The Capper Nomads Europe Adventure travel blog

 


Just north of the campground in the small village of Tolpuddle is the Tolpuddle Martyres Museum. We had tried to visit this museum the last time we were in Dorset but it was closed. In the early 19th century conditions for workers across all industries were poor many barely making enough to support their families. Farm workers were poorly paid and to make matters worst landowners in the 1830s cut their pay further. Some fought back by smashing the new threshing machines being introduced onto farms but this brought harsh punishments. Others looked to form Trade Unions.

In 1834, farm workers in the west Dorset area formed a trade union. Unions were lawful and growing fast but were hated by landowners so all sorts of tactics were used to stop them. In February 1834 six leaders of the union were arrested, experienced a rigged trail and sentenced to seven years’ transportation to Australia for taking an oath of secrecy. Their real crime in the eyes of the establishment was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of six shillings a week – the equivalent of 30p in today's money and the third wage cut in as many years.

Transportation to Australia was brutal. Few ever returned from such a sentence as they had to experience like slaves a harsh voyage across the sea and if that didn't kill them the Australian wilderness and brutal working conditions often took their toll.

After the sentences were pronounced there was a massive protest across the country in support of the Martyrs. A massive demonstration marched through London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament protesting about their sentence.

It took three years for the Martyrs to be freed and returned to England. The London Dorchester Committee raised funds with public support to buy leases on farms in Essex for the returning Martyrs. Five of them worked on these farms and continued to be active in Trade Union movement However like in Tolpuddle the local landowners continued to cause trouble. In the end the continuing pressure from landowners forced the five to seek new lives in Canada, where they settled as farmers in London, Ontario. Canada



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