ALL this, of course, was very depressing to Jane Davis. She was now very definitely regarded by the Thorpes as a friend of the family. They had been with the crowd and had heard the story partly from the men who were moving along, but more particularly from Jane’s own lips. What impressed them most, as Methodists themselves of the rank and file, was the sterling qualities of George Loveless, for though the others were mentioned by her, his name was the outstanding one she always thought of. His eloquence it was that was so powerful in the villages of Dorset, and his leadership that had been so effective.
It is necessary in this story to keep in mind the Methodist complex of most of the people concerned. Real personal acquaintance with Methodism and membership of the body was the only possible way in which Thorpe could have got into the position he held at the Mission House. True, he was an underling there, and not in the secrets of the great ones, but they knew of his constant attendance at his chapel Sunday by Sunday and his meeting in the Society week by week. What Dr. Bunting hardly suspected, perhaps, was the fact that these rank-and-file Methodists had a religious life of their own that was quite independent of the ministers. So accustomed had he come to regard himself as the master of assemblies that the fact of a dual personality having grown up in the Church was hardly known to him. Perhaps it was not realized by the members. But there were things that they discussed in private when the ministers were not present that were to make London one of the centres of the 1849 revolt.
On their way home from Whitehall the three were discussing ways and means of reaching the authorities. Dr. Bunting was unlikely to do anything. He was a Tory and signified his Toryism by writing a letter to the Tory candidate in the Finsbury Parliamentary Division, a letter of strong support, though regretting that he could not vote for him. There was, however, a Radical candidate who was making headway and was expecting to stand against this candidate. Thorpe did not actually know him, but had heard accounts of his being very sympathetic to all the poor. He talked about justice and righteousness, and seemed to act what he talked. He wondered if this man, Dr. Thomas Wakley, would take up their case, and it was decided that she should call upon him next day and lay the whole case before him.
Dr. Wakley at once seemed to be a sympathetic man, of genuine desire to work on behalf of the people. He had no respect for the Prime Minister and Home Secretary just because of their office. He had read about the trial in The Times and had not agreed with their attitude. It had seemed to him a terrible thing that English justice should be so travestied as it was in this case. It was also of some significance that Joseph Hume, M.P., was in the house at the time, and Wakley called him in to hear what this good woman had to say. Hume had already been talking over the matter of yesterday’s procession, and expressing satisfaction that Robert Owen had been able to finish it so satisfactorily. He was to raise the whole question in the House of Commons and welcomed the opportunity of hearing something about it from a woman who knew the prisoners.
Hume was particularly desirous to find out what was the feeling of the villagers about the men who had been sent abroad. Both men knew how unreliable were the bare newspaper reports. It might be that there was real reason, because of the men being dangerous, for the action the judge had taken. They believed in abstract justice, but it is not likely either would have tried to better the lot of men of criminal tendencies. They therefore asked Jane Davis to tell them the story from its beginning. She began with the story of the arrest, and how much taken aback they all were, and how old Mrs. Hammett had caught such a chill that they did not expect her to survive her present illness, and was proceeding to give all the symptoms when Hume pulled her up.
‘We want you to tell it in your own way, Miss Davis,’ he said; ‘but we haven’t a great deal of time to spare; so while we quite sympathize with what you say about Mrs. Hammett, it would perhaps be better if you told us more about these men. What sort of a man is the George Loveless who seems to be their spokesman?’
‘He is a grand man, sir. He is a preacher, and you should hear him speak. He just fairly makes you believe that what he says is true. He seems to have such knowledge of scripture as no one else in our whole county possesses.’
‘Preaches well, does he?’ said Wakley. ‘What sort of thing does he say? You see, I want to know what sort of a man it is who is being transported.’
‘Oh, sir, I can hardly say. I only know that when he preaches it makes you believe whether you want to or not. But he mostly talks about freedom. He is very fond of one of Mr. Wesley’s hymn, ‘All things are possible to him, Who does in Jesus Christ believe’. And he shows how Paul did things that would have seemed impossible if he hadn’t believed in Christ; and John Wesley, and John Haime, who was a Dorsetshire man, and who the Duke used to think a lot of when he was in the army in Flanders. And then he says all things are possible to us. And he believes in Dissent. He wants to keep free from the Church of England. That’s why I think he is always saying, “We will be free “. If all things are possible, he says, we can and will be free. You see, gentlemen, we have had a lot of persecution in Tolpuddle. We have been turned out of our houses for going to the Wesleyan Chapel. The squire and the parson don’t like it. And the farmers round about are all with Squire Frampton.’
