Secret Service Under Pitt



Discoveries and arrests now multiplied, despite the care with which Reinhard and Lady Edward persuaded themselves that all negotiations had been fenced.

Lord Cloncurry in his Memoirs writes of his ‘dear friend Lord Edward Fitzgerald,’ and readers of that book will remember the touching narrative given of the writer’s arrest and long confinement in the Tower. This peer seeks to show that he himself was innocent of treason, but Mr. Froude states, after studying the letters of Lord Downshire’s friend, that ‘Lord Cloncurry was a sworn member of the Revolutionary Committee.'[91] The betrayer’s first interview with Downshire took place on October 8, 1797. In that interview he ranked among the marked men, Lawless, afterwards Lord Cloncurry. During the next month we find his movements narrowly watched. One of Mr. Froude’s sensational surprises is a statement in reference to this subsequent British Peer and Privy Councillor. Pelham, Chief Secretary for Ireland, writing to the Home Office on November 7, 1797, refers to the fact–if fact it is–that

‘Mr. Lawless, Lord Cloncurry’s eldest son, is going to England this night, charged with an answer to a message lately received from France. I have sent Captain D’Auvergne in the packet with Mr. Lawless, with directions to find where he means to go in London, and to give you immediate information.'[92]

A story never loses in its carriage; and Portland was perturbed by the news. The Hamburg spy, who was the first to mention Lawless’s name, was now consulted.

Two secret letters from the Home Office, dated June 8, 1798, and printed in Lord Castlereagh’s ‘Correspondence,’ speak of a communication received from ‘a person in Hamburg,’ and how

‘His Majesty’s confidential servants have found it necessary to take into custody and detain several natives of Ireland, now resident here, of whose intimate connection and correspondence with the leaders and inciters of the present rebellion in Ireland there was no room whatever to doubt…. Communicate this information to the Lord Lieutenant, that the Honourable Mr. L—-, Mr. S., of Acton,[93] and Messrs. T., A., and C.,[94] of the Temple, have been apprehended here, and Messrs. McG—- and D—- at Liverpool;[95] and that warrants for apprehending the following have been granted: Dr. O’K—-, C—-[96] of Abbey Street, Dublin, and Mr. H—-.[97]

Lord Cloncurry states that the Duke of Leinster, Curran, and Grattan, who happened to be visiting him, were also taken into custody; but this statement is not wholly borne out by contemporary accounts.

Wickham’s second letter of June 8, 1798, recurs to the arrests and speaks of ‘most secret, though accurate, intelligence received from Hamburg,’ adding:–

There are some papers found in Mr. Lawless’s possession that tend directly to show his connection with some of the most desperate of the Republican party here, as well as with those who are in habitual communication with the French agents at Hamburgh, and his Grace is in daily expectation of some material evidence from that place, tending more directly to implicate that gentleman in a treasonable correspondence with the enemy.[98]

‘Braughall’ was another name which will be found in the list written out by Downshire from his visitor’s dictation. Lord Cloncurry, in his Memoirs, describes Braughall as ‘his business agent and confidential friend;’ while Tone constantly refers to him in cordial terms. The newspapers of the day record his arrest and how ‘papers of a very seditious nature were found in his house.'[99] Among them was a letter from Lawless urging him to contribute to the defence of unfortunate O’Coigly, and mentioning that ‘Little Henry’ had munificently subscribed. This passage, Lord Cloncurry states, was interpreted at Dublin Castle as referring to Henry Grattan, though the writer meant Mr. Henry of Straffan, brother-in-law to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and as the result of this mistake Grattan was placed under arrest, but speedily liberated.

A memoir of O’Coigly is furnished by Dr. Madden in the first edition of his ‘United Irishmen,’ and embodies information derived from Cloncurry. Deferring to the Hon. Mr. Lawless, when in London, he says: ‘Every Irishman who frequented his house was vigilantly watched by agents of a higher department than the police.’ Pelham says that he sent Captain D’Auvergne on board the packet with Lawless, charged to find out where he went to in London; and it would seem that during the tedious journey of those days, Lawless suspected D’Auvergne’s mission. ‘The agent of a higher department than the police’ would also apply to Turner, who was in London at this time. Who was the detective who had his berth next to young Lawless on board the boat, sat and chatted with him in the coach to London, and afterwards dogged his steps? Letters furnishing secret information, and signed ‘Captain D’Auvergne, Prince of Bouillon,’ may be found in the ‘Castlereagh Papers.'[100] This personage represented an old and illustrious French family. The Prince, finding his patrimony sequestered during the Revolution, looked out for a livelihood, and seems to have been not fastidious as to the sort. Cloncurry states that when bidding good night at the house of a friend, he would say, ‘I haven’t the conscience to keep my poor spy shivering longer in the cold.’ After 1798, D’Auvergne’s usual post was Jersey, whence his letters in the ‘Castlereagh Papers’ are dated, and furnish the fruit of espionage, including all warlike preparations made by the French at Brest.[101]

