The following account of the events of 14 August 1848, when an armed Chartist “National Guard” shot dead a police officer in the town of Ashton-under-Lyne is adapted from Herbert Davies’ chapter in Victorian Ashton (Tameside Libraries and Arts Committee, 1974).
Ashton-under-Lyne was a Chartist stronghold. In 1838 it was the headquarters of the Rev Joseph Rayner Stephens, an ex-Wesleyan minister who became a national leader in the Chartist movement. He was imprisoned in August 1839 and after his release in 1841 did not play a leading part in subsequent Chartist activities, although his chapel at Charlestown continued to be a rallying point for the politically active.
Stephens’ place was taken by Peter Murray McDouall, a Scot in his twenties who was Ashton’s delegate to the National Chartist Convention. Significantly, he advocated physical force if peaceful agitation was not effective. Other Chartist leaders were Richard Pilling, a handloom weaver and William Aitken, a cotton spinner who later ran his own school. The second Chartist Petition was presented to Parliament in April 1842 and Ashton, with a population of about 25,000 contributed 14,200 signatures – an indication of the great extent of working class support. Stalybridge contributed a further 10,000 signatures. Direct industrial action followed the rejection of the petition and the general strike (or Plug Plot — so called because the workers drew the plugs from the mill boilers to prevent them working) which swept across the cotton district in August 1842 began in Ashton and spread from there.
The strike achieved little and Chartism did not revive again until the end of 1847 when economic distress again became acute. But the old strength had gone and after Parliament had thrown out the third petition in April 1848, national Chartist leadership collapsed, this time for good. Local fires took longer to die down, notably, again, at Ashton, where from 1843 the Government had stationed troops at the new barracks. Disappointment at the rejection of the petition brought natural reactions: hopeless resignation, a faithful determination to carry on with propaganda and hope for the best and amongst some, especially the young, a bitter resolve to be requited. In May a Lancashire and Cheshire delegate meeting, following examples elsewhere, decided to form a “National Guard”.
On June 16 1848, the Chief Constable of Ashton reported to the Home Secretary that there was a body of armed men in the town called a “National Guard” which was from 300 to 400 strong. On July 10 McDouall addressed a packed meeting at the Charlestown Meeting Room (Stephensite chapel on Sundays). For this event the town was placarded with bills headed: “Equal Rights and Equal Laws” followed by: “Hereditary Bondsmen, know ye not who must be free must strike the blow…” and “Freedom’s Battle once begun, bequeathed from bleeding sire to son, though often baffled, always won.”
James Milligan, chief of Ashton’s “National Guard”, was on the door to turn away hostile witnesses, but after the meeting McDouall spoke to an enthusiastic crowd from an open window in Old Street and this time there were enough policemen present to furnish the Chief Constable with evidence to charge McDouall with making a seditious speech. A week later he was arrested and committed to the Quarter Sessions. It may be an insight into attitudes prevailing in the town at the time to note that the Town Hall Committee granted use of the large hall and anterooms for a great Tea Party and Dance which went on until midnight on Saturday July 29, for the purpose of raising funds for McDouall’s defence. He had been released on bail and it caused the chairman of the Town Hall committee some embarrassment when, in Council, he had to answer Alderman George Heginbottom as to how it was that a person on remand for seditious speech should be given the facilities of the Town Hall to indulge in yet more public speaking. McDouall was tried at Liverpool on August 28 and sentenced to two years at Kirkdale Gaol.
In July the Government sent troops from Ashton and other Lancashire barracks to deal with troubles in Ireland. The numbers were of no great significance, but provided material for exaggeration so that rumour had it that the Government forces could not cope with risings elsewhere if they occurred. At the same time the Chartist leadership had virtually disintegrated. The ‘agitators’ including many who did not advocate force were being picked off like fruit in an orchard. The rank and file, which remained after disillusionment and resignation had taken away others, was simmering with anger.
On the second weekend in August delegates from London and other places assembled at Whittakers Temperance Hotel in Great Ancoats Street, Manchester. Milligan went alone from Ashton on Sunday August 13 and the day after. He summoned his six Division leaders and told them to be prepared to muster at Barn field (north end of Bentinck Street) at a quarter to eleven that night. There was to be a National Rising that night and in London next day. There was no secrecy in Hyde. On the Sunday there was an open air meeting at Godley Green and it was blandly announced that they were sure to get the Charter on Monday night as all England was going to rise. Volunteers were asked to muster on a ground off Hyde Lane for a night march for drawing plugs. The last act of the drama was about to begin.
