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The Lighter Side of My Official Life
by Sir Robert Anderson, 1910.
Full text below.


CHAPTER VII

Government action after the Phoenix Park murders - Col. Brackenbury's appointment at Dublin Castle - Gladstone's Coercion Act - The Explosive Substances Act, 1883 - The Dublin prosecutions - Policy of scare and panic : Mrs. Roundell's diary - A Sunday morning's experiences - Sir W. Harcourt's " dynamite moods " - Some typical incidents - Snubbing his colleagues - The Queen's jubilee dynamite plot - Mr. Monro's action.

I HAVE recorded how, as the result of a prolonged struggle, and at the cost of dismissing two of its members, the great see-saw Government of the eighties adopted a new Irish policy one Tuesday afternoon, and how an incident which occurred upon the following Saturday led to a complete reversal of that deliberate and grave decision. During the eighty years that had elapsed since the Union, Westminster had been content to draw upon the old Irish enactments framed in College Green, whenever the Irish got out of hand and needed special legislation to restrain them. But now a new Coercion Act was devised, such as even the Irish Home Rule Parliament had never dreamed of.' And special measures were adopted to administer it. An " Under Secretaryship for Police and Crime " was established at Dublin Castle, and Colonel (now General Sir Henry) Brackenbury was appointed to the office. In due course he appealed to me to represent his department in London.

I twice refused in the most definite way to accept his overtures ; but at last, under pressure from Sir William Harcourt, I had to comply. My position was a delicate one ; for being in the public service, I could not well make my private engagements a ground for refusing to undertake public duties. The remuneration offered me was liberal, and it was a pleasure to work with him. But his tenure of the post was brief; for when Lord Wolseley's Egyptian expedition was launched, a longing for military duty took possession of him, and he left the Castle.

The story of the eventful years that followed is matter of history, and I am not writing history. I have special reasons, moreover, for dealing lightly with that story. This much I would say, that while the principal events of the Fenian dynamite campaign of a quarter of a century ago are known, even to the generation that has grown up since then, very few people appreciate the labours by which that campaign was crushed and its emissaries were brought to justice. There is but one way by which crime can be suppressed, and that is by coercion, for every criminal statute is a " Coercion Act." And while in dealing with crime in Ireland the Legislature allows itself to be fooled by sentimental objections and clap-trap, no drivel of that kind gets a hearing when crime in England is in question. And so, when the dynamiters began their fiendish work, " ordinary law " was discarded, and a most extraordinary statute-Sir William Harcourt's Explosive Sub stances Act, 1883-was hurried through Parliament, with the result that the crime against which it was aimed was soon stamped out.

But for the English Coercion Act very few of the dynamiters could have been convicted. But for the Irish Coercion Act the Phoenix Park murderers would all have escaped the gallows. The English Act remains in force, and for a quarter of a century we have had no dynamiting.

These Irish Acts are allowed to lapse, and the outrage campaign is from time to time resumed. I had no part whatever in the Dublin prosecutions. They were admirably conducted, and the chief credit for their success was due to my brother, the late Sir Samuel Lee Anderson, then Acting Crown Solicitor at the Castle, and Mr. J. A. Curran, now a County Court judge, but then a Dublin police magistrate, who conducted an inquiry under a clause of the Act which authorised a Court to take evidence upon oath without the presence of any person charged with crime. I may here add the interesting fact that the first clue to the guilty men was a chance remark, dropped by one of the witnesses, about " a car with a white horse."

Although Colonel Brackenbury's leaving Ireland involved no immediate change in my duties, it sensibly lessened my pleasure in discharging them. I had neither responsibility for, nor sympathy with, the senseless and baneful policy of scare and panic that marked the years of Sir George Trevelyan's term of office as Chief Secretary. Not only were he and the Viceroy thus victimised, but also the ladies of the Viceregal Court. The following extract from Mrs. Charles S. Roundell's diary describes how they used to take an airing in those days :

"After luncheon Lady Spencer asked me to drive in state with her. We drove in a barouche and four, with postillions and outriders. An A.D.C. sat opposite to us with his revolver in his hand under the fur rug. Two footmen sat in the rumble behind, each wearing a powerful whistle hung round his neck by a red cord, and with pistols in a holster by his side. There followed two mounted soldiers with drawn swords in their hands and pistols in their holsters. In this fashion we drove through some of the principal streets of Dublin."

