The spelling inconsistencies of the original have been retained in this etext.
SPEECHES FROM THE DOCK, PART I
or, Protests of Irish Patriotism
Speeches Delivered After Conviction,
THEOBALD WOLFE TONE WILLIAM ORR THE BROTHERS SHEARES ROBERT EMMET JOHN MARTIN (1848) WILLIAM SMITH O'BRIEN THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER TERENCE BELLEW McMANUS JOHN MITCHEL THOMAS C. LUBY JOHN O'LEARY CHARLES J. KICKHAM COLONEL THOMAS F. BURKE CAPTAIN MACKAY
"Freedom's battle, once begun,— Bequeath'd from bleeding sire to son,— Though baffled oft, is ever won."
A. M. SULLIVAN, ABBEY STREET.
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION
Little more than a year ago we commenced an undertaking never previously attempted, yet long called for—the collection and publication, in a complete form and at a low price, of the Speeches of Irish Patriots, spoken from the dock or the scaffold.
The extraordinary success which attended upon our effort was the best proof that we had correctly appreciated the universal desire of the Irish people to possess themselves of such a memorial of National Protest—protest unbroken through generations of martyrs.
The work was issued in weekly numbers, and reached a sale previously unheard of in Irish literature. In a few months the whole issue was exhausted, and for a long time past the demand for a Second Edition has been pressed upon us from all sides. With that demand we now comply.
The present issue of "Speeches from the Dock" has been carefully revised and considerably improved. With it, as Part I. of a series, we have bound, as its sequels, Parts II. and III.—each Part, however, complete in itself—bringing the list of convict patriot orators down to the latest sentenced in 1868. It may be that even here the sad array is not to close, and that even yet another sequel may have to be issued, ere the National Protest of which these Voices from the Dock are the utterances, shall be terminated for ever. Even so, our faith will be all unshaken in the inevitable triumph of the cause for which so many martyrs have thus suffered; and we shall still await in Faith and Hope the first strains of that Hymn of Deliverance which shall yet resound through the valleys of Emancipated Ireland.
90 MIDDLE ABBEY STREET,
To the lovers of Ireland—to those who sympathize with her sufferings and resent her wrongs, there can be few things more interesting than the history of the struggles which sprang from devotion to her cause, and were consecrated by the blood of her patriots. The efforts of the Irish race to burst the fetters that foreign force and native dissensions imposed on them, and elevate their country from bondage and degradation to a place amongst free nations, fill a page in the world's history which no lover of freedom can read without emotion, and which must excite wonder, admiration, and regret in the mind of every man with whom patriotism is not a reproach, and who can sympathize with a cause ennobled by fidelity and sacrifice, and sanctified by the blood and tears of a nation. "How hands so vile could conquer hearts so brave," is the question which our National Poet supposes to arise in the mind of the stranger, as he looks on the spectacle of Ireland in her decay; but another question will suggest itself to those who study the history of our country: it is, how a feeling so deeply rooted as the love of independence is in the hearts of the Irish people—an aspiration so warmly and so widely entertained—which has been clung to with so much persistency—which has survived through centuries of persecution—for which generations have arisen, and fought, and bled, and dashed themselves against the power of England with a succession as unbroken as that of the waves upon our shores—a cause so universally loved, so deeply reverenced, and so unflinchingly supported by a brave and intrepid race, should never have attained the blessing of success. A more signal instance than that which Ireland can supply of the baffling of a nation's hope, the prolonged frustration of a people's will, is not on record; and few even of those who most condemn the errors and weakness by which Irishmen themselves have retarded the national object, will hesitate to say that they have given to mankind the noblest proof they possess of the vitality of the principles of freedom, and the indestructibility of national sentiment.
It is for us, however, Irish of the Irish, that the history of the struggle for Ireland's rights possesses most attractions. We live amidst the scenes where the battles against the stranger were fought, and where the men who waged them lived and died. The bones of the patriots who laboured for Ireland, and of those who died for her, repose in the graveyards around us; and we have still amongst us the inheritors of their blood, their name, and their spirit. It was to make us free—to render independent and prosperous the nation to, which we belong—that the pike was lifted and the green flag raised; and it was in furtherance of this object, on which the hearts of Irishmen are still set, that the men whose names shine through the pages on which the story of Ireland's struggles for national existence is written, suffered and died. To follow out that mournful but absorbing story is not, however, the object aimed at in the following pages. The history of Ireland is no longer a sealed volume to the people; more than one author has told it truthfully and well, and the list of books devoted to it is every day receiving valuable accessions. Nor has it even been attempted, in this little work, though trenching more closely on its subject, to trace the career and sketch the lives of the men who fill the foremost places in the ranks of Ireland's political martyrs. In the subjoined pages little more will be found than a correct report of the addresses delivered, under certain peculiar circumstances, by the group of Irishmen whose names are given on the titlepage. A single public utterance from the lips of each of these gentlemen is all that we have printed, though it would be easy to supplement them in nearly every case by writings and speeches owning a similar authorship, equally eloquent and equally patriotic. But the speeches given here are associated with facts which give them peculiar value and significance, and were spoken under circumstances which lend to them a solemn interest and impressiveness which could not otherwise be obtained. They reach us—these dock speeches, in which nobility of purpose and chivalrous spirit is expressed—like voices from the tomb, like messages from beyond the grave, brimful of lessons of dignity and patriotism. We can see the men who spoke them standing before the representatives of the government whose oppression had driven them to revolt, when the solemn farce of trying them for a crime which posterity will account a virtue had terminated, and when the verdict of "guilty" had gladdened the hearts of their accusers. The circumstances under which they spoke might well cause a bold man to falter. They were about parting for ever from all that makes life dear to man; and, for some of them, the sentence; which was to cut short the thread of their existence, to consign them to a bloody and ignominious death, to leave their bodies mutilated corpses, from which the rights of Christian burial were to be withheld—which was to assign them the death of a dog, and to follow them with persecuting hand into the valley of death—was about to fall from the lips of the judges whom they addressed. Against others a fate less repulsive, perhaps, to the feelings of humanity, but certainly not more merciful, and hardly less painful and appalling, was about to be decreed. Recent revelations have thrown some light on the horrors endured by the Irish political prisoners who languish within the prison pens of England; but it needs far more than a stray letter, a half-stifled cry from the dungeon depths, to enable the public to realize the misery, the wretchedness, and the degradation attached to the condition to which England reduces her political convicts. Condemned to associate with the vilest of the scoundrels bred by the immorality and godlessness of England—exposed, without possibility of redress, to the persecutions of brutal, coarse-minded men, accustomed to deal only with ruffians than whom beasts are less ferocious and unreclaimable—restricted to a course of discipline which blasts the vigour of the body, and under whose influence reason herself totters upon her throne—the Irish rebel against whom the doom of penal servitude has been pronounced is condemned to the most hideous and agonizing punishments to which men of their class could be exposed. It was with such terrors staring them in the face that the men whose words are recorded in this little work delivered their speeches from the dock. It is surely something for us, their countrymen, to boast of, that neither in their bearing nor in their words was there manifested the slightest trace of weakness, the faintest exhibition of any feeling which could show that their hearts were accessible to the terror which their situation was so well calculated to inspire. No cheek grew pale, no eyes lost their light—their tones were unbroken, and their manner undaunted as ever, as these men uttered the words we purpose recording. Their language tells of minds which persecution could not subdue, and for which death itself possessed no sting; and the manner in which it was expressed showed that, in their case, elevation of sentiment was allied with unconquerable firmness and resolution. Never were lessons so noble more boldly preached. It is in courts of justice, after all, declares a great English authority, that the lessons of morality are best taught; and in Ireland the truthfulness of the assertion is established. But it is not from the bench or the jury-box that the words have fallen in which the cause of morality and justice has been vindicated; venality, passion, and prejudice have but too often swayed the decisions of both; and it is to the dock we must turn when we seek for honour, integrity, and patriotism.
We owe it to the men who suffered so unflinchingly in the cause of our country, and who have left us so precious a heritage in the speeches in which they hurled a last defiance at their oppressors, that their names should not be forgotten, or the recollection of their acts suffered to grow cold. The noblest incentive to patriotism, as it is the highest reward which this world can offer those who dare and suffer for fatherland, is the gratitude, the sympathy, and the applause of the people for whom they laboured. We owe it to the brave men whose patriotism is attested in the addresses comprised in this volume, that the memory of their noble deeds shall not pass away, and that their names shall remain enshrined in the hearts of their countrymen. They failed, it is true, to accomplish what they attempted, and the battle to which they devoted themselves has yet to be won; but we know that they, at least, did their part courageously and well; and, looking back now upon the stormy scenes of their labours, and contrasting the effects of their sacrifices with the cost at which they were made, the people of Ireland are still prepared to accept the maxim that—
"Tis better to have fought and lost, Than never to have fought at all."
While such men can be found to suffer as they have suffered for Ireland, the ultimate triumph of her aspirations cannot be doubted, nor can the national faith be despaired of while it has martyrs so numerous and so heroic. It is by example that the great lessons of patriotism can best be conveyed; and if the national spirit burn brightly to-day in Ireland—if the spirit of her children be still defiant and unsubdued—if, at home and in the far West, the hearts of the Irish people still throb with the emotions that prompted Emmet and Wolfe Tone—if their eyes are still hot to see the independence of their country, their arms still ready to strike, and their spirit ready to sacrifice for the accomplishment of that object, we owe the result largely to the men whose names are inscribed in this little work, and whose memory it is intended to perpetuate.