Mr. Froude quotes a letter from Portland, part of which is to the same effect as that already given, and announcing the discovery of important papers ‘in Mr. Lawless’s [Cloncurry’s] possession that tend directly to show his connection with some of the most desperate of the Republican party in England, as well as with those who are in habitual communication with the French agents at Hamburg; and yet,’ he continued, ‘under present circumstances, and with evidence of the nature of that of which the Government here is in possession, strong and decisive as it is, none of those persons can be brought to trial without exposing secrets of the last importance to the State, the revealing of which may implicate the safety of the two kingdoms.'[102] But although the leading men could not be brought to trial, it was fit to hold them fast, that thus the teeth of the conspiracy might be drawn. One important man–Stewart of Acton–was certainly let out on bail; but he was a cousin of Lord Castlereagh’s.

These rough notes ought not to close without some notice of a reply to Portland’s criminatory remarks, which the late Lord Cloncurry has placed on record. When the ‘Castlereagh Papers’ appeared he was an octogenarian and enjoying, it is to be hoped, an unimpaired memory; but it is an open secret that the book known as ‘Lord Cloncurry’s Personal Memoirs’ was fully prepared for publication, and its style strengthened throughout, by a practised writer connected with the Tory press of Dublin, and who believed that Cloncurry had been wrongly judged in 1798.

As to the papers alleged by Mr. Wickham to have been found in my possession, [Lord Cloncurry is supposed to write] and tending directly to show my connection with some of the most desperate of the Republican party in London and Hamburgh, I now solemnly declare that I believe the statement to be a pure fiction, and that no papers were found, as I am most certain that, with my knowledge, no papers existed which could have had any such tendency, more directly or indirectly than, perhaps, a visiting ticket of Arthur O’Connor’s, or a note from O’Coigly in acceptance of my invitation to dinner.[103]

On the other hand, it is stated in a letter to the Home Office, dated July 24, 1799, that rebel despatches had been regularly addressed to Mr. Lawless in the Temple, ‘whose fate,’ it is added, ‘is much lamented at Paris.'[104] Lord Cloncurry himself admits that in the autumn of 1797 he was elected–but without his desire or knowledge–a member of the Executive Directory of the United Irishmen, ‘when, for the first and only time, I attended a meeting held at Jackson’s in Church Street.'[105] This date furnished fresh proof of the promptitude and accuracy of Turner’s information to Downshire (supplied also in the autumn of 1797)–information which revealed the adhesion of Lawless, afterwards Lord Cloncurry, to the Executive Directory. Jackson’s name is also to be found in the list as dictated by Turner. Of course Lawless must have been already a United Irishman, or he could not be eligible for election to a seat in the Directory. Binns, who was arrested with O’Connor and O’Coigly at Margate, says: ‘Coigly was no stranger to Lawless; he made him a United Irishman in his father’s house, in Merrion Street, Dublin.'[106] Cloncurry’s Memoirs state merely that O’Coigly, who was the finest-looking man he had ever seen, presented to him a letter of introduction, descriptive of Orange persecution, which it was alleged he had suffered.

Lawless and O’Coigly had opinions in common; and both were much together in London. The former never forgave O’Connor for having–as he said–unfairly sacrificed O’Coigly during the trials at Maidstone.[107] In collecting evidence to hang the priest, renewed attention fell upon Lawless. His first imprisonment lasted for six weeks. On April 14, 1799, on the eve of his marriage with Miss Ryall, who at last died of a ‘broken heart,’ he was again arrested on Portland’s warrant and committed to the Tower, where he remained two years. Lord Cloncurry states that his father, in dread of confiscation following his son, left away from him 65,000l. However, the Irish rebel lived to become a British peer, a Privy Councillor, and the adviser of successive Viceroys. Dr. Madden, who received much help from Cloncurry when compiling his ‘Lives of the United Irishmen,’ states that Robert Emmet dined with this peer in Paris, previous to leaving France on his ill-fated enterprise; and Madden, in his second edition (ii. 137), says he knows not how to reconcile the account of the interview, as supplied in ‘Cloncurry’s Personal Memoirs,’ with a verbal account of the same given by his lordship to himself.

