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"your Majesty a large present supply, but also a very "great additional revenue — great beyond example — "great beyond your Majesty's highest wants!" Afterwards, in printing, the last word was corrected by the Speaker to " expenses." It may easily be imagined how much gratification this speech afforded to one side of the House, and how much resentment it called forth on the other. A vote approving it was proposed by the Opposition, and of course much disrelished by the Ministry; but, being most consistent with form and quiet, was, after some debate, allowed to pass.
It was certainly felt on all hands, as the Speaker had, with no great respect, implied, that the appeal in behalf of the Civil List, however unavoidable, was most illtimed. It was made in a year when the charges for the navy rose to upwards of four millions, and the charges for the army nearly approached the same sum; when it was deemed requisite to impose a tax on male servants, a further stamp on deeds, and an auction duty; and when, notwithstanding these aids, it became necessary to add five millions to the funded debt.*
The public would no doubt have borne this increase of its burdens with still more dissatisfaction, had the public known how rotten at this period was our whole system of commissaries and contractors — how ill, in fact, the money raised in England was applied abroad. To this charge I will summon as my witness Lord North's own Solicitor-General. Thus, in 1777, did Mr. Wedderburn write respecting our army in America to a confidential friend : — " The peculation in every profitable branch of "the service is represented to be enormous, and, as usual, "it is attended with a shocking neglect of every comfort "to the troops. The hospitals are pest-houses, and the "provisions served out are poison; those that are to be "bought are sold at the highest prices of a monopoly." f
Another measure, which was met by considerable opposition, and not carried without some amendments, was
* Parl. Hist. vol. xix. pp. 241. 271. In the debate on the Budget, Lord North observed that there were some persons who kept thirty or more male servants.
t Letter to William Eden, printed from the MS. in Lord Campbell's Liv.s of the Chancellors, vol. vi. p. 118.
a partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus—a Bill empowering His Majesty to secure and detain persons charged with or suspected of the crime of high treason committed in North America, or on the high seas, or the crime of piracy. "The thing is this," said Lord North;"there have been during the present war in America"many prisoners made who were in actual commission"of the crime of high treason; and there are persons"guilty of that crime who might be taken, but from"want of evidence could not be kept in gaol." Our own liberties are in danger!—such was the reply of Dunning, Wilkes, and Fox. "Who knows," cried Fox, " but the "Ministers, in the fulness of their malice, may take it "into their heads that I have served on Long Island, "under General Washington? What would it avail me "in such an event to plead an Alibi; to assure my old "friends that I was during the whole of the autumn "American campaign in England; that I was never in "America, nor on any other sea but between Dover and "Calais; and that all my acts of piracy were com"mitted on the mute creation? All this may be very "true, says a Minister or a Minister's understrapper, but "you are for the present suspected; that is sufficient; "this is no time for proofs. I know you are fond of "Scotland; I will send you under this Sign Manual to "study the Erse language in the Isle of Bute. As soon "as the operation of the Bill is spent, you will be at "liberty to return whither you please; and then you "may, if you like, call on your accusers to prove their "charges of treason in America, or on the high seas, "or of piracy. But they will laugh in your face, and "tell you they never charged you, they only suspected "you!"
While thus, within the walls of Parliament, imaginary apprehensions passed for arguments, there were out of doors strong proofs of other and more real dangers resulting from the partisans or the emissaries of America. On the 7th of the preceding December, a considerable building in the Dockyard at Portsmouth, called the Ropehouse, had been consumed by fire. Through great exertions the further progress of the flames had been arrested, and their origin was ascribed to accident, until several weeks afterwards, when some combustibles were found concealed in another large building of the same establishment — the Hemp-house. Happily, notwithstanding the vast stores of hemp, these last combustibles had failed in their effect, but their appearance made it plain that in all probability, not accident, but design, had caused the first calamity. Suspicion fell upon a moody, sullen artisan, whose name had not been known, but who, from his calling, had borne the surname of John the Painter. This fellow, it was now remembered, had been seen on the day of the fire loitering about the Rope-house and the Hemp-house, and by some chance, on the preceding night, had been locked into the former. A reward was offered for his apprehension, but all trace of him was gone, and on searching through Portsmouth and its neighbourhood no such person could be found. In the mean time other incendiary attempts were made in various places. At Plymouth the design was wholly frustrated, and the perpetrator nearly seized. At Bristol, also, the villain failed in an attempt to set fire to some vessels, and found so strict a watch kept on them afterwards, that he was obliged to change his plan of operations. He succeeded in setting fire to some warehouses which stood upon the quay, close upon a crowded mass of shipping; and six or seven of these houses were consumed while the shipping narrowly escaped. In another house of the same city fresh combustibles were found, and there was general panic, but great variety of surmises. The one party ascribed these things to American and Republican principles in the other; while in the party thus impugned the more violent men declared themselves fully convinced that these were malicious acts or inventions of the Tories, merely for the purpose of calumniating and blackening their adversaries.*
Happily these days of doubt and terror did not long endure. In the beginning of February, a countryman being apprehended at Odiham on a charge of burglary, was identified as John the Painter, and sent up to London
* Ann. Regist. 1777, p. 30. See also in Burke's Correspondence (vol. ii. p. 136.), the letter to him from Sir Abraham Elton, of Bristol.
