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Thomas Hardy (1752-1832)

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker in 1890

Thomas Hardy, 1752-1832, radical politician, was born in the parish of Larbert, Stirlingshire, on 3 March 1752. His father, a sailor in the merchant service, died in 1760, and Thomas, the eldest son, was taken charge of by his maternal grandfather, Thomas Walker, a shoemaker, who, after sending him to school, brought him up to his own trade.

In 1774 Hardy went up to London, where he arrived with 18d. in his pocket. He, however, soon found employment, and in 1781 married the youngest daughter of Mr. Priest, a carpenter and builder at Chesham, Buckinghamshire. In 1791 he set up a bootmaker's shop at No. 9 Piccadilly, and soon afterwards began to take an active interest in politics.

In January 1792 Hardy with a few friends founded The London Corresponding Society, with the object of promoting parliamentary reform. The first meeting was held at the Bell, Exeter Street, Strand, when only nine persons were present, and Hardy was appointed secretary and treasurer. The first address of the society, signed by Hardy as secretary, and dated 2 April 1792, was distributed throughout the country in the form of handbills. On 27 September a congratulatory address to the National Convention of France was agreed to by the society, and before the end of the year it was in correspondence with ‘every Society in Great Britain which had been instituted for the purpose of obtaining by legal and constitutional means a Reform in the Commons' House of Parliament’ (Hardy, Memoir, p. 24).

In December 1793 the Edinburgh convention was dispersed, and Margarot and Gerrald, the delegates from the London Corresponding Society, were arrested. It was accordingly settled that another convention should be held in England, to which the Scottish societies should send delegates. This the government determined to prevent, and on 12 May 1794 Hardy was arrested on a charge of high treason, and his papers seized. After being examined several times before the privy council he was committed to the Tower on 29 May 1794. While he was a prisoner his wife died in child-bed on 27 August. On 2 October a special commission of six common law judges, presided over by Sir James Eyre, the lord chief justice of the common pleas, was opened at the Clerkenwell session-house. On the 6th the grand jury returned a true bill against Hardy, John Horne Tooke, John Augustus Bonney, Stewart Kyd, Jeremiah Joyce, Thomas Holcroft, John Thelwall, and five others.

On the 28th Hardy's trial for high treason commenced. It lasted eight days. Sir John Scott, the attorney-general (afterwards Lord Eldon), was the leading counsel for the prosecution, while Erskine, Gibbs assisted by Dampier, and two other barristers defended the prisoners. The evidence for the prosecution broke down, and the attorney-general's attempt to establish ‘constructive treason’ failed. Sheridan was called as a witness for the defence, and deposed that Hardy had offered him permission to peruse the whole of the books and papers in his possession. Philip Francis bore witness to the ‘quietness, moderation, and simplicity of the man as well as his good sense,’ while one Florimond Goddard, a member of the same division of the London Corresponding Society as Hardy, testified to Hardy's peaceable disposition, and asserted that when the society was dispersed from the public-houses, Hardy ‘desired particularly, when we got to a private house, that no member would even bring a stick with him.’

On 5 November the jury returned a verdict of ‘not guilty,’ and Hardy was drawn in his coach by the crowd in triumph through the principal streets of London. A dinner was held at the Crown and Anchor on 4 February 1795 ‘to celebrate the happy event of the late trials for supposed high treason,’ at which Charles, third earl Stanhope, presided, and Hardy's health was drunk. Owing to his imprisonment Hardy had lost his trade, and had spent all his money in his defence at the trial. In November 1794 he was, however, enabled by the assistance of some friends to recommence business at 36 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden. At first he was overwhelmed with orders, and his shop crowded with people anxious to get a sight of him. The business eventually fell off, and in September 1797 he removed to Fleet Street, where he kept a shop until his retirement from business in the summer of 1815.

While in the city he became a freeman of the Cordwainers' Company, and a liveryman of the Needlemakers' Company. During the last nine years of his life he was supported by an annuity contributed by Sir Francis Burdett and a few other friends. He died in Pimlico on 11 October 1832 in the eighty-first year of his age, and was buried at Bunhill Fields, where Thelwall, after the funeral service, delivered an address.

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Last modified 23 April, 2017

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