1804

1804.

Caricatures of the Flotilla—Scarcity of money—Stamping Spanish dollars—Illness of the King—His recovery—General Fast—Fall of the Addington Ministry—Debate on the Abolition of the Slave Trade—Beacons—Transport—Election for Middlesex—Reconciliation between the King and the Prince of Wales.

THE YEAR 1804 opens with Britain still in arms, watching that flotilla which dare not put out, and cannot be destroyed; but somehow, whether familiarity had bred contempt, or whether it had come to be looked upon as a “bugaboo”—terrible to the sight, but not so very bad when you knew it—the patriotic handbills first cooled down, and then disappeared, and the satirical artist imparted a lighter tone to his pictures. Take one of Gillray's (February 10, 1804): “The King  of Brobdingnag  and Gulliver ” (Plate 2). Scene—“Gulliver manœuvring with his little boat in the cistern,” vide Swift's Gulliver : “I often used to row for my own diversion, as well as that of the Queen and her ladies, who thought themselves well entertained with my skill and agility. Sometimes I would put up my sail and show my art by steering starboard and larboard. However, my attempts produced nothing else besides a loud laughter, which all the respect due to His Majesty from those about him, could not make them contain. This made me reflect how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavour to do himself honour among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him!!!” The King and Queen look on with amusement at the pigmy's vessel, for the better sailing of which, the young princes are blowing; and creating quite a gale.

Take another by West (March, 1804), which shows equally, that terror is turning to derision. It is called “A French Alarmist, or, John Bull looking out for the Grand Flotilla!” John Bull is guarding his coast, sword on thigh, and attended by his faithful dog. Through his telescope he scans the horizon, and is thus addressed by a Frenchman who is behind him. “Ah, ah! Monsieur Bull, dere you see our Grande Flotilla, de grande gon boats, ma foi—dere you see ‘em sailing for de grand attack on your nation—dere you see de Bombs and de Cannons—dere you see de Grande Consul himself at de head of his Legions? Dere you see—“ But John Bull, mindful of the old saying, anent the Spanish Armada, replies, “Monsieur, all this I cannot see, because 'tis not in sight.”

Money was scarce in this year; and in spite of the all-but million given the King not so long since to pay his debts, we find (Morning Herald, April 26, 1804), “The Civil List is now paying up to the Lady-day quarter, 1803.”

So scarce was money—i.e., bullion—that a means had to be found to supplement the currency; and it so happened that a large quantity of Spanish dollars were opportunely taken in prizes. In 1803 the idea of utilizing these as current English coins was first mooted, and some were stamped with the King's head, the size of the ordinary goldsmith's mark; but in 1804 a much larger issue of them was made, and they were stamped with a profile likeness of the King, in an octagon of about a quarter of an inch square. They were made to pass for five shillings each, which was about threepence-halfpenny over their value as bullion; and this extra, and fictitious, value was imposed upon them in order that they should not be melted down. They were also to be taken back for a time at that price, and on the 12th of January, 1804, every banking house received £1,000 worth of them from the Bank of England, against the Bank's paper. But, as currency, they did not last long, the Bank refusing, as early as April the same year, to receive them back again, on “various frivolous and ill-founded pretensions.” For some reason, probably forgery, they were recalled, and on the 22nd of May there was a notice in the Gazette  to the effect that a new issue of them would be made, which would be stamped by the famous firm of Boulton, Soho Mint, at Birmingham, whose series of tradesmen's tokens of George the Third's reign is familiar to every numismatist. They varied from those stamped at the Tower, by having on the obverse, “Georgius III., Dei Gratiâ Rex,” and on the reverse, the figure of Britannia, with the words—“Five shillings dollar, Bank of England, 1804,” but even these were soon forged.

On the 14th of February the King was taken ill so seriously that bulletins had to be issued. His malady was stated to be “an Hydrops Pectoris, or a water in the chest of the body;” to counteract which they scarified his legs.[20] The probability is, that this treatment was not the proper one, for I observe that the next day's bulletin is signed by four, instead of two doctors, who, however, on the succeeding day, certify that their patient could walk. On the 26th, which was Sunday, prayers were offered up in all churches and chapels of the Metropolis, and a week later throughout England, for His Majesty's recovery. On the 27th of February, there was a long debate in Parliament on the subject of His Majesty's health; some members holding that, looking at the gravity of our relations with France, the people were not kept sufficiently informed as to the King's illness. Addington, then Prime Minister, contended that more information than was made public would be injudicious, and prejudicial to the public good; and after a long discussion, in which Pitt, Fox, Windham, and Grenville took part, the subject dropped. Towards the end of March, the King became quite convalescent, a fact which is thus quaintly announced in the Morning Herald  of the 28th of March: “We have the sincerest pleasure in stating that a certain personage is now perfectly restored to all his domestic comforts. He saw the Queen for the first time on Saturday (March 24th) afternoon. The interview, as may well be conceived, was peculiarly affecting.”

Yet another Fast Day; this time on the 25th of May, and its cause—“for humbling ourselves before Almighty God, in order to obtain pardon of our sins, and in the most solemn manner to send up our prayers and supplications to the Divine Majesty, for averting those heavy judgments which our manifold provocations have most justly deserved; and for imploring His blessing and assistance on our arms, for the restoration of peace and prosperity to these dominions.” A contemporary account tells how it was kept: “Yesterday, being the day appointed for the observance of a solemn Fast, was duly observed in the Metropolis, at least as far as outward show and decorum can go. Every shop was shut; for those who on similar occasions, kept their windows open, have probably learnt that, to offend against public example and decency, is not the way to ensure either favour or credit. Most of the Volunteer Corps attended at their several churches, where sermons suitable to the day were preached.”

