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

Page 154-160

&c., &c.

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

I have dwelt at greater length upon the affairs of 1812 than the title of my work might seem to justify; or perhaps, some persons may think, than circumstances call for; they are however not only of fearful importance in themselves, but they mark the progress of that system, to the consummation of which the transactions of the 16th of August, are to be traced.

Passing by the short and fleeting interval of comfort and good wages, which the Weavers enjoyed, when the disasters experienced by the French Armies opened the continental markets to the adventurous spirit of our mer- chant ; I come to that period of severe suifering and depression, which the political economists of the ruling party characterised, somewhat unintelligibly, as a "revulsion, occasioned by the change from war to peace." In the calculations made by the labourers as to the benetits which peace was to bring them, and which included a full recompence for the privations they had endured whilst the war continued, no account was taken, no deduction made, of the effects of this formidable " revulsion." They had short-sightedly supposed, that peace would at once give them not merely an increase of wages and greater plenty, and regularity of employment, but also a relief from many taxes; which they took it for granted would cease with the war, for the maintenance of which they were imposed. But the giving of a factitious value to the price of corn, to enable the landed interest to pay the impositions to which it was subjected, was a `measure which has produced a deep and lasting irritation in the minds of the labouring classes, that was far from counter balanced bythe effect of the repeal of the malt tax, which which was meant as a concession to please them, when the House of Commons decreed the cessation of the tax upon property.

The distress of the labouring classes seemed rather to increase than diminish; and in the summer of 1816 was held at Middleton the first popular meeting, I believe of that description, of which this district, and indeed many other parts of the kingdom, have since witnessed so many examples. Meetings were soon afterwards held in most of the neighbouring towns and villages. Several took place in Manchester; but, as winter approached, they gradually became more insignificant in point of the numbers that composed them, or the impression they were calculated to produce. It must not be forgotten, that the principal object of all those meetings, was to petition in favour of reform. To the importance of that measure, the labouring classes were now not only fully alive, but they attached to it an idea of immediate efficaciousness, in which its considerate advocates, however sanguine with regard to the ultimate benefits of the measure, did not coincide. At this period too, first came into general notice, that class of persons, who have since been so well known, under the description of itinerant orators; most of them, probably, men of some natural talent and eloquence, but with few exceptions (none in this immediate neighbourhood) persons averse to depending for their livelihood upon any regular or laborious employment.

At length, on the 10th of March, 1817, was held, at St. Peter's Field, that meeting, which is yet familiarly known by the term of "the blanket meeting." To Mr. Mitchell, whose claims to the name of spy have lately been so largely discussed, belongs the credit of having invented this equivocal mode of petitioning; but it is well known that there was a considerable difference of opinion, with respect to the propriety of it, amongst the most active of the reformers themselves. From the meeting, however, several hundreds of persons set out on their road to London. Some time after their departure, a considerable detachment of the king's dragoon guards rode rapidly up to the hustings, which they surrounded, taking those who were upon them (amongst whom were Baguley and Drummond) into custody. The meeting was then dispersed by the troops, with very little injury to the persons assembled. *1 Here, however, is to be found the precedent for that novel form of reading the riot act, (if in either case it were read at all) which was followed on the 16th of August. The act was certainly not read according to the mode prescribed by the statute, nor were the crowd allowed that time for dispersion, which the law gives them. When the field was cleared, a large body of soldiers and constables were despatched after those, who had proceeded on the road towards London. They came up with them on Lancashire·hill near Stockport. Some hundreds were taken into custody, and one industrious cottager, resident on the spot, was shot dead by the pistol of a dragoon, at whom a stone was said to have been thrown from the situation, where with others the poor man stood. In this case a verdict of "wilful murder" was returned by the Coroner's jury, but I am not aware that any steps were ever taken to bring the delinquent to justice. Trifling as was the general amount of injury sustained on this occasion, I have the means of stating, positively, that this circumstance was owing, rather to the humanity and coolness of the military, than of the magistrates aud municipal officers. Sir John Byng repeatedly found it necessary to check the violence and impetuosity of the civil authorities.

But, as there did not appear the slightest ground for concluding that the persons arrested had been guilty of any definite offence against the laws, the conduct pursued with respect to this dispersion of the meeting, was by many persons severely blamed. And with a view, probably, of affording some justification for prior proceedings, a most notable plot was got up, the denoument of which was made public on the 28th of March. It was announced as "a most daring and traitorous conspiracy, the object of which was nothing less than open rebellion and insurrection." It was stated that, an intention existed to set fire to the town of Manchester, and that "the night of the 30th of March" was fixed upon for the perpetration of this diabolical crime. Upon this accusation, about a dozen persons were, on the evening of the 27th of March, 1817, taken into custody at Ardwick, and in other parts of the town, amongst whom were two spies. One of these worthies assumed the name of Warren; his real name being Haddington, and his place of abode, Bolton. The other was a man named Lomax, a barber, at Bank Top. *2 After the frst burst of astonishment and alarm, which this intelligence caused, had subsided, people began to inquire a little into the probability of its being well founded, particularly as the 30th of March had passed without the slightest discernable symptom of popular effervescence. In order, probably, to arrest the current of public incredulity, the Rev. W. R. Hay, stipendiary chairman of the Bench of Magistrates, in his charge to the Grand Jury at the Salford sessions, as reported in Wheeler's Manchester Chronicle, of the 26th April, stated, that when the trials of the parties accused came on, "purposes of the blackest enormity must be disclosed to the public," and that those "who professed to doubt their existence, would be finally constrained to admit the existence ofthe whole of them." But, notwithstanding this positive official assurance, all the persons arrested on the imputation of these atrocious designs were discharged, not only without trial, but without any indictment being ever preferred against them. It was probably from feeling how little likely the statement of this fact was to increase public faith in the truth of magisterial accusations, that Mr. Philips has prudently suppressed all notice of, or even allusion to it.

