THE REV. MR JACKSON
Convicted of Treason, in Dublin, 23rd of April, 1793, but who died of Poison at the Bar of the Court, at the Moment Death would have been pronounced upon him
THE case of this man was one of the first links of the chain of treasonable practices against the British government, on the commencement of the present war with France.
The reverend Mr. Jackson was a native of Ireland, and a minister of the Church of England. Early in life he was a preacher at Tavistock chapel, and resided for several years in chambers in Lyons Inns, London. The emoluments of his clerical occupation not affording him a sufficient subsistence he applied his talents to literature, and was for a considerable time editor of a newspaper, in which situation he made himself very conspicuous. He took a decided part in the quarrel between the Duchess of Kingston and Mr. Foote, and is blamed for having treated the latter with too much asperity. He was a sharer in the romantic scheme of the Royalty Theatre, and was obliged for a considerable time to abscond, on account of the pecuniary difficulties in which it involved him.
Afterwards he entered into a criminal conspiracy, and was tried at Dublin for high treason, on the 23d of April, 1795, at eleven o'clock. The indictment charged the prisoner with two species of treason, namely, compassing the King's death, and adhering to his enemies; and stated fourteen overt-acts.
The Attorney-General opened the prosecution on the part of the crown; and having dwelt at some length on the doctrine of treason, proceeded to substantiate the charges laid in the indictment; for which purpose he called Mr. Cockayne, an attorney of London, who deposed that he had been for a series of years the law-agent and intimate friend of Mr. Jackson, who, a few years since, went to France (as the witness under stood) to transact some private business for Mr. Pitt, where he resided a considerable time. Soon after his return Mr. Cockayne said, he called on Jackson, who told him in confidence, that he had formed a design of going to Ireland, to sound the people, for the purpose of procuring a supply of provisions, &c. from them for the French, and requested him (the witness) to accompany him. Having accepted the invitation, he immediately waited on Mr. Pitt, and discovered to him the whole of Mr. Jackson's plans. The Minister thanked him for the information, and hinted that as the matter was to become a subject of legal investigation, it would be necessary for him to substantiate the allegations; but this Mr. Cockayne wished to decline, on the principle that, if the prisoner should be convicted of high treason he should lose by it 300l. in which sum he then was indebted to him. This objection was soon removed by Mr. Pitt agreeing to pay him the money, provided he would prosecute to conviction: and the witness accompanied Mr. Jackson to Ireland, for the purpose of making himself acquainted with his proceedings.
Shortly after their arrival in Dublin, where they lived together, the prisoner expressed a wish to be introduced to Mr. Hamilton Rowan, who was then confined in Newgate; and at length, through the interference of a friend, he obtained an interview, at which Mr. Cockayne was present. In the course of conversation, the prisoner delivered two papers to Mr. Rowan, for the purpose of convincing him that he was a person in whom he might confide. From that time an intimacy took place between them; the witness always accompanied Mr. Jackson in his visits to Mr. Rowan, and constantly took a part in their conversation. They agreed, he said, that a person should be sent to France to procure a force to make a descent on Ireland, and Counsellor Wolfe Tone was mentioned as a fit person for that purpose, who at first appeared to acquiesce, but afterwards declined the office. Dr. Reynolds was then proposed by Mr. Rowan, but objected to by the prisoner, as he did not understand the French language. It was, however, at length agreed the Doctor should take the embassy; but in a short time he also refused to enter into the business. On this it was agreed, that Mr. Jackson should write several letters, which were directed for a Mr. Stone, of the firm of Lawrence and Co. London. These contained inclosures for houses at Hamburgh and Amsterdam; and some of them, to the French agents, described the situation of Ireland at the time, invited an invasion, and pointed out the proper places to land. These letters having been sent to the post-office, the witness went to the secretary, and informed him of the subject of them, on which they were detained. The plot matured thus far, having been discovered, the prisoner was taken into custody. Such is the substance of the examination and cross examination of Mr. Cockayne, which, together with the documentary proofs alluded to, were the only evidence adduced.
