On the 16th August 1819, a huge crowd of people gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester to hear Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt and other noted radical speakers calling for parliamentary reform. At least 17 people would die of injuries received on the day, and around 700 suffered serious wounds at the hands of local armed forces. There was a popular outcry, and the radical press named the incident the ‘Peterloo Massacre’, a mocking reference to the Battle of Waterloo.
This satirical cartoon shows the armed forces (the Manchester Yeomanry) attacking men, women and children in the crowd. One of them is pointing his sabre at a woman. Her little boy says “Oh pray Sir, doan’t Kill Mammy, she only came to see Mr Hunt.” Another Yeoman says “Cut him [the boy] down, Cut him down.”
Henry Hunt, a radical who campaigned for parliamentary reform to open elections up to more people, is standing on the platform in the background, holding his hat. He’s saying: “Shame, Shame, Murder, Murder, Massacree [sic].” Hunt is supported by two others who are also saying “Shame.” One of them is holding a banner with a Liberty cap – a powerful symbol of revolution at the time – on the top of the pole.
George Cruikshank (1792–1878) was one of Britain’s most renowned and prolific illustrators during the Age of Revolution. He is known for his satirical caricatures – both of political issues and everyday life. He also illustrated novels, including Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens in which he created the iconic image of Oliver asking for more, much to the astonishment of the workhouse master.
Did you know..?
Cruikshank and Dickens were close friends, but fell out with each other later in life. In a letter to The Times in 1871, Cruikshank claimed that Dickens had stolen the plot of Oliver Twist from him.
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Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.