We have commenced our series with the speech of Theobald Wolfe Tone, and our record stretches no further back than the memorable insurrection of 1798. If our object were to group together the Irishmen who are known to have struggled for the independence of their country, and who suffered for their attachment to her cause, we might go much farther back into history, and indefinitely increase the bulk of this publication. We fix the insurrection of '98 as the limit of our collection, chiefly because it was at that time trials for high treason in Ireland assumed the precise meaning and significance which they now possess, and there is consequently, in the speeches which follow, such a unity of purpose and sentiment as renders them especially suitable for presentation in a single volume. Only seventy years have elapsed since Wolfe Tone spoke to the question why sentence should not be pronounced on him—only two-thirds of a century since Emmet vindicated the cause of his country from the Green street dock, and already what a host of imitators and disciples have they had! There is not a country in Europe, there is not a nationality in the world, can produce such another collection as that which we to-day lay before the people of Ireland. We live under a government which claims to be just, liberal, and constitutional, yet against no other government in Christendom have the same number of protests been made within the same space of time. Not Poland, not Hungary, not Venetia, can point to such an unbroken succession of political martyrs. The pages of history contain nothing to compare with the little volume we to-day place in the hands of our countrymen; and we know of no more powerful and eloquent condemnation of the system on which Ireland is governed, than that contained in the simple fact that all those speeches were spoken, all those trials carried-out, all those sentences decreed, within the lifetime of a single generation. It is idle to think of subduing a people who make so many sacrifices, and who are undaunted still; it is vain to think of crushing a spirit which survives so much persecution. The executioner and the gaoler, the gibbet, the block, and the dungeon, have done their work in the crusade against Irish Nationality, and we know what the result is to-day. The words of the last political convict whose name appears in these pages are as uncompromising and as bold as those of the first of his predecessors; and, studying the spirit which they have exhibited, and marking the effect of their conduct on the bulk of their countrymen, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion, that so much persistent resolution and heroism must one day eventuate in success, and that Ireland, the country for which so many brave men have suffered with such unfaltering courage, is not destined to disprove the rule that—
"Freedom's battle once begun,— Bequeath'd from bleeding sire to son— Though baffled oft, is ever won."
* * * * *
THEOBALD WOLFE TONE.
No name is more intimately associated with the national movement of 1798 than that of Theobald Wolfe Tone. He was its main-spring, its leading spirit. Many men connected with it possessed, as he did, brilliant talents, unfailing courage and determination, and an intense devotion to the cause; but the order of his genius raised him above them all, and marked him out from the first as the head and front of the patriot party. He was one of the original founders of the Society of United Irishmen, which was formed in Belfast in the year 1791. In its early days this society was simply a sort of reform association, a legal and constitutional body, having for its chief object the removal of the frightful oppressions by which the Catholic people of Ireland were tortured and disgraced; but in the troubled and portentous condition of home and foreign politics, the society could not long retain this character. The futility of seeking a redress of the national grievances by parliamentary means was becoming apparent to every understanding. The system of outrage and injustice towards the Catholics, unabating in its severity, continued to exasperate the actual sufferers and to offend all men of humane feelings and enlightened principles; and, at the same time, the electric influence of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution was operating powerfully in every heart, evoking there the aspiration for Irish freedom, and inspiring a belief in its possible attainment. In the midst of such exciting circumstances the society could not continue to stand on its original basis. In the year 1794, after a debate among the members, followed by the withdrawal of the more moderate or timid among them from its ranks, it assumed the form and character of a secret revolutionary organization; and Tone, Thomas Addis Emmet, Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, James Napper Tandy, with a number of other patriotic gentlemen in Belfast, Dublin, and other parts of the country, soon found themselves in the full swing of an insurrectionary movement, plotting and planning for the complete overthrow of British power in Ireland. Thenceforward, for some time, the organization went on rapidly extending through the province of Ulster, in the first instance, and subsequently over most of the midland and southern counties.
Such was the state of affairs when, in the early part of 1794, an emissary from the French government arrived in Ireland, to ascertain to what extent the Irish people were likely to co-operate with France in a war against England. This individual was the Rev. William Jackson, an Irish Protestant clergyman, who had for some years been resident in France, and had become thoroughly imbued with Democratic and Republican principles. Unfortunately, he was not one of the most prudent of envoys. He revealed his mission to an acquaintance of his, an English attorney, named Cockayne, who repaid his confidence by betraying his secrets to the government. Cockayne was immediately employed as a spy upon Jackson's further proceedings, in which capacity he accompanied his unsuspecting victim to Ireland, and acquired cognizance of most of his negotiations. On the 28th of April; 1794, Jackson was arrested on a charge of high treason. He was brought to speedy trial, was found guilty, but was not sentenced, for, on the day on which the law's award was to have been announced to him, he contrived, before entering the court, to swallow a dose of poison, from the effects of which he expired in the dock. Tone, with whom Jackson was known to have been in confidential communication, was placed by those events in a very critical position; owing, however, to some influence which had been made with the government on his behalf, he was permitted to exile himself to America. As he had entered into no engagement with the government regarding his future line of conduct, he made his expatriation the means of forwarding, in the most effective manner, the designs he had at heart. He left Dublin for Philadelphia on the 20th of May, 1795. One of his first acts, after arriving, was to present to the French Minister there resident a memorial on the state of Ireland. During the remaining months of the year letters from his old friends came pouring in on him, describing the brightening prospects of the cause at home, and urging him to proceed to the French capital and impress upon the Directory the policy of despatching at once an expedition to ensure the success of the Irish revolutionary movement.
Tone was not the man to disregard such representations. He had at the time a fair prospect of securing a comfortable independence in America, but with the full concurrence of his heroic wife, who had accompanied him across the Atlantic, he sacrificed those chances and resumed the perilous duties of an Irish patriot. On the 1st of January, 1796, he left New York for Paris to try what he could do as a diplomatist for the cause of Ireland. Arrived at the French capital, he had his business communicated to the Directory through the medium of an Irish gentleman, named Madgett, and also by memorial, representing always that the landing of a force of 20,000 men in Ireland, with a supply of arms for the peasantry, would ensure the separation of Ireland from England. Not satisfied with the slow progress he was thus achieving, he went on the 24th of February direct to the Luxemburg Palace, and sought and obtained an interview with the War Minister, the celebrated Carnot, the "organizer of victory." The Minister received him well, listened attentively to his statements, discussed his project with him, and appeared much impressed with the prospects it presented. The result was that on the 16th of December in the same year, a splendid expedition sailed from Brest for Ireland. It consisted of seventeen sail of the line, thirteen frigates and fifteen transports, with some smaller craft, and had on board 15,000 troops, with a large supply of arms for the Irish patriots. Tone himself, who had received the rank of Adjutant-General in the French service, was on board one of the vessels. Had this force been disembarked on the shores of Ireland, it is hardly possible to doubt that the separation of this country from England would have been effected. But the expedition was unfortunate from the outset. It was scattered on the voyage during a gale of wind, and the Admiral's vessel, with Hoche, the Commander, on board, was separated from the others. A portion of the expedition entered the magnificent Bay of Bantry and waited there several days in expectation of being rejoined by the vessel containing the Admiral and Commander; but they waited in vain. Tone vehemently urged that a landing should be effected with the forces then at hand—some 6,500 men—but the officers procrastinated, time was lost, the wind which had been blowing from the east (that is out the harbour) rose to a perfect hurricane, and on the 27th and 28th of the month the vessels cut their cables and made the best of their way for France.
This was a terrible blow to the hopes of the Irish organizer. Rage and sadness filled his heart by turns as the fierce storm blew his vessel out of the bay and across the sea to the land which he had left under such favourable auspices. But yet he did not resign himself to despair. As the patient spider renews her web again and again after it has been torn asunder, so did this indefatigable patriot set to work to repair the misfortune that had occurred, and to build up another project of assistance for his unfortunate country. His perseverance was not unproductive of results. The Batavian or Dutch Republic, then in alliance with France, took up the project that had failed in the Bay of Bantry. In the month of July, 1797, they had assembled in the Texel an expedition for the invasion of Ireland, nearly, if not quite, as formidable in men and ships as that which had left Brest in the previous year. Tone was on board the flag ship, even more joyous and hopeful than he had been on the preceding occasion. But again, as if by some extraordinary fatality, the weather interposed an obstacle to the realization of the design. The vessels were ready for sea, the troops were on board, nothing was wanted but a slant of wind to enable the fleet to get out. But for five weeks it continued to blow steadily in the adverse direction. The supplies ran low; the patience of the officers, and of the government, became exhausted—the troops were disembarked and the project abandoned! The second failure in a matter of such weight and importance was a heavy blow to the heart of the brave Tone. Elaborate and costly efforts like those which had ended so poorly, he felt could not often be repeated; the drift of the war was cutting out other work for the fleets and armies of France and her allies, and the unwelcome conviction began to settle darkly on his mind that never again would he see such a vision of hope for dear Ireland as that which had shone before him on those two occasions, and vanished in doubt and gloom.
