August Artwork of the Month: The Manchester Heroes by George Cruikshank

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Peterloo Massacre ‘The Manchester Heroes’ by George Cruikshank CROP1

01 August 2019

On 16th August 1819 a large public meeting was held in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to give voice to calls for reform and to peacefully protest for political change. Henry Hunt, the popular orator and radical speaker, was invited to lead the meeting which was attended by an estimated 60,000 people, including men, women and children.

 

On the day of the meeting the magistrates observed the assembly with the intention of deploying the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, a local volunteer military unit, and the 15th Hussars in the case of a riot or rebellion.


When Hunt arrived to speak he was enthusiastically greeted by the assembled crowds and the authorities issued an order for his arrest. The yeomanry stationed nearby, were called on to assist the local constabulary to part the crowds. The yeomanry, on horseback and fully armed, charged the crowds of peaceful protesters and with the 15th Hussars cut down men, women and children. At least 11 protestors died, and hundreds were injured. 

The horrific details of the attack quickly spread across the country through accounts published in the radical press, and the event became known as the Peterloo Massacre in reference to the Battle of Waterloo. 

The Manchester Heroes by George Cruikshank

The brutal actions of the yeomanry at Peterloo were recounted through written accounts and illustrations. This satire, sarcastically titled ‘Manchester Heroes’, shows the yeomanry cutting down men, women and children gathered peacefully at St Peter’s Field. 

The speakers, including Hunt, are pictured in the background while peaceful demonstrators are trampled under the cavalry charge. The yeomanry, armed with sabres, bear down on women and children cowering below, with one child exclaiming “Oh pray Sir, doan't Kill Mammy, she only came to see Mr Hunt”.

There was widespread public outrage over the actions of the magistrates and yeomanry, as well as over the support they had received from Lord Sidmouth, the Home Office, and Lord Liverpool’s government.

Peterloo Massacre ‘The Manchester Heroes’ by George Cruikshank

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Image: The Manchester Heroes, etching with hand-colouring by George Cruikshank, 1819, copyright the Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 3574

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Works of Art (Speaker's Advisory Committee)

The Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art is appointed by the Speaker to advise on matters relating to works of art in the House of Commons