Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Election to the Chartist National Convention in 1852

Next Selection Previous Selection

In the spring of 1852,I was in very bad health. I did not know, nor did my friends, how things would turn out with me. I was prepared for the worst.

In accordance with our constitutional law, the reign of our existing Legislature was drawing towards a close, and an election was looming in the short distance. I had written a letter to the People's Paper , giving my views of the impending elections.

A little after this, a conference was held in Manchester at the request of Ernest Jones. The number of delegates was not large; but many localities, as they were termed, sent in their agreement with whatever resolutions the Conference might adopt. It was determined to elect a new Executive, the Executive of that time being not thought to represent the Chartist body. To my great surprise I was elected a member, provisionally of course. This was done on the motion of Ernest Jones. I was never notified of Mr. Jones's intention, and, therefore, the resolution came upon me as a surprise. I accepted the post, more especially as my friend, Mr. Cropper [sic] , supported it, and bore testimony to my 'high political and moral worth'.

I had only once had any conversation with Mr. Jones, and that was at the little town of Newport Pagnell. Mr. Jones delivered a lecture on Church and State—a subject with which, from his knowledge of Church history, he was very well qualified to deal. His lecture was well received. We had a jovial chat after the lecture, and several friends who had walked with me to the lecture from Stony Stratford, six miles, walked back again with me; and after that twelve miles walk, I believe we all got a good sleep. I am sure I did.

It was shortly after this that I was elected member of the Executive of the National Charter Association. In my first interview with Mr. Jones after my election, I visited him at the office of the People's Paper. He was very cordial, and said: 'I did not think when I saw you in that little town in Bucks that I should so soon have you for a colleague'.

I was not long idle, and had not the slightest wish to be so; so, after spending two days with my dear friend, Bronterre O'Brien, I started for the West of England. It was rainy weather, but not so bad as to obscure the beautiful foliage of the trees. I arrived at Bristol in the evening, being met at the station by a number of Chartists; amongst others by Mr. Clark, a veteran politician, and a devoted admirer of Feargus O'Connor . about whom he inquired as soon as opportunity presented itself.

I did not speak publicly at Bristol on that occasion, but made for Exeter, on the whole a beautiful city, a great part of it on elevated ground. Its fine Cathedral must attract the admiration of whoever visits it, and the country around is well calculated to soothe one's rugged feelings on account of its natural beauty.

At the time I visited Exeter a general election was impending. Being a candidate, I of course had to address a public meeting. The room was full, and I met with much applause. From thence I went to Torquay to lecture, and while there I received a letter and a copy of the leading Exeter paper, commenting on my candidature, and asserting that I was in the pay of the Carlton Club. If I were so, the pay must have been infinitesimal, for I never discovered it, and all the pay I was conscious of was derived from the Chartists of the places where I visited, who would have denounced me more than the Whigs had I been paid by another party, Whig or Tory.

I was again to appear in Exeter. My friends sent me a copy of the paper containing the charge. I at once sent a note to the Editor, challenging him to meet me in the Athenaeum and prove the correctness of his charge; but, instead of meeting me, he sent a polite note, stating that he was not the author of the report, nor was he interested in its circulation, and since I had denied its truth, he was satisfied of its falsity. I read this note to the meeting amid loud cheering, and it was duly published in the Western Times of the following Saturday, according to promise.

The Whigs, however, had not been idle, but had drummed up all their forces. As I proceeded, I found the enemy increasing, especially in clamour. They frequently drowned my voice as I essayed to speak; but, resting my elbows on the table, I quietly announced that I would await their pleasure. My coolness wore them out, and after repeated interruptions, I succeeded in getting through all I had to say, and the meeting broke up in a state of great excitement.

In the end the Chartists resolved not to push my candidature, which I never expected them to do, and the old Whig, Mr. Divett, was returned.

I lectured in Exeter shortly after in the same hall, and as I had given the Whigs a dressing on the previous occasion, I treated my friends the Conservatives to a similar one. There was no clamour—nothing but applause. I believe every Whig was convinced that night, if not before, that, after all, I was not in the pay of the Carlton Club, or I should never have dared to deliver such a lecture. The Western Times published a pretty full report, and for once I had the pleasure of being reported fairly. Not so by another paper, the name of which I forget. It gave a longer report; but there were no less than 200 gross errors. I thought when I had read it, 'Save me from my friends'.

