The oldest known image of a Chartist rally has been uncovered by University of Roehampton professor Ian Haywood, after lying untouched in a sketchbook in the US Library of Congress for well over 100 years since it was drawn by a teenager in 1839.
Posted: 12 November 2015
The pen-and-ink sketch by Englishman Richard Doyle shows dozens of supporters being strong-armed by the Metropolitan Police who broke up the event. Officers were sent to the Bull Ring in Birmingham by the Government to bring an otherwise peaceful event in favour of political reform and social justice under control.
The oldest known drawing of a Chartist protest has been uncovered by Professor Ian Haywood from the University of Roehampton.
Doyle did not publish the image as he was only a teenager at the time, although he later went on to become an illustrator for Charles Dickens. There were no 'respectable' outlets for visual representations of current affairs in the late 1830s - neither the mainstream press nor the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star were able to publish illustrations at this time, and the famous satirical magazine Punch, for which Doyle later worked, was not launched until 1841.
This is why Professor Haywood's discovery of the drawing is so important to modern understanding of Chartism. The drawing gives an insight into how observers at the time perceived the movement and the state's response to it, several years earlier than previous records.
This image depicts in caricature form police brutality against peaceful, unarmed protestors in July 1839: the police and the authorities are depicted as giants wading into to the demonstration, kicking, scattering and grabbing Chartists by the handful. It is one of dozens of images in the sketchbook depicting open-air political meetings which suggests Doyle had a strong interest in contemporary events.
Professor Haywood said: "If Doyle's image had been published it would have been the first visual representation of a Chartist demonstration and a significant blow for Prime Minister Lord Melbourne's attempts to break up the movement. Doyle was a precocious talent and this could have made his name several years before he joined the staff of Punch and worked for Dickens.
"From a historical perspective, this image is immensely valuable as it fills a gap in our knowledge of how ordinary people perceived the 'threat' of Chartism and also the vindictiveness of the state. It also confirms the dramatic significance of this event, the first major Chartist riot, which hardened resolve on both sides."
Professor Haywood is currently researching previously unknown images of Chartism with historian Stephen Roberts; this drawing will play a central role in the project. Many of these images are to be found in downmarket satirical periodicals which have often been shunned by historians in favour of well-known sources such as Punch and the Illustrated London News. Professor Haywood's work on the Chartists is designed to challenge the idea that caricature 'died' at the end of the Romantic period in 1832, and to show that a lively and effective vein of visual political satire persisted in cheap periodicals aimed at a working-class readership. Professor Haywood has recently been elected as President of the British Association of Romantic Studies.
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