In Prison

THE six accused men were sent to prison. As soon as they got within the prison doors they were stripped to the skin, and their clothes were searched thoroughly. In George Loveless’s pocket was found a small key, which the prison authorities looked at suspiciously. There was not really anything suspicious about it, but every object found upon a prisoner is a matter for suspicion. Another valuable document was a letter from a friend. It was thoroughly examined and read from various angles. But it was the most innocent of letters. By no stretch of the imagination could any evidence be collected from that. There was, however, another thing in his pocket which was eagerly seized upon. It was one of the placards which, on February 21, three days before the arrest, had been posted in conspicuous places, purporting to be cautions from the magistrates threatening to punish with seven years’ transportation any man who should join the Union. Previous to seeing that placard Loveless had heard of no law being in existence to forbid such Societies. When, therefore, he met with a copy of this placard, knowing that the Society which he had formed the previous year answered to the description on the placard, he had put one of them in his pocket, intending to discuss the matter at the next meeting of the Union, and perhaps to get advice about it from those with whom he had been in consultation. For at this time the Dorset labourers were only feeling their way. They hardly knew what they could do and what was impossible. The first meeting of the Union took place in October, 1833, attended by two delegates from a Trade Society, who were there to instruct them how to proceed. This placard was to be of use to the prosecution later.

After this process of stripping had taken place and all the evidence possible collected from their clothing, the men were locked up together in a room, and there they remained day and night for nearly a week. They never knew whether warders had some means of hearing their conversation, but if so it was of little avail to them. They were five men of like tastes, with another who at any rate was standing in with them for this purpose. He had no part in their religion, but he had learnt to respect the boldness of their attitude, and although he had not the experiences of which they spoke, he had not the slightest doubt as to the genuineness of their religion.

‘Well, George,” said James Loveless to his brother, ‘I think we are now something like Paul and Silas in prison. How long shall we be here I wonder? Shall we have to sing to keep up our spirits? Shall we have a prayer meeting about it?’

‘Yes, we can pray together, or we can try to remember some of the stories we have heard of others who have been in the same case. We’re right in what we have done, but I don’t think we should speak about it at all. These walls have ears they say. Anyhow, we don’t know who may be listening, and whether any words we use may be twisted round to mean something else. Keep cheerful, I don’t suppose we shall be here long. They can’t do what they have threatened. We are living in England in the nineteenth century, and not in Phillippi in the first. We’ll have a prayer meeting later on, but let us think of some of the Stories first. I believe Tom Standfield here can tell us something about John Haime, that old soldier who fought in Flanders, then came back to Dorsetshire and was confined in this very gaol, perhaps in this very room.’

‘Yes: it may have been this room,’ said Standfield, the elder. ‘But I don’t suppose anybody could tell you now just where it was. He wasn’t the sort of man to idle the time away by cutting his name on the woodwork. Besides, they didn’t let them have knives in the gaol. But I’ve heard about his being here, and it may be encouraging to us to know what happened. You know what he was here for, I suppose?’

This enquiry was especially directed to young James Brine. The others knew pretty well all about him. Many a time had Thomas Standfield told this story before to encourage them to keep strong in their faith at the chapel. But Brine wasn’t one of them.

‘No,’ he replied, ‘I don’t. Was it poaching or something like that?’

All of them laughed at that. They knew that many an old soldier after coming back from the wars had exercized his adventurous spirits in poaching in the neighbourhood. But they knew that Haime wasn’t a man like that. Yet it was natural that Brine should think of that, because none of them had told him anything about John Haime or his wonderful adventures in Flanders.

‘No, no,’ said Standfield, ‘it wasn’t poaching. It was preaching. He came home to Shaftesbury and he had a wonderful time of it on a Sunday. He preached at a place where four roads meet, and he says there were three or four thousand people came to hear him from all the towns and villages round about. If it was as many as that, it must have blocked the roadways up. Anyhow there it started and a number of people in that crowd were converted, and in a few weeks he had gathered together fifty people who formed a Society. That means they became Methodist, you know, Jim. Well, then two men swore flatly that John Haime had made a riot and he was put in prison there at Shaftesbury. After he had been there a night and a part of a day, he was taken to a public-house. It was very soon full of people, and he immediately began preaching to them.’

