life stories

Robert Knox

Delegate from County Durham to the Convention of 1839

robert knox chartistRobert Knox was the delegate from County Durham 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.

Knox is one of the more obscure delegates to the Chartist Convention, and after May 1839 he disappears from the record.

He was, from his speeches, a supporter of the alliance between the middle and working classes, but as he told one public meeting in the wake of the oppression of spring 1839:

“I am one of those who are called Moral Force Men. But I say this, that when a nation demands her rights, no particular section of that nation has a right to withhold them from the majority. I say further, that the majority has a right to use any means that will gain those rights. If fighting in the field with the pike or the musket would get those rights, the people have a right to use the pike and the musket. (Loud and continued cheering.) But in saying this I have no design to advise you to get your rights by the use of the pike and the musket, so long as there are other means left untried which may make our oppressors comply with them without shedding a drop of blood. Let us – if we can get our holy object bloodless and stainless – let us leave the bayonet and the canon to those physical force men who have used them from the beginning of time, that is our present governors. (Loud cheers).”
Source: Northern Liberator, 25 May, 1839

The profile of Robert Knox below and the portrait above appeared in the 24 March 1839 issue of the Charter.

Charter masthead

Portraits of Delegates No. 4. Robert Knox

In the accompanying sketch, our artist has admirably succeeded in pourtraying the delegate for the county of Durham. Mr Knox, who is now in his twenty-fourth year, is a native of Dunse in the county of Berwick. He is by trade a slater, and belongs in all senses of the word to the working class. At the early age of eleven, he was obliged to submit to the toil of a labourer, and he has ever since continued to work at his trade. About two years since, he went to Sunderland to obtain employment, and the intelligence of his mind and the integrity of his character, soon procured for him the confidence of those with whom he associated. A congeniality of disposition and a similarity of pursuit introduced him amongst the members of the mechanics’ institute there, and he, for the first time, we believe, became deeply interested in political questions. The members of the mechanics’ institute at Sunderland are the leaders of the Chartist movement there; and through his intercourse with them, Mr Knox soon had his sympathies awakened on behalf of the large mass of his fellow men, whom he found condemned to unremitting toil and hopeless poverty; and his determination was at once formed to labour for their emancipation. In the month of December last, he attended several public meetings at Hetton-le-Hole, and other places in the neighbourhood, and on New Year’s Day, he was elected at a large public meeting at Sunderland, to represent the county of Durham, in the General Convention. In person Mr Knox is about five feet ten in height, and is of a comparatively slender frame; his limbs, however, appear to be well knit together, and he evinces a capability of enduring a considerable amount of hardship and fatigue. His physiognomy evinces much sternness of purpose and abstraction of thought. He would strike the practiced physionomist as being one of the Cassius class, whom Shakspeare represents as thinking much, and being to tyrants, therefore, always dangerous. There is an air of melancholy in the expression of his face, which would induce a belief that he is a man of sorrows; but even a slight acquaintance with him is sufficient to prove that he possesses a heart full of kindness, and that, with a large capacity for sympathy, he is fitted to enjoy pleasure and communicate it liberaly to others. We have never heard Mr Knox deliver what may be termed a speech, and we incline to think that public speaking is not his forte. When he does take part in any discussion, he delivers himself in the fewest possible words. He appears to delight rather in abstract speculations, and in discussing ultimate principles, than to deal with the every-day occurrences of life. He possesses much acuteness and penetration of mind, and has the enviable faculty of readily divesting a subject of all extraneous and irrelevant matter. The position which Mr Knox occupies in society has afforded him but small means of acquiring knowledge, but it is evident that he has an extensive acquaintance with the literature and history of his country. He is a zealous supporter of temperance societies, and was, for some time, secretary to the temperance society in his native town. He discharges his duties as a delegate with commendable diligence, and there is no man who possesses in a higher degree the respect and confidence of his fellow-labourers. The extent of his information, his habits of thought, his knowledge of human nature, and his modesty of demeanour, well qualify him to be a member of any deliberative assembly, and especially to do justice to the important duties confided to him in the General Convention.

[Source: The Charter, Sunday 24 March 1839]