Friday, 1 June 2018

A list of Chartist leaders - but where did it come from, and when (and why) was it compiled?

My collection of Chartist ephemera now includes this intriguing four-page document. Entirely without preamble or explanation, it lists 44 of the best known figures in Chartism, their names apparently written in their own hand.

My first thought when I got my hands on it was that this was the delegate list for a conference taking place on 19 November 1841 - a date which appears very clearly on the final page.

However, with further investigation, that appears not to be the case, and I have to say that it is not entirely obvious when the list was created or why. What I do know, and some thoughts about what it might represent, are set out here.

Download a PDF showing the document in full.

First, there are 46 entries on the list. However, two of these appear twice: Robert Hartwell and one utterly indecipherable scrawl, both representing London, so just 44 are unique. Another slight oddity is the appearance without explanation of Henry Vincent’s name at the foot of the final page. I have listed all 44 signatories at the bottom of this post.

I am convinced that each entry was written and signed by the individual concerned: I recognise some of the signatures, most notably those of Feargus O’Connor and Henry Vincent; the duplicate entries are in the same hand on each occasion; and in any event, there are so many styles of handwriting that the list was clearly not written by one person or even a small committee!

Many of those on the list are familiar names. They were delegates to the first Chartist convention, which took place in 1839, and a quick spot check on a small sample confirms that they had been elected as delegates for the towns and counties against which their names appear here. In some cases, the individuals specifically describe themselves as the “delegate for…”, while George Julian Harney with typical flourish signs himself as “Tribune of the People” for Northumberland, Norwich and Derby.
George Julian Harney, "Tribune of the People".

But what were they up to in 1841, still describing themselves as delegates to a convention which had long since been dissolved?

I looked in the Northern Star. As 19 November had been a Friday, and the Star appeared every Saturday,  the best chance of finding a conference that matched the date would be in the paper of 26 November. There was no such conference reported - nor was it to be found in the previous and subsequent weeks' editions.

Many of those named cropped up in that week’s paper speaking at events all across the country, but there was  little to suggest they had all been in the same place at any one time. The one possibility appeared to be a meeting of the National Charter Association’s general council – but for two minor snags.

First, that meeting seems to have taken place on the Wednesday, not the Friday. But the real death knell for that idea was that the first page of the list includes an entry for “John Frost for Monmouthshire”. A definite problem as John Frost had been arrested in the wake of the Newport uprising, and by 1841 was serving out his sentence in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).

I shared my find with Professor Malcolm Chase, who wondered whether the document might have been a signing-on list for one of the later sessions of the 1839 Convention (after the middle-class delegates had largely bailed out), then used in 1841 to help figure out an ideal line up for the NCA executive.

Using his list of convention delegates, including those who were elected but did not actually attend, I was able to establish that 35 of the 44 Chartist on the list had been delegates to the convention.

These 35 include four (out of 16) who were elected but resigned before the convention dispersed – William Gill (representing Sheffield), William Rider (for the West Riding of Yorkshire), William Sankey (Edinburgh) and James Whittle (Liverpool).

That left nine names on the handwritten list who were not delegates to the convention.

Final page, including the signatures of John Campbell,
James Leach and Henry Vincent
These included James Leach, who had chaired the founding conference of the National Charter Association in 1840 and subsequently served as its president, and John Campbell, who signs the list as secretary of the executive council (an NCA post to which he was elected in June 1841).

So far, I have been unable to decipher four of the names: one is totally unreadable but represented London except Marylebone (which had its own delegate); Richard [unknown] of Bath; John [unknown] of Bolton; and Edward [unknown] of Newcastle. I have struggled to match this limited information against any of the other known delegates to the convention.

The same applies to Thomas John Wall, representing London, and [unknown] Kelly, representing Stirling, Clackmannan, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy according to the list, but not apparently known to have been convention delegates. I have also been unable to find likely matches in the Chartist Ancestors Databank.

That leaves just one name: that of William Martin, described in the document as representing the “Frost Restoration Committee, Birmingham”. His appearance here only makes sense if the list itself was compiled after Frost was transported, or if his name was appended to an earlier list.

The considerable overlap with known convention delegates does support the idea that this was a list compiled originally during the life of the 1839 convention and then adapted for other purposes and with additions to the final page a couple of years later.

Maybe the list had originally been Henry Vincent’s, explaining the appearance of his name at the very end of the document but without reference to the fact that he was a London delegate (something he would not have needed to record).

However, this is clearly not the full story. The list of those known to have taken part in the entirety of the convention includes a further 14 names who do not appear in this document. Why, for example, would John Skevington of Leicester be excluded?  He continued to be an active Chartist into the 1840s and played a prominent role in the general strike wave of 1842.

I will continue digging – but if anyone has ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

UPDATE. Many thanks to Prof Malcolm Chase for deciphering some of the signatures that had baffled me. He has identified John Warden of Bolton, Richard Mealing of Bath, and George Rogers of London - all of whom had served as delegates in 1839.

In addition, the Stirling signature he believes to be that of an Alexander Kelly. This one remains slightly baffling. His name is clearly not a later addition to the list (it appears prominently on the first page), yet he is not known to have been a convention delegate; neither does he appear in the Chartist Ancestors Databank, in any edition of the Northern Star or in any of the standard works on Scottish Chartism.

So, to summarise, at least 38 of the 44 Chartists on the list had been convention delegates. Of the remaining six, two are a mystery (Kelly and the as yet unidentified Edward ????? of Newcastle). The four remaining names all appear at the end of the document, and were written in what appears to be the same pen (though not the same hand) - and could therefore have been added later.

All 44 signatories to the document...
Delegates to the 1839 Convention
William Gill, Sheffield
William Rider, West Riding
William Sankey, Edinburgh
James Whittle, Liverpool
Peter Bussey, Bradford
William Cardo, Marylebone
William Carpenter, Bolton
John Collins, Birmingham
John Deegan, Stalybridge
Matthew Fletcher, Bury
John Frost, Newport
George Julian Harney, Northumberland
Robert Hartwell, London
William Lovett, London
Robert Lowery, Newcastle
Peter Murray McDouall, Ashton under Lyne
Richard Marsden, Preston
James Mills, Oldham
Charles Neesom, Bristol
James Bronterre O'Brien, London
Feargus O'Connor, West Riding
Lawrence Pitkethly, West Riding
John Richards, Potteries
William Rider, West Riding
Thomas Raynor Smart, Loughborough, Leicester
James Taylor, Rochdale
Henry Vincent, London
William Burns, Forfarshire
John Cleave, London
Abram Duncan, Dumfriesshire
James Fenny, Wigan
Henry Hetherington, London, Stockport
Charles Jones, Montgomeryshire
Robert Knox, County Durham
Richard Moore, London
George Rogers, London except Marylebone
Richard Mealing, Bath
John Warden, Bolton

Did not serve as delegates to the 1839 Convention or cannot be identified
Alexander Kelly, Stirling, Clackmannan, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy
Edward ?????, Newcastle
Thomas John Wall, London
William Martin, Birmingham, Frost Restoration Committee
John Campbell
James Leach

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