The Bristol Gazette 1831
The Bristol Gazette was a newspaper published in Bristol from 1767 until 1872. These extracts from the Bristol Gazette on the 3rd of November 1831 describe the destruction of the New Goal, Bridewell, Bishops Palace, the Mansion House and upwards of 40 houses in Queen Square caused by the fires lit by the rioters. The Gazette explained the build up of anger to and detestation of Sir Charles Wetherell (the Recorder) for his opposition to the reform bill. However, it mentions that most political figures in the city never expected these feelings to be manifested in violence. Sensing this build up of discontent, a number of special constables from different wards volunteered their services and other individuals were hired for the day the Recorder was due to arrive in the city. After Sir Wetherell was attacked with stones during his address, the constables charged into the crowd and apprehended various individuals using “their staves without mercy”. The Gazette contends that had the constables not acted in this manner, no further disturbances would have taken place. The crowd consisting “wholly…of boys and striplings, persons evidently without stated employment” proceeded to retaliate by charging the constables and beating them severely causing them to retreat. Thus, the collapse of resistance encouraged the mob to become more daring, resorting to “extremities”. Despite the reading of the Riot Act, the rioters continued to manifest “undisputed control”. The destruction of the Mansion House forced Sir Wetherell to escape over the roofs of houses. Emboldened by liquor acquired from the wine cellar, the rioters proceeded to sack several other places. The special constables could offer no resistance. The Gazette claims that there was no explanation for the inaction of the soldiers that it saw as leading to the sacking of the city in a “cool and deliberate” manner. By Monday, the military had arrived and cleared the streets; those who did not retreat were immediately pursued and attacked, causing severe injuries. Total damage was estimated by political figures at between £400,000 and £800,000. The authors of the Gazette shared similar sentiments to Harriett Arbuthnot who thought that “a very great number must have lost their lives, of which we can obtain no account”. These extracts from the Bristol Gazette help us understand the extent of the damage, reporting an appalling sight of the city blazing in all directions during the riots. The Gazette also epmphasised the collapse of resistance to the Bristol riot which explains why the gathering of an angry mob became rapidly transformed into one of the most destructive riots in British history.