Portraits of Chartist Political Prisoners in 1841

Chartist meetings were banned by proclamation of the government in 1839. Mass arrests followed with Chartists being imprisoned and transported. In a movement that nurtured personality cults and where Chartist leaders vied for the hero-worship of their followers, rancour and rivalry was inevitable.

William Lovett, a member of the ‘London Workingmen’s Association,’ published his People’s Charter in May 1838. Among its provisions, the Charter made a number of political demands which become known as the ‘six points’: (i) universal manhood suffrage; (ii) payment of Members of Parliament; (iii) equal electoral districts; (iv) abolition of property qualifications; (v) annual parliaments; (vi) the ballot. The people who subscribed to the aims of the People’s Charter became known as the Chartists.

As a movement, Chartism is best described as an umbrella group which comprised people from widely differing protest groups. Although some Chartists advocated non-violent means to achieve their aims, such as petitioning (three national petitions, in 1839, 1842 and 1848, were rejected by Parliament which refused to reform itself) and became known as ‘moral force’ Chartists, other Chartists favoured the use of firearms to achieve their aims and became known as ‘physical force’ Chartists. However, most Chartists were inclined to support whatever method they thought was more likely to succeed at any moment in time. Some believed that the very act of acquiring arms – which was legal at the time – would of itself intimidate the government and force it to submit to Chartist demands. Though many never intended to use arms, there were instances when they were used. In August 1848 James Bright, a police constable, was shot dead in the street by Chartists from Ashton-under-Lyne.(1)

Many of the working-class Chartists who were involved in the movement during the late 1830s and 1840s often lived in abject poverty. According to the Chartist historian Mark Hovel, ‘intolerable conditions of existence’ were the driving force behind Chartism.(2) In addition to the many hardships they had to endure, they also risked the blacklist and imprisonment for their involvement in the movement. Chartist meetings had been banned by proclamation of the government in 1839 and many Chartists had been arrested. In May 1840, more than 200 Chartists were in prison, eighteen had been transported, eleven of them for life. Six months later, the number of prisoners being held had risen to 480.(3)

In October 1840, Chester Castle held fifteen Chartist prisoners, ‘twelve of them for collecting arms’.(4) Many of these were from Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockport. We know something about the prisoners and what their conditions were like. This is because in 1841 the Home Office appointed prison inspectors to investigate the treatment of Chartist prisoners after receiving complaints from the public. The document ‘Confidential reports made by the Inspector of Prisons upon the cases of political offenders in custody on 1st July 1841’, gives us a revealing insight into prison conditions, the backgrounds of the prisoners, their grievances and the attitudes of the authorities towards them.(5)

Although described as ‘political offenders’, while in gaol the prisoners were treated as criminals. A common complaint among the prisoners in Chester Castle concerned the food. Many complained of ‘want of meat’ and their diet largely consisted of bread, gruel and potatoes. They complained of indigestion but could purchase food for themselves if they had the money. Some were receiving money from the ‘victim fund’ (Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor had founded a national defence fund for arrested Chartists in June 1839) or from subscriptions or from relatives. Many complained about being locked up too early – 7.00 pm – and they also complained that they were only allowed to read The Times and no other newspaper. Prisoners were allowed visits from relatives, sometimes unsupervised, and correspondence could be confiscated and inspected.

The Reverend Joseph Rayner Stephens, who was a Chartist prisoner, complained about the power of visiting magistrates who could reduce the men’s diet, enforce prison dress and impose solitary confinement. They resented what few privileges the prisoners enjoyed and did their best to restrict them. The prisoners were also allowed to purchase books and could exercise in a yard.

Timothy Higgins, aged 35, from Portland Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, was one of the Chartist prisoners held in Chester Castle. He was a cotton spinner and was married with four children. He had been convicted of conspiracy at the Autumn Assizes at Chester in 1839 and had been imprisoned for 18 calendar months.

According to a report in the Manchester Guardian on 3rd July 1839, the police had searched the home of Timothy Higgins and found two long narrow chests. Inside the chests they found 17 muskets with bayonets, four doubled barrelled guns, a rifle, one large horse pistol, four common-sized pistols, and a quantity of bullets and cases. When he’d been asked why he had the weapons, Higgins replied that he had them from the manufacturer, George Thompson, for the purpose of sale. At the courthouse the following day, Higgins had been given bail and released after his solicitor Richard Corbett submitted to the Magistrates that there had been no grounds stated which would justify the constables entering the prisoner’s house and seizing the arms.

