Today is the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, when English cavalry attacked a crowd of tens of thousands of protesters demanding democratic representation.
Below is an eyewitness account of the Peterloo Massacre by Samuel Bamford, an English radical reformer and writer, who was arrested after the massacre and imprisoned for a year. The excerpt is drawn from Bamford’s book Passages in the Life of a Radical (1864).
In about half an hour after our arrival the sounds of music and reiterated shouts proclaimed the near approach of Mr Hunt and his party; and in a minute or two they were seen coming from Deansgate, preceded by a band of music and several flags.
Their approach was hailed by one universal shout from probably 80,000 persons. They threaded their way slowly past us and through the crowd, which Hunt eyed, I thought, with almost as much of astonishment as satisfaction. This spectacle could not be otherwise in his view than solemnly impressive.
Such a mass of human beings he had not beheld till then. His responsibility must weigh on his mind. The task was great, and not without its peril. The meeting was indeed a tremendous one.
Mr Hunt, stepping towards the front of the stage, took off his white hat, and addressed the people.
We had got to nearly the outside of the crowd, when a noise and strange murmur arose towards the church. Some persons said it was the Blackburn people coming, and I stood on tiptoe and looked in the direction whence the noise proceeded, and saw a party of cavalry in blue and white uniform come trotting, sword in hand, round the corner of a garden wall, and to the front of a row of new houses, where they reined up in a line.
“The soldiers are here,” I said; “we must go back and see what this means.” “Oh,” someone made reply, “they are only come to be ready if there should be any disturbance in the meeting.” “Well, let us go back,” I said, and we forced our way towards the colours.
On the cavalry drawing up they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood it. They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein, and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forward and began cutting the people…”
“Stand fast,” I said, “they are riding upon us; stand fast”.
The cavalry were in confusion: they evidently could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings and their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion.
Many females appeared as the crowd opened; and striplings or mere youths also were found. Their cries were piteous and heart-rending, and would, one might have supposed, have disarmed any human resentment: but here their appeals were in vain.
In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc the field was an open and almost deserted space. The sun looked down througha sultry and motionless air. The curtains and blinds of the windows within view were all closed.
The hustings remained, with a few broken and hewed flag-staves erect, and a torn and gashed banner or two dropping; whilst over the whole field were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress, trampled, torn, and bloody.
Several mounds of human being still remained where they had fallen, crushed down and smothered. Some of these still groaning, others with staring eyes, were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more.
All was silent save those low sounds, and the occasional snorting and pawing of steeds.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/2019/08/16/on-this-day-peterloo-massacre-of-1819/