Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Great Chartist Rally

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William Kilburn opened his portrait studio on London’s Regent Street in 1846. He was commissioned to make daguerreotype portraits of the Royal Family between 1846 and 1852 as the Royal Photographer, and was awarded a prize medal for his photographs at the 1851 Great Exhibition.

On 10th April 1848, he took some daguerrotypes of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common–these taken from the top of The Horns were the first ever photos of a crowd scene. It was the Springtime of the Nations; the continent was in political and social turmoil. In England, the Chartists who took their name from Magna Carta were the first British national working class movement. The movement touched every aspect of people’s lives and included women’s groups, Catholics, Protestants and Freethinkers. Their meetings had a carnival-like atmosphere and this turned out to be quite problematic at their ‘monster’ rallies for their petition for rights.

After tumults and turmoil on the Continent, the tensions were high on that April morning–there were those who feared that civil strife would break out. Between April 6th and 10th, extra troops were brought to the capital and the authorities enlisted 170,000 special constables, Sir Robert Peel, William Ewart Gladstone. Prince Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III), about half the House of Lords and an immense number of middle-class volunteers among them. The Queen was evacuated to the Isle of Wight, while the Iron Duke Wellington was brought out from retirement to defend London. The army threatened to intervene if the Chartists attempt cross the Thames towards the Parliament.

However, on 10th, instead of the half million expected, only about twenty to thirty thousand Chartists demonstrated, and there was little violence. Of the two million signatures on the petition, about one-fifth are said to have been bogus—Punch noted that if they had all been genuine, the Chartist procession should have been headed by the Queen and seventeen Dukes of Wellington (Other funny signatures included No Cheese, Pugface and Mr. Punch). A be-garlanded carriage was need to transport the petition with its million signatures to the Parliament. The Parliament duly accepted it and promptly ignored it. (If the petition was ignored, the Chartist plan was to create a rival national assembly and force the Queen to dissolve parliament). Although it failed dismally as a national movement on that April day, five of the six points in the petitions were adopted by 1918.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 7, 2009 at 6:38 pm

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