Yet there was no need to despair. Assurances reached Tone every day that the defeat and humiliation of England was a settled resolve of the French Government, one which they would never abandon. And for a time everything seemed to favour the notion that a direct stroke at the heart of England was intended. In the latter part of 1797 the Directory ordered the formation of "The Army of England," the command of which was given to General Buonaparte. Tone's heart again beat high with hope, for now matters looked more promising than ever. He was in constant communication with some of the chief officers of the expedition, and in the month of December he had several interviews with Buonaparte himself, which however he could hardly consider of a satisfactory nature. On the 20th of May, 1798, General Buonaparte embarked on board the fleet at Toulon and sailed off—not for Ireland or England, but for Egypt.
On the Irish leaders at home these repeated disappointments fell with terrible effect. The condition of the country was daily growing more critical. The government, now thoroughly roused and alarmed, and persuaded that the time for "vigorous measures" had arrived, was grappling with the conspiracy in all directions. Still those men would, if they could, have got the people to possess their souls in patience and wait for aid from abroad before unfurling the banner of insurrection; for they were constant in their belief that without the presence of a disciplined army on Irish soil to consolidate their strength and direct it, a revolutionary effort of the Irish people could end only in disaster. But the government had reasons of their own for wishing to set an Irish rebellion afoot at this time, and they took measures to precipitate the rising. The arrest of the delegates at the house of Oliver Bond in Dublin, and the capture of Lord Edward Fitzgerald contributed to this end; but these things the country might have peacably endured if no more dreadful trial had been put upon it. What could not be endured was the system of riot and outrage, and murder, to which the unfortunate peasantry were then given over. Words fail to describe its cruelty and its horrors. It was too much for human nature to bear. On the 23rd of May, three days after Buonaparte had sailed from Toulon for Alexandria, the Irish insurrection broke out. The news of the occurrence created the most intense excitement among the Irish refugees then in Paris. Tone rushed to and fro to the Directory and to the generals, pleading for the despatch of some assistance to his struggling countrymen. Various plans were suggested and taken into consideration, but while time was being wasted in this way, the military forces of the British Government were rapidly suppressing the insurrection of the unarmed and undisciplined Irish peasantry. In this condition of affairs a gallant but rash and indiscreet French officer, General Humbert, resolved that he would commit the Directory to action, by starting at once with a small force for the coast of Ireland. Towards the middle of August, calling together the merchants and magistrates of Rochelle, "he forced them to advance a small sum of money, and all that he wanted, on military requisition; and embarking on board a few frigates and transports with 1,000 men, 1,000 spare muskets, 1,000 guineas, and a few pieces of artillery, he compelled the captains to set sail for the most desperate attempt which is, perhaps, recorded in history." Three Irishmen were on board the fleet—Matthew Tone, brother to Theobald, Bartholomew Teeling, and Sullivan, an officer in the French service, who was enthusiastically devoted to the Irish cause, and had rendered much aid to his patriotic countrymen in France. Humbert landed at Killala, routed with his little handful of men a large force of the royal troops, and held his ground until General Lake, with 20,000 men marched against him. After a resistance sufficient to maintain the honour of the French arms, Humbert's little force surrendered as prisoners of war. The Irish who had joined his standard were shown no mercy. The peasantry were cruelly butchered. Of those who had accompanied him from France, Sullivan, who was able to pass as a Frenchman, escaped; Teeling and Matthew Tone were brought in irons to Dublin, tried, and executed. The news of Humbert's expedition and the temporary success that had attended it created much excitement in France, and stirred up the Directory to attempt something for Ireland more worthy of the fame and power of the French nation, and more in keeping with their repeated promises to the leaders of the Irish movement. But their fleet was at the time greatly reduced, and their resources were in a state of disorganization. They mustered for the expedition only one sail of the line and eight small frigates, commanded by Commodore Bompart, conveying 5,000 men under the leadership of General Hardy. On board the Admiral's vessel, which was named the Hoche, was the heroic Theobald Wolfe Tone. He knew this expedition had no chance of success, but he had all along declared, "that if the government sent only a corporal's guard, he felt it his duty to go along with them." The vessels sailed on the 20th of September, 1798; it was not till the 11th October that they arrived off Lough Swilly—simultaneously with an English squadron that had been on the look out for them. The English ships were about equal in number to the French, but were of a larger class, and carried a much heavier armament. The French Admiral directed some of his smaller craft to endeavour to escape by means of their light draught of water, and he counselled Tone to transfer himself to that one of them which had the best chance of getting away. The Frenchmen, he observed, would be made prisoners of war, but for the Irish rebel a worse fate was reserved if he should fall into the hand of his enemies. But to this suggestion the noble-hearted Tone declined to accede. "Shall it be said," he replied, "that I fled while the French were fighting the battles of my country." In a little time the Hoche was surrounded by four sail of the line and one frigate, who poured their shot into her upon all sides. During six hours she maintained the unequal combat, fighting "till her masts and rigging were cut away, her scuppers flowed with blood, her wounded filled the cockpit, her shattered ribs yawned at each new stroke, and let in five feet of water in the hold, her rudder was carried off, and she floated a dismantled wreck on the water; her sails and cordage hung in shreds, nor could she reply with a single gun from her dismounted batteries to the unabating cannonade of the enemy." During the action Tone commanded one of the batteries "and fought with the utmost desperation, as if he was courting death." But, as often has happened in similiar cases, death seemed to shun him, and he was reserved for a more tragic fate.
The French officers who survived the action, and had been made prisoners of war, were, some days subsequently, invited to breakfast with the Earl of Cavan, who commanded in the district in which they had been landed. Tone, who up to that time, had escaped recognition, was one of the party, and sat undistinguished among them, until Sir George Hill, who had been a fellow-student of his in Trinity College, entered the room and accosted him by his name. This was done, not inadvertently, but with the intention of betraying him. In a moment he was in the hands of a party of military and police who were in waiting for him in the next room. Seeing that they were about to put him in fetters, he complained indignantly of the offering of such an insult to the uniform which he wore, and the rank—that of Chef de Brigade—which he bore in the French army. He cast off his regimentals, protesting that they should not be so sullied, and then, offering his limbs to the irons, exclaimed—"For the cause which I have embraced, I feel prouder to wear these chains, than if I were decorated with the Star and Garter of England." He was hurried off to Dublin, and though the ordinary tribunals were sitting at the time, and the military tribunals could have no claim on him, as he had never belonged to the English army, he was put on his trial before a court-martial. This was absolutely an illegal proceeding, but his enemies were impatient for his blood, and would not brook the chances and the delays of the ordinary procedure of law. On the 10th of November, 1798, his trial, if such it might be called, took place in one of the Dublin barracks. He appeared before the Court "dressed," says the Dublin Magazine for November, 1798, "in the French uniform: a large cocked hat, with broad gold lace and the tri-coloured cockade; a blue uniform coat, with gold-embroidered collar and two large gold epaulets; blue pantaloons, with gold-laced garters at the knees; and short boots, bound at the tops with gold lace." In his bearing there was no trace of excitement. "The firmness and cool serenity of his whole deportment," writes his son, "gave to the awestruck assembly the measure of his soul," The proceedings of the Court are detailed in the following report, which we copy from the "Life of Tone," by his son, published at Washington, U.S., in 1826:—
The members of the Court having been sworn, the Judge Advocate called on the prisoner to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge of having acted traitorously and hostilely against the King. Tone replied:—
"I mean not to give the court any useless trouble, and wish to spare them the idle task of examining witnesses. I admit all the facts alleged, and only request leave to read an address which I have prepared for this occasion."
Colonel DALY—"I must warn the prisoner that, in acknowledging those facts, he admits, to his prejudice, that he has acted traitorously against his Majesty. Is such his intention?"
TONE—"Stripping this charge of the technicality of its terms, it means, I presume, by the word traitorously, that I have been found in arms against the soldiers of the King in my native country. I admit this accusation in its most extended sense, and request again to explain to the court the reasons and motives of my conduct."
The court then observed they would hear his address, provided he kept himself within the bounds of moderation.
Tone rose, and began in these words—"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Court-Martial, I mean not to give you the trouble of bringing judicial proof to convict me legally of having acted in hostility to the government of his Britannic Majesty in Ireland. I admit the fact. From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Great Britain and Ireland as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy. My mind has been confirmed in this opinion by the experience of every succeeding year, and the conclusions which I have drawn from every fact before my eyes. In consequence, I was determined to employ all the powers which my individual efforts could move, in order to separate the two countries. That Ireland was not able of herself to throw off the yoke, I knew; I therefore sought for aid wherever it was to be found. In honourable poverty I rejected offers which, to a man in my circumstances, might be considered highly advantageous. I remained faithful to what I thought the cause of my country, and sought in the French Republic an ally to rescue three millions of my countrymen from—"
The President here interrupted the prisoner, observing that this language was neither relevant to the charge, nor such as ought to be delivered in a public court.
A Member said it seemed calculated only to inflame the minds of a certain description of people (the United Irishmen), many of whom might be present, and that the court could not suffer it.
