THE INGRAINED love of personal liberty inherent in the British people and their distrust in giving additional power to their governments made Great Britain one of the slowest countries in the world to institute police. Jurists were far in advance of public opinion. Jeremy Bentham (1747-1832) considered police necessary as a method of precaution to prevent crimes and calamities as well as to correct and cure them. Blackstone in his Commentaries (1765) wrote, 'By public police and economy I mean the due regulation and domestic order of the kingdom, whereby the individuals of the State, like members of a well-governed family, are bound to conform their general behaviour to the rules of propriety, good neighbourhood and good manners; to be decent, industrious and inoffensive in their respective stations.
Sir Basil Home Thomson, (21 April 1861 - 26 March 1939) was a British intelligence officer, police officer, prison governor, colonial administrator, and writer.
The ministry are unpopular, as they deserve to be; the police are unpopular and we should despair of the spirit of Englishmen if an establishment so repugnant to the fundamental principle of the Constitution, were not unpopular.
In the King's speech, which created so unfavourable an impression. His Majesty was made to say "I am determined to exert to the utmost of my power all the means which the law and the constitution have placed at my disposal for the punishment of sedition and for the prompt suppression of outrage and disorder."
Here is a specimen of the inflammatory placards distributed at this period :
Liberty or death! Englishmen! Britons!! and Honest Men!!! The time has at length arrived. All London meets on Tuesday. Come Armed! We assure you from ocular demonstration that 6,000 cutlasses have been removed from the Tower for the use of Peel's Bloody Gang. Remember the cursed speech from the Throne! These damned police are now to be armed. Englishmen, will you put up with this?
In truth, the state of the country called for firm handling. Scarcely a night passed in the Home Counties without some daring act of incendiarism. In Norfolk agricultural machinery such as threshing machines were wantonly destroyed. In Carlisle the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were burned in effigy; and yet, there was a marked division of opinion about the police. On December 11, an attempt was made to murder Superintendent Thomas, who was stabbed by a man in the dress of a waterman and was saved by the accident that one of his waistcoats was double-folded. Two nights later a constable on duty at Millwall was met by four sailors who seized him and dropped him into the Thames, twelve feet below. The tide was out; he fell into the mud, striking his head against the gunwale of a boat and cutting his right cheek. The men made off unrecognized.
On December 14, Sir Robert Peel presented petitions from Hampstead and Deptford, praying that the new police might not be withdrawn; a day later a petition from St. Mary's, Lambeth, prayed Parliament to repeal the Metropolitan Police Act, These conflicting petitions became common. Opposition journals such as the Standard suggested a middle course- that the true remedy " for the unpopularity of the police and its insufficiency would be to take it out of the hands of the government- to restore the appointment and direction of the officers to the magistracy or the parochial authorities, or, if it seems better, to extend the organization to district boards appointed by the householders."
But, as we learn from a large number of meetings and petitions, the real grievance against the police was its expense. The police rate in the first year was considerably higher than had been estimated when the Act was passed- much higher in fact than the rate for the old, inefficient watchmen. There is something very modern in the attitude of householders in the suburbs of London, who sat up day and night at their windows to count how many times a policeman passed them. It did not occur to them that the very fact of the existence of the force had so intimidated robbers that they kept away and therefore more frequent visits were unnecessary. All they could see was the increase in their rates and some of the petitions declared that the officers in their parishes were too numerous for their needs.
There can be no question, however, that the Metropolitan Police were justifying themselves by their courage and efficiency at a time of disorder verging on anarchy, and though with our present experience they fell far short of the civil force such as London has to-day- notably, in the absence of a Criminal Investigation Department- yet there was little danger of a return to the old, bad system.
