William Cuffay on trial

With the breaking of the Orange Tree conspiracy in the summer of 1848, the London Chartist William Cuffay was arrested, tried and sentenced to be transported to Australia.

The charge

“William Lacey, Thomas Fay, and William Cuffey, were indicted, for that they, with others, feloniously did compass, imagine, devise, and intend, to levy war against the Queen, in order by force and constraint to compel her to change her councils, and that they did evidence that compassing, &c., by divers overt acts set forth in the indictment: – 2nd COUNT, for a like compassing, with intent to depose the Queen from the style, honour, and dignity of the Imperial Crown, &c.”
Source: Court Report

Cuffay’s speech

“I say you have no right to sentence me. Although the trial has lasted a long time, it has not been a fair trial, and my request to have a fair trial – to be tried by my equals – has not been complied with. Everything has been done to raise a prejudice against me, and the press of this country – and I believe of other countries too – has done all in its power to smother me with ridicule. I ask no pity. I ask no mercy. I expected to be convicted, and I did not think of anything else. But I don’t want any pity. No, I pity the Government, and I pity the Attorney General for convicting me by means of such base characters. The Attorney General ought to be called the Spy General, and by using such men is a disgrace to the Government; but they only exist by such means. I am quite innocent. My locality never sent any delegates at all, and I had nothing to do with the luminaries. I have a right to complain of the other spy, Davis, being kept back till the last moment. It is to my having a loaded pistol – and I only carried it for my protection, as my life had been threatened. This, for martyrdom, but after what I have endured this week, I feel that I could bear any punishment proudly, even to the scaffold. This new Act of Parliament is disgraceful, and I am proud to be the first victim of it, after the glorious Mitchell. Every good Act was set aside in Parliament. Everything that was likely to do any good to the working class was either thrown out or postponed; but a measure to restrain their liberties would be passed in a few hours.”
Source: History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1854, by R.G.Gammage

Passing sentence

Sentencing, the judge, Baron Platt told the convicted men:

“The Jury have come to the only conclusion at which they could have arrived. No reasonable men could doubt for an instant that, after the scene of the 15th of August, on the evening when the ribbons were given out and the order of assemblage for the next night was directed, you and each of you, when the shades of night were descended upon this metropolis, intended that a course of burning, of murder and of robbery, should surround this unfortunate city, if it had been so unfortunate as that your guilty purposes had not been discovered. That was the primary object you had in view; and a secondary, no doubt, was that you might assume the government of this country and govern things in your own way. Is this to be endured? And when men are brought within the law and are about to answer for the breach of it, to defy the law? But your defiance would make no difference in the judgment of the Court, and, if it were possible to extend mercy to any of you, wild and insane as you seem to be, that mercy should be extended.

“But I cannot conceive that the Court would be performing its duty to the country if, when such offences as these were brought home to criminals such as yourselves, it should pass on them a slight punishment, and should not make an example, a severe example of all those who are brought within the pale of the law.

“The sentence of the Court upon each of you is that for the offence of which you have been respectively convicted, you be transported beyond the seas to such place as her Majesty, by the advice of her Privy Council, shall direct and appoint, for the term of your natural lives.”
Source: Court Report