The JUDGE ADVOCATE said—"If Mr. Tone meant this paper to be laid before his Excellency in way of extenuation, it must have quite a contrary effect, if the foregoing part was suffered to remain." The President wound up by calling on the prisoner to hesitate before proceeding further in the same strain.
TONE then continued—"I believe there is nothing in what remains for me to say which can give any offence; I mean to express my feelings and gratitude towards the Catholic body, in whose cause I was engaged."
PRESIDENT—"That seems to have nothing to say to the charge against you, to which you are only to speak. If you have anything to offer in defence or extenuation of the charge, the court will hear you, but they beg you will confine yourself to that subject."
TONE—"I shall, then, confine myself to some points relative to my connection with the French army. Attached to no party in the French Republic—without interest, without money, without intrigue—the openness and integrity of my views raised me to a high and confidential rank in its armies. I obtained the confidence of the Executive Directory, the approbation of my generals, and I will venture to add, the esteem and affection of my brave comrades. When I review these circumstances, I feel a secret and internal consolation which no reverse of fortune, no sentence in the power of this court to inflict, can deprive me of, or weaken in any degree. Under the flag of the French Republic I originally engaged with a view to save and liberate my own country. For that purpose I have encountered the chances of war amongst strangers; for that purpose I repeatedly braved the terrors of the ocean, covered, as I knew it to be, with the triumphant fleets of that power which it was my glory and my duty to oppose. I have sacrificed all my views in life; I have courted poverty; I have left a beloved wife unprotected, and children whom I adored fatherless. After such a sacrifice, in a cause which I have always considered—conscientiously considered—as the cause of justice and freedom, it is no great effort, at this day, to add the sacrifice of my life. But I hear it said that this unfortunate country has been a prey to all sorts of horrors. I sincerely lament it. I beg, however, it may be remembered that I have been absent four years from Ireland. To me these sufferings can never be attributed. I designed by fair and open war to procure the separation of the two countries. For open war I was prepared, but instead of that a system of private assassination has taken place. I repeat, whilst I deplore it, that it is not chargeable on me. Atrocities, it seems, have been committed on both sides. I do not less deplore them. I detest them from my heart; and to those who know my character and sentiments I may safely appeal for the truth of this assertion; with them I need no justification. In a case like this success is everything. Success, in the eyes of the vulgar, fixes its merits. Washington succeeded, and Kosciusko failed. After a combat nobly sustained—combat which would have excited the respect and sympathy of a generous enemy—my fate has been to become a prisoner, to the eternal disgrace of those who gave the orders. I was brought here in irons like a felon. I mention this for the sake of others; for me, I am indifferent to it. I am aware of the fate which awaits me, and scorn equally the tone of complaint and that of supplication. As to the connection between this country and Great Britain, I repeat it—all that has been imputed to me (words, writings, and actions), I here deliberately avow. I have spoken and acted with reflection and on principle, and am ready to meet the consequences. Whatever be the sentence of the court, I am prepared for it. Its members will surely discharge their duty—I shall take care not to be wanting in mine."
The court having asked if he wished to make any further observation,
TONE said—"I wish to offer a few words relative to one single point—the mode of punishment. In France our emigrees, who stand nearly in the same situation in which I now stand before you, are condemned to be shot. I ask that the court shall adjudge me the death of a soldier, and let me be shot by a platoon of grenadiers. I request this indulgence rather in consideration of the uniform I wear—the uniform of a Chef de Brigade in the French army—than from any personal regard to myself. In order to evince my claim to this favour, I beg that the court may take the trouble to peruse my commission and letters of service in the French army. It will appear from these papers that I have not received them as a mask to cover me, but that I have been long and bona fide an officer in the French service."
JUDGE ADVOCATE—"You must feel that the papers you allude to will serve as undeniable proof against you."
TONE—"Oh, I know they will. I have already admitted the facts, and I now admit the papers as full proof of conviction."
[The papers were then examined; they consisted of a brevet of Chef de Brigade from the Directory, signed by the Minister of War, of a letter of service granting to him the rank of Adjutant-General, and of a passport.]
General LOFTUS—"In these papers you are designated as serving in the army of England."
TONE—"I did serve in that army, when it was commanded by Buonaparte, by Dessaix, and by Kilmaine, who is, as I am, an Irishman; but I have also served elsewhere."
The Court requested if he had anything further to observe.
He said that nothing more occurred to him, except that the sooner his Excellency's approbation of the sentence was obtained the better.
This is Tone's speech, as reported in the public prints at that time, but the recently-published "Correspondence" of Lord Cornwallis—Lord Lieutenant in those days—supplies a portion of the address which was never before published, the Court having forbade the reading of it at the trial. The passage contains a noble outburst of gratitude towards the Catholics of Ireland. Tone himself, as every reader is aware, was a Protestant, and there can have been no reason for its suppression except the consideration that it was calculated to still more endear the prisoner to the hearts of his countrymen. We now reprint it, and thus place it for the first time before the people for whom it was written:—
"I have laboured to create a people in Ireland by raising three millions of my countrymen to the rank of citizens. I have laboured to abolish the infernal spirit of religious persecution, by uniting the Catholics and Dissenters. To the former I owe more than ever can be repaid. The services I was so fortunate as to render them they rewarded munificently; but they did more: when the public cry was raised against me—when the friends of my youth swarmed off and left me alone—the Catholics did not desert me; they had the virtue even to sacrifice their own interests to a rigid principle of honour; they refused, though strongly urged, to disgrace a man who, whatever his conduct towards the government might have been, had faithfully and conscientiously discharged his duty towards them; and in so doing, though it was in my own case, I will say they showed an instance of public, virtue of which I know not whether there exists another example."
The sad sequel of those proceedings is soon told. The request of the prisoner to receive a military execution was refused by the Viceroy, Lord Cornwallis, and Tone was sentenced to die "the death of a traitor" within forty-eight hours from the time of his conviction. But he—influenced, it must be confessed, by a totally mistaken feeling of pride, and yielding to a weakness which every Christian heart should be able to conquer—resolved that, rather than allow his enemies to have the satisfaction of dangling his body from a gibbet, he would become his own executioner. On the night of the 11th of November he contrived, while lying unobserved in his cell, to open a vein in his neck with a penknife. No intelligence of this fact had reached the public when, on the morning of the 12th, the intrepid and eloquent advocate, John Philpot Curran, made a motion in the Court of King's Bench for a writ of Habeas Corpus, to withdraw the prisoner from the custody of the military authorities, and transfer him to the charge of the civil power. The motion was granted immediately, Mr. Curran pleading that, if delay were made, the prisoner might be executed before the order of the Court could be presented. A messenger was at once despatched from the court to the barrack with the writ. He returned to say that the officers in charge of the prisoner would obey only their military superiors. The Chief Justice issued his commands peremptorily:—"Mr. Sheriff, take the body of Tone into custody—take the Provost Marshal and Major Sandys into custody,—and show the order of the Court to General Craig." The Sheriff sped away, and soon returned with the news that Tone had wounded himself on the previous evening, and could not be removed. The Chief Justice then ordered a rule suspending the execution. For the space of seven days afterwards did the unfortunate gentleman endure the agonies of approaching death; on the 19th of November, 1798, he expired. No more touching reference to his last moments could be given than the following pathetic and noble words traced by a filial hand, and published in the memoir from which we have already quoted:—"Stretched on his bloody pallet in a dungeon, the first apostle of Irish union and most illustrious martyr of Irish independence counted each lingering hour during the last seven days and nights of his slow and silent agony. No one was allowed to approach him. Far from his adored family, and from all those friends whom he loved so dearly, the only forms which flitted before his eyes were those of the grim jailor and his rough attendants—the only sounds which fell on his dying ear the heavy tread of the sentry. He retained, however, the calmness of his soul and the possession of his faculties to the last. And the consciousness of dying for his country, and in the cause of justice and liberty, illumined like a bright halo his later moments and kept up his fortitude to the end. There is no situation under which those feelings will not support the soul of a patriot."
Tone was born in Stafford-street, Dublin, on the 20th of June, 1764. His father was a coachmaker who carried on a thriving business; his grandfather was a comfortable farmer who held land near Naas, county Kildare. In February, 1781, Tone entered Trinity College, Dublin; in January, 1787, he entered his name as a law student on the books of the Middle Temple, London, and in 1789 he was called to the bar. His mortal remains repose in Bodenstown churchyard, county Kildare, whither parties of patriotic young men from the metropolis and the surrounding districts often proceed to lay a green wreath on his grave. His spirit lives, and will live for ever, in the hearts of his countrymen.
* * * * *
Twelve months before Wolfe Tone expired in his prison cell, one of the bravest of his associates paid with his life the penalty of his attachment to the cause of Irish independence. In the subject of this sketch, the United Irishmen found their first martyr; and time has left no darker blot on the administration of English rule than the execution of the high-spirited Irishman whose body swung from the gallows of Carrickfergus on the 14th of October, 1797.
William Orr was the son of a farmer and bleach-green proprietor, of Ferranshane, in the county of Antrim. The family were in comfortable circumstances, and young Orr received a good education, which he afterwards turned to account in the service of his country. We know little of his early history, but we find him, on growing up to manhood, an active member of the society of United Irishmen, and remarkable for his popularity amongst his countrymen in the north. His appearance, not less than his principles and declarations, was calculated to captivate the peasantry amongst whom he lived; he stood six feet two inches in height, was a perfect model of symmetry, strength, and gracefulness, and the expression of his countenance was open, frank, and manly. He was always neatly and respectably dressed—a prominent feature in his attire being a green necktie, which he wore even in his last confinement.
