Samuel Holberry died in gaol, a Chartist martyr, his health broken by two years of imprisonment after he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy. But was he really planning an armed uprising that would seize control of Sheffield and spark insurrection across the north of England?
Up to now there has been a consensus that, for better or worse, Holberry was indeed at the centre of just such a plot. You can read more about what was supposed to have happened in Sheffield on Chartist Ancestors.
But now an article by Catherine Lewis in the SOLON online journal suggests that Holberry may have been “the victim of a state conspiracy”.
She argues that Holberry had not, in fact, planned a rising on the night of 12 January 1840, as was alleged; rather, that the police, magistrates and prosecution used the rules of criminal procedure and evidence in a grossly one-sided way to ensure a conviction.
In other words, Holberry, who had planned only to agitate and propagandise for the Charter, was framed.
So why has this not been realised up to now? Catherine Lewis argues that previous studies were clouded either by hostility to “physical force” Chartism, or by “Sheffield based 1980s left wing writers whose political, and avowedly non-academic pamphlets, have entered the historical picture without any critical analysis”.
She concludes that,
“historians have too willingly accepted the veracity of the evidence given against Holberry without subjecting it to the same detailed and critical analysis that they would arguably not hesitate to employ with different material”.
Read the article (PDF format).