Victorian London - Politics - Chartism - Demonstrations

    Monday passed off with surprising quiet, and it was considered a most satisfactory demonstration on the part of the Govern­ment, and the peaceable and loyal part of the community. Enormous pre­parations were made, and a host of military, police, and special constables were ready if wanted; every gentleman in London was sworn, and during a great part of the day, while the police were reposing, they did duty. The Chartist movement was contemptible; but everybody rejoices that the defensive demonstration was made, for it has given a great and memorable lesson which will not be thrown away, either on the dis­affected and mischievous, or the loyal and peaceful; and it will produce a vast effect in all foreign countries, and show how solid is the foundation on which we are resting. We have displayed a great resolution and a great strength, and given unmistakable proofs, that if sedition and rebellion hold up their heads in this country, they will be instantly met with the most vigorous resistance, and be put down by the hand of authority, and by the zealous co-operation of all classes of the people. The whole of the Chartist movement was to the last degree contemptible from first to last. The delegates who met on the eve of the day were full of valour amounting to desperation; they indignantly rejected the intimation of the Government that their procession would not be allowed; swore they would have it at all hazard, and die, if necessary, in asserting their rights. One man said he loved his life, his wife, his children, but would sacrifice all rather than give way. 
    In the morning (a very fine day) everybody was on the alert; the parks were closed; our office was fortified, a barricade of Council Registers was erected in the accessible room on the ground-floor, and all our guns were taken down to be used in defence of the building. However, at about twelve o’clock crowds came streaming along Whitehall, going north wards, and it was announced that all was over. The intended tragedy was rapidly changed into a ludicrous farce. The Chartists, about 20,000 in number, assembled on Kennington Common. Presently Mr. Mayne appeared on the ground, and sent one of his inspectors to say he wanted to speak to Feargus 0’ Connor. Feargus thought he was going to be arrested and was in a terrible fright; but he went to Mayne, who merely said he was desired to inform him that the meeting would not be inter fered with, but the procession would not be allowed. Feargus insisted on shaking hands with Mayne, swore he was his best of friends, and instantly harangued his rabble, advising them not to provoke a collision, and to go away quietly—advice they instantly obeyed, and with great alacrity and good-humour. Thus all evaporated in smoke. Feargus himself then repaired to the Home Office, saw Sir George Grey, and told him it was all over, and thanked the Government for their leniency, assuring him the Convention would not have been so lenient if they had got the upper hand. Grey asked him if he was going back to the meeting. He said No that he had had his toes trodden on till he was lame, and his pocket picked and he would have no more to do with it. The petition was brought down piecemeal and presented in the afternoon. Since that there has been an exposure of the petition itself, covering the authors of it with ridicule and disgrace. It turns out to be signed by less than two millions, instead of by six as Feargus stated; and of those, there were no end of fictitious names, - together with the insertion of every species of ribaldry, indecency, and impertinence. The Chartists are very crestfallen, and evidently conscious of the contemptible figure they cut; but they have endeavoured to bluster and lie as well as they can in their subsequent gatherings, and talk of other petitions and meetings, which nobody cares about.

