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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 23


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This was a circumstance that excited the alarm of government. To see men of property coming forward to head the people, and the people proceeding to elect their own representatives to parliament, brought to their recollections the like proceedings in past days in France, that filled them with fear. They immediately issued warrants for the apprehension both of Sir Charles and of Dr. Harrison for seditious expressions used at the Stockport meeting. Sir Charles was arrested at his own house, at Wolseley Park; and Harrison was taken on the platform of a public meeting, at Smith- field, in London, on the 21st of July, at which Hunt was presiding. On conveying Harrison to Stockport, the constable who arrested him was attacked by the mob, and a pistol was fired at him, the ball of which lodged in his body.

Circumstances appeared now to be growing serious. Meetings were held in defiance of the strict measures of government throughout the manufacturing districts; and at Blackburn it was announced at such a gathering, on the 5th of July, that the women had also formed themselves into " Sister Reform Associations," and these called on their own sex everywhere to imitate their example, so as to co-operate with the men, and to instil into the minds of their children a hatred of tyrannical rulers. The men, at the same time, made another advance in the reform movement; this was drilling - a movement which gave great alarm to the magistrates of Lancashire, who wrote from various quarters to apprise government of it. It was an appearance which might well excite suspicion that something more than reform was intended. But when it came to be explained by the parties themselves, it turned out to mean nothing more than that the reformers in the neighbourhood of Manchester were intending to hold a great meeting in order to elect a representative, as the people of Birmingham had done, and that they wished to assemble in the utmost order and quiet. But the very means employed by them to avoid confusion, and enable them to meet and disperse with decorum, were just those most calculated to excite the fears of a magistracy and ministry already suspicious. One magistrate wrote generally that such drilling parties went in existence, and on the increase; another, that it had bee? deposed on oath before him, that in various places in that neighbourhood of Bury, such parties assembled numerously by night. This was on the 7th of August. On the 9th, other parties swore to having seen the same thing going on in the neighbourhood of Bolton. Another, that such parties had been seen drilling, on Sunday, the 8th, at Tandle Hill, near Rochdale; and that information was received that Sunday next would be the last occasion. If that would be the last occasion, the object for which these drillings had been instituted must be at hand. It was stated that these drillings had been going on for a long time; but no direct evidence was given of this, and it was contradicted by the most trustworthy of the workmen themselves. The simple solution of the mystery was, that the great meeting in question was to be held in Manchester, on the 16th of August, and this was perfectly in accordance with the assertion of the man who said the drilling of one more Sunday, which fell on the 15th, would be the last. Bamford, in his " Life of a Radical," states the matter fully and satisfactorily. He says that they had often been taunted with the confusion and mob-like character of their meetings, and these means were adopted to obviate this objection on this occasion. Orders were issued that every one should proceed to the local place of meeting, clean, washed, and in his best attire; that the parties who had been drilled in preparation should then march from their respective localities, under certain leaders, to the great rendezvous at Manchester. He declares that they had no arms at their drillings, and that they were requested not even to carry sticks with them to the Manchester gathering. He denies that there were any midnight meetings, or secret drillings; asserts that they had no sinister object, and that they did all they did do in the face of the sun; that spectators, or persons sent to watch them, of whom he does not doubt that there were many, might attribute their clapping their hands together in " standing at ease," which some jokingly- called "firing," to an intention on some future occasion to fire; but that the whole had for its object simply what has been stated.

The great meeting had been intended to have taken place on the 9th of August; and on the 31st of July, an advertisement appeared in the Manchester Observer, calling on the inhabitants to meet on the 9th in the area near St. Peter's Church, for the purpose of electing a representative to parliament, as well as for adopting major Cartwright's plan of parliamentary reform. This immediately drew from the magistrates a notice that such a meeting would be illegal, and that those who attended it would do so at their peril. The working men on this, announced that the meeting would not take place, and a requisition was presented to the borough-reeve and constables, requesting leave to hold such a meeting. It was refused; and on its refusal the people proceeded with their original design, only appointing the 16th as the day of meeting, and that Mr. Hunt would take the chair.

