convictMany people who want to migrate to Australia face tough entry restrictions, but it was not so long ago that people were being sent to Australia against their will. On this day 179 years ago, James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, James Loveless, Thomas Standfield and John Standfield were sentenced by Judge Baron John Williams to transportation to Australia, for the offence of swearing oaths to each other to form a Friendly Society.

The six farm labourers, under the leadership of George Loveless, who was a lay preacher, had founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers in 1832 to campaign against lowering of labourers’ wages following the introduction of farm machinery. Trade Unions were legal, so the prosecution was based on a law prohibiting people from swearing oaths to each other. The six were convicted and sent to Australia in 1834.

Subsequently, a petition calling for their release was signed by 800,000 people and a public march was held to show popular support for their cause. The campaign was successful, and five of the six were released in 1836, with four of them returning to England. Most of them subsequently migrated to Canada. There is now a Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum in Dorset commemorating their story and their impact on trade unionism.

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