At 10 o’clock on Monday night, August 14 1848, Inspector Dalgleish of the Ashton Borough Police booked his constables off for their night beats in front of the Ashton Hotel in the Market Place. A change was made on this occasion; P.C. Bright would patrol Bentinck Street, where the Chartist Rooms were situated, in place of P.C. Pennington. There had been a lot of young fellows coming out of the Rooms fairly late at night the past week or two and Pennington knew that he and P.C. Henry Taylor, were to say the least, distinctly unpopular since they had witnessed against McDouall. James Bright (33) did not mind the change in the least. He counted himself as being on good terms with the Chartist lads. He lived in Wood Street, had seen them passing by and watched them drilling on Thackers Ground. Some he knew well. For example he had known Joe Radcliffe, just 21 and out of his apprenticeship as a wheelwright, who was one of the officers, since Joe was a lad.
It was a dark night without moon or starlight, inclined to rain and, it being summer, no street lights were lit. The Inspector accompanied Bright for part of the beat. There were rumours of trouble buzzing about during the weekend but there had been so many rumours before. In any case the police could not do much about it. If it was serious it would be a matter for the troops at the barracks mainly. That was what they were there for. The police would have to report anything they saw, of course, and see that the alarm bell was tolled at the Old Church and at the New Church at each end of Stamford Street. These would summon the Special Constables (about 150) and also alert the sentry at the barracks.
Radcliffe’s men were gathered in various houses in Peel Street and York Street in Charlestown. They formed up in good order about a quarter to eleven. Most had pikes — a blade screwed on a six foot shaft-slung on their right shoulder. A few had guns and others any kind of hardware that could be used for breaking down doors etc. They marched in formation down Oldham Road, turned right into Katherine Street and right again on approaching the new Primitive Methodist Chapel at the corner of Bentinck Street. On the mustering ground a little higher up, they met others. Milligan thought it was a poor muster. He said he had placed a strong picquet on Mossley Road to intercept troops from the barracks and was augmenting it by sending some of those now assembled. There was no time for explanation, but the main body was to move towards Whitelands where they would be joined by Bernard Treanor’s mob from Stalybridge and then up the brow to Dukinfield Lodge, the residence of the M.P., Charles Hindley. Somehow there would then be joint operations with the Divisions from Dukinfield, Newton and Hyde.
Meanwhile a force of 130 armed men had assembled near the Market Place at Hyde. Before midnight, about half had moved off in the direction of Gee Cross. P.C. Browne, one of the only two policemen on duty in Hyde saw them and went to the Ground where he saw about sixty armed men lined up and standing at ease. He spoke to the young man in charge and asked him what they were there for. The leader appeared surprised and said “You must think we are the only party out tonight. They are out all over England, Ireland and Scotland and before this time tomorrow we will either make it better or worse, for we may as well turn out and be killed as stay at home and starve to death.”
The alarm was ringing in Ashton before the main Ashton force set out down Bentinck Street. The Specials came hurrying to the Town Hall but Mr. Newton, the Chief Constable, was concerned about the absence of the military and so at quarter past eleven he sent P.C. Bradshaw on horseback. Sometime later, he came galloping back to report that a great crowd of colliers at Kenworthy’s Pit had formed a barricade across the road with pikes at the level and prevented him from reaching the barracks.
Most people in the town had been in bed for hours before the alarm was raised but there were the usual Monday night late drinkers and in addition a few youths making their way home from Denton Wakes. Such as there were about were drawn to Bentinck Street by the sound of heavy tramping and windows were thrust open as aroused sleepers peered into the darkness. As the last section of the National Guard was passing Cotton Street somebody shouted: “Hey! a bobby’s coming down yon street.” Then there was another chap walking alongside. P.C. Bright turned into Bentinck Street and walked on the pavement 19 a few paces behind the column. Then the shout went up again: “Hey! Bright’s following us.” Radcliffe shouted back, “Take no notice!”. As the forward ranks turned left to go up Stamford Street, the rear slowed almost to a standstill and Bright overtook them as they crossed over Old Street and was alongside on the pavement between Old Street and Stamford Street. Then some of the lads went to him, threatening. Radcliffe turning round, saw this, ran back, told the Guards not to break their ranks and addressed some sharp words to the policeman: “See – you’re causing trouble – you know these lads have it in for the police.” “Nay”, replied Bright, “What harm have I done them — they won’t hurt me.” “If you’ve any sense you’ll get up yonder” Radcliffe said, pointing to Old Street, “as fast as your legs will carry you.”
