The Newgate Calendar - DOCTOR FLORENCE HENSEY<BR>

DOCTOR FLORENCE HENSEY

Convicted of High Treason, and sentenced to Death on the 12th of June, 1758; respited, and then reprieved, by King George the Second; but who received a free Pardon from King George the Third.

Illustration:
Dr. Hensey

   IN the Court of King's Bench, during the reign of King Charles the First, a gentleman, named Arthur Chuhoggen, was attainted of high treason, viz. for saying in Spain, "I would kill the king of England if I could come at him;" which was testified by the oaths of two gentlemen, beside others that justified it, from the several relations of other men. For further probability of his malicious intent, the officers that apprehended him at his lodgings in Drury-lane, London, deposed upon oath, that when they told, him he was the king's prisoner, he bit his thumb, saying, "I care not this much for your king."

   The attorney-general observed, that in Spain, the biting of the thumb is a token of scorn and disdain, in the highest degree; and will bear an action of disgrace in Spain, as spitting in one's face will in England. After Mr. Chuhoggen was condemned, the judges sent the sheriff to him, to know of him, whether he could alledge any other colourable intent of his coming over; but he gave no satisfaction on that point. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered, on the 27th of November, 1617, and he then wished that he might never enter the kingdom Heaven; if ever he had uttered the words for which he was condemned

   The above is an extract from a curious manuscript letter from Mr. Justinian Pagitt, then a. lawyer of' Lincoln's Inn, to Dr. Twysden,, chancellor of the. diocese of Lichfield and Coventry. It will present the reader with a specimen of king-craft, in the reign of the Monarch who lost his head!

   Such was the definition of treason formerly; and punishment inflicted on a man who would now have been looked upon as a madman, for no one in his senses, for any earthly purpose, could utter such incoherencies.

   In comparing the cases of Chuhoggen and Hensey, we are much surprised at the extension of royal mercy to the one; as. at the barbarous punishment of the other.

   Martin Nowland, as we have already shewn, was executed for attempting to inlist Englishmen for the service of France; and Thomas Hemmings suffered death for doing the same for the king of Prussia; yet Hensey, whose crime was ten-fold greater, was pardoned.

   De la Motte, the particulars of whose case we shall hereafter give, was "hanged, drawn, and quartered," for the same kind of offence which Hensey committed; and in still more recent times, numbers have suffered death for similar treason; and yet we have to observe, without finding any especial reason for it, that Doctor Hensey was pardoned. If granted from political motives, it must have been in fear of Spain; an unworthy impulse of the ministers of a far greater and more powerful nation.

   Dr. Hensey was a native of the county of Kildare in Ireland, brought up a Roman Catholic, and taught the rudiments of grammar by a priest of that persuasion. Being sent to St. Omer's to study philosophy, he continued there till the degree of master of arts was conferred on him, and then proceeded to Leyden, where he studied physic. From Leyden he went through Germany and Switzerland into Italy, acquiring the knowledge of the respective languages during his travels.

   Embarking at Genoa, he sailed to Lisbon, and, crossing the kingdom of Portugal, went to Spain, and thence to France, endeavouring in his tour to make himself master of the Portuguese and Spanish languages. Having reached Paris, he practised physic in that city five years; but being unsuccessful, he repaired to London.

   His success in England was not superior to that in France. His patients were few, and those of the lower rank of people. From his quitting the university of Leyden, he had corresponded with a brother collegian, who, having settled in France, procured a place in the office of the secretary of state at Paris.

   When Dr. Hensey heard of his friend's promotion, he wrote him a letter of congratulation, in which he made a civil offer of executing any of his commands in London.

   This happening at the commencement of a war between Great Britain and France, Hensey's friend informed him, that he might be very serviceable by transmitting early intelligence of our warlike preparations. This hint being approved by the Doctor, the next post brought him instructions how to act, with an appointment of near twenty-five pounds per month.

   The substance of these instructions were "to send complete lists of all our men of war, both in and out of commission; their condition, situation, and number of men on board each; when they sailed, under what commanders, from what ports, and their destination; an account of the actual number of our troops, what regiments were complete, and where quartered or garrisoned."

   Dr. Hensey sent such accounts as he could procure to a gentleman at Cologne, who sent them to another at Berne in Switzerland, whence they were transmitted to Paris. Hensey's salary, ample as it was, proved unequal to the expectations he had formed; but he proceeded, in the hopes of an increase of it.