Speaking of Exeter, I am here tempted to digress a little; but I am sure my readers will pardon the digression, for although the anecdote I am about to relate is in one sense painful, it is also amusing. It will show the sore straits to which a Chartist advocate was, even in those days, sometimes reduced. The facts were related to me personally and to many of the leading men of London at that time by the hero of the story. A leading lecturer was engaged to address a public meeting in the pretty town of T. He journeyed to Exeter on the way to his destination. He was short of money, and the thought struck him that he would apply to Mr. W., who either was at that time, or had recently been, Mayor of that city, and who was a member of the Convention in 1848. To his consternation, he found his friend from home. What was he to do? He had but one resource—to make the best of an unfortunate circumstance. He resolved to spend the night in one of the beautiful fields about the city. In the morning he took the coach; but he could only go part of the way for want of funds, and eighteen miles were between him and his place of destination. When the coach stopped, he had only 1s 6d. in his purse. The guard went up to him with the well-known request, 'Please remember the guard, sir'. 'Ah, that is one of the detestable impositions upon English travellers. No, on principle, I never give anything to guards. "You are no gentleman, sir.' 'Of course not; no man is a gentleman who will not submit to imposition, but your words don't frighten me,' He went with carpet bag into the inn. Some very jovial gentlemen were regaling themselves with gin and water. 'What is that you are drinking?' 'Gin and water, sir.' 'It smells very nice; what do they charge for it?' 'Six pence a glass, sir.' 'Wel1, I will have a glass.' The liquor was ordered, brought in, and paid for. Only a shilling was left. He had previously ascertained that that was the charge for a bed. He retired early, and slept even on a stomach without food. In the morning he arose and paid for his bed. 'What do you take for breakfast, sir?' asked the waiting maid. 'Breakfast, my good girl, it is against my principle to take breakfast.' The girl stood, rather doubting his sanity. He walked into the yard, and beheld a light spring cart, and, looking into the stable found a horse in good condition. Accosting the ostler, he asked, 'Do you ever drive this horse out?' 'Oh, yes, sir, if anybody wants him.' 'Do you think you could drive me to T—?". Certainly, sir.' 'Then get your horse ready as soon as you can, and we will be off; but what do you charge?' The man went into the house to inquire: it was only ten shillings. 'Very good, get ready as soon as possible.' The conveyance being ready, he prepared to depart. The chambermaid appeared. 'Please remember the chambermaid, sir.' 'Remember you, my dear girl? Yes, I shall always remember you; you are a very pretty girl.' 'I don't think you understand me, sir.' 'Oh, yes, I understand you. You are a very pretty girl, and I shall never forget you.' 'But can you give anything to the chambermaid, sir? This was a pointed question; but our friend was equal to it. 'Oh,' said he, 'that is a different thing. No, it is against my principle to give anything to chambermaids.' The girl stared like the previous one; but, getting nothing else to pocket, she pocketed the affront. The conveyance being ready, off they went; but trouble was not yet ended, for when a distance on the road, a toll-bar blocked the way. Our friend put up his glasses, and asked, 'What is that in the road?' 'A toll-bar, sir.' 'Oh, those detestable toll-bars! Well, I must tell you it is against my principle ever to pay toll; but if you pay it, we will settle it at the end of the journey.' 'All right, sir.' The toll was paid and the town speedily reached, the hero of the occasion being nearly exhausted. They drove to an inn. 'I will leave my carpet-bag with you to take care of, and, ringing the bell, he ordered a glass of brandy and water for the driver. He went to the Chartist secretary, and, hastily explaining to him how matters stood, obtained sufficient money to discharge his obligations.

Now this was no vulgar man, but one of high education, and an exceptionally brilliant orator; but the anecdote shows to what straits even men of the most commanding powers in political crisis be reduced when at variance with the ruling powers.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, December 29 1883

Next Selection Previous Selection