The 1831 Uprising – Part 2: The Uprising
Taken from Bristol Past and Present by J. F. Nicholls and John Taylor, published in 1882
On Saturday, October 29th, the civic force appointed as a guard for the recorder, marched out, about ten o’clock in the morning, by way of Bristol bridge and Temple street, as far as the city boundary at the “Blue Bowl” tavern, Totterdown, to await his coming. They mustered about 300, and included the sheriff’s officers, regular constables, and special constables; the latter being augmented by men who were hired for the occasion, and some of whom were very unfit for the office. A troop of cavalry was stationed in the cattle market and another in the new gaol. The usual hour for the judge to arrive was three o’clock in the afternoon; the idea of anticipating the time and avoiding a contact with a crowd was well meant but proved a failure. The line of route to the Guildhall was thronged, and the shops were all closed. At half-past ten o’clock, Sir Charles arrived in a carriage drawn by four grey horses. About 2,000 people received him with hisses, yells and groans. Entering the sheriff’s carriage, which was preceded by the municipal officers with favours in their hats, and by the trumpeters, with two gentlemen on horseback riding by each door of the carriage, he moved on towards the city, but so dense was the crowd that the procession could not be properly marshalled. At Hillsbridge (Bath bridge) several stones were hurled at the carriage; Temple street, was one dense mass of people, and the female habitués of its alleys added shrill execrations to the din. At Bristol bridge the cortége could scarcely force a passage, and most unequivocal were the tokens of feeling there manifested; and as it left the Bridge the carriage was again pelted with stones. By the time the recorder reached the Guildhall it was noon, and some minutes elapsed ere he ventured to alight; however, he reached the bench in safety, and the doors of the hall being opened, the room was instantly filled. The usual form of opening the commission by reading the charter was followed amidst great interruption, and the town clerk. Mr. Serjeant Ludlow, hoping to allay the excitement made a few remarks, in which, alluding to reform, he was met with an astounding uproar of mingled cheers, hisses and groans. The recorder threatened to commit any one detected in thus disturbing the court, and specials were sent into the crowd to discover the offenders. The preliminaries being finished, the court was adjourned to eight o’clock Monday morning. The recorder withdrew from the bench amidst hisses, after which the audience dispersed, having given three cheers for the king. The streets were more densely thronged than before, and bodies of men were watching the back door of the Guildhall in Small street, as well as the mayor’s state carriage in Quay street, in which Sir Charles was to be conveyed to the Mansion-house, Queen square. After the lapse of half-an-hour, the recorder made his appearance amidst a tumultuous expression of displeasure from those assembled. The line of route to Queen square was filled with a dense mass of people, and a file-firing of groans and hisses accompanied the carriage as it rolled along, varied only in one instance, this being the front of the Commercial-rooms, which was thronged by a number of the friends of Sir Charles, who greeted him with rounds of cheers. On his arrival at the Mansion-house the carriage was again pelted with stones, one of which broke the glass of the lamp; the recorder, however, escaped untouched.
