In looking for events from the 18thC to play with in our co-written HistFic Slasher, REDSTONE, I came across this longer report of a break-in near Chester and thought this would be a good story to share on here.
I chose this one because:
(1) it’s wild – how did anyone survive the 18thC, good grief
(2) there’s a lot going on here, and the report seems to emphasise the villainy of the Irish which should be put into context of the hiberno-phobia of the time
(3) the family are the Porters but are the heroes this time
(4) one of the serving girls involved is Welsh and mentioned right at the end, unsurprising given the county’s demographic but it made me feel a bit more connected to the story
(5) Liverpool is mentioned and a ship bound to the West Indies and I’ve just recently taught a course that touched on Liverpool’s connections with the slave trade, so that context is relevant here too.
Chester is on the Anglo-Welsh border (the dotted line on the map below.)
I will do a bit of the context on Irish migration, 18th C Hibernophobia, and Liverpool’s connections with the West Indies at the end, after the transcript of the report. I’ve kept the original spelling and punctuation, but where the report double-spaces a sentence in lieu of starting a new paragraph because of space constraints, I’ve actually started a new paragraph just to break it up and make it easier to read.
The following story was told in detail by The Scots Magazine (Edinburgh), printed on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 1752, Vol. XIV.
At eight in the evening of Feb. I., five Irishmen (three of whom call themselves Richard Stanley, Edward Maccanally, and Patrick Boyd), armed with pistols, cutlasses and clubs, came to the Raike, a farm-house, two miles from Chester ; and opening the door, which was only latched, Stanley advanced briskly to John Porter the master, then at supper with his eldest daughter Eleanor, pointed a pistol towards him, and with dreadful oaths and imprecations threatened instantly to blow his brains out, if he did not deliver his money.
Then the rest of the gang rushed into the house, and bound the poor man with cords ; and having pinioned the daughter, obliged her to go up stairs with them.
Mean while the youngest daughter Margaret, about twelve years of age, who had at first sunk under a table through fear, stole out by the back door, locked it, and took the key along with her ; then went to the stable, got astride upon the only horse not haltered, and not daring to pass by the house, which was beset by the rogues, rode over the fields and ditches, to Pulford, two miles off, to call for her eldest brother.
Upon which, he and one Craven set out immediately.
The villains, after having been some time up stairs, came down to Mr Porter, who remained bound ; and Stanley said to Maccanally, “Stand fast, and blow his brains out, or by —- I’ll blow out your’s [sic].” They then searched his pockets, and took out about 14l. [£14] ; and Mr Porter declaring, that he had not received that day at Chester the sum which he expected, and which they insisted upon ; in order to a further discovery of money, they stripped down his breeches to his feet, dragged him toward the fire, and shewed an intention to lay him on it.
The eldest daughter on her knees begging his life, Stanley damned her, saying, they would burn him first, and her afterwards.
At that instant the son and Craven arrived ; and, though quite unarmed, rushed into the house. The son collared one of the villains, knocked up his heels, and with much difficulty wrested his cutlass from him ; and Craven, having seised a club, was not idle on his part.
One of the villains perceiving the daughter going to unbind her father, levelled a pistol at her ; but as he pulled the trigger, one of his own comrades was jostled between him and her, who receiving the shot in his breast, shrieked and dropt down dead. At the same time two other pistols were fired. The son had then quite mastered Stanley, the master of the gang ; and the daughter having unbound her father, he so heartily joined his son and Craven, that the three remaining rogues were glad to break through a window, and fly.
Young Porter, after securing his prisoner, hastened to Chester bridge, with his friend, and seized two more of the villains. The three Irishmen were the next day committed to Chester jail.
The fourth escaped to Liverpool, and went on board a vessel, of which his brother was cook, bound for the West Indies, and the ship got under sail ; but, the wind changing, was forced back.
The King’s boat, on searching the vessel, discovered the fellow by his wounds ; and he and his brother were sent in irons to Chester castle ; as was also another Irishman, Mr Porter’s hired servant, whom the rogues at first coming pinioned, but unbound afterwards, after securing his master ; and he continued an unconcerned spectator during the whole affair, and after it ran away.
Mr Porter, his son, a servant-boy, and a Welch girl, were wounded.
Brief Notes on this Story
Irish Migration and Hibernophobia in Britain
Irish stereotypes were very negative and often fuelled by religious antipathy. Irish migration to Britain was met with rhetoric of ‘swamping’, anti-Catholic vitriol and prejudice, fears of negative political impacts, job competition, and the usual alarms and dog-whistles around “cultural degeneration”. The rhetoric and concerns were amplified as migration waves increased, and were especially vehement by the 1830s and 1840s. It’s important to note that these 19thC attitudes weren’t born in a vacuum, but had the solid foundation of anti-Irish sentiment and negative stereotypes going back to the Middle Ages and the first attempts at conquest and colonisation by the Cambro-Norman and Anglo-Norman lords.
James VI of Scotland and I of England had displaced a large number of the population in the north of Ireland with Scottish Protestants in a deliberate programme of plantation and settlement, and in the mid-17thC Oliver Cromwell had gained the nickname ‘the Butcher of Ireland’ for his genocidal campaign to re-conquer Ireland after the 1641 rebellion.
So a report on the villainy of the Irish served the feelings of the time, and helped to cement the negative ideas about what happens when Irishmen work together, especially given the context of a risk of a more united Ireland regaining a collective sense of nationhood around this time.
Some Articles for Further Reading
The Rise of a New Ireland (1691-1750)
An Irish Parliament (1750-1800)
The Irish in Early Industrial Britain: George Cornewall Lewis’s Report (1830-1850)
A London Slum: Irish Migration and its Threat (1860-1870)
Liverpool & the West Indies
This report was dated 1752, so the ship bound for the West Indies in this report was certainly off to import a load of cargo from the plantations, and Liverpool was a major port for not only West Indian produce, but also directly involved in the transatlantic slave trade.
In 1700 Liverpool was a middling-sized fishing port with a population of 5,000 people. By 1800, 78,000 people lived and worked there, with thousands finding work because of the Transatlantic slave trade, building and equipping ships, and also in banking and accountancy from the money made by trafficking enslaved people. This continued even after Abolition – the 1807 Act had made it illegal to purchase slaves directly from the African continent, but slavery was only formally abolished in 1833. Ships still imported goods from the West Indies plantations that used enslaved people as workers, despite activists lobbying against this, which took the form of national boycotts of sugar and other demonstrations.
Although Liverpool merchants engaged in many other trades and commodities, involvement in the slave trade occupied the whole port. Nearly all the main merchants and citizens of Liverpool, including many of the mayors, were involved.
During the latter part of the 18th century, Liverpool was making about £300,000 a year from the slave trade. The rest of Britain’s slave trading ports put together made about the same amount again. In the 1780s Liverpool-based vessels alone carried more than 300,000 Africans into slavery. By 1795 Liverpool controlled over 60% of the British and over 40% of the entire European slave trade.