TEN LINKS IN A CHARTIST CHAIN – A String of ‘Democracy Sausages’. Part 3

To Henry Hunt, Esq., as chairman of the meeting assembled in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, sixteenth day of August, 1819, and to the female Reformers of Manchester and the adjacent towns who were exposed to and suffered from the wanton and fiendish attack made on them by that brutal armed force, the Manchester and Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry, this plate is dedicated by their fellow labourer, Richard Carlile. Manchester Libraries.


Ten links to Chartism reveal how the movement developed in England from 1774 and how its ideas percolated through the Australian population from 1850 to positively influence the political development of democracy in this country.  


A black beginning from slave -picked cotton which was shipped from America, woven and spun in the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ of Manchester. There, adults and children as young as twelve slaved for 12-14 hours a day in factories filled with flying fragments of cotton that choked their lungs and brought death. 


Years of exploitation of workers by the new middle-class of mill owners saw thousands of workers and their families led by Henry Hunt gather for a picnic protest in 1819 on St Peters’ Field in Manchester. Cut down by sword wielding Hussars on horseback supported by armed infantry in hundreds and bombarded by cannon-fire. Several people were killed and 600 injured including women and children. Also called the ‘Massacre of Peterloo’. 


By 1838 the writings of Thomas Paine found a readership willing to support reform, willing to ‘dance in workers boots’ and create a nationwide movement of millions of British people which became the Chartist Movement. Various flags were used, including the Peterloo Skelmanthorpe Flag of brown and the Chartist Welsh Tricolour.

By 1850 at least 103 Chartists, now labelled seditionists, had been transported to Australia. Among them was Thomas Muir, a Scottish radical with a hankering for democratic reform. In 1793 he was sentenced for sedition and transported to New South Wales for 14 years. 

William Cuffay was the son of a slave and an early stand-up comic who gained fame for reforms made, especially in Tasmania. With other Chartists he was transported in 1850 on the ship Adelaide

Zephaniah WilliamsWelsh coal miner and Chartist campaigner, was one of the leaders of the Newport Rising of 1839. Found guilty of high treason, he was condemned to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Tasmania. Eventually he was pardoned, and his discovery of coal on that island earned him a fortune 

In his book Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788 – 1868, Anthony (Tony) Moore says Australia is often called a Chartist’s democracy because many Chartist leaders were transported here.

Gold fever lured free settler Chartists to join convicted Chartists in Australia. Moral and Physical Chartists combined with miners, and in their tens of thousands protested the harsh licensing Laws in ‘Monster Meetings’ along the Gold Route from Melbourne to Bendigo, the bloodless Bendigo Agitation of 1853  and eventually the bloody battle at Eureka Stockade in 1854. Peter FitzSimons in his book Eureka – The Unfinished Rebellion, wrote of Chartism in Britain, and pointed out that the same ideas were present on the goldfields, with a republican slant through ‘The Ballarat Reform League’As members of the Reform League, George Black and Henry Holyoake had both been involved with Chartism in England. They promoted radical ideas through two newspapers which were circulated on the goldfields, The Gold-Diggers’ Advocate owned by George Black and The Diggers’ Advocate printed by Ebenezer Syme, who later owned The Age. Such men as these and Ebenezer’s brother David, who also later owned The Age, did not just want to chronicle history they wanted to help make it.


John Stuart Mill described Chartism as ‘the victory of the vanquished’. A saying that could be applied as well to the cause won at Eureka. The spirit of solidarity and the desire for justice was carried over from Eureka to strikes by stonemasons in a major effort to gain an Eight-Hour Day which, when won in 1856, was the first such legislation in the world. Galloway and Stevenmasons who led the push were once Chartists. A further boost to trade unions came in 1891 when striking shearers in Queensland flew the Eureka flag. Such action led eventually to the formation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in 1927. 


Henry  Parkes, known to history as ‘The Father of Federation’, was once a Chartist sympathiser, ‘a people’s man ‘ who believed that ‘in Australia men would not be treated like brutes while alive, nor buried like dogs when dead.’ He knew that ‘Unity Is Strength.’ He did not live to see it, but in 1901 the colonies of Australia federated as the Commonwealth of Australia’. The Federation Referendum launched in 1898-1900 had support in Western Australia from Chartist influenced  women who already had the vote there. As many others in WA were reluctant to join the Federation it is likely the women’s vote influenced the result. In 1902 all white women in Australia were awarded the right to vote and stand for Federal Parliament. Achieved without use of violence or use of the term ‘suffragette’, they came with big hearts and big hats. Regretfully, Indigenous people had to wait until 1962 for their vote. 

By 1848 Chartism, disunited by differences between Lovett and O’Connor, was gone as a movement, but not as an idea. Chartist ideas found new life in Fabianism, the political belief that socialism can be introduced by gradual reform rather than by revolution. By 1901 various state groups of people aligned to Fabian Societies had called themselves Labour parties. By 1910 the world first for such parties in power was a Labor Partyspelt so by King O’Malley an American/Canadian immigrant MP and spelling reformer. Another world -first. 

In 1924 Alfred Deakin, our second Prime Minister, and his colleague Digby Denham united to have a law passed that made voting compulsory. This added one of the most stabilising factors of our constitutional democracy. They were influenced and supported by brothers Ebenezer and David Syme who had helped launch and edit the Diggers Advocate in Ballarat, who had stood by the miners and who both, at different times, became owners of The Age in Melbourne. 

The last link, born of radio waves and electrons, is our national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporationa link that aims to provide clearly stated information through accurate and unbiased journalism. It was established in 1929 and first advocated by Joseph Lyons, who was a Fabian sympathiser and Prime minister of Australia from 1932 to 1939. Joseph had given his wife, Dame Enid Lyonsour first woman elected to Federal Parliament, a book by Fabian instigators and historians Beatrice & Sydney Webb. 

Not as direct a link as being a Chartist, but still a Chartist link. A link to a stable democracy that right-wing media and conservative politicians are trying to break today. If this link is lost Australia will be deprived of a stabilising national treasure that supplies quality journalism, nationwide emergency assistance, educational material for all ages, and support for Arts of multiple shades. 

In the next post find out the results of this quest and the range of sources used …

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