Secret Service Under Pitt



No greater contrast could be found to the idiosyncrasy of Magan than that of Thomas Reynolds. If the former was shy, shrinking, and unobtrusive, Reynolds had indomitable audace, a fondness for display and luxury, a love of society, and an effrontery which no rebuff could disconcert. After several arrests had been made, and when a suspicion of infidelity rested on him for the first time, Neilson, a powerful man, meeting him unarmed at night, grasped him by the throat, and, presenting a pistol, exclaimed, ‘What should I do to the villain who has sought my confidence to betray me?’ Reynolds, with perfect sang froid, replied, ‘You should shoot him through the heart!’ Neilson, struck by the reply, changed his purpose and suffered Reynolds to go.

Fourteen delegates from Leinster, as they sat in council at Bond’s, had been arrested on Reynolds’s information, and the sickening fact is told by Dr. Madden that some days after the arrests he paid a visit of condolence to Mrs. Bond, and caressed the babe she held in her arms.

But let it not be supposed that he had any share in the betrayal of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Reynolds held an advantageous lease of lands under the Leinster family, warmed to Lord Edward, and, during the period of his outlawry, gave him some money to meet a pressing call. The Geraldine little dreamed from what source it was derived. Before the payment of the 5,000l. to Reynolds he received, early in 1798, 500l. from Dublin Castle.

Reynolds, a silk mercer, had been persuaded to inform by Mr. W. Cope, an eminent merchant, who exercised great influence over him, under circumstances that will be soon apparent. His grandson, Sir William Cope, Bart., has sent me the correspondence which attained this end. Cope, in a memorandum, dated 1799, writes:–

I exerted my influence, and, though Mr. Cooke said to me, ‘You must get him to come forward; stop at nothing–100,000l.–anything,’ etc., I conditioned with Government for him for only 5,000l. and 1,000l. per year, and he is satisfied. He came forward at my repeated intercession.

The ‘Life of Thomas Reynolds,’ by his son, was issued in 1839, with a view to whitewash a sullied memory; the biographer–not supposing that the Cope papers existed–states that, as compensation for heavy losses, a bulk sum of but 500l. was paid to Reynolds, ‘with an annuity of 1,000l. Irish, with reversion to my mother, my brother and myself.'[685]

The accounts of Secret Service Money have also turned up to bear out Cope’s statement and confront Reynolds junior. It appears, under date of March 4, 1799, that Reynolds received on that day not 500l., but the completion of a sum of 5,000l. As regards the pension, it continued to be paid for near forty years, and it has been computed that he drew altogether 45,740l.

The information which had been dropping from Reynolds, sometimes not as freely as had been hoped, received a stimulus by his arrest at Athy on May 5, 1798. He writes to Mr. Cope that he has been thrown into a dungeon, and demands from the Government, what they well know he merits, instant enlargement. He refers to the great and essential services he had rendered to Government, and adds that by his confinement he is totally prevented from obtaining and giving further knowledge. Then it was that Cope settled the terms with Cooke. Cope’s powerful influence over Reynolds was due to the fact that the latter had gradually become his slave as a creditor to a large extent. Sir William Cope[686] has sent me a letter from Reynolds’s wife to show the falsity of the biographer’s assertion that he had made no terms with the Crown for his information. It appears from a letter of Reynolds that the wife was empowered to act for him, and among the terms required were, ‘that he might settle in any part of England he liked, receive from the Government letters of introduction, recommending him and family to the particular attention of the gentry of the place;’ the pension to commence on June 25, 1798, with 5,000l. in hand; in conclusion she begs Cope to advance on loan 1,000l.[687]

These and other references to monetary transactions led me to search the Registry of Deeds Office, and the following result appears: ‘1794–Thos. Reynolds of West Park Street Dublin to Wm. Cope. Consideration 5041l. 14s. 5d. Lands of Corbetstown, King’s Co.’

