The life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter V.

CHAPTER V.  This is early in the 1820’s, and a rather bizarre chapter. At this point, Josh and Adeline had two very young children, so there has to be some very strong reasons for him to be following a debtor all the way to France. The story raises almost as many questions as it gives answers. Was he owed a lot of money, was the debtor a member of the family? The reference to ” the riot and hard drinking going on of a Sunday afternoon in the lower parts of Liverpool,” has a certain irony given that Adeline’s family, the Mulleneux were distillers in the city for a number of generations, and her brother John Robinson Mulleneux was a “porter brewer”.  The Sunday League was a cause Josh took up in the 1850’s to open museums to the people on Sundays – their object, they said, was “the moral and intellectual elevation of the people”.

The terms of the partnership were that Mr. Walmsley should begin by receiving one-third of the profits. With this stimulus he set to work, determined to make the firm respected through Liverpool, and to earn the wealth that would give him power and justify the confidence placed in him. Mr. Booth had been two years in business when Mr. Walmsley joined him, yet as broker he had not made much progress. Soon, however, the firm felt the influence of the strong hand that now had the principal guidance of its affairs.

During the first two years, it was part of Mr. Walmsley’s business to attend the country markets. There he met the farmers, and learned from them the condition of the agricultural districts. By this intercourse, combined with his keen observation, he gained a rare tact and foresight in harvest prospects. This, added to his singular knowledge of grain, was destined to prove invaluable to him later on, when the sliding- scale system came into operation, and when success in the trade was to depend chiefly on a happy calculation of the forthcoming harvest. These years amongst the farmers taught him other lessons besides.

“ I learned then,” he says, ” the fact that an abundant harvest was looked upon as a calamity by the growers of corn. They did not disguise that they regarded as a disaster what the people in the manufacturing towns deemed a blessing. To them agricultural plenty signified the agriculturist’s distress — low prices of wheat and high rents. Coming from a manufacturing town, where dearness of bread meant almost starvation, the antagonism between the interest of the mass of the people and that of the agriculturists impressed me strongly. It first turned my thoughts to principles which eventually ruled my whole course of life, and emphatically brought home to my heart the truths that unity of interest in a nation can alone ensure its welfare.”

Towards the close of Mr. Walmsley’s first year of partnership, an incident occurred that called forth so many traits of his character, and the circumstances of which illustrate so forcibly the manners of the day, that we give in full his account of it, only reserving the name of one of the principal actors therein.

” Several cargoes of grain for various merchants had been sold to a young dealer in Liverpool, who seemed to be doing well and enjoyed good credit. Suddenly he disappeared, a debtor to a large amount.”

” A meeting of creditors assembled, and I was asked to follow the debtor. I accepted the charge, determining if it were possible to find the man, recover the money, and reclaim the defaulter by representing to him the ruin he entailed upon his family, and persuade him to return and meet his creditors. That night I reached Congleton only to find myself too late. Taking with him his horse and gig, the defaulter had ere this reached Birmingham. To Birmingham I followed. It was difficult for a stranger to trace out one individual in a crowded city ; but I ascertained that my man had passed the night there, and leaving his horse and gig behind him, had taken the coach to London. Into that gig I stepped, using the same coachman. Time, however, had been wasted at Liverpool ; and when I reached Gerard’s Hall, Basing Lane,[was an inn, and coffee house in the City] it was only to find that the fugitive, after remaining there one night, had taken his carpet-bag and had sought the security of the London streets.”

” What was to be done by a stranger in the great city, without so much as a letter of introduction to help him ? The police was a force somewhat more numerous and more active in limb than the watchmen in Liverpool ; but it was not yet reformed by Sir Robert Peel, and there were peculiarities in its organisation. Before long it was borne in upon me that an impartial observer might be justified in the belief, that it was a body cunningly devised to protect malefactors rather than to prevent crime and pursue offenders. No help could I expect from this quarter, and how without its aid could track my offender ?”

” I ordered a number of handbills to be printed, offering a ‘handsome reward ‘ to any informant. Thereon the personal appearance of the young defaulter was elaborately portrayed. Who was to circulate these handbills, and to whom were they to be given ? I resolved to circulate them myself. “

” For three weary days I walked through the London streets from early morning till late in the evening, giving to every cabman on every stand one of my printed bills. When the drudgery of the day was over, I went to places of public amusement, not for the sake of the entertainment, but to scan the faces of those present. Late on the third night I was returning home tired, but satisfied I had done what man can do to fulfil my mission, when I overheard the following dialogue between two porters standing at the door of my inn.”

“l say, Jim, that chap from Liverpool thinks himself mighty clever, with his handbills, and his a-trudging through the mud ” said one, “ but don’t he wish he may get it ? “

” Removing the short clay pipe from his mouth, the fellow addressed puffed out a long wreath of smoke and laughed, “ Ay, ay ; does he take us for fools with his ”handsomely rewarded?” Don’t we know what that means — just nothing at all. If he’d said he’d give a “ fiver,” we’d ‘a found his individual sharp enough. Bill ? “

“ That ‘ud a bin two pun ten each,’ Bill was calculating, when I turned away deeply mortified. They were right ; my efforts had been thrown away, for I had overlooked the essential condition of success.”

