William Dowling on trial 1848

This page has a contemporary newspaper account of the trial of William Dowling in 1848.

William Cuffay by William Paul Dowling, lithograph, 1848. Copyright National Portrait Gallery, NPG D13148

William Dowling was a young artist when he became involved in the plot to seize London and overthrow the government through force of arms in the Chartist cause. His portrait of William Cuffay (sometimes Cuffy or Cuffey) can still be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Dowling’s part in the plot earned him a sentence of transportation for life to Australia, where he continued to work as a portrait painter, dying in 1857.


At the London Central Criminal Court, at ten o’clock on Friday, the learned judges, Mr Justice Erle and Mr Justice Williams took their seats on the bench, and immediately afterwards the following prisoners accused of treasonable practices were placed at the bar:–

Joseph Richie, 42, bricklayer; Alfred Able, 23, porter; William Gurney, 42, shoemaker; John Shepherd, 34, tailor; James Snowball, 32, joiner; James Richardson, 30, joiner; George Greenslade, 30, shoemaker; Henry Small, 31, joiner; Edward Scadding, 28, brass turner; William Burn, 44, shoemaker; Philip Martin, 45, newsman; William Lacy, 38, bootmaker; Thomas Jones, 39, shoemaker; Charles Young, 38, shoemaker; William Dowling, 24, artist; and Henry Argue, 23, shoemaker.

Before the jury were sworn, an application was made to have the trials postponed until next session, or, if that were inadmissible, for a few days, the counsel for the prisoners pleading their want of preparation.

Mr Justice Erle observed that possibly they might be ready for trial by Monday.

This being acceded to, the indictment against the prisoners was read, when the whole of them pleaded not guilty.

Mr Kenealey having intimated that his client Dowling, the artist, was desirous of taking his trial, and that he did not require a postponement,

The Attorney-General said he would proceed with the trial of that prisoner.

He was accordingly ordered to remain at the bar, and the other prisoners were removed.

The Attorney General then proceeded to address the jury. He believed this was the first case of the kind that had been brought forward in an English court of justice under the act which had just passed the Legislature, entitled “An Act for the better Security of the Crown and Government of the Country;” and he explained, that before the passing of that act the offence with which the prisoner was charged would have amounted to high treason, and would have subjected him, upon conviction, to the most penal and fatal consequences. He regretted to be obliged to state that the prisoner at the bar moved in a different sphere to the other prisoners who had been placed in the dock with him. He believed he was a man of education, and an artist by profession, and, as he was instructed, possessing considerable talent, which, if properly employed, would have enabled him to live respectably. Unfortunately, however, he had addicted himself, not to politics, for that was not at all objectionable, if exercised with moderation, and within proper bounds, but to a course of proceeding which, if it had not been stopped on the 16 th of August, would inevitably have led to the most disastrous results, not only to life and property, but also to the peace of the kingdom. He then proceeded to state the circumstances under which the charge was preferred. The jury were aware that there had been an outbreak in Ireland, and that the body of persons in this country, calling themselves Chartists had joined with confederate clubs of Irishmen to do all that lay in their power to embarrass the respectable and peaceably-disposed portion of the inhabitants of the metropolis. Things came to such a pass that the Chartists arranged themselves into classes; they divided the metropolis into districts, and by means of secret organisation possessed the power of raising simultaneous meetings throughout the country, and thus to a certain extent embarrassing and paralysing the exertions of the Government. The prisoner, from documents found in his possession, appeared to be the secretary of a club called the Davis Club, and he would read an extract from the proceedings at one of the meetings of that club which would show what sort of person he was. The Attorney-General then read a minute of one of the meetings, at which an Irishman, named Doheny, congratulated the meeting upon Ireland being in arms, which statement was received with acclamation, and a resolution was carried that every man should make himself as strong as he could to oppose the Government. He read also a minute of another meeting, at which Mr Dowling was present, and it appeared that the chairman moved a resolution disclaiming all connection with Chartists or physical force, upon which the prisoner moved an amendment that the resolution should be postponed to the Day of Judgment, and the amendment was carried almost unanimously. The Attorney-General then proceeded to narrate the facts relating to the several meetings of the parties, at nearly all of which the prisoner was present, and the diabolical intention alleged to have been entertained by them, of setting fire to the metropolis on the 16 th of August.

