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


CHAPTER XI

The dynamiters and their work - Patrick Ford's " Skirmishing Fund " - The Irish National League Convention, 1881 - The Convention of 1886 - The Queen's jubilee plot - The dynamite plot of 1896; the case of Ivory alias Bell-Home Office consultations - An interview with Lord Salisbury - Luncheon at Walmer - Quixotic action of the law officers - Changed relations between Great Britain and the United States - Amnesty of Fenian convicts in 1869 - Rescue plots - Plot to murder Mr. Chamberlain - The Transvaal Raid - Proceedings at Bow Street against Dr. Jameson, &c. - Criticism of our methods of taking evidence.

SIR HENRY JAMES'S estimate of the dynamiters and their work was just. Indeed, no language could be too strong to characterise such miscreants and to denounce their projects. And people need to be reminded of these things, for a new generation has grown up that knows nothing of them. In 1877 the Fenian Skirmishing Fund, established two years before by Patrick Ford of the Irish World newspaper, was transferred to a Committee with O'Donovan Rossa as Secretary. But Rossa was accused of embezzling the money and was soon shelved. In 1881 a charge of the same kind was brought against Ford himself; and in his defence he unblushingly published the history of the fund in his newspaper, giving the names of the trustees, and declaring that they held the money in trust " to lay the big cities of England in ashes." And Ford's was the first signature to the public circular summoning the Irish National Convention of that year, at which some of Mr. Parnell's principal lieutenants were present. The proceedings of that Convention were open, and they were reported in Irish-American newspapers. But, as the Fenian leader John Devoy imprudently disclosed in The Irish Nation, " the number of conferences and caucuses held in the intervals between the sessions of the Convention was almost without number, and it was here the real work was done," the real work being to further the dynamite campaign.

In other words, the public convention was merely a screen behind which the Fenian outrage-mongers settled their plans. "Our policy," they declared in a secret circular issued to the Fenian lodges, " will be to make assaults in all directions, so that the suffering, bitterness, and desolation which follow active measures shall be felt in every place." And the dynamite outrages in this country during succeeding years were the outcome of those meetings. I may here record that thirty-two of the dynamite emissaries were brought to justice, and seventeen of them received life sentences.

The scheme of using the annual Irish National Convention to further the Fenian outrage campaign succeeded so well in 1881 that it was followed in subsequent years, and with very practical results in 1883 and 1886. The public meetings of the 1886 Convention, which were attended as usual by some of the Parnellite M.P.'s, ended on August 19th ; and on the following day the Fenian caucus met and issued a circular announcing the early renewal of active operations; " a pyrotechnic display in honour of Queen Victoria's Jubilee" -being specially indicated. The main particulars of that hellish plot have been already given, and I need not repeat them here. And if I speak of the last dynamite plot of ten years later I do so, not only because it is noteworthy as being the last of the series, but also because it illustrates the quixotic principles on which we deal with outlaws charged with these fiendish crimes. It is connected, moreover, with an interesting episode in the course of my official work.

Ivory, alias Bell, was the leader of a gang of dynamiters who crossed the Atlantic in August, 1896. He landed at Antwerp and made his way from there to Glasgow, where he was arrested on September 12th. His chief confederate, Tynan by name-the No. 1 of the Phcenix Park murder plot-came to Boulogne, and the others found what they supposed to be a safe retreat at Rotterdam. But they were all arrested by the local police, and they were held in custody until the collapse of the case against Ivory. And the cause of that collapse is the point of my story. The gentleman who deserves the credit of exposing the plot profited, of course, by information received from one of the party, a man who had gone as far as was safe for him to do in checking the schemes of his confederates. When I reported the case to the Secretary of State, the fact that one of the gang had given information seemed to him to be a bar to a Government prosecution. I urged that if such a view were to prevail, all Police action in dealing with organised crime would be paralysed ; and as the case involved a demand for the extradition of the men in custody at Rotterdam and Boulogne, Sir Matthew Ridley decided to lay the matter before Lord Salisbury, and he directed me . to accompany him.

Next morning we travelled down to Walmer, the Prime Minister being then at the Castle surrounded by his family circle. The Home Secretary laid the facts of the case before him, explaining the view he had formed. But he added, " Anderson differs from me entirely, and I will ask you to hear what he has to say about it." Neither while Sir Matthew Ridley was speaking, nor when I took up my parable, did Lord Salisbury indicate in any way what was working in his mind; but, "the arguments concluded," he asked a number of questions, and then gave his decision, adopting unreservedly the view I had been pressing.

