Secret Service Under Pitt



Todd Jones, Wolfe Tone, and Hon. Simon Butler were three Protestants to whom, Mr. Froude says, the Catholic Committee voted 1,500l. each, as a reward for their cordially rendered aid. This was in 1793, and we hear no more of Todd Jones from Froude. His subsequent history is not without interest, and seems interwoven with that of Francis Magan.

John Philpot Curran’s writing-desk remains exactly as he left it when quitting Ireland in 1817 to die. A long and cautiously written letter,[373] without signature, dated August 13, 1803, but known to be from Lady Moira, reposes in this desk. It was written three weeks after Emmet’s rebellion, and a month prior to his execution. The letter begins mysteriously, ‘Read, reflect, but do not answer. Time will unfold the intentions.’ She complains of information which had been sent to the Government, regarding a trunk, assumed to be full of papers, reaching Moira House, Usher’s Island, and presumably from Todd Jones. She declares that her rooms were ransacked, under a warrant from the Secretary of State, and how letters addressed to Todd Jones at Moira House had been carried to Dublin Castle. In writing to Curran, whom she wishes to be her counsel if the matter should come to trial, she makes light of these letters, and prudentially describes her correspondence with Jones as mainly of an antiquarian and picturesque interest.

Magan, who resided within a few doors of Moira House, possessed peculiar facilities for ‘setting'[374] the movements of its habitués.[375] It must have been in 1802 when he was found by Mathias O’Kelly[376] associating with Todd Jones, and that date merits attention. ‘I had been absent from Ireland for ten years, from the year 1792,’ writes Jones in his petition to the king, ‘during the whole of which period I was uninterruptedly a resident in England, and in May 1802 I was indispensably compelled to return to Dublin, by an affair of honour.'[377] Soon after he proceeded to Munster, ‘which I had never beheld, and had long entertained an inclination to see.'[378]

At what date can we trace the first arrival of Jones on his mysterious mission to Clonakilty, where with several of his friends he was arrested on a charge of high treason in July 1803? To that question the answer is, December 1802. The ‘Account of Secret Service Money, applied in detecting Treasonable Conspiracies,’ contains the following entry:–‘1802, December 15th, Francis Magan, by direction of Mr. Orpen, 500l.

There is but one family named ‘Orpen’ in Ireland; and the only Orpen who could possibly be authorised to direct the payment of 500l. to Magan at this time was the High Sheriff of Cork, in whose bailiwick Jones was tracked and caught.[379]

Emmet, in his speech from the dock, denied that he was the life and soul of the conspiracy, as alleged by Mr. Solicitor-General Plunket; declared that men of greater mark than he were deep in it; that on his return to Ireland he found the organisation formed; he was asked to join it; he requested time to consider; they invited him again, and he embarked in the enterprise. And yet, so carefully was the secret kept, that nothing transpired to show that he had any colleagues of good position. Lord Norbury, who tried the case, and the Attorney-General stigmatised the plan as contemptible from the fact that Emmet’s allies were of no higher rank than ‘ostlers, bakers, carpenters, and old clothes men,’ and, notwithstanding the solemnity of Emmet’s dying words, history has since given him the exclusive credit, or discredit, of the rising of 1803.

Among others to whom suspicion attaches, although there is no absolute evidence to show his guilt, may be mentioned William Todd Jones, a Protestant of good family and some means, a barrister and writer, and a member of the late Irish Parliament. The Viceregal organ, the ‘Dublin Journal,’ in its issue of August 6, 1803, after noticing the arrest of Jones, adds: ‘This gentleman has been many months on a tour through the provinces of Leinster and Munster, making speculations on the state of the country through which he passed.’ He remained eight months in Cork, and it is a question whether, during that prolonged stay, he may not have sought to foment revolution. All memoirs of Emmet have hitherto been silent as regards the complicity of Cork in his designs. Kildare is the county of which mention is chiefly made. The following from the ‘Courier’ (London) of August 5, 1803, furnishes a glimpse into the then state of Cork:–

A Dublin mail arrived this evening, and brought us letters and papers of Monday last…. Though there has been no rising in Cork, yet very unfavourable symptoms of disaffection have appeared there, and to the south of that city we are sorry to hear that the malignancy of the former rebellion is by no means extinguished.

