Friday, 2 March 2012

Peter McDouall: Chartist hero

Peter Murray McDouall, a Scottish-born doctor radicalised by his exposure to factory conditions in industrial Lancashire, was one of the most significant figures in Chartism for a decade.
Gaoled twice, losing a daughter during one period of imprisonment due to the terrible conditions suffered by his family, and dying at a young age, it is not too much to say that McDouall (whose name is usually given in publications of the time as M’Douall) gave his life for Chartism.
While serving as a delegate to the First Chartist Convention of 1839, where he represented  Ashton-under-Lyne, McDouall was profiled by The Charter newspaper. Both the profile and the sketch portrait that accompanied it now appear on Chartist Ancestors.
McDouall was a romantic figure.
The Chartist historian Robert Gammage described him as “decidedly handsome”, with his hair in “long graceful curls”. He supplemented his looks, according to WE Adams, with “a long cloak and a style which “helped to give him the appearance of a hero of melodrama”.
But he was also a serious political leader, being an early advocate of a general strike as a weapon to win the Charter following the rejection of the first Chartist petition, and a self-proclaimed supporter of the use of physical force should it prove necessary.
In addition to two periods of imprisonment, McDouall would also endure two years' political exile in France, where he lived on the goodwill of Chartist supporters. Unable, eventually, to build his medical practice because of his political involvement, he finally emigrated to Austrialia, where he died at the age of just 40.