The mayor had given instructions to the special constables to exercise the utmost forbearance, but there were excitable, unruly spirits amongst them, besides the roughs who had been hired as substitutes. Some of these, angered by and probably suffering from the missiles, rushed into the crowd and arrested a spectator who was innocent of offence. Elated by their success, they repeated their sallies, capturing six others, and using their staves to clear the way. Beyond peeping at the tumult from behind the curtains of the Mansion- house, the magistrates appear to have taken no steps to abate it; the specials were without organisation or a responsible acting head; whilst the populace, to the number of 1,500 or 2,000 persons, surged like a tempestuous sea about the square. Suddenly there was a cry, “To the Back!” and a rush was made to the faggot piles for sticks. The parties who thus armed themselves were about 600 in number, for the most part mere lads, who at the first collision with the constables threw down their sticks and fled. This was at half-past twelve on the Saturday, at which time had an active popular man appeared on the scene and assumed command, the probability is that no further violence would have ensued. Occasionally a pane of glass was smashed by stones, or a stick was hurled at the special constables by some hobbledehoy from behind that portion of the crowd which was massed in front of the Mansion-house. The attempt to capture such offenders led to sundry collisions, in which the force was generally worsted, whilst the mob was angered by the occasional seizure of in-nocent but unwise lookers-on. One of the constables was chased into the Floating harbour, whence he was rescued by a boatman, and one man had his skull fractured and was taken to the Infirmary. At half-past two the constables retired within the Mansion-house, whence they sent to the Bridewell a batch of prisoners whom they had taken during the morning. The mob, learning this, followed, and in Nelson street overtook and rescued them. About four o’clock a number of the constables were ordered to withdraw to their homes for refreshment, with orders to be at the Guildhall at six o’clock in the evening, ready for service if required. Their departure gave an opportunity to the riff-raff, which was speedily seized. Certainly not more than a dozen windows had up to this time been broken, but now sticks and stones were freely hurled, and much destruction of glass ensued. The mayor, Mr. Charles Pinney, supported by some of the aldermen, then came to the front of the Mansion-house and endeavoured to address the assemblage, threatening to read the Riot Act and to call out the military. The answer was a volley of missiles, one of which – a top rail torn up in the square – nearly struck his worship on the head. The Riot Act was then read, in reply to which the mob rushed upon the weakened force of specials, disarmed them, and compelled some of them to join in demolishing the windows of the Mansion- house. The sashes and window shutters were smashed, the doors forced, the feast provided for the dignitaries was exposed to view, and most of the furniture upon the ground floor was demolished. The iron railings in front of the Mansion-house were pulled down and the bars converted into weapons, and walls were overturned for materials to hurl at the upper windows. At this critical juncture Sir Charles Wetherell effected his escape, but not, as he himself stated in the House of Commons, until the bed of the chief magistrate had been taken to barricade one of the windows.
The threats of vengeance on the recorder were at this time fearful, and an attempt was made to burn the Mansion-house with its occupants, which was frustrated by the arrival of two magistrates with some of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and a troop of the 14th Light Dragoons. The whole available military force numbered ninety- three men, being one troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, and two troops of the 14th Light Dragoons. These were quartered at Leigh’s Horse bazaar and at Fisher’s Horse repository, which were contiguous to each other in College street. The Recruiting office was at the north corner of College green, close to the Bishop’s palace; Colonel Brereton’s quarters were at No. 2 Unity street, about 100 yards distant. Finding his life imperilled, the recorder got out of a window on to the flat roof of the dining-room. A female in the next house lowered a short ladder, by which he and some friends reached the roof, from which, at great peril, they dropped to that of the stables and hid in the hayloft. Exchanging his dress for that of a postillion, and arranging for a style of address to be used suitable to his apparent condition, Sir Charles ventured into the street, and by the above artifice passed safely through the mob in King street and was conducted to a house on Kingsdown. Anxious about the mayor’s safety, he subsequently returned to the city in disguise, where he passed nearly two hours on the Quay and in the neighbourhood of the square, when, finding that the riot was increasing, he returned to his place of refuge, and shortly after left in a postchaise for Newport, which he reached between two and three o’clock in the morning.
On the arrival of the soldiers the mob retired from the door of the Mansion-house, cheering the troops lustily; mischief, but not plunder, was evidently up to this period all that they contemplated. Col. Brereton, who was in command, was informed by one of the magistrates that the Riot Act had been read three times, and that he must use whatever force was necessary to disperse the mob, clear the streets, and restore peace to the city. This order was confirmed by the mayor, who, however, would not give the order to fire upon the people, neither would Colonel Brereton accept the responsibility of so doing. The troops then endeavoured to “ide through” and “walk away” the rioters, whereupon they became turbulent, and assailed the soldiers with brickbats, stones, and other missiles. Two of the 14th Light Dragoons were severely wounded, and one of the officers was hurt by the falling of his horse; still Colonel Brereton thought they were “a good-humoured mob,” and expressed his conviction of being able to “walk them away.” He would, he said, be answerable for the peace of the city, and would patrol it during the night. He continually rode amongst the mob, shook hands with hundreds, led off cheers for the king, and if good temper, firmness and presence of mind could have effected a restoration of peace, he would doubtless have accomplished it. But the time for the kid glove had passed, and suavity had to be supplemented by harsher measures, to which he was averse; disorder grew more rampant, and about nine o’clock Captain Musgrave’s troop of the 14th Light Dragoons, who were returning from feeding and refreshment, were ordered to draw swords, which indication of a resort to force was unheeded by the mob. About eleven o’clock the magistrates sent two or three constables before the troops with lights, but an officer of the 14th Light Dragoons complained that his soldiers would be needlessly sacrificed, being under orders only to use the flat of their swords, whilst the mob retreated to the barges and ships, where his men could not follow them.
