The life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter VIII.

CHAPTER VIII. This chapter takes us through the council elections in 1835 up to the end of 1836. Again, no mention of family, even though by this stage there were five children. Three teenagers, a ten-year old, and a six-year old, with one more daughter to come. The Municipal Reform Bill had followed the 1832 Reform Bill which extended the franchise, and reformed constituencies, and had re-organised local government. In Liverpool’s case, it increased the electorate to all rate-payers changing the corporation from a self-selected group of freemen.

 

In December, 1835, municipal affairs were creating much stir in Liverpool. The Municipal Reform Bill had become law in the preceding September, sweeping away all close corporations and restoring to the citizens their ancient municipal rights. The Corporation of Liverpool, which had usurped these privileges since the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Elizabeth [1586 – two hundred and fifty years] , had been composed of forty-one self-elected members, altogether irresponsible in their management of local transactions. Freemen alone had the right of voting for the mayor and electing the member to represent the borough in Parliament. Accordingly, the Liverpool corporation strenuously opposed the passage of the Municipal Reform Bill. It petitioned Parliament to be heard in its defence against the report of the commissioners on the state of municipal bodies, but the Legislature paid no heed to its prayer and made no exemption in favour of the borough. Henceforth every ratepayer who had resided three years in the town was entitled to have a voice in its government.

The town itself was divided into sixteen wards, each ward to elect three councillors. Mr. Walmsley was invited to stand for Castle Street, and in his address to the electors he stated his tenets. ” The principles I shall advocate at the board will be based upon my earnest conviction that civil and religious liberty is most consistent with Christianity, and I hold that the interests of mankind are best advanced by the man whose conduct in social life shows him to be guided by the rule of doing unto others as he would they should do to him.” ” My support,” he continued, ” shall be given to measures having for object the distribution of equal privileges, the reduction of local burdens, the extension of education, and the employment of the corporation funds in a way that may best conduce to the improvement of the town.”

The election took place amid considerable excitement. The first return showed the Liberals at the head of the poll in Castle Street Ward, Mr. Walmsley heading the list. At half-past four, Mr. James Branker announced the result. Forty-three out of forty-eight councillors were Liberals. Henceforth Mr. Walmsley’s position was no longer merely that of the private citizen amassing wealth for himself and family — he was a member of a body on whom devolved the duty of legislating for the general good. As member of the watch committee, he noticed that though the ” Old Charlies “ had nominally disappeared, and had been replaced by one hundred and thirty watchmen with superintendents and inspectors, they were for the most part aged and inefficient, nor were they worked on the crime-preventive principle.

The plan laid before the council for the new police was modelled on Sir Robert Peel’s organisation of that of the metropolis. Let us leave Mr. Walmsley to speak for himself as to the manner in which he took the lead in this.

” I resolved to arouse public attention and stimulate public opinion to the pitch necessary for vigorous and decisive action. To do this I set about exploring through all their ramifications the dens of crime in the borough. My position enabled me to command the aid necessary for this purpose. It was a loathsome task to undertake, but I pursued it to the end, hunting vice through all its windings till I traced it to its nurseries, and it was often at the risk of personal danger that I made this survey. Many a time, too, have I felt a sickening recoil as the mournful and appalling spectacle unrolled itself before me. I saw for myself how gradual and easy was the descent to crime, how bright-faced boys became trained thieves in time. I saw with what facility stolen property could be converted into money. I entered mean obscure shops in by-streets and lanes, where rags and secondhand dresses were exhibited in the windows, and in the back rooms of which glittered the booty the receivers had bought from thieves. I went down into damp, dark cellars, unfit for human habitations, where men and women lived huddled together. These were necessarily the headquarters of disease and crime. Step by step, I collected my information, and accumulated proofs of my assertions ; then I embodied the whole in writing, and laid it before the municipal board. “

” When I read my report on the state of crime in Liverpool, the council refused to believe it. The amount of vice in the town, I calculated, cost society upwards of seven hundred thousand pounds to maintain. There were more than two thousand notorious male thieves, besides twelve hundred boys under fifteen. There were several hundred receivers of stolen goods. Some laughed at the report, deeming such a state of things impossible, others contended that it must be founded on mistaken statistics. The matter might have dropped here, but I demanded a committee of inquiry, and it was granted. The result was such as I had anticipated. I had understated rather than overstated my case. There was no over- colouring in the picture.”

” A discussion ensued in the town council as to whether the report should be published. Some feared that it would fix a stigma upon Liverpool ; others, on the contrary, maintained that it would redound to its credit, as being the first town that had boldly confronted the evil It was finally decided that five hundred copies should be printed. The subject was taken up and was much talked about, not only in Liverpool, but in other places, and the statements it contained appeared so incredible that again doubt was thrown upon its veracity.”

