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 172-176

&c., &c.

[As this is a long statement, 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]

However nauseous and fulsome the adulation which may be offered as incense to their vanity, it may yet be imprudent to reply to it; and when the rage of political hostility has instigated human passions to a deep and stern vibration, the "small still voice of truth," prompting to manly and independent investigation, is scarcely ever heard amid the storm.

The comments which I have made upon the parliamentary documents, will exhibit my opinion of the conduct of some of the Magistrates in individual cases. With respect, specifically, to the transactions of the 16th of August, it is generally understood, and I am assured it is capable of proof, (though for that, I do not pledge myself) that there was a considerable difference of opinion amongst the Magistrates themselves, as to the propriety of calling in the military unless some actual breach of the peace were committed. Certainly, my estimation of the character of some individuals amongst them has been very erroneous, if the deeds of that day received their unanimous approbation. But, however that fact may be, that there are amongst the Magistrates, individuals of the most violent political character men, who most unwillingly concede to those who differ from them the liberty of` manifesting their opinions, and who sometimes use language upon the bench more fit for the orgies of` a Pitt-club - is beyond dispute. *1 That there are some, whose circumstances render it but too probable, that they look to the good things at the disposal of` Ministers, as the reward of their devoted services, is also undeniable. *2 That there are some, the avowed founders and patrons of Orange Societies, the organizers and supporters of a system of espionage of extent far greater, and of consequences rnore tremendous, than in any other district in the kingdom, is also too true; whilst that there are any distinguished for the possession of clear and comprehensive judgments, of sound constitutional information, of liberal and enlightened opinions, of superior acquired knowledge, or of great natural talents, I have yet to learn.

But though there can be no doubt, that the Magistrates sanctioned the proceedings of the 16th of August, I am inclined to believe, that it is not to them that we are to look, as the original instigators of the tragedy of that day. There is a committee appointed, I know not how, and consisting of I know not whom; but which arrogates to itself the title of the "Committee to strengthen the Civil Power." Judging of this body from its conduct, I am led to believe, that it consists principally of the waning remnant, or the few apt successors, of those whose bigotry and prejudices caused the riots of 1791 and 1792. That bigotry and those prejudices now, however, operate differently, for they have no longer the populace on their side. But as the people are not now to be incited to violence against the friends of freedom, it is an effort worthy of the same actors, to stir up prejudice, and suspicion, and distrust, against the people themselves. I do not mean to say, that these persons do not think they are "doing the state some service ;" but I am sure we in this district were in a much more tranquil condition before they afflicted us by the incumbrance of their protection.*3 However honestly disposed they may be, their acts render it sufficiently evident, that they are men of the most violent party feelings; that they do not possess that cool and discerning judgment which is requisite, by a scrupulous and diligent investigation of the nature of evidence, to enable them to elicit the truth; - that they are not nice as to the description of agents they employ, being predisposed to decide against the people; and finally, that they assume to themselves the most improper and unconstitutional power, actually placing the whole neighbourhood in a state of complete and hitherto unheard of surveillance *4 From this anomalous self-constituted committee, many of the aflidavit-makers, on the 16th of August, were, I believe, taken. Of its members, was the meeting which thanked the Magistrates and Yeomanry for their conduct, in part composed. Being heartily desirous that tranquility and confidence may be restored amongst us, I entreat, as a preliminary measure, that the members of the committee will rest from their labours *5.

