The 1831 Uprising – Part 3: The Aftermath

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Taken from Bristol Past and Present by J. F. Nicholls and John Taylor, published in 1882

Major Beckwith, in his evidence, stated that the mayor and magistrates seemed stupefied with terror, and that he asked for one of them to accompany his troops on horseback; all but Alderman Camplin said they could not ride, and he said he had not been on horseback for eighteen years. The major then demanded and received a written authority from them to act. The following is a list of the leading members of the corporation :

Charles Pinney, mayor
Sir Charles Wetherell, alderman
Thomas Daniel, alderman
John Haythorne, alderman
James Fowler, alderman
William Fripp, alderman
George Hilhouse, alderman
Abraham Hilhouse, alderman
James George, alderman
John Barrow, alderman
Thomas Camplin, alderman
Gabriel Goldney, alderman
John Savage, alderman
George Bengough, sheriff
Joseph Lax , sheriff
W. O. Hare, under-sheriff
E. Ludlow, town-clerk

Recriminations naturally enough followed. On the 3rd November a public meeting of the citizens took place at the Commercial-rooms, when the following address to the home secretary was agreed upon:

To the Right Honourable Lord Melbourne, Secretary of State for the Home Department, &c.

We, the undersigned, merchants, bankers, traders, and other inhabitants of the city of Bristol, deeply lamenting the riotous and disgraceful proceedings that have recently occurred in this city, and the sad destruction of property resulting therefrom, that the lives and fortunes of the citizens were for a considerable period entirely at the mercy of a desperate mob, and firmly convinced that all this might have been prevented if proper precautions had been adopted, do earnestly request your lordship will be pleased to cause an investigation to be instituted, as the only course that will pacify the minds of the public and restore confidence in future.

The mayor also issued a statement concerning the riots, in which he charged Colonel Brereton with not acting according to orders given. Major Mackworth, who led the troops to the charge on Monday morning, laid the blame chiefly upon the citizens, whom he charged with lukewarmness and party spirit. The following are the answers of Messrs. Baillie and Protheroe, members for Bristol, sent to the chairman of the committee, in acknowledgment of the memorial praying for investigation into the conduct of the magistracy :

London, November 7th. My dear Sir, – I have had the honour of receiving your letter of the 5th inst., addressed to Mr. Protheroe and myself jointly; and by the mail-coach of this morning I also received the memorial voted at the public meeting of the 3rd instant, at the Commercial- rooms, at which you presided. I wrote immediately to Mr. Protheroe, at his town residence, requesting him to make an appointment that we might proceed together to the Home office, to deliver the memorial to Lord Melbourne, but I found he was unfortunately out of town. Presuming it to be the desire of the meeting that no time should be lost in laying the wishes of the memorialists before the Government, I went this evening and delivered the memorial to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, assuring his lordship that the document was most respectably signed by all classes of my constituents, without distinction. I likewise stated to his lordship that the letter of the chair- man of the meeting, which accompanied the memorial, urged most strongly that the investigation prayed for may be conducted by persons totally unconnected with the city, that no possible suspicion may be entertained of bias or partiality.

Lord Melbourne, in reply, asked me to state that he would submit the memorial to his colleagues in office, and that it should receive their immediate and serious attention.

I have the honour to be, my dear sir,
Your faithful and most obedient servant,


James Cunningham, Esq.
2 Charles street, St. James’s square,
November 8th.

Dear Sir, — Immediately upon the receipt of your letter this morning, at Gaddesden, I came to London, and, waiting first upon my colleague, I found, very much to my satisfaction, that he had not stood upon any ceremonious scruples of delicacy, which would have been misplaced in so urgent an affair, and had presented the memorial to Lord Melbourne. Conceiving it, however, to be my duty, in compliance with your request, to urge- also upon his lordship myself the necessity of an immediate inquiry, I went instantly to the Home office. I found Mr. G. Lamb alone there, Lord Melbourne being unwell. With Mr. Lamb I had some conversation, which gave me no reason to hope that any inquiry could soon be instituted into the conduct of the magistrates, and that the various depositions must be previously received. But of course it was not in Mr. Lamb’s power to speak as freely in a matter of such intense delicacy as one of his majesty’s ministers, and I therefore waited on Lord Grey, but finding him from home I saw Lord Althorp, and I am happy to inform you that the subject will receive this evening the consideration of a Cabinet Council, the result of which I shall be able to make known to you by to—morrow’s post.

