Secret Service Under Pitt



Mr. Froude, quoting from the betrayer’s letter to Downshire, writes:–‘I went to Harley Street, where Fitz[116] told me of the conduct of the Catholics to him and his friends. He said he would prevail on O’Connor, or some such,[117] to go to Paris; if not, he would go himself, in order to have Lewins removed.’

Lord Edward came to this decision obviously on the representations made by his false friend regarding Lewins. The false friend will be found impugning Lewins on every opportunity. Turner and Lewins, it may be repeated, clashed as rival envoys; Lewins, a Catholic, represented the Leinster Directory, while Turner claimed to represent the Northern. Turner worked his pen and tongue to such purpose that he at last succeeded in convincing Lord Edward of Lewins’s treachery. Binns, in his narrative, states that ‘O’Coigly had been commissioned by the Executive to supersede Lewins in Paris, whom some suspected of betraying the interests of Ireland.'[118]

The letter from Hamburg (first revealed by Mr. Froude) continues:–

Mrs. Matthieson[119] has just heard from Lady Lucy that O’Connor is come. I supped last night with Valence, who mentioned his having introduced Lord Edward[120] and O’Connor to the Minister here[121] in the summer before the French attempted to invade Ireland.[122] They both went to Switzerland, whence O’Connor passed into France, had an interview with Hoche, and everything was planned.

I feared lest Government might not choose to ratify our contract, and, being in their power, would give me my choice either to come forward as an evidence or suffer martyrdom myself. Having no taste for an exit of this sort, I set out and arrived here safe, and now beg you will let me know if anything was wrong in my statements, or if I have given offence….

One of the many unexplained letters in the Castlereagh Correspondence finds its keynote here. In August, 1798, Wickham, of the Home Office, writes as follows to Castlereagh, who then held O’Connor a prisoner in Dublin.[123] Wickham’s object, though shrouded in mystery, was no doubt to check the accuracy of ‘Lord Downshire’s friend,’ and to weigh the marketable value of his services:–

It would be a great satisfaction to me, personally, were O’Connor to be questioned on the object of his journey to Switzerland with Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1796, and whether they, or either of them, were in France at that time, and what French agents they saw besides M. Barthélemy. I was absent with the Austrian army at the time of their arrival, so that I lost the opportunity of observing their motions.[124] If either of them went into France, which I am persuaded they did, I should be curious, for very particular reasons, to know whether they went in by way of Basle, and whether their passports were given in their own names. Should there be no impropriety in questioning O’Connor on these points, as I have said before, it would be a great satisfaction to me that it should be done.[125]

Fifty pages may be turned ere the answer to this letter comes. It is headed ‘Secret,’ and bears date ‘Dublin Castle, August 17, 1798.’ All my circumstantial evidence, aiming to show that Turner is the man whom Mr. Froude could not identify, is crowned by this letter. Castlereagh thus replies to Wickham:–

‘Secret. ‘Dublin Castle: August 17, 1798.

‘I have endeavoured to obey your commands in examining Mr. O’Connor as to the object of his journey to Switzerland with Lord Edward Fitzgerald. At first he declined answering to this point, considering himself as only bound to state the facts which came to his knowledge after he became a United Irishman, of which body he was not then a member. Upon being pressed, without mentioning names, he stated it thus:–In the summer of 1796, as set forth in the Memoir, an agent was sent to France to arrange with the Directory the plan of invasion. This person went to Hamburg; from thence, accompanied by his friend, to Switzerland; neither went to Paris, but the person employed had an interview near the French frontier with a person high in the confidence of the Directory; upon a communication with whom everything was settled.[126] The reason neither proceeded to Paris was lest the English Government, in whose pay most of the officers in Paris were supposed[127] to be, should suspect the design, and arrest the persons on their return.

‘This perfectly agrees with Richardson’s information, which states that Lord Edward and O’Connor met Hoche, and arranged the invasion. ‘R—- states that O’Connor went into France; if he did, it was only a short distance merely to meet Hoche, and, from what O’Connor said, Lord E. seemed to be the principal.’

The above paragraph is one of much importance. Richardson I have discovered to be another alias of the hydra-headed Turner. Distinct proof of this will be found presently. Castlereagh continues:–

‘Should I succeed in drawing from him any further information on this point, I shall have great pleasure in transmitting it. He further stated that, when taken in Kent,[128] although he had not authorised any person to hire a vessel direct for France, but rather looked to reach a Dutch port, yet his real object was to pass through Switzerland into France, and fairly confessed that, had he reached Paris, he should not have been idle, as, though not charged with any special commission, he did believe the Directory would have considered him as an accredited agent.'[129]

Ordinary students of history are not free to search the papers of the Home Office, London after the date 1760; and the present writer ventured to ask Mr. Lecky whether he had met the name of Turner in his inquiries. The object of Mr. Lecky’s history is distinct from mine, and his researches have taken a different direction; but he could not fail to observe, he said, that the Government correspondence threw not much light on questions of espionage, ‘for names of informers,’ he adds, ‘are nearly always concealed.’ However, on referring to his notes, it appeared that ‘Richardson‘ was the pseudonym of Samuel Turner. While thanking my correspondent, I thought it well to remind him that in the ‘Castlereagh Papers'[130] ‘Furnes’ is stated to be the alias for this man. And I added, in order to guard against mistake, that one Thomas Richardson, a Liberal magistrate for Tyrone, was confined, in 1797, with Neilson and Teeling. The historian’s reply is very satisfactory:[131] ‘Samuel Turner wrote his letters to the British Government under the name of Richardson. This,’ adds Mr. Lecky, ‘is not a matter of inference, but of distinct proof.’

