Flame of Freedom

The Romantic Story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs

By Owen Rattenbury

THE story of the six Dorsetshire labourers who suffered imprisonment and exile in their devotion to Trade Unionism cannot be too often retold. It is a story of heroic idealism and resolute courage which has inspired the working-class movement for a hundred years and has strengthened the faith of three generations of Trade Unionists in the cause for which the six Dorchester workmen endured a form of martyrdom worse than death.
Martyrdom is not a word to be lightly used, but it is justly applied to the sufferings of these poor men, and describes their status as pioneers of freedom and social right, as truly as it describes that of the fighters for religious liberty whose bodies were maimed and mutilated by torture or burned at the stake. In these pages one perceives that the spirit and motive of the Dorchester men were akin to those which animated the martyrs of the struggle for religious and civil liberty.
Free Churchmen in general, and Methodists in particular, can read this vivid narrative with pride and a quickening of the pulse, because the men with whom it deals were bred in their tradition of truth and justice. The two Loveless brothers were Methodist local preachers, and all but one were attached to their little chapels. It is this hitherto somewhat neglected aspect of the story of the Tolpuddle martyrs which it has been the author’s special care to illuminate in his narrative. No one can read these pages without realizing how deeply these men were influenced by their religion. Their courage and strength to endure persecution came from their faith, and in that faith they conquered. From the labours and sufferings of these and many other like-minded men and women a great movement for social regeneration has arisen, powerful enough to make such martyrdom impossible and to justify the sacrifices they made.

CONTENTS

I. THE ARREST

II. TO THE MAGISTRATES

III. AT THE ‘DORCHESTER ARMS’

IV. IN PRISON

V. SUSPENSE AT TOLPUDDLE

VI. THE ASSIZES

VII. JANE DAVIS TAKES A HAND

VIII. A KINDLY FLUNKEY

IX. CAN OR WILL THE METHODISTS HELP?

X. THE GREAT PROCESSION

XI. JANE TRIES ANOTHER MAN

XII. IN THE HULKS

XIII. JOHN BARNETT CARRIES ON

XIV. THE VOYAGE AND ARRIVAL

XV. IN THE ROAD-GANG

XVI. LIFE ON THE GOVERNMENT FARM

XVII. PRESSURE TO BECOME COLONISTS

XVIII. MRS. LOVELESS RECEIVES THE LETTER

XIX. THE OTHER FIVE

XX. GEORGE LOVELESS STILL FREE

XXI. AN AFTERTHOUGHT:  THE RELIABILITY OF LOVELESS’S DIARY