Friday, 2 March 2012

The missing Ashton Chartists

Ashton under Lyne must have been a pretty wild place in the 1840s. What had been a small weaving hamlet of around 3,000 people at the turn of the century had swollen to more than 40,000 by the 1841 census. Yet there were few effective civic bodies, and in 1840 the town had just three police officers.
In the early Chartist period, the town was also home to two of the most radical Chartist leaders, Joseph Rayner Stephens and Peter Murray M’Douall, and the town was left with a legacy of working class radicalism that endured for decades.
The events of 14 August, 1848, however, overshadow all study of Ashton Chartism, for they resulted in a confrontation between the Chartist “National Guard” and James Bright, a police officer who lived locally, who died that night from a gunshot wound.
The resulting trial saw six Chartists transported to Australia. But they were not alone, for the authorities also resettled a number of those who had given evidence for the prosecution, sending them out in what would have been little greater comfort than if they too had been transported.
Some flavour of their experience can be found in the Chartist Ancestors account of these events thanks to Phil Gregory, a descendent of Thomas Winterbottom, one of those placed in the New South Wales immigration scheme.
Just recently, Neville Bray, a descendent of Joseph Armitage, a special constable and another of those to be resettled, got in touch to pass on details of his ancestor’s part in the trial and to draw attention to the reports of the trial in the Manchester Guardian of 16 and 20 December 1848. It is well worth getting hold of these if you have any connection to these events.
Neville makes the point that
“There must be quite a large number of descendants in Australia who can trace back to this event considering a total of 33 people were sent out on the Mary Bannatyne on the side of those who gave evidence. And also from the 5 convicts that arrived plus any families that the convicts sent for later.”
He is right, and I have had contact with a number of these descendents over the past few years, but there must be many more. Perhaps they should organise some sort of gathering in Australia this summer to mark the 160th anniversary.
Neville also makes the point that Jonathon Walker and John Sefton, both of whom were sentenced to seven years’ transportation, were not on the Adelaide, the ship that took the others to Australia. So what did happen to them? Can anyone shed any light on their fate?