Even when the Invincibles were on the prowl, these ladies might have driven, or even walked, alone through any street in Dublin. I knew all that was doing over there ; but I kept to my own duties in London, and held my peace.

My work at Whitehall was many-sided. I continued to discharge my functions on the Prison Commission to the full satisfaction of my official chief in that department, I was retained by the Irish Government to look after their interests in London, and I had also a retaining fee from the Secretary of State in relation to political crime generally. Taking my Civil Service salary into account, my remuneration was reasonably adequate. But it was not easily earned ; and when the dynamite campaign began, my position was by no means a sinecure. I was in daily communication with Dublin Castle, and I kept up a private correspondence with our consuls in New York and other American cities, as well as with Le Caron and my other American informants. And never a week passed without my having to meet London informants, sometimes at my residence, and sometimes at out-of-the-way places for of course they never came to Whitehall.

A glance at my old diaries reminds me of many an arduous and anxious day's work. But I am not so egotistical as to suppose the details would be of interest to others. I will give one day's engagements, however, as a specimen. On coming out of church one Sunday morning (February 18, 1883) I found a police constable in uniform, with a hansom cab, awaiting me. He had been sent to fetch me to a conference at Sir William Harcourt's house. That a gentleman should be arrested on leaving church on a Sunday morning, and driven to the lock-up in a hansom is a rare event, and this was evidently the view taken by those of the onlookers who did not know who I was.

The Irish Government had called for the arrest of the wife of Frank Byrne, the League official who had provided the knives for the murderers of Cavendish and Burke ; and Sir William, as was his wont, summoned every one who could say any thing bearing on the case. The Under Secretary of State, Howard Vincent and myself were caught, and responded. After our consultation, Vincent and I drove to Westminster and made the needed arrangements. Later in the afternoon I was again summoned to Scotland Yard, the woman and her sister-in-law having been brought in. Then, after tea at the Savile Club, I made for Chelsea, where I had promised to address a meeting. After supper that evening I felt that I had done a fair day's work, and I sat down to enjoy my arm-chair till bed-time. But about half-past eleven o'clock one of my satellites arrived to tell me that another of the League women had come from Dublin, with money from the League Treasurer to enable the fugitive criminals of the League, who were then in France, to escape to America. I drove to Grosvenor Square, and having knocked up Howard Vincent, I put the case in his hands. But he coaxed me into relieving him of the job, and letting him go back to bed. So on I went to Scotland Yard, empowered to represent him for the night.

Coursing hares or shooting birds is fool's play compared with work of this sort, and I was so keen that I went out with the officers whom I entrusted with the case. But when I got home again at 3 a.m. I had taken nothing except the most uncommon catarrh I ever had in my life ! As I afterwards ascertained, my information was perfectly accurate. The woman was in the-house we were watching. But she slept there, instead of returning to her hotel as she had intended to do. Had she come out during the night, we should have seized that money. But the facts did not warrant our breaking into the house, and so I was baffled. In my Irish book I tell how grievously I suffered in Sir William Harcourt's good opinion because of my failure.

Though I say this, my relations with him were pleasant, and I had many proofs of his kindness. He had what Du Cane used to call his dynamite moods " at times ; but they were as brief as they were disagreeable, and I never served under any one to whom I could speak with so little reserve. I was always free of his room both at Whitehall and at his residence ; and while he was never annoyed by my coming to him, he sometimes resented my staying away. At one time, while the dynamite scare was acute, I deliberately kept out of his way until specially summoned to 7, Grafton Street. When I entered the room of the mythical round table -there was no round table in it-he ignored my salutation and his first words were, "Mr. Anderson, it's three weeks since you were last in this room." When Sir William called me "i Mr. Anderson," it was a clear case of " Stand from under" ; but after a while he sat down in one of his arm-chairs, motioning me to the other, and in his genial way he kept me talking with him for half an hour.

I had many similar experiences. And while most men resent being proved in the wrong, he never did. The day following one of the dynamite explosions he summoned me to Grafton Street, and read to me a long and elaborate minute he had prepared, apportioning my own duties and those of Scotland Yard in relation to Fenian work. He got very angry when I told him it wouldn't do, and he accused me of wishing to thwart him. But after a while we were seated in the arm-chairs, which stood on either side of the fireplace ; and forty minutes later he tore up the paper to which I objected, and, in dismissing me, desired me to come to his room at the House of Commons that afternoon. Sir William Harcourt's " dynamite moods" were not reserved for his subordinates. I might cite many incidents in proof of this, but one must suffice. When sent for one day on his return from a Cabinet Council, I found Lord Northbrook and Mr. Forster with him. A dispatch had been received from Washington, he told me, reporting a serious dynamite plot, and asking for instructions relative to an offer from one of the parties to betray his co-conspirators on certain specified conditions. He gave me in a few words the substance of the dispatch, warning-me that it was most secret, no one outside the Cabinet having seen it; but they wished to have my advice upon it.

