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1777. PIKES IN THE DOCKYARD AT PORTSMOUTH. 149
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 Rope-house, 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 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 goal, 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
* Ann. Regist. 1777, p. 30. See also in Burke's Correspondence (vol. IL p. 136.), the letter to him from Sir Abraham Elton, of Bristol.
1777. TRIAL OP JOHN THE PAINTER. 151
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 hot know SilasDeane?" 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 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, helooked 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 in 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
* Howell's State Trials, vol. xx. p. 1335. Dr. Franklin stands perfectly clear of any communication or connexion with John the 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. viii. p. 156.)
ready for his doom. When Mr. BaronHotham 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;" 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 atPortsmouth, 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 his penitence. Indeed he had already, on the day after his trial, made a full confession, owning his incendiary attempts at Portsmouth, at Plymouth, and at Bristol, and repeating his former statement as to Silas Deane. "Mr. Deane told me, when the "work was done, by which he meant burning the Dockyards "at Portsmouth, Woolwich, and Bristol Harbour, but not "the houses, I should make my escape, and come, if possible, "to him atParis, and I should be rewarded. As a reward, my "own expectations prompted me to hope that I should be "preferred to a commission in the American army." In this confession, John the Painter added, that with respect to another American, Dr. Bancroft, who resided in London, and on whom Mr. Deane had directed him to call, he had found that gentleman wholly adverse to his schemes. "And seeing "that the Doctor did not approve of my conduct, I said I "hoped that he would not inform against me, to which the "Doctor said, he did not like to inform against any man."*
Another trial, at nearly the same period, appears to have attracted more than common interest. The Rev. Mr. Horne had at length flung off his clergyman's gown, which, by his own showing, he should have long since laid aside, or never worn.** He now called himself John Horne,
* See the whole confession in Howell's State Trials, vol. xx. p. 1365. ** Mr. Home did not resign his vicarage of New Brentford till 1773. (Life by Stephens, vol. i. p. 419.) Yet so early as 1766 we find him write to Wilkes as follows: "It is true I have suffered the infectious hand of a "Bishop to be waved over me. I allow that usually at that touch — fugiunt "pudor, verumque, fidesque; but I hope I have escaped the contagion.1' (Ibid. p. 76.)
1777. RE-APPEARANCE OF CHATHAM. 153
Esquire, and as such, continued active and eager on the democratic side. In the summer of 1775, he had taken the lead in a subscription which he had announced as being for "the relief of the widows, orphans, and aged parents of our "beloved American fellow-subjects, who faithful to the "character of Englishmen, and preferring death to slavery, "were for that reason only inhumanly murdered by the "King's troops at or near Lexington and Concord, on the "19th of last April." For the libel comprised in these words he was indicted, and, after some of those delays in which our law delights, was brought to trial in the summer of 1777. The presiding Judge on this occasion was Lord Mansfield, recently raised to an Earldom; and on the part of the Crown appeared the Attorney-General, Thurlow. Horne conducted his own defence, in rambling, but acute and able speeches, sparing neither the Judge on the bench, nor yet the Administration, nor yet the Parliament. Nevertheless he was found Guilty, and sentenced to imprisonment for the space of twelve months.
A few days only before the Session terminated, Lord Chatham, after two years of sickness and seclusion, once again emerged. He had desired his friend Lord Camden to give a notice in his name; and on the 30th of May, still swathed in flannels, he went to the House of Lords. There he moved an Address to the Crown, lamenting the unnatural war against the British Colonies in America, and beseeching His Majesty to take the most speedy measures for arresting it, upon the only just and solid foundation, namely, the removal of accumulated grievances. "You cannot conquer "the Americans!" he cried. "You talk of your powerful "forces to disperse their army; why—" and here he raised, and showed, the support to his gouty limbs — "I might as "well talk of driving them before me with this crutch!... "You have ransacked every corner of Lower Saxony; but "40,000 German boors never can conquer ten times the num"ber of British freemen; they may ravage — they cannot "conquer! But what would you conquer — the map of