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The Rocket Affair.
The Swiss Insurrection.[70]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

London, Friday, April 29, 1853

The notorious Polizei-Director Stieber, accompanied by the Police Lieutenant, Goldheim, and the Criminal-Rath, Nörner, arrived here a few days ago, from Berlin, on the special mission of connecting the Rotherhithe gunpowder-plot with the Calabrian hat-conspiracy at Berlin[a]. I know, from private information, that they met at Kensington, in the house of Fleury, and that the ex-clerk Hirsch was also present at that meeting. A day later the same Hirsch had a secret interview with Mr. Kraemer, the Russian consul. If your readers recollect my letter on the Cologne trials[b], they must be aware, that the identical personages, who concocted that plot, are again at work.

On Saturday, 23d inst., proceedings were commenced, before Mr. Henry, the Bow-st. Police Magistrate, against Mr. Hale, the proprietor of the Rotherhithe rocket manufactory, where the Government seizure had been made. On that day, the question discussed was merely relating to the point, whether the explosive material under seizure was gunpowder, or not. Mr. Henry who had reserved his decision until yesterday, has now pronounced, contradictorily to Mr. Ure, the celebrated chemist's opinion, that it was gunpowder. Accordingly, he fined Mr. Hale 2s. for every pound of gunpowder, beyond the legal allowance, found in his possession, which quantity amounted to 57 lbs. W. Hale, R. Hale, his son, and J. Boylin, then appeared at the side bar to answer the charge of having, at various intervals, between Sept. 13, 1852 and April 13, 1853, made or caused to be made divers large quantities of rockets. Mr. Bodkin, the Government solicitor, stated that Mr. W. Hale had made several unsuccessful applications to the British Government with regard to his rockets, that from October, 1852, a great number of workmen had been employed by him, some of whom were foreign refugees; that the whole of their proceedings had been carried on in the greatest possible secrecy, and that the shipping records at the Customs refuted Mr. Hale's statement of having been an exporter through the Customs. At the conclusion he said:

"The cost of the rockets found in possession of Mr. Hale, was estimated at from £1,000 to £2,000. Where did the money come from? Mr. Hale was only lately a bankrupt, and superseded his bankruptcy by paying only 3s. in the pound."[c]

J. Saunders, a sergeant of the Detective Police, stated, that he took possession of

"1,543 loaded rockets, 3,629 rocket heads, 2,482 rocket bottoms, 1,955 empty rockets, 22 iron shot, 2 instruments for firing rockets."

A witness, Mr. Usener, next appeared, who said that he had been for 15 years an officer in the Prussian artillery, and served in the Hungarian war as Major of the staff. He was employed by the Messrs. Hale in making rockets at Rotherhithe.. Before going to the factory he had been in prison for theft for five or six months at Maidstone, to which step he declared he had been driven by utter destitution. The most important part of his deposition was literally as follows:

"I was introduced to the Hales by M. Kossuth; I first saw M. Kossuth on the subject last summer, on his return from America; about the middle of September I saw the elder Mr. Hale in the company of M. Kossuth, at the house of the latter; a Hungarian, the adjutant, was also there; M. Kossuth said to Mr. Hale, 'This person was in the Hungarian service, and a late officer of the Prussian artillery, and I can recommend him to your employ to assist in making our rockets, or your rockets,' I don't remember which was the word he said; M. Kossuth said my wages should be 18s. per week, and he recommended me to keep the affair quite secret; Mr. Hale, he said, would point out what I was to do; M. Kossuth spoke partly in the Hungarian and partly in the English language; I believe Mr. Hale does not understand the German language. The word secret was said to me in German; [...] I was sent to Pimlico by R. Hale to see M. Kossuth; I saw M. Kossuth at Pickering Place; W. Hale and another Hungarian were there; we went to try a firing machine; when we were all together, the machine was set up, and a trial was made with the rockets; the conversation took place partly in English, and chiefly about the quality of the rockets, etc.; we were there an hour and a half, and when it was all over, M. Kossuth and Mr. Hale desired us to leave the house carefully, one by oie, and Mr. Hale joined us at the corner of the street; on this occasion M. Kossuth repeatedly told us to keep his connection with the rockets secret."

W. Gerlach, another German, was then examined through an interpreter. He was employed at Mr. Hale's factory, in making rockets. There were, besides him, three Hungarians. He was recommended to Mr. Hale by M. Kossuth, but he never saw them in company together.

Mr. Henry, who had the alternative of committing summarily in the penalty of £5, or sending the case before the Assizes, adopted the latter course, but was willing to accept bail for each of the Hales. Mr. W. Hale declared that he would not ask any friend to become bail, either for himself or for his son, and accordingly the defendants were removed to Horsemonger-lane Jail.

