Friday, 2 March 2012

Feargus O'Connor: died 30 August 1855

Feargus O’Connor was never happier in life than when at the centre of a controversy.

In death, the Chartist movement’s greatest leader remained also its most disputed figure, blamed by earlier generations of historians for his bluster but now at least partially rehabilitated and admired once more.
Today marks the 153rd anniversary of his death on 30 August 1855, at the home of his sister Harriet in Notting Hill.

O’Connor’s final years were sad ones. Having contracted syphilis many years before, he was by the 1850s suffering from dementia brought on by his condition. Neither was his health improved by the consumption of some 15 glasses of brandy a day.
Yet O’Connor was the most remarkable figure to have been associated with Chartism.
Without his drive and commitment in establishing the Northern Star at the heart of Chartism and in nurturing the National Charter Association, the cause might well have disappeared in the days after the first petition.

He was, too, a man of great personal commitment who gave his time, his money and his freedom to the Chartist cause. And, of course, he succeeded in becoming the only Chartist elected as such to Parliament, winning a seat at Nottingham in 1847.
Earlier, Fabian-influenced historians of the Chartist movement had little time for O’Connor, often blaming him for the movement’s lack of success in the 1830s and 1840s, and accusing him creating an O’Connor cult which brooked no rivals.
Yet it is difficult to see how the Chartist cause could have survived without O’Connor’s single-minded determination.

Read the Chartist Ancestors interview with Paul Pickering, author of Feargus O’Connor: a Political Life.

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