The Chartist Outbreak

This is a report from a developing riot of citizens angry at the arrest of some Chartist activists (see p. 32). In his report, Edward Hamer captures the mood of the crowd during the Newport Rebellion. We are reading from his pamphlet "The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes", 1867 that tells us that special police, or constables, had been brought in to arrest protesters for whom warrants had been issued. The men were arrested and were being held in a building, but the angry crowd swelled, becoming "…an excited and turbulent mob!"

 

chartists The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes

… Some of the women who had joined the crowd kept instigating the men to attack the hotel – one old virago vowing that she would fight till she was knee-deep in blood, sooner than the Cockneys should take their prisoners out of the town. She, with others of her sex, gathered large heaps of stones, which they subsequently used in defacing and injuring the building which contained the prisoners. When the mob had thus armed themselves, the word 'Forward!' was given, and as soon as they were within hearing of the police, they imperatively demanded the release of their friends, which demand was of course refused. What took place during the next few minutes cannot be easily ascertained; both parties afterwards accused the other of commencing the fray. The special constables, many of whose acquaintances were among the crowd, were seen to give way on the approach of the Chartists, and to seek their safety either in the hotel, or by trusting to their legs. When their request was denied them, the mob set up a terrible shout, and pressed forward towards the door of the inn; the rioters asserting that the London police began the conflict by striking one of their number, which only exasperated them the more, and caused them to shout out for 'revenge!' as well as the release of the prisoners. They further state that the Ex-Mayor, on finding that he was locked out, to ensure his own safety, suddenly appeared to sympathize with the mob, by crying out 'Chartists for ever'; and, with a stick which he had in his hand, broke the first pane of glass, thus initiating the mob in the work of destruction.

The women followed the example thus set them by throwing stones at every window of the house, while the men pressed forward and tried to burst in the front door, through which the police had retired. The thought of their prey slipping through their fingers infuriated the mob, who sent repeated showers of stones at the door and windows; the latter were soon shattered into a thousand fragments. Guns were next fired through the door, which, after resisting all their efforts for some time, was ultimately burst open. The mob quickly spread themselves over the house in search of their comrades, whom they found handcuffed in the kitchen. They were at once led off to a smith's shop, where their gyves were knocked off. Finding themselves masters of the house, the rabble proceeded to hunt out the policemen, against whom alone their animosity was now directed. The Mayor with one of the police had retired to the bedrooms, but the latter (Blenkhorn) was soon found, and dragged from under a bed; his pistol and staff were wrested from him, and the former was presented at his head. He was then most savagely abused by all who were within reach of him, till his bruised and bleeding features moved the hearts of some of the most compassionate, who managed at great risk to save his life, for only with his life would some of the ruffians be appeased.

The Mayor (a surgeon by profession) was also discovered in one of the bedrooms. He was rather frightened when brought out into the street; but a happy idea occurred to him, - he appealed to their better nature, by recalling to their memories how he had saved their mothers' lives in ushering them (the Chartists) into the world. He touched the right string; their hearts were softened, and they allowed him to proceed to his home without injuring him.

 

Tasks

Understanding the text

  1. What did the rioters do to the building?
  2. What might have given the constables' reason to be unsure of what they were doing?
  3. What did many of the constables do when they saw the Chartists coming?
  4. Who do the people in the crowd claim started the riot?
  5. What three things does the mayor do to save his skin?
  6. What happened to the policeman who had been hiding under a bed?


Talk about it

  1. What opinion are we left of the mayor?
  2. What does this tell us about the behaviour of mobs?
  3. What role do the women play in the riot?
  4. How does the mayor escape with no injury?