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Extract from " The Times," February, 1843.
ROBERT EMYET AND THE GAOLER OF KILMAINHAM.
“ To the Editor of 'the Times.'
' Bath, February 12, 1842. “SIR,—The writer of this letter begs leave to state, that in several recent numbers of The Times, certain extracts from Dublin
newspapers have been inserted, concerning the unfortunate Robert Emmet and the late George Dunn, jailer of Kilmainham, to the following effect :
"That when Robert Emmet was under the charge of Mr. Dunn, for high treason, an immense sum of money, by way of bribe, with an offer of a free passage to America, was made him, if he allowed his prisoner to go free ; but the honesty of Mr. Dunn spurned the bribe.?
“Those extracts having so appeared in The Times, and being, substantially, perversions of facts, it is respectfully submitted, that in fairness, the truth should be spread commensurately with the mis-statement ; and that it should likewise go forth to the public through the same great organ of intelligence, and its vast circulation, whereby that mis-statement had been already so widely diffused.
“ The matter of present consideration is, the conduct of George Dunn, as to the attempted escape of Robert Emmet, in relation to which, manifold have been the laudations squandered upon the memory of Dunn. The following is the
“A proposition was unquestionably made to George Dunn, and a certain sum of money—a bribe, no doubt—was offered, for his aid and instrumentality towards effecting the escape of Robert Emmet. But, contrary to the statements in the newspapers, that proposition and that bribe were not 'spurned at by Dunn.' The proposition was entertained, and a positive assurance given by him, that he would do every thing in his power to effect the escape. There is no individual living, nor has there ever been any other, save Dunn himself, who had personally known, or who at present knows those facts, but he who now states them, and who freely admits, as he has always
admitted, that he did make that proposition. No third person was ever present, no money was ever paid to Dunn, and no offer was ever made of a free passage to America. But, in fact, throughout the transaction, Dunn, so far from acting with integrity, practised the foulest perfidy. The transaction itself occurred, not after the trial of Emmet, but several days before it ; and Dunn had neither the power nor the means of accomplishing the escape, though he had given reason to suppose that he possessed both, and had, with the semblance of sincerity, faithfully promised, if possible, to effect it. He was, in fact, at the time, neither the jailer of Kilmainham, nor even the confidential turnkey at the entrance gate : he was merely the turnkey and attendant of the interior department where the state prisoners were confined. But even if he had been the jailer, he could not have effected the escape ; for there was another person, since dead, who, in the guise, and under the
covert and convenient-seeming,' of a doctor, had a paramount authority in the prison-a man who appeared there as the inspector (or rather the haunting spectre) of the jail-an incubus sojourning therein day and night, about sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, and who, also acting as the government overseer or superintendent of the state prisoners, commanded even the jailer.
“The jailer at that time was John Dunn ; and though a namesake, was not the uncle of, nor in any way related to, George Dunn : the former having been a native of a midland county in England, the latter of Berwick-upon-Tweed. On the death of John Dunn, two persons, named Stephenson and Simpson, successively filled the jailership previously to George Dunn. He could not, therefore, as jailer, have had the custody of Robert Emmet, and could not, consequently, have had the ability ascribed to him of effecting the escape ; and in his own station, such was impossible, though his inability was not then so well known as, afterwards.
“But properly to understand this question, which is actually one of official intrigue and peculation, it is requisite, in regard to the machinations which, in conjunction with others, Dunn. practised on the attempted escape of Robert Emmet, again to refer to the personage already alluded to, as the superintendent of the state prisoners, and who was at that period
well known as the celebrated Pedro Zendono, the inquisitor of Kilmainham.
“Of this man's inhuman conduct towards the state prisoners, this writer had bitter knowledge and experience for more than two years ; which brutal conduct has, before three of the supreme judges, been verified by the solemn oaths of more than twenty state prisoners, and afterwards, by the exertions of this writer, became the subject of parliamentary investigation by Sheridan. And the deeds of this prison tyrant, together with those of his helpmate Dunn, are now among the records of parliament.
This individual, to whom Downshire had the honour of giving birth, having become enamoured of a handsome female, certain circumstances made it desirable that the young woman should speedily become a wife ; and he accordingly bestowed her upon his brother soldier, George Dunn, then a pedestrian campaigner in a militia regiment ; with the condition, however, that the lover and the husband of this spotless wife, should alike participate in her favours; and also with the further stipulation, that the lover should, on the first occasion which offered, obtain a post for the husband in the jail of Kilmainham, and if possible, have him in time advanced to the jailership.
