The first and most daring mob during these riots was occasioned by the coal-heavers, of which gang were Murphy and Dogan. They demanded an increase of wages; and, because the sailors in the coal-ships would not second their unlawful and exorbitant demand, they were attacked, and various dreadful skirmishes ensued. The rioters then went on board the coal-ships, and obliged the men who were at work to leave off; so that the business of delivering ships in the river was totally at a stand. They complained that their employers, called undertakers, oppressed them in various shapes; curtailed the wages paid to them, not in money, but in liquor and goods of a bad quality; and that those undertakers got fortunes while they and their families were starving.
One day they proceeded, with colours flying and drums beating, towards the Palace Yard, as they said, to lay their complaints before the king; but were met by the justices, with Sir John Fielding at their head, who, with much entreaty, prevailed on them to return. On the 12th of June their insolence arrived to such a height that the military was called in to the assistance of the civil power. The desperadoes even attacked the soldiers, who fired upon them, which killed several rioters, and who, in return, murdered three of their opponents. Twenty of the leaders were secured, and committed to prison.
A monthly publication at the time, on this subject, says, 'The gaols are full of these fellows, who would neither work, nor let others work, so that the business of the river has been greatly obstructed.' Nothing intimidated the rioters, who for some time paraded the streets in large bodies, armed with cutlasses, bludgeons, and other offensive weapons, crying out 'Five pounds for a sailor's head, and twenty for a master's! We'll cut the lightermen's throats, and murder all the masters, burn their houses, and set fire to their ships.' In this daring manner they continued to terrify those concerned at the water-side. The military frequently dispersed them; but no sooner were they retired than the coal-heavers sallied out from their lurking-holes, and continued their riotous practices.
The sessions, however, were at hand, and Murphy and Dogan, two of the most active, who had been secured at the affray wherein the soldiers were killed, were convicted of the murders, sentenced to death, and their bodies to be delivered to the surgeons for dissection. On the morning of their execution, which took place at Tyburn, July the 11th, 1768, a great number of Irish women assembled at Surgeons' Hall, and set up the funeral howl of their country upon the bodies being carried into the hall for dissection, pursuant to the sentence; nor would they disperse until they found no hopes of rescuing their 'dear countrymen,' whose death they insisted was a 'big burning shame.' [Note: Formerly, in the country parts of Ireland, where a corpse is sometimes carried several miles for interment, the women, as the procession passes on the road, set up a mournful cry, which they call Keening—a custom now nearly extinct.]
This example intimidated the remainder of the discontented rabble, who were soon glad to be again taken into their former employ. On the 26th of the same month seven more of the riotous coal-heavers, having been tried, found guilty, and condemned at the Old Bailey, were carried from Newgate to the Sun Tavern Fields, the spot of their riot, and executed pursuant to their sentence. The whole of the London constables and peace-officers were, by the sheriffs, ordered to attend the execution. A party of the guards was posted in readiness, in case of any attempt to rescue the culprits; but though more than fifty thousand people, on a moderate calculation, were present at the place of execution, no disturbance happened, and the guards never appeared in sight of them.