Captain Morley, of the trow Weekly Packet, of Stroud, had during the day shipped some carboys of vitriol, which were demanded of him by a number of Irishmen for the avowed purpose of throwing over the horses of the 14th Light Dragoons. Just then they heard the soldiers trotting down the Welsh back, returning to relight the gas in Queen square, which had been extinguished by the mob. The men left the trow and ran under the Market-house; where they pelted the soldiers; meanwhile Captain Morley drew his trow away into the middle of the Floating harbour, and so frustrated the diabolical design.
At this time Captain Shute, of the Bedminster troop of North Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry, was requested to muster his troop in readiness for the next day. At a quarter to twelve a large portion of the mob moved off to the Council-house, where they smashed the windows and endeavoured to force the doors. Orders were then given to Captain Gage’s troop of the 14th Light Dragoons to protect the Council-house. Captain Gage being left to his own discretion, charged through High street, Broad street and Wine street, driving the rioters into the alleys, whence they attacked the soldiers with stones. At the top of the Pithay, a soldier being struck, turned and shot his assailant, Stephen Bush, dead upon the spot. Many were wounded by sabre cuts, one of whom, Daniel James, who was cut down at the corner of High street, died in the Infirmary. By half-past twelve o’clock not a rioter was to be seen in the centre of the city; and about two o’clock on the morning of Sunday, the mob having left Queen square, the troops retired to their quarters, leaving a picquet of the 3rd Dragoon Guards at the Mansion-house, and one of the 14th Light Dragoons at the Council-house. These were most unwisely removed by Colonel Brereton before eight o’clock in the morning, and by his desire the troops were concentrated at Leigh’s Bazaar stables.
So ended the fist day’s proceedings. With the dawn of Sunday, the 30th, the crowd began again to gather in Queen square, composed for the most part of many who on a day of cessation from toil were led thither by mere curiosity, but many of whom speedily became participants in the atrocious proceedings that ensued. When the news spread that the picquet was removed the roughs came down in a body, tore down the barricades, which had been put up during the night from the front of the Mansion-house, swarmed through the lower rooms, forced the wine cellars in which were four hundred dozen of choice wines, threw out into the square the furniture, china, glass, &C., distributed the liquor with an unsparing hand, and soon the whole area became a scene of drunken revelry, wherein intoxicants led men hitherto respectable to join the criminal and abandoned classes in arson and robbery. It was at this period that the mayor and one of the sheriffs with difficulty escaped over the roofs of nine houses to the Custom-house, from whence they hurried to the Guildhall. Major Mackworth, who had been with his worship during the night, and who endeavoured during the temporary absence of the under-sheriff to organise the special constables, testified that the mayor remained at his post as long as it was tenable. The mayor and some of the magistrates hastened to find Col. Brereton, and ordered him to get out the troops; and whilst the soldiers were saddling they knocked at the doors of the inhabitants of College green and St. Augustine’s back, calling on the inmates in the king’s name to come to the aid of the magistrates. Colonel Brereton was at this time desired by one of the aldermen to order the soldiers to fire, but he would not give the order, stating that the mob would be infuriated, and might overcome the troops, when the whole city would be given up to slaughter. He said it would be better to keep the mob in temper until the arrival of the reinforcements which had been sent for, but which could not be expected until the next morning. Notices were posted, which stated that the Riot Act had been read three times; also that Sir Charles Wetherell had left the city at twelve o’clock the previous night. This notice, which had inadvertently been dated 1830, was looked upon as an attempt to deceive, and helped still more to anger the people. Another notice convened a meeting of the citizens at the Guildhall, to assist in restoring peace to the city. At half-past ten o’clock, just as the bells rang out for church, the 14th Light Dragoons retired to their quarters, whither they were followed by crowds of people, who were embittered against them because of their charging the mob on the previous night; and in College green, being pelted with stones, they turned at bay, and several shots were fired at their assailants, nevertheless they were followed with invectives and insult to their stables.
