myself, to evince your independence of public opinion by the manifestation of your readiness to brave its expression, by an upright and fearless dispensation of justice in open Court.
For your information on the point once disputed by you, I beg to subjoin the most recent legal decision on the subject:-
COURT OF THE KING’S BENCH.
December 15th 1829.
DAUBNEY, GENT. ONE, ETC. v COOPER AND OTHERS.
This was an action of trespass. The declaration complained that the defendants vi et armis turned the plaintiff out of a room called the Justice Room, in a part of an Inn, called the White Hart, at Market Rasen, in the County of Lincoln, in which room the defendants, as Justices of our Lord the King, assigned to keeping the peace and were then holding a Court of Petty Sessions for the administration of justice; whereby the plaintiff was hindered and prevented from exercising, following, and transacting his lawful and necessary business as an attorney, at and in the same room. There were other counts not necessary to be stated. The discussion, on the trial, went chiefly to the point, whether Preston, the defendant in the information, had the right to appear by attorney.
The point was reserved for the consideration of the Court; and the plaintiff obtained a verdict, with nominal damages, against all the defendants to whom leave was reserved to move to enter a nonsuit.
A rule having been accordingly obtained in the Easter term, cause was now shown by Mr. Denman and Mr. Clinton; and Mr. Serjeant Adams and Mr. Serjeant Goulburn were heard in its support.
Mr. Justice Parke: Even if there were no right to appoint the attorney, it does not follow that you had the right to turn him out. At present I think that this was an open Court, and that the plaintiff, as one of the King’s subjects, had a right to attend it. The case is very different from that of Garnett v. Ferranti.
Mr. Justice Bayley: At present I think so too.
The Court, however, took time to consider; and on the next day, the judgement was delivered in the following terms by:-
Mr. Justice Bailey: We adhere to the opinion that we intimated yesterday. We have communicated to Lord Tenterden on the subject, and he concurs with us in that opinion. It is not necessary for us, in this case, to decide the questions which were made in the argument; whether a person charged with the offence with which Preston was charged before the defendants, has the right to appear before them by attorney, so as to dispense with his personal attendance; or, whether an attorney in such a case has the right to appear, as an attorney for the person so charged, and in that character, to maintain his right to be present, and take a part in the proceedings. We decide neither for those questions; but the place in which the trespass now complained of was committed, was a Court. Magistrates were acting in a judicial way: we think it is an essential ingredient of such a Court that it should be open. If, in such a Court, there be convenient room, and the persons present do not interrupt the proceedings; and if they in other respects conduct themselves in a becoming manner, and if there is no good reason for removing any particular individual, we think that, with these limitations, all persons have a right to be present. Here, the plaintiff was present in the Court, and there does not appear to be any fact in the case, to bring it within any of the limitations I have mentioned, so as to render it justifiable or advisable to have him his removed.
“The plaintiff was there, for this purpose at least, as one of the public; and without pronouncing any opinion upon his rights as an attorney, he was not the less one of the public, because he was an attorney. He may be considered as being there as the friend of the accused. The accused might desire to have his friend with him, to assist him, for instance, in noting down what was sworn to by the witnesses against him; a very important advantage, which the accused had a right to have, and the plaintiff a right to give him. This being the state of things, one of the defendants, the Magistrate, without any offence being given, without any offence being suggested, without assigning any reason, or, at least, any adequate reason, orders the plaintiff to be forcibly turned out of the room. For that trespass the action is brought, and we think it is maintainable; but, as only one Magistrate took a part in this transaction, we think the verdict should be limited to him, indeed, the propriety of this was conceded in the course of the argument. What we decide is, that the Magistrates were, on this occasion, sitting as a Court, in their judicial character; and it is highly important to preserve the general principle that the proceedings of such a Court should not be private. That is the ground upon which we dispose of the present case.”
Having thus demonstrated my right to do that which the law sanctions, I will not anticipate any obstruction from those, who, are presumed to be knowing in the laws of the land, and disposed to dispense them with impartiality and justice.
