Britain was largely an agriculture-based economy up to the 18th century and partly the 19th century – first three decades. However, the society was changing at a dynamic rate. The rural areas were paving the way for industrialization and urbanization. The upheaval was further escalated by the fact that the jobless soldiers from the two-decade Napoleonic Wars were returning to the markets.
The industrializing nation was faced with inflation, shortages of food, and a change in the factory employment pattern. All these factors led to radicalization and ultimately riots erupted as industrial unrest became the order of the day. In response, the government passed the Combination Acts of 1799, which forbade the gathering of working men with a common purpose.
A group of political radicals gathered together in May 1820 and planned on how they would murder the British Prime Minister and all the cabinet ministers. But no sooner had they plotted the murder than they were exposed by a government spy. Their exposure led to arrests in Cato Street, London where they were hiding. But the arrest wasn’t straightforward as it even led to the death of a policeman. The arrested were placed on trial upon which five were transported for life while other five executed after being charged with High Treason.
One of the main accused of the Cato Street Conspiracy was William Davidson, the son of the former Attorney-General of Jamaica. During the Central Criminal Court proceedings, William protested that he is innocent. His argument was that the evidence provided by one Edwards, an agent provocateur, was utterly unreliable.
While defending himself on the jury, he said “…you may suppose that because I am a man of colour I am without any understanding or feeling and would act the brute; I am not one of that sort; when not employed in my business, I have employed myself as a teacher of a Sunday-school…”
But while reading his sentence, the presiding judge maintained that no prejudice was made with respect to skin color. “…no prejudice either has or will exist in any part of this Court against you,” read the judge.
Davidson was among the five charged with treason and subsequently hanged on May 1 1820.
According to the Newgate Calendar, William Davidson’s father was the Attorney-General of Jamaica while his mother was a native woman of colour. He studied in England so that he could be educated to the same level and perhaps more than his father. He resided in Liverpool where he took on Mathematics lessons after which he was impressed into the king’s service.
He began a business in Birmingham after his mother gave him a legacy worth £1,200. Davidson was successful in the business venture but his first marriage to a Liverpool tradesman daughter was a fail, prompting him to remarry again, this time round Mrs Lane being the bride.