Militia and Gunpowder Bills

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVI

In 1793 a Relief Bill was passed, in consequence of the war with France; a Militia Bill, and the Gunpowder and Convention Bills, were also passed, the latter being an attempt to suppress the Volunteers and the United Irishmen. A meeting of the latter was held in February, 1793, and the chairman and secretary were brought before the House of Lords, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a fine of £500 each.

The following year, January, 1794, Mr. Rowan was prosecuted for an address to the Volunteers, made two years before. Even Curran's eloquence, and the fact that the principal witness was perjured, failed to obtain his acquittal. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a fine of £500. His conviction only served to increase the popular excitement, as he was considered a martyr to his patriotism. An address was presented to him in Newgate by the United Irishmen, but he escaped on the 1st of May, and got safely to America, though £1,000 was offered for his apprehension.

The English minister now appears to have tried the old game of driving the people into a rebellion, which could be crushed at once by the sword, and would spare the necessity of making concessions; or of entangling the leaders in some act of overt treason, and quashing the movement by depriving it of its heads. An opportunity for the latter manoeuvre now presented itself.

A Protestant clergyman, who had resided many years in France, came to the country for the purpose of opening communications between the French Government and the United Irishmen. This gentleman, the Rev. William Jackson, confided his secret to his solicitor, a man named Cockayne, The solicitor informed Mr. Pitt, and by his desire continued to watch his victim, and trade on his open-hearted candour, until he had led him to his doom. The end of the unfortunate clergyman was very miserable. He took poison when brought up for judgment, and died in the dock. His object in committing this crime was to save his property for his wife and children, as it would have been confiscated had his sentence been pronounced.