In prison, Higgins was interviewed by Inspector WJ Williams. He said that he’d received about £6 by way of subscription and that his wife had received £2 from the victim fund. He said he’d used the money to buy books and food. The report says that he could read and write well and had been writing poetry while in prison and reading ‘Scott’s novels and common historical works’ and improving his arithmetic. He complained of having no meat and of being locked up at 7.00 pm. He also said that his wife was ‘about to be thrown upon the Parish’.

Although the pretext given for these prison interviews was to make inquiries about the prisoners’ conditions, it is clear from the reports that the inspectors were assessing each prisoner to make judgements about them and their political views in order to report back to the Home Office.

Inspector Williams writes: “Higgins avows himself a republican and is a member of the Workingmen’s Association. Is a man of considerable intelligence, not devoid of feelings. He shed tears when I spoke to him of his family.” Williams quotes Higgins as saying:

“‘I was brought up a cotton spinner – it was my agreeable calling when I first followed it, but they have got into the habit of applying self-acting machinery and man is of no use. I know some of the most intelligent in society who cannot get bread. They take a man now for his muscular appearance not for his talent – machines have become so simple that attending them is commonplace labour.’ This man was appointed an agent of Thompson’s for the sale of arms; a very trifling encouragement would induce him to emigrate to the U.S….”

George Thompson, a Birmingham gunsmith, had been supplying arms to Chartists in Ashton, Manchester and Stockport. He had also been convicted of conspiracy and given 18 months imprisonment in Chester Castle. The report says: “reads and writes well… is of a petulant temper and of ordinary ability.” He was allowed beer and wine by direction of the surgeon – he suffered from chronic rheumatism – and was allowed to exercise outside the yards. In his observations Williams says:

“This individual was called upon by…M’Douall whom he supplied with arms and then established agencies for the sale of them… the agents all being notorious Chartists. I do not believe it was anything more with him than a money making transaction but one of a mischievous character.”

The Reverend Joseph Rayner Stephens, who had been appointed to the Ashton-under-Lyne circuit in 1832, was aged 34 when he was convicted at the Assizes in Chester in 1839. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for the offence of “using seditious language at a public tumultuous assembly.” He was allowed to maintain himself and could use a private room to study and to eat. He told Inspector Williams:

“I have been insulted by one set of Chartists here, who sided with M’Douall, although I have in frequent instances given them money and food.”

In his observations, Williams remarked that Stephens was:

“an object of suspicion to M’Douall and his followers who call him traitor and are indignant at his pocketing the whole of the money raised by subscription for his defence by counsel, when he defended himself and employed none.”

Peter Murray M’Douall was aged 26 at the time of his imprisonment in Chester Castle. A physical force Chartist, he was a surgeon who had a practice in Ramsbottom, near Bury. In July 1839 he had been sentenced at the Assizes in Chester to 12 months imprisonment for sedition and attending an illegal meeting in Hyde in April 1839. Though he had been released from prison in August 1840, there was a great deal of enmity between the Chartist prisoners who were split into two factions – those who followed Stephens and those who followed M’Douall. A number of Chartists had asked that they be kept apart from Stephens who they regarded as an apostate. There had been violence in the prison when one prisoner had sustained a broken jaw.

In a movement that nurtured personality cults and where speakers competed for the hero-worship of their audiences, it was inevitable that there would be fragmentation and rivalries. The rupture between Ashton Chartists had occurred in June 1839, when M’Douall had publicly accused Stephens of committing an indecent assault on the unmarried sister of James Bronterre O’Brien, the Chartist leader.(6) Though this allegation was never proven it did damage Stephens’ reputation.

Stephens’s hatred for M’Douall ‘had no bounds’.(7) While in prison, he had sought to expose M’Douall’s immorality by alleging that he had tried to seduce the turnkey’s daughter: M’Douall later married her. At his trial, Stephens had repudiated Chartism declaring his detestation of the doctrine. Though Stephens never was a Chartist and said so on numerous occasions, many Chartists believed him to be so and he was accused of apostasy. He had also defended himself rather than employ counsel. Many Chartists who had contributed to his defence fund felt betrayed. There were also requests for the money to be given back so it could be used for the defence of other Chartists awaiting trial.