One of, the first blows aimed by the government against the United Irishmen was the passing of the Act of Parliament (36 George III.), which constituted the administration of their oath a capital felony. This piece of legislation, repugnant in itself to the dictates of reason and justice, was intended as no idle threat; a victim was looked for to suffer under its provisions, and William Orr, the champion of the northern Presbyterian patriots, was doomed to serve the emergency.
He was arraigned, tried, and convicted at Carrickfergus on a charge of having administered the United Irishman's oath to a soldier named Wheatly. The whole history of the operations of the British law courts in Ireland contains nothing more infamous than the record of that trial. We now know, as a matter of fact, that the man who tendered the oath to Wheatly was William M'Keever, a well-known member of the society, who subsequently made his escape to America. But this was not a case, such as sometimes happens, of circumstantial evidence pointing to a wrong conclusion. The only evidence against Orr was the unsupported testimony of the soldier Wheatly; and after hearing Curran's defence of the prisoner there could be no possible doubt of his innocence. But Orr was a doomed man—the government had decreed his death before hand; and in this case, as in every other, the bloodthirsty agents of the crown did not look in vain for Irishmen to co-operate with them in their infamy.
At six o'clock in the evening the jury retired to consider their verdict. The scene that followed in the jury room is described in the sworn affidavits of some of its participators. The jury were supplied with supper by the crown officials; a liberal supply of intoxicating beverages, wines, brandy, &c., being included in the refreshments. In their sober state several of the jury-men—amongst them Alexander Thompson, of Cushendall, the foreman—had refused to agree to a verdict of guilty. It was otherwise, however, when the decanters had been emptied, and when threats of violence were added to the bewildering effects of the potations in which they indulged. Thompson was threatened by his more unscrupulous companions with being wrecked, beaten, and "not left with sixpence in the world," and similar means were used against the few who refused with him to return a verdict of guilty. At six in the morning, the jury, not a man of whom by this time was sober, returned into court with a verdict of guilty, recommending the prisoner at the same time in the strongest manner to mercy. Next day Orr was placed at the bar, and sentenced to death by Lord Yelverton, who, it is recorded, at the conclusion of his address burst into tears. A motion was made, by Curran in arrest of judgment, chiefly on the grounds of the drunkenness of the jury but the judges refused to entertain the objection. The following is the speech delivered by William Orr after the verdict of the jury had been announced:—
"My friends and fellow-countrymen—In the thirty-first year of my life I have been sentenced to die upon the gallows, and this sentence has been in pursuance of a verdict of twelve men, who should have been indifferently and impartially chosen. How far they have been so, I leave to that country from which they have been chosen to determine; and how far they have discharged their duty, I leave to their God and to themselves. They have, in pronouncing their verdict, thought proper to recommend me as an object of humane mercy. In return, I pray to God, if they have erred, to have mercy upon them. The judge who condemned me humanely shed tears in uttering my sentence. But whether he did wisely in so highly commending the wretched informer, who swore away my life, I leave to his own cool reflection, solemnly assuring him and all the world, with my dying breath, that that informer was foresworn.
"The law under which I suffer is surely a severe one—may the makers and promoters of it be justified in the integrity of their motives, and the purity of their own lives! By that law I am stamped a felon, but my heart disdains the imputation.
"My comfortable lot, and industrious course of life, best refute the charge of being an adventurer for plunder; but if to have loved my country—to have known its wrongs—to have felt the injuries of the persecuted Catholics, and to have united with them and all other religious persuasions in the most orderly and least sanguinary means of procuring redress—if those be felonies, I am a felon, but not otherwise. Had my counsel (for whose honorable exertions I am indebted) prevailed in their motions to have me tried for high treason, rather than under the insurrection law, I should have been, entitled to a full defence, and my actions have been better vindicated; but that was refused, and I must now submit to what has passed.
"To the generous protection of my country I leave a beloved wife, who has been constant and true to me, and whose grief for my fate has already nearly occasioned her death. I have five living children, who have been my delight. May they love their country as I have done, and die for it if needful.
"Lastly, a false and ungenerous publication having appeared in a newspaper, stating certain alleged confessions of guilt on my part, and thus striking at my reputation, which is clearer to me than life. I take this solemn method of contradicting the calumny. I was applied to by the high-sheriff, and the Rev. William Bristow, sovereign of Belfast, to make a confession of guilt, who used entreaties to that effect; this I peremptorily refused. If I thought myself guilty, I would freely confess it, but, on the contrary, I glory in my innocence.
"I trust that all my virtuous countrymen will bear me in their kind remembrance, and continue true and faithful to each other as I have been to all of them. With this last wish of my heart—nothing doubting of the success of that cause for which I suffer, and hoping for God's merciful forgiveness of such offences as my frail nature may have at any time betrayed me into—I die in peace and charity with all mankind."
Hardly had sentence of death been passed on William Orr, when compunction seemed to seize on those who had aided in securing that result. The witness Wheatly, who subsequently became insane, and is believed to have died by his own hand, made an affidavit before a magistrate acknowledging that he had sworn falsely against Orr. Two of the jury made depositions setting forth that they had been induced to join in the verdict of guilty while under the influence of drink; two others swore that they had been terrified into the same course by threats of violence.
These depositions were laid before the viceroy, but Lord Camden, the then Lord Lieutenant, was deaf to all appeals. Well might Orr exclaim within his dungeon that the government "had laid down a system having for its object murder and devastation." The prey was in the toils of the hunters, on whom all appeals of justice and humanity were wasted.
Orr was hung, as we have said, in the town of Carrickfergus on the 14th of October, 1797. It is related that the inhabitants of the town, to express their sympathy with the patriot about being murdered by law, and to mark their abhorrence of the conduct of the government towards him, quitted the town en masse on the day of his execution.
His fate excited the deepest indignation throughout the country; it was commented on in words of fire by the national writers of the period, and through many an after year the watchword and rallying cry of the United Irishmen was—
* * * * *
HENRY AND JOHN SHEARES.
Among the many distinguished Irishmen who acted prominent parts in the stormy events of 1798, and whose names come down to us hallowed by the sufferings and sacrifices inseparable in those dark days from the lot of an Irish patriot, there are few whose fate excited more sympathy, more loved in life, more honored in death than the brothers John and Henry Sheares. Even in the days of Emmet and Wolfe Tone, of Russell and Fitzgerald, when men of education, talent, and social standing were not few in the national ranks, the Sheareses were hailed as valuable accessions to the cause, and were recognised by the United Irishmen as heaven-destined leaders for the people. It is a touching story, the history of their patriotic exertions, their betrayal, trial, and execution; but it is by studying such scenes in our history that Irishmen can learn to estimate the sacrifices which were made in bygone days for Ireland, and attach a proper value to the memory of the patriots who made them.
Henry and John Sheares were sons of John Sheares, a banker in Cork, who sat in the Irish Parliament for the borough of Clonakilty. The father appears to have been a kindly-disposed, liberal-minded man, and numerous stories are told of his unostentatious charity and benevolence. Henry, the elder of the two sons, was born in 1753, and was educated in Trinity College, Dublin. After leaving college he purchased a commission in the 51st Regiment of foot, but the duties of a military officer were ill suited to his temperament and disposition, and the young soldier soon resigned his commission to pursue the more congenial occupation of law student. He was called to the bar in 1790; his brother John, his junior by three years, who had adopted the same profession, obtained the rank of barrister-at-law two years previously. The brothers differed from each other widely in character and disposition. Henry was gentle in manners, modest and unassuming, but firmly attached to his principles, and unswerving in his fidelity to the cause which he adopted; John was bold, impetuous, and energetic, ready to plan and to dare, fertile of resources, quick of resolve, and prompt of execution. To John the elder brother looked for guidance and example, and his gentle nature was ever ruled by the more fiery and impulsive spirit of his younger brother. On the death of the father Henry Sheares came in for property to the value of L1,200 per annum, which his rather improvident habits soon diminished by one-half. Both brothers, however, obtained large practice at their profession, and continued in affluent circumstances up to the day of their arrest.
In 1792 the two brothers visited Paris, and this excursion seems to have formed the turning point of their lives and fortunes. The French Revolution was in full swing, and in the society of Roland, Brissot, and other Republican leaders, the young Irishmen imbibed the love of freedom, and impatience of tyranny and oppression, which they clung to so faithfully, and which distinguished them so remarkably during the remainder of their lives. On returning to Ireland in January, 1793, the brothers joined the ranks of the United Irishmen. John at once became a prominent member of the society, and his signature appears to several of the spirited and eloquent addresses by which the Dublin branch sought from time to time to arouse the ardour and stimulate the exertions of their compatriots. The society of United Irishmen looked for nothing more at this period than a thorough measure of parliamentary reform, household suffrage being the leading feature in their programme; but when the tyranny of the government drove the leaguers into more violent and dangerous courses, when republican government and separation from England were inscribed on the banners of the society instead of electoral reform, and when the selfish and the wavering had shrunk aside, the Sheareses still remained true to the United Irishmen, and seemed to grow more zealous and energetic in the cause of their country according as the mists of perplexity and danger gathered around it.
