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Tolpuddle Martyrs

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century British labourers who formed a labour union, and were subsequently arrested and sent to Australia.

The Reform Act of 1832 made labour unions legal, and that year six men from Tolpuddle[?] in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest the gradual lowering of wages in the 1830s. They refused to work for less than 10 shillings a week, although by this time wages were as low as 6 shillings a week. The society, led by George Loveless, met in the house of Thomas Standfield.

In 1834 a local landowner wrote to Prime Minister Lord Melbourne complaining about the union, invoking an obscure law from 1797 prohibiting people from swearing oaths to each other, which the Friendly Society had done. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, George's brother James, George's brother in-law Thomas Standfield, and Thomas' son John Standfield were arrested, found guilty, and transported to Australia.

They became popular heroes and were released in 1836, with the support of Lord John Russell who had recently become Home Secretary. George Loveless was later involved in the Chartist Movement, while the others moved to London, Ontario, Canada, where there is now a monument in their honour. There was also a monument erected in their honour in Tolpuddle in 1934.



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