One of the prisoners who asked to be kept separated from Stephens, was Isaac Johnson, a blacksmith from Stockport. He was aged 36 and was married with two children. He told Inspector Williams that three of his children had died while he’d been in prison. He had been sentenced to 1 year’s imprisonment for ‘uttering seditious words’. In his observations, Williams remarks that Johnson was a shrewd man but uneducated:

“Which he explains was owing to his being turned out of school after gaining six prizes in consequence of his Father obliging him to go to school in a white hat with a crape and green riband at Peterloo time, for which he was expelled and never went anywhere afterwards. He is devoted to M’Douall with whom he appears ready to go to all lengths.”

Another prisoner who was much attached to M’Douall was James Duke, aged 36, who was married with six children. A cotton spinner by profession, he was the landlord of the Bush Inn, Stamford Street, Ashton-under-Lyne. The pub was a well known meeting place for Chartists and it was here that Stephens was arrested by the Bow Street Runner, Henry Goddard. James Duke had been sentenced to 1 year’s imprisonment for ‘conspiracy to excite the people to arms’. He was also an agent for the arms dealer George Thompson and both he and M’Douall had visited Birmingham to buy muskets and bayonets.(8)

Some of the Chartist prisoners did enjoy greater privileges in gaol due to their social class. Inspector Williams believed that Stephens was unpopular with some of the Chartists prisoners because he had ‘greater privileges’. In the county gaol at York, Inspector Williams interviewed the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor, a barrister/journalist who had been given 18 months for libel. He says: “his behaviour was most courteous and gentlemanlike’ and then adds:

“Mr O’Connor is placed in a light room with boarded floor and a fire place near to the infirmary…the Magistrates have supplied an additional officer to wait upon him and attend almost exclusively to his wants. This man sleeps within call and takes Mr. O’Connor’s orders respecting his meals etc and the hours which he selects for exercise in the yard. Mr. O’Connor maintains himself and there is no restriction upon his food or as to the introduction of wine, of which since his imprisonment he has had from four to five dozen. His room is furnished at his own expense…there is no restriction upon his candles, fire, or the hour of going to bed.”

Although O’Connor complained about the presence of a third person when receiving visits and the restrictions on his letters, he told Williams that he was generally satisfied with his treatment. He was eventually released after serving 10 months.

Despite the fact that the Chartist movement degenerated into sects and factions after 1839, it nevertheless overcame this and also survived attempts by the government to suppress it. By 1842, it had become more efficient as an organization and it increased its membership. However, as economic conditions improved, leading to higher wages, working-class support for the movement began to decline. In the mid 1840s some Chartists following their leader O’Connor when he set up the Chartist Land Scheme, where workingmen contributed small sums to purchase allotments of land. The scheme was an economic disaster. After 1848 support for the movement declined rapidly and many Chartists later became Liberals. The six points only began to be adopted after the Chartist movement had ceased to exist and when the political elite were ready to adopt it. With the exception of annual Parliaments, every political demand of the Charter was later to be granted.

The failure of the movement to achieve its immediate aims can be attributed to a number of reasons. Although a working-class movement, trade unions generally remained aloof from Chartism and it tended to appeal to those workers who saw themselves as victims of industrialization rather than its beneficiaries. The Chartists themselves were often at variance with one another and could seldom agree on social policy. The movement also lacked political support in the Commons and failed to form alliances with the middle-classes. It also lacked an effective leadership which in the opinion of the Webbs, ‘brought it to nought’.(9)

Sources:

1. Work, Class & Politics in Ashton-under-Lyne 1830-1860. R.G.Hall PhD Thesis 1991. P. 226
2. Ibid – P137
3. Some Working-Class Movements Of The Nineteenth Century. R.F. Wearmouth. P.211
4. Purge This Realm. A Life of Joseph Rayner Stephens. M.S. Edwards. P.91
5. Confidential reports made by the Inspector of Prisons upon the cases of political offenders in custody on 1st July 1841. Tameside Studies Library.
6. Purge This Realm. P.63/64
7. Ibid – P.93
8. Some Working-Class Movements Of The Nineteenth Century. P107
9. A History of Trade Unionism – Webb.

Article by Derek Pattison

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Rioting between the Orange Order and the Irish in Manchester

In the early 19th century Manchester was a major stronghold of the Orange order. There were occasional riots between the Catholic Irish and the Orange order in the first half of the century.