The fight for publicity in our Police Courts that I waged so successfully in Dorsetshire before the Magistrates at Wimbourne, I have had to repeat in the Council Chambers of Bristol, Lawford Gate and elsewhere. Nor is it likely that the public will have fair play before local Magnates who have strong prejudices and are operated upon by personal influences in regard of those between whom they have to adjudicate.
From Wimbourne Minster I proceeded to Blandford to give a series of lectures on my system of “Rational Memory.” Shaftesbury being about ten miles from that town announced the delivery of my course of lectures at each place, on alternate nights.
At Shaftesbury a Quaker named John Rutter is a printer and bookseller. Having employed him to print my bills, a friendly acquaintance ensued which was considerably promoted by the efforts made by him to secure the success of my undertaking, in which, he, in my absence at Blandford, acted as my agent. In return I assisted John Rutter, at his urgent solicitation, in resistance of the tyranny of Earl Grosvenor’s agents, and the authorities of that Borough.
It was my successful fight with the tyrannical Tory Magistrate at Wimbourne that brought him and many other good and zealous Liberals of Dorsetshire around me and from that time I was almost unconsciously entangled in the contest for right and for the freedom of the press.
John Rutter was a true patriot, many considered him progressive and certainly he was energetic. He was a good man and a staunch friend. Although John was originally apprentice to a linen draper, nonetheless, he later became a printer, a profession in which he could use his fine education and vent his stated belief that ‘the great panacea is publicity.’
On 2nd October 1826, we published the first issue of The Shastonian. This issue contained a full report of the proceedings of the Corporation in the election of Phillip Chitty as Mayor. John and I decided to push forward our ideas of press freedom by printing the paper without the imprint required by law. We spoke at length about this and although we moved together as one, John felt happy that the paper was entitled ‘The Shastonian’, occasional periodical publication. At the time, publications that were printed with a frequency of more than a month and carried current news items, did not have to carry the expensive stamp. We worked hard together and it is true to say that many of the principles that I carried through life were nurtured by the good John Rutter.
After the publication of some four or five numbers, I think overtures were made to John Rutter, for the suppression of the work. I understand the condition was the non-enforcement of the fines in which he, John Rutter had been convicted. Be that as it may, the cessation of the work was determined on, and I continued to fulfil my engagements now at Sherborne and Yeovil. I shall always hold this man in the highest regard; but he made one great mistake in his mature age, for he turned lawyer; in the hope, doubtless of operating more effectually in the law Courts against his political persecutors. I do not think that in his case that circumstances made him a worse man; but it is dangerous for any. man to seek even justice by threading the intricate maze of the law and devote himself to the study of a tortuous system for circumventing an opponent. How many men have I known or thought to be great and good, but that they were lawyers by profession, their judgements warped and their sense of right perverted! How many lawyers in the City of Bristol and Hull have I unearthed and denounced and denuded of this moral garb of seeming respectability!
What happened to John Rutter after I left Shaftesbury, I know not, but this I have since learned from his brother Samuel of the Castle, for he would not tell ought but truth. That his brother John is not one to be led by any man. He said that John Rutter ought to have been, and I believe is, thankful to me for the inconvenience to which I put myself, with the sole view of withdrawing him from the clutches of a most disgraceful political persecution.
It seems strange to me that I should have always found myself, from my boyhood, en face with Toryism; without thrusting myself in its way, yet ever battling against it whether offensively or defensively. Is it due to my dear father, Headley, who was a staunch Radical, that I became in very childhood unconsciously indoctrinated with the parental principle? It cannot be (or can it?) that Radicalism comes to rational beings by instinct? Its germ may be an innate love of what is good, just and true, cultivable by culture or possibly forced by the experience of compulsory surroundings; but if this be so as to Radicalism, how is it with Toryism? Is that instructive, begotten in despotic natures by self-love, and blossoming in personal assumption and social tyranny? That these are antagonistic forces there can be no question; and there is little doubt that, in one form or another, they will co-exist; as good or evil, to the crack of doom. Meanwhile, mind is on the march; and, as the world progresses and man advances intellectually and morally, the power of the workers of iniquity must recede before the internal conscience of the Children of Light.