Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Standing for Parliament in Cheltenham, 1852

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During my wanderings in the West in 1852, I had the pleasure of visiting the town of Tiverton, rendered famous by being represented by the astute, wily statesman, Lord Palmerston, and rendered still more famous by the candidature of a very different man, George Julian Harney. The latter gentleman was the last of the candidates proposed, and he was nominated by that sterling old democrat, Mr. Rowcliffe, who was a resolute opponent of the 'antiquated cupid'. Lord Palmerston, although first proposed, requested Mr. Harney to speak before him, so as to give him the opportunity of an answer. He was obliged accordingly, and I believe it was generally acknowledged that the noble viscount received a scathing which he was not likely soon to forget, unless, indeed, he acted on the advice which he laid down to Richard Cobden when he invited him to join his Ministry. Cobden objected, and brought to his notice how often they had opposed each other on points of foreign policy. 'My dear Cobden,' said Pam, clapping him on the back, 'you should never think on these things for more than twenty-four hours.' Mr. Harney was the popular candidate, and the show of hands was immensely in his favour; but, of course, he declined going to the poll, as in that case the few would by their votes have overidden the many who had no votes. I addressed a public meeting of 2,000 people from a window looking into the yard of the inn in which Mr. Harney stayed, and was received with much enthusiasm. It was thought that I had come to oppose Lord Palmerston, all the more so as I gave him as good a drubbing as my powers would permit. It was evident that the Whigs were uneasy, for after the meeting up came the local adviser of the noble lord to my room with a very graceful how, and a face anything but pale. He began by praising Lord Palmerston, and asked me if I could deny that he was a very clever man. 'I cannot,' I said. 'But so was Dick Turpin, so was Jack Sheppard, so was Jonathan Wild.' 'Well, but you don't mean to compare him with these men?' 'I don't mean to compare him with anybody. He is a very clever man.' He sounded me as to my intentions with regard to the election, and then went away as wise as before he came.

At Bristol I addressed a meeting, estimated to be 5,000 in number, on Brandon Hill —a spot celebrated for public meetings both in the Reform movement of 1831 and 1832, and subsequently in the Chartist movement, when Henry Vincent launched his vigorous denunciations of class legislation. There, too there seemed to be a fear that I was to be brought out as a Chartist candidate; but this was reserved for one of the more fashionable towns.

I arrived at Cheltenham, where I had been invited to contest the borough. Owing to previous engagements, I only arrived there two nights before the election. I addressed a meeting in a field. My speech was well and almost unanimously received with applause, and it was proposed that I be brought forward as a candidate, which was duly seconded. A gentleman connected with the Cheltenham press rose up in opposition, and moved a resolution in favour of the Hon. Craven Berkeley; but the resolution to propose me was almost unanimously adopted. On the following morning I took breakfast with Mr. Edwin Wilks, and while I was there in came the gentleman who had proposed the resolution on the previous evening in favour. of Mr Berkeley. He implored me, in more piteous tones than I could have employed on any political question, not to go to the hustings; but I did not give way. On the following morning I was sitting quietly at my lodging in the house of my friend Charles Hiscox, when one of the legal agents of Mr. Berkeley did me the honour to pay me a visit. 'Mr. Gammage, I have come to talk to you about the election. I am Mr. Boodle.' 'Very good, sir; what have you to say?' 'I am one of Mr. Berkeley's legal advisers, and I have just called to tell you that, if you persist in being proposed, you have to pay one-third of the hustings' expenses.' Not being utterly unacquainted with the law, I replied, 'I think sir, you are mistaken.' 'I am a lawyer, and ought to know what the law is.' 'Well, sir, I am not a lawyer; but I know what the law is, and I tell you that if I go to the hustings I shall not have to pay a single farthing of the expenses.' 'Well, sir, you may take your own course, but remember the consequences to those poor fellows who propose and second you.' 'It is all right, there will be no consequences.' The legal gentleman bowed and left. On the morning of the nomination, my proposer, Mr. Hiscox, and my seconder, Mr. Gardner, went with me to the hustings. The latter had left a sick bed rather than that I should not have a seconder, of which he was evidently doubtful, unless he were there. When we got to the stairs leading to the hustings, a policeman barred the way. 'You cannot pass', said the official quickly replied, 'I am a candidate for Cheltenham. This is Mr. Hiscox, my proposer, and this is Mr. Gardner, my seconder.' The policeman admitted us with, I must say, true courtesy. The Whigs saw our approach, but did not admit us to their part of the hustings. The Tories invited us without effect. I was introduced to the returning officer, who, with real good old English cordiality, invited me with my proposer and seconder, into his compartment, and thus I stood until the time for action arrived. I was duly proposed and seconded, and then came the speeches. Mr. Berkeley spoke amid loud cheers and groans. Sir Willoughby Jones shared a similar fate. Then came my turn. I had had such frequent open-air speaking before that time that I was thoroughly hoarse, and ten thousand people were before me. By advice of a friend I had previously taken a dose of elixir of vitriol in a little water. Whether the medicine had any effect I cannot determine; but after I had spoken five minutes my voice was clear, and I spoke for more than half an hour amid the silence of my opponents and the cheers of my friends. The multitude, standing ten thousand deep under the rays of a truly summer sun, began to manifest signs of impatience, and, not being utterly destitute of discretion. I soon concluded almost as glad as the people before me, and somewhat pitying them that they had to stand so long. And now came the show of hands. The majority of my friends held up for Berkeley, and of course for me; but the majority was declared to be in favour of Mr. Willoughby Jones. The reporter who had previously interviewed me looked up with an eye of reproach which I must candidly say I did not much feel the effects of. In the afternoon, I was invited to address a meeting on behalf of Mr. Berkeley. I replied that all I could do was to speak on behalf of the Charter, and I attended the meeting and spoke. While I was doing so, a rough man in the crowd—not a total abstainer, I am sure—was preparing to throw a stone; but just as he raised his hand, a woman in the crowd arrested his arm, and I was saved from what might have been a fracture of the skull. Woman, whether refined or otherwise, is generally on the side of justice and mercy. In the evening I was waited upon at the house of my friend and host, Mr. Hiscox, by a deputation from an association distinct from the one which brought me forward, and which was composed of devoted friends and admirers of Mr. Harney. They came to express their thanks for my speech at the hustings. They highly complimented me for the courage I displayed, and we had a very cordial and intelligent conversation. The deputation consisted of Mr. John Hemmin, a noble and intellectual man; Mr. Edward W. Shatland, a boot and shoe maker, now a bookseller; and Mr. W.E. Adams , who has achieved more than a local fame, and more than an English fame, by his work on America. So ended my little episode in Cheltenham for that time.

I was about three months in the West of England and Wales, and, despite all the hard work, through open air exercise and sea-bathing, a salutary influence was produced. I never omitted to get a bath in the sea whenever it was practicable, and I quite believe that my three months in the West of England and Wales saved my life, which, before I left Buckingham, seemed to me to hang on a very slender thread. But hope, blessed hope, of which Campbell sings so sweetly, ever bore me on, and bears me on to this day. Amid all the disappointments of life, whether political or otherwise, I say to every good man, Hope, hope, hope, and if it be possible, work, in order that your hope may be realized!

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, January 12 1884

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