The list noted by Downshire from the dictation of his visitor, though complete as regards the Rebel Executive of 1797, far from embraced all the names which more careful thought must have brought to the recollection of the informer. It had now become second nature to him to discharge, almost daily, letters of fatal aim, jeopardising the lives and reputations of men who implicitly trusted him. He also, as it appears, ‘opened a correspondence’ with leading United Irishmen. It is not sought to be conveyed that all the information came from Turner; but the following remarks of Mr. Froude, although they repeat a few names already mentioned, are important, as connecting ‘Lord Downshire’s friend’ with the harvest of captures in midsummer 1798:–

Every day was bringing to the private knowledge of the Cabinet how widely the mischief had spread, as the correspondence which continued with Lord Downshire’s friend added to the list of accomplices. Lord Cloncurry’s son was no sooner arrested, than Stewart of Acton, a young Agar, a young Tennent, young Curran, McGuckin, Dowdall, and twenty others,[108] whose names never came before the public, were found to be as deeply compromised as he.[109]

The question was even mooted as to whether he and others should not be excepted by name from the Bill of Indemnity, or even specially attainted by a Bill of Pains and Penalties, in consideration of the impossibility of convicting them by the ordinary course of the law.[110]

Turner’s knowledge and duties as a United Irishman having been mainly confined to Ulster, it seemed strange that one of the Northern Committee could be so intimate with O’Connor and Lord Edward. Even in the betrayer’s first interview with Downshire he reveals much intimate acquaintance with both. All this can be readily understood now. In November, 1796, O’Connor took a house near Belfast, preparatory to offering himself for the representation of Antrim. Dr. Madden states that Lord Edward and O’Connor lived together for some months, and during their stay maintained friendly intercourse with the Northern leaders.[111] Soon after we find the command in Ulster assigned to O’Connor. ‘Arthur O’Connor,’ resumes Mr. Froude, describing the events of December, 1797, ‘after spending a few months in the Castle,'[112] had been released on bail, Thomas Addis Emmet and Lord Edward Fitzgerald being his securities. “The person” who had come to Lord Downshire had revealed the secret of the visit to Switzerland; but without betraying his authority Camden could not again order O’Connor’s arrest.'[113] After an interval, however, and at a critical moment, O’Connor was apprehended anew, and he remained a State prisoner until 1802.

At an early stage of this chase I met with the seeming difficulty that the name of Samuel Turner appears in the list of leading rebels which ‘the person‘ gave to Lord Downshire.[114] In undertaking to give a complete list of the Executive Committee, he could not well omit his own name. No doubt to invest it with increased importance, he puts it next after those of Lord Edward and Arthur O’Connor (the nephew of Lord Longueville), and before Stewart of Acton and the future Lord Cloncurry. The act is consistent with the usual swagger of the man, and shows the ingenuity by which he hoped to baffle all subsequent evidence of his treachery.

Lord Camden writes: ‘The intelligence with which we are furnished would, if certain persons could be brought forward, be sufficient to bring the conspiracy to light, defeat its ill consequences, and make a salutary impression on the minds of the people.'[115] ‘Unfortunately,’ comments Mr. Froude, ‘”certain persons” declined to be brought forward. Pelham, when in London, made large offers to Lord Downshire’s friend, but without effect.’


[91] Froude, iii. 287.

[92] This announcement had its origin in one of the secret letters of McNally (MSS. Dublin Castle). Lawless was to sail for London ‘to-morrow night,’ he wrote, ‘and ought to be watched every hour’; but nothing is said of the answer to France, of which Pelham declares he was the bearer. McNally lived in Dublin, was a United Irishman, and confidential lawyer of the body, but had been bought over. The strange story of his life is told in a succeeding chapter. This man was now asked to find out all he could about Lawless.

[93] Lord Castlereagh, in a letter addressed to Colonel Lord William Bentinck, dated, Dublin Castle, June 24, 1798, and given to me by Mr. Huband Smith, states that, according to the information received, ‘Mr. Stewart had accepted the post of Adjutant-General for Armagh in the rebel army. Bentinck, writing to General Nugent three days later, says that Stewart, when his prisoner, ‘confessed to me privately that he was a United Irishman.’ This tends to show how generally accurate was the information communicated through Downshire.