‘I should have thought he’d had enough of preaching for that time when he had got to gaol by it.’

‘Yes, perhaps you might, but John Haime wasn’t that sort. Why, he was preaching all the time he was in the army, and was had up time after time by the officers. Only the Duke heard him and thought he was a good man and he always told the soldiers to fight for the King, and so the Duke protected him. If it hadn’t been for the Duke I daresay he would never have got through it. Well, as I was saying, he started to preach to the people in that public-house. Whilst he was speaking a messenger came to tell him he had to appear before the mayor and aldermen. The town clerk was there, and he told him that they would not send him to Dorchester gaol if he would work a miracle. He told them, “That is done already—many swearers and drunkards are become sober. God-fearing men.” A lawyer who was present said, “Well, if you will take my advice, you shall not go to prison.” But Haime wasn’t to be caught. He replied, “I suppose you mean, if I give over preaching; but that I dare not do.” So they sent him straight away to Dorchester. Well, he hadn’t been here long, when the gaoler came in and started talking to him. And Haime began preaching to the gaoler.’

‘My word, but he was fond of preaching,’ said Jim Brine. ‘Why, George (turning to Loveless), you couldn’t hold a candle to him. You seem to be preaching all your time, but you haven’t started on the gaoler yet.’

‘There’s no knowing what I shall do, Jim,’ said George, ‘but let Standfield get on with his story.’

‘Oh, it doesn’t matter George. We might as well pass the time away this way as any other. If I do interrupt a bit, he’ll get to the end of it sometime. But fire away. You’re very interesting, and I’m ready for more. But you’ll save the preaching, won’t you?’

‘Oh, I don’t know, Jim. It might be better for you if we started to preach to you now. We are comrades in the things we aren’t going to talk about. It would be nice if we were all comrades in the other thing.’

‘No,’ said George Loveless, ‘I’m not going to have anyone trying to take advantage of Jim Brine’s position here to force him into the Kingdom. I’ve been preaching liberty all these years, and I won’t take advantage of a man’s loss of freedom in that way.’

‘Well, John Haime would have done,’ went on Thomas Standfield. ‘But I don’t intend to do what you don’t want, George. We are standing together in this and you will have to do the speaking for us in the Court. But I was telling you about Haime preaching to the gaoler. Well, he soon got tired of it, and went away.’

‘I should think so too, if he had the chance,’ said Brine.

‘Well, that didn’t bother Haime much. The gaoler was only one man to him, and there were other men in the room in which he was confined, and when the gaoler had gone away he started on them. He has told people about it and it is on record what he said. He says that when he was preaching Jesus, his fellow-prisoners were listening. They had no righteousness of their own, he says, and so were willing to be saved by grace. So he preached to them several times whilst he was in Dorchester gaol, and he says they seemed greatly affected. Whilst he was in this gaol two Quakers at Shaftesbury became bound for his appearance at the Quarter Sessions. He had been in prison eight days when one of them came to fetch him out, and brought money to pay prison-fees and all other expenses. Well, he had no sooner got back to Shaftesbury than he began preaching again. He was expecting to have to stand his trial at the Quarter Sessions, and a gentleman sent him a letter from London, telling him to employ two counsellors and an attorney and draw on him for whatever money he wanted. He took this letter to the postmaster and asked him if he was willing to let him have money on it and he said, “Yes, as much as you please.” That was soon noised about the town, and the magistrates were glad to make up the matter. So he never went to the Quarter Sessions.’

‘I wonder who it was that got that gentleman in London to act? Was it the Duke or Mr. Wesley, do you think?’ asked the son, John Standfield.

‘Oh, I don’t know. But you see, John Haime was in quite as bad a way as we are and he got out of it,’ answered his father.

