Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Samuel Bamford: Lancashire Radical and Poet


Samuel Bamford (1788-1872)

Samuel Bamford was one of the leading Manchester radicals who was arrested and gaoled after Peterloo. After his release Bamford retreated from radical politics, and in 1848 at the height of the Chartist movement he even enrolled as a special constable, as did many establishment figures including William Gladstone and Prince Louis Napoleon, the future Napoleon III.

Bamford's highly regarded Passages in the Life of a Radical, provides an important source for study of the post-Waterloo radical movement, but inevitably it lacks immediacy and provides a carefully constructed view of Bamford's part in the struggles. Bamford had been inside eight prisons, and in the years of the Chartist movement to some extent disavowed his more militant past. (1)

Anthony Burgess's claim of Manchester working class support for Napoleon might be disputed by modern loyalist historians. Nevertheless, amongst all the loyalist displays, including the burnings of Thomas Paine in effigy, very few radicals could be labeled as 'patriots' during the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars.(2) Samuel Bamford, despite, to the horror of his aunt, joining the milita as a young man during the invasion scare, was certainly not among them. At the heart of loyalism was Anglicanism, which was very weak in Manchester, and Bamford came from a dissenting family.

A Collection of Bamford's early poems, published in 1821

The best insight into the world view and the passion of the younger Bamford is to be found in his Miscellaneous Poetry published in 1821. The most political of the poems, "Waterloo", "St Helena", "Touch Him", "The Arrest", "God Save the Queen", "The Queen's Triumph", "The Patriot's Hymn" and "The Union Hymn" were all omitted from the 1843 edition of his poems.(3)

The victory at Waterloo was the cornerstone of Loyalist propaganda. For radicals it was an unnecessary and unjust war fought to impose an unpopular King on the French people, and represented the triumph of tyranny at home as well as on the continent (4) On hearing the news of Waterloo Bamford wrote the ironic Patriot's Hymn, sung by radicals to the tune of God Save the King. This poem reflected beliefs widely held by the radical opponents of the war.


Emperors, and lords, and kings,
Gaudy and glittering things,
Unlov'd by thee.
If they but nod the head,
Armies are mustered,
Thousands to slaughter led,
For tyranny.

Gory is Europe's plain,
Whelmed beneath her slain,
Dreadful to see.
Bleeding promiscuously,
Victors and vanquish'd lie,
Mingled in butchery,
Let man be free.

In 1817 Bamford wrote about Napoleon's exile. St Helena was "the prison of the brave" and "Of England's honour 'tis the grave."

There Napoleon truly great,
High above the stormy wave,
Stands sublime in silent state;
Like a comet's blaze unfurl'd,
Hanging o'er a wondering world." (5)

Bamford's poem about Waterloo echoed the well worn radical themes of "butchery" and of "shame" that "freedom fell by Englishmen". Nowhere was to be found any reference to the Tory hero Wellington nor to the divine intervention sometimes invoked by the Loyalist press. For Bamford and the radicals it had been an unequal fight, of Britain and the tyrants of the continent ganging up against freedom and the "brave" Napoleon.


Nobly strives the gallant Gaul
  Th' unequal combat to maintain;
For country, honour, Emperor, all,
  He freely bleeds, but bleeds in vain.
Oh! arm of strength, and heart so brave,
From rout, from ruin, could not save!"

O, my country, that my tears
  Could wash this foul reproach away;
Could purchase from succeeding years
  Oblivion for that direful day;
Could whelm in Lethe's darksome tide
  Thy lasting shame, thy greatest pride!"

In January 1819 Orator Hunt made his first visit to Manchester. In the course of that visit he went to the theatre and in a pre-planned assault was ejected from his box by a group of red-coated officers. This inspired Bamford to write "Touch Him", perhaps the most explicitly combative of his poems, with the almost obligatory reference to Waterloo. In Miscellaneous Poetry the incident was described as an

"Outrage, committed upon Mr. Hunt, and his Friends, at the Theatre .. by Lord Uxbridge, Captain Frazer, George Torr, and twenty or thirty other "gemmen' of the same stamp."

Touch him, aye! touch him, if you dare;
Pluck from his head one single hair -
        Ye sneaking, coward crew:

Touch him - and blasted be the hand
That graspeth not a vengeful brand,
To rid our long oppressed land
    Of reptiles such as you.

