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The Chartist Prisoners

The Radical Lives of Thomas Cooper (1805-1892) and Arthur O’Neill (1819-1896)

Stephen Roberts

This book recovers the stories of two remarkable Victorian working men. Thomas Cooper and Arthur O’Neill were both imprisoned for seditious offences in 1843. The friendship they formed in Stafford Gaol lasted for fifty years. These two men wanted to be remembered as Chartist prisoners – but, talented and energetic, they also made their marks in other areas. Cooper was the author of a famous poem, The Purgatory of Suicides, and of novels; he knew well Thomas Carlyle and Charles Kingsley, and came into contact with Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Dickens. Later in life he became a lecturer in defence of Christianity. O’Neill worked with Joseph Sturge and Henry Richard for peace and international arbitration, attending a number of international peace conferences. An important contribution to Chartist studies, this book also examines in detail artisan literary activity, pacifism and Christian apologetics in Victorian Britain.
Contents: Chartist leaders and Chartist strategies – The strikes of 1842 – The books that nineteenth century working class autodidacts read – Life in the early Victorian prison – Victorian working class intellectual life, journalism and poetry – The influence of freethought and D.F. Strauss amongst the Victorian working class – Christian apologetics and the case against Darwinism – Pacifism, international arbitration and the avoidance of war in late Victorian Britain.