‘No, I think not,’ corrected George Loveless. ‘We haven’t the powerful friends that John Haime had. I cannot name a single man with any money who would spend it on any of us. It is all the other way. The money is against us. It is no use shutting our eyes to the facts. We are in for a fight, and we have got to fight our way ourselves. But we have the right on our side, and “all things are possible to them that believe in Christ Jesus.” Come along, brothers, let’s have a sing.’

And there in that prison-room those five men began to sing the hymn that Loveless was so full of:

All things are possible to him That can in Jesu’s name believe.

Brine listened to them and rather envied them their rapture and their faith. But he was an honest lad and he would not join in what he did not believe. The voices were strong and healthy. There was no part-singing. All sang lustily the wonderful old tune Madrid, composed by W. Matthews about 1796. It had come to their rescue many a time when they had been lost for speech, and the words had rung out with tremendous encouragement:

If nothing is too hard for Thee, All things are possible to me.

The thing impossible shall be All things are possible to me;

and after the last verse tonight Loveless repeated the last two lines, but he had composed his own words for them:

We raise the watchword ‘Liberty’

We will, we will, we will be free.

‘Great, George!’ said James Loveless when he had sung those words. ‘Can’t we write a song about them? We could sing it to that same music and it ought to go through the country. You know you are rather good at writing poetry, George. Try to make something up.’

‘It’s worth thinking about,’ answered his brother. ‘Perhaps I shall think of something before we leave the gaol.’

And then in the simplicity of their souls they committed themselves to the keeping of the God they served, reviling none, but asking for courage in the days that were to come, and with an addition that George Loveless never omitted from his prayers, ‘Make us free, Lord, make us free.’

And so ended the first day in gaol.

Other days were very similar. They had some conversation with their gaolers, but not a great deal. They kept up their spirits by singing and conversation. One or other of them at times went away from his fellows to contemplate possibilities and to think what he should say when the next stage came. With one consent they told George Loveless that he should be their spokesman. He was by far the ablest speaker amongst them ready with retort and with a memory for details, and a quick grasp of things as they happened. James Hammett was in the unhappy position of being on terms of great friendship and sympathy with the others, and yet of knowing that he was being falsely accused of the things of which they were guilty. He was a man with the strength to stand alone, but his defence could not be other than theirs. He took refuge in silence, for to have spoken would have been to betray his brother.

At the end of the week, on the Saturday, they were taken to another part of the prison. Legg, the informer, was there again, and again he swore to all the six having been at the meeting. His statement had many discrepancies, and this George Loveless tried to point out, but the bench of magistrates who were present on this occasion refused to listen to him. They consulted for a few minutes, but it was a mere formality. Their action had been decided before they came into Court, and they committed all the six prisoners for trial at the next Assizes.

But the magistrates were still doubtful about the powers that might be theirs, and it was questionable whether these men would be convicted at the Assizes. What was most important to them was that the Union should cease. They had induced a Mr. Young, an attorney, to appear for the defence of the prisoners, and that gave him access to them in the conversation of the Court. It was very obvious to them all by this time that the leader in this business was George Loveless. They could realize his force of character and his power of leadership. They were indeed rather astonished at the intelligence of his answers in the Court and the quickness with which he seemed to understand what the moves of the prosecution meant. Mr. Young was therefore entrusted to see him specially. He was a pleasant spoken man and asked general questions about their life in Tolpuddle, and then tentatively enquired if he would promise the magistrate to have no more to do with the Union. Would he consent to make this undertaking if they allowed him to go home to his wife and family?

Loveless said, ‘I do not understand you.’

‘Why,’ he said, ‘give them information concerning the Union, who else belongs to it, and promise you will have no more to do with it.’

Loveless was up in arms at once and almost thundered out his next question: ‘Do you mean to say I am to betray my companions, and promise I will have nothing more to do with them?’

That is just it,’ said he.

‘No,’ replied Loveless, ‘I would rather undergo any punishment.’