In the first decades of the nineteenth century Manchester was the principal centre for Orangeism in Great Britain. The colour Orange had been adopted by Irish Protestant patriots in memory and honour of the Protestant William of Orange, who seized the throne from Catholic James II in 1688 and defeated him in a series of battles in Ireland, most notably at the Boyne and Aughrim.

Inconveniently for subsequent Protestant Loyalist mythology William was actually backed by the Pope for complicated reasons of European diplomacy and his final victory celebrated with a Te Deum in Rome. It is the myths of history, however, that often turn out to be more potent and long-lasting than the prosaic facts and so it has proved with the Williamite victories which are still commemorated every 12th July in the North of Ireland by Protestants.

In the early 1790s there were clashes in Ulster between Catholics organised in groups known the Defenders and the Ribbonmen and Protestants organised in groups such as the Peep O’Day Boys, who had taken to raiding Catholic homes and farms for arms. In 1793 James Wilson, a Presbyterian farmer in County Tyrone, established the Orange Boys, whose members swore oaths to defend Protestantism and the constitution. On 21st September 1795 there was clash between Catholics and Protestants near Loughgall in County Armagh, in which several dozen Catholic Defenders were killed in an attack on Dan Winter’s Inn and which subsequently became known as the Battle of the Diamond. This led directly to the establishment of the Orange Order, which followed the example of the Freemasons by admitting members after the taking of oaths and organising itself through lodges. The order received the tacit support of Protestant magistrates and gentry and the first Orange parades were held on 12th July 1796. By the following year, faced with the threat from the United Irishmen, the British government was happy and willing to use the Orange Order as a useful ally in its struggle to reimpose its authority across Ireland.

British regiments and militias from Lancashire were sent to in Ireland at this time and a number of soldiers took the oath whilst serving, bringing back Orange warrants to England. In November 1799 Colonel Stanley’s regiment, the First Lancashire Militia, returned to Manchester with warrant number 320. The Manchester & Salford Rifle Volunteers (raised and financed by Colonel Taylor of Moston and commanded by Colonel Sylvester) returned with warrant number 1128. Discharged soldiers seem to have started civilian lodges which spread from Manchester to neighbouring towns such as Oldham, where Orange lodges held a 12th July march as early as 1803.

The first Orange riot in Manchester occurred on 13th July 1807 when Orangemen, carrying banners and marching to Orange tunes, joined a number of English friendly societies in a parade to the Collegiate Church. On leaving the church there was a confrontation with Catholics in Church Street and High Street. The location is significant, being very close to the Catholic meeting place in Roman Entry. The Deputy Chief Constable Nadin had to call for troops to restore order. The Manchester Gazette afterwards claimed that “No Popery” signs had been chalked on walls before the march and that local regiments had been playing Orange tunes when recruiting in the town. It seems that tensions were high even before the Orange march took place.

Local Orangemen Ralph Nixon later claimed that Irish Catholics had attacked the march. In a letter to the British Volunteer newspaper on 25th July he stated that “Orange principles are imperfectly known in England and those who attacked them were misled by an erroneous opinion that our views are hostile and directed against papists. Orangemen are zealously attached to the king and admire our matchless constitution”. Nixon’s letter points to the motivation of the English Orangemen as veering more towards maintenance of the political status quo in Britain than a direct association with the politics of Ireland, although the two were connected. Like the Church and King Clubs of the 1790s the Orange Order was a useful organisation for local magistrates and gentry (often the same people) to deploy against their enemies, the radicals and reformers.

Nixon wrote to Ireland for authority to found a Grand Lodge in Britain and approached Colonel Taylor and Colonel Fletcher of Bolton to act as Grand Masters. Fletcher was particularly assiduous in opposing any hint of radicalism in his home town and had routinely employed spies to infiltrate radical organisations. In May 1808 a meeting at the Star Hotel on Deansgate, where lodges had already been accustomed to meet, established the English Grand Lodge with Taylor as Grand Master, Fletcher as Deputy Grand Master and Nixon as Grand Secretary. The original Irish warrants were now cancelled and henceforth the English lodges obtained their credentials from the new Grand Lodge. By 1811 there were some 68 lodges in the Manchester region – according to The Orange Miscellany and Orange Man’s Guide published in 1815 – and 77 in Lancashire in 1830. Ralph Nixon made an abrupt and permanent exit from the organisation in 1821 when he was sentenced to seven years transportation after being charged with burglary.

