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RA MP/89/106 February 1834

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Poster issued by the Magistrates of Dorchester in February 1834 condemning membership of ‘Illegal Societies or Unions … which bind themselves by unlawful oaths’, 22 February 1834

This poster was issued by the Magistrates in Dorchester who arrested and tried the members of the Friendly Society of Labourers founded in Tolpuddle. As membership of a trade union was no longer illegal, the aim was to prosecute the men for having taken illegal oaths.

Transportation for seven years was threatened, not only to the men who took the oaths, but also to those who administered the oaths and anyone who knew about the illegal oath-taking but did not report it. In addition, those who corresponded with the Society or permitted it to meet in their house would also initially be liable to a fine, followed by a sentence of three months in the Common Gaol or House of Correction. If they were convicted of a felony by the courts, they could also be transported for seven years.

At this time transportation to one of Britain’s colonies, usually Australia, was a common punishment for many crimes, including ‘petty crimes’ such as stealing a sheep. The convicted persons were sent to penal colonies where, after a period of time of hard labour, they might be able to earn special privileges that allowed them to live a more normal life; many convicts married and settled with their families in Australia.

Transportation from Britain did not end officially until 1868, but by that date it was rarely used. Five of the men from Tolpuddle were sent to a penal colony in New South Wales, while George Loveless was sent to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). This was a terrible punishment for the men. All were later pardoned and returned to England; subsequently all of them, apart from James Hammett, moved to Canada with their families.