The Age of George III
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A little before noon on the 16th August, the first body of reformers began to arrive on the scene of action, which was a piece of ground called St. Peters Field, adjoining a church of that name in the town of Manchester. These persons bore two banners, surmounted with caps of liberty, and bearing the inscriptions, 'no corn laws', 'annual parliaments', 'universal suffrage', 'vote by ballot'. Some of these flags, after being paraded round the field, were planted in the cart on which the speakers stood; but others remained in different parts of the crowd. Numerous large bodies of reformers continued to arrive from the towns in the neighbourhood of Manchester till about one o clock, all preceded by flags and many of them in regular marching order, five deep. Two clubs of female reformers advanced, one of them numbering more than 150 members and bearing a white silk banner. One body of reformers timed their steps to the sound of a bugle with much of a disciplined air; another had assumed to itself the motto of the illustrious Wallace; 'God armeth the patriot'. A band of special constables assumed a position on the field without resistance. The congregated multitude now amounted to a number roundly computed at 80,000, and the arrival of the hero of the day was impatiently expected. At length, Mr. Hunt made his appearance, and after a rapturous greeting, was incited to preside; he signified his assent, and mounting a scaffolding, began to harangue his admirers. He had not proceeded far, when the appearance of the yeomanry cavalry advancing towards the area in a brisk trot, excited a panic in the outskirts of the meeting. They entered the enclosure, and after pausing a moment to recover their disordered ranks, and breathe their horses, they drew their swords, and brandished them fiercely in the air. The multitude, by the direction of their leaders, gave three cheers to show that they were undaunted by this intrusion, and the orator had just resumed his speech to assure the people that this was only a trick to disturb the meeting, and to exhort them to stand firm, when the cavalry dashed into the crowd, making for the cart on which the speakers were placed. The multitude offered no resistance, they fell back on all sides. The commanding officer then approaching Mr. Hunt, and brandishing his sword, told him that he was his prisoner. Mr. Hunt, after enjoining the people to tranquillity, said he would readily surrender to any civil officer on showing his warrant, and Mr. Nadin, the principal police officer, received him in charge. Another person named Johnson, was likewise apprehended, and a few of the mob, some others against whom there were warrants, escaped in the crowd. A cry now arose among the military of, 'have at their flags' and they dashed down not only those in the cart, but the other dispersed in the field; cutting to right and left to get at them. The people began running in all directions; and from this moment the yeomanry lost all command of temper; numbers were trampled under the feet of men and horses; many, both men and women were cut down by sabres; several, and a peace officer and a female in the number, slain on the spot. The whole number of persons injured amounted to between three and four hundred. The populace threw a few stones and brick bats in their retreat, but in less than ten minutes, the ground was entirely cleared of its former occupants, and filled by various bodies of military, both horse and foot.
The Annual Register, 1819
Having crossed Piccadilly [in Manchester], we went down Mosely street, then almost entirely inhabited by wealthy families. We took the left side of St. Peter's Church; and at this angle, we wheeled quickly and steadily into Peter Street, and soon approached a wide unbuilt space occupied by an immense multitude, which opened and received us with loud cheers. We walked into that chasm of human beings, and took our station from the hustings across the causeway of Peter Street and so remained, undistinguishable from without, but still forming an almost unbroken line, with our colours in the centre.
My wife I had not seen for some time; but when last I caught a glimpse of her, she was with some decent married females; and thinking the party quite safe in their own discretion, I felt not much uneasiness on their account, and so had greater liberty in attending to the business of the meeting.
'The soldiers are here,' I said, 'We must go back and see what this means.' 'Oh,' someone made reply, 'they are only come to be ready if their should be any disturbance in the meeting.' 'Well, let us go back,' I said, and we forced our way towards the colours.
On the cavalry drawing up, they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood it. They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forward, and began cutting the people. 'Stand fast,' I said, 'they are riding upon us, stand fast.' And there was a general cry in our quarter of 'Stand fast.' The cavalry were in confusion: they evidently could not, with the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings; and their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked heldup hands, and defenceless heads, and then chopped limbs, and woundgaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion. 'Ah! ah! 'for shame! for shame' was shouted. Then, 'Break! break! they are killing in front and they cannot get away!' and there was a general cry of 'break! break!' For a moment, the crowd held back as in a pause; then was a rush, heavy and resistless as a headlong sea; and a sound like low thunder, with screams, prayers, and imprecations from the crowdmoiled and sabre-doomed, who could not escape . . .
. . . On the breaking of the crowd, the yeomanry wheeled; and dashing wherever there was an opening, they followed, pressing and wounding. Many females appeared as the crowd opened; and striplings or mere youths were also found. Their cries were piteous and heart-rending, and would, one might have supposed, have disarmed any human resentment: but here, their appeals were vain. Women, - white vested maids, and tender youths, were indiscriminately sabred or trampled; and we have reason for believing, that few were the instances in which that forbearance was vouchsafed, which they so earnestly implored.
In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc, the field was an open and almost deserted space. The sun looked down through a sultry and motionless air. The curtains and blinds of the windows within view were all closed. A gentleman or two might occasionally be seen looking out from one of the new houses before mentioned, near the door of which, a group of persons, (special constables) were collected, and apparently in conversation; others were assisting the wounded, or carrying off the dead. The hustings remained, with a few broken and hewed flag staves erect, and a torn and gashed banner or two dropping; whilst over the whole field, were strewn caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress; trampled, torn and bloody. The yeomanry had dismounted, - some were easing their horses girths, others adjusting their accoutrements; and some were wiping their sabres. Several mounds of human beings still remained where they had fallen, crushed down, and smothered. Some of these still groaning, - others with staring eyes, were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more. All was silent save those low sounds, and the occasional snorting and pawing of steeds. Persons might sometimes be noticed peeping from attics and over the tall ridges of houses, but they quickly withdrew, as if fearful of being observed, or unable to sustain the full gaze, of a scene so hideous and abhorrent.