It may be on my part trespassing too much on your attention if I avail myself of this opportunity of apprising you how anxious I have been to be at Bristol, but I cannot allow myself to incur the possible charge of indifference; and I beg to say that although family indisposition and business might have been a sufficient reason for my remaining where I am, yet I could not have resisted the strong desire I have all along entertained since the disaster, of going to Bristol, had I not been distinctly assured that I was of more use in remaining in or near London, as an organ of communication with ministers.

It would be presumptuous in me to suppose that I could form an opinion upon the cause of events in Bristol, but I must confess that my mind can with difficulty, if ever, be brought to believe that the male population of Bristol, if they had been called out as a restraining force, would have been insufficient in repelling the attacks of these bands of rioters. But it is easy to find faults, and perhaps retrospect is of little value, unless we are ready now to provide for ourselves a protection against the recurrence of these evils by removing their causes.

But I am sensible if I proceed further that I shall be trespassing beyond those limits which I ought to respect in this communication. I will only, with every sentiment of respectful deference, but yet earnestly, press upon your attention the desirableness, in my opinion, of our city exerting itself strenuously in its own behalf, as the best guarantee of receiving from ministers or Parliament the attention demanded in the memorial, or required by our circumstances.

I have the honour to remain, dear sir,

Your obedient and faithful servant


Janles Cunningham, Esq

I have underlined since the disaster, for previous to that period I offered Lord Melbourne to go down if wanted by anyone.

On November 5th the markets were ordered to be closed at six o’clock. During the week all the city churches were lighted, and watch and ward kept through every parish. A military inquiry into the conduct of Colonel Brereton, the commanding officer of the district, was instituted, and was held at the Merchant Venturers’ hall; it terminated in his being placed under arrest previous to trial by court-martial.

The presidents of the great charitable societies, the Dolphin, the Anchor, and the Grateful, determined not to hold their usual annual festivals this year.

Parochial meetings were held, and a public notice was given of an intention to apply to Parliament for leave to bring in a bill or bills for the following purposes:

1st. To establish and maintain an effective police, with stipendiary magistrate, within the city and county of Bristol, and in the several parishes of Clifton, St. James, St. Pad, St. Philip and Jacob, Westbury-upon-Trim, and Bedminster. 2nd. To supersede the present custom of watching. 3rd. To make provision to regulate the holding of assize by the judges of the circuit within the said city and county of Bristol. 4th. To provide for the maintenance of such police and magistracy. 5th. To provide for the loss sustained by the late fires and riots within the said city and county of Bristol, either out of property now held for the benefit of the city or otherwise, as the case might be.


It having been rumoured, apparently on good authority, that Sir Charles Wetherell would return to Bristol to try the rioters, action was taken with a view to induce him to abandon such a design, and on November 8th a declaration, strongly worded, was drawn up, which was signed by many persons who were liable to serve as jurors, in which they declared their opinion to be that a calm and impartial administration of the laws was the first duty of a judge, and the sure means of upholding the dignity of the office, and of securing to him personally the respect and admiration of all good citizens; that it is a great detriment and misfortune to a community when judicial functions and political partisanship are found united in one person; that whilst the undersigned desired to bear testimony to the uprightness shown by Sir Charles as recorder of the city, his presence would prove such a fruitful source of animosity and discontent that they pray him either to surrender the judicial office or to withdraw himself from the contested field of politics, otherwise they plead the interests of justice in Bristol will be compromised and party spirit be rendered more violent and bitter. On December 3rd a special commission was issued, of which the lord chancellor was the head, the object of which was to inquire into the origin of the riot and the causes of the subsequent outrages.

On December 6th, the king, in his speech at the opening of Parliament, made the following allusion to the late riots in this city :

The scenes of violence and outrage which have occurred in Bristol have caused me the deepest affliction. The authority of the law must be vindicated by the punishment of offences which have produced so extensive a destruction of property and so melancholy a loss of life. I think it right to direct your attention to the best means of improving the municipal police of the kingdom, and the more effectual protection of the public peace against the recurrence of similar commotions.

During the debate upon the address, Sir Wetherell entered into a very long defence of himself from the and charges brought against him by the public press, and also complained that himself and the mayor and aldermen of Bristol had not been included in the special commission issued for trying the rioters. Ministers stated that Sir Charles having claimed the insertion of the recorder, the mayor, and aldermen’s names in the Commission as a matter of right, that mere claim of right had made it impossible that their names should be included, for it was not possible for Government to make concessions to any judges who claimed to act as such in what was their own cause, the tumults having been directed against the recorder and the mayor and aldermen themselves.