To follow out the history of the Sheareses connection with the United Irishmen would be foreign to our intention and to the scope of this work. The limits of our space oblige us to pass over the ground at a rapid pace, and we shall dismiss the period of the Sheareses' lives comprised in the years between 1793 and 1798, by saying that during that period, while practising their profession with success, they devoted themselves with all the earnestness of their nature to the furtherance of the objects of the United Irishmen. In March, 1798, the affairs of the organization became critical; the arrest of the Directory at Oliver Bond's deprived the party of its best and most trusted leaders, besides placing in the hands of the government a mass of information relative to the plans and resources of the conspirators. To fill the gap thus caused, John Sheares was soon appointed a member of the Directory, and he threw himself into the work with all the ardour and energy of his nature. The fortunes of the society had assumed a desperate phase when John Sheares became its ruling spirit. Tone was in France, O'Connor was in England, Russell, Emmet, and Fitzgerald were in prison. But Sheares was not disheartened; he directed all his efforts towards bringing about the insurrection for which his countrymen had so long been preparing, and the 23rd of May, 1798, was fixed on by him for the outbreak. He was after visiting Wexford and Kildare, and making arrangements in those counties for the rising, and was on the verge of starting for Cork on a similar mission, when the hand of treachery cut short his career, and the gates of Kilmainham prison opened to receive him.
Amongst all the human monsters who filled the ranks of the government informers in that dark and troubled period, not one appears to merit a deeper measure of infamy than Captain Warnesford Armstrong, the entrapper and betrayer of the Sheareses. Having obtained an introduction to John, he represented himself as a zealous and hard-working member of the organization, and soon wormed himself completely into the confidence of his victims. He paid daily visits to the house of the Sheareses in Baggot-street, chatted with their families, and fondled the children of Henry Sheares upon his knee. We have it on his own testimony that each interview with the men whose confidence he was sharing was followed by a visit to the Castle. We need not go through the sickening details of this vile story of treachery and fraud. On the 21st of May the Sheareses were arrested and lodged in prison, and on the 12th of the following month Armstrong appeared against them in the witness-box. The trial was continued through the night—Toler, of infamous memory, who had been created Attorney-General expressly for the occasion, refusing Curran's request for an adjournment; and it was eight o'clock in the morning of the 13th when the jury, who had been but seventeen minutes absent, returned into court with a verdict of guilty against both prisoners.
After a few hours' adjournment the court re-assembled to pass sentence. It was then that John Sheares, speaking in a firm tone, addressed the court as follows:—
"My Lords—I wish to offer a few words before sentence is pronounced, because there is a weight pressing on my heart much greater than that of the sentence which is to come from the court. There has been, my lords, a weight pressing on my mind from the first moment I heard the indictment read upon which I was tried; but that weight has been more peculiarly pressing upon my heart when I found the accusation in the indictment enforced and supported upon the trial. That weight would be left insupportable if it were not for this opportunity of discharging it; I shall feel it to be insupportable since a verdict of my country has stamped that evidence as well founded. Do not think, my lords, that I am about to make a declaration against the verdict of the jury or the persons concerned with the trial; I am only about to call to your recollection a part of the charge at which my soul shudders, and if I had no opportunity of renouncing it before your lordships and this auditory, no courage would be sufficient to support me. The accusation of which I speak, while I linger here yet a minute, is that of holding out to the people of Ireland a direction to give no quarter to the troops fighting for its defence! My lords, let me say thus, that if there be any acquaintances in this crowded court—I do not say my intimate friends, but acquaintances—who do not know what I say is truth, I shall be reputed the wretch which I am not; I say if any acquaintance of mine can believe that I could utter a recommendation of giving no quarter to a yielding and unoffending foe, it is not the death which I am about to suffer that I deserve—no punishment could be adequate to such a crime. My lords, I can not only acquit my soul of such an intention, but I declare, in the presence of that God before whom I must shortly appear, that the favourite doctrine of my heart was, that no human being should suffer death but when absolute necessity required it. My lords, I feel a consolation in making this declaration, which nothing else could afford me, because it is not only a justification of myself, but where I am sealing my life with that breath which cannot be suspected of falsehood, what I say may make some impression upon the minds of men not holding the same doctrine. I declare to God I know of no crime but assassination which can eclipse or equal that of which I am accused. I discern no shade of guilt between that and taking away the life of a foe, by putting a bayonet to his heart when he is yielding and surrendering. I do request the bench to believe that of me—I do request my country to believe that of me—I am sure God will think that of me. Now, my lords, I have no favour to ask of the court; my country has decided I am guilty, and the law says I shall suffer—it sees that I am ready to suffer. But, my lords, I have a favour to request of the court that does not relate to myself. My lords, I have a brother whom I have even loved dearer than myself, but it is not from any affection for him alone that I am induced to make the request. He is a man, and therefore I would hope prepared to die if he stood as I do—though I do not stand unconnected; but he stands more dearly connected. In short, my lords, to spare your feelings and I my own, I do not pray that that I should not die, but that the husband, the father, the son—all comprised in one person—holding these relations dearer in life to him than any other man I know—for such a man I do not pray a pardon, for that is not in the power of the court, but I pray a respite for such time as the court in its humanity and discretion shall think proper. You have heard, my lords, that his private affairs require arrangement. When I address myself to your lordships, it is with the knowledge you will have of all the sons of our aged mother being gone. Two have perished in the service of the King—one very recently. I only request that, disposing of me with what swiftness either the public mind or justice requires, a respite may be given to my brother, that the family may acquire strength to bear it all. That is all I wish; I shall remember it to my last breath, and I shall offer up my prayers for you to that Being who has endued us all with the sensibility to feel. That is all I ask. I have nothing more to say."
It was four o'clock, p.m., when the judge proceeded to pass sentence, and the following morning was appointed for the double execution. At mid-day on Saturday, July 14th, the hapless men were removed to the room adjoining the place of execution, where they exchanged a last embrace. They were then pinioned, the black caps put over their brows, and holding each other by the hand, they tottered out on the platform. The elder brother was somewhat moved by the terrors of his situation, but the younger bore his fate with unflinching firmness. They were launched together into eternity—the same moment saw them dangling lifeless corpses before the prison walls. They had lived in affectionate unity, inspired by the same motives, labouring for the same cause, and death did not dissolve the tie. "They died hand in hand, like true brothers."
When the hangman's hideous office was completed, the bodies were taken down, and the executioner, in accordance with the barbarous custom of the time, proceeded to sever the heads from the bodies. It is said, however, that only on the body of Henry Sheares was that horrible act performed. While the arrangements for the execution were in progress, Sir Jonah Barrington had been making intercession with Lord Clare on their behalf, and beseeching at least a respite. His lordship declared that the life of John Sheares could not be spared, but said that Henry might possibly have something to say which would induce the government to commute his sentence; he furnished Sir Jonah with an order to delay the execution one hour, and told him to communicate with Henry Sheares on the subject. "I hastened," writes Sir Jonah, "to Newgate, and arrived at the very moment that the executioner was holding up the head of my old college friend, and saying, 'Here is the head of a traitor.'" The fact of this order having been issued by the government, may have so far interrupted the bloody work on the scaffold as to save the remains of the younger Sheares from mutilation. The bodies of the patriots were interred on the night of the execution in the vaults of St. Michan's church, where, enclosed in oaken coffins, marked in the usual manner with the names and ages of the deceased, they still repose. Many a pious visit has since been paid to those dim chambers—many a heart, filled with love and pity, has throbbed above those coffin lids—many a tear has dropped upon them. But it is not a feeling of grief alone that is inspired by the memory of those martyrs to freedom; hope, courage, constancy, are the lessons taught by their lives, and the patriotic spirit that ruled their career is still awake and active in Ireland.
* * * * *
In all Irish history there is no name which touches the Irish heart like that of Robert Emmet. We read, in that eventful record, of men who laid down their lives for Ireland amid the roar and crash of battle, of others who perished by the headsman's axe or the halter of the hangman, of others whose eyes were closed for ever in the gloom of English dungeons, and of many whose hearts broke amid the sorrows of involuntary exile; of men, too, who in the great warfare of mind rendered to the Irish cause services no less memorable and glorious. They are neither forgotten nor unhonoured. The warrior figure of Hugh O'Neill is a familiar vision to Irishmen; Sarsfield expiring on the foreign battle-field with that infinitely pathetic and noble utterance on his lips—"Would that this were for Ireland"—is a cherished remembrance, and that last cry of a patriotic spirit dwells for ever about our hearts; Grattan battling against a corrupt and venal faction, first to win and then to defend the independence of his country, astonishing friends and foes alike by the dazzling splendour of his eloquence; and O'Connell on the hill-sides pleading for the restoration of Ireland's rights, and rousing his countrymen to a struggle for them, are pictures of which we are proud—memories that will live in song and story while the Irish race has a distinct existence in the world. But in the character of Robert Emmet there was such a rare combination of admirable qualities, and in his history there are so many of the elements of romance, that the man stands before our mental vision as a peculiarly noble and loveable being, with claims upon our sympathies that are absolutely without a parallel. He had youth, talent, social position, a fair share of fortune, and bright prospects for the future on his side when he embarked in the service of a cause that had but recently been sunk in defeat and ruin. Courage, genius, enthusiasm were his, high hopes and strong affections, all based upon and sweetened by a nature utterly free from guile. He was an orator and a poet; in the one art he had already achieved distinction, in the other he was certain to take a high place, if he should make that an object of his ambition. He was a true patriot, true soldier, and true lover. If the story of his political life is full of melancholy interest, and calculated to awaken profound emotions of reverence for his memory, the story of his affections is not less touching. Truly, "there's not a line but hath been wept upon." So it is, that of all the heroic men who risked and lost everything for Ireland, none is so frequently remembered, none is thought of so tenderly as Robert Emmet. Poetry has cast a halo of light upon the name of the youthful martyr, and some of the sweetest strains of Irish music are consecrated to his memory.
