This culprit was a native of Ireland, and by trade a weaver. In 1816 he came to England, and worked at his business at Stockport, where his restless disposition led him to associate with the reformers, who at this period were extremely violent. Magennis seems to have been an enthusiast in the cause, and constantly attended the sermons of a disaffected man named Harrison, who was subsequently tried, convicted, and punished, for having preached sedition. The pulpit should never be converted into a rostrum for popular declamations; for religion and politics have no necessary connexion. This Harrison kept a school at Stockport, and officiated on Sundays as a dissenting clergyman, in which capacity, it is to he apprehended, he did much mischief.
The magistrates of Stockport became alarmed at the doctrines publicly preached by this reverend demagogue, and issued a warrant for his apprehension; but, being aware of their design, Harrison left Stockport. A bench warrant was then procured, and a constable named Birch was sent to execute it. He did so, and on the 23d of July, 1819, brought the divine a prisoner to Stockport; and, for security, kept him confined in his (Birch's) house.
It was no sooner known that the idol of the mob was in custody, than a number of people collected in a very tumultuous manner about the constable's house. Alarmed for safety, Birch went out by a back door, with the determination of consulting a magistrate concerning his duty, but had not proceeded far when a man named Bruce accosted him. Having known this man before, Birch stopped to speak with him; and, while in conversation, he received the contents of a pistol, fired over Bruce's shoulder by Jacob Magennis.
In the confusion that ensued Magennis made his escape, and passed over to Ireland, where he was apprehended, and brought to Chester gaol. Bruce was also taken into custody on the charge of aiding and assisting, as it was supposed he acted is concert with Magennis and another man, who could not be identified, though only the three were by at the transaction. Bruce was a stranger at Stockport, not having lived in it more than a few months, during part of which time he acted as usher in Harrison's school, and latterly had taken a school on his own account. He also kept a nightly school, where people were taught to make speeches. His manners and address were, however, far above that of his noisy pupils.
Birch's wound happily did not prove mortal; and on the trial, which took place on the 8th of April, he was able to give his evidence. The Jury found both Guilty, and when the verdict was pronounced, Magennis declared that Bruce was innocent; for it was he (Magennis) who fired the pistol.
Bruce was afterwards respited, and finally received the royal pardon, for it appeared he was not guilty; but Magennis underwent the awful sentence of the law at the time appointed. He was a man of strong capacity, but uneducated. He employed his few last days in writing his life, which he desired to be published; but it never was. He met his fate with fortitude,, and was sincerely penitent.