The fact that Reynolds was obliged to borrow this sum shows the erroneousness of Lord Castlereagh’s statement in Parliament, ‘that he was a gentleman in considerable circumstances.’ Fresh proof of the wisdom of the proverb (xxii. 7), ‘the borrower is servant to the lender,’ is afforded by this episode. In the case of Higgins and Magan, the treachery of the latter to Lord Edward was entirely due to the fact that Higgins had bound him, hand and foot, in bonds more inextricable than those by which Mephistopheles sought to enchain his victim. Shamado got the lion’s share of the blood money earned by that betrayal. Cope, though a man of great wealth, and professing to have influenced Reynolds solely from a sense of moral duty, obtained a pension of 1,000l. a year for his wife, with reversion to his three daughters.[688] Cope survived until December 7, 1820, when he died at his house in Hume Street, Dublin. His three daughters never married. The foregoing inquiries have been invited by the son and biographer of Reynolds, who, seeking to pillory Dr. Taylor, author of the ‘Civil Wars,’ writes:–

‘Perhaps Mr. Taylor could furnish me with the records from which he discovered that my father was distressed from want of money.’ He may, perhaps, consider Mr. Moore’s ‘Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’ as a record, or Mr. Moore himself as an historian, of small value; but I shall notice his work in another place, I shall confine myself for the present to Mr. Taylor. ‘From what source,’ he asks, ‘did Mr. Taylor discover that my father had been an active member of the Union? and, above all, from what record did he receive the foul slander that he had sold the secret to Government? Could not the same record have supplied him with the price also; and, if so, why did he not name it? From what records did he learn that my father had insured to himself by his conduct even the slightest reward? The whole accusation is as false as it is malicious.'[689]

Among other damaging things alleged against Reynolds on the trials of Bond, Byrne, and McCan were that he had stolen his mother’s jewellery and had afterwards poisoned her, and that he had broken several oaths; and it was sworn by five respectable witnesses that they did not believe him worthy of credit on his oath.

A small incident, which has never appeared in print, may perhaps be given here. The guard which seized the fourteen delegates at Bond’s house entered by means of a password. This we shall presently know, and Major Sirr had Reynolds to thank for the information, though the father of a late police magistrate–Mr. Porter–lay for a time under the stigma. Wm. Porter–in whose house Dignan will be remembered as having had a narrow escape from arrest–met Oliver Bond one day on Cork Hill, Dublin, and asked him, as a United Brother, for a list of the signs and passwords employed on special occasions. Bond replied: ‘Call at my house on Monday evening next, making sure to ask as you enter, “Is Ivers from Carlow come?”‘ Porter was on his way to keep this appointment when he met Luke White–the founder of the Annaly peerage –who asked him to accompany him to Crampton Court close by, where some business was transacted between the two–one being a printer and the other a publisher. An hour was thus consumed, and Porter on arriving at Bond’s–it was Monday, March 12, 1798–found a cordon of soldiers round the house. Reynolds, who held the rank of colonel in the rebel organisation, was not then suspected; and it was Oliver Bond’s conviction, freely expressed, that William Porter had betrayed the password to Sirr. For this suspicion he made frank atonement. Bond’s trial did not come on for three months, and the interval proved one of much anxiety to Porter. Then it was that Reynolds excited much surprise by entering the witness-box. Bond, recognising Porter in court, stretched forth his arm across the necks of his keepers, and shook the hand of the man he had wronged.[690]

Reynolds, unlike Magan, who seemed content with the crumbs which fell from ‘Shamado’s’ hand, was less easily satisfied. In 1810 he got the postmastership at Lisbon, the emoluments of which for four years amounted to 5,600l., after which he became British Consul at Iceland; but, not liking the post, he coolly returned to London without leave, when the following scene took place between himself and Mr. Cooke, formerly Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle. Reynolds’s son thus tells what passed: ‘”You are a madman; you are an imprudent; I tell you so to your face; and you were always an imprudent man, and never will be otherwise. I tell you, you are considered as a passionate, imprudent man.” “Mr. Cooke,” said my father, “if I was not so, perhaps Ireland would not at this day be a part of the British Empire: you did not think me passionate or imprudent in 1798.” “I tell you again,” said Mr. Cooke, “you are mad. Well, what do you intend to do now?” “Really,” said my father, “I intend to do nothing at all; I suppose Lord Castlereagh, on his return, will settle my resignation.” … “Lord Castlereagh,” continued Mr. Cooke, “knows you to be a very imprudent man, and he would certainly hesitate at allowing you to be in London, where your imprudence would give advantage to your enemies to bring you into trouble, and him too. He does not like you to be in London: I tell you fairly that is the feeling.”‘[691]

