Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Liverpool and London in 1842

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I resume the account of my peregrinations as a Chartist missionary in 1842:— After leaving Carlisle, I did not come in contact with any public audience until I reached Liverpool, where a public meeting had been arranged for me to address, and I felt that I must endeavour to hold my own in that great commercial emporium as well as I possibly could; but I went to the meeting not without a little fear. The attendance was good, the true honest Chartists assembled in considerable numbers, and I gave my address with what I thought, and still think, a fair amount of spirit. Be that as it might, I was well applauded—a fair sign of appreciation. A vote of thanks was carried with additional applause, which doubtless raised the spirits of the young but aspiring lecturer.

I was much gratified when, at the conclusion, William Jones, a native of Liverpool, who had attended, came up to congratulate me. I thought this of no small value, because he had been an eloquent lecturer in the movement, more so than I could ever hope to be. I remember that the first time I saw and heard him was on the Market Square of Northampton in 1842. Some people, who had read the speeches of Mr. Jones, and noted their eloquence, were surprised to see so unpretentious a man. But he had a fine sparkling eye, and when he had once begun his audiences were fascinated by his style, and pleased to find that their ideal of his oratory was the true one. Like many other Chartist lecturers, he was very young, with an ardent and impulsive temperament. But there was not even the semblance of rant in his speech, and he made an excellent impression. When I met him in Liverpool he had suffered six month's imprisonment in the gaol of Leicester for a speech he had delivered. At the trial he defended his own cause, as most Chartist speakers did. He spoke for four hours, no doubt to the intense disgust of Mr. Baron Gurney. The interruptions of the judge were a disgrace to the bench, so much so as to call forth a deprecating leader from The Times , and another from the Morning Chronicle , in which it was asked, 'Which was the judge and which was the criminal?' The last time I met with Wiliam Jones he was living in that prince of shoemaking towns, Northampton, following his trade of a bootcloser. He had, while at Liverpool, married from real affection a young Spanish refugee, to whom he was devoted, and who was equally devoted to him. He, too, has gone to that rest which we must all arrive at last. Jones was one of the most honest, and at the same time one of the most amiable, men I met with in the Chartist movement.

The next town I visited in connection with the agitation to which I had committed myself was Brighton. I was here hospitably entertained at the house of Mr. Fiest who, like many others in that lovely seaside resort, let out his apartments in the season when visitors, in search of health and pleasure, or both, are in abundance. We had a good meeting at the house to which the Chartists usually resorted, and I was pleased with the warm and cordial spirit with which I was received. I may say that of all the places that I visited, I never met with a set of men who treated me more generously. They were always so to those with whom they agreed, and at that time there was no difference between us. They were admirers of the great Chartist chief, Feargus O'Connor , and I was just as much an admirer as themselves.

I several times afterwards visited and addressed meetings there. The last meeting I addressed was held in a commodious room, which was well filled. On that occasion, up rose Mr. Wm. Woodward, who, I believe, is still alive. Mr. Woodward very warmly congratulated me on my lecture, but he made a complaint that I had not called on Mr. Nathaniel Morling, one of the warmest, and from the little I saw of him, I think one of the most intelligent of the friends of Bronterre O'Brien. I explained that Mr. Morling had waited on me, and asked me for the address of an old friend of mine, Mr. John McFarlan, of Northampton. I told him that I could not at that moment recollect his address, but if he would call or send in the afternoon, I believed I could furnish him with it; but Mr. Morling neither called nor sent, and as I did not know his address, I could not call on him. This of course settled matters.

On my arrival in London, I called for the first time on Bronterre O'Brien, who lived in Holborn. I had not been more than three minutes in conversation with him before I was accused, in any but gentle tones, of having denounced his friend Morling, 'one of the finest fellows that ever lived.' I was just explaining, when, at the opportune moment, in came Mr. Hoppey, who had just arrived from Brighton, and who recognised me in a moment. 'I am glad to see you, Mr. Hoppey,' I said; 'you have just arrived at the right time. You were at my meeting at Brighton when the name of Mr. Morling came up. I ask you if I said a single word denouncing Mr. Morling?' Mr. Hoppey answered with truthful simplicity, O'Brien shook me warmly by the hand, and we drank down all asperities in a single glass of wine.

