The Massacre of Peterloo, Manchester, 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819


'NOTES & OBSERVATIONS, Critical & Explanatory, on the Papers Relative to
the Internal State of the Country, Recently Presented to Parliament
to which is appended,
a REPLY to Mr. Francis Philips's
'Exposure of the Calumnies circulated by the Enemies of Social Order ...
PAGE LIST (below) with LINKS

&c. &c.

Pages 55 to 61

[As this is a particularly long letter, with a great number of footnotes, and to make things more easy to read, there are links backwards and forwards between the letter and the relevant footnotes]

Manchester, 16th August, 1819.
Quarter past Nine.

My Lord,
MR. NORRIS being very much fatigued by the harassing duty of this day, it becomes mine now to inform your Lordship of the proceedings which have been had in consequence of the proposal put forward for a meeting. The Special Committee have been in constant attendance for the last three days, and contented themselves till they saw what the complexion of the meeting might be, or what circumstances might arise, with coming to this determination only, which they adopted in concurrence with some of the most intelligent gentlemen of the town, not to stop the numerous columns which were from various roads expected to pour in, but to allow them to reach the place of their destination.

The assistance of the military was of course required, and arrangements in consequence made with them, of such description as might be applicabte to various circumstances.

About eleven o'clock the Magistrates, who were very numerous, repaired to a house, whence they might see the whole of the proceedings of the meeting. A body of special constables took their ground, about two hundred in number, close to the hustings; from them there was a line of communication to the house where we were. Mr. Trafford Trafford was so good as to take the situation of attending Colonel L'Estrange, the commanding oficer.

From eleven till one o'clock, the various columns arrived, attended by flags, each by two or three flags; and there were four, if not more, caps of liberty. The ensigns were of the same description as those displayed on similar occasions, with this addition, that one had a bloody pike represented on it, another, "Equal representation or death." There was no appearance of arms or pikes, but great plenty of sticks and staves, and every column marched in regular files of three or four deep, attended with conductors, music, &c. (O) The most powerful accession was in the last instance, when Hunt and his party came in. But, long before this, the Magistrates had felt a decided conviction that the whole BORE THE APPEARANCE OF INSURRECTION, that the array was such as to TERRIFY ALL THE KING'S SUUBJECTS, and was such as no legitimate purpose could justify. In addition to their own sense of the meeting, they had very numerous depositions from the inhabitants, as to their fears for the public safety; and at length a man deposed as to the parties who were approaching, attended by the heaviest column. On a barouche-box was a woman in white, who I believe was a Mrs. Gant [sic], from Stockport, and who, it is believed, had a cap of liberty. (P) In the. barouche were Hunt, Johnson, Knight, and Moorhouse of Stockport: as soon as these four parties were ascertained, a warrant issued to apprehend them. The troops were mustered, and Nadin, preceding the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry, executed it (Q) While the Cavalry was forming, a most marked defiance of them was acted by the reforming part of the mob; (R) however, they so far executed their purpose, as to apprehend Hunt and Johnson on the hustings: Knight and Moorhouse in the moment escaped. They also took on the hustings, Saxton, and Sykes, who is the writer to the Manchester Observer, and which Saxton had before been addressing the mob. (S) The parties thus apprehended, were brought to the house where the magistrates were. In the mean time the Riot Act was read, and the mob was completety dispersed, but not without very serious and lamentable effects'. (T) Hunt, &c.. were brought down to the New Bailey; two magistrates and myself, having promised them protection, preceded them; we were attended by special constables and some cavalry. The parties were lodged in the New Bailey; and since that have been added to them, Knight and Moorhouse. On inquiry, it appeared that many had suttered from various instances; one of the Manchester Yeomanry, Mr. Hulme, was, after the parties were taken, struck by a brick-bat; he lost his power over his horse, and is supposed to have fractured his skull by a fall from his horse. I am afraid that he is since dead; if not, there are no hopes of his recovery. A special constable of the name of Ashworth has been killed - cause unknown; and four women appear to have lost their lives by being pressed by the crowd; these, I believe, are the fatal effects of the meeting. A variety of instances of sabre wounds occurred, but I hope none mortal; several pistols were fired by the mob, but as to their effect, save in one instance deposed to before Colonel Fletcher, we have no account. We cannot but deeply regret all this serious attendant on this transaction; but we have the satisfaction of witnessing the "very grateful and cheering countenances of the whole town; in fact, they consider themselves as saved by our exertions. (U) All the shops were shut, and, for the most part, continued so all the evening The capture of Hunt took place before two o'clock, and I forgot to mention, that all their colours, drums, &c. were taken or destroyed: since that I have been to the Infirmary, and found myself justified in making the report I have; but Mr. Norris now tells me, that one or two more than I have mentioned may have lost their lives. The parties apprehended will have their cases proceeded on to-morrow; but it appears that there may arise difficulties as to the nature of some of their crimes, on which it may be necessary to consult Government. (V)
The whole Committee of Magistrates will assemble to-morrow as usual. During the afternoon, and part of the evening, parts of the town have been in a very disturbed state, and numerous applications made for military. These have been supplied, but in some cases have, in the Irish part of the town, been obliged to fire, I trust without any bad effect as to life, in any instance. At present, every thing seems quiet; the reports agree with that, and I hope that we shall have a quiet night; I have omitted to mention, that the active part of the meeting may be said to have come in wholly from the country; and that it did not consist of less than 20,000 men, &c. The flag on which was "Equal representation or death," was a black one; and in addition, on the same side, had "No boroughmongering - unite, and be free;" at the bottom, "Saddleworth, Lees, and Morley[sic] Union;" on the reverse, "No Corn Laws: - Taxation without representation, is unjust and tyrannical." On the Middleton flag was, "Let us die like men, and not be sold like slaves;" reverse, "Liberty is the birthright of man."

