Acquitted of stabbing two policement during the Calthorpe Street Riot, 30th May 1833
THIS affair, which produced much bitterness of feeling between the people and the Metropolitan Police, occurred on Monday, the 15h of May 1833. For some time before, the streets of London had been placarded with bills announcing the intention of certain parties to hold a meeting in a place called the Calthorpe Estate, at the back of the Cold Bath Fields Prison, its professed object being to adopt measures preparatory to a National Convention being held. In consequence, a government proclamation was issued, declaring a meeting for that purpose to be illegal, and warning all persons to abstain from attending it or taking any part in its proceedings.
This proclamation, there is little doubt, tended in a very material degree to produce the very evil which it was intended to repress. The intention to hold the meeting was little known, for the party by which it was called was an obscure though violent political sect, but the effect of the government notification was to excite the curiosity of many who were driven to the spot, to which otherwise they would have had no attraction, for the purpose of witnessing whatever might take place. Precautions were taken by the Government to secure the public peace, which, had they been adopted in a proper spirit, would have been most praiseworthy. The very consequence, however, of the extensive preparations which were made, was to attract fresh curiosity, and to draw new observers to the scene of the proposed meeting.
The assemblage was appointed to take place at two o'clock, but long before that hour several hundreds of persons had collected upon the spot indicated as the place of convocation. Groups of idlers were to be observed dispersed in different directions, among which women and children were intermingled to a very considerable extent; and there were not wanting among them the partisans of the disaffected, to amuse them with declamations on the sufferings of the people and the necessity of their taking strong measures to obtain redress.
In the meantime, the police force of the metropolis were to be seen marching from all quarters of town towards the scene of action. Between two and three thousand men were placed on duty, all of whom were distributed at certain appointed places of rendezvous, under the orders of their superintendents and inspectors, while Viscount Melbourne, the Home Secretary, and Messrs Rowan and Mayne, the commissioners of police, with a considerable number of police magistrates, sat as a species of council to direct their future movements, at the White Hart tavern in Gray's Inn Lane. The formidable appearance of the police on their march created new food for curiosity, and they were followed by hundreds of persons anxious to ascertain the inducement for such an assemblage. The numbers of the mob collected were thus every moment increased.
At one o'clock, between six and seven hundred persons had assembled, and this crowd, comparatively insignificant considering the parade which had been made, kept gradually swelling until three, when a van was driven up at the end of Calthorpe Street, which a young man named Lee, who was afterwards taken into custody, mounted, together with three or four other shabby-looking persons. At almost the very moment of the van taking its station, however, the driver appeared to become alarmed and, notwithstanding the entreaties of Lee and his companions, drove off. Mr Lee and the others were in consequence compelled to quit their intended rostrum and to adopt one some what less convenient, namely, a paling which stood on the spot. Lee was soon raised upon this new pulpit and, after a few prefatory remarks, he proposed that Mr Mee should take the chair. It had been stated that 'The National Union of the Working Classes', a society of men bound together for the purpose of procuring the achievement of certain political objects, would attend the meeting, and their committee was known to be assembled at a neighbouring public- house, called 'The Union', engaged in arranging the programme of the proceedings of the day. Mr Mee was recognized as an active member of the Union, and he was immediately elected chairman by acclamation.
Mr Mee then got upon the paling, and after thanking the meeting for the honour which they had conferred upon him, proceeded to address them upon the objects with which they had been called together. He declared that he was thankful to the ministry for having given the meeting an air of importance which, but for their proceedings, it would have wanted, but the question which they had to consider was whether, as they had met under such disadvantages as surrounded them, they should go on, or whether they should adjourn to a more favourable opportunity? (Cries of 'No, no! Go on!') He was, he said, but a working man with a family, and if they were not prepared to give his family one-tenth of their earnings they should not cry 'go on'. He might fall a martyr in the cause, and in that case, he should expect his family to be supported. (Cries of 'Yes! Yes!')
The 'Union', which had been expected every moment, and for which an anxious look-out was maintained, at this time appeared in sight. The procession, into which it was formed, consisted of about one hundred and fifty persons, and they carried among them eight banners. The most conspicuous of these was one which bore the motto 'Liberty or Death', with a skull and cross-bones on a black ground and a red border: others bore mottoes of 'Holy Alliance of the Working Classes', and 'Equal Rights and Equal Justice'. There were also to be seen a tri-coloured flag, the flag of the American republic, and a pole bearing at its head the Cap of Liberty. The procession with these ensigns walked in good order to the spot at which the speakers had assembled, but they had scarcely taken up their position, when a body of police marched into Calthorpe Street with the greatest order and precision. Their formidable appearance seemed to make a momentary impression on the mob, but a person pointing to the flag bearing the motto 'Liberty or Death', cried out, 'Men, be firm!' and shouts of 'Go on! go on!' instantly resounded from all sides. The police had now reached the middle of the street, the crowd clearing the way for them to advance, and staves in hand they pressed forward to a man who was still addressing the mob. As they advanced near what may be termed the platform, however, they met with much resistance. A conflict ensued, and under circumstances respecting which the evidence was of the most contradictory nature, one policeman named Robert Cully, No 95 of the C division, received a mortal wound from a dagger and died instantly. Two others, Serjeant Brooks of the C division, and constable Redwood of the C division, were wounded with the same or a similar instrument.
In time course of the afternoon a great number of persons who had been observed to be active in the proceedings of the day, were taken into custody, and all the flags were captured. By six o'clock the whole of the mob had been dispersed and quiet was restored.
