After Chartism: Ingraham and the Smyrna Incident of 1853

After Chartism, Chartists  became involved in many diverse causes. This page looks at the Smyrna incident of 1853 and how it captured the imagination of British radicals.

By 1853, Chartism had long since ceased to be a mass movement. Many of those who had dedicated a decade of their lives to the cause had fallen by the political wayside, either disillusioned or out of sympathy with the small group still clustered around Ernest Jones.

Others, however, found alternative radical political causes – often coalescing around single issues, such as the campaign to repeal newspaper taxes of for the provision of free education to working class children.

The Ingraham Testimonial Fund was one such one-off rallying point for former Chartists. Though of no particular significance in itself, it is of interest for three reasons:

  • It illustrates the way in which families perpetuated radical political culture from one generation to the next. 
  • It demonstrates a surprisingly sharp interest in international politics among workers in the early 1850s. 
  • It shows many of the players in Chartism’s earlier internal politics continuing to work together on radical causes. 
Chartism as popular culture 

Chartism was always more than a demand for the right to vote. Over a relatively short period, it had been almost an entire counter-culture, with its own newspapers, family social events, Sunday schools, and churches.

Chartists often named their children after the movement’s national leaders, including Feargus O’Connor, William Lovett and Henry Vincent, whose involvement in the temperance movement would ensure that his name was used long after Chartism ended.

It is obvious from the names listed in Reynolds’s Newspaper that whole families contributed to the Ingraham Testimonial Fund.
All those listed can be found in the Chartist Ancestors Databank.

This means, first, that collections must have been made at events at which men, women and children were present, and second, that the children of Chartist parents would see their own names in print in the radical press, helping to create a sense of belonging to this culture.

Members of the Ingraham committee

Ingraham Testimonial Fund Committee
Mr G W M Reynolds, Chairman
Mr Charles Sturgeon
Mr Richard Moore
Mr G Julian Harney
Mr Samuel Kydd
Mr John Dicks
Mr Walter Cooper
Mr James Grassby
Mr John Milne
Mr J A Nicholay
Mr L A Myers
Mr Robert Le Blond, Treasurer
Mr John Arnott, Secretary

The committee’s membership shows a surprising degree of overlap with that of the final years of the National Charter Association’s London leadership. Surprising because of the degree of acrimony which had accompanied post-1848 Chartist politics.

Many of the committtee’s members had worked together previously in the cause. 

  • Harney had been active throughout the Chartist period and edited the Northern Star and Red Republican newspapers;
  • Moore was one of the six working men who signed the original Charter and had been involved in the People’s Charter Union; 
  • Arnott, Grassby and Kydd had all served as general secretaries to the National Charter Association;
  • Milne, Le Blond and Reynolds had been members of the NCA executive at the same time in 1849; and
  • Dicks, a London bookseller, had published Reynolds’ novels.

Of the others:

  • Cooper was a London tailor and Chartist lecturer; 
  • Sturgeon had contested Nottingham as a Chartist in the 1852 general election in succession to Feargus O’Connor; and 
  • Sturgeon would go on to be a founder member of the Reform League which did much to support the successful 1867 Reform Act.
Who was Captain Duncan Ingraham and what was the Smyrna Incident?

Captain Duncan Ingraham portraitCaptain Duncan Ingraham (pictured left) was a US naval officer commanding the sloop-of-war St Louis when, in late June 1853, while in the Turkish port of Smyrna, he heard that the Austrian consul had sent armed men to detain Martin Koszta, a US resident who had come to the town on business.

Koszta had emigrated to the US from Hungary, and was not yet a US citizen, but had expressed his intention of becoming one, and was planning only a short stay away from his home in New York.

Ingraham first sought approval from the US charge d’affaires in Constantinople, then at 8am on 2 July warned the Austrian commander of the war-brig Hussar, on which Koszta was held, that unless Koszta was released by 4pm, he would rescue him by force. He then cleared the decks of the St Louis for action and made ready to attack.

Although the Hussar was a larger and better armed ship, the Austrians gave way and released Koszta to the French consul and he was able to return home.

Ingraham’s actions were subsequently given full backing by the US government, which awarded him a Congressional gold medal “as a testimonial of the high sense entertained by Congress of his gallant and judicious conduct”.

Ingraham’s actions also earned him the admiration of the European left, which had long supported Hungary’s battle for independence from the Austrian empire, and in London an Ingraham Testimonial Fund was established to collect money for a presentation to the hero of Smyrna.

Upwards of £90 was collected, mostly in contributions of anything from a single penny to sixpence, and the money used to have made a gold pocket chronometer. This, and a parchment recording the committee’s appreciation of Ingraham’s efforts, were then presented to the US ambassador.

Nearly 18 months later, the committee received a letter from Captain Ingraham, in which he wrote that “it is with no common feelings I accept this token of goodwill from the citizens of another country, and from that class who are the bone and sinew of all governments” (Reynolds’s Newspaper, 19 July, 1855).

Should he again be called into service, he said, the watch and parchment, “shall accompany me in my wanderings upon the ocean, to be an incentive to me to relieve the oppressed, whenever I can do so consistently with the duty I owe the Government I have the honour to serve”.

Ingraham would later in his career be “called into service”, but hardly in a way he could have imagined or in one which would have pleased his Chartist admirers. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Navy.

Ingraham died in 1891 and four US naval ships have since been named after him.