The Chief Secretary was perambulating the room ; and the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was seated by the fireplace with the dispatch in his hand, had evidently been holding forth upon it when I entered. He resumed his say ; but before he had got far, Sir William snatched the paper from him, much as a quick-tempered teacher might treat a schoolboy, and handing it to me, he said in a petulant way, "There, Anderson, what do you think we ought to do ? " I did not tell him that I had read it that morning in the Secretary of State's room at the Foreign Office ; but I quietly re-perused it, and then expressed the opinion I had formed upon it. "Quite right," said be; and without another word to his colleagues, my chief took up his pen and proceeded to minute the paper, muttering as he did so something about " people who don't understand." Lord Northbrook and Mr. Forster walked out of the room. Is it strange that when his chance came to succeed to the Premiership his former colleagues refused to serve under him ?

The acceptance of the informant's offer would have made us practically a party to the intended crime ; for the first payment which he claimed for his information would have been used for the furtherance of the plot. No agent of the British Government would become intentionally an agent-provocateur; but in those days it needed both vigilance and shrewdness to avoid blundering into a false position which would have involved that reproach. Such a case occurred in 1887. There was a hellish plot to bring about a dynamite explosion in Westminster Abbey during the historic ceremony of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, and one of the principal agents in that plot was taken into pay on behalf of our Government. But the scheme was discovered and thwarted by Mr. Monro, then Assistant Commissioner of Police, who most fortunately had at that time been placed in charge of the Secret Service work. The arrangement had been made during a disastrous interval before his appointment ; and he had no knowledge of it until a prominent Fenian-I will here call him Jinks-arrived at Boulogne to carry out his twofold mission on behalf of the American Clan-na-Gael and the British Government. He brought his wife to Europe with him and posed as a tourist. Ex-Superintendent Thomson of Bow Street, who had formerly served in the detective department at Scotland Yard, was at once sent to Boulogne, and he put up at the hotel where Jinks was staying. He too had his wife with him ; and as the women struck up a friendship, the men soon came together.

When Mr. Monro had gained full knowledge of the plot he sent Superintendent (afterwards Chief Constable) Williamson to Boulogne to deal with Jinks. The man was notified that the bargain made with him was now repudiated, and he was warned against crossing the Channel.

Police work has often a humorous side to it, and the situation here was amusing. Williamson sat down at the same table with Jinks and Thomson ; the ex-Superintendent posing as a stranger to his former chief and colleague in the police, and hobnobbing with the Fenian whom he had come to watch, and possibly to denounce. Williamson was on tenterhooks lest Mrs. Thomson should " give away the whole show " ; but she fulfilled her part admirably ; and Jinks went back to America in ignorance of the counterplot of which he had been the victim.

But those who were watching events were in no mood just then to appreciate the humour of the piece. The situation was extremely grave, and gave cause for deep anxiety. It was known that the subordinate agents of the plot were here, but the police were unable to trace them. The danger was lest, on finding that they were deserted by their chief, they should act on their own account. The hope was that, left to themselves, they would remain inactive. The fear was falsified and the hope fulfilled.

To have carried out the original scheme, and to have seized these men and brought them to justice, letting the agent who betrayed them return to New York with his pockets lined with English gold-this would have been ostensibly a brilliant police coup, but it would have been achieved by discreditable means. On the other hand, an outrage in the Abbey at the jubilee service would have been a disaster of such magnitude that some might think any means legitimate to avert it. Fiat justitia, ruat ccetum, is a pagan maxim. The Christian version of it is, fearlessly to do the right and trust to an overruling Providence. But it needed a strong man to accept the risks, and such a man was then at the helm. But he never received the credit which was his due, for the public knew nothing of what I have here detailed.

Men engaged in work of this kind do not indulge in hysterical emotion. But I remember as though it happened yesterday my visit to Monro on that eventful day, after the Queen had reached the Palace and the Abbey guests had scattered. The intense anxiety of many days was at an end, and we gripped each other by the hand without a word from either of us.