The Massacre of Peterloo, Manchester, 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

Transcribed Extracts from the 1819 Publication
"The Peterloo Massacre Containing a Faithful Narrative
of the events which
Preceded, Accompanied, and Followed the Sixteenth of August, 1819"
Edited by an Observer
Suppressed Narrative of the Courier Reporter p. 56-62

p.56 - 62
The endeavours which have been made by the venal press of Manchester and the Metropolis to palliate, nay to vindicate the dire atrocities of the field of blood, have as falsehood ever must, failed of their intended effect. The authors of these abortive efforts could not believe their own assertions; how then, were they to deceive others? - Were any proof necessary of the peaceable demeanour of the assembled thousands on St.Peter's Plains, the following extracts from a suppressed Narrative written by the accredited Reporter for the Courier, who we suppose was not predisposed to speak with much favour of the Radical Reformers, will furnish ample testimony. It is the production of a feeling mind released from the shackles of dependence upon a dependant newspaper.


'The Manchester Tragedy' - The suppressed Narrative of the Courier Reporter, who, through the faithful and affecting manner in which he described the Tragical Events of the 16th of August, lost the confidence of his employers.

"It is my duty professionally to report the truth, and I have no other feeling to gratify than an earnest desire to see it established; I shall therefore state simply and faithfully all that I saw, heard, or know of the events on which public opinion is now so anxiously endeavouring to resolve, without presuming to offer any other comments than such as necessarily mixed themselves with the observations I made.

I visited St Peter's Field exactly at eleven o'clock. Several hundreds of persons had now collected together. I mingled among them and talked with a good many, but found them not disposed to be communicative. They seemed to view me with an air of distrust, and made but brief answers to the questions I put. I asked one of them if he thought Mr. Hunt would be elected? (meaning after the manner of Sir Charles Wolsley at Birmingham). 'I dare say,' said he, in a broad Yorkshire dialect, 'our enemies wad like nought better.'

At half past eleven, my attention was first particularly attracted by a crowd of people advancing to the ground with flags and music. They came in a sort of marching order, and were covered with dust, having as I learnt come from some town at a distance; I was told the name at the time, but surpassing interest of subsequent events has swept it from my recollection. A number of women, boys, and even children were in the procession,.which had from this circumstance, more the appearance of a large village party going to a merry-making than that of a body of people advancing to the overthrow of the government of their country. I scrutinised the men closely to see whether they were armed with any weapons of offence, but I could observe few who could be said to be so. It is a rare thing to meet a person walking on the high road in the country without a stick of some sort or other; but here was a whole troop of pedestrians with scarcely a dozen sticks among them. The honest impression made on my mind at the moment was, that they had purposely refrained from bringing any such instruments of alarm with them.

Other parties of the same description kept now arriving in quick succession - all marching in the same order - all carrying banners - and most of them preceded by bands of music playing 'God Save the King,' and 'Rule Britannia'. I moved about as briskly as I could amongst them, and everywhere the same as have just stated with respect to the first party met my observation; husbands with their wives - brothers with their sisters; neither swords nor muskets, and but very few sticks. I observed in the hats of a number of them bits of white cloth, intended, I presume, as the reforming emblem, being of the same colour as the hats worn by Mr. Hunt and other persons of the party.

A waggon had, in the meantime, drawn up near the centre of the field, in which the standard bearers of the different detachments successively took their station; I made my way to it and had an opportunity of reading most of the inscriptions. I was much struck with their general and extreme variance with the external aspect of the assemblage in every other respect. 'Equal Representation or Death', 'Unite and be Free', 'Die like Men and not be Sold as Slaves', 'Hunt and Liberty', God armeth the Patriot.' Such were some of the mottos of the multitude of as peaceful a demeanour as I ever witnessed.

Among the bands which arrived were two which consisted entirely of females; one was from Royton, the other from Stockport. They consisted, I was informed, of the members of the Female Unions established at these places. Both of them carried banners inscribed with the heads of Major Cartwright's Bill; 'Annual Elections', 'Universal Suffrage' and 'Vote by Ballot'.

I saw as little about these women as about the men that indicated any preparations for outrage; I felt, on the contrary, more assured by their presence, than anything I had yet seen, that the business would go off peaceably. I calculated on that manly gallantry which had so long been the characteristic of the name of Englishmen.

The ensigns of the female bands joined the other standard bearers on the waggons, and when the hour of danger came, were not amongst the first to desert their colours.