As I am dealing with the lighter side of official matters I pause here, for at that moment the luncheon bell sounded, and Lord Salisbury rose and led us to the dining-room. No one else had yet come in, and as he sat down at the head of the table without indicating any particular place for me, my native modesty led me to take what I supposed to be " the lowest room." But when the house party gathered, the Marchioness took her place at that end of the table, and then the Marquis rose and came to sit by me on the other side.

It was quite a new reading of the parable !

The conversation during luncheon was full of interest. Among other matters, the French conseil de famille system was explained and extolled. In a recent case here a man who had inherited a fortune squandered it by gambling and dissipation, thus reducing his family to poverty, and Lord Salisbury explained the provisions of the French code for preventing disasters of that kind. The Channel Tunnel scheme also came up for discussion ; and speaking, as he said pointedly, only as a traveller, Lord Salisbury expressed a strong desire that the project might be realised. When I remarked that I often crossed the Channel for pleasure, the look he gave me, and the tone in which he repeated the words "for pleasure," made me glad I had already said my say on the dynamite case !

After luncheon Lord Salisbury brought me out to the terrace and kept me talking with him until Sir Matthew Ridley came to summon me to catch the four o'clock train to town. At table I had been a greatly interested listener, my part in the conversation being confined almost entirely to asking questions ; and on the terrace I tried to keep to the same role. But when two wills conflict, the weaker always gives way, and during the hour we sat there the Prime, Minister turned the tables on me, making me talk on various subjects, including, of course, Ireland and the Irish.

Another pleasant memory of that trip to Walmer was the generous assurance I received from the Secretary of State on our journey back to town that he was greatly gratified at my having satisfied the Prime Minister that the Ivory case might be allowed to proceed. And on the official file he afterwards expressed his " full approval " of all the :action taken by the Police. But it was not to be. The man was brought to trial before Mr. Justice Hawkins at the January, 1897, sessions of the Central Criminal Court, and on the second day (January 19th) I was summoned to another conference at the Home Office. I found the Law Officers in the Secretary of State's room, and I learned that, on hearing that one of the gang had given information, they had decided to withdraw from the prosecution. When the Judge took his seat on the bench next morning Ivory stood forward with a paper in his hand to address the Court, but the Solicitor-General interposed to announce the decision at which the Law Officers had arrived.

And now for my side of the story. The gentleman entrusted with the defence of Ivory had warned me months before that he was aware of the source of our knowledge of the plot, and that if the case proceeded he would expose the whole business as the work of an agent provocateur. My answer was that, while the credit of detecting the plot was not mine, I unreservedly accepted responsibility for everything that had been done ; and I advised him to consult his client before attempting that line of defence. On the very day of our last Home Office conference he called again to say, in strict confidence, that Ivory would withdraw his plea of not guilty if I would undertake to get him a light sentence. But he trusted to my honour not to inform either the Home Secretary or the Law Officers of his visit to me. I told him, of course, that on those conditions I could give no pledge of the kind. But I added that my relations not only with the Home Secretary and the Attorney- and Solicitor-General, but also with the presiding judge, were of such a character that I felt confident that if the prisoner would openly express regret for his share in the dynamite conspiracy I could obtain an early remission of his sentence. The Solicitor-General's intervention prevented the accused from making a statement in this sense on the third day of the trial.

Such are our ways with dynamiters. These men were not Britishers, but aliens who came over in time of peace to perpetrate outrages, which if committed by soldiers in time of war, would ensure them short shrift after trial by drumhead court-martial. And, as proved by the experience of the crimes which were brought to maturity, their victims were invariably people who took no part in our political life. And yet these miscreants were treated with a quixotic leniency that would not be extended to ordinary criminals. For the measures adopted to detect quasi political crime in no way differ from those by which every competent Police Force deals with organised crime of any kind. If the informant be the one who directs or finances the crime, he may reasonably be suspected of playing the agent provocateur ; but no suspicion of that kind ever rests on one of the rank and file. And while every man who takes part in ordinary crime does so freely and deliberately, these secret societies have ways of putting pressure on a member to join in acts which may not be to his liking.

And any highly trained Police ought to be able to thwart organised crime, whether the project be treasonable or fraudulent. But to catch a criminal who works alone and keeps his own counsel is a far higher test of skill. And in the case of dynamiters, it may also be a severe test of nerves. I never spent hours of greater anxiety than during one afternoon in February, 1894, when information reached me that a French tailor named Bourdin had left his shop in Soho with a bomb in his pocket. To track him was impracticable. All that could be done was to send out officers in every direction to watch persons and places that he might be likely to attack. His actual objective was the very last place the Police would have thought of watching, namely Greenwich Observatory. Travelling to Greenwich by tramcar, he entered the Park, and as he ascended the path leading to the Observatory he evidently took the bomb out of his pocket, and was preparing to use it, when it exploded in his hand, inflicting injuries from which he died after a few hours' suffering.