With respect to the conduct of the Yeomanry, on the 16th of August, I am decidedly of opinion, that considerable misapprehension has existed. That the greater part of the corps are actually incapable. of acting with deliberate cruelty, it gives me pleasure to state my belief; but it is at the same time necessarysto add, that by far the greater proportion of those cases, in which it is ascertained by what body of military wounds were indicted, the yeomanry are the corps named. In order to account for this, it may be remarked, that they were first upon the field - they alone went up to the hustings - they alone took the flags and caps of liberty - and they alone were known to, and consequently can be identified by, the people. It is also beyond question, that there are in the corps individuals, whose political rancour approaches to absolute insanity; who before the meeting threatened what they would do; and who, reeking from the field, boasted of the feats they had achieved; who have openly avowed that their intention was to assassinate Mr. Hunt, and expressed their regret at not having effected their purpose. My decided opinion, therefore, is, that a few individuals inflicted all the wounds which have been attributed to the Yeomanry as a body. It is also true, notwithstanding the extraordinary gratuitous disclaimer of Col. Dalryrnple, that in several instances both officers and privates of the hussars did interfere to stop the carnage. At least, this fact has been vouched to me by so many persons, totally unconnected with, and unknown to, each other; and as having occurred at such different parts of the ground, that I cannot for a moment hesitate to say, I am fully assured of the fact.
I have omitted to mention, that after the field was cleared (this fact I now introduce, because it has not been dwelt upon so much as it appears to me to deserve,) the yeomanry mustered again near Mr. Buxton's house, waved their swords and cheered in token of triumph. That waving of swords I saw, those cheers I heard, and the sight and the sound smote heavy on my heart. For I could not have supposed, but that the dispersion of the assembled multitude would at least have been felt as a painful duty. I could not have supposed that the wounds and sufferings they had been the agents to inflict on their unarmed countrymen, would have been regarded by the Manchester yeomanry as a matter of exultation and rejoicing.

*1. Rev. C. W. Ethelston, on the case of David Kay, (see Times of Sept. 27th,) "I believe you are a downright blackguard reformer. Some ot` you reformers ought to be hanged, and some of you are sure to be hanged - the rope is already round your necks; the law has been a great deal too lenient with you: - (addressing the clerk,) I will have no bail for this ruffianly crew, unless they have some money."
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*2. One of this class of worshipful persons, to whose name the epithet of` "Miss" is frequently affixed, and who a few years ago gave an excellent specimen of the correctness of his taste, by quoting Greek to a Manchester Pitt-Club, hit upon a notable expedient for putting down Mr. Hunt. He proposed to take him into custody, on his return from Lancaster, as a vagrant on the ground that he had no visible means of subsistence; to confine him seven days in the New Bailey, flog him, and pass him out of the parish. His colleagues, however, were not quite so far gone as to fall in with this plan.
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*3. When Mr. Hunt returned from Lancaster, in the end of August or in September last, his friends decreed him the honour of a public entry; and great crowds went out to meet him. In his way into town, it was necessary that he should pass down New Bailey Street., and over the New Bailey Bridge. The hour for his arrival being made known, a little before that period the scavengers' carts were sent down to block up the street, in order that the progress of the procession might be obstructed. The day happened to be very wet, and the procession was therefore much behind its time; the consequence of which was, that after the poor scavengers had got drenched with rain in waiting for it, they were sent home. Whether this judicious plan was adopted tbr the laudable purpose of preserving the peace, or (considering the end to be answered,) the still more laudable one of creating a riot, it is for the public to decide. The credit of the happy thought belongs however I believe to the "Committee to strengthen the civil power."
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*4. The following document will sufliciently prove this assertion.
"Public Office., Aug. 18, 1819
At a numerous meeting ofthe 'Committee to strengthen the Civil Power,"
Joseph Green, Esq. in the chair,
It was unanimously resolved,
That, in order to secure the most correct intelligence possible, the Committee recommend to the Boroughreeve and Constables, that the following gentlemen be requested to give them the earliest information of any extraordinary appearances in their respective neighbourhoods"
Letter accompanying the above resolution:
To Mr. ---
The present aspect of political affairs, rendering an arrangement for early and authentic information, a measure of the highest importance, I am directed by the "Committee in aid of the Civil Power," to transmit to you a copy of a former resolution referring thereto, and to request the favour of your continued attention to the object of it.
I am, sir,
Your's very respectfully,
November 19, 1819

No. 2.
As it is considered by the 'Committee in aid of the Civil Power,' that the crisis is near at hand, when the Radicals probably may attempt some measures of violence, I am desired again to refer you to the resolution of the 18th of August last, and to request your attention to the objects contained in it, and particularly to make an immediate communication of any unusual appearances in your neighbourhood.
I am, sir,
Yours very respectfully,
Essex Street, Manchester,
22nd Nov. 1819
To Mr. ___ .
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*5. Since the text was written, I have ascertained that amongst the members of this committee are several of those members of the yeomanry, who were most active on the 16th of August. The country will see the strong interest which these persons have to obtain evidence against the people, in order that it may operate in their own justification, and will therefore know how to estimate whatever statements can be supposed to emanate from them.
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Transcribed PAGES from 'Notes & Observations ...'




(inc. footnotes)

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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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