I close my letter at a quarter before eleven; every thing remains quiet - many of the troops have returned to the barracks, with the consent of the Magistrates. I have to apologize to your Lordship for the haste in which this is written, but I trust that the haste will naturally be accounted for.

I have the honour to be, my Lord,
With sincere respect,
Your Lordship's faithful and obedient humble Servant,
W. R. HAY.

To the Right Hon. Viscount Sidmouth,
One of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State
&c. &c. &c.

(N) This paragraph likewise seems to negative the presumption of any pre-existing intention to disperse the meeting. It is a fact, however, that early in the forenoon of the 16th of August, persons supposed to be acquainted with the intentions of the magistrates, distinctly asserted, that Mr. Hunt would be arrested on the hustings, and the meeting dispersed. I myself was more than once told so, but could not conceive it possible that there was any foundation whatever for the report, provided (of which I entertained no doubt) that the meeting were peaceable.Return to letter

(O) Mr. Hay says, "The ensigns were of the same description as those displayed on similar occasions, with this addition, that one had a bloody pike represented on it; another, 'Equal representation or death.' " This admission confines any legal offence, which the banners can be presumed to have created, to the two which Mr. Hay has particularised. with respect to the pike, either Mr. Hay was so far blinded by his fears, or his passion, as to mistake a sword in the hand of an emblematical figure of Justice for a "bloody pike ;" or there is no foundation whatever for his assertion. With respect to the latter, certainly such a flag was carried; but before I can admit that there is any legal offence in it, I must be informed what "Equal representation" means; and be convinced, that it is not a lawful object of pursuit. The exhibition of such flags is, however, very foolish and in had taste, because to some persons it gives offence; yet it affords no justification for delivering over an unarmed crowd to military execution. Mr. Hay's distinct statement that, "there was no appearance of arms or pikes," forms a contrast with Lord Sidmouth's assertions in the House of Peers, not much to the advantage of his lordship's veracity; unless indeed, as ministers had, after this letter was written, the assistance of the personal narratives of Mr. Hay and Mr. Hardman, the noble Secretary should have happened to make the statement on their verbal authority. In that case, the merit of the embellishment belongs to them. Mr. Hay subsequently says, "but long before this, the magistrates had felt a decided conviction that the whole bore the appearance of insurrection, - that the array was such as to terrify all the King's subjects, and was such as no legitimate purpose could justify." Mr. Hay does not explain what this "appearance of insurrection" was, and I know not how to conceive the idea of an "appearance of insurrection" in the absence of the definite and absolute crime of insurrection itself. Besides, the law applies to facts, and not to "appearances;" and if no facts appertaining to the meeting can be pointed out, which amount to an absolute and palpable violation of law, it is in vain to seek to justify the conduct of the Magistrates by referring us to their conviction of "appearances." But "the array was such as to terrify all the King's subjects." Mr. Hay, when he wrote that sentence, knew full well it was untrue. Where is his evidence of it? What! because some twenty or thirty persons, as Mr. B. Wilbraham states, or sixty or seventy as I have elsewhere heard, principally, I believe, members of the self-constituted "Committee for strengthening the civil power," or personal friends of the Magistrates, made oath that they were frightened, and that they considered the peace in danger, is that a justification of the conduct pursued? If no offence had previously been committed, these affidavits made none; if there were any, they were supererogatory and useless. But let us look to numbers. Were the 50,000 of his Majesty's subjects who composed the compact body of the meeting - were they alarmed? No. - Were the bulk of the inhabitants of those parts of the town through which the processions passed, terrified? Certainly not; for hundreds - probably thousands of them attended the meeting as spectators. Alarm, either for their own safety, or that of their property, would undoubtedly have kept them at home. It is therefore false to say, that "the array was such as to terrify all;" or, relatively speaking, even any considerable portion of "his Majesty's subjects."Return to letter

(P) There are only two mistakes in this short sentence. In the first place Mrs Gaunt is not from Stockport; and in the next she was not on the barouche box. So much for official accuracy!Return to letter