‘Yes,’ said Hume, ‘I think you have told us enough of Loveless as a preacher. What do you think, Wakley?’
‘Well, he seems quite a theologian, doesn’t he? It looks to me as if he has a real lot of culture for a farm labourer. But, Miss Davis, are the other men like George Loveless?’
‘Well, sir, I cannot say that they are all so convincing in what they say. But they are good men. They talk out of their hearts, and they have had to do a lot of study before ever they could get on the plan.’
‘Get on the plan? What does that mean?’
‘Oh, it is a term we Methodists have for men who are accepted as preachers. They have to study a lot before the preachers will let them come on full plan. I know they all have to know Wesley’s sermons and stand an examination on them, and they have to know their Bible, and Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament.’
‘Quite a lot of theology, in fact?’
‘Yes, sir. They’re good men, and well learned. And then they would be taken off the plan if they did anything wrong.’
‘Will they be taken off now, because they are sent abroad?’
‘Well, now, I had never thought of that. Oh, how could they, sir? They are good men and they haven’t done any wrong.’
When they had finished with their catechism of Jane Davis, both gentlemen promised her that they would do their best. But neither of them held out any hope. This interview was to remain in Wakley’s mind for years. He thanked her very heartily for coming to him and told her that unless he got into Parliament he would have no power to help her; but if he did, he would use every bit of power to help to see that justice was done.
Jane Davis had done more than she imagined for many a long month by that day’s interview. For the powerful voice of Cobbett was enlisted by the facts which Hume and Wakley were afterwards to pour into his ears, and the agitation of these men and the Dorchester Committee was to go on until Lord Melbourne and Lord John Russell were to wish devoutly that they had never heard of Tolpuddle, or Dorsetshire, or Baron Williams, and until something had been done to right the wrong.
She, however, left the house with a heavy heart. She felt it was time for her to go back to Tolpuddle and tell them the result of her interviews. She could take very little that could give the relatives any hope, and heavy as had been her mind on the coach journey to London, it was heavier still on the return journey.
On the former occasion she had been buoyed up by the hope of the powerful influence of Jabez Bunting being exerted. That was absolutely dashed to the ground. True, she had found good friends in the Thorpe’s, but even they could do little or nothing. They were poor people, and dare not for their lives do anything contrary to the wishes of the men who employed them. Underneath they began to mix with some of the Trade Unionists they had met in connexion with the procession, and connexions were formed that day which bore fruit in the years to come. The process began with these London Methodists which had been growing for years in the country. Contact with so many ministers had in the past made them rather dependent on the ideas of their leaders for their religious life. In the days of Wesley there had been such mighty leadership and such sympathetic connexion between leader and led, that although obviously there was a gulf between the poorer members of the Society and the intellectuals, the former had not thought of questioning its propriety. Now it began to percolate through that there were men like Loveless and his companions, farm labourers, working for seven shillings per week, who in preaching the message of the gospel were every bit as effective as the ordained minister. Thorpe’s friends were rather incredulous at first, but as he told the story of the wonderful influence of these men upon the countryside, as he had heard it from Jane Davis, he began to carry conviction. And it became distinctly noticeable that men with more Liberal ideas in the ministry, such as Joseph Fowler (the father of Lord Wolverhampton), Dr. Beaumont and James Everett were more run after when; they came to London than the more rigid disciplinarians.
But let us return to Jane Davis. On her journey she thought over what she had done. She began to wonder whether she had said all that she could.
It was a long journey, but during the whole of the time she was travelling, she was going over again in her mind the events of the past few days. She thought of Joseph Hume and Thomas Wakley, and she remembered that they had promised to do their best, and they looked like men who would do what they promised. Still, they had promised no relief. She found herself holding on to the last hope that Wakley would get into Parliament. And in her simple way she began to pray for it. She agonized in prayer during the latter half of her journey. She had never done such a thing before, but she seemed thrust back on it. She knew it was what any Methodist would always do in like circumstances. Her extremity was to her God’s opportunity. She prayed for the plots of men to be overcome by the dispensation of God’s providence. She prayed that they might never sail for Australia. She prayed that they might get away—it didn’t matter how—but get away somehow. She thought of Peter in prison, and how he had got away and come back to the little company of people who were praying for him. And she went on praying, but somehow had little faith in an answer to her prayer. It seemed as if it was inevitable for them to go away.
