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Peterloo 1819: Democracy, Protest and Justice

Peterloo 1819: Democracy, Protest and Justice

Peterloo 1819: Democracy, Protest and Justice

Past display archive
26 July 2019 - 1 May 2020

Room 18, Floor 2


Peterloo Massacre (or Battle of Peterloo)
published by Richard Carlile
published 1 October 1819
NPG D42256

This display marks the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre, a tragic event which is part of the unfolding story of the development of civil rights and democracy. On 16 August 1819, 60,000 peaceful protestors gathered at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand the right to vote for all men. The Yeoman cavalry were sent in to the throng to arrest the main speaker Henry Hunt. Drunk and reckless, the yeomanry hacked with sabres at the unarmed men, women and children, killing 15 and injuring over 700. The event was swiftly called ‘Peterloo’, drawing comparison to the recent Battle of Waterloo.

Richard Carlile’s engraving of the Peterloo Massacre featured in this display vividly represents the events he had witnessed. It captures the unprecedented scale of the peaceful demonstration for democracy and the violence of the tragedy that ensued. The government refused to make a formal inquiry into why peaceful protestors had been killed on British soil at St. Peter’s Field. Instead, they imprisoned several of the leaders of the reform movement, charging them with sedition. Commemorative portraits of the jailed reformers were sold as celebrations and rallying points for political solidarity. Peterloo was part of the long working-class struggle for voting rights which began in the 1790s and was not fully achieved until the Representation of the People Act in 1928.



Politics and protest

Blog: Peterloo 2019: Democracy, Protest and Justice