An eminent member of the British Association, taking a decided stand against it, afforded Mr. Walmsley the opportunity he sought. He wished to secure publicity to his report ; to show that crime is for the most part the result of wretchedness and ignorance, from whose taint many might be rescued if a proper system of police existed. At the following year’s meeting of the Association in Liverpool, he read a paper in which again he discussed the state of crime in the town. He dwelt upon the pernicious effects of cellars crowded with human beings, and called attention to the thousands of such cellars that existed in Liverpool. Evidence was there to support his statements. It is sufficient to chronicle as one result of his efforts in this direction, that an Act of Parliament was passed, and the cellars of Liverpool were condemned.

” I was now appointed,” says Mr. Walmsley, “ chairman of the Watch Committee. Fifty-three only of the old watchmen were retained. Two hundred and eighty new men were added to the force, under the orders of one head-constable, responsible for the conduct of the whole body, and having under him a staff of superintendents and inspectors. Mr. James Michael Whitty, late superintendent of the night watch, was appointed head-constable. His tact and experience greatly aided me in framing a code of rules and regulations that have stood the test of practice. To give the new force a sense of the dignity of its office was my first care. Superannuated and infirm men were no longer to fill its ranks. Each member of it was to be a picked man, bearing a high character before being enrolled. It was trained to be preventive so far as was involved in its being directed to watch closely all that had a tendency to corrupt morals. It took me three years to mature a code of regulations, and personally to inspect the carrying out of its details. Many hours of the day, and frequently large portions of the night, I devoted to the task.”

From Mr. Whitty’s own lips we have noted down the following testimony of Mr. Walmsley’s services in the organisation of the police. “ I had practically studied the question, and was thoroughly acquainted with what ought to be done. Mr. Walmsley knew this, and listened to me with great deference, soon mastering all details as thoroughly as I did ; so that when the new police was to be formed he became chairman of the watch committee. No abler man ever presided. He was indefatigable, and used to go his rounds with me night and day, taking great interest in the efficiency and discipline of the force. There was a strong opposition on the part of the mob, but gradually we overcame all difficulties. The police of Liverpool was established. It was regulated for the most part on the same principle as the London constabulary, but fewer men did the work better. Other towns sent down inspectors to obtain information, but very few succeeded in mastering its details. The Liverpool police force was the first established out of London, and Mr. Walmsley mainly contributed to this.”

One incident will show how Mr. Walmsley met the opposition of those hostile to the new system. No attempt to reform the morals and condition of the lower classes can ever be effectual, that does not include the surveillance of public-houses. The new police force was authorised to enforce very stringent regulations. The enemies of the reform council declared this an insult to the trade, and an infraction of justice by the municipality. The publicans announced their intention to convene a meeting to protest against the tyranny of the new police, and to censure the watch committee.

Before the day appointed for the meeting, at Mr. Walmsley’s invitation, a deputation of publicans waited upon him. He listened to the tale of their supposed grievances. In his answer he at once touched the right chord, appealing to their sense of right. In the words of the publican who related the interview : “Mr. Walmsley showed us that there ought to be no divided interests in a town, that each class of civilised society depends on the other. He pointed out the great injury done to morals by disorderly public- houses, making us ashamed of our opposition to the police, and changing it into a desire to co-operate with it, in putting down customs that were a disgrace to the trade.” The deputation left with a sense that they had been practised upon by those who persuaded them that publicans were specially oppressed.

When the day appointed for the meeting came round to publicly protest against the new police force, to censure its organiser, the purport of the assembly was changed. The few promoters who spoke only did so to withdraw their names. Hearty praise was given to Mr. Walmsley, and before separating, the meeting passed a resolution ” that all publicans would henceforth join to help the police in the fulfilment of its duties.”

The diminution of crime in Liverpool at the close of the first year was the best answer that could be made to the attacks on the police. The learned Recorder, on the occasion of the quarter sessions, October, 1836, congratulated the jury upon the present calendar not containing a moiety of the  cases set down for trial that did that of the previous year.

He ascribed this result to the new police force, organised in the town and trained on the principle of prevention. The grand jury made a presentment recording its high approval of the new system, of the way each man brought before the jury had given evidence, and the activity displayed in the detection and suppression of crime.

The life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter IV

CHAPTER IV.  This all takes place between 1816 – 1819.

The young couple took a house in Gloucester Street, at a rental of seventeen pounds per annum; the furnishing of which proved no easy matter, but by his old age there was no greater delight to Sir Joshua than the retrospect of these happy days, to tell of their many straits, and the difficulty they had to make the two ends meet, of their various vicissitudes and unvarying affection.