Lord Castlereagh then filled the critical post of Minister for Foreign Affairs. A formidable Opposition daily questioned and tormented him. The horror of Mathias on hearing ‘the Bells’ can hardly have been greater than that of Castlereagh whenever Reynolds’s ring sounded at his door. Reynolds refused to freeze any longer in Iceland, and, after some delay, was appointed consul at Copenhagen. He soon got tired of it, and coolly installed his son there as vice-consul; but, on Canning succeeding to Castlereagh, after the suicide of the latter, he sent young Reynolds adrift. Meanwhile the sire divided his residence between Paris and London. He constantly crossed Castlereagh’s path, posing before him as an ill-used man and largely helping to drive him mad. The cupidity of Reynolds is described as insatiable. In 1817, Thistlewood, Watson, and Hooper were indicted for treason; true bills were found by the grand jury of Middlesex; but the name of Thomas Reynolds having appeared on the panel, much wrath found vent, and a feeling of disgust passed over England. The press took up the subject, and Parliament resounded with ‘Reynolds, the Irish informer.’

Society snubbed him, but still his chariot went round the Row day by day. After Castlereagh’s death he removed permanently to Paris, where he loved to parade his pompous person, and became as well known in the Champs-Elysées as Charles X. or Louis Philippe. Some lines scribbled at this time illustrate the feelings with which thinkers of a certain type watched his diurnal progress:–

Lolling at his vile ease in chariot gay,
His face, nay, even his fearful name, unhidden!
Uncloaked abroad, ‘neath all the eyes of day,
Which–as he passeth–close, while breath is hushed,–
Unspat upon, untrampled down, uncrushed,
I’ve seen the seven-fold traitor! &c.

Reynolds had a habit of leaving his card on men the buckles of whose shoes he was unworthy to burnish. Amongst others whom he thought that by doing so he honoured, was Dr. Daniel Haliday, of Paris, who represented a family distinguished in Irish letters. In Haliday’s hall there hung a fine portrait of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Turning its face to the wall, and sticking Reynolds’s card on it, he said to his servant: ‘When he again comes, refer him to this picture.’ Reynolds, of course, repeated the visit, and felt the rebuff the more because Lord Edward was not among the men he had betrayed. The late Charles Haliday, to whom I owe this story of his uncle, shared the rather general belief as to Reynolds having informed against the Geraldine, while the now convicted Magan, who lived close to Charles Haliday on the banks of the Liffey, failed to incur his suspicion.

One fine day in August 1836, when Paris was en fête, Reynolds died, and his remains were brought to England and consigned to the vaults of Wilton Church, Yorkshire. By a coincidence Dr. Haliday died at the same time, as appears from his epitaph in the picturesque graveyard of Dundrum near Dublin. When struck down by death at Paris, he had been engaged on a History of the Irish Brigade.


[685] Life of Reynolds, by his Son, ii. 514. Mr. A. F. Reynolds, the biographer, died in 1856, after having long filled the post of stamp-distributor for the East Riding of Yorkshire.

[686] Sir W. Cope died Jan. 9, 1892.

[687] The full text of the correspondence I have published elsewhere. The letters of Reynolds are full of bad spelling.

[688] Cornwallis, ii. 375.

[689] Life of Thomas Reynolds, by his Son, i. 103.

[690] Frank Thorpe Porter, police magistrate, to W. J. F., May 30, 1860.

[691] Life of Thomas Reynolds, by his Son, ii. 445.

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