[94] Trenor, Agar, and Curran. Trenor was the secretary of Lawless. Cloncurry’s Memoirs state (p. 68) that the hardships to which Trenor was exposed brought on illness and caused his death.

[95] It appears from a letter of Wickham’s (Castlereagh, i. 313) that the two men arrested at Liverpool were McGuckin and Dowdall.

[96] The Dublin Directory for 1798 records the name of ‘John Chambers, 5, Abbey Street.’ Here again the handiwork of Downshire’s ‘friend’ is traceable. The private list of the executive, which he gave him, includes Chambers’s name. Mr. Chambers, grandson of the above, tells me that when the warrant was issued, a judge of unpopular antecedents hid the rebel in his house.

[97] The imprisonment of Hamilton, the nephew of Russell, is noticed in the letter from Hamburg. Castlereagh Papers, ii. 5.

[98] Wickham to Castlereagh, Whitehall, June 8, 1798.

[99] McNally’s secret letters, scores of which I have read in MS., make frequent mention of Braughall as a man with whom he was intimate; and it is likely that the news of Lawless’s intended journey to England came from Braughall innocently. McNally, while incriminating others, uniformly seeks to exculpate Braughall, whose counsel he was (MS. letter of May 25, 1798). On June 13, 1798, he expresses his opinion that ‘Braughall is an enemy to force’; and a characteristic hint drops: ‘If Braughall could be made a friend–and I do believe he is not disinclined to be one, for I know he always reprobates tumult–his influence is great, and his exertions would go far to restore peace.’ Braughall had been secretary to the Catholic Committee, and is repeatedly mentioned by Tone in his Journal. A fine portrait of Braughall, in oils, may be seen in the boardroom of the Royal Dublin Society, of which he was secretary. After his arrest, this picture was relegated to a cellar of the institution; but, thanks to Lord J. Butler, it has been recently unearthed and restored. He died in 1803.

[100] Castlereagh, i. 250, 373, 382; ii. 104, 162, &c.

[101] He obtained the rank of Post-Captain, R.N., in 1784; and at the time that he was with Lord Camden at Dublin Castle he commanded the ‘Bravo’ gunboat. In 1805 he was gazetted ‘Rear-Admiral of the Blue.’ His name crops up now and then in the Wellington Correspondence. Thus, on November 15, 1814, when the Bourbons had been restored, this gentleman, now signing himself ‘D’Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon, &c.’ writes from ‘Bagatelle, Jersey,’ thanking his Grace for the condescending interest he had shown in recovering for him the small sovereignty of Bouillon. Vide also a piquant memoir of His Serene Highness Philip d’Auvergne, Prince de Bouillon, in Public Characters for 1800-1, pp. 545, 561. His father, though of ancient lineage, embarked in commercial pursuits; and it is added that at Jersey ‘a multitude of spies were kept in constant pay.’ A love of epistolary intrigue seems to have been hereditary with Captain d’Auvergne, Prince of Bouillon. History records that Cardinal d’Auvergne Bouillon, ‘during the War of the Succession, held a culpable correspondence with the enemy, i.e. Marlborough, Orrery, and Galloway.

[102] Portland to Camden, June 8.–S. P. O.

[103] Personal Recollections of Lord Cloncurry.

[104] Castlereagh Papers, ii. 361.

[105] Personal Recollections of Lord Cloncurry, p. 38.

[106] Purchased by the father of Lord Cloncurry from Lord Mornington (Cloncurry’s Recollections, p. 8). In this house the Duke of Wellington was most certainly born in 1769, though his Grace was himself ignorant of the fact, as his Census return, in 1850, shows. It is now the headquarters of the Land Commission.

[107] Statement of Lord Cloncurry to Mr. O’Neill Daunt.

[108] Stewart of Acton, Tennent, McGuckin, Hamilton, and many of the twenty others, were all, like Turner, belonging to the Ulster branch of the organisation.

[109] Froude, iii. 418; see also p. 20, ante.

[110] Castlereagh Papers, i. 163.

[111] Lives and Times of the United Irishmen, ii. 13.

[112] Birmingham Tower, Dublin Castle.

[113] The English in Ireland, iii. 288. The above passage serves to show that the important arrests made by the Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland were largely due to ‘the person’ who whispered in Downshire’s ear.

[114] See this list, p. 7, ante.

[115] Camden to Portland, December 2, 1797.

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