Tolpuddle Martyrs

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Information about Tolpuddle Martyrs

Published on March 26, 2008



Tolpuddle Martyrs Starter: Define the word “ solidarity”

Intro: Write down five things that you know about Trades Unions

Write down five things that you know about

Trades Unions

Why is it important? On February 24th, 1834, six farm labourers from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle were arrested on a charge of taking part in an 'illegal oath' ceremony. In the eyes of their masters, however, the real offence was that they had dared to form a trade union to defend their livelihood. For this they were sentenced to seven years' transportation to the penal colonies of Australia. The sentences provoked an immense outcry, leading to the first great mass trade union protest. The campaign won free pardons and the Martyrs' return to England. A historic episode in the struggle for trade unionists' rights in Great Britain

Intro to workers’ movement:

Enclosed in Poverty Between 1770 and 1830, enclosures changed the English rural landscape forever. Landowners annexed vast acreages, producing even greater wealth from the now familiar pattern of small hedged fields.

Peasants no longer had plots to grow vegetables nor open commons for grazing their single cow or sheep and pigs.

Diet was basic - tea, bread and potatoes. As a result, the people were badly nourished and small.

Farm Labourers, Southern England Wages of Despair Average family expenditure (1840s) Item Price Rent 1s 2d Bread 9s Tea 2d Potatoes 1s Sugar 3.5d Soap 3d Thread 2.5d Candles 3d Salt 0.5d Coal and Wood 9d Butter 4.5d Cheese 3d Total 13s 9d

Wages of 9 or 10 shillings a week reduced families to starvation level unless they could be supplemented by working wives and children

Contextual Background: Captain Swing Riots

Low wages, appalling conditions and unemployment, bad winters and poor harvests in 1829 and 1830 fuelled a great explosion of anger, resulting in riots led by the mythical "Captain Swing" in November 1830.

Throughout England 600 rioters were imprisoned; 500 sentenced to transportation; and 19 executed.

The six Tolpuddle Martyrs were all farm labourers, paid 9 shillings a week and lived in dreadful poverty.

Formation of Unions Their leader George Loveless, decided to set up a Union in Tolpuddle to give the labourers bargaining strength. “ Which side are you on?”

The landowners, led by James Frampton and supported by the government, were determined to squash unions and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent.

Born in 1769 at Moreton House, near Tolpuddle, into a long established family of country gentlemen, he passionately believed in Church, Constitution, King and Country - and maintenance of the status quo. James Frampton

He feared trades unionism threatened the power base and wealth of the landed upper classes.

Having witnessed the French Revolution, he was determined to suppress any sign of rebellion or opposition whatever the cause.

James Frampton framed the Martyrs on a trumped up charge of administering an unlawful oath, using a law applicable to the Navy not workers' rights.

Squire Frampton had been busily gathering evidence against the Tolpuddle men.

Now he wished Lord Melbourne to know that societies were being organised among the agricultural labourers, inducing them to enter into combinations of a dangerous and alarming kind to which they are bound by oaths administered clandestinely

The Grand Jury's foreman was William Ponsonby, MP brother-in-law to the Home Secretary Lord Melbourne.Members of the Jury included James Frampton, his son Henry, his step-brother Charles Wollaston and several of the magistrates who had signed the arrest warrant.

The men were betrayed by one of their fellow labourers, Edward Legg, tried at Dorchester Assizes in March 1834, found guilty of administering an unlawful oath, and sentenced to 7 years' transportation to Australia. The harshness and injustice of their treatment caused massive public outcry.

April 21, 1834 - one month after the Trial. A mass procession of 35 unions, organised in London's Copenhagen Fields by the Metropolitan Trades Unions, marched to Whitehall to present a massive 200,000 signature petition to Lord Melbourne. He refused to accept it. “ Power in the union” – Billy Bragg


Five Martyrs were shipped in appalling conditions to New South Wales, where they were assigned as convict labour to landowners. George Loveless, delayed by illness after the Trial, later went in chains to Tasmania. Public pressure resulted in the men being pardoned by the King. Months passed before instructions to free the men reached the Australian authorities.

The convicted men were taken in chains to the prison hulks, York and Leviathan, lying off Portsmouth. The sixth, George Loveless, was ill in gaol and was not to follow for several weeks. Hulks were condemned ships. There were usually three decks, each containing between 500 and 600 prisoners, issued with coarse convict clothing and fettered with heavy irons riveted to their legs.

Disease was rampant. Epidemics of cholera, dysentery and smallpox swept through the packed masses, resulting in wholesale death.

They did not return to England until three years after their infamous Trial.

One - James Hammett - returned to Tolpuddle. Continuing pressure from landowners forced the other five to seek new lives in Canada, where they found contentment as farmers in London, Ontario.


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