The Addington Ministry was on its last legs, and died on or about the 11th of May; and a very strong government was formed by Pitt, which included the Duke of Portland, Lord Eldon, Lord Melville, the Earl of Chatham, Dundas, Canning, Huskisson, and Spencer Perceval.

They were not very long in power before they stretched forth their long arm after the notorious William Cobbett for the publication of certain libels with intent to traduce His Majesty's Government in Ireland, and the persons employed in the administration thereof, particularly Lord Hardwicke, Lord Redesdale, Mr. Marsden, and the Hon. Charles Osborne, contained in certain letters signed Juverna. He was tried on the 24th of May, and found guilty. On the 26th he had another action brought against him for slandering Mr. Plunket, in his official capacity as Solicitor-General for Ireland, and was cast in a verdict for £500.

On the 27th of June the Abolition of the Slave Trade was read a third time in the Commons, and some curious facts came out in debate. One member called attention to the fact that there were 7,000 French prisoners on the Island of Barbadoes, besides a great number in prison-ships, and feared they would foment discontent among the negroes, who did not distinguish between the abolition of the slave trade and immediate emancipation. He also pointed out that the Moravian missionaries on the island were teaching, most forcibly, the fact that all men were alike God's creatures, and that the last should be first and the first last.

An honourable member immediately replied in vindication of the missionaries, and said that no fewer than 10,000 negroes had been converted in the Island of Antigua,and that their tempers and dispositions had been, thereby, rendered so much better, that they were entitled to an increased value of £10.

Next day the Bill was taken up to the Lords and read for the first time, during which debate the Duke of Clarence said: “Since a very early period of his life, when he was in another line of profession—which he knew not why he had no longer employment in—he had ocular demonstration of the state of slavery, as it was called, in the West Indies, and all that he had seen convinced him that it not only was not deserving of the imputations that had been cast upon it, but that the abolition of it would be productive of extreme danger and mischief.”

Before the second reading he also presented two petitions against it, and when the second reading did come on, on the 3rd of July, Lord Hawkesbury moved that such reading should be on that day three months, and this motion was carried without a division, so that the Bill was lost for that year.

The Invasion Scare, although dying out, in this year was far from dead; but, though people did not talk so much about it, the Government was vigilant and watchful, as was shown by many little matters—notably the signals. In the eastern district of England were 32,000 troops ready to move at a moment's notice; whilst the hoisting of a red flag at any of the following stations would ensure the lighting of all the beacons, wherever established:

Colchester.Mum's Hedge.
Brightlingsea.White Notley.
Earls Colne.Ongar Park.
Gosfield.Messing.
Sewers End.Rettenden.
Littlebury.Danbury.
Thaxted.Langdon Hill.
Hatfield Broad Oak.Corne Green.

Transport seems to have been the weakest spot in the military organizations, and a Committee sat both at the Mansion House, and Thatched House Tavern, to stimulate the patriotic ardour of owners of horses and carriages, in order that they might offer them for the use of the Government. A large number of job-masters, too, offered to lend their horses, provided their customers would send their coachmen and two days' forage with them.

There was in this year a very close election for Middlesex, between Sir Francis Burdett and Mr. Mainwaring. The election lasted, as usual, a fortnight, and Sir Francis claimed a majority of one. This so elated his supporters that they formed a triumphal procession from Brentford, the county town, to Piccadilly, composed as under:

A Banner, on orange ground, inscribed
Victory.
Horsemen, two and two.
Flags borne by Horsemen.
Persons on foot in files of six, singing “Rule, Britannia.”
Handbell Ringers.
Body of foot, as before.
Car with Band of Music.
Large Body of Horsemen.
Sir Francis Burdett
In his Chariot, accompanied by his Brother, and another
Gentleman covered with Laurels and drawn by
the Populace, with an allegorical painting of
Liberty and  Independence,
and surrounded with lighted flambeaux.
A second Car, with a Musical Band.
A Body of Horsemen.
Gentlemen's and other Carriages in a long Cavalcade,
which closed the Procession.

Was it not a pity, after all this excitement, that on a scrutiny, the famous majority of one was found to be fallacious, and that Mr. Mainwaring had a majority of five ? a fact of which he duly availed himself, sitting for Middlesex at the next meeting of Parliament.

The close of the year is not particularly remarkable for any events other than the arrival in England, on the 1st of November, of the brother of Louis XVIII. (afterwards Charles X.), and the reconciliation which took place between the Prince of Wales, and his royal father, on the 12th of November, which was made the subject of a scathing satirical print by Gillray (November 20th). It is called “The Reconciliation.” “And he arose and came to his Father, and his Father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his Neck and kissed him.” The old King is in full Court costume, with brocaded Coat and Ribbon of the Garter, and presents a striking contrast to the tattered prodigal, whose rags show him to be in pitiable case, and who is faintly murmuring, “Against Heaven and before thee.” The Queen, with open arms, stands on the doorstep to welcome the lost one, whilst Pitt and Lord Moira, as confidential advisers, respectively of the King and the Prince, look on with a curious and puzzled air.

Consols were, January 56⅞; December 58⅝; having fallen as low as 54½ in February. The quartern loaf began the year at 9½d. and left off at 1s. 4½d. Average price of wheat 74s.


[20]Morning Herald , February 18, 1804.