England History. The Luddites and the Combination Acts

Report of Luddite activity in Yorkshire, 1812

Source: University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth;
Earl Fitzwilliam to Viscount Sidmouth, 25 July 1812, Fitzwilliam MSS; in A. Aspinall and E. Anthony Smith, eds., English Historical Documents, XI, 1783-1832, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 532-33. Earl Fitzwilliam was Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding and reports here to the Home Office.

... Having yesterday had occasion to converse with different persons, I have the satisfaction of reporting that I am very confident the country is not in that alarming state it has been supposed to be. That there is combinations for mischievous purposes, there can be no doubt: most recent events corroborate that belief - the sweeping off every gun at Clifton proves a system of enquiry, and means of information: the manner in which the business was done, proves also a great degree of tactic in execution: but it goes no further than in the execution of robbery: it shews no symptom of preparation for resisting men in arms, military bodies - the very means they seem desirous of obtaining, that is guns, will never render them formidable against firelocks — moreover, the reports of nocturnal training and drilling, when one comes to close quarters on the subject, and to enquire for evidence of fact, dwindles down to nothing; they are the offspring of fear, quite imaginary, and mere invention.

I do not mean to say, that parties of Luddites have not been met travelling from place to place, and perhaps marshalled in some degree of order, but that there is no evidence whatever, that any one person has yet established the fact of their having been assembled and drilling in a military way - as far as negative evidence can go, I think, the contrary seems established.

Nevertheless combination indisputably exists, very formidable to property and persons: most probably entered into originally for the destruction of that species of property, machinery in manufacture, and afterwards directed against the persons of the proprietors of that species of property as one means of its destruction, through the medium of intimidation. This is a very serious evil, and one, to which we must direct all our attention, the best mode of meeting it I believe to be, by anti-combination, if I may so express myself i.e. by associations, as recommended by Mr. Ryder - this system has not been sufficiently pursued: in great towns it has been, with complete effect, but the lesser ones have not felt the ability of establishing the system, and moreover have not always recognized the necessity - they don’t give credit to the danger, till they feel the evil. It is in the contemplation of the Lieutenancy to go out by committees into the different districts, in the hopes of spiriting up the people to put themselves into this sort of defensive array-more can hardly be done.

I took the liberty of recommending to your Lordship the case of Mr. Cartwright, who three months ago defended his mills with such laudable resolution: it would be a very acceptable thing in this country, if this man was noticed by Government, in the way the letter I put into your Lordship’s hand pointing out, or in any other, that can be found for him [sic.]: he is a man of ability, activity, and would be an useful servant to the public in many situations. His present circumstances are grievous to him: his property the object of daily destruction, his person the butt of assassination. He is anxious to remove from such a situation. What the danger of assassination is your Lordship will readily collect from the readiness with which this abominable banditti fires on every occasion. Though no resistance was made to them at Clifton, though every inhabitant yielded instant obedience to the demand of his gun, they fired into several houses. Again a party of them passing lately late at night through a village, upon a man saying they were Luddites, instantly a ball was fired at his head - your Lordship has just now before you the sad case of Hinchliffe - his murder attempted most premeditatedly, for having presumed to mention an attempt to swear him in as a Luddite. Depositions having been made to the fact, and particulars sworn to, it is hoped by the Lieutenancy that Government will offer a reward for the apprehension of the parties, but one of the two originally present having run away before the pistol was fired, it is also hoped, a pardon will be offered to the accomplice.