After this experience their treatment was more rigorous. They were sent to high jail, and there continued until the Assizes. They had been just together, the six of them, congenial companions and able to encourage each other by their conversation and singing. But now they were in a mixed lot. Their other fellow prisoners were of the criminal classes, drunkenness, theft, poaching, debauchery being the reasons for their confinement. There they were listening to the filthy language that was the common talk of these abandoned wretches. They were saved from the worst experiences, because it was pity rather than contempt that they felt for these men, and some of them were very young to have gone so far. They studied each other, and the other prisoners had not much respect for the canting, psalm-singing Methodists who had somehow been thrust among them. Some of them, indeed, seeing the disgust which their outrageous language excited in the noble breasts of men like George Loveless and James Hammett, seemed to fill to the brim with devilment and competed with each other as to which could tell the most disgusting story and utter the foulest oaths. There was no such thing as going out daily for exercise. The confinement was close and these open-air farm labourers felt it pretty badly. The food they were accustomed to, even if it was scanty, was of good quality; but here they had to swallow as best they could bad bread. There was no warmth except that which exuded from the bodies of the prisoners. They had to lie at night on a small straw bed on the flags.

‘This,’ said George Loveless, ‘is our fare for striving to live honest.’ He was feeling very bitter, but still he kept his faith in the eventual outcome of his struggle. He still spoke words of encouragement. Perhaps he was not quite so confident when he said, ‘We will be free’, but there was an underlying strength in his character that made him tenacious of the idea which meant so much to him, and whatever he felt himself, it was a wonderful encouragement to the younger men to have George with them. Apart from him they might have given way to despair. And then there was always the silent strength of that strange man James Hammett, who, in spite of his innocence of any connexion with their Union, elected to stand or fall by them. There was a quiet influence in his reliance on God which in some ways was even more effective than Loveless’s confident speech.

They were feeling a little bit the effect of the close confinement and bad company when the gaol chaplain came to visit them. He was there to instruct. He took the line that they were criminals who needed upbraiding. They were discontented with their conditions, in which they had been fortunately placed, working for good masters who paid them as well as it was possible for them to do. He said they were idle and discontented, and that they wanted to ruin their masters. He told them that the Government had made every possible retrenchment in its efforts to make all comfortable, and turning to George Loveless, asked him if he could point to anything more that could be done to increase the comfort of the labourers. Being appealed to like this, Loveless told him that he thought he could point to many things. He said their object was not to ruin the masters. With his flair for preaching, he spoke of the body and its various members. For some time, he said, they had been looking for the head to begin and relieve the various members down to the feet; but finding it was of no avail, they were trying the reverse way. They were wishing to make application to their masters, and for their masters to make application to their masters in turn and so up to the head. As to their being worse off than the labourers, he could not believe it.

‘I am a labourer and I work on the farm. What do I see in the hunting season? I see horses come out, beautiful creatures, costing vast amounts of money to rear and to keep in trim. I know that they have to be tended by special grooms, that they are stabled in fine buildings, and that they are used for nothing but hunting the fox and the hare. I know, too, that sometimes when in taking a fence a horse has had a bad fall, it has to be destroyed straight away. And yet I have never seen one of these gentlemen who could not turn out next day with another horse, in just as good a condition as the one which he lost the day before. What use are these animals, anyway? If some of them were got rid of, there would be a two-fold advantage: first the owner would possess some ready money, and secondly the expense of keeping them would be saved, to enable him to give a little more for labour. But it is not only these hunters who could spare a little. There are gentlemen like yourself. You might do with a little less salary and that would assist the rest. Don’t you think so, sir?’

Is that how you mean to do it?’ said the chaplain.

‘That is one way I have been thinking of, sir,’ replied Loveless.

He thought for a moment and seemed somewhat impressed by what this labourer had said. ‘I hope the Court will favour you,’ he said at length, ‘but I think they will not; for I believe they mean to make an example of you.’ And so saying he left the prisoners.