Pursuant to the instructions of Viscount Melbourne, the prisoners who had been secured were taken to Bow Street on the same evening to be examined before Sir F. A. Roe, the chief magistrate. The whole street was filled with persons interested in the fate of the prisoners, and the proceedings excited a vast degree of interest. The result of the examinations taken on that night was the remand of a person named Robert Tilly, on suspicion of having been concerned in the murder of Cully (a charge which subsequently proved unfounded), and of a man named Fursey, on the charge of stabbing Redwood and Brooks. A great number of others were held to bail, or fined for the various offences of assault, or rioting, preferred against them.
On Thursday, Fursey was fully committed on the capital charge of stabbing Redwood and Brooks, and on the next day, a true bill was returned against him by the Grand Jury.
On Wednesday, May the 15th, an inquest was held before Mr Stirling, the coroner for Middlesex, on the body of Cully. The investigation lasted for several days, and the inquest-room and the neighbourhood of the house where the jury sat, were crowded by persons interested in the proceedings. A great number of witnesses were examined, many of whom declared that the police had acted towards the people with unwarrantable harshness, striking and beating them with their truncheons, making no distinction between active parties in the meeting and defenceless women, but conducting themselves with equal and undue severity towards all, and that they had been guilty of this misconduct without any provocation being offered. On the other hand, it was sworn, that the mob were violent, and that many of them were armed with formidable weapons. Truncheons loaded with lead were used by them in striking the police, and the pikes upon which their banners were mounted were headed with iron, in obedience to instructions published by Colonel Maceroni, which were contained in a book called Defensive Instructions for the People. It was admitted, however, that there was no disposition to riot among the people until the arrival of the police, that neither the Riot Act nor the Government Proclamation was read, and it was further proved, that the deceased had struck the man who wounded him before the wound was given. In reference to this part of the case there was considerable contradiction in the evidence, for one witness distinctly swore that the deceased was speaking to her, and desiring her to go home, when a man suddenly rushed from the mob and stabbed him, and grave and important doubts appeared to exist as to the proper result to be arrived at. At the conclusion of the inquest on Monday, May the 20th, the jury returned the following verdict: 'We find a verdict of JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE on these grounds: that no Riot Act was read, nor any proclamation advising the people to disperse; that the Government did not take the proper precautions to prevent the meeting from assembling, and that the conduct of the police was ferocious, brutal, and unprovoked by the people. We moreover express our anxious hope that the Government will in future take better precautions to prevent the recurrence of such disgraceful transactions in the metropolis.'
The announcement of this finding was received with immense cheering among the people assembled, but not without remonstrance on the part of the coroner. He urged the jury to reconsider their decision, but with obstinate pertinacity they refused to alter the determination to which they had arrived.
The verdict was, however, declared by the law officers of the Crown to be at variance with law and with the evidence on which it was founded, and on Thursday, May the 30th, upon the motion of the attorney-general in the Court of King's Bench, the inquisition was quashed.
On Thursday, July the 4th, the trial of George Fursey took place at the Old Bailey. He was indicted for having riotously and tumultuously assembled at Cold Bath Fields, on the 13th of May, with five hundred others, and with having assaulted amid wounded Sergeant Brooks, and Redwood, the constable, with intent to murder them.
The evidence by which it was sought to bring home the charge to the prisoner was first the positive declarations of Brooks and Redwood, that the prisoner was the man who had stabbed them, and secondly, the allegation by a man named Hayles, a constable, that after the prisoner had been apprehended, he was conveyed to a stable, where he and Tilley were confined together. They lay down on some straw, and when they had been removed to a lock-up house, the witness found on the spot where they had lain, a loaded pistol and a powder-flask, which Tilley had acknowledged belonged to him, and also a short dagger apparently made out of a foil blade, which was alleged by Redwood and Brooks to be exactly similar to that with which they had been stabbed and which besides was found to correspond in shape with the wounds which they had received. Here, as well as before the coroner's jury, there was much contradictory evidence as to the conduct of the police. Many witnesses were called for the defence, who described their demeanour as having been extremely violent, and who said that they saw them strike many persons whose proceedings had not rendered such a course justifiable. The trial lasted until two o'clock in the morning, the defence being conducted by Messrs C. Phillips and Clarkson, and Mr Justice Gazelee having summed up, the jury pronounced the prisoner 'Not Guilty'. This determination was received with loud demonstrations of applause by the people assembled within and outside the court, which the judges and officers in vain at tempted to repress.
Much ill-feeling was produced by this unfortunate affair towards the police and the Government. The police at their establishment had been exceedingly unpopular, from the military constitution of the force, but their usefulness had now begun to counterbalance the feeling which had so unfavourably prevailed. Their conduct at the Calthorpe Street riot did much to make them hateful to the lower orders, who were unable to draw the distinction between the intemperance of a few and the usefulness of the main body. The conduct of the mob can be justified only by the attack which it is clear was made upon them, but the act of murder and the attempt made to kill or disable Brooks and Redwood, are offences which appear to have been quite unwarranted by the circumstances which preceded them.
Fursey, after his trial, recovered 40L. damages against the proprietor of The Morning Chronicle newspaper, for publishing a libel, imputing to him the murder of Cully. Tilley, whose name has been mentioned, was liberated on bail, on Fursey's acquittal taking place, the charge against him, as has been already said, being found to be without foundation.