It was a time when the bare necessaries of life were hard to get, for the harvest of 1816 proved the worst England had known for years. The Corn Laws of 1815, prohibiting the importation of grain until homegrown wheat had reached eighty shillings per quarter, increased the distress. Misery was widespread over the country ; in Liverpool we find twenty thousand persons depending upon parish relief for support, and to feed this starving multitude the rate of one shilling and threepence levied upon the pound. As it inevitably happens, the heaviest burden fell upon small incomes, and accordingly it became imperative upon Mr. Walmsley to devise some means by which to increase his.

“My first resolve,” he says, ” was that my duty to my employers should not be interfered with, nor the time I owed them encroached upon. To solve this problem of reconciling the two conflicting interests seemed no easy matter, yet it was not long before I hit upon a plan, and I set to work at once. At the county markets, of which Warrington and Manchester were the principal, I was getting well known. My discrimination in grain had earned me a reputation. I now determined to try some modest speculations on my own account. I therefore bought small packets of rice, arrowroot, Indian corn, and disposed of them at those markets. My plan succeeded beyond my expectations. It saved us from penury. Those small speculations in grain succeeded so well in the county markets that I took a room, or rather a barn, in South John Street. There, in the early morning, I weighed out my packages and carried them to their various destinations. I was never a moment behind time at Messrs. Carter and Piers’ office, although before this regular business hour I had often done a hard morning’s work. I never slackened my energy in my employers’ interest, and in the early hours I was earning more than double the salary they allowed me. Thanks to Peter Evans’ training, on the Corn Exchange I was recognised as a first-rate judge of cereals. By plunging my hand into a sack, I could recognise by the touch alone the quality and kind of grain it contained.”

Queens Dock, Liverpool

To this period belongs an incident which Sir Joshua often related :

“ One morning, very early,” he said, ” I issued out of my modest warehouse, carrying a heavy bag of rice on my back. It was destined for Mr. Harrison, a ship-biscuit baker, residing close to the dock. The percentage on it would be barely two shillings. I quietly wended my way — few passengers being in the streets as yet — when suddenly on approaching Queen’s Dock, I found myself surrounded by a crowd of porters, shaking their fists in my face, yelling that I was encroaching on their rights, that I was taking the bread out of their mouths. They threatened to throw me and my bag into the river. The crowd of furious men was swelling. The expression of their faces, their gestures, told me that the execution of their threat was imminent. No help could be looked for from the ‘ Old Charlies.’  For one moment I was startled, then I leaned my back and my bag up against a wall. I shouted at the top of my voice, bidding them be still. I told them, I too was poor, poor as the poorest of them. I was the last who would encroach upon the poor man’s rights, but I claimed that right for myself — the right to earn honestly what lay in my power. I told them what percentage this bag of rice would bring me, scarce enough to pay one of them to carry it to its destination ; and this I could not give, for it would be the price of my dinner.”

“The words appealed to the men’s sense of fair play, and their yells were turned to cheers. When I moved on they walked behind me in procession, hurrahing lustily. Mr. Harrison, attracted by the noise, came to his door to ascertain its cause. He was not a little astonished to see his expected rice-dealer coming towards him, his bag hoisted on his back, surrounded by a cheering crew of dock-porters. He could scarcely believe his eyes, but when I told him the story of that morning’s adventure, he offered there and then to take me into partnership. The days of my apprenticeship however not being ended, I could not accept his offer.”

Circumstances were brightening in the little household in Gloucester Street When, after two years, the eldest son was born, [Again this is a little hazy with the facts, Joshua Walmsley II was born in 1819, four years after the marriage, and Elizabeth Walmsley, the eldest daughter was almost two.] Mr. Mulleneux, who had been watching his son-in-law’s career, forgave the two offenders. His daughter’s husband might be poor, but he was made of the right stuff; his principles and aims were upright and manly, and his determination to carry them out indomitable.

The following is the account Sir Joshua gives of his coach-travelling days, as Messrs. Carter and Piers’ salesman :

” The speed at which coaches travelled now was very different from the slow old days of my childhood. Once I remember having left Liverpool at seven in the morning, breakfasting at Prescott, dining at Warrington, taking tea at Hallam’s Green, eating Eccles cakes at Eccles, and reaching Manchester at eight. The thirty-six miles had taken thirteen hours to perform. Now the thirty -six miles were accomplished within three hours and a half. Travelling had become safe too. Highwaymen were almost an extinct race. During the time I travelled thrice weekly between Liverpool, Warrington, and Manchester, there was but one coach robbery on record, and by a sort of poetic justice the robbed man was himself his employer’s robber. The hours of travel we often spent in playing whist. There was a Quaker whose name was well known in Liverpool, a worthy member of the Society of Friends. He often travelled down by the Warrington coach, or in the gig. He did not play whist himself, but he lent his great- coat to be spread on the players’ knees to form a temporary table. He also held the candle for them when it was too dark to distinguish hands. With unaccountable interest he watched the game, and often when I was about to play a wrong card he would jog my elbow, a hint I always followed.”

