The Romance of the ‘Whig Dungeon’


This long essay is an updated chapter from my PhD thesis (University of New England, 2000). It examines the rhetoric and symbolism of the radical propaganda mobilised around Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor at his trial for seditious libel at York in 1840, his imprisonment at York Castle and the extensive celebrations that followed his release from prison (dressed in a fustian suit) in 1841. Chartism’s political fortunes traditionally have been attributed to material deprivation and, more recently, the first revival of the movement in 1841–42 to the organisational innovation that accompanied the formation of the National Charter Association in 1840. I argue that the ‘romance of the “Whig dungeon”’ constructed around O’Connor’s travails was also a significant factor of renewal in this instance. Continue reading “The Romance of the ‘Whig Dungeon’”

William Kilburn’s 1848 Chartist Daguerreotypes

William Kilburn's Daguerreotype photo of the Chartist meeting at Kennington Common on 10 April 1848
Figure 1: William Edward Kilburn, Great Chartist meeting at Kennington, 10 April 1848. Source: Royal Collection Trust.
Early photograph of Chartist meeting at Kennington Common in 1848.
Figure 2: William Edward Kilburn, Great Chartist meeting at Kennington (second image), 10 April 1848. Source: Royal Collection Trust.

Remarkably, a pioneering photographic record survives of the culmination of one of the most significant days in England’s nineteenth-century political history—William Kilburn’s fascinating Daguerreotypes (Figures 1 and 2 above) of the Chartist mass meeting held at Kennington Common (now Kennington Park), London on 10 April 1848.1William Edward Kilburn, ‘The Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, 10 April 1848’ [two Daguerreotypes], Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 2932484 and RCIN 2932482. Among the earliest photographs of a crowd, these historic images of a demonstration widely feared of precipitating insurrection have received occasional attention from scholars since they were rediscovered in the Royal Collection in the late 1970s; however, surprisingly little detailed analysis has been published to date.2See, for example, David Goodway, London Chartism, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 141–42. Continue reading “William Kilburn’s 1848 Chartist Daguerreotypes”