Evidence was then adduced.

Thomas Powell deponed that early in the present year he became a member of the Chartist Society, and continued to attend their meetings down to August last. There were district associations, and he was a member of the Cripplegate locality. There was also a council of management, consisting of five persons. The council were Mr Battis, Mr Power, Mr Carter, Mr Jones and himself. He entered the association in the name of Johnson. This council had the general superintendence of the business of the association, and they usually met at Cartwright’s coffeehouse. About the 20 th of July a committee was formed, to meet at a house in Portugal Street , Lincoln ‘s Inn , which was called the “Secret Committee,” and he was elected to form oneo f that committee. He attended a meeting of this committee at the Black Jack, in Portugal Street , on the day mentioned. Fourteen persons were present, among them were Payne, Brewster, Rose, Mullins, the prisoner, a delegate from Greenwich , and a member of a Confederate Club. All these persons were delegates from different districts, and the prisoner attended from the Irish Confederates. At this meeting it was proposed, after reports had been made of the feeling in each locality with regard to the physical force movement, that a return should be made by each delegate o f the number of men in every locality who were willing to fight. When this had been done, another committee was appointed, for the purpose of drawing up five plans for action, and the prisoner was elected a member of that committee. They were in deliberation for three hours, and adjourned soon after twelve at night, an arrangement being made for another meeting on the following Sunday morning, at a coffee shop in Seven Dials. He went to the place of meeting, and found the prisoner and four other persons there, Brewster, Mullins, Rose, and another person. Mullins, at this meeting, produced a map of London , and all the others present had papers in their hands, on which there were sketches of different localities. He heard Mullins say to the prisoner, that he thought it was difficult for him to undertake the management of the Seven Dials, and the person who acted as chairman said, “Mind, gentlemen, our object is, if possible, to destroy the power of the Queen, and establish a Republic.” There was a general acquiescence in this by every one present. There was then some conversation about vitriol and assassinating the police, and Rose said, “We must first assassinate the police, pull down station-houses, and build barricades.” This was also acquiesced in by all present. Some other persons afterwards joined the meeting. They were all delegates from different places. (Some papers were here shown to the witness, and he identified one of them as being in the possession of Mullins on the morning in question.) He knew the paper by the marks for places where barricades were to be erected. Mullins told those people who came in afterwards that he was sorry the plans were not quite matured for their inspection; and the meeting soon afterwards adjourned. He went the same evening to another meeting at Cartwright’s; the prisoner was not present at that meeting. On the 26 th of July there was another meeting, at a coffee-shop on Saffron Hill; eighteen persons were present, and Mr Dowling was among them. At this meeting reports were again made of the number of men that could be depended on as fighting men. On the 30 th of July there was another meeting at Cartwright’s. The prisoner was present, and twenty-seven other persons. A return was made by all the old delegates and some of the new ones of the state of feeling in their respective localities, and the number of fighting men that could be depended upon. The committee at the Black Jack was dissolved on this occasion on account of two of the members being suspected to be spies, and another committee called the “Ulterior Committee” was appointed in its place. It was generally understood what this committee was appointed for, but nothing was said. The next meeting was on Tuesday, August 1, at the Despatch coffee shop, 34 persons were present. They were all delegates, and the prisoner and Bezer were among them. Upon this occasion reports of the same kind were given in by new delegates, and Bezer gave in his return as fifty fighting men. All the districts had different names such as “the Irish Felon,” “the Star,” and “ Davis ‘s,” and “Emmet” clubs, and “Thomas Paine’s Brigade,” &c. Delegates attended our meetings from all these clubs. There was a little jealousy about there not being a sufficient number of Irishmen in the Ulterior Committee, and four Irishmen were placed upon it. A suggestion was made by Mr Dowling that there should be a grand demonstration of Chartists and Confederates at Primrose Hill, on Sunday the 6 th of August, in order to ascertain the numbers of the people, but the motion was lost, another resolution being carried in its stead that each delegates should make arrangements for all the men in his locality to come out at an hour’s notice. They met again at Cartwright’s on the 4 th of August. 32 persons were present. Mr Payne was in the chair, and the prisoner was among those assembled. The usual reports of the number of fighting men were given in, and then there was a discussion with regard to sending a delegate to Manchester . A motion was then made that all the delegates should act according to the decision of the Ulterior committee, and a vote of confidence in the committee carried.

