Tolpuddle Martyrs

I’m so lucky. I came across this exciting story of these martyrs just in time to tell you about it a few days before Labour Day. Stay with me, now.

Once Upon a Time, in a province not too far away, Ontario, to be more precise, several gravesite headstone names were recently recognized. This was the last resting place for some of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

I want to pull that thread so badly. I hear a voice – “Oh, go ahead, see where it leads.”

It was a time of much upheaval in England. New machinery and regulations were changing the rural way of life. A family’s weekly cost of living was 13 shillings. Workers were only being paid a weekly sum of 9 shillings. Something had to give.

In 1867, the year of Canada’s Confederation, a group of 6 men in Tolpuddle,  England, decided to start a trade union. They all swore a secret oath to the newly created Friendly Society—big problem. Swearing a secret oath was illegal. A nearby landowner turned them in, to the authorities. They were sentenced to Australia for 7 years. Because of the public uproar, they returned to England after 3 years.

They were now martyrs.

This notoriety made it hard for them to find gainful employment, so 5 of the original group emigrated to London, Ontario. They made another secret pact not to tell anyone of their past.

I’d say they were successful. One of them became Mayor of his District. Everyone is buried in a cemetery near Guelph, Ontario – in marked graves, gratefully forgotten and neglected.

I quote from the book that caught my curiosity, On Class:

“Each May Day, there is a picnic in the park to commemorate their actions, actions which established the beginnings of the labour movement we know today.”

Whether May or September is a better Labour Day to tell this story, please give this a bit of a think. Do you know of a small beginning that has grown into something important in your life today? Do you know of something that needs a small beginning now?

What about a bit more of a think to draw similarities to our current times of upheaval?

I’m curious about your thoughts. Please share your bit of a think in the comment section below. It will come to me for approval before posting.

Photo by Lenny Kuhne on Unsplash

This snippit of history was brought to my attention after I purchased On Class by Deborah Dundas.

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2 thoughts on “Tolpuddle Martyrs

  1. Patti+Dolman says:

    A martyr I’ll never be but then I’ve never been faced with fighting for a cause that would ultimately cost me my life. But I have stood my ground on a principle. Many years ago I had a job working as an enumerator for Census Canada. The hours stated that I must work weekends. Every fifth household had to be surveyed in person so it was important to find them at home. I explained that because I was assigned a Jewish neighbourhood, one that I lived in, it wouldn’t be appropriate to interrupt them on Shabbos and that being observant I couldn’t work on Shabbos. The person who hired me wouldn’t buy it. So I went higher up; I called the Jewish Federation and a spokesperson intervened on my behalf. I got my job done working very hard on week-days. I don’t think their “must work week-ends” policy still stands.

    • glenn says:

      Interesting experience. As an aside, I had a job in the 1971 national census enumerating several small communities in the NWT. Fly-in / fly-out style. I didn’t come across any such criteria as you had – or I didn’t and didn’t notice.

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