At eleven o’clock the special constables who had been on duty, many of them from eight o’clock on Saturday morning, retired to their homes, and only a few citizens (about 150) had responded to the request of the magistrates by coming to the Guildhall. Soon after noon news was brought that the mob was on its way to the Bridewell, determined to liberate the prisoners who had been committed thereto on Saturday. At this juncture Colonel Brereton applied to the magistrates for their authority to send the two troops of the 14th Light Dragoons out of the city, stating that the people were so exasperated with them in consequence of their having fired that their lives would be sacrificed if they remained, moreover they and the 3rd Dragoon Guards were, he said, so fatigued, both men and horses, that they could not take any duty for some time. Vain were all the remonstrances of the magistrates, who pointed out that he would leave the city defenceless. The colonel insisted upon the necessity of the measure, and upon his own responsibility ordered most of the 3rd Dragoon Guards to quarters, and proceeding to Fisher’s stable yard, College street, ordered Captain Gage to leave the city with the men of the 14th Light Dragoons immediately; some of the horses being at the Bazaar stables a difficulty arose in their joining the troop, and several shots were fired by them in Limekiln lane. They left the city “at a trot,” by the colonel’s orders, and he returned to Queen square and sought to pacify the drunken, maddened mob, by telling them that he had sent the 14th Light Dragoons out of the city to Keynsham. The Bridewell was on the right hand side of the street, the keeper’s house on the left; between these ran the roadway (Bridewell lane) from Nelson street to St. James’ Barton, over Monken bridge (see Vol. I.,p. 64), which was closed by gates at either end. About half-past one the mob reached the bridge gates which Mr. Evans, the keeper of the Bridewell, had closed; the rioters had broken open a smith’s shop in Nelson street, whence they brought hammers, crowbars, &C., and they soon forced the gate facing Nelson street, whereupon Mr. Evans and the turnkeys retreated into the house side of the prison. The mob then lifted off the large gates of the bridge and threw them over into the Frome and began to force an entrance into the prison itself. Evans kept them at bay for a while with a blunderbuss until learning that the troops had left the city he threw them down the key of the prison, and whilst they were liberating the prisoners he with his wife and children escaped over the roof of the house, and in a few minutes the building was on fire, and the firemen were repulsed on attempting to approach to extinguish it. Another party had meanwhile proceeded to the gaol upon the New cut; on their way they forced open the workshop of Messrs. Acraman, where a respectably dressed man coolly gave orders for them to select two dozen sledge hammers, as many crowbars and a lot of wedges, “and,” said he, “I shall want some spanners to take off the nuts, get three pair, but mind I shall expect all these things to be returned.” Notice had been given to the governor of the gaol of their intention; he had gone for assistance to the Guildhall, and Aldermen Hilhouse and Savage, with about sixty citizens and constables, were returning with them when they were confronted by the mob and forced to retire before the volley of missiles, many thousands of persons, respectably attired, looking quietly on. After about three-quarters of an hour’s arduous labour by the mob a hole was made in one of the outer gates of the gaol, a man crept in, drew the bolts, and instantly the crowd rushed in, filling the yard and the governor’s house which they stripped, throwing most of the furniture (the prison van and the governor’s books) into the New cut, As they were releasing the prisoners about twenty of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, under Cornet Kelson, arrived at a foot’s pace; they rode up to the large gates, one of them looked in, the mob had given way outside, and some 200 villains were literally entrapped within the walls, for the turnkey, with assistance, had closed the gates; at this critical moment the soldiers wheeled, took off their hats in response to the cheering of those who still lingered about, and returned to their quarters, the officer stating that he had orders only to go to the gaol and return, but to use no violence; the mob then released 170 prisoners, and in a few minutes the gaol was in flames. The treadmill, which had been filled with straw from the wards, was first set on fire, and in an hour the governor’s house and the chapel were consumed; the mob had rubbed some liquid which they brought in tins over the benches of the chapel, these they set upon end and the fire soon caught the roof. The wings of the gaol, being of stone, could not be burnt, but every pane of glass within the building was smashed.