“ Next morning I was up before dawn, rectifying my mistake. I obliterated the ‘handsomely rewarded” and wrote down, ‘five pounds,’ in the bills in my possession, directing new ones to be printed. Then once more I set out to distribute those myself, placing two in the hands of my unconscious counsellors. From the police I expected little; five pounds was too modest a sum to waken up their dormant faculties. ! My second tramp, with the golden promise held out of a ‘ fiver’ proved as fruitless as the first. I was contemplating returning to Liverpool a beaten man, when one day, sauntering down Cheapside, still distributing my handbills, a tap on the shoulder made me look round, and the pleasant sight of the genial face, broad-brimmed hat, and stiffly cut coat of the Quaker friend from Liverpool greeted me. ‘ Thee won’t find him here,’ he said, and he proceeded to tell how a letter from the fugitive to his wife had been intercepted. It was dated Brighton. He was on his way to America, and he asked her to join him there.”

“Forgetful of past failure, I started off in pursuit. At Brighton I found the runaway had gone to Dieppe. Days passed before another vessel sailed. I had now provided myself with a London detective, a shrewd and experienced man, for ignorant as I was of the habits and laws of France, to have followed alone would have been useless. At last we started for Dieppe, there to learn that the delinquent had gone on to Havre. Thither we followed, and that night ascertained the fugitive was still there. The net was tightening round his feet. I knew the man and the haunts he would choose. In the third restaurant we entered we saw him at dinner with some American friends. The man I had sought for days through the London streets, whom I had pursued across the sea was there, only divided from me by a thin partition. I sprang forward to seize him, but the detective’s hand held me back.”

“We are not in England ; their ways are not ours,’ he said. ‘We must go at once before the commissary of police, make our declaration, and leave the capture to them.”

” To the commissary accordingly we went. The defaulter could not be arrested for debt, but we had a hold over him for travelling under a false passport. I offered to remain under the surveillance of the police until papers were procured from England. Orders for arrest were issued, and we were politely bowed out. I had a presentiment of being baffled ; but when I asked if there was any danger of escape, the commissary laughed, shrugged his shoulders, and assured me that at ten o’clock on Monday morning, if I came to the police-office, I should find my prisoner waiting for me. There was nothing to be done but to obey.”

” The following day was Sunday. I strolled along the quay, the cliffs, and the town. It was a beautiful day, and all the inhabitants of Havre had turned out of doors. They thronged the jetty, and strolled about the shore. Whole families were out together, from the little children tumbling about to the grandfathers playing with them. The merry-go-rounds were in full swing, violins were scraped, ninepins were being knocked down, games were going on in all directions. What fresh clean caps the women wore ! The men had clean ‘ blouses,’ the very fish-women had extra long earrings and bright stockings under their short petticoats. Sunday was evidently considered here a day of gladness. Priests in long black robes were going in and out amongst the crowd chatting with their parishioners, and enjoying the surrounding brightness. I retired to a lonely cliff, overlooking the sea, painfully impressed with the scene. Yet I could not but acknowledge that I saw no trace of drunkenness here, that the amusements were all innocent. With painful distinctness I contrasted the bright spectacle with the riot and hard drinking going on of a Sunday afternoon in the lower parts of Liverpool ; there the labourer drank himself to sleep or to temporary madness, here the working man spent the day in innocent recreation with his family. That Sunday the germ was planted that later on expanded into the Sunday League.”

” Punctual to our appointment, Monday morning at ten we presented ourselves to the commissary of police, only to find my foreboding realised. The prisoner had escaped. The police, piqued at their failure, made every possible effort to retrieve it.”

” Expresses were sent out in every direction, but the fugitive slipped through the noose thrown around him. Had he seen me that Saturday night, and secreted himself in some outward-bound vessel for America? By the commissary’s order, every vessel in the port of Havre was searched, and at every search I was present At last one day an American ship was weighing anchor. Suspicion was aroused. We boarded her, and searched every nook and cranny. Suddenly I detected a space between two bales; pushing my hand down I clutched a human head, and triumphantly dragged its unfortunate owner from his place of refuge. He was not the man I sought, but a murderer for whom the police had long been on the look-out With this incident ended my search. I had failed, and my failure had been caused by some foolish formality. The insufficiency of the police, the intricacies of the system as it then existed, were forcibly brought home to me on this occasion.”

” Some time elapsed before tidings were obtained of the fugitive. It then appeared that he had seen me that Saturday night at Havre. As he was jovially dining with his friends he had caught sight of me. All the time he had been aware that he was pursued, and that I was his pursuer. During that time, where- ever he went, he declared afterwards, he carried two pistols — one to shoot me with, the other to shoot himself, rather than surrender his person. That Saturday night he had fancied himself safe, and had left his portmanteau and pistols at his inn ; while we were making our report he escaped, not returning to his hotel, but making for Dieppe, from thence to England, then on to America. The pistols and portmanteau were found by the French police, and handed over to me. I did not know then what work the weapons were intended for ; my object had been to persuade the man to come home, boldly meet his creditors, and save his reputation. I thought I had arguments strong enough to prevail ; but it was fortunate we had not met face to face, for the man who had vowed to kill me was reckless and desperate, and would assuredly have kept his word.” 

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