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 177-183

&c., &c.

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

Some further observations yet remain to be made, respecting Mr. Philips's pamphlet. I am not the advocate of Mr. Hunt. There are many of his principles, in which I do not agree, there is much more of his conduct of which I do not approve. But it is impossible not to be disgusted at the wilful and perverse misrepresentation of his meaning, which is manifested in the interpretation given to that phrase in his address, "Put them down and keep them down." Mr. Philips first mentions this, page 6, of his pamphlet, and he repeats it, page 47; in both instances asserting or insinuating that the expressions were used in reference to the constables and yeomanry; adding in a note, page 47, that he is told, on the authority of a very intimate friend, that "from the rancorous manner in which they were uttered, Mr. Hunt strongly reminded him of Kean, in King Richard" Now, notwithstanding all "the inundation of falsehoods, which filled many of the London, prints," (page 49) but of which, Mr. Philips, I believe, has scarcely mentioned one; the public will agree with me, that a gentleman who attended upon the hustings, without any connexion with Mr. Hunt, whose business it was to render a faithful report of the proceedings, whose means and capacity of doing so must be improved by constant practice on similar occasions, and who, from personal knowledge, I have the pleasure to say is well qualitied to give a true and incapable of giving a false statement of what passed, is more to be depended upon, (to say the least) than any person who has given to Mr. Hunt's meaning the same direction as Mr. Philips's.

In the report of the proceedings in the Times, that part of Mr. Hunt's address is given as follows. After having for some time vainl y endeavoured to obtain silence, Mr. Hunt said, "Will you be so obliging as not to call silence, while the business of the day is proceeding, (silence was then obtained.) He hoped they would nowexercise the all powerful right of the people, and if any person would not be quiet, that they would put him down and keep him quiet." This was at the very commencement of his speech, from which it is evident that the yeomanry were not then come upon the field, did not make their appearance for a considerable time afterwards, and consequently could not be alluded to by Mr. Hunt. This assertion is fully confirmed by the report of Mr. Hunt's speech, in Wheeler`s Chronicle of August 21st. Indeed the plain and obvious meaning of his observation, which it requires strong prejudice to misconstrue, or great assurance to pervert, is, that if any persons should attempt to render the meeting illegal, or to interrupt its peaceableness by attempting to raise a disturbance - that they should be put down and kept quiet; a piece of advice about the propriety of which, I should think there can be little difference of opinion. "With respect to his "racorous" manner, I believe no man can have the smallest chance of making himself heard by 50,000 or 60,000 people, without a vehemence of manner, which those who are so disposed may easily persuade themselves is "rancorous."

Mr. Philips, after alluding to the depraved licentiousness of the press, which statement., as it involves matter of opinion quite as much as fact, I shall not notice, proceeds page 9. "Schools had also been established for the avowed purpose of inculcating defiance of all government, and contempt of all religion." I have already stated, in my observations on the parliamentary papers, the utter groundlessness of assertions such as these, and I now merely return to the subject, for the purpose of expressing my surprise that, in a town where a school exists, respecting which this charge has been made - in a district containing several others which have been similarly spoken of, any person could be found who would subscribe his name to a statement not only without the slightest foundation, but for which there is not the slightest pretence. I of course cannot be wrong in taking it for granted, that the schools here referred to are those founded by the reformers and called "Union Sunday Schools." And it is not merely upon empty assertion, but from an examination of all the books used in these schools, and of the course of instruction and religious exercises pursued there, which have been personally made by two of my particular friends, whose veracity is beyond the reach of suspicion, and whose judgment cannot be imposed upon, that l charge this statement to be a gross and absolute calumny. Let Mr. Philips personally examine the schools at Manchester, at Macclesfield, at Oldham, or at Stockport, and then let him, if he can do it, impeach the correctness of my assertions. The fact is, that these schools are in the hands of persons of strict religious character, and warm religious feeling, and that no political publications are ever read there *1.

I cannot conceive in what manner this charge can have been trumped up against the "Union Sunday Schools," unless it be that the "Union Societies" have, for the purpose of feeding political enmities, been wilfully confounded with them. But the latter are associations of grown-up persons, not of children; they are professedly and exclusively political; and as it is unquestionably equally untrue, to assert of them, as of the schools, that they "inculcate a defiance of all government and contempt of all religion," I have yet to learn, that they are less respectable or less legal, than Pitt Clubs or Orange Societies.

With respect to the sharpening of the Yeomanry sabres, about which so many observations have been made, Mr. Philips says, (page 17,) "On the 7th July, government issued orders to the Cheshire and Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry, through the Lords Lieutenant of those counties, to hold themselves in readiness, and consequently most of the Manchester Cavalry sent their arms to the same cutler which the corps had employed during the last war, to put them in condition; this was a month before the Manchester meeting of reformers had been advertized." Now, the corps could not have employed this cutler during the last war, because it was not then in existence; and with respect to the purpose for which the swords were sharpened, that will be rendered sufficiently plain, by a reference to the letter of the five Manchester magistrates to Lord Sidmouth, which is the first in the series of parliamentary documents, and wherein they state, under date of the 1st of July, that "a meeting is expected to be held here on Monday week," that is, the 12th of July; so that these facts contirm the conclusion, that it was specially with a view to the then next ensuing meeting of reformers, whenever it might be held, that the swords were sharpened. And that this measure should have been so long in progress, and indeed required by a printed circular, gives it a character of deliberation and forethought, which, had it been adopted merely on the spur of the moment, would have been wholly wanting. I know, however, that some of the Yeornanry swords were not taken away from tl1e cutler's until the 14th of August.