Radcliffe hurried away, anxious about what was happening to the Guards who were now out of sight in Stamford Street but had to turn back as neither the men nor Bright had obeyed. Now somebody had knocked the policeman’s hat off. “Lads — what have I done to you?” Bright pleaded. Radcliffe came back angry with Bright. “See, clear off-get up Swire’s back and away.” There was more disorder and a crowd was pressing behind Radcliffe. Somebody then tipped his pike off his shoulder saying “If you’re frightened of using it, give it to someone who will.” There was a struggle in which Radcliffe recovered the weapon and as he thought the same person had dodged behind Bright he made a lunge at him. But Radcliffe was mistaken-it was a Mr. Warren, a bystander, who was trying to get Bright to come away with him and he received a cut on the hand from the pike. Another pike was presented, with what intent is not known, but Bright had been cut by one or the other as it was found later that he had an incise wound on the right side of the right thigh. Warren, shocked and scared, went quickly away and the gathering round Bright receded, leaving him in a clearing. Then a pistol shot was fired, which if intended for Bright was very wide of the mark and may have been intended to scare him away. Joe Constantine, followed by Radcliffe, then led the policeman by the arm towards the corner of Stamford Street. Just then a commotion was heard in Stamford Street and shots, which attracted all attention. The two officers turned the corner to witness a scene of total disorder. The Guards still in Bentinck Street rushed into Stamford Street but three people, Thomas Lattimore and his two pals, not members of the Guard but regular hangers on, remained at the Red Lion corner.
The object of the disorder was P.C. Harry Taylor who had been spotted in Stamford Street. He was the one they had it in for. There was a pursuit but Taylor was ahead and seeing a light in Pie Jonathan’s shop in Cavendish Stree, he bolted for the open door and ran up the stairs. With this diversion Bright was left alone, or apparently so and simultaneously with the switch of attention to Stamford Street there was a loud report and flash in Bentinck Street. It was not immediately realised what had happened. Then it was seen that the dark bundle in the gutter was P.C. Bright. It was never positively established who fired the shot or from where it came. Mr. Grey, who kept the Red Lion, had the body brought into the house through the side door and sent for Dr. Campbell and Mr. Brierley the surgeon. It was a terrible and savage wound which was consistent with a ball from an inch bore blunderbuss, passing through the chest and out at the back. A curious item of evidence was provided by a button from the policeman’s tunic which had pierced the window of the King William the Fourth Inn on the opposite side of Stamford Street and the opposite side of Bentinck Street to the place where Bright was last seen standing, and was found on a table.
At about the same time Constantine and Radcliffe were trying to get some order on Stamford Street. “Stand! Stand!” and “Join! Join!” they shouted. They tried to get as many as they could to turn back and directed them down Bentinck Street to the familiar Thackers Ground.
George Shawcross, a waiter at Grundy’s Spread Eagle, was on his way home when Bright was killed. He went back to tell Councillor Grundy, who then raced off to be the first to tell the Chief Constable. This was about midnight. The Chief Constable sent a message, calling all resident magistrates on to duty. Inspector Dalgleish went with Grundy to the Red Lion.
The assembly on Thackers Ground largely melted away into the darkness. Murder was something they had not bargained for. Their crude arms were meant for defence if attacked while disabling factories. Pikes were specially good for dealing with cavalry and mounted police. Tom Tassaker, John Sefton, Joe Radcliffe and Sam Sigley with those who might follow went the short cut by the canal side to Dukinfield Hall to keep their belated appointment. But most had gone. They went on to the Old General and to Hindley’s Park Gates, but there was no sign of their colleagues from Newton and Hyde.
The Chief Constable eventually succeeded in getting a message through to the colonel of the 89th regiment at the barracks. At 1 a.m. Mr. Newton led mounted guards armed with swords and 150 Specials armed with staves up Penny Meadow. Simultaneously 150 soldiers moved down Mossley Road. The colliers’ Guard hastily departed over the pit hills but the stragglers were caught. The troops marched into the town in formation and raided the Chartist Rooms in Bentinck Street and managed to pick up eighteen men. The three couriers from Hyde- Penny, Lees and Healey-were arrested on Ann’s Brow at 1-30 with their pockets full of slugs and gunpowder and Councillor Ogden-a Special Constable-took a pistol from Healey.
