18 March 1834: Tolpuddle Martyrs sentenced to transportation

On this day in 1834 six farm workers from Dorset were sentenced to seven years transportation for organising a ‘friendly society’ of agricultural labourers.

Life as a farm labourer in the early 1800s wasn't a barrel of laughs. The industrial revolution brought with it machines that sent the price of labour tumbling. Controversial Enclosure Acts meant common land used for centuries by the poor for grazing and growing produce was handed to rich landowners. Many people  ended up destitute.

Inevitably, some agricultural workers took things into their own hands. In the “Swing Riots”, mobs roamed the countryside smashing threshing machines and burning barns. So landowners weren't kindly disposed towards those they saw as troublemakers.

It was against this background that six men from Tolpuddle – brothers George and James Loveless, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and his son John – formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers in an attempt to halt the slide in wages. To join, they had to swear an oath of secrecy. It was this that was their undoing.

The local squire, James Frampton, was not amused. He wrote to the prime minister, Lord Melbourne (AKA William Lamb), warning of the seditious meetings taking place. And at the Dorchester Assizes on 18 March 1834, the six were convicted to swearing a secret oath and sentenced to seven years transportation, to work in penal servitude in New South Wales.

There was uproar. 800,000 people signed a petition for their release; 100,000 people demonstrated in London and MPs asked questions in the house. It took two years, but the Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, finally granted them full pardons. And the principle of workers being allowed to organise themselves was established.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs returned home in 1837. Their supporters had raised enough money to buy them leases on farms in Essex. But they couldn't settle. Eventually, five of the six emigrated to Canada. The sixth, James Hammett, remained in Dorset, where he became a builder's labourer.

Recommended

How to cut your car’s fuel bill as the price of petrol hits a record high
Personal finance

How to cut your car’s fuel bill as the price of petrol hits a record high

The cost of filling the typical car’s 55-litre tank with petrol is now around £105. Here, Saloni Sardana looks at ways to keep your refuelling costs d…
5 Jul 2022
Saga’s figures are heading in the right direction – so should you buy?
Share tips

Saga’s figures are heading in the right direction – so should you buy?

Saga the over-50s travel and financial services specialist, has been struggling for years. But now, with the pandemic behind, it it is planning for fu…
5 Jul 2022
Director dealings w/e 1 July: what company insiders are buying and selling
Stocks and shares

Director dealings w/e 1 July: what company insiders are buying and selling

Directors’ share dealings can often give investors an insight into the sentiment of company insiders. Here are some of the biggest deals by company di…
5 Jul 2022
Is inflation about to drop as recession takes hold?
UK Economy

Is inflation about to drop as recession takes hold?

Central banks are raising interest rates in an attempt to curb soaring inflation. But will that push the economy into recession? John Stepek looks at …
5 Jul 2022

Most Popular

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks
European stockmarkets

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks

Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater hedge fund is putting its money on a collapse in European stocks. It’s likely to pay off, says Matthew Lynn.
3 Jul 2022
Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?
Share tips

Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?

With a dividend yield of 12.3%, Persimmon looks like a highly attractive prospect for income investors. But that sort of yield can also indicate compa…
1 Jul 2022
The income investor’s dilemma
Income investing

The income investor’s dilemma

Pay attention to dividend growth as well as initial yield when picking income trusts, says Max King.
4 Jul 2022