This was making a bold step in defiance of the authorities, und orderly and peaceable conduct was, more than ever, necessary. On the morning of the day proposed, there was little appearance of any stir amongst the artisans of the town, and it does not seem that they took any or much part in the assembly; but that it was made up of the parties marching in from the country and towns around. During the forenoon of this day, Monday, the 16th of August, large bodies came marching in from every quarter, so that by twelve o'clock it was calculated that eighty or a hundred thousand such people were congregated in and around the open Space designated. We have Bamford's account of the squadron from Middleton, of which he was the leader, and it may give us a good idea of the whole. At eight o'clock in the morning the men assembled, and were arranged by Bamford in a column of five abreast, headed by a dozen youths, each holding in his hand a branch of laurel, as a token of peace and amity. There were also two flags, one blue and the other green, and on them were mottoes inscribed, in letters of gold - namely, " Unity is Strength! " " Liberty and Fraternity! " " Parliaments Annual! " and "Suffrage Universal! " Between these were borne aloft the cap of liberty, of crimson velvet, with a tuft of laurel. The words Liberty and Fraternity, and the cap of liberty, allowed that they had ideas of the French revolution mingled with their peaceable intentions; and these symbols were, to say the least, ill-chosen.

The whole number of Middleton men amounted to about three thousand, and when all were assembled, their leader threw them into a hollow square, and whilst vast numbers crowded round to witness the proceedings, Bamford made them a speech, exhorting them to conduct themselves peaceably through the day; to offer no insult or provocation to any one, nor to take notice of any such offered to them, as retaliation would necessarily lead to disturbance, and thus furnish an excuse for interfering with the meeting. He reminded them that, by the regulations of the committee, no sticks, or weapons of any kind, were to be carried; if there were any there who had such, he requested that they would leave them behind; and this, he Bays, was complied with, and only a few old or infirm men retained their walking-sticks. He states that the whole body presented a most respectable appearance of working men, decently, though humbly attired, in clean shirts and neat neck-cloths.

Having made his harangue, Bamford then threw his troop again into marching order, five abreast; and at the head of every hundred was a leader, distinguished by a sprig of laurel in his hat. He himself marched at the head of the troop, with a bugleman at his side to sound the orders. They departed amid loud cheering, and marched in pace to the sound of music. Presently they fell in with the Roch- dale band, and they now advanced in a united column of about six thousand men. A considerable number of young women in their holiday trim, the wives or sweethearts of the young men, preceded the column, singing in accompaniment to the music, and sometimes dancing; whilst numbers of others, of both sexes, went along with them, marching on each side. Other bands fell in with the column as they advanced; and, thus formidable in numbers, but evidently with the most peaceable intentions, they proceeded towards Manchester.

At Newton, near Manchester, Bamford was accosted by a gentleman, a partner in a firm by whom he had been employed, who shook him kindly by the hand, but expressed some anxiety at such numbers of people pouring into the town. Bamford assured him that their object was of the most peaceable kind, and that he would pledge his life for their orderly conduct; asking him to notice them, and observe that they were evidently heads or members of decent-working families. This appeared to satisfy his interrogator, and, in return, Bamford asked whether he thought they would meet with any interruption, to which he replied that he did not think they would. " Then," replied Bamford, "all will be well;" and the column again advanced.

But other bands had not been mustered and brought forward with the prudence for which Bamford seems always to have been conspicuous. Some of them had disregarded the injunctions of the general committee, and had gone in extensively armed with sticks. Bamford soon heard that his eccentric friend, the quacking, so-called Dr. Healey, of whom his narrative gives some ludicrous recitals, had headed the band from Lees and Saddleworth, with a black flag borne behind him, on which stared out, in great white letters, "Equal Representation, or Death " on the one side, and on the other " Love," with a heart and two clasped hands - but all white on their black ground - looking most sepulchral and hideous. On reaching the appointed ground, from that day destined to be named " Peterloo," they found a vast concourse, probably amount- ing to eighty thousand persona, and others continued for some time to pour in, bo that Bamford and his band were wedged fast in about the centre of the multitude. Presently there were loud shouts, which indicated Hunt was approaching, who came, preceded by a band of music, seated in an open barouche, with a number of gentlemen, and on the box a woman, who, it appeared, had been hoisted up there by the crowd, as they passed through it.