Mr. Herapath, the leading spirit of the Political Union, with some members of the council of that body and its secretary, endeavoured in vain by persuasion to stay the proceedings of the rioters; he then went to the Council-house where he met Aldermen Savage, George, and G. Hilhouse, whom he informed of the avowed intention of the mob to destroy the Dock gates and to pillage the banks, and he advised that the swing-bridges at Cumberland and Bathurst basins, and at the end of Prince street, should be opened, and the rioters be thus confined within the peninsula formed by the New cut and the Floating harbour. The scheme was plausible, but within that area were some of the principal shipbuilder’s yards and considerable property in shipping which would doubtless have been fired by the mob by way of retaliation. Mr. Herapath was asked if he would, with the members of the union, assist in quelling the riot, he thought that as the members disapproved of the calling in of the military they would not serve under the magistrates, but he could engage that many of them would serve under himself. This was demurred to. From the gaol the mob divided into several parties, one of which burned the toll-house on the New cut, another destroyed that on Prince’s street bridge, the keepers having due notice given to remove their effects. As the shades of evening fell, other bodies of the ruffians marched upon and destroyed the other portion of the Bridewell, and about half-past six o’clock they appeared in force before the Gloucestershire County Prison at Lawford’s gate; here the same tactics were followed, entrance was forced by crowbar and sledge hammers, the prisoners were set at liberty, and the building, being fired, soon became a mass of ruins. At half-past eight o’clock the lurid glare reflected in the heavens from the fires at the three prisons and the toll-houses was awful to behold. Another party visited the lockup for debtors in Tailor’s court, Broad street, but on the sheriff’s officer promptly liberating his prisoners they departed without further outrage. Terror now seized on most of the prominent officials of the Corporation, and men were busily employed in removing names, door plates, &C., in order to avoid identification. The bishops, by their adverse vote on the Reform Bill, had made their body unpopular; advantage was taken of this feeling, and the cry was raised at Lawford’s gate “to the Palace,” which the rioters reached by several different routes. The entrance gates, which had been closed, were forced, and to shouts of the “the king! no bishops !” the mob rushed in, demolished the furniture which they piled upon and under the tables and set the heap on fie; in the kitchen they took the coals from the grate, spread them on the dresser, and heaped broken sticks thereon; upstairs they cut open the feather beds, and thrust into them live coals, whilst the light-fingered gentry carried off all the valuables that were portable. About half-past seven o’clock news had been brought to the mayor and the magistrates, on their return from Colonel Brereton’s office, that the Mansion-house was threatened with fire as well as the Palace. After consideration it was determined to save, if possible, the Palace, on account of its proximity to the Cathedral and two-thirds of the gentlemen who had gathered at the Council-house left in two divisions, each headed by three magistrates; they sent a messenger to the stables with an order for the 3rd Dragoon Guards to meet them in College green. This was done, sixteen soldiers, with Colonel Brereton, formed in two lines before the door of the Palace whilst the civilians entered and put out the fires. The mob scattered in every direction, some ran into the garden, others into the cloisters, where they were followed by the specials and roughly used, upon which the colonel said “if the striking was repeated he would ride the constables down.” Amongst those taken in the house was a young fellow named Warry, he and two other prisoners for security were tied to large casks in the cellar. The specials then charged the mob who fled before them, but one gentleman who advanced too far was stabbed in the back, and only saved his life by discharging his pistol at his assailants. Meanwhile that portion of the 3rd Dragoon Guards on duty at the Mansion-house had been sent for to the Palace, but before they reached it the glare of light over Queen square plainly showed that the Mansion-house had fallen a prey to the flames. Colonel Brereton, instead of assisting the resolute party at the Palace, now, without notice, withdrew his men. The rioters, reinforced by a large party which had completed the work of destruction at Lawford’s gate, and who, by a toss up, “heads for the alderman” in Berkeley square, “tails for the bishop,” “Bishop wins! hurrah for the Palace!” speedily med College green and re-entered the Palace. The defenders were driven helter-skelter out by the back, in a few minutes the building was in flames, and the heat was so intense that the lead melted on the roof of the adjoining cathedral; the villains next kindled a fire in the grand old Norman chapter-house, with many of the valuable records and books stored therein, and attempted to break through the cloister door into the cathedral, but being met with expostulations were prevailed upon to desist. The chapter-house, being built of stone with a stone floor, their mad attempts to fire it failed, but they left behind them cakes of combustible matter which proved that some amongst them had made arson a study, and that these fires were the outcome of previous consideration and plans. The bishop’s wine was sold publicly at one penny per bottle, and the bulk of the rioters were drunk. His lordship had preached at the cathedral in the morning, but with his family had left for Almondsbury in the afternoon.