This case further illustrates what I have said about dynamiters and their crimes. In war the guns of an enemy would no doubt spare an astronomical Observatory, for none but savages would wish to injure an institution of that kind ; but these fiends are the enemies of humanity. And this Bourdin was an alien anarchist who was living here only by the courtesy of our law, or, I should be rather disposed to say, by the criminal apathy with which our law is administered. For the anarchist conspiracy is treasonable, and every one who even takes part in a Soho meeting in furtherance of its projects might be criminally charged - a fact that was ignored by the British delegates to the anti-anarchist convention held in Rome.

My mentioning that the Fenian dynamiters were aliens reminds me of the marked and happy change which has taken place in our relations with the Government and people of the United States.

When I came to Whitehall forty-three years ago the Secretary to the American Embassy in London-and he was a man of much influence at the Embassy-was an Anglophobe. And the Washington dispatches of that era contained many a stern and petulant remonstrance against the imprisonment of the American citizens who had taken an active part in the Fenian conspiracy in Ireland. Facts, moreover, seemed to give proof that there was some truth in the blatant boast of the American-Irish of that day, that the attitude of the U.S. Government toward Fenianism was one of benevolent neutrality. This was due in part, no doubt, to the influence of the Irish vote ; but the Irish vote would not have sufficed had it not been for the distrust and dislike of England which very generally prevailed in political circles. It was the fear of America that ensured " equal justice " for aliens and for British subjects who were convicted of treason or treason felony ; and "equal justice" is often flagrantly unjust. If the aliens had been hanged, and the British subjects had been treated with greater leniency, it would have done more to suppress Fenianism ; but it would have raised a tremendous storm in America.

I always pitied the Irish Fenian convicts of 1865 and 1867. The journalists who were sent to penal servitude in the former year deserved a better fate, and the men who took part in the " Fenian rising " of 1867 were hardly dealt with. And no one now living has a better knowledge of the facts; for when the prisoners of the " rising " in Co. Dublin-they were numbered by hundreds -were committed for trial, the Attorney-General entrusted to me the task of looking into all their cases, and advising him as to their relative degrees of guilt.

Judging, as they naturally do, by the ways of Irishmen who are prominent in political life, English people have come to form a very unfavourable estimate of our national characteristics. But the better sort of Irishman does not hate and slander every one who differs from him. On the contrary, he is glad to help a fellow-countryman, And to me it was that the Fenian convicts released in 1869 were indebted for being allowed to eat their Christmas dinner as free men. The question of granting such an amnesty had been for some time under discussion between Downing Street, Whitehall, and Dublin Castle, but it was not till the advent of Christmas that a final decision was arrived at ; and then it was that the sentiment of Christmas found vent in the matter. Mr. Gladstone expressed an earnest wish that their discharge should take place on Christmas Eve. This, however, was declared to be impossible, as it involved the preparation of a huge sheaf of warrants, each one of which had to be signed by the Queen.

I was with the Secretary of State when this was communicated to him, and at the same time the Premier's private secretary came in to express Mr. Gladstone's disappointment and distress. I turned to Mr. Bruce and offered the opinion that there was no difficulty whatever in the matter ; a single warrant would suffice, with a schedule giving the names of the convicts to whom it referred. A reference to "The Office" elicited that such a proceeding was " impracticable," and a hurried reference to the Law Officers resulted in their expressing a doubt whether it would be legal. This led me to remind Mr. Bruce that all the cases involved were Irish, and I obtained his leave to lay the matter before the Irish Law Officers, who happened to be then in London. After a brief conference in the law-room of the Irish Office, I returned with their decision in favour of my view. The warrant was prepared, a special messenger carried it to Windsor, and the convicts were released next day.

Cases of special gravity were not included in that amnesty, and when the Patrick Ford gang inaugurated their outrage campaign, one of their projects was a forcible rescue of the Fenian convicts still remaining in custody. And this presently gave place to the still wilder scheme of kidnapping some prominent public man-by preference the Prince of Wales or the Prime Minister! and holding him as a hostage for their release. This plot seemed so absurd that, although tidings of it reached me from a trustworthy source, I was disposed to scout it. But information to the same effect was received in Dublin Castle, with the additional detail that money to give effect to it had come from Ford's Skirmishing Fund; and the Irish Government considered that it ought not to be ignored. Such plots, I may remark, were not infrequently announced as an excuse for embezzling that fund, and I daresay the plot in question was in that category ; but nothing occurred on which to base a decision. For if any serious plot of the kind really existed, it was thwarted by the police precautions adopted at the time. And it is unnecessary to add that an attempt to give practical effect to it would have meant murder.