He appeared very much agitated and confused throughout the whole of the investigation. Mr. Curran and Mr. Ponsonby and Mr. MacNally exerted their abilities in behalf of the prisoner. The former spoke at much length. He treated the conduct of Mr. Cockayne as extremely suspicious; and, from the pecuniary temptation thrown in his way to act the part he had done in the business, suggested to the jury that his evidence was entitled to very little credit. The Prime Serjeant replied. Lord Chief Justice Clonmel delivered a very able and impartial charge to the jury, who retired at forty-five minutes after three in the morning, and at half past four brought in a verdict-guilty, but recommended the prisoner to mercy. The Chief Justice enquired of the Jury if they had any doubts on their minds, that led them to such recommendation? The foreman answered immediately, "No, my Lord." The Jury would, in all probability, have acquitted the prisoner, had he not inadvertently acknowledged the letters, (which Mr. Cockayne swore to be his handwriting,) by explaining some mysterious passages in them. The witness's agreement with Mr. Pitt would otherwise, it is said, have invalidated his evidence.
The Jury were, Mr. Alderman Exshaw, Messrs. Pentland, Cranfield, Humphrey, Cowan, Simon, Oldham, Donovan, Ward, Forster, Smith, and Hodgson. The trial lasted seventeen hours and a half. The Judges, Clonmel, Boyd, and Chamberlain, consulted for a few moments. The Chief Justice then addressed the Jury, Gentlemen, you have acquitted yourselves with honour, and a conscientious regard for justice. It is more than a century since this land has been cursed with such a crime, and we trust your verdict will operate in preventing a repetition of it. Your recommendation shall be laid before government. Mr. Jackson heard the verdict with much apparent composure.
He was remanded to prison, and expected to receive the sentence of the law on the following Wednesday. On his being brought into Court to receive judgment, on the 30th of April, the clerk of the crown having read the indictment against the prisoner, and the conviction thereon, and asked him the usual question "What he had to say, why judgment of death should not be passed upon him"
Mr. Curran prayed that the caption of the indictment might be read, which being done, he objected that the court could not proceed to pass judgment, inasmuch as the copy of the caption of the indictment had not been served on the prisoner; and that the names of the grand jurors who found the bill of indictment were not set out in the record, and inasmuch as it did not appear what such grand jurors were sworn to do. Mr. Ponsonby spoke to the same point, and was followed by Mr. MacNally. The Attorney-General said, that, if there were any objection on the part of the prisoner, going to the legality of finding the indictment, or to the competence of any of the grand jury, who found the bill of indictment against the prisoner, or even to the sheriff, who impannelled the grand jury, it should have been made before he had pleaded to the indictment.
It being intimated to the court that the prisoner at this time appeared to be in a very dangerous situation, in point of bodily weakness, having some time before, and from his first being brought into court, appeared to be uncommonly agitated, the court ordered, that if any medical gentlemen were present, they should examine into the situation of the prisoner, and report their opinion thereon. Doctor Waite, who was in the county jury-box, went down to the dock, and after examining the prisoner, reported that he was in a sinking situation, and had every appearance of immediate dissolution. Mr. Kingsley, druggist, who said he was bred an apothecary, also examined the prisoner, and reported that he was dying. On this the court ordered that the prisoner should be remanded until further orders; but, in a few moments, the unfortunate man expired in the dock. The court immediately adjourned.
The coroner's inquest was held the next day, when surgeons Hume and Adrian opened the body, and deposed he died in consequence of having taken some acrid substance, but they could not tell what. His bowels and chest were greatly inflamed. In his pocket was a handkerchief, one of his pamphlets, and a very elegant short prayer, written by himself, praying to God to deliver him from his enemies, who were very great and violent. In a little box, left in the gaol, was only a miniature of his wife, and a letter from Mr. Ponsonby. He was brought into court in a very light pair of irons. It has been questioned whether his days were terminated by suicide or treachery; but the editors of these volumes have reason to know that he was his own murderer. When he was brought into court to receive judgement Mr. Curran, his leading counsel, was not arrived. Mr. Jackson beckoned counsellor M'Nally to him as he stood in the dock, to whom, on Mr. M'Nally saying there would be an arrest of judgment moved, with a forced and dying smile, taking him by the hand, he replied, "We have deceived the senate." This was in allusion to the dying exclamation of the conspirator Pierre to his friend Jaffier, in Otway's fine tragedy of Venice Preserved.
Great as may be the oppression of the British empire, the fate of this man holds out a dreadful warning to those who seek to rectify internal abuse, by foreign arms. Traitors, from the very nature of their dark and secret plans, are necessarily constrained to depend on the secrecy of the most abandoned and profligate; and thus they are betrayed.