There was further trouble in Manchester in 1830. A group of Irishmen, apparently employed at Parker’s factory, attacked a number of public houses where the Orange lodges were meeting to celebrate the 12th July and had hung banners out of the windows. At the Boars Head on Withy Grove they stormed upstairs, seized the flag, tore it to pieces and trampled it in the street. There were similar scenes at the Queen Anne on Long Millgate and at the Union Tavern on Garratt Street. Town constables finally arrived and seized some of the stragglers as the Irishmen were returning home along Bank Top and lodged them in the Market House. When the rest of the party realised what had happened they promptly returned and released the prisoners by smashing open the gates. (These same Irish weavers were involved in a strike at Parker’s in March 1831 when they demanded an increase in the price they received for weaving shirtings and calicos).

In 1834 Manchester Orange lodges celebrated in the usual manner with banquets on the 12th July . On the following day, which was a Sunday, several hundred Orangemen assembled in St Ann’s Square and marched to St George’s Church, Hulme to attend divine service. On the way back they were attacked in Cateaton Street by several hundred Catholics armed with sticks and stones. The fighting was finally stopped by the 5th Dragoons, summoned by the town authorities. There was more trouble later that evening outside the Windmill public house on St George’s Road, which was a meeting place for an Orange lodge. Police arrived and forestalled an attack on the pub. There was further disturbance the following day near the Briton’s Protection public house on Oldham Road when the whole police force had to turn out to stop the sexton of St George’s Church on St George’s Road from being killed. Daniel Hearne subsequently confiscated weapons and appeared in court to speak on behalf of the rioters.

In 1835 the Orangemen assembled in Jackson’s Row and paraded to St James Church. The procession itself passed off with only minor incidents and two arrests, one of them an Orangemen named Solomon Johnson Mackintosh, who claimed in court that he always carried a loaded revolver for self-defence. The Manchester lodge dined the following evening at the Hare and Hounds, Water Street without disturbance. There was trouble the next night, however, when a crowd gathered in the brickfields on St George’s Road and smashed the windows of a house which had recently put up a figure of William of Orange above the door.

That same year the Orange Order in England was investigated by a Commons Select Committee after rumours that its Grand Master, the Duke of Cumberland (a reactionary even by the standards of his own class), intended to use the order to stage a coup and replace the king on the throne. The report condemned the order for provoking trouble between Protestants and Catholics and in response the Cumberland formally dissolved the organisation. It soon reappeared, however, in two forms – the Orange Institution and the Orange Association – which eventually united in 1874. In the wake of the Irish Famine and the huge Irish emigration into Lancashire the heartland of the movement moved to Liverpool, although there continued to be branches in Manchester and nearby towns.

The last riot in Manchester in connection with an Orange procession occurred in 1888. On Sunday 8th July members of Orange lodges gathered at Portland Street and proceeded across Great Ancoats Street and down the Irish area of Canal Street , heading for St Mark’s Church on Holland Street. The Orange marchers claimed that in Canal Street they were subject to a premeditated attack by a hundred youths brandishing hatchets and knives during which two men – Joseph Walmsley and Daniel Ritchie – received serious head wounds and 40 police officers who had been summoned by telephone took a half hour to suppress. A letter in the Manchester Guardian a few days later (whose author gave only the initials J.P.) disputed this version of events and claimed that it had began after a boy had thrown a stone at the march and been followed by a prominent member of the Orange procession. “No-one will sympathise with persons who insult any body of men passing peacefully along the street, but I maintain that …..the organisers of such processions, whether of Orangemen or any other party, are often morally blameable in marching their forces through the midst of a population entirely antagonistic to them.”

Article by Michael Herbert

Women at the Peterloo Massacre

The Peterloo massacre took place on 16 August 1819. A crowd of tens of thousands of working men and women and some children, which had gathered on St Peter’s Field on the edge of Manchester to demand political reform, was attacked without warning by armed yeomanry and soldiers with drawn swords. The crowd was brutally dispersed in a few minutes. Hundreds were injured and at least 18 people killed. It was one of the most traumatic political events in Manchester’s history, whose echoes can still be heard today. The role of women both in the events leading up to the meeting and on the day itself has often been overlooked.

Local radicals had called the open-air meeting to demand political reform of parliament as a remedy for economic distress. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester had grown from a small market town to a large industrial city, but it still had no member of parliament. No working man had the vote. The people were excluded from formal political life.