The Guards who had gone ahead, past the Old Church, and down Ann’s Brow, arrived at Whitelands but the Stalybridge contingent were not there, nor did they come at all. They then went up to the gates of Mr. Hindley’s and met the Dukinfield division which consisted of only twenty-five lads. These set off for Dukinfield Hall, where they were to meet one of the Ashton sections led by William Broadbent who lived in Wharf Street (then called Davies Street). The others went to Newton and visited Marler’s Mill, Thomas Ashton’s Mill at Flowery Field, and three others. Meanwhile Hyde was doing an uninterrupted tour. Their purpose was to empty mill boilers so that the operatives would be out next day and presumably would be on the streets demanding the Charter. They started at Woodley Mill, went on to Haughton Dale, along the canal side to Apethorn, Gibraltar, Wharmby’s, ThornIey’s and so on. Hough, the leader, then sent three men to Ashton to see how things were getting on.
Broadbent’s section with the Dukinfield division assembled to await contact from Ashton and Newton. Broadbent left them saying he was going for more men but on the way he heard of Bright’s murder. He went home and so eventually did the others whom he had left. The leaders of the National Guard would certainly be arrested if they made for their own homes. By two o’clock they had to admit complete failure. The inexplicable disappearance of Milligan early in the proceedings left them in confusion but the murder of the policeman was itself a bombshell on the whole organisation. Tom Winterbottom, a miner, took Joe Radcliffe and Sam Sigley to his brother’s house in Dukinfield. John Lattimore, younger brother of the aforementioned Thomas, also came to the house.
Factory workers went out as usual in the early morning. Most of them would not be aware of the events of the previous hours of darkness. Even the mills at Hyde were not much put out by the nocturnal visitation as mill engineers had learned things since the last plug drawing campaign and all had steam up by eight o’clock. The truth dawned later that on that night when all England and Scotland was to be out, Ashton district was alone. Not a murmur from Bolton and Bury where great things were expected. Oldham turned out seventy men who marched down Manchester Road as far as Hollinwood then turned back. Stockport slept peacefully. Hundreds were supposed to be waiting in Manchester for the disturbances in surrounding towns to draw the military away. Maybe some of the Irish Nationalists remained in their clubs all night and the Headquarters committee stayed in Whittaker’s Temperance Hotel in Great Ancoats Street, but there is no evidence that if Manchester had been put to the test that there was an organised force of any significance at all. As for London, it was later revealed that the tens of thousands of armed men and Guardsmen in the Royal Barracks ready for mutiny were a product of someone’s imagination or invention.
Radcliffe and Sigley remained at Winterbottom’s for a few days and decided to leave the country. Sigley sent a note to his aunt. She brought him some clothes and he was off. Radcliffe wrote to his elder brother Jim to ask his father for some money. As luck would have it, Jim, a tinplate worker who lived in Market Street, was emigrating and he had booked a passage on the Boston bound Ocean Monarch due to leave the Mersey on Sunday, so he booked for Joe as well (although Wanted Notices for Joe were now on the placards). However, the ship was delayed. In the meantime Ashton police had conveyed their suspicions to Liverpool and on the Tuesday detectives boarded the ship and found Joe buried under a pile of straw and wood in the hold. Inspector Maden came from Ashton to identify him and he was put in Kirkdale Gaol.
Such however is fate. Shortly after midnight on Thursday, within sight of Great Orme’s Head, the Ocean Monarch was destroyed by fire. Jim Radcliffe was one of the survivors but 178 perished.
Back in Ashton, hope had apparently not been entirely abandoned by members of the National Guard-or the lesson had not been learned-as you like it. Two armed meetings took place on Friday night, August 18, each reported to be a hundred strong, one on Ashton Moss and another on the canal side near Whitelands Road. On Saturday night there was a rendezvous at Kenworthy’s Pit which a party from Mossley attended, and again the alarm bell was tolled. By that weekend it was noted that besides Radcliffe and Sigley, almost all the local Chartist leaders were no longer in the district.