The same journal, of August 16, 1803, contains a letter ‘written by a gentleman of distinction in the county of Cork,’ possibly Mr. Orpen himself, who commanded a corps of Yeomanry. The writer, after stating that he had spread yeomen in all directions to prevent the embarkation of persons charged with treason, goes on to say:–

Todd Jones has been at Dr. Callanan’s, Clonakilty, the last eight months: H.,[380] by order of Government, arrested him for high treason, as also the Doctor and his son…. These measures have been attended with alarm; but I think we are at present quite safe; and a strong fleet at Beerhaven relieves me from all apprehension of an enemy.

The entire of the Yeomanry of this kingdom is now on the permanent establishment. Our corps is strong, and without vanity a good one. I have applied for an addition of infantry: with this augmentation, I shall feel very little apprehension for any attack made upon us without the aid of foreign force.

It appears from this letter, dated August, 1803, that Jones had been then eight months at Clonakilty in the county Cork: therefore his arrival would have been in December 1802–the very date of the payment of 500l. to Magan by direction of Mr. Orpen, high sheriff for the county. Meanwhile the locality in which Jones pitched his camp became, from some cause, decidedly heated. A letter in the London ‘Courier,’ dated ‘Cork, August 21,’ after recording the arrest of Todd Jones, Donovan, and Dr. Callanan, states, ‘The peasantry in the neighbourhood of Ross, near Clonakilty, go armed to their chapels, and mount a regular guard over their arms while they perform their devotions.’

We have seen that Magan–traditionally described as an unsociable person, possessing few friends–maintained most intimate relations with James Dickson of Kilmainham, in whose house Jones was also a constant guest. About the same time as the arrest of Jones in Cork, the ‘Courier’ of August 30, 1803, announces in its Dublin news: ‘Yesterday Mr. James Dickson, of Kilmainham, was arrested at his house by Messrs. Atkinson[381] and Carleton, chief peace-officers, and his papers searched. The superintendent magistrate had him conveyed to the Castle, where he underwent examination, and was afterwards committed to Kilmainham Gaol.'[382]

Todd Jones, writing at the time, warmly details the circumstances of his arrest (the italics are his own):–

My person has been assaulted in my bed at daybreak, in the respectable mansion of a venerable friend, Doctor Callanan, near Clonakilty, and I have been conveyed, very strongly guarded by Troops, to an ignominious common Gaol: in reaching which, at the moderate distance of twenty-two miles, I have been wantonly exhibited, like an already convicted Felon, for two long summer days, the first and second of August, in Orange Triumph, to the gaze of a very crowded Bandon rabble; and thence paraded, with like ostentation, through all the streets of Cork, as if in progress to Execution.–My venerable friend and hospitable entertainer, Doctor Calanan, a Physician of the age of seventy, with his only son, on my account, have been dragged from the same mansion to Prison, after a similar triumphant exposure of two days, to gazing multitudes, in the short distance of twenty-two miles: a Man eminent for a long professional life, dedicated to the Poor, and to the Peasants, whose tears kept pace with his progress.

He then goes on to request that all concerned in his detainer, including the Sheriff of Cork, may be summoned to the Bar of Parliament. An account of his shattered health is sent to the Secretary of State–‘It is my liberty which I pray for–a trial–liberation–or death! I have been a close prisoner for eleven weeks, without even having been shown my indictment, or been told the names of my accusers.'[383]

These complaints were made in October, 1803, but entirely failed to obtain redress. His petition to the king, dated 1808, resumes the story: ‘Within this prison I continued confined from 23rd July, 1803, until the latter end of October 1805, when I was unconditionally discharged by the High Sheriff of the County of Cork–untried–unbailed–unexamined and unredressed.'[384]

When the High Sheriff of Cork liberated Jones it may be assumed that the same authority was instrumental in his committal. Formerly, high sheriffs took much more active part in such proceedings than now. No organised system of police then existed, and the high sheriffs seem to have been duly impressed with the responsibility of their position. On March 18, 1800, we find in the Secret Service Money Book, 100l. handed to Mr. Archer, High Sheriff of Wicklow, for the detection of treason, and on April 27, 1801, a further sum. But these exertions were dignified in comparison with the acts of Sir Judkin Fitzgerald, High Sheriff of Tipperary, who, with his own hands, flogged the peasantry to extort confession.

Emmet’s insurrection burst forth in Dublin on the night of July 23, 1803; that same morning, and at a distance of 150 miles, Jones is arrested.

