Search This Blog

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Arrest of Colonel Despard

On this day in 1802, Colonel Edward Marcus Despard and over twenty other conspirators were arrested at the Oakley Arms pub in Lambeth on suspicion of high treason. Despard (1751–1803) had formerly served as chief engineer to Captain (later Lord) Nelson. Despard was an Irishman, and had been a member of the London Corresponding Society (LCS) of which Thomas Hardy was a founder member. The LCS wanted parliamentary reform.

Despard and other Radicals were imprisoned for suspected treasonable practices during the suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1798. (Sir Francis Burdett campaigned to get Despard and other prisoners held in appalling conditions in Coldbath-Fields released).  
KB8/87 Death sentences.

After his release from prison, Despard joined a secret society called the United Britons, which had links with the United Irishmen and United Englishmen. 

(The government believed that the United Britons was just another name for the United Englishmen. However, they appear to have had separate leaders at some dates). 

Despard's United Britons planned to rise up in unison with United Irish rebels in Ireland at the same time as a French invasion; they would seize the Bank of England, Tower of London, armouries, make ‘Insurrection Rebellion and War’ on the kingdom, and kill the king. Unfortunately for Despard, spies and informers had infiltrated his ranks, and their evidence helped convict Despard and his men. 

Was Despard an innocent man? He refused to admit his guilt, right up to his execution on 21 February 1803. And as the chief evidence against him came from informers, some contemporaries like Henry Hunt believed that Despard was 'stitched up' by the government. 
Update 22.1.16: You can read some of the newspaper coverage of the Despard plot here on the British Newspaper Archive blog.
Images: Colonel Despard, from the Memoirs of the life of Col. E. M. Despard (1803) held at the Working Class Movement Library. 
Photo showing the death sentence passed against Despard and his men. Special oyer and terminer and gaol delivery roll and file, Colonel Edward Despard and others, KB 8/87 at The National Archives.

No comments: