IN an introductory paragraph to our account of the Spafields' riot we took occasion to mention the most prominent causes of public discontent; and though these had partially disappeared in 1817, still the impulse given to disaffection continued to operate for a considerable time, being protracted by the injudicious, if not unconstitutional, resort of government to the base system of spies and informers, who no doubt fanned that flame of disloyalty which had nearly caused a traitorous explosion in the county of Derby, more formidable and appalling than that for which Brandreth and his ill-fated companions suffered.
No doubt the seeds of disloyalty, at this period, had been sown through the kingdom with a strange industry, and that the infatuated populace were too accessible to opinions of a dangerous tendency; but was it wise, was it humane, to take advantage of their ignorance and delusion, to hurry them upon illegal proceedings, that their crimes might qualify a few of them for that punishment which was to be inflicted only for the purpose of warning others of their danger, and deterring the infatuated by exhibiting the decapitated victims of the law? The vile agent of government, in the northern districts, was a wretch named Oliver, for whose history and practices we refer the reader to the Parliamentary Reports of 1818.
Of Oliver, it is supposed, the three unfortunate men, who form the subjects of this case, were victims; for the contemptible insurrection which they headed originated among the peasantry of Pentridge, Southwingfield, and Wingfield Park, in Derbyshire, the last places in England that w could be suspected of becoming the scene of treason and rebellion; and, therefore, it is rational to conclude that no ordinary deceptions were practised on them to cause a departure from their peaceful habits and contented homes. The country is fertile and picturesque; the population thin and scattered; and the inhabitants simple, industrious, and affectionate. How these became the willing instruments of villainy, we are unable to state; but it has been fully ascertained that they were deluded by those who were in correspondence with Oliver, and who consequently were his dupes.
Jeremiah Brandreth, better known by the name of the Nottingham Captain, was one of those original characters for which nature had done much, and education nothing. Of his parents, or early habits, we know nothing; for on these subjects he maintained a studied silence, and since his executive nothing calculated to remove our ignorance on these points has come to our knowledge. All we know with certainty is, that he had been in the army, and that his wife, and three children, resided at Nottingham, where he was compelled to apply to the parish officers for occasional support.
The figure and countenance of this man were subjects well adapted for the wild and impassioned pencil of Salvator Rosa, and would not have been unsuitable to stand prominent in a group of mountain banditti. His age was not more than six-and-twenty; yet he evidently possessed an influence of command, and resolution, irresistible to common men. His eye was black and piercing. and his whole face indicated a character of daring intrepidity, and decision of no ordinary kind. Those who had seen him declared that it was no wonder that ordinary men looked on him with a kind of awful respect, not unmixed with dread; for he might have sat for the picture Lord Byron has drawn of the 'Corsair.'
'BUT who that chief? -- his name on every shore
Is famed and feared -- they ask, and know no more.
With those he mingles not but to command,
Few are his words, but keen his eye and hand.
'His name appals the fiercest of his crew,
And tints each swarthy cheek with sallower hue;
Still sways their souls with that commanding art
That dazzles -- leads -- yet chills -- the vulgar heart.
What is that spell, that this his lawless train
Confess, and envy -- yet oppose in vain?
What should it be that thus their faith can bind?
The power, the nerve, the magic of the mind!
Linked with success -- assumed and kept with skill
That moulds another's weakness to its will
Wields with their hands -- but still to these unknown,
Makes even their mightiest deeds appear his own
'Unlike the heroes of each ancient race,
Demons in act, but gods at least in face.
In Conrad's form seems little to admire,
Though his dark eye-brow shades a glance of fire.
Robust, but not Herculean -- to the sight
No giant frame sets forth his common height;
Yet in the whole -- who paused to look again,
Saw more than marks the crowd of vulgar men
They gaze and marvel how -- and still confess
That thus it is, but why they cannot guess.
Sun-burnt his cheek -- his forehead high, and pale,
The sable curls in wild profusion veil.
'There breathe but few whose aspect could defy
The full encounter of his searching eye.
'There was a laughing devil in his sneer,
That roused emotions both of rage and fear;
And where his frown of hatred darkly fell,
Hope withering fled -- and Mercy sigh'd farewell.'
Such was the man who might have done honour to a better cause, had fortune afforded him the opportunity. His companions, though not more fortunate, were less remarkable. William Turner lived in the village of Southwingfield, where he erected, with his own hands, a neat stone cottage for his parents; his character was unimpeachable until this insurrection, and his only fault was that of being too partial to drink, under the influence of which he lost all sense of prudence, and all power of control.
Isaac Ludlam had, until this event, also possessed the esteem of his neighbours. He inherited some property from his father, and had rented some farms; but, speculating too high, he became unfortunate, in consequence of which he assigned all his effects to his creditors. He then endeavoured to support himself and family, consisting of a wife and twelve children, by providing and carting stones for house-building. In the severe pressure of the times this resource failed him, and, in an evil hour, this grey-headed old man joined in Brandreth's desperate attempt. Ludlam regularly attended the Methodist meeting, and, in the absence of a preacher, conducted the prayers and praise of the people.
These unfortunate men acted under complete illusion. Formal statements of the number of the disaffected were given them, as well as the quantity of arms and ammunition, &c. accompanied with flattering pictures of the liberty, happiness, and wealth, which were to wait upon success.
On the 5th of June, Brandreth came from Nottingham to the neighbourhood of Pentridge, to take command of the rebel forces; and on the 9th, they proceeded on their march for Nottingham, where it was reported several thousand anxiously waited their coming, that they might unite in forwarding a revolution. Their numbers were truly contemptible, not exceeding forty or fifty; yet, small as they were, they committed several excesses, and Brandreth shot one harmless man. It was during the night they commenced operations; and next morning, on the approach of a score of cavalry, they precipitately fled, leaving their arms promiscuously scattered behind them. Several were then apprehended, and several more the two or three ensuing days, Brandreth among others.
To try these thoughtless rebels, a special commission was issued, which was opened at Derby, October the 15th, 1817. Brandreth was the first put on his trial; and as the evidence against him was conclusive, he was, of course, found Guilty. Turner and Ludlam were also convicted, as well as a young man named Weightman, whose sentence was afterwards commuted to transportation. Justice being now satisfied, twelve men pleaded Guilty, and the remainder were discharged. Those who pleaded guilty received sentence of death, but were afterwards respited.
The unfortunate Brandreth, on being removed to prison, after his conviction, although he exhibited a manly firmness, was, nevertheless, much affected. The other prisoners thronged around him in anxious suspense to hear his fate. He uttered the single and appalling word -- Guilty and, in a moment, a perfect change was visible in the countenances of those whose fate was undecided.
Brandreth throughout his confinement seemed to have entertained a confident expectation of acquittal, and this hope appears to have rested solely on the supposed impossibility of identifying him, as he was a total stranger in that part of the country, and had, from the time of his committal, allowed his beard to grow, which completely shaded his whole face. The singular cast of his features, however, aided by the peculiar and determined expression of his eye, rendered his identity unquestionable; and almost every one of the witnesses swore to the person of the 'Nottingham Captain.' This wretched man, both before and after his conviction, evinced the utmost propriety of conduct. He appeared calm and happy, and exhibited great firmness in the contemplation of his unhappy fate.
His companions in misfortune, however, evinced much less fortitude; for each appeared the very picture of despair. They attributed their melancholy situation to Brandreth, and a man, named Bacon, who seems to have evaded the punishment merited by his crime.
November the 7th, 1817, was the day appointed for the execution of Brandreth, Turner, and Ludlam. At a quarter before twelve, the hurdle was drawn up at the door of the prison, into which Brandreth got; and proceeded immediately to the scaffold. He looked coolly round upon the immense multitude of spectators, and in a load and firm voice said 'God bless you all, and Lord Castlereagh!' He stood resolute and silent, whilst the executioner adjusted the rope; and at twenty-five minutes before one the drop fell, and he was launched into eternity; after hanging half an hour, the body was cut down and laid on the bench. The cap was removed from the head; and the neck having been pressed close on the block, the executioner struck the blow, and the head was at once detached from the body. The head fell into the basket; and the hangman, seizing it by the hair, held up the ghastly countenance to the populace, exclaiming, 'Behold the head of the traitor, James Brandreth!' From the manner of this functionary the mob were apprehensive that the head was to be flung in the midst of them, and they rushed back in great precipitation. They were, however, soon undeceived, and upon the same course being pursued with regard to Turner and Ludlam, they had regained their confidence.