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The Newgate Calendar - FRANCIS HENRY DE LA MOTTE


A French Spy, who was executed at Tyburn, 27th of July, 1781, for High Treason

THIS man lived a long time in England unsuspected as one of its greatest enemies. He was a Frenchman, and a spy upon the Government, in the service of France. He gave advice to the enemy, through the medium of one Lutterlok, of the strength and destination of our fleets and armies.

Among other acts of mischief done by means of this man was the attack upon the British fleet, under Commodore Johnstone, in the neutral harbour, called Port Praya Road, on its voyage to the East Indies, where it was convoying a fleet of East Indiamen.

La Motte sent intimation to the French Minister of the British commodore's strength and time of sailing, and the Minister sent a superior fleet in quest of him, under the command of Commodore Suffrien. So great was the surprise of the British that they were lying in harbour, taking in water and provisions, when the enemy hove in sight.

"I was then absent," says Commodore Johnstone, in his dispatches to Government, "in a boat, giving directions for moving some ships which had driven too near each other. As soon as I saw the signal for so many strange ships I instantly returned on board the Romney" (the Commodore's broad pendant flying on board that ship), "and made the signal for all persons to come from the shore and repair on board their respective ships, having at that time not less than one thousand, five hundred persons absent from the fleet who were employed in watering, fishing, and embarking live cattle, with other occupations necessary to dispatch in refitting so many ships, besides a number of officers and troops who were taking recreation, with leave of absence, on shore."

The French, apprised of the exact strength of the British, pressed into their very centre in line of battle -- a mode of attack they durst not otherwise have done. Though thus surprised, the British beat them off.

The returns of our killed and wounded were as follows: --

Petty officers and seamen killed


Marines and infantry killed


Officers killed


Seamen wounded


Marines and infantry wounded


Prisoners, among whom was Captain Darby, of the Infernal fireship


Total of killed, wounded and missing



Other squadrons were attacked through the same means, and many more lives were lost, and the nation put to an enormous expense.

This spy had elegant lodgings in Bond Street, dressed like a gentleman, kept the best company, and passed as a foreigner of fortune; he spoke the English tongue, and was well acquainted with the geography of the country. At length suspicion arose that he was a French spy. A watch was accordingly set upon his actions, and he was soon apprehended, and committed prisoner to the Tower. On his trial various acts of treason were fully proved against him, and the jury immediately found him guilty. The judge then passed upon him the following awful sentence:--

"That he should be hanged by the neck, but not till he was dead, then to be cut down, and his bowels to be taken out and burned before his face; his head to be taken off, his body cut into four quarters and to be at his Majesty's disposal."

He was remanded to the Tower, and at the expiration of a fortnight a warrant was issued from the office of the Secretary of State for his execution. The sheriffs demanded his body of the Lieutenant of the Tower, and carried him to Newgate; from thence, in about a quarter of an hour, they set out with him to the place of execution. La Motte was dressed in a suit of black. His deportment was manly and serious; he seemed to be totally abstracted from the surrounding multitude, as he scarcely ever took his eyes from a devotional book which he held in his hand.

Upon his arrival at the fatal tree he was immediately removed out of the sledge in which he had been conveyed. He then employed some minutes in earnest devotion; which done, he twice bowed respectfully to the sheriffs and turned to the executioner, desiring him immediately to perform his office.

After hanging fifty-seven minutes the body was cut down and laid on a block, when (a fire having been previously kindled) the executioner severed the head from the trunk, made an incision from the breast, and ripped out the heart, which, after being exposed to the spectators, was thrown into the flames.

The body was then scorched, together with the head, and put into a very handsome coffin, which was delivered to an undertaker for interment.


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