Peter Bussey, 1805 – 1869

Bradford publican who fled to America after the First Chartist Convention

peter bussey chartistPeter Bussey was the West Riding of Yorkshire’s delegate to the General Convention of the Industrious Classes (the First Chartist Convention), and one of 12 delegates whose portrait (left) was drawn for The Charter newspaper.

If the conspiracy to stage a Chartist uprising stretching from the North East of England to the South of Wales had come to fruition at the end of 1839, then the name of Peter Bussey would have been far better known than it is today.

As it was, the failure to organise and carry through a co-ordinated rebellion left the Newport rebels isolated.

A combination of last minute nerves, lack of organisation and perhaps a sudden realisation that any armed rebellion was doomed to failure meant that plans for thousands of Chartists to take to the streets across Lancashire, Yorkshire and the North East came to very little.

Peter Bussey was undoubtedly one of those who had been involved in the conspiracy from the start. “Fat Peter”, as he was otherwise known, was a beerhouse keeper who ran the Roebuck Inn at Bradford, one of the most militant centres of Chartism, and an ardent advocate of physical force.

But when day appointed for revolution came, Bussey failed to rouse the troops, and instead fled to America, amid probably unfair accusations both that he had lost his nerve and had run off with the local Chartist movement’s funds. He would remain there for a further 14 years before returning to Yorkshire.

In his 1971 book British Chartists in America (Manchester University Press), Ray Boston notes that on his arrival in New York, Bussey joined forces with a fellow Chartist, Benjamin Worswick of Clayton in Manchester, to open a boarding house at 2 Front Street. A number of Chartists are known to have stayed there, so Bussey must have effected some sort of reconciliation with his former comrades.

By the summer of 1842. Bussey had moved out to New Jersey to farm at Elizabeth Town. When this venture failed, he returned to New York to open a tavern, before a further collapse of business saw him reduced to hawking “wretched gewgaws” from a barrow in the street.

When Bussey returned home to Bradford – in 1854, it is believed – his fortunes picked up. The 1861 census finds him married to Hannah, a local woman some 20 years his junior, with two children. He is listed as an innkeeper – possibly of the Fleece Inn at Horsforth. As evidence of his continuing radical politics, Bussey had named his two-year-old son Orsini – after Felice Orsini, who in 1858 was executed following a failed assassination attempt on the French emperor Louis Napoleon.

Peter Bussey died in Yorkshire on 11 September 1869, and is buried in the churchyard at Farsley.

Charter masthead

Portraits of Delegates No. 10: Peter Bussey

The subject of our present sketch, is one of the delegates representing the West Riding of Yorkshire in the General Convention; and he is one of those members of whom we can speak in terms of high commendation. He is a native of Bedall, in the North Riding of the county for which he sits, and is about thirty-four years of age. His father was a draper, we believe, but Peter was destined to be a cabinet maker, and was bound apprentice to that trade, in his native town. His family removed to Bradford, however, when he had not served more than two years of his time, he accompanied them thither, and applied himself to the worsted business, which was henceforth his occupation. At an early age he had his attention called to the evils presenting themselves in both the general and local government of the country, and took a prominent part in the affairs of the town in which he had taken up his residence, the expences of which were greatly reduced in consequence of his active exertions. During the agitation for the Reform Bill of 1831-2, he stood forward as its uncompromising opponent, and got up a large meeting at Bradford, where a petition for Universal Suffrage was adopted and signed by nearly 6000 persons. He also took a very active part in the organization of the trades’ unions of 1831-4, for a connexion with one of which the Dorchester labourers were transported; and at a large meeting of the West Riding, held at Low Moor, near Bradford, in April 1834, he was elected, with Joshua Hobson, to present a memorial on behalf of those victims of a bad and unknown law, to Lord Melbourne. In all electioneering proceedings at Bradford, Mr Bussey has distinguished himself as a strenuous and consistent Radical, and his influence amongst his fellow townsmen is very considerable. When the opposition to the newspaper stamp-duty was most vigorously pressed je was found where he ought to have been; and in the subsequent opposition to the new poor law, he also sustained an active part. Such was his hostility to this inhuman act, that he refused to pay the rate levied under it; the consequence was that his goods were seized and sold to satisfy the demand. At the great Peep Green meeting, in October, 1838, he was elected one of the delegates for the West Riding, to the General Convention; and in the January following, the Working Men’s Association of Bradford testified their sense of his worth, by entertaining him at a public dinner, numerously attended, in the Odd Fellows’ Hall of that town. We should have stated, that he has been secretary to the Radical Association there for the last eight or nine years.

In person, Mr Bussey is exceedingly corpulent, and in height about five feet nine or ten inches. His countenance is indicative of much thoughtfulness; albeit there is an expression of restlessness and of stern resolve that cannot be mistaken. His manners are somewhat rough, and his address blunt, though by no means offensive. He is plain-spoken and decisive in everything to which he addresses himself. His “Address to the Working Men of England” against enlisting into the army, published some months since, is a very able production, and is equally creditable to his head and his heart. As a member of the Convention, he is punctual in his attendance, and exemplary in the discharge of his duties. Without ostentation, he is one of the most effective delegates who have seats in that assembly. He is prompt in action, and discreet in counsel, notwithstanding that he has been pourtrayed by the lying portion of the press as a furious demagogue, scattering firebrands and death through the excited districts of the north of England.

[Source: The Charter, Sunday 5 May 1839]