13.4. Appearance of the Men

The judge at the Winchester assizes remarked that none of the men showed signs of malnutrition:

“In alluding to the crimes of these men, Mr. Baron Vaughn made the following important remarks:- “I believe that there are little short of a hundred persons whose lives are now forfeited to the state for their participation in the guilt of these transactions. It is my firm and decided conviction, that many persons engaged in them under a delusion, and instigated by the practices of artful and evil-designing men. I state publicly, that in the course of these trials we have found few instances – and I am not certain that I could lay my finger on one – in which the pinching spur of necessity has compelled the offenders to the commission of their offence. They are, in general, persons of a different character and description. We find among them carpenters, blacksmiths, sawyers, and others, whose wages are admitted to be adequate to their wants, and who yet take an active part in perpetrating these outrages. Not only persons in the handicraft trades which I have just mentioned, but occupiers of land, gardeners, and others who labour under no necessity and suffer no want, have been found strenuously engaged in stimulating those who were in more want than themselves to the commission of these crimes. I am happy, however, to observe, that there are but few, if there are any, instances in which downright want has proved the cause of the commission of offence.” “ 

(Camden Pelham, The chronicles of crime; or, The new Newgate calendar, a series of memoirs and anecdotes of notorious characters. Thomas Tegg, London, 1841, Vol. II, Agricultural Riots, pp. 213-217)

The doctor accompanying convicts on their transportation to Tasmania, described them as follows:
“The number of Convicts embarked [on the “Proteus”] was One Hundred and Twelve. They were a part of those ignorant and misled Englishmen turned Rioters who had overthrown order, and violated public security. Most of them were men from the Country, farm labourers; a few only were artisans. Generally speaking, they had the sturdy build of labouring men.”

(Surgeon Douglas Logan, Quoted in: Bruce W. Brown, The Machine Breaker Convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza, Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts, University of Tasmania, April 2004,  https://eprints.utas.edu.au/19178/1/whole_BrownBruceW2004_thesis.pdf, p. 82)

If the doctor says “they had the sturdy build of labouring men”, this means that the generality of agricultural labourers that he had known, had a strong physique. This is incompatible with the idea “the farm workers had suffered decades of hunger and poverty.”   

“Scattered among the letters of commendation and petitions for mercy lodged with the Home Office in respect of many of the rioters were references to their impressive physical attributes. James Martin, a Hampshire ploughman transported on the Proteus, for example, was described in a letter from the Reverend Harvey Ashworth as “a man of great bodily strength.”  Equally, in his surgeon’s report of the voyage of the Proteus, Dr Logan makes it clear they were sturdy stock. He described the 35 year old Huntingdonshire ploughman William Hughes as “a tall, broad-shouldered heavy country man.., always gifted, according to his account, with perfect health.” And Thomas Gregory, the 33 year old Hampshireman was described as “a short but well made man. He was a carpenter by trade and had always been employed in the country. He had never been subject to chest disorders before.” Even a truly ill machine breaker like John Simon Clark was described as “of a slender but not delicate frame of body. Previously to joining the Rioters he had always dwelt in the country. He had been brought up to farm labour.. and previously had excellent health.” A Port Phillip settler a few years later described the Hampshireman John Hopgood as Big Jack, “… a big burly Englishman sent out to Tasmania as a convict about the year 1831 for machine breaking.” Finally, John Capper, the superintendent of convicts at London Docks is reported, after having inspected the Eliza before she sailed, to have claimed “he never saw a finer set of men”.

(Bruce W. Brown, op. cit, p. 74)

“The special correspondent of the Times who had been present at Winchester made an interesting comparison between the Hampshire and the Wiltshire labourers on trial (8thJanuary 1831). The Wiltshire Labourers he described as more athletic in appearance and more hardy in manner. “The prisoners here turn to the witnesses against them with a bold and confident air; cross-examine them, and contradict their answers, with a confidence and a want of common courtesy, in terms of which comparatively few instances occurred in the neighbouring county.””

(Hammond, Hammond; The Village Labourer, 1920, p. 274)  

“Seven men were indicted for conspiring together and riotously assembling for the purpose of raising wages and for compelling others to join them. The labourers of the parish of Fawley [on the west bank of the Solent, in Hampshire] had combined together for two objects, the first to raise their wages, which stood at 9s. a week, the second to get rid of the assistant overseer, who had introduced a parish cart, to which he had harnessed women and boys, amongst others an idiot woman, named Jane Stevens. The labourers determined to break up  the cart, but they desisted on the promise of a farmer that a horse should be bought for it. Lord Cavan was the large landowner of the parish. He paid his men as a rule 9s. a week, but two of them received 10s. The mob came up to his house to demand an increase of wages: Lord Cavan was out, quelling riots elsewhere. Lady Cavan came down to see them. “Seeing you are my neighbours and armed,” said she, “yet, as I am an unprotected woman, I am sure you will do no harm.” The labourers protested that they meant no harm, and they did no harm. “I asked them,” said Lady Cavan afterwards in evidence, “why they rose then, there was no apparent distress around Eaglehurst, and the wages were the same as they had been for several years. I have been in several of their cottages and never saw any appearance of distress. They said they had been oppressed long and would bear it no longer.” One man told her that he had 9s. a week wages and 3s. from the parish, he had heard that the 3s. was to be discontinued. With the common-sense characteristic of her class Lady Cavan assured him that he was not improving his position by idling. The labourers impressed [forced them them to come with the mob] the Cavan men, and went on their peaceful way round the parish.”

(Hammond and Hammond, The Village Labourer, pp. 254-255)

It is thus not proven that the men who took part in the riots were hungry, and been hungry for years.

The idea that the labourers, were being “worked to death” by the excessive labour and the low amount of food, is not justified. In Wiltshire in 1840, of 2,016 deaths in agricultural labourers’ families, 954 were at below the age of 20, 492 at from 20 to 60, and 615 at more than 60 (Chadwick, 1842, pp. 161-164).Thus 60 % of the people who had reached the age of 20, were still living at the age of 60. (Chadwick, 1842, pp. 161-164)

Those who were arrested and found guilty were in general illiterate:

“Evidence of the ignorance of the peasantry: Committed for rioting; destroying machinery, &c. and tried before the judges of the special commission in 1830, &c.:

Berkshire.- Of 138 persons committed to Reading goal, 25 only could read; 76 could neither read nor write; 120 were under 40 years, varying from 35 to 18 years.

Hants.- Of 332 prisoners committed for trial at Winchester, 105 could neither read nor write; nearly the whole were deplorably ignorant of even the rudiments of religious knowledge.

Kent.- About one half of the prisoners committed to Maidstone gaol could neither read nor write, and nearly the whole were totally ignorant with regard to the nature and obligations of religion.

Abingdon.- Of 30 prisoners tried, 6 could read and write, 11 could read imperfectly, the remainder were wholly uneducated.

Berks.- Of 79 prisoners convicted at Aylesbury, only 30 could read and write.

Sussex.- Of 50 persons put on trial at Lewes, 13 could read and write, 12 could read imperfectly, and only one could read well.”

(George Bowring, The Domestic and Financial Condition of Great Britain, Longman, London, 1834; footnotes to p. 323 and p. 324)


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