Mr. Walmsley had long been following with keen interest the progress of steam navigation. He foresaw that this marvellous propelling power would usher in a new era in commerce. Men’s minds were divided on the subject, some holding the expectation of any great change for the better resulting from it to be visionary, whilst others watched and half believed.

Mr. Egerton Smith, in the columns of The Liverpool Mercury, strenuously advocated the use of steam to tow sailing-vessels out to sea. Pointing to the ruinous delay caused to merchants by the prevalence of north-west winds off the coast, detaining whole fleets for weeks in the Mersey, he urged that by the use of steam they might be towed out and go on their way, and also that during calms the river and docks might be relieved from momentary pressure.

Gradually he went further and collected evidence to prove how steam might be applied to sea-going ships.

” The famous Dr. Lardner vigorously opposed the idea. He admitted that on the calm waters of the great American rivers it might work, but to apply it to ocean-going ships was insanity. At a lecture, to which I listened with breathless attention, the doctor laughed to scorn the notion of steam as an ocean- going motive power. He stated boldly and decisively that not only was it an impossibility, but that it would ever remain so, that no vessel ever could cross the Atlantic and carry her own coal. This he theoretically demonstrated to the satisfaction of his hearers and himself. On the 30th June, 1815, I formed a unit in a great crowd assembled on the frontage towards the river. About noon of that day arrived the first steamboat ever seen on the Mersey. I shall never forget my emotion as I watched the strange ship ploughing the waters, and sending puffs of smoke upwards in the air.”

Beaumaris and the Menai Straights

He records his first trip in a steamer :

“ One of the first steamships seen on the Mersey was placed at the disposal of the mayor, Jonathan Hollinghead, and the municipality, in order that by means of a short trip to Beaumaris and back they might satisfy themselves of the practicability of steam as a motive power. A ticket was offered me, and I gladly availed myself of it. It was a glorious day, but just sufficient sea on to make the plunging of the vessel testify to the power of the engine. The destination was reached in safety, and the mayor and his guests landed, visited this lovely and romantic spot, then once more embarked, and the St. George steamed out of the little harbour amid the wild cheers of the inhabitants, who crowded the shore to behold the crowning wonder of the age. The afternoon sun was shining brightly, the sea had gone down. On deck a bounteous repast was laid, the host’s jovial merriment communicating itself to all his guests. Presently two Manx herring-boats were seen luffing up into the wind, their sails shivering to slacken their way, in order that the fishermen might gaze on a vessel advancing without sails. Willing to gratify them, the captain slackened speed, and the St. George steered right between the two tiny craft. The boats, as it neared them, both filled and stood on the same tack. The breeze was fair, and they easily kept way with the steamer, one to starboard, the other to port. Suddenly, one of our party seized an apple and flung it at one of the fishermen. Another and another followed, then a volley, and the mania spreading, apples, oranges, cakes were thrown in a perfect storm. It was the broadside of the ship-of-war together with the file-firing of the marines. The mayor forgot his dignity and shouted with glee. Aldermen and common-councilmen grew young again, and grave grey-haired men pelted and shouted like children. A moment the fishermen were staggered and utterly bewildered, then with a howl of vengeance, they seized upon their finny prey, and the air grew dark with herrings. They fell in showers upon the assailants, the deck was slippery with them, the table was covered with them, still on they came, thicker and faster.

‘Go ahead full steam !’ shouted the captain, and the St. George obeyed, drawing out of Herring reach, while the mayor gave a parting cheer, and hurled his hat in defiance in the direction of the Manxmen, whose responding shouts were heard as the lost hat bobbed up and down on the waves.”

Thus a naval encounter marked Mr. Walmsley’s first trip to sea.

The time of his apprenticeship now approached its close. He could choose his future path. Messrs. Carter and Piers offered him a liberal salary to remain. Mr. Harrison was ready to take him into partnership. There was a third opening for him : Mr. Booth, a gentleman he had often travelled with, who had begun business two years before, also offered to make him his partner. It had often occurred to Mr. Walmsley that a first-rate and secure business might be got together in the corn trade by buying brokers. Mr. Booth agreed to the plan, and Mr. Walmsley closed with the offer. His reputation at the different markets, his knowledge of all his future customers, had formed for him an extensive commercial acquaintance, and he felt sure of success.