A special commission for the trial of the rioters was opened at the Guildhall on January 2nd, 1832, before the Lord Chief Justice Tyndal and Mr. Justices Taunton and Bosanquet. One hundred and fourteen were indicted, and their trial resulted as follows :

Christopher Davis, William Clarke, Thomas Gregory, Richard Vines and Joseph Kayes 5
Patrick Kearney, †Matthew Warry, †John Towell, Henry Crinks, Joseph Thomas, David James, †James Courtney, John M’Kay, †Daniel Higgs, †Thomas Evans Bendall, †James Sims, †Cornelius Hickey, †James Snook, †William Reynolds, †George Andrews, Patrick Barnett, Benjamin Broad, †Stephen Gaisford, †Michael Sullivan, Timothy Collins, Henry Green, Charles Williams, †James Coleman, James Price, James Dyer and James Walker 26
†James Ives 1
†William Christopher, †Aaron Martin, †James Street, †Charles Huish, †Richard Neville and Woseph Keates 6

† Sent to New South Wales.

Samuel Browning, Felix Wyman, John Harper, John Jellemy, Charles Coates, John Rees, James Phillips, Edward Macdonald, William Bennett, Daniel Sullivan and William Champ 11
Catherine Hogan, Thomas Gallick, William Punch, Benjamin Donne, William Drew, Daniel M‚Carthy, John Jones, William Nason, Charles Nott, William Bearde, William Jenkins, George Styling, William Morgan, Peter Brown, John Jacobs, William Hedges and Joseph Hedges 17
Hannah Rees, William Burgess, James Cole, Edward Dady, Thomas Brimmell, Daniel Doyle (and to be privately whipped) and James Bentley 7
Thornas Hussey, William Jarvis and Stephen Culley 7
John Tarrant Buffin, John Simmons and William Lee 3
Thornas Lane and Mary Parker 2
John Brittan, Richard Phipps, Thomas Fitzgerald, William Beer, Sarah Anderson, Samuel Harding, James Donovan, John Dally, James Bayley, Charles Turtle and James Elliott 11
James Williams, William Osgood, Edward Arborn, Samuel Levers, John Peach, Thomas Martin, Samuel Newton, Mary Charles, Margaret Gwyer, James Hasty, John Cox,Sarah Cox, Eleanor Doyle, Samuel Smith, John Bond, James Dyer, Robert Ponchard, Anthony Harvey, Jonas Osborne, John Howell, William Reeves William Dogherty 22
Total 114

The execution of the five unfortunate men who were sentenced to suffer the extreme penalty of the law was, immediately upon their condemnation, which was one of the most awful scenes ever witnessed, ordered to take place on Friday, the 27th of January, 1832.

A petition to the king for mercy received nearly 11,000 signatures; in it the petitioners note “the entire absence of any testimony showing a guilty premeditation; that the excesses of the mob arose from the impulse of the moment, and that, amid the excitement and the devastation of property, they restrained themselves from outrages affecting personal safety; that the guilty conduct of those capitally convicted began at a late period of the riots through the unrestricted access to intoxicating liquors; that the impunity that attended the first outrages involved them in a depth of crime which would have been prevented had the proper measures been taken to check their mad and criminal career, and to restore the peace of the city,” &c. The prisoner Vines was respited, it being proved that he was little better than an imbecile.

Of the four who suffered the dread penalty, Christopher Davis was the only man moving in a respectable sphere of life. He was, or had been, a wharfinger, and possessed property to the amount of about £s300 per annum. He was a man of strong political feelings, easily excited by drink, and when in that condition, used most violent language; he was found guilty of destroying the New Gaol. Clarke was a sawyer, subject, since an accident to his head, to fits of derangement when under the influence of liquor. Kayes was a groom, who only went, after ten o‚clock on the Sunday night, to see the fires; he declared his innocence to the last. Gregory was a labourer. They were hanged at the New Gaol, on the New cut. Seven hundred special constables kept the front of the gaol clear; the 14th Light Dragoons were at Fisher‚s stables; the 3rd Dragoon Guards at the Cattle-market; the Fusiliers at the Exchange. There was a double guard of the 75th within the walls of the gaol, and the Artillery had planted their field-pieces in its vicinity, whilst the whole constabulary force was held in readiness. It was a palpable case of locking the stable door after the steed was stolen.

Seven of the Bristol rioters died of cholera, in 1832, on board the convict ship before it sailed for New South Wales. Matthew Warry, who was little more than a lad, a journeyman baker, whose sentence of death had been commuted to transportation, jumped overboard, intending to swim to the shore, but was shot dead by the sentinel.