Murder plots were common with these criminals. That which culminated in the Phoenix Park tragedy is known to everybody, but the public know nothing of many similar plots that were thwarted by Police action. When Mr. Chamberlain visited America in 1896 there was a formidable plot to assassinate him at the home where he was sojourning in Pennsylvania. Facts which came to light convinced the local Police of the truth of the information received, and the American authorities deemed it necessary to take very special measures for his protection.

Yet another case of historic interest occurred in 1896. In February of that year Dr. Jameson and the other leaders in the Transvaal Raid of the closing days of 1895 were arrested and charged at Bow Street. Several of the troopers who took part in the Raid were brought to England by the Treasury to give information and evidence in the case. And the gossip of these men disclosed an incident connected with the Raid which escaped notice at the time. They declared that as they were marching straight for Johannesburg, with nothing to stop them, a stranger, who proved to be an emissary of wily old Kruger, appeared in the camp, coming from nobody knew where, and ingratiated himself with the military leaders of the expedition. He expressed great delight on learning the object of their march. But, he told them, they were on the wrong road, and he knew every inch of the country. Their trustworthy guide, in spite of his assurances and protests, was sent to the rear in disgrace ; and, led by Kruger's spy, the column was marched into the Boer ambuscade which brought the expedition to an end.

That case is associated in my mind with a question of much practical importance respecting the procedure in our criminal courts. The head of the C.I.D. seldom attends a police-court, but the historic interest and the importance of the Jameson Raid led me to go to Bow Street when the accused were brought up. But a few hours of it were as much as I could stand. The intolerable tediousness of the mode in which the evidence was taken was worthy of the Dark Ages. Counsel asked a question, and the witness replied. The Chief Magistrate and the lawyers sat waiting while, with great deliberation, the Clerk of the Court wrote down the answer, and read out what he had written. And then, provided no dispute arose as to the accuracy of the record, the next question was put to the witness. The odd shillings of the guineas marked on the briefs of the distinguished lawyers in the case would have paid the cost of employing several shorthand reporters, and the work of that afternoon might have been far better done in a single hour. For our present methods do not even ensure accuracy ; and of course a real cross-examination is often thwarted.

This reminds me of another betise that marks our proceedings in criminal courts. I refer to requiring that a witness, when repeating the statement of other persons, shall give their ipsissima verba, and in the first person. There is an old Bar story of a judge who cut in when counsel failed to get a truthful witness to " toe the line" in this way. "Witness," the judge asked, , did the prisoner say ` I stole the horse'? " " Oh, no, my lord," the man replied in a deprecatory tone, " your lordship's name was never mentioned."

I once had an experience of giving evidence on this system myself. At a dinner party at one of the historic houses of London many years ago, the conversation turned upon curries, and it was remarked that very few English cooks knew how to boil rice. I said that my cook excelled in that respect. "Keep her, drunk or sober!" exclaimed an old gentleman sitting near me. I did, and with evil consequences ! She had a follower, and, incited by an old thief of his acquaintance, he made the woman drunk one night, and together the two men raided the house. I was away with my family on my summer holiday when a telegram, announcing that " burglars had broken in," brought me back to town. As this was the fourth year that the woman had been left in charge of my house, I had no suspicions whatever of her honesty, and I talked with her freely about the felony. But the Police knew better, and they arrested her along with the actual thieves. Thus it came about that, some weeks after the event, I was called upon to give evidence against her. I felt perfectly competent to give the substance of all she had said to me, but I jibbed when called on to repeat in detail, and on oath, the exact words she used in the various conversations I had held with her. Though there is not one man in ten thousand who could do this truthfully after the lapse of several weeks, it was required of me, as it is required of every witness. It was with great qualms of conscience that I yielded. And when the case came on at the Central Criminal Court, I escaped discredit only by carefully reading up the report of what I had said before the Magistrate.

The system is as stupid as it is evil, and it tends to defeat justice. In the year of the Jameson Raid I succeeded in getting a good case against an infamous couple who had long been engaged in " the white slave traffic " ; but they escaped because their victim, a Belgian girl, could not be induced to commit this modified sort of perjury. As the Magistrate knew no French, the conduct of the case was practically left to the Clerk of the Court, a man whose knowledge of the language was not so great as his conceit, and he persuaded the Bench that the witness, a thoroughly respectable and truthful young woman, was unreliable because she adhered to a statement of the facts and the gist of her conversations with the accused.