The Peel Web

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The employment of government spies

Government spies had been used by Lord Sidmouth in the period 1815-22 and the practice was continued by Robert Peel when he was Home Secretary (1822-27 and 1828-1830). In this period, Sir John Byng commanded the troops in the Northern District. The following extracts are taken from the letters from Henry Hobhouse to JF Foster, of Manchester and were written in 1826.

17 July: Mr. Peel has desired me to ask you whether you have at your command any means of acquiring private intelligence of what is going on among the disaffected in Manchester and its neighbourhood. It is manifest that they are availing themselves of the present distresses to throw the country into confusion And it is therefore become very important to ascertain what they are about. I am aware that something has passed on this subject between yourself and Sir John Byng But lest you should feel yourself cramped on the score of expense, Mr Peel desires me to say that he will ensure your reimbursement At the same time it is necessary to put you on your guard against a lavish expenditure, because it tends to defeat its purpose; and also against having communication with any nun who fans the flame or attends a meeting with any real object except that of defeating the designs of the disaffected.

21 July: I have to thank you for your favour of Tuesday evening, which is very satisfactory to Mr. Peel. He however desires me to say that whenever you can establish a check, the character of the person with whom you communicate is of less importance. And as to the ulterior use of such a person, speaking from experience of above fourteen years, during the greater part of which I have had occasion to consider such subjects, I can say that it so seldom happens that one, who has given previous intelligence, can be used as a witness with justice, with prudence and with effect, that it is not worth while to be nice in selecting a man with that view.

21 July: Mr. Peel has desired me to send you in strict confidence the enclosed papers containing accounts given by a person known to Colonel Fletcher of Bolton, by whom they have been transmitted to me. The man has Mr. Fletcher's confidence, but the internal evidence leads Mr. Peel to suspect that the narratives, if not fabricated, which he scarcely thinks likely, are greatly exaggerated. He therefore wishes that you would consider them attentively and return them with your remarks, how far your information corroborates or negatives any of the facts stated, and your opinion upon the whole matter

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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