I have really been surprised at Mr. Philips's frequent and flat contradictions of his own assertions. One instance I have before given; again he says, (page 19,) of an extract from one of Mr. Hunt's speeches, that it is an admission that "the people, or (not to strain the point) a considerable proportion of them, might, if they chose, have been armed at the meeting; but he, Mr. Hunt, was too politic a general; he well knew that the Magistrates had taken every precaution to prevent surprise and devastation, and that, in addition to the regulars and the Manchester Yeomanry, the whole of the Cheshire legion were to be in attendance" Now this passage I take to be an admission on the part of Mr. Philips, that the people were not armed., and indeed it is madness to suppose that, knowing of all the immense military preparations made - the infantry, the cavalry, and the artillery, in attendance, - that they would come armed to the meeting, because they could not have a moment's expectation of making a successful resistance, if they should be attacked, and would have no object in being armed, if they did not expect to be molested. But in direct opposition to this, Mr. Philips says, in speaking of the Blanket Meeting, (page 6,) that then the people had "no public leader," who had distributed his orders as to their resistance; and (page 47) that "his (Mr. Hunt's) body guard had locked their arms together, in one compact impenetrable phalanx, and he had given his orders, (alluding to the constables and yeomanry,) to put them down, and keep them down" That is, that he, who " was too politic a general" to advise the people to come armed to the meeting, because " he knew, that in addition to the regulars and Manchester Yeomanry, the whole of the Cheshire legion were to be in attendance," yet "distributed his orders, as to the resistance of the people;" which said resistance was to be accomplished by their taking hold of each other's arms, and thus opposing to the onset of this tremendous military force, "an impenetrable phalanx!"

It may be observed in addition here, that the extreme density of the crowd, by preventing the people from stooping down to pick up, or from using their arms to throw stones with any degree of force, even supposing that they had them concealed on their persons, proves, incontrovertibly, that resistance could not have been made by the people, until they had been illegally assaulted - until the compactness of the crowd had been lessened by their partial dispersion, and not until they, consequently, had a legal right to use all the resistance in their power. From the formidable list of officers, privates, and horses, both in the regulars and yeomanry, who are said to have been struck by sticks and stones, on this occasion, I believe it would not be possible to select three individuals, who sustained any personal injury. The two horses wounded by sharp instruments, were, I am assured by persons who saw them, cut by the sabres, either of their riders or others of the military, of course unintentionally.

At the conclusion of Mr. Wheeler`s account of the meeting of the 16th, which Mr. Philips has introduced, the latter says, in speaking of it, (page 39,) "All the material points appear to me to be given with fidelity; nor have I reason to distrust any of the minutiae." This is a most extraordinary assertion, after Mr. Philips has, in at least half a dozen places, pointed out, in notes upon Mr. Wheeler's Narrative, the errors, inaccuracies, or mis-statements it contains. I have no intention of entering at any length into the account of this meeting, as given in the Manchester Observer. I shall just, however, notice one circumstance, which I consider decisive of the question, as to the attempts which are alleged to have been made, to exaggerate the results of the affair.

Mr. Philips says, (page 49,) "It was necessary for the Observer to keep in some degree within bounds, in his first account of the killed and wounded; had he swelled out the number, as he has since done, the falsehood would have been too palpable. It would have injured the sale of his paper; his customers had been disappointed and humbled; the game was as nearly up as possible." It has been often remarked, that the early reports of an affair, made whilst the blood is warmed, and the passions are excited, generally exceeds those which cool investigation proves to be correct. But it is a remarkable proof, not only how desirous the reformers were to avoid any charge of exaggeration, but how disposed they were to give the military credit for greater forbearance than that to which they are entitled to lay claim, that, in none of their narratives of the dispersion of the meeting, were the wounded calculated at so much as one half the number to which they really amounted. The Observer and the Manchester Gazette both stated them at two hundred, whilst the list of the Committee renders it certain, that there were very nearly, probably there were more than, six hundred.

Mr. Philips says, (page 50) "It appears almost miraculous, that soldiers could be employed, and do so little injury." The soldiers employed on the Blanket meeting day, although the number of persons assembled was at least half as great, at the field did none. At any rate, no lives were lost there; nor is it clear, although the affirmative was mentioned as a report, in Cowdroy's Gazette, of the 15th March, 1817, that any persons were wounded. Mr. Philips"s miracle, therefore, like most others now-a-days, only wanted examination to be disproved. That the military could. have done more mischief, will not, however, be questioned. Instead of using their sabres, they might have fired their pistols. But it is to be remembered, that this was a first, or (taking the Blanket Meeting as a precedent,) only a second experiment, and it was not prudent, either for Magistrates or military, to proceed too far, lest they might unfortunately find, to their cost, that they had calculated too securely upon the favour and complaisance of the law. I have no doubt, however, that if the records of the various courts of law, (I would rather have said justice,) - of the Grand Jury - of the Manchester Magistrates - of the Coroner - of the Warrington Magistrates - of the King's Bench - and of the House of Commons, had exhibited any previous instance of such an extraordinary, though of course, fortuitous concurrence of decisions favourable to the Magistrates and Yeomanry, the carnage of the 16th of August would have been much more dreadful and extensive, than that which the whole kingdom has even now joined in reprobating.

*1. The only exception, (and indeed it can hardly be called one,) to their statement, of which I am aware, is at Stockport, where some of the writing copies contain short abstract sentences of general political application; and some few, having reference to the transactions of the 16th of August, must have been wholly attributable thereto.
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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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