The platform for the chairman and speakers consisted of a couple of wagons boarded over, and Hunt and his friends had some difficulty in reaching it through the dense press, the attendant bands continuing to play "God Save the King," and "Rule Britannia," till they were safely placed on the platform, when the music ceased, and Hunt, having been called to the chair, took off his white hat, and was commencing his address, when there was a strange movement in the crowd, and a cry, "The soldiers are upon us! " and this was the fact. The magistrates had met in great numbers on the previous Saturday, and had deter- mined to seize the ringleaders; but instead of doing this as they might have done, at their several localities when drilling, or on their way to the town, they left this to be done after these vast numbers were assembled, and by the aid of the soldiers, which was certain to produce serious consequences. We have the statements of these magistrates themselves, as laid before parliament, and of Sir William Jolliffe, M.P., lieutenant of the 15th Hussars, and personally engaged on the occasion. The reason assigned by them was, that they waited to see "what the complexion of the meeting might be; " but, if this was the case, they might as well have waited till some disorder took place, which they did not, but sent the soldiers into the crowd, whilst peaceably and in an orderly manner standing to listen to the chairman. Had they waited to the end, they would undoubtedly have seen the immense crowd disappear as quietly as they had come. But the magistrates were clearly excited by their fears. They had assembled a great constabulary and military force. Two hundred special constables had been sworn in; six troops of the 15th Hussars lying in the barracks, were held in readiness; a troop of horse artillery, with two guns; the greater part of the 31st Regiment of infantry; several companies of the 88th Regiment; the Cheshire yeomanry, nearly four hundred men, who had ridden in that very morning; and about forty Manchester yeomanry, chiefly master manufacturers. These were troops enough to storm a town, much more to defend it from an unarmed multitude. The whole of this force, except the Manchester yeomanry, was put under the command of colonel L'Estrange, of the 31st Regiment, in the absence of Sir John Byng, the general of the district, but who had his head-quarters at Pontefract, and who, it appeared, had received no information of these military preparations, or of the imagined need of them.

These forces were thus disposed: - The magistrates sate at the Star Inn, only a few hundred yards from the hustings, and they had the constables so placed that they should form a cordon round the hustings, with a line of them extending to the inn, so as to keep up uninterrupted communication with them; two squadrons of the 15th Hussars were posted in a street to the north of St. Peter's Field, the gathering place, with the Cheshire yeomanry on their left, ready at a signal to charge down on the crowd; the artillery was posted between the cavalry barracks and the town, supported by a troop of hussars, and the rest of the hussars ready in barracks for mounting; the Manchester yeomanry were posted in a street on the east side of the area; and the infantry was all in readiness should there be need of it.

We have the accounts of what took place from both sides - from the magistrates and the people. Mr. Hulton, the chairman of the bench of magistrates, made the following statements, in evidence, on the trial of Hunt, at York. He said that the warrants for the apprehension of the leaders of this movement were not given to Nadin, the chief constable, till after the meeting had assembled, and that he immediately declared that it was impossible for him to execute them without the protection of the military; that Orders were at once issued to the commander of the Manchester yeomanry, and to colonel L'Estrange, to come to the house where the magistrates sate. The yeomanry arrived first, coming at a quick trot, and so soon as the people saw them they set up a great shout. The yeomanry advanced with drawn swords, and drew up in line before the inn where the magistrates were. They were ordered to advance with the chief constable to the hustings, and support him in executing the warrants. They attempted to do this, but were soon separated one from another, in the dense mob, and brought to a stand. In this condition, Sir William Jolliffe, also giving evidence, said that he then, for the first time, saw the Manchester troop of yeomanry. They were scattered, singly or in small groups, all over the field, literally hemmed in and wedged into the mob, so that they were powerless either to make an impression, or to escape; and it required only a glance to discover their helpless condition, and the necessity of the hussars being brought to their rescue. The hussars now coming up, were, accordingly, ordered to ride in and disperse the mob. The word " Forward! " was given, and the charge was sounded, and the troop dashed in amongst the unarmed crowd. Such a crowd never yet stood a charge of horse. There was a general attempt to fly, but their own numbers prevented them, and a scene of terrible confusion ensued. " People, yeomen, constables," says Sir William Jolliffe, one of these hussars, " in their confused attempts to escape, ran one over another, so that by the time we had arrived at the midst of the field, the fugitives were literally piled up to a considerable elevation above the level of the ground."

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