... the account given by my dear wife, of her attendance at the meeting on Saint Peter's field, and of some incidents which befell her, may not be devoid of interest to the reader, and certainly will not be out of place if introduced here. She says:
I was determined to go to the meeting, and should have followed, even if my husband had refused his consent to my going with the procession. From what I, in common with others, had heard the week previous, 'that if the country people went with their caps of liberty, and their banners, and music, the soldiers would be brought to them,' I was uneasy, and felt persuaded, in my own mind, that something would be the matter, and I had best go with my husband, and be near him; and if I only saw him I should be more content than in staying at home. I accordingly, he having consented after much persuasion, gave my little girl something to please her, and promising more on my return, I left her with a careful neighbour woman, and joined some other married females at the head of the procession. Every time I went aside to look at my husband, and that was often, an ominous impression smote my heart. He looked very serious, I thought, and I felt a foreboding of something evil to befall us that day.
I was dressed plainly as a countrywoman in my second best attire. My companions were also neatly dressed as the wives of working men; I had seen Mr. Hunt before that time; they had not, and some of them were quite eager to obtain good places, that they might see and hear one of whom so much had been reported.
In going down Mosely Street, I lost sight of my husband. Mrs Yates, who had hold of my arm, would keep hurrying forward to get a good place, and when the crowd opened for the Middleton procession, Mrs. Yates and myself, and some others of the women, went close to the hustings, quite glad that we had obtained such a situation for seeing an hearing all. My husband got on the stage, but when afterwards I saw him leap down, and lost sight of him, I began to be unhappy. The crowd seemed to have increased very much, for we became insufferably pressed. We were surrounded by men who were strangers; we were almost suffocated, and to me the heat was quite sickening; but Mrs. Yates, being taller than myself, supported it better. I felt I could not bear this long, and I became alarmed. I reflected that if there was any more pressure, I must faint, and then what would become of me? I begged of the men to open a way and let me go out, but they would not move. Every moment I became worse, and I told some other men, who stood in a row, that I was sick, and begged they would let me pass them, and they immediately made a way, and I went down a long passage betwixt two ranks of these men, many of them saying, 'make way, she's sick, she's sick, let her go out,' and I passed quite out of the crowd and, turning to my right, I got on some high ground, on which stood a row of houses - this was Windmill Street.
I thought if I could get to stand at the door of one of those houses, I should have a good view of the meeting, and should perhaps see my husband again; and I kept going further down the row, until I saw a door open, and I stepped within it, the people of the house making no objections. By this time Mr. Hunt was on the hustings, addressing the people. In a minute or two some soldiers came riding up. The good folks of the house, and some who seemed to be visitors, said, 'the soldiers were only come to keep order; they would not meddle with the people;' but I was alarmed. The people shouted, and then the soldiers shouted, waving their swords. Then they rode amongst the people, and there was a great outcry, and a moment after, a man passed without hat, and wiping the blood of his head with his hand, and it ran down his arm in a great stream.
The meeting was all in a tumult; there were dreadful cries; the soldiers kept riding amongst the people, and striking with their swords. I became faint, and turning from the door, I went unobserved down some steps into a cellared passage; and hoping to escape from the horrid noise, and to be concealed, I crept into a vault, and sat down, faint and terrified, on some fire wood. The cries of the multitude outside, still continued, and the people of the house, up stairs, kept bewailing most pitifully. They could see all the dreadful work through the window, and their exclamations were so distressing, that I put my fingers in my ears to prevent my hearing more; and on removing them, I understood that a young man had just been brought past, wounded. The front door of the passage before mentioned, soon after opened, and a number of men entered, carrying the body of a decent, middle aged woman, who had been killed. I thought they were going to put her beside me, and was about to scream, but they took her forward, and deposited her in some premises at the back of the house.
Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical (1893)
|The meeting was one of the most calm and orderly that I have ever witnessed.
No less than 300,000 people were assembled [a wild exaggeration]. Mr
Hunt started his speech when a cart was moved through the middle of
the field to the great annoyance and danger of the assembled people, who
quietly endeavoured to make way for its procedure. The cart had no sooner
made its way through, when the Yeomanry Cavalry made their appearance
from the same quarter as the cart had gone out. They galloped furiously
round the field, going over every person who could not get out of their
The Yeomanry Cavalry made their charge with a most infuriate frenzy; they cut down men, women and children, indiscriminately, and appeared to have commenced a pre-meditated attack with the most insatiable thirst for blood and destruction. They merit a medallion, on one side of which should be inscribed 'The Slaughter Men of Manchester', and a reverse bearing a description of their slaughter of defenceless men, women and children, unprovoked and unnecessary.
As a proof of meditated murder of the part of the magistrates, every stone was gathered from the ground on the Friday and Saturday previous to the meeting, by scavengers sent there by the express command of the magistrates, that the populace might be rendered more defenceless.
Richard Carlile in Sherwin's Weekly Political Register, 18 August 1819:
|The massacre of the unoffending inhabitants of Manchester, on the 16th
of August, by the Yeomanry Cavalry and Police at the instigation of the
Magistrates, should be the daily theme of the Press until the murderers
are brought to justice. Captain Nadin and his
banditti of Police, are hourly engaged to plunder and ill-use the peaceable
inhabitants; whilst every appeal from those repeated assaults to the Magistrates
for redress, is treated by them with derision and insult. Every man in
Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform, should never
go unarmed - retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.
Richard Carlile, The Republican, 15 August 1819
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