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The Dorchester Labourers’ Farm Tribute, 1838

The 'Dorchester labourers' - now better known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs - were shipped to Australia in 1834 to serve their sentence of seven years transportation for organising a trade union for farm labourers. Transportation didn't just mean exile, the sentence included forced or hard labour. Conditions under which the convicts worked - the food, shelter and levels of physical punishment received - depended on the nature of the employer to whom the prisoners were assigned.

Protests against the conviction of the Tolpuddle Martyrs finally pressured the government to pardon the men in 1836, though it took months for news of the pardons to reach the Australian authorities and for the Tolpuddle Martyrs to be finally released.

After their release, the London Dorchester Committee was set up to raise funds to buy or rent small farms for the pardoned men. The farms were intended to remove the men "from the power of their former persecutors", "obtain a comfortable subsistence for themselves and families" and to "afford a monument testifying the people's sympathy with the victims of a hypocritical, labour-oppressing, and irresponsible government". This list of subscriptions, dated August 1838, names some of the people and organisations who were contributing to the fund, including Working Men's Associations in Cheltenham, Ipswich and Cirencester, groups of tinworkers, shoemakers, bricklayers' labourers, smiths and carpenters, the proceeds of a ball at Stratford on Avon, and £2 from R. Loveless, presumably a relation of George and James Loveless, two of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The total balance of funds raised is stated to be £606 15s 11d, a huge sum in 1838 but some way short of the fundraisers' final aim of £1200.

This printed circular, together with several others relating to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, is included in the archives of Operative Society of Masons, Quarrymen & Allied Trades of England & Wales, bound together with the union's fortnightly reports (document reference: MSS.78/OS/4/4/1).

Dorchester labourers