for examination. His true name was Aitken, but at various times he had borne many different appellations; he was a native of Edinburgh, and only twenty-four years of age. Three years before he had gone to seek his fortune in America. There he had wrought at his trade, travelling on foot through several of the Colonies, and imbibing a hatred of his native country. After his return to England, he became concerned in numerous petty acts of theft and depredation, besides the graver crime of which he stood accused. When brought before Sir John Fielding and other magistrates in London, he showed great craft and coolness, parrying every doubtful question or declining a reply to it. He was committed to prison, but there seemed the utmost difficulty in bringing home the charge to him.
The miscreant did not escape, however. It so chanced that there was another painter, named Baldwin, who had likewise travelled in America, and who was known to Earl Temple. At his Lordship's suggestion this man was summoned to Sir John Fielding's, to determine whether he had ever seen or met the prisoner. As it happened, Baldwin had not; and so he told the magistrates, in the hearing of the culprit, who, in acknowledgment, made him a bow. An acquaintance between them having thus arisen, some conversation ensued in the next room; and Baldwin paid the prisoner frequent visits in the gaol, when, pretending to hold the same principles, he gained his entire confidence. The result was communicated by Baldwin in the first place to Earl Temple, and afterwards, at Earl Temple's desire, to Lord George Germaine. John the Painter was by degrees drawn in to own to his false friend that he was engaged in a design of setting fire to the several dockyards, and thus destroying the navy of Great Britain, and that he had been more than once to Paris to concert his measures for that object with Mr. Silas Deane. "Do you not know Silas Deane?" he asked. "What, no—not Silas Deane? He is a fine clever fellow; "and I believe Benjamin Franklin is employed on the "same errand."* The prisoner added that Silas Deane
* Howell's State Trials, vol. xx. p. 1335. Dr. Franklin stands perfectly clear of any communication or connexion with John the had encouraged him in his noble enterprise, inquiring all the particulars, and supplying him with the money he wanted. He then proceeded to relate how, on his way from Paris, he had stopped at Canterbury to have his combustibles and machinery prepared; how from Canterbury he had gone to Portsmouth; how he there had quarrelled with his landlady, who had pried into his bundle; how he had succeeded in lodging his materials both in the Rope-house and the Hemp-house; how, on the same afternoon, he had hurried from the town, often turning round in hopes to see the result; and how, only a few minutes after he had passed the last sentries, he looked back and beheld the flames ascend. "The very "elements," he said, exultingly, "seemed to be in a "blaze!"
Early in March the incendiary was brought to trial at the Winchester Assizes. To his surprise and dismay he saw his friend Baldwin stand forth as the principal evidence against him. It appeared, however, that the prisoner's narrative to Baldwin, as repeated by the latter, was in many minute circumstances most fully confirmed by other witnesses — as by the tinman at Canterbury, and the landlady at Portsmouth,—and the Jury, without doubt or hesitation, returned a verdict of Guilty. John the Painter seemed to be resigned and ready for his doom. When Mr. Baron Hotham told him at the close, "I can "give you no hopes of pardon," the prisoner answered firmly, "I do not look for it, my Lord;r and when the same Judge was proceeding to pass what he termed "the "painful sentence of the law," the prisoner, interrupting him, said "joyful." On the 10th of March he was hanged at Portsmouth, on a gallows sixty feet high, in front of the Dockyard, having first been carried in an open cart round the ruins of the Rope-house. His last words, as he gazed on those ruins, were to acknowledge his crime, and declare
Painter; he had only just landed from America; and on the day of the fire at Portsmouth (Dec. 7. 1776), he was still at Nantes. Yet some persons may consider as significant the hint which he drops in a letter to Dr. Priestley many months before: "England has "begun to burn our sea-port towns; secure, I suppose, that we "shall never be able to return the outrage in kind." (Works, voL viil p. 156.)