But I must now go back a little. I went from Brighton to Lewes, and from thence to the pleasant little town of Tunbridge Wells, and I must not omit to mention that at a little farm house on the side of the road, I called to see my old friend Mr. Meeke, then stationed at Lewes as Unitarian minister, who, with his good wife, received me very cordially. What a pleasure it is for a young man especially to meet with an old friend, and in a part comparatively strange! Arriving at Tunbridge Wells, I made for the house of Mr. Lawner, basket maker, who was a real good hearted man, with whom even the most churlish could hardly be on any other terms than those of friendship. We were heart and soul together. He introduced me to Mr. Curtis,* who was, as I had been, a coach trimmer—a very smart young man, not without marks of thought upon his face. At this meeting Mr. Curtis was called upon to preside, and in a modest and sensible speech he introduced me. Mr. Curtis, however, was more of a Socialist than a Chartist.

I know not whether my readers ever saw anything of mesmerism. Most likely some of them have. At the time I now speak of, that 'science' was all the rage. My friend Curtis was a mesmerist (amateur of course). He took me to see some friends of his on the Sunday evening. There were several young ladies just arrived from church. Curtis introduced me, and he soon began to put one of them under the mesmeric influence (whatever that may be). Having made the usual passes, the young lady was not long in going to sleep, and then came the most curious part of the performance. There was a dish of apple pie on the table. The mesmeriser began to eat. The young lady moved her lips in obedience to the movement of his, but continued asleep until he made the necessary passes. Then she awakened, and seemed a little stupid, but soon came round to her natural state. I congratulated my friend when we got back to Lawner's on the success of his performance, especially on his eating of the apple pie.

I called at Greenwich among other places on my way to London, and addressed a crowded meeting in a room at a hotel. There is only one man who attended the meeting whose name I remember—Mr. Morgan. He was in the movement many years after that. He was one of the most fervent of all the men I had met with, and spoke after my lecture with much feeling and fluency.

And now I was within a very few miles of London, and I must show what mettle I was made of. Think of speaking in the great metropolis, not only of England, but of the world, where there are some of the keenest men living! I often asked myself whether I ought to lecture to them or they to me. When I arrived at the Charter Coffee House, 14 Edgeware [sic] Road, I was most cordially received by my relatives and some Chartist friends. My cousin, William Clark, was in ecstasies. He thought it such an honour to the family that a cousin of his should be able to stand before a public meeting to expound and defend the principles of the Charter, especially before a London audience. I was thankful when I got to the meeting to find the room crowded. It was not that I could not address even the smallest meeting, for generally I relied on facts and arguments for my support; but a large meeting produces an exhilaration which most men who have spoken in public can well appreciate. Wm. Clark was called on to preside. So democratic were we in those days that even a chairman must be elected, and my cousin was elected by the vote of the meeting. The chairman manifested all the timidity of a novice, but he introduced me in graceful terms. I was in a little flutter before I began, but the moment I was on my feet my trepidation vanished. I spoke an hour and a half, and kept nearly all my audience till the close. I need not say that I received the thanks of the meeting, nor need I record the cheers that are usually given.

This was not the only meeting I addressed in London at that time. I lectured in several parts of the metropolis on both sides of the water, and, if I may judge by my reception, with good effect.

I had a great deal against me. I was very young to be a political speaker among much older men than myself; but there was always one thing that bore me up, and that was an intense conviction that whatever I advocated was right. I would advise every young man, in whatever movement he may engage, to be under this conviction. If he is not, he had better a thousand times over remain silent and reflect; if ever a public speaker once makes a bargain with hypocrisy, it will most likely be all up with him, for the evil will go on increasing. A strong love and practice of truth can alone sustain a man truly, whether the sun of prosperity shine on him or the blasts of adversity assail him.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, August 16 1884

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