The reform movement had been in existence in one form or another since the 1790s, inspired by the American and French Revolutions and the writings of Thomas Paine. It had been driven underground by government repression during the wars against France but re-emerged after 1815. The movement attracted a new energetic audience amongst the working people of the expanding towns of the north created by the industrial revolution.

The movement included women who organised Female Reform societies in Manchester, Blackburn, Oldham and Royton.

In Blackburn, Alice Kitchen of the Blackburn Female Reform Society said that “our homes which once ample testimony of our industry and cleanliness…are now alas! robbed of all their ornaments… behold our innocent children… how appalling are their cries for bread.”

On 10 July 1819 the radical newspaper the Manchester Observer printed an address from the Blackburn Society which called on every man in England to join reform societies and fight for annual parliaments, universal suffrage and election by ballot “which alone can save us from lingering misery and premature death.” They also referred to the importance that women attached to their position as mothers and educating their children in democratic ideas. “We have already come forward with the avowed determination, of instilling into the minds of our offspring a deep-rotted abhorrance of tyranny.”

The women in the Stockport Society explained in their Articles of Association that it had been founded “for the purpose of co-operating with their male associates:”

“We who form and constitute the Stockport Female Union Society, having reviewed for a considerable time past the apathy, and frequent insult of our oppressed countrymen, by those sordid and all-devouring fiends, the Borough-mongering Aristocracy, and in order to accelerate the emancipation of this suffering nation, we, do declare, that we will assist the Male Union formed in this town, with all the might and energy that we possess, and that we will adhere to the principles, etc., of the Male Union…and assist our Male friends to obtain legally, the long-lost Rights and Liberties of our country.”

The Manchester Female Reform Society was also formed in July 1819 and issued an address entitled “Dear Sisters of the Earth”. It was an appeal directed at other women “to the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the higher and middling classes of society”:

“It is with a spirit of peaceful consideration and due respect that we are induced to address you, upon the causes of that have compelled us to associate together in aid of our suffering children, our dying parents, and the miserable partners of our woes. Bereft, not only of that support, the calls of nature require for existence; but the balm of sweet repose hath long been a stranger to us. Our minds are filled with a horror and despair, fearful on each returning morn, the light of heaven should present to us the corpse of some of our famished off spring , or nearest kindred, which the more kind hand of death had released from the oppressor…Every succeeding nights bring with it new terror, so that we are sick of life and weary of a world, where poverty , wretchedness, tyranny and injustice, have so long been permitted to reign…”

Like their sisters in other societies they blamed the aristocracy and land-owners for their plight . “The lazy boroughmongering eagles of destruction” who have “nearly picked bare the bones of those who labour” will “chase you to misery and death until the middle and useful class of society is swept by their relentless hands from the face of creation.”

The address also condemned the recent war against France and the carnage at Waterloo as having imposed upon them a burden of taxation, ended once-flourishing trade and commerce, and left thousands of widows and orphans destitute and unprotected. The only beneficiaries had been landowning MPs whose property had risen in value. They declared that could no longer “bear the ponderous weight of our chains any longer”, leaving them with no choice “but to tear them asunder and dash them in the face of our remorseless oppressor.” The address was signed by Susannah Saxton as Secretary of the Society

The Society drew up a further address to Henry Hunt, one of the principle speakers at the Peterloo meeting, which they had intended to present to him at the meeting on along with the Society’s banner, which showed a woman holding the scales of justice and treading the serpent of corruption underfoot. The meeting was dispersed before this the presentation could take place and so the address was printed in the Manchester Observer.

In these addresses the women, whilst expressing solidarity with men and asserting their right to comment publicly on political questions, made no claim for political rights for themselves, at least publicly. Their private thoughts are more difficult to discern as, unlike the men, none of the women later published political memoirs.