Robert Emmet was born on the 4th of March, 1778. He was the third son of Doctor Robert Emmet, a well-known and highly respectable physician of Dublin. Thomas Addis Emmet, already mentioned in these pages, the associate of Tone, the Sheareses, and other members of the United Irish organization, was an elder brother of Robert, and his senior by some sixteen years. Just about the period when the United Irishmen were forming themselves into a secret revolutionary society, young Emmet was sent to receive his education in Trinity College. There the bent of the lad's political opinions was soon detected; but among his fellow students he found many, and amongst them older heads than his own, who not only shared his views, but went beyond them in the direction of liberal and democratic principles. In the Historical Society—composed of the alumni of the college, and on whose books at this time were many names that subsequently became famous—those kindred spirits made for themselves many opportunities of giving expression to their sentiments, and showing that their hearts beat in unison with the great movement for human freedom which was then agitating the world. To their debates Emmet brought the aid of a fine intellect and a fluent utterance, and he soon became the orator of the patriot party.
So great was the effect created by his fervid eloquence and his admirable reasoning, that the heads of the college thought it prudent on several occasions to send one of the ablest of their body to take part in the proceedings, and assist in refuting the argumentation of the "young Jacobin." And to such extremities did matters proceed at last that Emmet, with several of his political friends, was expelled the college, others less obnoxious to the authorities were subjected to a severe reprimand, and the society, thus terrorised and weakened, soon ceased to exist. Our national poet, Thomas Moore, the fellow-student and intimate friend of young Emmet, witnessed many of those displays of his abilities, and in his "Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald," speaks of him in terms of the highest admiration. "Were I," he says, "to number the men among all I have ever known who appeared to me to combine in the greatest degree pure moral worth with intellectual power, I should, among the highest of the few, place Robert Emmet." "He was," writes the same authority, "wholly free from the follies and frailties of youth—though how capable he was of the most devoted passion events afterwards proved." Of his oratory, he says, "I have heard little since that appeared to me of a loftier, or what is a far more rare quality in Irish eloquence, purer character." And the appearance of this greatly gifted youth, he thus describes: "Simple in all his habits, and with a repose of look and manner indicating but little movement within, it was only when the spring was touched that set his feelings, and through them his intellect in motion, that he at all rose above the level of ordinary men. No two individuals indeed could be much more unlike to each other than was the same youth to himself before rising to speak and after; the brow that had appeared inanimate and almost drooping, at once elevating itself to all the consciousness of power, and the whole countenance and figure of the speaker assuming a change as of one suddenly inspired."
The expulsion of Emmet from the college occurred in the month of February, 1798. On the 12th of the following month his brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, was arrested. The manner in which this noble-hearted gentleman took the oath of the United Irish Society, in the year of 1795, is so remarkable that we cannot omit mention of it here. His services as a lawyer having been engaged in the defence of some persons who stood charged with having sworn in members to the United Irish organization—the crime for which William Orr was subsequently tried and executed—he, in the course of the proceedings, took up the oath and read it with remarkable deliberation and solemnity. Then, taking into his hand the prayer book that lay on the table for the swearing of witnesses, and looking to the bench and around the court, he said aloud—
"My Lords—Here, in the presence of this legal court, this crowded auditory—in the presence of the Being that sees and witnesses, and directs this judicial tribunal—here, my lords, I, myself, in the presence of God, declare I take this oath."
The terms of the oath at this time were, in fact, perfectly constitutional, having reference simply to attainment of a due representation of the Irish nation in parliament—still, the oath was that of a society declared to be illegal, and the administration of it had been made a capital offence. The boldness of the advocate in thus administering it to himself in open court appeared to paralyse the minds of the judges. They took no notice of the act, and what was even more remarkable, the prisoners, who were convicted, received a lenient sentence.
But to return to Robert Emmet—the events of 1798, as might be supposed, had a powerful effect on the feelings of the enthusiastic young patriot, and he was not free of active participation with the leaders of the movement in Dublin. He was, of course, an object of suspicion to the government, and it appears marvellous that they did not immediately take him into their safe keeping under the provisions of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act. Ere long, however, he found that prudence would counsel his concealment, or his disappearance from the country, and he took his departure for the Continent, where he met with a whole host of the Irish refugees; and, in 1802, was joined by his brother and others of the political prisoners who had been released from the confinement to which—in violation of a distinct agreement between them and the government—they had been subjected in Fort George, in Scotland. Their sufferings had not broken their spirit. There was hope still, they thought, for Ireland; great opportunities were about to dawn upon that often defeated, but still unconquerable nation, and they applied themselves to the task of preparing the Irish people to take advantage of them.
At home the condition of affairs was not such as to discourage them. The people had not lost heart; the fighting spirit was still rife amongst them. The rebellion had been trampled out, but it had been sustained mainly by a county or two, and it had served to show that a general uprising of the people would be sufficient to sweep every vestige of British power from the land. Then they had in their favour the exasperation against the government which was caused by that most infamous transaction, the passage of the Act of Union. But they found their chief encouragement in the imminence of another war between France and England. Once more the United Irishmen put themselves into communication with Buonaparte, then First Consul, and again they received flattering promises of assistance. Robert Emmet obtained an interview with that great man, and learned from him that it was his settled purpose on the breaking out of hostilities, which could not long be deferred, to effect an invasion of England. Full of high hopes, Emmet returned to Dublin in October, 1802; and as he was now in very heart of a movement for another insurrection, he took every precaution to avoid discovery. He passed under feigned names, and moved about as little as possible. He gathered together the remnants of the United Irish organization, and with some money of his own, added to considerable sums supplied to him by a Mr. Long, a merchant, residing at No. 4 Crow-street, and other sympathisers, he commenced the collection of an armament and military stores for his followers. In the month of May, 1803, the expected war between France and England broke out. This event of course raised still higher his hopes, and gave a great stimulus to his exertions. To and fro he went from one to another of the depots which he had established for the manufacture and storage of arms in various parts of the city, cheering, directing, and assisting his men at their work. Pikes were got ready by the thousand, and ingeniously stowed away until they should be wanted; rockets, hand-grenades, and other deadly missiles were carefully prepared; but an accidental explosion, which occurred on the 16th of July, in one of these manufactories situate in Patrick-street, was very near leading to the discovery of the entire business, and had the effect of precipitating the outbreak. The government at this time had undoubtedly got on the scent of the movement, and the leaders considered that no time was to be lost in bringing matters to a crisis. Emmet now took up his abode in the Marshalsea-lane depot, snatching his few hours of sleep "on a mattress, surrounded by all the implements of death." There he made a final arrangement of his plans, and communicated his instructions to his subordinates, fixing the 23rd of July as the date for the rising.
The history of that unfortunate attempt need not here be written. Suffice it to say that the arrangements miscarried in nearly every particular. The men in the numbers calculated upon did not assemble at the appointed time or in the appointed places, and the whole force that turned out in Thomas-street for the attack on the Castle did not number a hundred insurgents. They were joined by a riotous and noisy rabble; and their unfortunate leader soon perceived that his following was, as had previously been said of the king's troops, "formidable to every one but the enemy." They had not proceeded far on their way when a carriage, in which were Lord Kilwarden, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, his daughter, and his nephew, the Rev. Mr. Wolfe, drove into the street. The vehicle was stopped, and the Chief Justice was immediately piked by a man in the crowd whose son he had some time previously condemned to execution. The clergyman also was pulled out of the carriage and put to death. To the lady no violence was offered, and Emmet himself, who had heard of the deplorable tragedy, rushing from the head of his party, bore her in his arms to an adjoining house. No attack on the Castle took place; the insurgent party scattered and melted away even before the appearance of military on the scene, and in little more than an hour from the time of his setting out on his desperate enterprise, Robert Emmet was a defeated and ruined man, a fugitive, with the whole host of British spies and bloodhounds employed to hunt him to the death.