The above fires, terrific as they seemed, were but incidental preludes to the great conflagration which had now commenced in Queen square. About seven o’clock in the evening, when the soldiers had been withdrawn for the protection of the Palace, the mob burst once more into the devoted Mansion-house; the wine cellars were re-ransacked; a fire was speedily kindled in the kitchen under the banqueting-room, also in several of the upstairs apartments, and in a few minutes the whole building was enveloped in flames. Fortunately, after the destruction of property on the ground-floor on Saturday night and Sunday morning, the authorities had taken the precaution to remove many of the valuables, including most of the city plate, and the pictures, which were cut out of the frames, rolled up and carried away.
At this juncture, about ten o’clock in the evening, the Dodington troop of Yeomanry, under the command of Captain Codrington, arrived in the city. On their way up Castle street they passed about 200 people who were breaking into the “George and Dragon” tavern. The chief constable of the ward entreated the captain to send a detachment of men to his assistance; ignorant of the fact that the Riot Act had been read, he replied “he could do nothing until that had been done, and he was only on his way to the Council-house to receive orders.” On his arrival there he could find no magistrate, and he was directed to proceed to the commanding officer’s station, the Recruiting office, College green, to report himself. Then a messenger was sent thence to the Council-house by Colonel Brereton for a magistrate. An answer was despatched within five minutes, but the colonel had left and could not be found. Affairs were in a hopeless muddle. The mayor, separated from his force of special constables whilst on his way to the Palace, had retired, worn out, to Alderman Fripp’s, 30 Berkeley square, leaving word where he was to be found. However, within half-an-hour billets were made out for the Yeomanry, and a letter was sent to the colonel, requesting him to execute the orders previously given- “to consider himself fully authorised to take whatever steps and give whatever orders he, as commander of the troops in the city, may think fit, to restore and preserve, as far as possible, the public peace; not only to apply to the troops under his command, but to any which may subsequently arrive.” The letter was dated “Berkeley square, Sunday night, twelve o’clock.” The colonel had gone out ere these letters arrived. Captain Codrington, however, found him, and they went with the troop to Fisher’s stables, where, after a short conference together, the captain wheeled his forty men, marched them past the Palace, Exchange and Council-house, and left the city. In justice to the mayor it should be said that he was far from being a robust man that he had been greatly harassed since the Saturday morning, that he had been in office little more than a month, and that he only arrived in England from the West Indies a few weeks before he was elected to the mayoralty.
The following letter was that night sent by Captain Codrington to the home secretary :
My Lord, — I have the honour to represent to your lordship that in consequence of a requisition from the mayor of Bristol, between two and three o’clock yesterday, I collected my troop of Yeomanry with as little loss of time as was practicable. When your lordship considers that I had to send some miles in different directions, you will, I think, admit the alacrity of my men when I state that we were enabled to march from hence (Dodington), with scarce a man missing, by seven o’clock. Having, however, fifteen miles to go, and the night being very dark, we could not reach Bristol till after nine, when, I lament to say, we found the city on fire in many places, the gaols emptied, and the town in the greatest confusion. Having paraded through the principal parts of the city for more than two hours without being able to find a magistrate-hearing that they had, in fact, left the town, after withdrawing both his majesty’s troops and the police – finding ourselves thus unsupported, and without a hope of being in any way serviceable – the city being actually in the uncontrolled power of the populace, I had no alternative but that of withdrawing also my men, and we returned home about five o’clock this morning.
Feeling it my duty to make this statement to your lordship, I should ill perform it towards the brave men I am proud to have the honour of commanding, if I did not further state that no men could have come forward with more alacrity; and, although they might not have acted with the discipline of his majesty’s regular troops, they would not have been exceeded by them in zeal, loyalty, or a determination to have done their duty; and had they had an opportunity of acting, they would have shown themselves not undeserving of his majesty’s approbation.
