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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

With the blue cockade in his hat


On the Tuesday authority seemed to have wakened up to a vague sense that the situation was somewhat serious. Parliament reassembled to find itself again surrounded and menaced by a mob, which wounded Lord Sandwich and destroyed his carriage. Lord George Gordon attended the House, but even his madness appeared to have taken alarm, for he had caused a proclamation to be issued in the name of the Protestant Association disavowing the riots. As he sat in his place, with the blue cockade in his hat, Colonel Herbert, who was afterwards Lord Carnarvon, called to him from across the House, telling him to take off the badge or he would cross the floor and do it himself, Lord George's vehemence did not stand him in good stead where he himself was menaced. He had no following in the House. Colonel Herbert was a man of the sword and a man of his word. Lord George Gordon took the cockade from his hat and put it in his pocket. If authority had acted with the firmness of Colonel Gordon on the Friday and of Colonel Herbert on the Tuesday, the tumult might have been as easily cowed as its leader. But still nothing was done. The House of Commons made a half-hearted promise that when the tumult subsided the Protestant petition would be taken into consideration, and a suggestion that Lord George ought to be expelled was unfavorably received.

From that moment, and for two long and terrible days, riot ruled in London. In all directions the evening sky was red with flames of burning buildings; in all directions organized bands of men, maddened with drink, carried terror and destruction. The Tuesday evening was signalized by the most extraordinary and most daring deed that the insurgents had yet done. Some of the men arrested on the Friday had been committed to Newgate Prison. To Newgate Prison a vast body of men marched, and called upon Mr. Akerman, the keeper, to give up his keys and surrender his prisoners. His firm refusal converted the mob into a besieging army.

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[Sidenote: 1780--The burning of Newgate Prison]

Two men of genius have contributed to our knowledge of the siege of Newgate. Crabbe, the poet, was at Westminster on the Tuesday, and after seeing all the disturbance there he made his way with the current of destruction towards Newgate, and witnessed the astonishing capture of a massive prison by a body of men, unarmed save with such rude weapons of attack as could be hurriedly caught up. The prison was so strong that, had a dozen men resisted, it would have been almost impossible to take it without artillery. But there was nobody to resist. Mr. Akerman, the keeper, acted with great courage, and did his duty loyally, but he could not hold the place alone. Crowbars, pickaxes, and fire forced an entrance into the prison. "Not Orpheus himself," wrote Crabbe, "had more courage or better luck" than the desperate assailants of the prison. They broke into the blazing prison, they rescued their comrades, they set all the other prisoners free. Into the street, where the summer evening was as bright as noonday with the blazing building, the prisoners were borne in triumph. Some of them had been condemned to death, and never were men more bewildered than by this strange reprieve. The next day Dr. Johnson walked, in company with Dr. Scott, to look at the place, and found the prison in ruins, with the fire yet glowing. The stout-hearted Doctor was loud in his scorn of "the cowardice of a commercial place," where such deeds could be done without hinderance.


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