A resolution was likewise carried that each delegate should appoint four men as telegraphs, to be stationed all the way from the Despatch coffeehouse to Kennington Common, where a Chartist meeting was advertised to be held on the Sunday following. There was another meeting of the committee on the 7 th of August, at the coffeehouse in the Seven Dials. About 30 were present, and the prisoner was among them, as well as the whole of the Ulterior Committee. In consequence of the report that Smith O’Brien had been arrested, the committeemen resigned Mullins had previously stated that he had no confidence in the four Irishmen who had been added to the committee, as he had not seen their plans, and a fresh committee was appointed when the other resigned. At this meeting also a resolution was passed, that a “visionary” president should be appointed, but no name was mentioned. He was to be somebody, and he was to be nobody. (A laugh.) It was also arranged that each member should subscribe three farthings to provide a salary for the visionary president. At this meeting a letter was read from Lacey, at Manchester , stating “that trade was very good, and they should soon revive good order.” The next meeting was on the 9 th of August, at the Lord Denman beer shop, Suffolk Street , and 28 persons were present, and the new delegates reported the number of fighting men and their state of preparation, but nothing was said on this occasion about ball cartridges. Mr Mullins, who acted as vice-chairman, called on all the delegates to express their allegiance to the committee, and their intention to act as they desired, for the good of the people, and all of them did so – some of them expressing their readiness to lose their lives in the cause. At this meeting another letter was read from Lacey, stating that all was going on well at Manchester . A meeting was to have taken place on the 11 th at a coffee shop on Bethnal Breen, but when witness was there he was informed that the police had seized all Rose’s papers, and that it was all up and there would be no meeting. The next meeting was at the Orange Tree beer shop, on the 14 th of August. About 25 persons were present; the prisoner was not among them. Mr Payne was chairman of this meeting, and Mullins was the principal spokesman, and he asked the delegates each to make a return of the number of ball cartridges prepared by himself or his members. Each delegate upon this handed in the required return, and witness thought the whole number was between 500 and 600. Mullins then said there would be at least 5000 Chartist fighting men, and he mentioned a considerable number of Confederates who would join them. Mullins then said the time was near at hand, and he wanted every delegate to select five or six men, or as many as he could, in each locality. Somebody asked what they were wanted for, and Cuffey said to fire houses, railways, trains, or anything, and Mullins looked at the gas lamp and said – “If I look at the gas you’ll know what I mean.” I was asked how many men I could select, and I replied “Two.” These were to be men who could be depended on to do anything and everything. In the course of the same evening it was proposed that a deputation should wait upon some of the North-Western Railway engineers, who at that time had a difference with their employers, to know if they would join in the proposed movement; and two persons left the meeting for that purpose. The meeting was adjourned to the Lord Denman on the 15 th . Forty were present. Dowling was among them, and Lacey was also present, and he said the men of Birmingham and Manchester were up and would be doing that night, and he also said that he had been watched all day by a policeman, and that a boy had told him so. He likewise said that he had been watched for two hours, but that he had given the policeman the “double,” and had reached that place of safety. During this evening some pieces of ribbon were distributed among the delegates in order that they might be known as the leaders of the people. They were to be worn on the left arm. One of them was given to witness, and the other delegates also had one given to each of the, A motion was then made that the committee should retire and consult, and they did so. They were absent about an hour, the delegates waiting their return. When they came back, Cuffey said to Mullins:– “Now, Mr Chairman, you had better give the instructions as quickly as possible.” Cuffey acted as secretary. Mullins then said- “Gentlemen, you are aware the comm9ttee retired to consult; they have directed me to give you some instructions. We have no reason to doubt the correctness of Mr Lacey’s statement that the men of Birmingham and Manchester are up to-night, and therefore to-morrow night you must come out and strike the blow. It is necessary you should speak out honestly and boldly, for there must be no flinching in the matter.