I have the honour to be, my lord, your lordship’s obedient servant,
C. W. CODRINGTON, Captain of the Dodington and Marshfield
Dodington, October 31st.
At ten o’clock at night Colonel Brereton visited the square with a detachment of the 3rd Dragoon Guards whilst the fire at the Mansion-house was raging; they walked their horses for a quarter of an hour quietly round Queen square, themselves protected from the drizzling rain by their long cloaks, and then retired to their quarters. Incredible as it appears, it is a fact that from that time until the following morning not a soldier was ordered to the square, nor was the slightest attempt made by his majesty’s troops to check the destruction of public or private property, but whilst the second city in the kingdom was threatened with total destruction the chief municipal officer and the officer in command of the king’s troops were both in bed.
No distinction was now made between public and private property. Notice was given by the mob to the inhabitants to clear out, and before twelve o’clock the houses on the north side of Queen square, between the Mansion-house (Charlotte street) and the Custom-house, had been gutted and were in flames. (See engraving of Queen square, ante p. 183.) Some fifty officers had been busy all night at the Custom-house removing the books, papers and valuable property, when the summons came to them at a quarter to eleven o’clock; they replied, “This is the king’s house, our good king whom you have been cheering.” “D-n the king-go it,” was the answer; desks were broken open, linen smeared with combustible paste was nailed to the wainscot, window frames and doors, and in five minutes the place was in a blaze. The upper rooms were full of plunderers, many, it being the end house of the row, were on the roof, whence they had crawled from the other burning buildings, and it was supposed that not less than fifty of the rioters perished in the flames at this spot. A large party, who were supping in the housekeeper’s room, were all burnt to death; three dropped from the roof, one of whom fell into the molten lead on the portico, where he writhed in torture till life was extinct; another, bruised to death by the fall, exclaimed, “Oh that I had taken my wife’s advice and never come to Bristol, but I was persuaded and sent for.” Undeterred by these horrible scenes, the incendiaries, many of whom were mere boys, now carried on the destructive work on the section of the north side of Queen square, running west from the middle avenue. The houses behind these in King street were chiefly of wood and plaster, and the wind being from the south they speedily caught fire; the bonded cellars were used for storing wines and spirits, one of these had a large stock of brandy, another was full of rum; the casks burst with the intense heat the burning spirit flowed into and burst up the sewers in King street (opposite the City library), the street was full of casks of wines and spirits which had been rolled out from the cellars, the gates of King street hall were closed and guarded by cannon, the yard being full of goods brought thither for protection; one of the warehouses in Prince street was full of cocoa belonging to Messrs. Fry, and this burnt with a fearful stench which lasted for weeks; at one time it was feared that all the houses in King street would have been burned.
At two o’clock in the morning of Monday the work of destruction was commenced on the west side of Queen square, beginning at the Excise office, and house after house was fired. There seems to be abundant proof that the greater part of the devastation of this night was caused out of a pure love of mischief by an insignificant number of wretches, mostly boys of from ten to twelve years of age. Some such were seen, when their retreat from the upper story of a burning house was cut off by the fire, to coolly clamber along a coping of a few inches in width to the adjoining house, which they entered by the window, and immediately set fire to the bedsteads and furniture. During the night bands of young men paraded the town, and entering the public-houses, &C., demanded “drink or blood;” also in Wine street, &C., they assailed the houses, requiring money to be given them under threats of murder. At three o’clock in the morning the mayor (still at Mr. Fripp’s) despatched the following letter :
Bristol, 3 a.m. Monday morning.
Sir I direct you, as commanding officer, to take the most vigorous, effective, and decisive measures in your power to quell the existing riot, and prevent further destruction of property.