“Those little interchangeable acts of friendship having continued during the life of the happy lady, both without and within the prison-where the bower of bliss was the sheriff's execution-room --George Dunn accordingly became the turnkey of the state prisoners, and, in fulness of time, the jailer of Kilmainham.
"At the period of the present transaction, George Dunn, though only a turnkey, was, from his position in the prison, admitted to the honours of the sittings with the Grand Inquisitor and the nominal jailer, John Dunn, who, though otherwise a good man, then weakly lent himself to the machinations of the other parties. Accordingly, about one week before the trial of Robert Emmet, it was planned that George Dunn should have a conversation with him respecting bis escape. Whereupon, several communications, by open slips of paper, in the hand-writing of Robert Emmet, was conveyed to this writer, and answers returned by an under turnkey, a convicted felon, whom the inquisitor craftily used as the bearer in
stead of Dunn : in one of which slips of paper, Robert Emmet requested this writer, then in an adjoining cell, to apply to George Dunn, specifically naming him, and in conspicuous characters, and to offer him a certain sum of money, as stated in such slip of paper, if he (Dunn) would effect his liberation ; the sum so offered, to be well and faithfully secured to Dunn, and payable only when the liberation should have been effected.
The writer of this paper saw the peril and difficulty, not only of the attempt itself on the part of Robert Emmet, but he also saw his own peril in making the application. that he was about to commit himself, as principal in a case of high treason, the consequences of which were not, and could not be unknown to him. However, upon receiving that particular communication, he did not, for a single moment, hesitate as to what he should do ; and the very first opportunity which offered, he made the application,
“In doing so, he admits his legal guilt; but as to any moral guilt, he feels but little compunction. His only regret is, that he failed in the attempt. What were his motives ? Robert Emmet was his first cousin, and the ties of nature are not easily broken. He had a great and noble heart. He shared with the rest of his family, those transcendant talents, which have acquired for the name of Emmet an imperishable
But, above all, he was then upon the threshold of the grave, the finger of death was almost upon him; and where lives the man, having a human heart within him, who would not, under such circumstances, have made a similar attempt ? If the writer of this was a criminal, he feels proud that he was equally so with a Hutchinson and Wilson.
“However, Dunn received the proposition, including the specification of the sum which would be given, in a way which showed, as soon after proved, that he had been previously trained by his employer to expect it.
He entertained that proposition, and he treacherously promised to effect the escape.
“The sum of money which had been actually offered to Dunn, is, in the Dublin extracts, magnified into that of £6000, as a strengthening proof of his incorruptible integrity. But, if only one-fourth of that sum had been stated, it would have come nearer to the truth. However, the mere amount is not the question—the treachery of Dunn is the point ; and, except as regards that, the refusal or non-refusal of any sum is
altogether immaterial. He was to receive his reward only upon the condition of accomplishing a particular object-and that object, he well knew, was impracticable ; so that, even if he had refused the bribe-(which he did not)-where would have been his merit? He would then have refused a reward, which he knew that he never could obtain, except by the performance of a condition which he also knew that he never could accomplish.
But, in promotion of the plans concerted by the triumvirate, the inquisitor, knowing the relationship between Robert Emmet and this writer, permitted a degree of intercourse to exist between them. He permitted the correspondence already stated. He permitted Robert Emmet to receive from this writer, through Dunn, a supply of clothes, which were in fact those that he wore upon his trial. He also permitted him, under the conduct of Dunn, to stop in the passage leading to this writer's cell, which was purposely in the immediate neighbourhood of his kinsman : and, with the eye and ear of Dunn vigilantly watching, he permitted Robert Emmet to converse from the passage, and to shake hands with this writer through the grated window of his cell. And all this was done, not from any uncongenial kindness of the inquisitor, but as a snare, not only for discovering whether any allusion would be made to the insurrection, as showing the privity thereto of this writer, but also to provoke, in the presence of Dunn, some proposition as to the escape, which they would wrest into a proof of a conspiracy and plot between the prisoners, which their own previous conspiracy had laboured to effect.
“In furtherance of their schemes, the correspondence which by slips of paper was perfidiously permitted to pass between the two prisoners, through the convict turnkey, was, in every stage, daily waylaid, and conveyed by the overseer to Mr. Chief Secretary Wickham, and Alexander Marsden, the Under-secretary. And without referring to other proofs thereof, that correspondence was afterwards, in their defence, by them presented through the Castle to the House of Commons, and printed in its proceedings.
“The cravings of the Cerberi were soon after fully satisfied by that sort of pabulum which they sought for their safe keeping of the prison-gates. For the overseer, according to parliamentary documents, swore before the three judges who sat