September 9 1812: Shelley's Floating Boxes

On September 9, 1812, Henry Drake, Town Clerk of Barnstaple, is again following up with Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, about Mr. Shelley. He had written to the Home Secretary on August 20 about the arrest of Shelley's servant for posting and distributing a copy of Shelley's Declaration of Rights. Daniel Healey, his servant, was charged and ordered to serve six months in jail since he was not able to pay the £200 fine imposed on his conviction. 

After the arrest, Shelley appears to have thought it prudent to leave and move from Lymouth to  Swansea.  Drake followed him there.

Drake also adds to our information as to the various ways that Shelley distributed his political pamphlets. In his first letter, he told us that Shelley would put his pamphlets, such as the Devil's Walk, into bottles that would then be thrown into the sea. Drake now describes Shelley using floating boxes that would also be thrown into the sea with his works. The boxes were covered with a 'bladder', 'rosined', 'waxed', contained lead to keep it upright and had a little sail. It appears that one of Shelley's floating boxes was sent to the Home Office. 

Drake's letter is reproduced below: 

September 9th, 1812.

My Lord - Referring your Lordship to my letter of 20th ult., and in addition to the information therein contained, I beg to inform your Lordship that, not being enabled to obtain here sufficient information respecting Mr. Shelley, I went to Lymouth, where he resided, and returned yesterday. On my arrival there, I found he, with his family, after attempting in vain to cross the Channel to Swansea from that place, had lately left Lymouth for llfracombo; and, on my following him there, found he had gone to Swansea, where I imagine he at present is.

The day after his servant Daniel Hill was apprehended in Barnstaple, Mr. Shelley came here to apply for his discharge; and, on visiting him in gaol, did not, I apprehend, express any astonishment at his situation, or reprove him for his conduct, which appears rather extraordinary.

In my letter of the 20th ult. I mentioned that Mr. Shelley had been observed to drop a bottle into the sea, which, on being picked up and broken, was found to contain a seditious paper. On inquiring into this circumstance at Lymouth, I found that that paper was a copy of one which I sent to your Lordship, entitled "The Devil's Walk," and which was taken from Daniel Hill on his apprehension. I have also learnt that Mr. Shelley has been often observed on the beach in company with a female servant (supposed a foreigner), and that he frequently, in her presence only, has been observed to push out to sea, from the rocks, some small boxes; and one day, being observed by a man more curious than the rest to put some of these small boxes to sea, the man went out in a boat, and brought it in, and, in opening it, he discovered a copy of the other paper which I sent to your Lordship, entitled "Declaration of Rights." This little box I have seen, and observed it was carefully covered over with bladder, and well rosined and waxed to keep out the water, and, in order to attract attention at sea, there was a little upright stick fastened to it at each end, and a little sail fastened to them, as well as some lead at the bottom to keep it upright. This box I have ordered to be safely taken care of. From these circumstances there can be no room for doubt but that the papers found on Daniel Hill were given him by his master. I also learnt at Lymouth that Mr. Shelley had with him large chests, which were so heavy that scarcely three men could lift them, which were supposed to contain papers.

Mr. Shelley is rather thin, and very young; indeed, his appearance is, I understand, almost that of a boy.

Any further intelligence which your Lordship wishes me to procure I will immediately attend to, on hearing from your Lordship. I have the honour to be, my Lord,
Your Lordship's most obedient, humble servant,
Henry Drake, 
Town Clerk. 

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