Australian Folk Songs

songs | books | records | articles | glossary | links | search | responses | home

Social Affairs In England (1866)

(Written expressly for the Sydney Morning Herald)
London, September 26Th, 1866.

The Reform agitation is spreading, and bids fair to materially influence the progress of social questions for some time to come. Scarcely have the echoes of the Birmingham gathering died away than Manchester takes up the cry and bids her thousands issue forth in defiance of the pouring rain, to swell the shout for Reform. Leeds is to follow, and then the metropolis is again to show that it is determined to head the movement. The working men arc now most unmistakably in earnest. The bitter taunts of Mr Lowe have--despite all after explanations--evoked a spirit which it may take years to appease. The Reform movement is already growing beyond control. The more moderate reformers, such as Mr. Edward Baines, are being swept aside by the torrent, and the advocates of manhood suffrage lead the van. This is only what was to be expected. The opportunity for compromise has passed away, never, perhaps, to return. The Birmingham gathering recalled something of old times, when Newhall hill rang with the solemn response the assembled thousands to the prayer offered up in favour of Reform. Reporters found it impossible to adequately describe the scene. Nothing like it has been witnessed, except on one occasion, by the present generation. That exception was the entry of Garibaldi into London where was no work done in Birmingham on the day of the demonstration At the first cheer in the street men left their anvils, put out the furnaces, and stopped the engines, that they too might rush forth and swell the shout. No wonder that the working class pulse throbs quickly and hotly, or that from the east, the west, the north, and the south, come the sympathetic responses of the excited workmen.

Mr Lowe has created a Frankenstein which nothing but a sweeping reform measure can subdue. If any doubt existed as to the determination and perserverance of the working men on this question, that doubt has been effectually removed by the Manchester demonstration on Monday. According to the most trustworthy accounts there could not have been less than one hundred thousand persons present. The place fixed fur the gathering was Campfield, an open square purchased by the corporation upwards of twenty years ago from Sir Oswald Mosley, lord of the manor. From time almost immemorial it has been the site every Easter of Knottmill Fair, one of those monster pleasure fairs which attract people from great distances, such as were formerly held in London and some other great towns, but which in most cases have been abolished as nuisances. It is a fine open plot of ground, well paved and drained, and near its centre stands a church dedicated to St. Matthew. The portion of the square behind the church is usually occupied as a hay and corn-market, but the corporation having consented to allow the present gathering it has been placed to-day at the service of the reformers. The entire space open to the public on this occasion is about 220,000 square feet, including Liverpool-road on the west and Towman street, which bounds it on the east. This space was entirely covered with human beings, as far as the eye could reach. There they stood, the rain pouring down in torrents, around the various platforms which had been erected in different parts of the place. As the various processions, headed by their bands and carrying numerous banners, arrived on the ground, the excitement became intense. The rain was forgotten, the mud was defied, and nothing was thought of but waiting for the moment when the resolutions were to be put to the meeting.

Lancashire is determined not to be lost in the race. What the cotton workers think and what they mean may be inferred from the address subsequently presented in the Free Trade Hall to John Bright. In that address the great political leader finds himself placed by the cotton operatives at the head of the movement. "They call upon you to be their standard-bearer in the approaching contest. It is a mighty responsibility thrown upon you, but your countrymen feel confidence in jour judgment, courage, and devotion. You were not returned to Parliament simply as the representative of a single borough, but as the elected tribune of a mighty people, face to face you have seen this people, you have a right to speak far the east and west, the north and the south, and when you are assailed with the taunts and jibes, and sneers of a proud oligarchy, who use every weapon that slander and malice can suggest, we pray you to remember that a whole nation stands at your back resolutely determined to support you while you battle with it for its liberties. Tell these opponents of freedom that the right denied millions of their fellow countrymen, must not, cannot, longer be trilled with, that principle must be the guiding star of men, and results be left to Providence, that the broaden base is the firmest security of all authority-and that our country will achieve a still more glorious destiny amongst the nations when her Government depends its strength upon the hearts and the arms of the entire people and bases its freedom on the rights derived from God" The language may be a little exaggerated and inflated, but when we find those who use it tacitly supported by such men as Mr Gladstone and Mr Mill there can be no doubt that it is accepted by the Liberal party as the genuine utterance of the working classes. If we thought otherwise, we have but to notice the manner in which our working class singers are embodying their political feelings in verse. The general character of these songs is pretty well illustrated by the following lines, from a Lancashire paper :--

No vote, no tax ! That's equity !
From taxes no poor man's exempt,
I wish my Lords spurned with contempt
My little cash as they spurn me !
They spurn me for my ignorance,
My birth of humble origin
My garb begrimed and toil stained skin,
I wish they'd spurn my humble pence !
No vote, no rifle ! Let them fight ;
With insult they my rights deny
And shall I fight for theirs ! not I,
I were an arrant fool outright !
Let dread invasion cross the brine.
What is the worst that can befall ?
A change of masters--that is all ;
Their bones may bleach the plains, not mine
No vote, no peace ! Sharp war we'll wage--
A war of wits, keener than sword,
We'll prove ourselves no barbarous horde,
But men, by every honest gauge,
A mighty power is worth and sense,
No weapons in the strongest hand
Can long successfully withstand
High courage and intelligence.

The revelations respecting the election bribery committed at Yarmouth, Totness, Lancaster, and Reigate are helping to precipitate the crisis. Revelations more astounding, disgusting, or disheartening have seldom been made. They disclose a sad laxity of moral feeling, and almost make one despair of either social or political progress. The venal class of voters belong principally to the shopkeeping class, although not a few of higher station, as well as some belonging to the working class, have been found ready to sell their votes to the highest bidder the exceptions are so few that, when they do occur, they are mentioned as something extraordinary.

Still, the working man has not allowed politics to wholly absorb his attention, but has been devoting a portion of his energy in promoting the success of the Metropolitan and Provincial "Working Classes Industrial exhibition, which as a display, has completely eclipsed all previous working class efforts of the kind. It had been hoped that the working class of Australia would have taken part in the display. but, unfortunately, the expectation was not realised The opening ceremony was most impressive, the choir of one thousand picked voices rendering Dr Spark's music to the " Ode to Labour," a most magnificent manner, thrilling all who heard it, and evoking a perfect storm of applause. The House of Commons was represented on the occasion by Mr. Hanbury. M.P., very few of our Parliamentary representatives remaining in town but it is intended to invite, some two or three weeks hence, about sixty or seventy of them to inspect the exhibition, on which occasion the Ode will be reproduced. During the three weeks that the exhibition has been open it has been visited by upwards of 200,000 persons.

Of the contents of the exhibition, an extended mention will be made a that the popular concerts should be observed that the popular concerts given at the Agricultural Hall, under the direction of the Tonic Sol-fa Association, have had a large share in popularising the exhibition ; showing that when working men have the chance of hearing really good--if not altogether classical--music, they are not in a hurry to neglect the opportunity. The Tonc Sol-fa system has achieved its present position in this country principally through the exertions of Mr. Curwen, who has been ably followed by Mr. Joseph Proudman and Mr Sarle. When it is considered that in the metropolis alone upwards of 20,000 persons are always under instruction by this one system alone, it must be acknowledged that we are becoming a most musical nation.


From the NSW newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday 20 November 1866 p.3.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory