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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Sidmouth's New Spy

On 28 March 1817, William Oliver, using the name Mr Richards, delivered a letter in person at the Home Office. He requested a ‘private interview’ with Lord Sidmouth to offer his services to the government, as he had ‘material information for the welfare and justice of this country’.

Oliver knew Charles Pendrill, one of Col. Despard’s fellow conspirators. But Pendrill was now one of Arthur Thistlewood’s friends, and Oliver realized he too must be on the Home Office’s list of suspects. Oliver acted fast to save his own skin.

Sidmouth saw him the same day and accepted Oliver’s offer. The home secretary told him that Pendrill was a wanted man - there was a warrant out for his arrest. So Oliver must have felt that he’d done the right thing. Sidmouth gave Oliver a new mission: to infiltrate the reformers’ meetings in central and northern England. Did they want parliamentary reform by peaceful means – or were they planning to take up arms?
But Oliver could not just stroll into the reformers’ meetings and start asking questions. Pendrill told Oliver that Joseph Mitchell, a firebrand reformer from Liverpool, had come to London to get the ‘London Patriots’ to act in concert with the ‘Country People, who were all ready to strike a blow as the only Effort...left to obtain a Reform in Parliament’.
Fortuitously, Pendrill said, Mitchell wanted some ‘intelligent active Person from London’ to come to the manufacturing districts with him. With Pendrill’s help, Oliver met Mitchell on 17 April in London. Within a week, Oliver was on his way north with Mitchell – little dreaming that just a few months later, he would be ‘outed’ by the press as an infamous spy...
‘Conspirators, or Delegates in Council’. On the far left, Lord Sidmouth (with a cane) is given a paper by former spy Thomas Reynolds (who was given a consulship). A huge ‘green bag’ full of Radical papers sits on the table. Seated on the right, from left to right are spies John Castle (with his back to the reader), William Oliver, then Canning and Castlereagh.  On the far right, honest John Bull looks through the window, horrified by the proceedings. George Cruikshank, 1817. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-6856.
The start of Oliver’s ‘Narrative’ of his dealings in the Thistlewood papers, HO40/9.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Ireland and Independence III: The Spies

Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

Ireland trembled on the brink of rebellion in the spring of 1798. The United Irishmen had resolved to fight or die for independence. But careless talk cost lives. James Tandy, son of the famous United Irish leader Napper Tandy, was a terrible blabber-mouth. Little did he realize that whenever he discussed his father’s movements, the information was relayed straight to Dublin Castle by the spy Leonard McNally.

It was difficult for the Castle’s spies to infiltrate the United Irishmen from top to bottom because of the localized and secretive nature of the organization, parts of which are still obscure today.However, the United Irish leaders were watched by (amongst others), Samuel Turner and Thomas Reynolds. Turner was deep in the rebels’ counsels and they trusted him completely. Samuel was friends with Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his wife Pamela.

Reynolds was a relative of the Duke of Leinster, the brother of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and was also related to Wolfe Tone by marriage (he and Tone had married two sisters). A tip-off from Reynolds led to the arrest of 14 top United Irishmen in March 1798.
Thomas Reynolds.
The arrest of the secret committee mortally wounded the United Irishmen’s organization. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was now their de facto leader, aided by an attorney, John Sheares. But Fitzgerald was a weak leader, despite his personal charm – and little did he realise that his ‘friend’ Samuel Turner betrayed his every move.

Two more spies who played a crucial role were Francis Higgins, a newspaper editor, and Francis Magan (code-name ‘M.’). Higgins recruited Magan, a Catholic barrister who was down on his luck, to spy on Fitzgerald, who was now a marked man - a reward of £1,000 had been offered for his head…