[BOTANY BAY]. The whole proceedings on the trials of two informations
exhibited ex officio by the King’s Attorney-General against George Gordon, Esq. commonly called Lord George Gordon : one for a libel on the Queen of France and the French Ambassador; the other for a libel on the judges, and the administration of the laws in England. Also of Thomas Wilkins, for printing the last-mentioned libel. Tried in the court of King’s Bench, Guildhall, on Wednesday the 6th of June, 1787; before the Hon. Francis Buller, Esq. on of the justices of his Majesty’s court of King’s Bench. Taken in short-hand by Joseph Gurney. London : M. Gurney, 1787. Octavo, modern wrappers, pp 100, [2, lacking a final leaf of advertisements].
Joseph Gurney published a series of court reports from the 1770s – 1790s, including notably the trial against Thomas Paine in 1793. Lord George Gordon (1751-1793) was a British politician who, in his short but rich life, was embroiled in a number of controversies. He agitated against Catholic emancipation in 1780, resulting in a series of large scale demonstrations known as the ‘Gordon Riots’, and was imprisoned for several months in the Tower of London. Later, Gordon was excommunicated by the Archibishop of Canterbury for refusing to bear witness in an ecclesiastical suit in 1786. In 1787, at the age of 36, he converted to Judaism, took the name Yisrael bar Avraham Gordon, was circumcised, and lived the rest of his life as a devout orthodox Jew. This highly unusual act was widely commented on at the time and is discussed in a number of scholarly histories of Judaism in England.
In 1786 Gordon authored a small pamphlet, ‘The prisoners’ petition to the Right Hon. Lord George Gordon, to preserve their lives and liberties, and prevent their banishments to Botany Bay’, which was in fact entirely written by Gordon himself and printed in London by Thomas Wilkins. Criticising the judiciary for sentencing prisoners to transportation to an as-yet non-existant penal colony at Botany Bay, Gordon was charged with “for a libel on the judges and administration of law in England’. No copy of this pamphlet is known to have survived, though Ferguson records it as item 10 in his Bibliography of Australia on the basis of reference to it in a collection of state trials published later in 1783. Further, this account of the trial by Gurney evinces its existance, as he records the Solicitor-General presenting it in evidence during the prosecution.
Gordon’s second charge of libel against Queen Marie Antoinette and the French Ambassador, relates to a separate pamphlet he published where he defended his friend the Italian Count Cagliostro who had been banished from France following his alleged involvement in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, a highly important political event where the Queen was accused of attempting to defraud the Crown Jewellers of a valuable diamond necklace. This stain upon her Majesty’s reputation, in conjunction with other failures of the nobility, served to provide the background of hostility against the monarchy which culminated in the French Revolution.
Gordon was convicted on both counts of libel, however, he was allowed to leave the court without bail, and subsequently escaped to the safety of The Netherlands. Upon pressure from the French he was forced to return in January 1788, was arrested, and sentenced to 5 years in Newgate Prison. On 28th January 1793 Gordon’s sentence expired, he was required to appear before the court to vouch for his future good behaviour. At his appearance, Gordon refused to remove his hat, which was being utilised as a kippah, and it was forcibly removed from his head. Gordon had brought as character witnesses two Polish Jews, which the Court would not accept, and he was remanded once more in prison. On November 1st he died in prison from fever at the age of 42.
No copy of Gordon’s incendiary pamphlet of 1786 is know to have survived, however its contents are contained herein as part of the evidence transcribed in Gurney’s record of 1787. Unknown to Ferguson and held in only a handful of libraries, this 1787 pamphlet records the first objections to the penal colony at Botany Bay, expressed in court while the First Fleet was en route under sail to New Holland.
A single copy recorded in Australian collections (State Library of NSW, also appearing to lack the final two leaves of advertisements).
Not in Ferguson.