The HMS Hartness was the largest ship in the East India Company. On its maiden voyage to China in 1787 carrying a valuable cargo of silver it ran into trouble hitting heavy gales in the Atlantic. The crew ordered to put lights out, refused and a mutiny broke out. The captain managed to initially suppress it by clapping 3 of the ringleaders in irons, but 50 of the crew refused order from officers in protest. The captain made the decision to head for Cape Verde to have the mutiny quashed but the officers who were sailing the ship alone now made a dreadful error and ran the ship into a reef, the ship was lost but all the crew survived.
One of the officers of the Hartwell was 16 year old midshipman John Bellingham. Bellingham was a former Jeweller’s apprentice who had gone to sea looking for adventure and got more than he bargained for. However the trip wetted his taste for further travel and he became an agent for an import/export company regularly travelling to Archangel in Russia.
In 1803 the Lloyds insured Russian ship Soleure sank, an anonymous note to Lloyds said the ship had been sabotaged and they refused to pay. Bellingham in Russia at the time was made scapegoat for Lloyds failure to pay and imprisoned for a year by the Russians. Upon his release the irate Bellingham tried to impeach the governor general of Archangel for his railroading, but this only annoyed the Russians more and they imprisoned him for another 4 years. On his release he became destitute in St Petersburg for almost a year.
In 1809 he arrived back in England wanting compensation from the government but was refused. After 3 years of failure frustrated by the nonchalance of the government to his ruin, John Bellingham bought a pistol, took a friend to an art gallery, went to the lobby of the Houses of Parliament, shot the Prime Minister dead and then quietly sat on a house of commons bench relaxed and resigned to his fate.
At his trial his lawyer tried to plead insanity but Bellingham articulately justified his actions as fighting of the small guy against the betrayal of his government. Bellingham danced the Tyburn Jig but the large crowd who gathered were said to have treated him as a hero rather than villain.
The Industrial Revolution and urbanisation may have brought great benefits to the industrialists but for many sections of the poor living standards plummeted. Factory working conditions were appaling, 18 hour working day without breaks in cramped dirty conditions, dangerous machinery, pitiful wages, draconian fines forced upon workers for complaints and child labour, children usually doing the most dangerous jobs in the factory and suffering crippling injuries. For those that survived accidents long term effects on the lungs or terminal conditions caused by chemicals used lead to an early death. Amidst this was a drive by factory owners as competition grew to lower wages and worsen working conditions.
This sparked the world’s first Labour Movement.
In 1811 the first threatening letter from General Ned Ludd and the Army of Redressers appeared. Whether Ned Ludd himself existed or was a made up figurehead is still unknown. However the Army of Redressers who came to be known as Luddites quickly grew across the Midlands and began attacking factories. Workers broke in and smashed (Origin of the saying, throw a spanner in the works).
The government responded by making Ludditism a capital offence and sending 12,000 troops into Luddite strongholds to no avail. In late 1911 the movement widened its grip expanding across much of the industrial countryside. The pattern emerging at Rawfolds Mill where the Luddites attacked killing the owner. 100 Luddite were captured by the army and three executed.
From 1812-1817 pitched battles between the army and the Luddites became regular, often thousands of Luddites attacking mills or factory owners houses. Rioting occured in cities and Luddites hurled stones at factory owners and their families. Usually Luddites tried to smash the machines but if that failed would turn to burning the whole building down. The army defending the mills usually outnumbered would resort to musketry and the ringleaders of any captured Luddites were hung.
The Luddite Rebellion lasted six years but faded after 1817 leaving many martyrs however resurfaced in 1830 in the Swing Riots.
Nowadays Luddite is a term meaning someone who dislikes or can’t comprehend technology. A rather denigrating way to remember the granddaddies of all labour movements.