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Thomas Jackson’s account of Peterloo

Thomas Jackson’s account of the Peterloo Massacre, written on the evening of 16 August 1819, is one of the first to describe events on St Peter’s Field that day.

Performed by Gareth Leighton.

Archives Alive: Peterloo

The Archives Alive: Peterloo project is a collaboration between Royal Holloway, University of London, and The National Archives, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This series of short films forms part of a wide programme of activity marking the 200th anniversary of the massacre – an important milestone in the history of the struggle for rights and representation – and its aftermath. Find out more on The National Archives’ blog.

Transcription

At an early hour today, the Magistrates and our Town Officers received information on oath, that thousands were marching in military array along the high road to the town with flags and music.

Orders were given for the military to be in readiness. The magistrates went to a house on the very ground of the meeting.

About  11 o’clock , thousands upon thousands, men and women paraded down Mosley Street, three and five abreast – mostly with large sticks, which they stamped triumphantly against the flagged causeways as they passed any respectable houses or buildings.

The flags were extremely numerous of various colours – most of them bearing the usual mottos on these occasions. Several of them surmounted with coloured caps of Liberty.

At one, the hour when Hunt arrived in an open carriage, the whole area of the ground was now crammed full. Hunt mounted the platform with several other well known Reformers. They were immediately enveloped with Caps of Liberty and other Revolutionary Emblems. 

The meeting was then addressed by the several orators, showing much menacing attitudes, and the shouts seemed to rend the air and shake the very foundation of the ground. The constables were tauntingly insulted wherever they were observed to stand. 

About half past one the magistrates deemed it expedient to read the Riot Act – and instantly the platform was surrounded in a masterly manner – and the whole posse, with all their emblems taken into custody. 

The whole of their grand maneuver would have taken place without bloodshed had not the mob assailed the military and civil authorities with every resistance in their power, in particular with missiles. Consequently the cavalry charged in their own defence, not without first being witnesses to a pistol shot from the multitude against one of the gentleman in our yeomanry who now lies in imminent danger – also Ashworth a special constable was killed on the spot.

The soldiers forbore with great humanity from firing – but several of those infatuated persons have felt their sabres – as many have been taken into the infirmary wounded. Great difficulty afterwards remained in clearing the streets and avenues from the conquering mob. 

At 6 o’clock, the streets were more free from intruders than this immense crowd could have justified us to expect possible. The military from Cheshire are billeted in the town; the rest in barracks, with the exception of our own Yeomanry, who are still on duty. Great praise is due to them for their unexampled manly conduct on this occasion. 

I am well aware that all quarters have been looking with anxiety to the Manchester Meeting and I trust the Reformers are now taught the important lesson which the day is calculated to give.

You are at liberty, if you like, to insert this as an anonymous letter in any of your loyal town papers and you may confide in it as being a just and impartial detail having been myself an eye witness. 

Thomas Jackson, 17 George Street

Catalogue reference: HO 42/192, folio 217.

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