Once only ‘Richardson’ is mentioned in ‘Castlereagh.’ It was the false name by which the Home Office, when obliged to communicate with Dublin Castle, masked Samuel Turner, LL.D., of the Irish Bar. Lord Castlereagh’s letter to the Home Office confirms the intimate knowledge possessed by Turner of the doings of O’Connor and Lord Edward Fitzgerald. O’Connor was now–August, 1798–in an Irish dungeon; and Lord Castlereagh having, as he says, pressed him to answer certain questions, adds: ‘This perfectly agrees with Richardson’s information, which states that Lord Edward and O’Connor met Hoche and arranged the invasion.

Besides his horror of martyrdom by the knife, Turner had a lively dread of the martyrdom of exposure and social ostracism. Jackson’s trial in 1794 had the effect of deterring approvers. Curran’s skill in torturing such persons was marvellous; and Mr. Froude declares that he stretched Cockayne as painfully as ever the rack-master of the Tower stretched a Jesuit. ‘He made him confess that he had been employed by Pitt, and showed that, if Jackson was a traitor to the State, Cockayne was a far blacker traitor to the friend who trusted him.'[132]

‘Richardson’ is now shown to be the same man as he who gave his information to Downshire; and that ‘Richardson’ was an assumed name for Samuel Turner.[133] Thus the question of identity is established without appealing to further evidence. But inasmuch as my efforts to track Turner open up facts long forgotten, and others new to the historian, some readers may not object to follow.

As regards Lord Edward’s meeting with Hoche, more than once referred to in Turner’s letter to Lord Downshire and in the correspondence of the Home Office, M. Guillon, a recent investigator,[134] could find no trace of it in the French official archives. Special efforts were made at the time to veil this historic interview. No wonder, therefore, that Mr. Froude, in introducing the information furnished by Downshire’s mysterious visitor, points specially to the secret meeting with Hoche, and how Hoche himself had not revealed it even to Tone.[135]

Wickham was but carrying out Portland’s behest in signifying to Castlereagh that O’Connor, then a prisoner, should be questioned on points of which the Home Office had acquired private knowledge. On August 23, 1798, the same polite pumping of O’Connor is urged–a task fraught with no great labour to a man of Castlereagh’s tact and powers of persuasion. ‘A private communication,’ Wickham writes, ‘of the names of the persons with whom Mr. O’Connor corresponded abroad, would answer the particular purpose required by the Duke of Portland.’ The ‘particular’ object is not explained. It was probably that the spy might, as previously suggested, cultivate epistolary relations with the men whom O’Connor[136] would admit to have been his correspondents.[137]

Teeling, one of the Northern leaders, who had been closely associated with Turner, gives a curious glimpse of the easy intercourse which Castlereagh would maintain with his captives. Sometimes he made the arrests himself in the first instance, and afterwards could charm his prisoners by drawing silken bonds around them. Teeling was accompanied by his father on horseback, when ‘we met,’ he writes, ‘Lord Castlereagh, who accosted us with his usual courtesy. We had proceeded up the street of Lisburn together, when, having reached the house of his uncle, the Marquis of Hertford, we were about to take leave of his lordship. “I regret,” said he, addressing my father, “that your son cannot accompany you,” conducting me at the same moment through the outer gate, which, to my inexpressible astonishment, was instantly closed, and I found myself surrounded by a military guard.’ Teeling, later on, describes a visit paid by Castlereagh to him when a prisoner:–

Fatigued, and apparently much dispirited, Lord Castlereagh entered the room. He possessed the most fascinating manner and engaging address, with a personal appearance peculiarly attractive, and certainly not in character with the office he had that day assumed. For though national pride was extinct in his soul, the graces of nature were not effaced from the form, nor the polished manners of the gentleman forgotten in the uncourteous garb of the officer of police. He regretted that in his absence I had been subjected to the painful restraint of an additional guard. It was not his desire that they should have been placed within my room. A slight repast had been prepared for him, of which he pressed me to partake. The wine was generous, his lordship was polite, and the prisoner of State seemed for a moment forgotten in the kinder feelings of the earlier friend. [Lord Castlereagh then informed Teeling that they had that day arrested Neilson and Russell.] ‘Russell!'[138] said I. ‘Then the soul of honour is captive! Is Russell a prisoner?’ Lord Castlereagh was silent. He filled his glass–he passed me the wine. Our conversation had become embarrassing….[139]


[116] Edward J. Lewins was an attorney, and with the astuteness of that craft he had early suspected Turner, as appears from the letter to ‘Citizen Minister Talleyrand’ (p. 24, ante).