I am, &C.,
This letter was addressed to “Colonel Brereton, or the officer commanding his majesty’s troops.” It was delivered to Captain Warrington, at Leigh’s bazaar. He opened and read it, remarking that “he could do nothing without a magistrate, and that he should require one to go every inch of the road at his side,” adding, “there is a great screw loose somewhere.” He remained inactive until four o’clock in the morning, when Alderman Camplin, as a magistrate, saw him at his quarters, and demanding help went with him in search of the colonel, whom they found in his bed in Unity street. Upon being roused he objected to take out “the jaded troops, for,” said he, “what can they do against such a mob.” Strongly urged, he at length consented, the clocks struck five as they entered Prince street, where in front of a warehouse in flames they found about 600 people, these they charged through and entered the square by Farr’s lane avenue. The troops formed two deep in front of Captain Claxton‚s house No. 42; about a dozen gentlemen rushed into the house and beat out the plunderers, one-third of whom were boys and women; they found the house on fire on every floor, but were unable to extinguish the flames. Two houses adjoining the middle avenue escaped the fire on this side of the square, all the others between the Excise office and Captain Claxton‚s were burnt to the ground. At seven o‚clock in the morning Major Mackworth rode to Keynsham and fetched back the squadron of the 14th Light Dragoons; on the road they were joined by the Bedminster yeomanry, under Captain Shute. A messenger sent for troops had reached Gloucester and Keynsham about ten o‚clock, Major Beckwith, who was in command under Colonel Brereton, cleared the Palace of the ruffians who were plundering the wine cellars, left a guard there, thence proceeded to Queens square by the Excise avenue, and forthwith charged the mod, cutting down a number of them who crowded about the statue in the centre, they then charged down the Welsh back, along the Grove and through Prince street, then up Clare, Corn, and Wine streets, through Peter street and Castle street. Early in the morning the posse comitatus had been called out; about 5,000 men obeyed the call, they were furnished with a short staff and wore as a badge a strip of white linen around the arm; the naval and military pensioners were called out, and Captain Cook, of the North Gloucestershire militia, was placed in command of them. The city was crowded with people, dense crowds had been pouring into it from the surrounding country during the early hours of the morning; as the soldiers charged and cleared the streets the specials closed up and guarded the avenues, so that gradually the city became tranquil, the shops and warehouses were all shut, and business was entirely suspended. About three o‚clock in the afternoon it was reported that the rabble, driven out of the city, were robbing and plundering on the Bath road, a troop of dragoons was dispatched which overtook them, capturing some and dispersing the rest. During the day the following placards were posted throughout the city:
31st October, 1831.
The posse comitatus of this city and county having been called out to act in conjunction with military to endeavour to restore the peace of the city, and as the most severe measures must be adopted to accomplish that objects, the magistrates earnestly caution all persons not engaged in official duties as constables, to keep within their respective dwellings, as they will otherwise be exposed to the most imminent peril.
C. PINNEY, Mayor.
Bristol, October 31st, 1831.
It will be of the utmost importance that the inhabitants should place lights in the windows of their respective houses as soon as it becomes dusk; and the magistrates again earnestly entreat that all persons will strictly confine themselves within their respective dwellings.
C. PINNEY, Mayor.
At night the churches and houses generally were lighted up, it being feared that the rioters might again assemble, and by cutting the gas pipes leave the city in darkness. While the soldiers, &C., were guarding the streets, signal guns and bells from the ships in harbour intimated their readiness to meet any attack. All shops had been closed during the day, but no further disturbance took place. Tuesday, November lst, was occupied in apprehending the rioters and endeavouring to recover some of the stolen property. A general search took place throughout the city, and with much effect, as before night immense quantities of goods mere recovered and lodged in the Exchange and the parish churches. A great many of the leaders were also recognised and taken into custody; and about forty of the prisoners who were liberated were either captured or surrendered themselves. Many rioters must have lost their lives, for on clearing away some of the space adjoining the Custom-house, three bodies were found, and for many subsequent days bodies continued to be dug out. The following is the number of killed and wounded, as per return from the public hospitals :
|Infirmary – Shots, 2; burnt, 1; sword-cut, 1; drink, 1||5|
|St. Peter’s hospital – Burnt, 5; sword-cut, 1; drink, 1||7|
Wounded and injured :
|Infirmary – Shots, 8; sword-cuts and contusions, 31||39|
|Inafirmary – Other causes, 22; drink, 2||24|
|St. Peter’s hospital – Sword-cuts, 2; other causes, 2||4|
|Dispensaries, &C. – Shots, 2; cuts, 16; other causes, 11||29|
Such of the wounded persons as could be recognised as incendiaries were carefully guarded in the wards, and some of them, when recovered, were committed to take their trial.