The poem also evokes a sense of class hatred and class warfare and mocks the officers for their cowardice in not standing and fighting

Our purse-proud tyrants vanity
    Shall to the earth be cast"
 
A tougher game they'll have to play
    Than that of WATERLOO.

Why did the sparks, on Monday night,
With fallen crests decline the fight,
    And silent sneak away?


But, true to Dandy stile and trim,
They risked neither life nor limb;
      O! it had cheered me,
To see our gallant gang so stout,
At clog and cudgel have a bout;
So fast so firm, amid the rout,
    For HUNT AND LIBERTY.

But come, my lads, some other day
We'll pin them, ere they sneak away,
And they shall either play or pay
  When Hunt returns again." (6)

Ten days after Peterloo Samuel and his wife were awoken about 2 o'clock in the morning by the hated deputy-constable of Manchester, Mr Nadin, accompanied by police, a company of foot and a troop of Hussars. Nadin told Bamford that he was being arrested for high treason, and on the way to gaol said that he expected him to be hung. Bamford later wrote "The Arrest" which mocked the large presence of soldiers to arrest an unarmed man in the middle of the night. One of the verses refers with irony to the redcoats, and again to Waterloo.

But in they came - a mighty rout
   Of thief-catchers and soldiers brave,
(Our British red-coats ever ought
  A gallant character to have -
  You know they did the country save,
And our religion, and our right;)
  The very dogs of war, who gave
The troops of France so keen a bite,
When they at Waterloo did fight."

Bamford was an avid reader of "Cobbett's Register" which was widely circulated amongst radicals, and his world view does not appear to have been significantly different to that of the London dominated radical leadership: the long war against France was unjust, unnecessary and against the interests of working people; it was the product of a corrupt and unrepresentative Parliament. In the radical constellation Queen Caroline and the Emperor Napoleon were the brave victims, the anti-heroes were the Prince Regent, Sidmouth, Castlereagh, and for Lancastrians, Parson Hay.

In 1820 in London before his imprisonment Bamford visited the Waterloo Museum in Pall Mall, and "doffed my hat before that of Napoleon, and I reverently touched the sword of Ney and the truncheon of Murat." (7) In his cottage in Moston where he spent his declining years "amongst many shining brasses of various kinds there hung a plaster-cast from the death-mask of Napoleon. A possession on which the owner laid great store." (8)

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1.John Gardner, "The Suppression of Samuel Bamford’s Peterloo Poems" http://www.euppublishing.com/doi/pdfplus/10.3366/rom.2007.13.2.145
2. Frank O'Gorman, "Manchester Loyalism in the 1790's", Katrina Navickas, "Lancashire Britishness:Patriotism in the Manchester Region during the Napoleonic Wars" in Robert Poole ed., Return to Peterloo (Manchester Centre for Regional History, 2014). Navickas describes Walker and Cowdroy as "among few radical 'patriots' during the Napoleonic Wars."
3. Most were published in the quieter times of the 1864 edition, but not those on Waterloo, St Helena, nor "Touch Him" on the attack on Henry Hunt at the theatre.
4.The term "Peterloo" was an ironic reference to the "killing fields" of Waterloo. It acquired the name within days of the event: The Hussars were wearing their Waterloo medals, and apparently a special constable had entered the house of someone helping the wounded, and shouted ‘This is Waterloo for you – this is Waterloo!’
5. "St Helena" and "Waterloo" were published in the Black Dwarf as a single poem, "Napoleon" on December 7, 1817. It was dated Middleton, Nov 9, 1817, under the pseudonym "Jefferey ". The last stanza was different to that published in 1821. It ended with "Thy chief, thy pride, away is torn, O! hapless gallic ever mourn ". The 1821 version ended with references to the victor "proud and vain", and "I envy not the gaudy thing, The friendship of a priest or king." The same edition of Black Dwarf in 1817 carried a paragraph linking the Government spies, "the ruthless persecutors of Napoleon" and the "Careless spectators of the murders of Ney and Lzabedoyere." "There is at least a consistency that does them honour. All their actions are alike."
6. Two stanzas of this poem were read by Rev Harrison at a reform Meeting in Ashton under Lyne in June 1819. 7.Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical and Early Days, Vol II (London MCMV) p 299.
8. BEN A. REDFERN. Some Personal Recollections http://www.newmillshistory.org.uk/sbook/sbook5.html

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