Then she thought again of Thomas Wakley and remembered that all his work for them would depend upon his being elected to Parliament. Then she began praying in real earnest that Thomas Wakley should be returned. And somehow into her mind there came the feeling that her prayer was to be answered. She could never explain that feeling in after life, but she got strange peace after she had been praying in this way for some minutes. There came a confidence to her. The Lord was working for her. She didn’t know what was to happen or how it was to happen, but she felt that it was to come through Wakley’s getting into Parliament. The men would not break prison like Peter. They might have had their little company at prayer in James Hammett’s house, but it would have had to be very secret and nearly all women, for nobody else in the whole village dare even show the support of prayer for the condemned men. The squire and the farmers were on the watch all the time. Or else she had begun to imagine herself as one of that company and little Elizabeth—brave girl— acting the part of Rhoda as she went to open the door for the joyous return of the prison-breakers. It was as well that her thoughts went into other channels. She would have carried it out and would have persuaded the others to be continuously in prayer, and the prayer would have been on the prison-breaking lines. But now the later experience of peace and confidence told her that deliverance might be delayed but that surely enough it would come and the means of its coming would be the election of the gentleman who had been so kind to her.
When the coach, therefore, reached Affpuddle, and she had to alight for the last mile or two’s journey on foot, it was with confident mien and brisk step that she set Out for home. She arrived in the village and went straight to the Hammett’s. There she found that Elizabeth had had her hands full with the two invalids. Granny was getting gradually worse. Her breathing was causing a great deal of trouble. Mrs. James Hammett was as hysterical as ever and well might she be. The farm bailiff had been round to say that now James Hammett was no longer working, the cottage would have to go to another labourer, and that they would have to turn out. They couldn’t keep good cottages for the wives of malignants who were being transported for their crimes. He had told them that if they didn’t leave within a week they would be evicted forcibly. With Granny in her present state they told him it would be murder to turn them out. But nothing they could say had any effect. If the old woman was dying, let her go to the workhouse, where all the lot of them could go for all he cared. What he had to get was their cottage for a man who was working for the farmer, and get it he would. So they had better turn out before they were thrust into the road and the sticks of furniture with them.
Jane Davis told them of the hopelessness of the case for getting the sentence revised. This set the younger woman off into hysterics again; and such was the trouble they had with bringing her round that there was little time to think of anything else. Elizabeth was working on with a dull doggedness which showed her splendid pluck, but also plainly indicated that there had been very little sleep for her since her friend had left for London. She was now taking things very much as a matter of course, just living her life from day to day, and taking things as they come. Jane Davis thought of John Hammett and wondered whether he could take the family in. She knew how small his own cottage was, and how it was a shame that more than they had should be crowded into it, but what else was there to do? They couldn’t have Granny thrust out into the cold again when the bailiffs came to evict them. John was willing to do all that he could. He recognized how much he owed to his brother and his brother’s folk. But it was impossible for him to take in Granny, and finally she had to go to the workhouse. There was nothing else for it, and there she died shortly afterwards, the first to lose her life because of the action that had been taken against her son. The other two went to John’s house, taking their furniture to be kept against such a time as they might be able to return, but to be sold gradually for the bare necessities of life.
What was happening at the Hammetts’ was taking place in a lesser degree at the other houses. Young Brine’s case was not so bad, as he had no dependents. The Standfields and the Lovelesses, with some of the stubbornness of their menfolk, resisted the farm bailiff, and refused to budge out of the houses they occupied. At the best of times these poor people had never known the luxury of a meat meal. How could they purchase beef or mutton or pork on their miserable seven shillings per week? Even the very products of the farms at which they worked were unknown to the children. Once in the last five years had the youngest of the Lovelesses tasted the luxury of an egg, and it was still the talk of the family that the Standfields had had butter with their bread three years earlier. Once a week, on the Sunday, they would usually have the luxury of wheaten bread. And these simple people would offer up a prayer to God at the beginning of the meal, thanking Him for His manifold mercies, whatever the meal was. On Sunday, it was a specially strong expression of thanks that was made. Then, with the eyes of the youngsters dancing with delight, George Loveless or Thomas Standfield would take the wheaten loaf and divide it equally between every member of the family, and for the next half-hour there would be a perfectly delightful scene, as the family munched and munched its dry bread, assuaging for this one occasion, its general hunger, and indulging its taste for high living. It was the one meal that saved them from the utter monotony of the barley bannocks which were their general fare, or the maize junkets, which was generally the only alternative. Junket sounds luxurious, but it was not the delightful dish of milk treated with rennet which we meet in Devon and Cornwall. It was made of Indian corn ground fine, and water. Just occasionally the men had been able to bring home some turnips, and that, of course, was a very special treat.