Ashton council immediately banned the Wakes Fair for fear of disorder. They increased the police force to thirty and purchased 24 sabres and 20 brace of pistols. For at least a week a strong military force was stationed in the Town Hall _ under the personal command of the colonel of the 89th regiment. A company from the barracks was also stationed at Hyde. The Ashton Borough police force was augmented by the concentration of the county division within the town. A hundred and fifty Specials were on duty from 10 p.m. each night. As a means of getting a message to Manchester quickly if needed, an engine was kept in steam on the L. & Y. railway and military guard placed along the line.
The authorities believed that sooner or later business and industry in Manchester would be threatened by a conspiracy of militant Chartists and Irish repealers. The Manchester police had the support of two troops of Royal Irish Dragoons and two companies of the 30th regiment. The Ashton rising appeared to them as a whiff of smoke from underground fires which if not slaked would burst out in a great conflagration. In the light of history, the disturbances that took place can be seen as symptoms not of strength but of weakness: ‘They were the acts of a small minority who preferred open revolution for the very reason that they were too few to effect anything by peaceful agitation’ (according to the historian Preston William Slosson [ The Decline of the Chartist Movement, 1916]), but it must have been hard to realise this at the time.
On August 22 the South Lancashire Assize agreed to the indictment of 49 well-known Chartists and Irish repealers. Next day they issued bench warrants for eight Ashton men including James Taylor (dresser) Turner Lane, Thomas Storah (shoemaker) Bentinck Street and William Aitken (schoolmaster) Bentinck Street. All were speedily rounded up by the Ashton police. The three named carried the reputation of having stood trial at Lancaster in 1843 and were possibly suspect on that account. It was true that Taylor, like Pilling had been a section leader in the National Guard on its formation, but he had quickly dropped out. Pilling left the country during the weekend before the rising as he feared the consequences. The other three had done all they could be dissuade the young leaders of the National Guard and reasoned against the projected rising, but found that to the young anger is reason enough.
During the night of September 4, 32 more arrests were made at Ashton. The average age of the men charged was 23. They were all committed to the Assizes except for William Broadbent, a minder, who announced that he had written to the Duke of Wellington and told all and that his wife had given to the police the names of all the men of his section who had assembled in their house in Wharf Street on the night of August 14. Before the Ashton magistrates he told how Flanagan, leader of the 3rd Division had ordered the men to meet that night. Broadbent was himself leader of the 4th section and responsible for the muster of 25 men and Flanagan had sent word round that the 4th section must all go to Broadbents home by 10 p.m. Twenty-three of them duly arrived equipped with pikes. Young Mrs. Broadbent, who had apparently not been consulted, may very well have thought it ‘a bit thick’ — twenty-three men in her little cottage. She must have had all their names and addresses because she gave the list to the police. Subsequently, they were all sent to Chester Assizes. When Mrs. Broadbent left the court she was received by a crowd of women who howled and jeered at her, and had to be given a police escort. The neighbours in Wharf Street became so markedly unfriendly that the Broadbents decided to flit to another house somewhere in Ashton. Bravely, let it be said, the young Mrs. Broadbent went back to her former home to collect some belongings. It got around in no time. Women came from everywhere and caused a pandemonium by beating tin cans and banging pokers on blowing tins. So great was the disturbance that two companies of special constables had to be summoned.
Radcliffe, Constantine and the other principals came before the Ashton Bench on September 18. Every precaution was taken. Several officers from the barracks sat with the magistrates and a party of infantry was stationed in and around the Town Hall during the hearing. At the conclusion the chairman, James Jowett, announced that they had decided to commit as principals Radcliffe, Constantine, Kenworthy and Wailer; with Winterbottom as accessory after the fact.
There was some washing of hands by public men in Ashton after the event. Recriminations flew about, on the one hand accusing some of giving the Chartist lads an approving nod and wink and on the other hand blaming the magistrates for being led by the nose by Chief Constable Newton. Councillor Grundy accused George Shawcross, his waiter, of receiving a bribe from someone at Mason’s to give evidence against the Chartists and everyone knew that ‘someone at Mason’s’ could be nobody but Booth Mason.
Rayner Stephens asked for use of the Town Hall for a meeting to raise funds for the defence of the Ashton prisoners, but was refused. Consequently the following announcements appeared in Stephens’s Ashton Chronicle:- ‘Public Lecture-An apology for the public and an Appeal on their behalf to the higher classes of society will be made by Joseph Rayner Stephens on Monday evening (November 21) in the Charles town Chapel. Adm. by ticket 3d. in aid of the fund for the defence of prisoners from Ashton at the Winter Assizes. Tickets from various newsagents or from Defence Fund Committee.’
