Peter Berresford Ellis
the Jacobite rising of 75 years previously the action of 1820 came
directly from Scotland’s working people and was wholly unrelated to
the power struggles of aristocratic and social elites.
Economic and Social Conditions
The main driving force was economic.
Britain had been in a state of war with revolutionary and Napoleonic
France for almost 25 years and when this finally ended at Waterloo in
1815 the economic consequences were enormous.
Large numbers of ex-service personnel
were released into a labour market already shrinking due both to the
technological change of the industrial revolution and the disappearance
of continental markets behind the French embargo on British goods.
No Right to Vote
Without pensions or any state social
security the condition of thousands was desperate. There was no
possibilitv of changing the government since the franchise was
restricted to the propertied classes.
In Scotland substantial numbers of
working people decided on armed insurrection against the British state.
Ideologically they were motivated, at a time when serious socialist
thinking remained undeveloped, by the republican ideas of the American
and French revolutions, by the writings of Thomas Paine and the
egalitarian poetry of Robert Burns. James Wilson, one of the oldest of
the 1820 radicals, probably knew Thomas Muir, the Glasgow-born advocate
who had attempted to get military assistance from revolutionary France
in 1795 to establish a Scottish republic.
Battle of Bonnymuir
The immediate military objective of the
rising was the capture of the armaments factory at the Carron Ironworks
near Falkirk. The radicals were however intercepted by the British army
at Bonnymuir and routed. Three of its leaders, James Wilson of
Strathaven, John Baird of Condorrat and Andrew Hardie of
Glasgow were hanged. Nineteen others were transported to
Murder of Peaceful Protestors
In Greenock the British army fired into a
peaceful demonstration protesting against the presence of political
prisoners in the town jail, killing eleven men, women and children and
seriously injuring dozens of others. No court martial or public enquiry
whatsoever followed the tragedy. There is no memorial, street name, or
any commemoration whatsoever in Greenock to these working class martyrs.
This remains one of the 1820 Society’s main projects.
Originally founded in 1969 as the ‘1820
Comemoration Committee’, the Society exists precisely in order to
publicise and commemorate the Scottish Radical Insurrection of 1820.
It carries out its commemorative function
by holding Annual Rallies at the three 1820 Monuments at Sighthill
Cemetery. Glasgow, burial ground of Baird and Hardie, at Strathaven,
home town and last resting place of James Wilson, and at Woodside
Throughout the 1970s the
Society was kept going by its principal founding father, John Murphy,
now an Honorary Vice-President. In 1984 it was reconstituted - with
Jack Fuller as Chairman, Ian Bayne as Secretary, and
Renfrew District councillor, Jim Mitchell, now also an Honorary
Vice-President, as Press Officer.
In 1985 the new Committee launched a
financial appeal for the Renovation of the sadly dilapidated Sighthill
Monument. It raised almost £5,000, a sum matched by a further £5,000
from Glasgow District Council.
October 1986 the renovated Memorial was unveiled by pupils from the
nearby Sighthill Primary School - in the presense of invited civic
dignatories and political and Trade Union representatives.
In 1989 the Society welcomed the
publication of the paperback edition of the only full-length account of
the Rising. ‘The Scottish Insurrection of 1820’ by Peter Berresford
Ellis and Seumas Mac A’Ghobhainn. Its surviving co-author, Peter
Berresford Ellis was elected Honorary President. In the same year the
society also purchased a new Banner.
In 1990 – the 170th anniversary
year of the Rising – as a culmination of extensive representation made
by the Society a new headstone was erected by East Kilbride District
Council at the probable site of James Wilson’s hitherto unmarked grave
in Strathaven Cemetary.
And in 1992 Glasgow City Council erected
a plaque on the Sighthill Memorial in memory of the 19 Scottish Radicals
transported to Australia for their part in the 1820 Rising – with the
Society itself bearing half of the cost.
James Wilson: The
James Wilson was a weaver, an artisan, an
educated man. He died in 1820. Born in 1760, he lived during a period
when the poor were without liberty or guarantees of life; when all
expressions of desire for change and every aspiration towards democracy
were ruthlessly crushed. Wilson has been a radical all his life. He has
been prominent in the Friends of the People, set up in the 1790s to
achieve political reform. After the Napoleonic Wars, there was an
economic slump. The country was seething with rebellion. The government
decided to act by flushing out leading radicals. Wilson was to be caught
in their trap.
Induced by a belief that a radical army
of 7,000 had assembled outside Glasgow, he led, in April 1820, a group
of 23 armed men from Strathaven with a banner declaring: ‘Scotland
Free or a Desert’. By the time he reached Kilbride he was informed of
the true situation , and returned home. Arrested, he was tried for
treason and executed in Glasgow on 30th August.
At his trial Wilson, realising his fate
was sealed, that he could obtain no justice from his condemners,
appealed to posterity to do justice to his name, as a martyr "in
glorious cause of liberty."
Wilson is buried in Strathaven. A
headstone, erected in 1990, marks his grave. A monument from 1846 also
stands in his honour.
The Society holds marches every year to
the Martyrs Memorials at Strathaven, Paisley and Glasgow. These were
formerly held by the Chartists and subsequently by the Independent
Labout Party. They lapsed for many years until revived by the 1820
You can join the 1820 Society by sending
a membership fee of £5 waged / £2 unwaged to William Douglas,
Membership Secretary, 1820 Society, 252 Nether Auldhouse Road, Glasgow,
Web Site Here
here to read the book - The 1820 Rising - by James Halliday