life stories

Robert Lowery, 1809 – 1863

Newcastle radical and delegate to the First Chartist Convention.

Portrait of Robert LoweryRobert Lowery was Newcastle’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.

By the time of the 1839 Chartist convention, Robert Lowery had already established a reputation for himself in the radical politics of Tyneside.

He had been secretary of the local political union at the time of the Great Reform Act agitation of 1831 to 1832, and had gone on to serve as secretary to the tailors’ branch of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. When Chartism came along, Lowery clearly saw no problems in transferring his energies to this new cause.

Having given up his work as a tailor to open a political bookshop, he was already in effect a full-time radical politician, and was well known in Newcastle. At the end of 1837, he was to be found addressing a large meeting in the Assembly Rooms in support of the Glasgow spinners imprisoned for their trade union activities (Northern Liberator, 30 December, 1837).

He was also a driving force behind the reformation of the Northern Political Union, which would later form the nucleus of organised Chartism (Northern Liberator, 15 September 1838). His election as Newcastle’s delegate was, therefore, little surprise.

Lowery was at first a relative hard-liner in the Convention. He supported – and spoke in favour of – the plan for a general strike to press home the demand for the Charter when Parliament rejected the petition, arguing that such a move would bring confrontation to a head. During the spring of 1839, Lowery was sent to the West Country as a “missionary” to agitate for the Charter.

Over the course of the rest of that year, Lowery played an active part within the Convention and as a missionary, visiting Dublin and the Scottish lowlands, as well as making return trips to the North East, to argue the case for Chartism. He also appears to have known about the planned rising that ended so disastrously in Newport, even if he himself was sceptical about its prospects.

Lowery remained faithful to the Chartist cause, and in the general election of 1841 (unsuccessfully) contested Edinburgh as a Chartist candidate. As time went on, however, Lowery’s adherence to a brand of Teetotal Chartism gradually lost its radical edge and he opened a temperance hotel. At one stage he also moved to the United States, where his daughter Sarah and her husband had emigrated.

Lowery would however, continue to involve himself in Newcastle politics, aligning himself at first with the emerging Tyneside radical leader Joseph Cowen before joining the mainstream of the new Liberal Party. He had travelled a long way politically in a relatively short life, and died aged just 54.

The Charter newspaper masthead



Portraits of Delegates No. 9: Robert Lowery

The subject of our present sketch is the delegate from Newcastle to the General Convention, and he is a worthy representative of the honest, industrious and intelligent working men of that important town. Mr Lowery is about thirty years of age, having been born at North Shields, in the year 1809. At an early age he was sent to Scotland, and there, at Banff and Peterhead, he remained for nearly ten years, when he returned to England, and was compelled, by the death of his father, to go to work at the mouth of a coal-pit, near Newcastle. At the age of thirteen, he was bound apprentice to the captain of a trading vessel, but, after having served two years of his time, he was obliged to quit the service, consequence of a lameness, which exposure to the cold had brought on. Being thus thrown upon the world, he cast about for some occupation, and took up that of a tailor, at which trade he continued to work until about three years since, when he embarked in the business of a bookseller and vender of cheap political publications. Mr Lowery’s attention was first directed to politics, we believe, by the excitement which prevailed in his neighbourhood during the discussions on the Reform Bill, in 1831, and 1832, when he became secretary of the North Shields Political Union. From this time forth, he became a principal actor in all the political movements of the district in which he lived, was appointed secretary to the Tailors’ Branch of the Consolidated Trades Union during the struggle of labour against capital; and after having been deputed by the men of Newcastle to attend at the London, Carlisle and Kersal-Moor demonstrations, he was unanimously chosen a delegate to represent them in the General Convention. Mr Lowery is one of the many whom we now happily find amongst the working men of this country, whose strength of mind enables them to overcome the difficulties which poverty and hard labour necessarily thrown in the way of intellectual and moral improvement. His education appears to have been nearly all his own; and the capabilities he has evinced in various poetical compositions, as also in a pamphlet on “State churches destructive of Christianity, and subversive of the Liberties of Man,” published by Effingham Wilson, a year or two since, are highly creditable to his industry, his judgment, and his feelings. In person, the delegate for Newcastle is short, and is slightly built; his face, albeit, is somewhat stern, is expressive of intelligence and benevolence; and it furnishes a faithful index to the mind within. His zeal on behalf of his fellow-men is ardent and untiring, and his recent missionary tour in Cornwall, in conjunction with Mr Duncan, has given ample proof, that he well knows how to temper it with discretion, while he determinedly and with great power assails the strong-holds of political knavery and corruption. He is one of the right sort to take a lead in the great movement now going on, hitting the happy medium between senseless violence and hesitating timidity.
* Our next will contain a portrait and memoir of Mr Peter Bussey, delegate from the West Riding of Yorkshire.
[Source: The Charter, Sunday 28 April 1839]