At the Gloucester assize, Joseph Mills, William Spokes and Henry Hurd had sentence of death recorded against them for having, with others, broken into the house of John Mack and destroyed property to the value of £l00, after the destruction of Lawford‚s gate prison. John Wakefield, a poor stupid-looking boy, pleaded guilty to breaking Lawford’s gate prison. Oatridge, the keeper of Lamford’s gate prison, was allowed £230 damages, and Mack £146, by the Barton Regis Hundred.

A court-martial was held on Colonel Brereton; it began on January 9th, 1832. On the night of Thursday, the 14th) finding that the evidence was strongly against him, he shot himself through the heart. The proceedings therefore were immediately stopped. — On Tuesday, January 4th, Captain Warrington was also brought before a court—martial; his trial lasted until February 3rd, when he was sentenced to be cashiered. He was, however, allowed to sell his commission. — Ex-officio informations were also filed against several of the magistrates for neglect of duty, and against the mayor, Mr. Pinney, whose trial took place before the court of King’s Bench. His defence was that the citizens refused to confide in or assist the magistrates, and that consequently, deserted as they were by their fellow citizens, they could not have acted more efficiently. Upon these grounds a verdict of acquittal was given, and the other informations were withdrawn.

On January 7th, 1832, Mr. J. C. Lewis, a retired captain in the army, was indicted for the manslaughter of a boy named James Morris, whom he shot at the corner of the Grove avenue on the morning of Monday, October 81st, at about eight o’clock, when the captain, being one of the specials, was endeavouring to prevent the mob from re-entering Queen square. The captain declared that he had no intention of shooting the boy, that he was, whilst holding the pistol, struck violently on the arm which caused the pistol to explode. The verdict was not guilty.

All the plate at the Mansion-house was saved, with the exception of a large silver salver, devoted to the presentation of the grace-cup. An old woman, confined in the New Gaol on a charge of receiving part of the plunder, hanged herself in the prison.

The testimony of independent witnesses on the trial of Mr. Pinney, the mayor, was to the effect that at the first the number of persons who were engaged in breaking open and firing the houses was under twenty, and that at the last they did not exceed one hundred and fifty, and that the others were merely lookers-on. That the magistrates and Mr. Serjeant Ludlow told the owners “to use their own discretion” in the defence of their houses. That at the meeting held in the Guildhall, at half-past three on Sunday evening, the mayor, when asked what plan he had to propose to the meeting, said he had none, and the town clerk said “every man must exercise his own discretion and at his own responsibility.” The whole affair appears to have been one unhappy muddle from the beginning to the end. The members of the Political Union raised a storm of indignation against the recorder, which was speedily allowed to get beyond their control, and which eventuated in the abominable excesses that have been narrated. The mayor and magistrates had no plan or effective organisation for suppressing outrage, and from conscientious or prudent motives declined to take the responsibility of ordering the soldiers to fire on the mob; the town clerk advised the calling out of the posse comitatus, but at the same time he informed the mayor and magistrates that it was not their duty, but that of the sheriff to do it. There is no evidence that the sheriff was asked peremptorily to take the step, but there is evidence to show that the citizens protested “that they would not be led out to be murdered unless they were supported by the military.” Colonel Brereton, when pressed to act, and told that the soldiers had been sent down expressly to protect the city, declared “he was ready to risk his own life, if it could do any good, but he would not unnecessarily risk the lives of those under his command;” and when urged on the Saturday evening to take stronger measures he asked the mayor, “Am I to fie, sir?” receiving for answer, “You must fire if the mob cannot otherwise be put down.” Major Mackworth begged that he would not do so, as many innocent spectators would suffer. He also testified as to the personal courage of the mayor, who was “unsupported by any adequate civil or military force, and, moreover, was at a most critical period deserted by those from whom he might reasonably have expected assistance.”

December 13th) 1831, Mr. Protheroe gave notice in the House of Commons that he would move for leave to bring in a bill to alter and amend the Charter of the city of Bristol.

On February 7th, 1832, Mr. Baillie brought up the report of the Bristol police committee, and obtained leave to bring in a bill to establish an effective police in the city, also he brought up the report of the Bristol compensation committee, and obtained leave to bring in a bill for providing compensation for damages sustained during the late riots. February 13th, the town clerk stated that the county rate for the above purpose would be one of ten shillings in the pound.