The description of the bloody attack on the meeting by Samuel Bamford, a leading Radical, in his book Passages in the Life of a Radical (1844) is well-known and almost invariably quoted in any account of Peterloo. Less well-known is the equally vivid account by his wife Jemima in the same book:

“I was determined to go to the meeting, and should have followed, even if my husband had refused his consent to my going with the procession. From what I, in common with others, had heard the week previous, ‘that if the country people went with their caps of liberty, and their banners, and music, the soldiers would be brought to them,’ I was uneasy, and felt persuaded, in my own mind, that something would be the matter, and I had best go with my husband, and be near him; and if I only saw him I should be more content than in staying at home. I accordingly, he having consented after much persuasion, gave my little girl something to please her, and promising more on my return, I left her with a careful neighbour woman, and joined some other married females at the head of the procession. Every time I went aside to look at my husband, and that was often, an ominous impression smote my heart. He looked very serious, I thought, and I felt a foreboding of something evil to befall us that day.
I was dressed plainly as a countrywoman in my second best attire. My companions were also neatly dressed as the wives of working men; I had seen Mr Hunt before that time; they had not, and some of them were quite eager to obtain good places, that they might see and hear one of whom so much had been reported.
In going down Mosley Street, I lost sight of my husband. Mrs Yates, who had hold of my arm, would keep hurrying forward to get a good place, and when the crowd opened for the Middleton procession, Mrs Yates and myself, and some others of the women, went close to the hustings, quite glad that we had obtained such a situation for seeing an hearing all. My husband got on the stage, but when afterwards I saw him leap down, and lost sight of him, I began to be unhappy. The crowd seemed to have increased very much, for we became insufferably pressed. We were surrounded by men who were strangers; we were almost suffocated, and to me the heat was quite sickening; but Mrs. Yates, being taller than myself, supported it better. I felt I could not bear this long, and I became alarmed. I reflected that if there was any more pressure, I must faint, and then what would become of me? I begged of the men to open a way and let me go out, but they would not move. Every moment I became worse, and I told some other men, who stood in a row, that I was sick, and begged they would let me pass them, and they immediately made a way, and I went down a long passage betwixt two ranks of these men, many of them saying, ‘make way, she’s sick, she’s sick, let her go out,’ and I passed quite out of the crowd and, turning to my right, I got on some high ground, on which stood a row of houses – this was Windmill Street.
I thought if I could get to stand at the door of one of those houses, I should have a good view of the meeting, and should perhaps see my husband again; and I kept going further down the row, until I saw a door open, and I stepped within it, the people of the house making no objections. By this time Mr Hunt was on the hustings, addressing the people. In a minute or two some soldiers came riding up. The good folks of the house, and some who seemed to be visitors, said, ‘the soldiers were only come to keep order; they would not meddle with the people;’ but I was alarmed. The people shouted, and then the soldiers shouted, waving their swords. Then they rode amongst the people, and there was a great outcry, and a moment after, a man passed without hat, and wiping the blood of his head with his hand, and it ran down his arm in a great stream.
The meeting was all in a tumult; there were dreadful cries; the soldiers kept riding amongst the people, and striking with their swords. I became faint, and turning from the door, I went unobserved down some steps into a cellared passage; and hoping to escape from the horrid noise, and to be concealed, I crept into a vault, and sat down, faint and terrified, on some fire wood. The cries of the multitude outside, still continued, and the people of the house, up stairs, kept bewailing most pitifully. They could see all the dreadful work through the window, and their exclamations were so distressing, that I put my fingers in my ears to prevent my hearing more; and on removing them, I understood that a young man had just been brought past, wounded. The front door of the passage before mentioned, soon after opened, and a number of men entered, carrying the body of a decent, middle aged woman, who had been killed. I thought they were going to put her beside me, and was about to scream, but they took her forward, and deposited her in some premises at the back of the house.”

According to recent research by historian Michael Bush for his book The Casualties of Peterloo, at least 18 people were killed , of whom four were women. These were named as:
Margaret Downes, Manchester – sabred
Mary Heys, Chorlton Row – trampled by cavalry
Sarah Jones, Manchester – truncheoned
Martha Partington, Barton – crushed in a cellar

At least 654 people were recorded as being injured of whom 168 were women.

Some of the crowd fought back. Samuel Bamford recorded the following anonymous fighter:

“A heroine, a young married woman of our party, with her face all bloody, her hair streaming about her, her bonnet hanging by the string, and her apron weighed with stones, kept her assailant at bay until she fell backwards and was near being taken; but she got way covered with severe bruises.”

The Manchester Female Reform Society continued in existence after Peterloo. Another address was made to William Cobbett in November 1819. Cobbet had returned from the USA with Thomas Paine’s bones, disinterred by William Benbow, but had been prevented from entering Manchester with them by the authorities. A third address was made to WG Lewis from Coventry when he chaired a meeting in Manchester in April 1820 to raise funds for political prisoners.

Article by Michael Herbert