Cuffey said, the chariman had better put it round to every one present, and let them answer “yes” or “no.” He then put the question to men, “Will you?” Witness replied “Yes,” and he walked round the room and put the same question to every one present, and they all agreed to come out to fight except Ferdinando and another delegate. Mullins then said they would understand that they should take up four positions – Clerkenwell Green by Brewster, the Tower Hamlets by Payne, the Broadway, Westminster , and the Seven Dials, were to be taken by Mullins and Bassett. They were to go out on the next night, and on one of the delegates asking how they were to get to the meeting-place with their pikes or poles, Mullins said, “As well as they could.” It was next arranged that they were to meet at twenty minutes past nine o’clock to a second; and Miullins proposed that Richie should superintend and direct the men who were to fire the houses and railway stations. Richie understood the duty, and it was arranged that the “fire” men should meet at the Orange Tree. A pass-word was then talked of, and it was arranged that the word “justice” should be the pass-word, instead of “Frost” or “Mitchel” which had been first proposed. A list of the “fire” men was made out, and it appeared there were 46 who were ready to undertake the task of firing the houses. When they were about to separate, Mullins said, “May the bitterest curse of God rest upon any man who shall betray any of us.” Witness was certain the prisoner was present on this occasion. On the following day, the 16th, witness went to the Crispin beer-shop in Milton Street, and found Brewster, Gurney and Payne there, with some other persons, and Brewster said it was his intention to attack the Artillery-ground and take it if he could, but he said, “they should have to fight —- hard;” and he added that they should know by four o’clock whether the Government had any information as to what was going on. He at the same time told witness not to be surprised if he did not see the signals. The signals were understood to be the burning houses; and he said that Richie had sworn, “so help his God,” that he would shoot the first man who flinched from his duty. The witness, in his cross-examination, said he first joined the Chartists “for curiosity,” and also with the express purpose of betraying their designs to Government. [The Attorney-General stated frankly, that the witness was now receiving subsistence-pay from the Government.]

Thomas Barry gave evidence of a similar character.

A number of police superintendents and constables were then examined, and their evidence went to show the circumstances attending the apprehension of the different persons. At the Orange Tree eleven were taken, many of them armed with pistols and pikes, and formidable bludgeons loaded with lead. Daggers and tow balls were also found in the rooms where they were apprehended, and at their lodgings upon a subsequent search a vast quantity of gunpowder, ball-cartridges for pistols and guns, pikes, pike-heads, and combustible materials were also discovered, comprising enough to fill several large boxes which were produced by the police. Some of the tow balls had since been examined, and were found to contain gunpowder and broken iron and glass.

The Attorney-General intimated that this was the case for the prosecution, and the court adjourned at ten minutes after ten o’clock; the jury retiring to the London Coffee-house in charge of an officer.

Mr Justice Erle and Mr Mustice Williams took their seats in Court his morning at a few minutes before ten o’clock, when the trial of William Dowling was resumed.

The evidence for the prosecution having been heard, Mr Kennealey addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner.

Several witnesses were examined in defence, who stated their belief that the prisoner did not entertain Chartist opinions.

The Attorney-General rose, and replied at great length on the nature and bearing of the evidence which had been adduced. He considered the evidence so conclusive that the jury must in the honest discharge of their duty return a verdict of guilty against the young man at the bar.

At half-past five o’clock the jury retired for half an hour; on their return into Court,

The Foreman said that several of the jury were so fatigued that they begged his Lordship to refrain from summing up the evidence until Monday.

Mr Justice Erle – If I do, you must remain in the custody of the officer of the Court. You will have every attention paid you, but will not be allowed to go home or hold conversation with any one.

The jury unanimously consented to remain in custody until Monday. They were too fatigued to proceed with the inquiry that evening.

The summing up of the evidence was then postponed until Monday, and the Court adjourned.

At the sitting of the Court this morning, Mr Justice Erle proceeded to sum up. He said the prisoner had been charged with conspiring to levy war against her Majesty, with the view of compelling her to change her measures and councils. It was sufficient proof of an overt act, that two or more persons with whom the prisoner was associated had, by their conduct and actions, manifested an intention to levy war; and although there might be no direct act brought home to the prisoner individually, still, if he was associated with persons who met and conspired to levy war against the Queen, he was just as guilty as if an overt act was brought home directly to himself.

The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and after a long absence returned a verdict of guilty against the prisoner upon the second count of the indictment.