The folloming is the amount of claims stated on Monday, April 30th:

1 for £25,000
1 for £20,000
2 between £7,000 and £8,000
2 between £4,000 and £5,000
6 between £3,000 and £4,000
3 between £2,000 and £3,000
6 between £1,500 and £2,000
8 from £1,000 to £1,500
29 from £500 to £1,000
9 from £400 to £500
12 from £300 to £400
9 from £200 to £300
6 from £100 to £200
6 under £100 and above £3
28 under 30

Total amount, £122,777 11s.

The commissioners under the Bristol Damages Compensation Act concluded their labours and published their report, which was drawn up January l0th, 1835. The number of actions was 121; damages by verdict £6000, by compromise £49,823 13s. 1d., were recovered; the costs averaged £53 5s. 10d. for each action. — April 7th, 1832, there was a great fire at Mr. Hare’s floor-cloth manufactory. — June 19th, the members of the Political Union celebrated the passing of the Reform Bill by walking in procession with banners, music, &C., and on August 14th a public dinner was provided on Brandon hill for 5,500 persons; there assembled about 30,000 people, the tables were stormed, and the affair resulted in a scene of riotous disorder. The fireworks prepared for the evening were also marred by the conduct of the rabble. — On July 1st, whilst removing an old tenement upon the north cloister of the Cathedral, one of the buttresses fell and demolished the room in which Mary Robinson, the poetess, was born. — On the 30th a public meeting was held at the Guildhall, for the purpose of forming a railroad to London; estimated cost, £2,808,330. The bill was read a second time in the House of Commons on March 6th, 1834, but was rejected by the Lords on July 25th. — This year the cholera visited Bristol; the first case occurred on July llth, in Harford’s court, near the Stone bridge; the ravages of the disease were most deadly; up to the 9th of August, seventy—three deaths had occurred in the city; on that date a piece of ground adjoining the New Cattle market was set apart as a place for the burial of cholera victims. On the llth the plague was virulent in St. Peter’s hospital, where six hundred paupers were crowded, fifty—eight girls sleeping in ten beds, and seventy boys in eighteen beds. On the 12th of August the curate of Temple parish interred thirty-one persons, victims in that locality. A cholera hospital was erected on the New cut, strenuous efforts were made to prevent the spread of the contagion, good food was liberally supplied to the poor, and by the beginning of October the blue, or Indian form of the disease, had disappeared. This visitation cost the city in direct expenses £2,738 148. 10d.


  1. John Towell one of the rioters who had a “death recorded”by his name was my Great great grandfather. He was transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land, not New South Wales. Details of his convict record exist in the Tasmanian archives. His record of conduct shows him to be a rebellious convict, until after 10 years of insolent and disobedient behaviour he was sent to Port Arthur where his spirit was broken. After 3 years he was granted a conditional pardon and crossed to mainland Australia in 1846. He married a young Scottish woman in 1850 and went to the gold fields in 1853. He made enough money to buy 9 acres of land and build a small 2 room dwelling. By the time his daughter Sarah (my great grandmother) was born in 1846 his dwelling was 4 rooms. He died in 1891 having owned over 300 acres of land. Sarah, his daughter, was recently celebrated as being a signatory to the 1891 Monster Petition demanding votes for women and presented to the Victorian parliament – a radical like her father perhaps! Perfect symmetry.

  2. Matthew Warry, reported as having jumped overboard and shot by the sentinel and killed, was obviously someone else. Matthew Warry arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1832 on the Katherine Stewart Forbes, with twelve of the other rioters. his crime – Riotously destroying a dwelling house. Although it says in the trial documents that they were being transported to NSW, it seems to me that they all went to VDL. How confusion arose about who was shot, is a mystery as Warry was a little man, only 4 feet 4 inches tall and “deformed”.

  3. William Spokes is my 3X Great Grandfather, and also had “death recorded” and was transported on the ship Mary, for breaking into the house of John Mack and destroying property to the value of £l00, after the destruction of Lawford‚s gate prison. My ancestor claims he was never there at John Mack’s house, but with his Policeman friend James Nutt. William had quarrelled with his wife Mary, who was heavily pregnant with their second child, and was drinking with James, they heard the rioters and were advised to stay where they were and apparently they both fell asleep in front of the fire. Williams father John, spent a lot of time and money trying to get justice for his son, to no avail. Later Williams brother Edward and his wife went to Australia presumably to be with his brother. William bought forestry land, and made a good living for himself, his new wife, and their nine children. A few years after William was transported, the person who he was mistaken for was also transported,



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