Charles Greville, Diary, April 13th 1848

The Chartist meeting concluded about 7 o'clock, and several people made speeches to the mob. When the proceedings of the meeting terminated about 1,000 people ran towards the church [serving as a base for the police, ed.] A police inspector was crossing the field at the time and some of the people called out, 'There goes the — inspector," and the mob began hooting and pelting the inspector with stones. Witness saw Callaghan and Bingley throw stones, and he attempted to take Bingley and another man into custody, but the latter was rescued and witness was thrown down and beaten by the mob. They then began to break the windows of the church, and by witness's directions the police were brought out to disperse the mob.
     Cross-examined.—There were about 36 panes of glass broken. The mob were told by the speakers that the police were in the church, and they moved off immediately in that direction. There was a cry raised against the police, and they were pelted with large granite stones. Witness was struck by several stones, and was very much hurt.
     Inspector Waller said that he went with 40 of his men to the church about 3 in the afternoon, and shortly before 6 he had occasion to go to another part of the field, and as he was returning the mob used some opprobrious epithets, and began to pelt him with granite stones and pieces of brick. After he got into the church he heard the windows smashed in, and he immediately went out with his men. They had no other weapons than staves. He summoned the mob to disperse, but the only effect was a volley of stones; by which several of the constables were severely cut and injured. He then ordered his men to disperse the mob, but they resisted, and the constables were obliged to use their staves, and then succeeded in clearing that portion of the field ; but the mob rallied at a public-house called the City of Paris, and again commenced pelting the police until. they were driven from their position.
     Cross-examined.—A great portion of the people had dispersed from the meeting, and when he came out of the  church with his men there were probably not more than 500 present. The men had nothing to drink in the church. Some mounted police came on the ground. They had cavalry swords, and they rode about the ground, but he did not observe whether their swords were drawn. He could not tell how many of the police were altogether on the spot, but he had only 41 men with him. The constables had orders not to strike at the heads of the mob; but he was aware a good many had their heads broken and were taken to the hospital.
     David Kilgour, a police constable, spoke to the violent conduct of the mob, and said that Illman, who had an iron bar in his hand, struck him with it. He also saw some of the other defendants throw stones at the police.
     Cross-examined,—Did not know of his own knowledge how many arms and legs were broken among the mob.
     By the COMMON SERJEANT— He saw one man lying upon the ground, bleeding and insensible, and he was allowed to lie there. He did not see him among the prisoners.
    Several other constables gave similar estimony, but as their evidence was all of the same character it will be unnecessary to give it in detail. They all spoke to the proceedings of the different prisoners. Some of them were clearly identified as having thrown stones at the police, while others incited the mob to attack them by the most violent language. Several gentlemen residing in the neighbourhood were also examined to prove the terror and alarm that existed in consequence of the proceedings in Bonner's-fields ; and this closed the case for the prosecution.
   Mr. PAYNE first addressed the jury, and he commenced by expressing an opinion that the proceeding out of which the prosecution arose was in reality a very contemptible affair, and that much more importance had been given to it than it deserved. He did not care a straw for either Whig, Tory, or Chartist, but he did not believe that the disturbance in question had any thing whatever to do with any political party, and was of opinion that the police had, in a great measure, brought what occurred upon themselves by their unnecessary violence. He could not also help thinking that if something was done to ameliorate the wretched condition of the lower classes it would have much more effect in preventing the demonstrations that had been so much talked about, and would do a great deal more good than would ever be effected by Colonel Rowan, Mr. Mayne, the police, and the special constables, or the Duke of Wellington and the whole armed force of the country. It was ridiculous to suppose that persons like the prisoners, many  of whom were mere boys, could have any serious intention of upsetting the Government; and he believed that notwithstanding the misery they endured; the poorer classes of England were sound at heart and were attached to the Throne and their country. The learned counsel then proceeded to comment upon the evidence, and urged upon the jury that, even supposing they should consider they had taken a part in this ridiculous affray, he trusted they would think the injuries they had received and the incarceration they had already suffered; a sufficient punishment.
     During the address of Mr. Payne, one of the prisoners, who had received a blow on the head from a staff, fainted, and appeared in almost a state of stupefaction during the remainder of the proceedings.
     Mr. BALLANTINE next addressed the jury for Whitehead, who, he said, was no patriot; he knew nothing of the Charter ; had no sympathy with Mr. Mitchell, whom his learned friend had thought fit to introduce into his speech, and was unaware of the existence of such a being. He was a bricklayer, and unfortunately for himself, happened to be at Bonner's-fields when these meetings wore held, and he had thus unfortunately become mixed up with the transaction. It was stated that he had been seen to throw stones, but there was not the slightest proof that he struck any one or that he had done any mischief whatever, and he considered that the police were the most to blame in the matter. He would not enter into the discussion of any political subject, but he did not think that the right of Englishmen to meet for discussion ought to be lightly interfered with. A prejudice was sure to be created in the minds of men who had a stake in the country by being told that a meeting was of a character to create disturbance and violence, and this meeting was so described ; but, according to his view of the case, the whole affair had been most grossly  exaggerated,  and the police had improperly interfered, and by their own violence occasioned the disturbance that took place.
The Times, June 19th 1848