   His first attempt to acquire intelligence was by getting into company with the clerks of the public offices, but not succeeding in this, he frequented the coffee-houses used by the members of parliament: and his physical appearance taking off all suspicion of his being a spy, he frequently learned such particulars as he thought worth sending to his employers.

   [Note: Though this may seem an extraordinary method of procuring secret intelligence, it is no more than what is practised daily by the writers of the newspapers.]

   He never entered into political discussion if he could avoid it, and when he did, always spoke on the government side of the question, professing enmity to the French; so that, though a Catholic, he was long unsuspected.

   His letters from Paris were sent by the way of Switzerland, whence they were transmitted to the post-office in London, and directed to him at a coffee-house in the Strand, by a fictitious name. A suspicion arose that these letters and their answers, which appeared to contain only a few lines of compliment, (as might be seen through the covers,) were in fact a disguise for something of greater importance; and this suspicion increasing by their frequency, the secretary of the post-office at length opened some of those from Hensey, in one of which, dated from Twickenham, he read, between the lines written with ink, another epistle written with lemon-juice, advising the French to land on the English coast.

   The letters were read by being held to the fire, and the utmost diligence was used to discover the writer, and learn his real name; for which purpose a person was placed at the coffee-house to which they were directed, who followed him to his lodgings in Arundel-street, after he had received one of them.

   On the following Sunday, Hensey, on his return from the Spanish ambassador's chapel in Soho-square, was seized by two of the King's messengers, and after repeated examination before the secretary of state, was committed to Newgate for high-treason. The grand jury of Middlesex found a true bill against him in Easter term, 1758; but the trial was removed, by writ of certiorari, into the Court of King's-bench; here he pleaded not guilty.

   A copy of his indictment was granted, and counsel directed by the court to plead for him. On his trial, which took place before Lord Mansfield, in Westminster-Hall, the gentlemen of the post-office swore to the finding a number of letters in his bureau, and his handwriting was proved by some apothecaries who had made up his prescriptions.

   The doctor's counsel pleaded a defect in the indictment, because the letters were intercepted at the Post- office, which was in London; whereas the offence, if any, was committed in Middlesex; the grand jury of which county could have no right to find a bill for an offence committed in London.

   The counsel for the crown replied, that though the letters had been intercepted at the Post-office, the offence on which the indictment was founded had been committed at Twickenham, as appeared by the date of the letter. They further urged, that the solicitor of the treasury might have laid the indictment in the city of London; but he preferred fixing it in the county, because the letter from Twickenham was of the most dangerous tendency; and the other letters were to be considered only as collateral evidence against the prisoner.

   Dr. Hensey's counsel now objected, that the writing a treasonable letter was not an overt act of high-treason; except this letter was published: in answer to which it was insisted, that the delivery of it at the Post-office was an actual publication of it. The doctor's counsel farther said, that he had not corresponded with the enemies of the King; for we were not at war with the Dutch, and the letters were directed to people in Holland.

   The evidences having proved, that the letter dated at Twickenham contained an invitation to the French to invade this kingdom, that was considered as an overt act of high-treason; on which the plea of the prisoner was overruled, and the evidence was summed up by Lord Mansfield.

   Dr. Hensey had hitherto supported himself with courage; but, during the absence, of the jury, which was about three quarters of an hour, he trembled excessively, and gave every proof of the greatest agitation of mind. On their return, he had scarcely strength to hold up his hand at the bar. A verdict of guilty being pronounced, he was brought up to receive sentence on the Wednesday following, after which he begged a fortnight to make proper preparation for his death; but the court generously granted him a month.

   A respite was sent for him early on the morning on which he was to have been executed, and afterwards, a reprieve during the King's pleasure. After this he continued above three years in Newgate, and then embarked for France, on obtaining a free pardon..

   At the time Hensey was apprehended, his brother was secretary and chaplain to the Spanish ambassador at the Hague. To this brother he wrote an account of his misfortunes, in consequence of which the Spanish ambassador at London was applied to by the gentleman in similar office at the Hague; and such representations were made to the English ministry, that the reprieve above-mentioned followed; though King George the Second could not be prevailed on to grant him a free pardon: but soon after the accession of George the Third, this pardon was granted, and the prisoner discharged, on giving the usual security for his good behaviour.

 

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