There were 66 political prisoners for trial at the Liverpool Assizes, 28 of them from Ashton in connection with the disturbance and murder on August 14. Joseph Radcliffe and Joseph Constantine were placed at the bar on the murder charge but the Judge decided that Radcliffe was the principal. The chief prosecution witness was one of the accused, Thomas Lattimore, an unemployed weaver. He seems to have been on the Chartist fringe. One of his pals lived in Flag Alley next to The Oddfellows and when any of the leaders were at the bar, he was there too. Noted for his eavesdropping, probably his curiosity was fed with some fantastic tales invented for his ears. He and his two friends were in Bentinck Street when Bright was the centre of attention. When attention was diverted to Stamford Street and Bright was left apparently alone, the three remained near the Red Lion corner. In court Lattimore said he saw Radcliffe attack Bright with a pike and th~n shoot him. His companions said it was too dark to see. The three, being in the vicinity of the murder were charged with participation, as was Lattimore’s younger brother John, a member of the National Guard, whose alibi was that he was in Mossley Road. At Liverpool John also turned prosecution witness and supplied the Home Office with a deposition, apparently made up to some extent from the stories his brother had collected.
Thus there was only the testimony of Thomas Lattimore that Radcliffe had fired the pistol. The jury returned a verdict of guilty but with a recommendation to mercy because they were not convinced that Raddiffe fired the fatal shot. The Judge himself admitted, in addressing Radcliffe, that he was ‘perfectly satisfied’ that Radcliffe had not fired the unfortunate shot, but nevertheless he sentenced Radcliffe to death.
On December 18, the charge of ‘having feloniously devised war against H.M. Queen in order to change her measures’ was made against Joseph Constantine aged 20, Thomas Kenworthy aged 29, James Stott aged 24, Thomas Tassaker aged 34, Jonathan Walker aged 20 and John Sefton aged 40. The Judge declared in his summing up:
“I cannot but perceive that four of you, at least, had a great deal to do with the murder of Bright. You Constantine, were the man who took him down the street to the place where he was killed. You Kenworthy, were there with a gun, although I do not believe it was your gun which killed Bright: I believe, indeed, I have no doubt, that it was the gun of Sigley. You were there with a pike, James Stott and so were you Thomas Tassaker. You undoubtedly used it because the man who was examined on behalf of the prisoners told us that the man with the pike was not Radcliffe.”
Constantine, Tassaker, Kenworthy and Stott were ordered to be transported and banished for life. Walker and Sefton were transported for seven years. William Winterbottom, James Harrop, James Tetlow, Charles Jepson and Thomas Storah junior, Edward Harrop, William Healey and William Bolton were sentenced to twelve months in gaol. Others were ordered to keep the peace and were bound over for two years. His Lordship then advised them: “Discard all association of this sort. You have an idea to benefit yourselves by obtaining the People’s Charter-Why the People’s Charter? What would it signify to you if there was universal suffrage all over England ?”
Considering the Judge’s own statement, the question of the logic of the sentence on Radcliffe remains inexplicable. Stephens in the Ashton Chronicle of January 20 wrote: “It is now clear… that Joseph Radcliffe, so far from raising his hand against Bright, did all he could to save his life. Charles Hindley, the Member of Parliament has done all to prevent the execution of a man he believed to be innocent. We understand that important disclosures have been made to that gentleman and other magistrates. We believe the matter to be safe in their hands.” The Home Secretary ultimately yielded to Hindley’s pleas in so far as he commuted the death sentence to four years imprisonment and banishment for life. The verdict of guilt of wilful murder remained.
After four years imprisonment Radcliffe was sent to Western Australia, where he conducted himself so well that he was given a conditional pardon but prohibited from returning to the United Kingdom. As a result of a fund raised in Ashton through Mr. Swire, his wife was sent out to Join him. He prospered at his trade and in 1860 left Western Australia for Illinois but after five years he returned to Australia, this time settling in Queensland. On each journey he secretly passed through England -his train went through Guide Bridge in 1860. He remained in Queensland for twelve years, then his wife began to suffer from poor health and they moved to San Francisco, where they apparently found a colony of ex-Ashtonians. The place was called Kempton, after the Kemps of Ashton and Dukinfield. Mrs. Radcliffe died and was buried at Clayton cemetery there (named after Henry Clayton, an Ashtonian). Joseph Radcliffe died in 1889 and was buried in the same grave.