The connection of Todd Jones with Irish politics was apparently of a graver and more subtle sort than might be inferred from Lady Moira’s letter to Curran, or even Plowden’s account of him in his History. Plowden, a Catholic–the guest, with Jones and Magan, of James Dickson–says that the persecution which Jones underwent at the hands of the Government was due solely to his powerful advocacy of Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform. He defends Jones with all the warmth of friendship; his ‘History of Ireland’ enters most largely into the case, and quotes various orators who sought to vindicate Jones in Parliament.[385] But the reply of the ex-Secretary of State, Mr. Wickham, finds no place, contrary to Plowden’s usual honesty and fulness in that work. Wickham, as appears from Hansard, rose from the bed of sickness to reply to Fox, who had taken up the case of Jones, and addressed the House sitting. He said:–

For some time after the arrest of Mr. Todd Jones, which the Irish Government was induced to order upon information–the particulars of which he could not with any propriety describe, but which were satisfactory to their minds as to the measure. Mr. Jones remained in prison without any particular inquiry having been instituted in his case. As soon, however, as the trials which followed the insurrection of 1803, and which so much occupied the attention of the Irish Government, had terminated, an inquiry into the case of Mr. Jones took place…. He had already stated the impossibility of giving a full explanation to the House without acting unfairly towards the character of the Petitioner. After the trial of the rebels, and the fullest investigation of the charge against Mr. Jones, his case became much more serious than it appeared at the outset. Willing, however, to act with every possible mildness, his case was submitted to the Crown lawyers accompanied by this question, ‘whether it would be proper to liberate Mr. Jones,’ and their unanimous opinion was decidedly in the negative. The Irish Government transmitted the case of Mr. Jones to his Majesty’s Ministers in this country, requiring their advice; and their answer was, that it would be extremely unadvisable to allow such a person to be at large in Ireland![386]

Of how Jones’s alleged guilt was hushed up, and why the vengeance of the Attorney-General preferred to fall on ‘ostlers, bakers, carpenters, and old clothes men,’ as he said, an idea may be perhaps formed from a letter addressed by the Right Hon. William Saurin to Jones, proposing that he should secretly, and as if of his own accord, exile himself from Ireland. This letter was enclosed by Wickham to Jones on October 11, 1803. Saurin, Jones states, had been his schoolfellow.[387]

Dr. Madden professes to supply a list of all persons of substance connected with Emmet in his attempt; also of persons who were cognisant of his plans, and were supposed to be favourably disposed towards them; but Todd Jones obtains no place,[388] and therefore the less excuse is needed for this effort to embrace a long neglected figure, and one not uninteresting for ‘Auld lang syne.'[389]


[373] The full text of this long letter will be found in the Appendix.

[374] ‘Setting’ is the phrase used by Mr. Secretary Cooke (see ante, p. 118).

[375] Ibid. p. 134.

[376] See previous chap. p. 140.

[377] Mr. Jones’s ‘Petition to the King,’ dated ‘Cork, March 9, 1808’; printed in Plowden’s History of Ireland, iii. 624.

[378] Ibid.

[379] The records of the Chief Secretary’s Office show that in 1802 Richard Thomas Orpen, of Frankford, was High Sheriff of Cork. During the present year (1891), I found in the Irish State Papers a letter dated ‘Cork, March 24, 1802,’ from the above Mr. Orpen, in his capacity of high sheriff, regarding a correspondence he had with General Myers as to a small assistance of cavalry.

[380] Probably Dr. Hardinge of Cork, an active agent in those troubled times.

[381] Atkinson was desired to be on the alert in Cooke’s letter to Sirr, written on the day of Lord Edward’s intended move, of which Magan gave notice.

[382] Mr. Justice Day, writing to the Irish Government on September 27, 1803 (eight days after Emmet’s execution), suggests that Lord Bantry, who got his peerage for reporting the arrival of the French in ’96, would be a good man to make inquiries regarding Jones.

[383] Curious Correspondence of William Todd Jones with the Secretary of State. Dedicated to Lord Moira and Mr. Fox. (Cork: Odell, 1804.)

[384] Plowden’s History of Ireland since the Union to 1810, iii. 626 et seq.

[385] Plowden’s History of Ireland since the Union to 1810, ii. 36, 216-220, 623-632.

[386] Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, v. 793-5.

[387] Curious Correspondence. (Cork: Odell, 1804.)

[388] United Irishmen, iii. 329.

[389] The Annual Register and other usually well-informed sources fail to record the death of Jones. A full obituary of him appears in the Ulster Register for March 1818, iv. 186-8; and a fine monody on ‘Immortal Jones,’ probably by Drennan, in the same serial, pp. 224-5.

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