This chapter should not be concluded without a reference to the last of the pirates hanged in public at Execution Dock on December 17, 1830. The adventures of these two men deserve to live. George James Davis, alias George Huntley, and William Watts, alias Charles Williams, had been convicts transported to Botany Bay. In consequence of their refractory conduct they were with sixteen others ordered to be conveyed to Macquarie Harbour. This was before Tasmania was used for the purpose of confining refractory men. They were embarked in the Cyprus, the vessel employed for this purpose, when they mutinied and succeeded in seizing the ship and confining the soldiers and the crews in their convict quarters. On reaching an uninhabited island, they set the soldiers and crew on shore and made sail for Japan. Strange to relate they actually succeeded in reaching their destination, but the Japanese authorities made them so unwelcome that they abandoned their vessel and continued their voyage in an open boat. Only four, of whom these were two, survived that voyage, and as soon as they reached China they were arrested by the British authorities and sent home to England for trial on the capital charge of piracy on the high seas. The four survivors were convicted and sentenced to death, but two were respited.
It was not surprising to find that the heroes of this Odyssey of adventure met their fate without flinching. They left Newgate in a cart and reached Execution Dock at 9.30. Huntley jumped out of the cart without assistance and walked very fast to the scaffold with Williams close behind him. When the ropes were adjusted about their necks Williams addressed the crowd and said that they had been far worse treated than the people they had set ashore on an uninhabited island, for they had given them plenty of provisions. Then they shook hands and the drop fell. The Morning Post reporter records that "they struggled a long time before the vital spark was extinct."
Ten years had passed since a pirate had been hanged at Execution Dock, and this was the last recorded instance.
The Demand For Reform Of The Criminal Law
IN EXAMINING the sentences passed on prisoners at this period it was impossible not to notice the startling contrast between the treatment of offences against property and offences against the person. Whereas a forty shilling fine with the alternative of two months' imprisonment was imposed for gross cruelty to a child, or for beating a wife, death or a long term of transportation was considered the proper penalty for house-breaking. On April 17, 1831, leave was asked to introduce a Bill to abolish capital punishment for house-breaking. The member who introduced the motion said "The criminal laws of this country have been described by Mirabeau as requiring blood and a pound of flesh for every offence." The Solicitor-General objected that " murder, burglary and arson were crimes that endangered human life." Cobbett spoke in favour of the motion. He spoke of French and American methods of treating crime and suggested as an amendment "that all criminal enactments since the accession of King George III should be taken in a bunch and flung into the fire."
"Oh, gracious God!" exclaimed the Solicitor-General; "to think of going to America for an amendment of the laws of England!" Leave was given to introduce the Bill.
The fact was that in the early years of the nineteenth century England was to all intents still in the atmosphere of the eighteenth, though some of the old ideas were already in the melting-pot. Rank was held in the highest reverence; the rights of labour were entirely unrecognized; there were no trade unions; no railways or telegraphs or telephones; few people travelled about the country except the rich; the people knew nothing of events that happened outside their own county; the great
majority of the country-people could neither read nor write; discipline in the family, the navy and the army was maintained by corporal punishment; the factories were choked with goods that could not be sold; the greater part of the cities were living in poverty and filth; the streets were filled with prostitutes and drunken men and women; the children were growing up like young savages in a state of inconceivable ignorance and neglect; three million pounds were estimated to be spent annually in gin.
The Reform Act of 1832 took some years to change this state of things, and yet, though the ship of State seemed more than once about to founder, the people contrived to live not uncheerfully. London at that time was a small city; its boundaries on the north and west reached only to the Regent's Canal and Edgware Road; the southern boundary was the river and a narrow strip of houses In the Borough.
Executions for Forgery
BETWEEN 1805-1818 there were said to have been 200 executions for forgery alone, but the statistics at this period were unreliable.
At the opening of the nineteenth century a hundred and sixty offences were recognized as punishable with death. It is difficult now to realize that in the lifetime of our grandparents a man might be hanged if he appeared in disguise in a public road; if he cut down young trees; if he shot rabbits; if he poached game at night; if he returned to England from transportation before the end of his sentence; if, being a gipsy, he remained in the same place for twelve months. It was even a capital offence to break down the embankment of a fishpond and let the fish escape; to cut down a fruit tree in a garden or orchard; to steal a handkerchief of above the value of one shilling from another man's pocket. Yet under the same code it was no offence to receive cash or specie, bank notes or bills, knowing them to be stolen, inasmuch as specie, notes and bills were not considered as coming under the head of goods and chattels. A notorious receiver of stolen goods could...