#On This Day – Secrets

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

#OnThisDay

At the Dorchester Asssizes, on 18 March 1834, six farm workers were sentenced to seven years transportation in Australia. The six labourers from a small village in Dorset had sworn a secret oath of solidarity, prohibited at that time, as members of a ‘Friendly Society’ or trade union. They were trying to raise labourers wages from seven shillings to ten. As wages dropped across the country, and bad winters and harvests followed, workers rose up in protest and the name of Captain Swing filled employers with dread. The government, along with landowners and employers were determined to end the riots and fear, and chose to use a law seen in the Naval mutinies of 1797, that of administrating an unlawful oath. The Tolpuddle men, who held meetings under the tree pictured, were betrayed and subsequently tried – the jury reaching its final verdict in just five minutes. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales for trying to improve working conditions and wages. “We raise the watchword Liberty, We Will, we will, we will be free” (George Loveless, one of the six, from ‘The Gathering of the Unions’ a union hymn).

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