Resource : Silhouette of Thomas Muir

Thomas Muir was a radical, who campaigned for political reform in Scotland. He was eventually accused of sedition and transported to Australia, following one of the most notorious and controversial trials in Scottish history. He became known as the father of Scottish democracy and one of Scotland’s five ‘political martyrs’.

Resource : Tokens given by mothers to their children on leaving them at the Foundling Hospital

This is a selection of tokens from mothers who, unable to keep their babies, left them at the Foundling Hospital in London. They highlight the plight of single mothers and destitute families unable to care for their children and are a poignant reminder of the growing poverty crisis as cities became more heavily industrialised and workers more mobile during the Age of Revolution. Many babies were left anonymously by their mothers, along with a token to identify them, in the hope that they might be reunited in the future.

Resource : The Rajah Quilt

Transportation was an extremely harsh punishment of the 1700s and 1800s, second only to execution. Between 1787 and 1852 as many as 25,000 women were transported from Britain to Australia to work in penal colonies, for crimes as varied as petty theft and poaching, to murder. Their sentences were often miscarriages of justice. Many didn’t survive the long journey. Most of them never returned. This remarkable quilt was made by women transportedto Tasmania in 1841.

Resource : Skelmanthorpe Flag

The 1800s saw a series of protests and uprisings in Britain, as people campaigned against slavery, unjust taxes and laws imposed by the government and in support of fair wages, the right to vote and to have their voices heard in parliament. Protest flags, posters and banners carrying radical slogans were a popular way for campaigners to get their message across at marches and rallies, and to cooperate without endangering individuals. The Skelmanthorpe flag was created in secret, in Huddersfield, initially to honour the victims of what became known as the Peterloo Massacre, in 1819.

Resource : Jeremiah Brandreth pot

The Pentrich Rising was a small armed rebellion initiated by political radicals in the Midlands in 1817, which they hoped would spread far and wide and bring about revolutionary changes to the structure of government and society. Deliberately infiltrated and partly provoked by government spies, the uprising was a failure, and the marchers scattered. The ringleaders were eventually caught and made an example of, through gruesome execution. The episode shared much in common with the coordinated protests that preceded it (the Luddites) and those that followed, including Peterloo. It exposed the tensions and frustrations within British society in the context of post-war economic unrest.

Resource : William Wilberforce speaking out against slavery in the House of Lords

The movement to abolish the Transatlantic slave trade was a long and difficult struggle. Campaigners for abolition used every means they could, including sugar boycotts, meetings, petitions, publications, and circulating images showing its shameful nature, to bring the issue to people’s attention in Europe. Enslaved Africans played an essential part, having long resisted their enslavement and treatment through ‘go-slows’, revolts, intellectual and religious claims, and demonstrable capacity to retain and transmit their African or creole (mixed) cultures and languages. Escaped or freed slaves forced judges and social elites to confront the issue through court cases, publications, and performances. Propelled by much of this pressure and evidence, William Wilberforce led the long political campaign to outlaw the slave trade in Britain.

Resource : Thomas Clarkson’s campaign chest

Between the 1500s and early 1800s, millions of Africans were kidnapped, sold and transported to the Americas to work as slaves, in unimaginably cruel conditions, on hugely profitable plantations, producing sugar, tobacco and other commodities. These plantations were largely owned by Europeans and Euro-Americans. Britain grew rich on the profits from this transatlantic slave trade, which were reinvested into other economic sectors. Only in the late eighteenth century did public opinion slowly begin to turn against the trade in Africans, and campaigners for abolition used every way they could to bring the issue to people’s attention in Europe.

Resource : Newgate prison door

Newgate Prison was located on Newgate Street in the City of London, on the site where the famous court, The Old Bailey, now stands. The prison was notorious for its appalling, overcrowded, cruel and unsanitary conditions. It housed a range of prisoners, including men, women and children, from those convicted of minor offenders to those awaiting execution. It would be outside Newgate’s gates that the last British prisoners to suffer beheading took place, when five revolutionary ringleaders accused of a conspiracy to assassinate the Cabinet were executed on 1 May 1820.

Resource : Figures by Chelsea Waterworks, London, observing the fires of the Gordon Riots, 7 June 1780

The Gordon Riots were a series of anti-Catholic protests which took place in London between 2 and 9 June, 1780. The protests began peacefully but descended into chaos. Crowds paralysed the city with an unparalleled level of violence, with rioters attacking and setting fire to official buildings and people’s homes. The riots are considered by some historians as being the closest Britain has ever come to a full-scale revolution, and shocked fellow European powers.

Resource : Five objects from I object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent

September 7, 2018 - Richard Moss

Ian Hislop has been on a mission to find stories of dissent, subversion and satire hidden within the vast collections of the British Museum for a new exhibition I object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent. Showcasing over 100 objects that challenge the official version of events and defy established narratives, the items span three millennia […]