[117] The ‘some such’ proved to be Father O’Coigly, arrested en route, and hanged in 1798.

[118] Lewins, Mr. Lecky shows, proved thoroughly faithful to his party.

[119] Henriette de Sercy, the niece of Madame de Genlis, and the companion of Pamela in childhood, who married Mr. Matthiessen, the banker of Hamburg.

[120] Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

[121] Reinhard.

[122] At Bantry Bay in 1796. By many, Tone was regarded somewhat as a clever adventurer; but when the French authorities saw a nobleman–brother of the Duke of Leinster–as well as O’Connor, nephew and heir of Viscount Longueville, acting in a way which meant business, their hesitancy ceased.

[123] After the arrest and death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and the collapse of the rebellion, the State prisoners consented to give some general information which would not compromise men by name.

[124] Wickham’s correspondence illustrative of his secret mission to Switzerland, when he debauched the French minister, Barthélemy, with ‘saint-seducing gold,’ was published by Bentley in 1870.

[125] Castlereagh Papers, i. 259-60.

[126] ‘Everything was planned,’ are the words in the betrayer’s letter to Lord Downshire.

[127] In this suspicion, Lord Edward and O’Connor were not far astray. The Confidential Letters of the Right Hon. William Wickham reveal that Pichegru and other French generals were paid by Pitt to allow themselves to be beaten in battle.

[128] At Margate with Father O’Coigly.

[129] Castlereagh Papers, i. 309-10.

[130] General index to the Correspondence of Lord Castlereagh. ‘Furness’ is the name under which Reinhard, the French minister, refers to him when writing to his Government.

[131] Letter of W. E. H. Lecky, Esq., to W. J. F., Athenæum Club, London, July 5, 1888. Richardson, the popular author of ‘Pamela,’ was then a specially familiar name, and one which would readily occur to a well-read man who divulged the secrets of a real Pamela. The plot in the stories of Samuel Richardson is developed by letters, a branch of composition in which Samuel Turner was au fait. There seems a strange irony in this spy describing, under the nom de plume of Richardson, a new ‘History of Pamela’ and her struggles. Dr. Madden says that, after the death of her husband, Pamela returned in painfully straitened circumstances to Hamburg, the only place to which she could with prudence go. Madden little dreamt that the fugitive’s retreat was the serpent’s lair.

[132] The Rev. William Jackson, an Anglican clergyman, came to Dublin on a treasonable mission, accompanied, as his friend and legal adviser, by Cockayne, a London attorney. The latter was deputed by Pitt to entrap the National leaders. Cockayne prosecuted Jackson to conviction. In Ireland, unlike England, one witness then sufficed to convict for high treason.

[133] In a letter dated June 8, 1798, Wickham speaks of the source from which ‘R’ procured ‘all the information that he has communicated to us’–meaning what concerned Lady Edward Fitzgerald, Valence, Mrs. Matthiessen, Reinhard, and other ingenuous friends at Hamburg, who told Turner all they knew. Dr. Madden and others mistook this ‘R’ for the incorruptible Reinhard, as M. Mignet styles him. See folio 102, infra.

[134] France et Irlande (Paris, 1888).

[135] See p. 1, ante.

[136] Vide Appendix for some revelations of fratricidal betrayal by O’Connor’s brother.

[137] One letter only, from Richardson (Turner) to Lord Downshire, I have found in the Pelham MSS.; it bears date ‘Hamburg, December 1, 1797’:–

‘My Lord,–I cannot contrive any mode of seeing Mr. Fraser without running a very considerable risque of a discovery. For this reason I now intrude to request you’ll be so kind as to favour me with a few lines. I wrote to you on November 17, by post. Since that I have sent you two letters by Captain Gunter, of the Nautilus: the first contains seven and a half pages of letter paper; the second, a single letter with such information as I could collect, which I hope will be material. Gunter promised to put them in the Yarmouth office himself.

‘It will be requisite for your lordship to lay aside every emblem of noblesse, and adopt the style of an Irish sans-culotte, for fear of accidents. If I appear worthy the further notice of your lordship, no pains on my part shall be spared to merit the honour of being ranked among your lordship’s most sincere,


‘December 1, 1797, Hamburg (under cover to the master of the post-office, Yarmouth).’–Pelham MSS.

Placed far apart from Richardson’s letter is found the despatch of Cooke, wherein it had been enclosed. ‘The letters by the “Nautilus” have not been received,’ he writes, ‘and we know not how to direct to him.’ The Pelham MSS. are pyramids in bulk, but no other letter from Richardson, alias Turner, is entombed within them.

[138] Neilson, Russell, Teeling, and Turner belonged to the Ulster branch of the organisation. Russell, who had been a captain in the 64th Regiment, and a J. P. for co. Tyrone, remained a prisoner until 1802, and, on connecting himself with Emmet’s scheme, was beheaded October 30, 1803. Samuel Neilson, son of a Presbyterian minister, died, after many exciting vicissitudes, on August 29 in the same year.

[139] Personal Narrative, by Charles Hamilton Teeling. His daughter became the first wife of Lord O’Hagan.

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