But it seems (Appendix No. 2) that "the line of conduct pursued (in 1817,) was entirely preventive." What! was it "preventive conduct" to drag men to prison on charges "of the blackest enormity," which have since been proved if they were not then known to be utterly groundless? Was it "preventive conduct " to employ convicted felons, (and two at least of these villains were employed) as spies, when it could not but be known how much more likely they were to create mischief, than merely to watch or correctly to report it? I acknowledge the propriety of no conduct which is founded on a breach of justice or of law. I acknowledge the humanity of no conduct which scatters accusations as baseless as their substance is terrible, and seeks in a bill of indemnity, protection against the consequences of the offence. As Mr. Philips states, that "the Magistrates and other public functionaries received the thanks of their fellow townsmen," for their conduct in March 1817, I ask him, when or where any public meeting was ever held, which either gave its thanks to those parties or to which their friends durst propose a resolution to that effect. Since the repeal of the habeas corpus suspension act, and the other measures enacted at the same time, the people have been rapidly acquiring political information, and their observing, upon the occasion of those restrictions, how little they could rely upon the House of Commons for protection of their liberties, together with the utter and unvaried disregard, if not contempt, with which their humblest petitions have been received by the House, has served to impress them with the strongest convictions; how little the House of Commons can be said to represent the people, how little it sympathises in their views and feelings, and how absolutely the welfare of the state requires that it should be thoroughly reformed.

I shall not at present enter into any disquisition upon the subject of Parliamentary Reform; nor shall I notice the various meetings held here, and in other places in the vicinity, for the furtherance of that important object. Whilst differences of opinion may fairly exist, as to the eligibility or desirableness of such meetings, or of the object in favour of which they were held, no man who has a character for veracity to preserve can deny, that they were invariably peaceable and orderly; or assert, that out of them has sprung the slightest injury to the person or the property of any individual whatever. To pretend, therefore, to view the tendency of these meetings with serious apprehension and dread, was at least premature; and I believe I am not incorrect, in attributing the bitterness of opposition which they excited, to vexation that the poor could no longer be induced to act as privates (my words are "marching in military array,") in the political battalions of the Tories. The latter would, therefore, gladly have prohibited the poor from all means of political information-to hold a public meeting was of course to invade their privileges, whilst a clamour for reform could arise from nothing but a general intention to seize the property ot the rich. That there are persons amongst the poor, and who are occasionally active in their political proceedings, whose views and wishes may extend to revolutionary tumult, it would be wrong and useless to deny; but this affords no ground for suspicion or complaint against the great body of the people; it gives no right to impute to them improper views and objects. As well might a foreigner describe us as a nation of thieves, because, unfortunately, we have some thieves amongst us. It is so obvious, that in estimating the character, the wishes, and the intentions, of the people, we must look to the conduct of the great body, and not to that of individuals, that I am surprised how any person who expects or even wishes to be considered a man of fairness or good sense, can for a moment adduce the vulgar or criminal impertinence of single persons, in proof of the violent and unlawful designs of a whole class. *3 I certainly am not able to contradict the statement, that "sometimes the reformers used insolent and taunting observations, purposely to be heard by any respectable person they might meet or pass;" but I can safely say, that this practice was by no means general, nor so much so as to excite much observation, unless a person were disposed to be captiously watching to observe it.

*1. It is not the fashion amongst the high party in Manchester, to endeavour to reason with the people. The blanket scheme was so absurd and foolish, that I have little doubt, a few sensible observations upon the subject, by some of the authorities, would have induced the people to lay it wholly aside. Such a conciliatory mode of conduct was found effective, some time previous, when the Staffordshire colliers were going up to London, drawing several waggon loads of coals with them, to preto the Prince Regent, I cannot at once refer to the particulars, but my readers will doubtless remember, that the magistrates remonstrated with the poor fellows, purchased their coals, and induced them to return home. For my part, I like this plan better than exposing the poor to military execution.
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*2. It was denied in parliament, by ministers, that this man was a spy; he however was known to be most intimately connected with Waddington, whose being so was undisputed. At any rate, he was taken into custody on the 27th March, on the charge stated above; but, as well as Waddington, almost instantly released. It was further admitted, that he had written to Lord Sidmouth on the 17th March, offering to become a spy. Michael Hall, another spy, who assumed the name of Dewhurst, was in the house at Ardwick when these parties were arrested, but it was arranged that he should escape. Since Waddington's exposure in the House of Commons, he has often been called "blackface" (spy.) On one occasion, he shot a young man who applied a term of that sort to him. He was held to bail on this un-bailable charge, by Colonel Fletcher or Major Watkins, and in the mean time it was managed, that the complainant should be indicted at the Salford sessions for riot; Waddington being the principal witness Waddington, and indeed he had not money to purchase it.
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*3.The following anecdote will demonstrate to Mr.Philips, the propriety of this observation. On the morning of the 16th of August, but before the catastrophe of the meeting, one of his nearest relations said, in the company of a friend of mine, that he "hoped the mob would give the soldiers an opportunity of firing upon them." God forbid, however, that I should attribute such a wish to the whole class, to which Mr. Philips belongs, even though the affidavits at Buxton's house, the Star Inn meeting, and some part of the address to the Prince Regent, seem to afford too much ground for doing so. I recommend it to Mr. Philips, however, to endeavour to introduce a more humane feeling into his own family.
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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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