About twelve o'clock, Mr. Clayton, the Boroughreeve, followed by, I should think, four or five hundred special constables, came into the midst of the multitude: at first there was a considerable degree of pressure on them by the crowd, but an admonitory cry of 'Order, order,' having been raised by some of the leaders it speedily abated, and in a few minutes, the special constables seemed no more an object of special notice than any other persons present. They formed themselves into two continuous lines, which reached from the waggon outwards, towards a gentleman's house on the south side of St. Peter's Field, which commanded a view of the whole scene and in which I was informed, the Magistrates had taken up their situation. I kept very close to Mr. Clayton, during the whole time he remained on the ground on this occasion, anxious to gather from the first authority, the course things were likely to take. I did not lose sight of him for a single moment, until he left the ground to report the state of matters to his brother Magistrates. I can therefore state, as a positive truth, that during this perambulation, the Boroughreeve never addressed one word to the people as to any illegality in their meeting, any disorder in their conduct, or anything else whatever, and that he never read anything either printed or written.

The bell of St. John's clock struck one. The multitude was now numerous. I made to the outskirts and got upon a wall, from which I obtained a pretty good view of the whole scene. I think there could not, at ths moment, have been less than 70,000 persons present.

A breathless expectation seemed now to pervade the multitude. An hour had elapsed beyond the time announced for commencing the meeting and neither Mr. Hunt nor any of his friends had appeared. The persons immediately around me began to speak aloud their conjectures, 'what if he should have been arrested,' said one, 'why, if he should,' rejoined the other, 'we must just disperse, and meet again.'

I was listening to these audible cogitations, when suddenly a shout which made the welkin ring announced the arrival of the hero of the day. For a few seconds my senses were quite confounded, by the continued enthusiastic cheering and clapping of hands which greeted his approach. I never in my life, felt so sensibly the force of that bold scriptural figure, 'the floods clapped their hands for joy.' On Mr. Hunt and his party ascending the rostrum another general shout of applause rent the air. Mr. Hunt, taking off his hat, bowed around him very courteously. He now addressed some words, which I did not hear, to those around him. He seemed by his look and gestures in some displeasure. Several persons descended from the stage, and I understood that every body should get down except those who were necessarily there. I remarked one person with spectacles, making a great deal of bustling effort to get up, who had afterwards serious cause to regret the success of his importunity. He addressed himself to Mr. Tyas, the reporter for the Times, who had got a place close to Mr. Hunt; and Mr. Tyas whispered some words to the latter gentleman, who, nodding his assent, the person I allude to was permitted to take a place amongst the elect. I saw him immediately afterwards with book and pencil in hand, taking notes, and hence concluded that he was, like myself, what is technically called - a reporter. As soon as the party were done grouping themselves, Mr. Johnson came forward and moved that Mr. Hunt should take the chair. The motion was carried by acclamation. Mr. Hunt then addressed the meeting, but had not proceeded farther than a few introductory sentences , of which I recollect nothing worthy of repeating, except a strong recommendation to the people to be quiet and peaceable, when he suddenly stopped, and casting his eyes towards Peter Street, seemed, for a moment as if struck dumb with astonishment. I looked round, as everybody else did, in the same direction. A body of cavalry were galloping into the field from Peter Street. I was told by the persons next to me, that they were the Manchester Yeomanry. They pulled under the range of houses on the south side, in one of which, as I have already mentioned, the magistrates were stationed. Mr. Hunt called out in a most emphatic manner to the mob, 'not to be alarmed, but to stand firm,' and, taking off his hat, 'let us give them,' said he, 'three cheers.' Three loud cheers were accordingly given, and except some persons on the outskirts of the assemblage, who scampered off on the approach of the troops, the whole body of people remained compactly congregated around the hustings. The cavalry cheered in return, waving their swords around their heads. For a moment, I thought they had ranged themselves under the house where the magistrates were seated, in order to be at hand should any event subsequently occur to render their services necessary. As yet, I had seen, I had heard, nothing to make the imagination of danger enter into my head. I had a constable at each elbow - constables all around me - in one moment more, however, I was fearfully undeceived. I heard the bugle sound - I saw the cavalry charge forward sword in hand upon the multitude; I felt on the instant as if my heart had leaped from its seat. The woeful cry of dismay sent forth on all sides, the awful rush of so vast a living mass, the piercing shrieks of the women, the deep moanings and execrations of the men, the confusion - horrid confusion, are indescribable. I was carried forward almost off my feet, many yards nearer the husting than I had been. I was running into the centre of danger, but I could not help it - I had no choice - I had not a moment to choose. I found myself at last pushed agains the landau which brought Mr. Hunt to the field. I know not what rational hope I could have in seeking shelter under it, but under I went, and coiled myself fast round the pole. A minute more, the cavalry were around me, trampling down and cutting at all who could not get out of their way. I saw one or two persons trodden down close by me; one of them a constable, to whom I had spoken half an hour before. A poor woman fell senseless at a few yards distance, under the cut of a sabre. Two countrymen, regardless for a moment of their own safety hastily raised her up, and brought her forward to the landau, in to which they lifted her, and then hurried away.