Many efforts were made for his pardon by a committee in Ashton supported by the whole of the Town Council and successive M.P.s. Great indignation was caused by the continued refusal of successive Home Secretaries to reopen the case, in view of the fact that all the political prisoners of Radcliffe’s time, including Fenians, had been set at liberty.
As for Samuel Sigley, he escaped to America in August 1848 where his wife and three children joined him. For his alleged connection with the murder of P.C. Bright he was pronounced guilty and banished for life in his absence. He settled in New Jersey and continued his ‘activities in the interest of labour. He was outspoken in the condemnation of slavery when it was not popular to be an ‘abolitionist’. At the time of his death in 1890 he was said to be held in ‘the highest esteem’.
With the failure of the uprising becoming apparent to all, the principal suspects in the murder of PC Bright, Joe Radcliffe, Sam Sigley and John Latimer, in the company of William Winterbottom, turned up at the home of Thomas Winterbottom, in Dukinfield in the early hours of the morning. Thomas, who was William’s brother, allowed the fugitives to hide out at his house, disposed of the guns and ammunition they had with them, probably including the murder weapon, and assisted Sigley and Radcliffe in their escape plans. Sigley managed to escape to the United States but Radcliffe was arrested on board the Ocean Monarch just before it sailed for Boston. This turned out to be a good thing for Radcliffe as the ship caught fire and sank soon after leaving Liverpool.
Over the next couple of weeks the Ashton Chief Constable, Robert Newton, busied his officers with a round-up of Chartist suspects. Thomas Winterbottom and John Latimer [who probably fired the fatal shot, in the company of his brother Thomas Latimer] were among those arrested. Since this was a highly political issue, Newton was under pressure to get a quick result in the murder of PC Bright. Consequently, offers were made to prisoners to turn Queen’s evidence.
Radcliffe was charged with the murder but the defence called the evidence of the crown witnesses into question by claiming that they “were induced to come forward for the purpose of clearing themselves and obtaining a reward” (Manchester Courier 23 September 1848). Although the judge conceded that Radcliffe did not fire the fatal shot, he was convicted under the law of common purpose of the murder. He was sentenced to death but the intervention of the local MP, Hindley, had the sentence commuted to banishment to Western Australia for life.
During the trial Thomas Winterbottom claimed to have been an innocent by-stander as far as the uprising was concerned, although he admitted helping the suspects who turned up at his home after the murder. However, on the voyage to Australia, he claimed to be one of the officers of the Ashton National Guard.
Those who had turned Queen’s evidence in the case, Thomas Winterbottom, James Winterbottom [no known relation], Joseph Armitage, William Mackland, John Latimer, Thomas Latimer, John Platt, William Broadbent and William Eckersley and their families were placed in the New South Wales immigration scheme by the Ashton police as both a reward for evidence given in the trial and as a means of ridding themselves of some Chartist trouble-makers. They were escorted to London by the Manchester police where they were handed over to the London police. On 7 April 1849, the group was put on board the Mary Bannatyne at Deptford. The next day, a police inspector and another officer came on board and remained until the ship was taken in tow down the Thames as the voyage to Sydney began.
During the voyage, the group from Ashton distinguished themselves by such disorderly behaviour that the other passengers lodged a formal complaint on arrival in Sydney. They demanded to know why “characters of the worst and basest description” had been admitted to the immigration scheme while people “who would have been a credit to the colony and respectable members of society have been rejected”. [Letter to surgeon of Mary Bannatyne] The NSW Legislative Council also wanted an answer to this question. An inquiry was held in August 1849 and concluded that the immigration scheme had been misused because the Chartist exiles “were not persons qualified by character or probable usefulness for passages under the assisted emigration regulations”. The Ashton police were accused of misusing the immigration funds in “ridding themselves of these people” (British Parliamentary Papers Vol,12 1850 – NSW Legislative Council Proceedings).
Thomas Winterbottom who had been a miner at Ashton-Under-Lyne worked as a well sinker and fellmonger in Sydney. He died in Sydney in 1863 at the age of 41.
The article on prosecution witnesses was written by Phil Gregory, great, great grandson of Thomas Winterbottom
Phil Gregory is also the author of a full account of the story in a family history entitled The Exile of Thomas Winterbottom. Copies of this can be found at Staleybridge Library, The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Manchester Police Museum, the National Library of Australia, Canberra and the State Library of NSW.