(Q) "As soon as these four parties (Hunt, Johnson, Knight, and Moorhouse,) were ascertained, a warrant issued to apprehend them. The Troops mustered, and Nadin, preceding the Manchester Yeomanry, executed it." This is an admirable specimen of sober narrative composition. Who would suppose it referred to anything but a common and unimportant incident? Who can discover in it a trace of the real characteristics of the event it professes to describe; the violent and rapid incursion of an armed force into the midst of a peaceable multitude, the bruises, the tramplings, the fractures, and the sabrings, that ensued. But it has also the additional ingredient of falsehood in its composition. Mr. Nadin did not "precede the Manchester Yeomanry." On the contrary, he himself swore at the Oldham Inquest, that he followed them - that he could not keep pace with them; but arrived at the Hustings soon after they got there.Return to letter

(R) What the reverend penman here calls "a most marked defiance acted by the reforming part of the mob," that journalist of undoubted and unbounded loyalty Mr. John Wheeler, in the Manchester Chronicle of Aug. 21st, more candidly designates as "cheers." I heard them, and certainly am not aware that they differed from those which Mr. Hunt has been in the habit of frequently instructing his followers to give, when no idea of "defiance" could enter into his mind. Mr. Hay probably however would not wish to be considered as being disposed to view Mr. Hunt's conduct, through the most favourable medium, of which it is even fairly susceptible.Return to letter

(S) In this sentence there are only three deviations from truth. In the first place, there was no such person as Sykes arrested; in the next, the Manchester Observer has not, and never had, any writer of the name; and in the third, Saxton had not been addressing the people.Return to letter

(T) This sentence is most important. In the composition of his despatches announcing the victory obtained over the starving populace, the reverend stipendiary chairman of the Salford Quarter Sessions, seems to have thought it almost needless to say a word with respect to the reading of the riot act. It is just noticed, but evidently only en passant, - and being placed in immediate collocation with the dispersion of the meeting, we must necessarily suppose the two circumstances to have been simultaneous: where then is Lord Castlereagh's authority for asserting that the riot act was read not once, but three times? Who told him that a magistrate, in attempting to read it, was trampled under foot? Or, that they sent a third magistrate to read it at the hustings, in order that no man might be ignorant of the fact of its having been read? Let him, if he can, produce one man, above the character of a lag, or a police officer, who will pledge his veracity for the fact: his lordship cannot do it, and I now assert my fullest conviction, that not one respectable person can be found, who will vouch of his own knowledge, that the Riot Act was read once in any manner, comprehending even a tolerable approach to the form prescribed by the statute.Return to letter

(U) "A special constable of the name of Ashworth has been killed - cause unknown." The cause was known, to every body but Mr. Hay, to have been the attack of the yeomanry; "and four women appeared to have lost their lives by being pressed by the crowd; these I believe are the fatal effects of the meeting." I believe them to have been the "fatal effects" of the violent dispersion "of the meeting." With respect to the assertion of four women having lost their lives, it is however, an inaccuracy - one only having been crushed to death in a cellar. As to the statement, that "several pistols were fired by the mob," it is entirely unsupported, all the firing yet alleged, having been traced either to the 88th, or to the Yeomanry. That several shots were fired by the former, was proved on the Oldham Inquest; and there was evidence ready with respect to the discharge of at least one pistol by the latter, when the adjournment took place. But, where is the account as to the "effect" of one pistol fired by the "mob, deposed to before Colonel Fletcher? Was not this of sufficient importance to come before his Majesty's Ministers ? Or was the affidavit upon further inspection, thrown aside as unfit for service? I hope I am not disposed to be uncandid towards Mr. Hay, but I can only view the expressions of regret which occur in the commencement of the sentence which succeeds that, on which I have been commenting, as the mere common-place cant of affected humanity, which it would not have been decent to omit; and which are in perfect keeping and congruity with the nauseous vanity of the remainder of the sentence. Never was there a grosser attack, never a more groundless aspersion, on the character of the inhabitants of Manchester. Mr. Hay is not to confound his frightened, affidavit-making friends with "the whole town." For myself, I never witnessed such a strong, though, from motives of prudence, restrained expression of horror, astonishment, and dismay, as on that dreadful occasion.Return to letter

(V) It seems the magistrates could not tell what to do with Mr. Hunt, when they had got him. Why, then, this breathless haste to apprehend him? Why, then, place the safety of so many thousands of persons in jeopardy, to take into custody a man, of whose escape from the reach of public justice, they will not pretend to have been afraid? Why was he, at all hazards, to be seized and committed upon some undetermined charge, the evidence to substantiate which was subsequently to be sought?Return to letter


Transcribed PAGES from 'Notes & Observations ...'




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'NOTES & OBSERVATIONS, Critical & Explanatory, on the Papers Relative to the Internal State of the Country, Recently Presented to Parliament; to which is appended, a REPLY to Mr. Francis Philips's 'Exposure of the Calumnies circulated by the Enemies of Social Order ...'
by a 'Member of the Manchester Committee for Relieving the Sufferers of the 16th August 1819 (Ascribed to John Edward Taylor)
Pub. Dec1919

Transcribed by Sheila Goodyear 2019

LINK to full .pdf document of 'Notes & Observations ...' on the Internet Archive website to read or download.
LINK to .pdf file of 'Exposure of the Calumnies...' on the Internet Archive website to read or download.

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