A loud conflict of voices now mingled itself with the clashing of swords and the groans of the wounded. I heard some person calling out, 'Mr. Hunt, I have a warrant against you.' Other voices, 'At him, at him.' 'Murder, murder.' - 'Mercy,' - 'For God's sake, mercy.' I was particularly struck by hearing one person crying out in a voice of sore trouble, 'Protect me! Protect me! I am a privileged person - I am a reporter - I am the reporter of the Courier!.' Would to God, thought I, you were only half as safe.

A loud crash, a confused huzzaing, now announced to my astounded ears the capture of the party on the hustings, with their various colours and insignia. I thought this a fitting moment for attempting my own escape, and quitting my skulking place, got once more upon my feet. I ran at first, scarcely knowing what I did, towards a row of buildings called Windmill Street, but, there the people unable to get off were tumbling over each other in heaps. I turned round, but on every side, the dange seemed worse and worse. The yeomanry, after demolishing the hustings, were beginning to scatter themselves about, and were hewing down without mercy, every person, man or woman, that came in their way. I saw more troops of cavalry pouring into the field, and the few avenues there were from the scene of bloodshed, choked with people striving, many of them in vain, to effect their escape. I did not know what to do - I stood for an instant incapable of decision - I was soon, however, brought to my senses, by one of the horsemen who came galloping towards, me, brandishing his sword. I could not, from what I had seen, and from the havoc I saw going on around me, place the least trust in any remonstrance I could make to the ruffian - self defence, self preservation, compelled me to take another course. I happened, most providentially, to have a brace of loaded pistols in my pocket. I took them out, and called out in a resolute tone, to the fellow as he came up to me, 'Stop! If you dare to cut at me, I'll shoot you through the body.' He dashed forward, regardless of my threat, and made a bold lunge at me, which I happily succeeded in avoiding. He turned, and was going to have at me again, but by this time I had got my pistols cocked, and presenting them, I called out to him, that if he advanced another step, 'I should fire them both through him.' He drew up, muttered something, and then careering round, galloped off, perhaps to find some more defenceless victim on whom to exercise his prowess. I immediately returned my pistols to my pocket, and now hastily directed my steps towards Deansgate. I passed several persons lying on the ground wounded, and bleeding. One of them was a young girl in a white cap, who was all over blood, and moaned sadly. Espying among the additional troops that had come on the ground, a troop of the 15th Dragoons, the thought struck me of throwing myself on their gallantry for protection. I ran straight up to them, and taking off my hat, called aloud, 'Save a fellow soldier.' One of the officers immediately stepped aside to speak to me. I hastily told him, as was the truth, that I was a retired officer in his Majesty's Service; that I had no concern with the mob, and that I hoped he would protect a loyal and unoffending subject from outrage. He looked very courteously at me, and calling to one of his troopers, told him to, 'see this gentleman,' pointing to me, 'to a place of safety.' He accordingly rode at a quick pace through St. Peter's Street, while I kept running by his side. We had great difficulty in getting through the mass of people who were crowding through this gap, and whom the appearance of my escort seemed to inspire new terrors. I passed, on the way, Mr. Carlile, running without his hat, also the same gentleman with the spectacles, whom I had observed in the outset so anxious to get on the hustings, much besmeared with blood, and his arm bound up with a handkerchief. We got at last through St. Peter's Street, when the trooper left me and in a few minutes I was again in safety in my hotel.

I have now brought this brief narrative to an end, and I declare before God and my country, that it is, in every word, a true and faithful picture of what fell under my personal observation; whether this may have been the reason which has induced its suppression, and lost me the confidence of my employers, I leave the world to determine.
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Transcribed by Sheila Goodyear 2019

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