The wonder was that children could he brought to maturity at all, on such scanty fare. Yet the men of fine physique had developed even out of these conditions. The keeping of men on little expenditure, so that they were strong enough to do good work, but never overfed, had been reduced to a fine art. The victims did not like it: it was not done deliberately; and it brought its naturally concomitants of discontent. It was this discontent that had resulted in rickburnings all over the country, and these Unionists were suspected by the farmers of being the ringleaders. They looked upon the preaching on the village greens, which was well-known, as being simply an excuse for them to get to places where they would have the opportunity of doing the maximum amount of damage. Perhaps it was because the burnings showed no cessation from the arrests that the farmers and landowners showed no mercy to the families of the men who had been arrested.
Things must take their course. They wanted the cottages of the Lovelesses and the Standfields. And so one cold wintry morning, the men turned out in force to evict them.
‘Come on, Mrs. Loveless,’ said the burly bailiff as he arrived. ‘I gave you fair warning. Why haven’t you turned out of this house?’
‘Where is there for me to go to?’ she said. ‘ I told you I couldn’t turn out. You wouldn’t leave me without a roof over my head just because my husband has been taken away, surely.’
‘I’m not going into all that again. Out you go, lock, stock, and barrel.’
‘Well, you’ll have to force us out,’ she replied as she banged the door in his face. But the bailiff had too much experience to have been taken in by the parley. His foot was between the door and the lintel. He was a strong man, and had a big lot of men with him, and they forced the door open easily, and soon were at work removing furniture, pitching it into the roadway and being abused as well as she was able by the aggrieved woman. She was naturally distressed, and knew that resistance was useless, and besides, the youngest child began to howl horribly as he saw his bed taken out into the road. And so, hindered by comforting her children and utter weariness caused by denying herself of the little food they had for the sake of her children during the weeks that had passed since the arrest, her resistance was nothing like so strong as she could have wished.
There was one little chap who thought it was all fine fun, and interfered with the work of the men by putting things in their way as they carried the heavier articles of furniture out. One of them stumbled and fell full length over one such obstacle, and the youngster was round the corner dancing about with glee when he saw the success of his manceuvre. But the bailiff had also seen, and gave him a clout from behind. The youngster cried a bit, but soon recovered, and from that moment it was the bailiff he was trying to hinder. Finally, when the whole house was emptied, and they had taken the people out, this youngster darted in again and refused to budge. It was only a one-storey cottage, without the opportunity that a youngster might have in a larger house to dodge about, but he managed to attract the bailiff’s attention by appearing at the window after he thought the place was empty.
‘You young varmint,’ he said, ‘I’ll make you laugh the other side of your face,’ and dashed through the door as fast as his lumbering figure would allow him. But the boy had expected that, and was out of the back door before the bailiff was through the front. Out of the back followed the bailiff, and chased the boy round the house and down the road,
‘Quick, mother,’ he shouted from a hundred yards away, ‘get the things back,’ and so escaped; for the bailiff knew that there was no quarter, and things were at such a pass that he could not trust the men unless he was with them. Mrs. Loveless’s energy, however, had petered out. There she was with her furniture in the road. What was she to do? She knew her neighbours would help her if they could. But what could they do? Would they be allowed to take them in?
They were accustomed to this sort of thing. Dissenters only eight years earlier had been evicted in this very village for preaching and speaking in the Wesleyan chapel, and she herself had taken some of them in temporarily. And so she just waited by the roadside until somebody came to offer help. The same scene was taking place a short time afterwards with Mrs. Standfield, though she had seen what was happening at Mrs. Loveless’s, and the uselessness of offering any resistance, and so just went out and allowed them to throw her things into the road beside her.
Jane Davis all this time was going to and fro in Tolpuddle and telling her story and begging the neighbours in pity to take in the women and children, and by dint of hard persuading finally managed to get them all housed. It was a very tight fit in the cottages to which they went, and not more than two could go to any one cottage. The trials of the next few weeks were terrible. Every member of every one of the families concerned was at the point of starvation. They cared not for the monotony of food. They never had done. They had thanked God for what they got. But the monotony of starvation that followed was an experience which was to remain in their minds for the rest of their natural lives. And to that was added the anxiety as to what was happening to their menfolk, of whom they heard nothing. They felt that perhaps it would have been better to endure it all with them than this slow starvation. Should they go to the workhouse? The thought came to them again and again. But it was dismissed, and they managed to last out those weeks until the time when the Dorchester Committee got to work and relieved their immediate necessities.