Yet he might have foiled them and got clear out of the country if his personal safety was all on earth he cared for. But in that noble heart of his there was one passion co-existent with his love of Ireland, and not unworthy of the companionship, which forbade his immediate flight. With all that intensity of affection of which a nature so pure and so ardent as his was capable, he loved a being in every way worthy of him—a lady so gentle, and good, and fair, that even to a less poetic imagination than his own, she might seem to be a fitting personification of his beloved Erin; and by her he was loved and trusted in return. Who is it that has not heard her name?—who has not mourned over the story of Sarah Curran! In the ruin that had fallen on the hopes and fortunes of the patriot chief, the happiness of this amiable lady was involved. He would not leave without an interview with her—no! though a thousand deaths should be the penalty. The delay was fatal to his chances of escape. For more than a month he remained in concealment, protected by the fidelity of friends, many of whom belonged to the humbler walks of life, and one of whom in particular—the heroic Anne Devlin, from whom neither proffered bribes nor cruel tortures could extort a single hint as to his place of abode—should ever be held in grateful remembrance by Irishmen. At length on the 25th of August, the ill-fated young gentleman was arrested in the house of a Mrs. Palmer, at Harold's-cross. On the 19th of September he was put on his trial in the court-house, Green-street, charged with high treason. He entered on no defence, beyond making a few remarks in the course of the proceedings with a view to the moral and political justification of his conduct. The jury, without leaving their box, returned a verdict of guilty against him; after which, having been asked in due form why sentence of death should not be pronounced upon him, he delivered this memorable speech, every line of which is known and dear to the hearts of the Irish race:—
"MY LORDS—I am asked what have I to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me, according to law. I have nothing to say that can alter your predetermination, nor that it will become me to say, with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are to pronounce, and I must abide by. But I have that to say which interests me more than life, and which you have laboured to destroy. I have much to say why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been cast upon it, I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your mind can be so free from prejudice as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter. I have no hopes that I can anchor my character in the breast of a court constituted and trammelled as this is. I only wish, and that is the utmost that I expect, that your lordships may suffer it to float down your memories untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbour to shelter it from the storms by which it is buffetted. Was I only to suffer death, after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence, and meet the fate that awaits me without a murmur; but the sentence of the law which delivers my body to the executioner will, through the ministry of the law, labour in its own vindication, to consign my character to obloquy; for there must be guilt somewhere, whether in the sentence of the court, or in the catastrophe, time must determine. A man in my situation has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune, and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated, but the difficulties of established prejudice. The man dies, but his memory lives. That mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countrymen, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wafted to a more friendly port—when my shade shall have joined the bands of those martyred heroes who have shed their blood on the scaffold and in the field in the defence of their country and of virtue, this is my hope—I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious government which upholds its domination by blasphemy of the Most High—which displays its power over man, as over the beasts of the forest—which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand, in the name of God, against the throat of his fellow who believes or doubts a little more or a little less than the government standard—a government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans, and the tears of the widows it has made."
[Here Lord Norbury interrupted Mr. Emmet, saying—"that the mean and wicked enthusiasts who felt as he did, were not equal to the accomplishment of their wild designs."]
"I appeal to the immaculate God—I swear by the Throne of Heaven, before which I must shortly appear—by the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before me—that my conduct has been, through all this peril, and through all my purposes, governed only by the conviction which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of the emancipation of my country from the superinhuman oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and I confidently hope that, wild and chimerical as it may appear, there is still union and strength in Ireland to accomplish this noblest of enterprises. Of this I speak with confidence, of intimate knowledge, and with the consolation that appertains to that confidence. Think not, my lords, I say this for the petty gratification of giving you a transitory uneasiness. A man who never yet raised his voice to assert a lie, will not hazard his character with posterity, by asserting a falsehood on a subject so important to his country, and on an occasion like this. Yes, my lords, a man who does not wish to have his epitaph written until his country is liberated, will not leave a weapon in the power of envy, or a pretence to impeach the probity which he means to preserve, even in the grave, to which tyranny consigns him."
[Here he was again interrupted by the court]
"Again I say, that what I have spoken was not intended for your lordship, whose situation I commisserate rather than envy—my expressions were for my countrymen. If there is a true Irishman present, let my last words cheer him in the hour of his affliction."
[Here he was again interrupted. Lord Norbury said he did not sit there to hear treason.]
"I have always understood it to be the duty of a judge, when a prisoner has been convicted, to pronounce the sentence of the law. I have also understood that judges sometimes think it their duty to hear with patience, and to speak with humanity; to exhort the victim of the laws, and to offer, with tender benignity, their opinions of the motives by which he was actuated in the crime of which he was adjudged guilty. That a judge has thought it his duty so to have done, I have no doubt; but where is the boasted freedom of your institutions—where is the vaunted impartiality, clemency, and mildness of your courts of justice if an unfortunate prisoner, whom your policy, and not justice, is about to deliver into the hands of the executioner, is not suffered to explain his motives sincerely and truly, and to vindicate the principles by which he was actuated? My lords, it may be a part of the system of angry justice to bow a man's mind by humiliation to the purposed, ignominy of the scaffold; but worse to me than the purposed shame, or the scaffold's terrors, would be the shame of such foul and unfounded imputations as have been laid against me in this court. You, my lord, are a judge; I am the supposed culprit. I am a man; you are a man also. By a revolution of power we might change places, though we never could change characters. If I stand at the bar of this court, and dare not vindicate my character, what a farce is your justice! If I stand at this bar and dare not vindicate my character, how dare you calumniate it. Does the sentence of death, which your unhallowed policy inflicts on my body, condemn my tongue to silence and my reputation to reproach? Your executioner may abridge the period of my existence; but while I exist I shall not forbear to vindicate my character and motives from your aspersions; and, as a man, to whom fame is dearer than life, I will make the last use of that life in doing justice to that reputation which is to live after me, and which is the only legacy I can leave to those I honor and love, and for whom I am proud to perish. As men, my lords, we must appear on the great day at one common tribunal; and it will then remain for the Searcher of all hearts to show a collective universe, who was engaged in the most virtuous actions, or swayed by the purest motives—my country's oppressor, or"——-
[Here he was interrupted, and told to listen to the sentence of the law].
"My lords, will a dying man be denied the legal privilege of exculpating himself in the eyes of the community from an undeserved reproach, thrown upon him during his trial, by charging him with ambition, and attempting to cast away for a paltry consideration the liberties of his country? Why did your lordships insult me? Or rather, why insult justice, in demanding of me why sentence of death should not be pronounced against me? I know, my lords, that form prescribes that you should ask the question. The form also presents the right of answering. This, no doubt, may be dispensed with, and so might the whole ceremony of the trial, since sentence was already pronounced at the Castle before the jury were empanelled. Your lordships are but the priests of the oracle, and I insist on the whole of the forms."
[Here Mr. Emmet paused, and the court desired him to proceed.]
"I am charged with being an emissary of France. An emissary of France! and for what end? It is alleged that I wished to sell the independence of my country; and for what end? Was this the object of my ambition? And is this the mode by which a tribunal of justice reconciles contradiction? No; I am no emissary; and my ambition was to hold a place among the deliverers of my country, not in power nor in profit, but in the glory of the achievement. Sell my country's independence to France! and for what? Was it a change of masters? No, but for my ambition. Oh, my country, was it personal ambition that could influence me? Had it been the soul of my actions, could I not, by my education and fortune, by the rank and consideration of my family, have placed myself amongst the proudest of your oppressor. My Country was my Idol. To it I sacrificed every selfish, every endearing sentiment; and for it I now offer up myself, O God! No, my lords; I acted as an Irishman, determined on delivering my country from the yoke of a foreign and unrelenting tyranny, and the more galling yoke of a domestic faction, which is its joint partner and perpetrator in the patricide, from the ignominy existing with an exterior of splendour and a conscious depravity. It was the wish of my heart to extricate my country from this doubly rivetted despotism—I wished to place her independence beyond the reach of any power on earth. I wished to exalt her to that proud station in the world. Connection with France was, indeed, intended, but only as far as mutual interest would sanction or require. Were the French to assume any authority inconsistent with the purest independence, it would be signal for their destruction. We sought their aid—and we sought it as we had assurance we should obtain it—as auxiliaries in war, and allies in peace. Were the French to come as invaders or enemies, uninvited by the wishes of the people, I should oppose them to the utmost of my strength. Yes! my countrymen, I should advise you to meet them upon the beach with a sword in one hand, and a torch in the other. I would meet them with all the destructive fury of war. I would animate my countrymen to immolate them in their boats, before they had contaminated the soil of my country. If they succeeded in landing, and if forced to retire before superior discipline, I would dispute every inch of ground, burn every blade of grass, and the last entrenchment of liberty should be my grave. What I could not do myself, if I should fall, I should leave as a last charge to my countrymen to accomplish; because I should feel conscious that life, any more than death, is unprofitable when a foreign nation holds my country in subjection. But it was not as an enemy that the succours of France were to land. I looked, indeed, for the assistance of France; but I wished to prove to France and to the world that Irishmen deserved to be assisted—that they were indignant at slavery, and ready to assert the independence and liberty of their country; I wished to procure for my country the guarantee which Washington procured for America—to procure an aid which, by its example, would be as important as its valour; disciplined, gallant, pregnant with science and experience; that of a people who would perceive the good, and polish the rough points of our character. They would come to us as strangers, and leave us as friends, after sharing in our perils and elevating our destiny. These were my objects; not to receive new taskmasters, but to expel old tyrants. It was for these ends I sought aid from France; because France, even as an enemy, could not be more implacable than the enemy already in the bosom of my country."