The depositions of the witnesses, it is clear, are in strong contradiction with the letter of Mr. Hale, Jr.; the substance of which I have already communicated to you[71], and, with the letters addressed by Kossuth to Captain Mayne Reid and Lord Dudley Stuart[d], wherein he affirmed he knew nothing either of Mr. Hale, or his rockets. It would be unjust, however, to draw any inference from this circumstance, before further explanations shall have been given by M. Kossuth. As to Mr. Usener, is it not a shame that a talented countryman of ours in exile, and a man most willing to labor, as is proved by the fact of his agreeing to become an ordinary workman at 18s. a week, should have been driven by mere destitution to theft, while certain German refugees, notorious idlers, assume the privilege of squandering the small funds destined for the revolutionists, in self-imposed missionary trips, ridiculous plots, and public house conciliabules?

On Friday, the 22d inst., an insurrection broke out again at Fribourg, in Switzerland, the fifth, already, since the late Sonderbund war[72]. The insurrection was to be commenced simultaneously all over the surface of the canton; but at the given moment, the majority of the conspirators did not come forward. Three "colonnes," who had promised their cooperation in the affair, remained behind. The insurgents, who actually entered the town, were chiefly from the district of Farvagny, and from the communes of Autigny, Prez, Torny [le Grand], Middes, and other neighborhoods. At 4½ a. m., the body of 400 peasants, all wearing the colors of the Sonderbund, and carrying the emblem of the Virgin on their standard, moved towards Fribourg, on the road from Lausanne, headed by Colonel Perrier, and the notorious peasant Garrard, the chief of the insurrection of 1851, who had been amnestied by the Grosse-Rath. About 5 o'clock they entered the town, by the "Porte des Etangs," and took possession of the College and the Arsenal, where they seized 150 guns. Alarm having been beaten, the town council immediately declared the state of siege, and Major Gerbex assumed the command of the assembled civic guard. While he ordered the streets at the back of the college to be occupied with cannon, he pushed a body of riflemen forward, to attack the insurgents in front. The riflemen advanced up the two flights of steps, leading to the college, and soon dislodged the peasants from the windows of the buildings. The combat had lasted for about an hour, and the assailants already numbered eight dead and eighteen wounded, when the insurgents, attempting in vain to escape through the back streets, where they were received with grape shot, sent forth a priest with a white flag, declaring their readiness to surrender.

A Committee of the Civic Guard instantly formed a Court-martial, which condemned Col. Perrier to thirty years' imprisonment, and which is still sitting. The number of prisoners is about two hundred, among whom Messrs. Wuilleret, Weck and Chollet. M. Charles, the president of the well-known Committee at Posieux, has been seen at the gate of Romont, but not captured. Besides the parson of Torny le Grand, two other priests are included in the number of prisoners. As to the expenses of the affair, the canton appears to be safe, half the property of the patrician, Mr. Weck, being sufficient for that object.

Written on April 26-29, 1853
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3768, May 14, 1853;
re-printed in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 832, May 17, 1853
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] See this volume, pp. 28-31.—Ed.

[b] F. Engels, "The Late Trial at Cologne" (see present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 388-93).—Ed.

[c] Here and below the authors quote from the article "The War Rocket Factory and the Government", The Times, No. 21415, April 29, 1853.—Ed.

[d] See The Times, No. 21412, April 26, 1853.—Ed.

[70] Marx sent this article to the New-York Daily Tribune together with Engels' article on Switzerland, written at his request and posted to him from Manchester on April 26, 1853, as one report. The editors divided the material into two parts and published them as separate articles. (Marx later wrote of this in his letters to Engels of June 2 and 29, 1853.) The first article comprised the text written by Marx after he had received Engels' article and the beginning of Engels' report describing the separatist putsch of clerical and conservative elements in the Freiburg canton in the spring of 1853. The bulk of Engels' report was published as a separate article, signed by Marx; in another issue (see below "Political Position of the Swiss Republic"). In this volume the articles are given as published in the afternoon and evening editions of the New-York Daily Tribune.

[71] This letter has not come to light. It is possible that the words "the substance of which I have already communicated to you" were inserted by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune, and refer to some other material, such as the article by A.P.C. (Aurelius Pulszky), "Oriental Affairs.—Austria and Radetzky.—The Gunpowder Plot", in the newspaper issue of May 6, 1853, which mentioned Hale's letter published in The Daily News on April 18, 1853. This article said that the letter denied Kossuth's participation in the production of rockets.

[72] The Sonderbund—a separatist union formed by the seven economically backward Catholic cantons of Switzerland in 1843 to resist progressive bourgeois reforms and defend the privileges of the Church and the Jesuits. The decree of the Swiss Diet of July 1847 on the dissolution of the Sonderbund served as a pretext for the latter to commence hostilities against the other cantons early in November. On November 23, 1847, the Sonderbund army was defeated by the federal forces. Even after the defeat of the Sonderbund its adherents among the Catholic clergy, the patrician upper strata in the towns, and the conservative section of the peasantry made attempts to seize power in separate cantons.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.82-85), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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