Duke of Newcastle’s diary, 1848

Henry Pelham-Clinton, fourth Duke of Newcastle, was an Ultra Tory who had opposed parliamentary reform in 1832. During 1848, he recorded his thoughts on Chartism in his diaries.

Henry Pelham-Clinton, fourth Duke of Newcastle, 1785-1851.
Henry Pelham-Clinton, fourth Duke of Newcastle, 1785-1851. Illustrated London News.

Henry Pelham-Clinton (1785-1851), the Fourth Duke of Newcastle, was, by all accounts, a thoroughly unpleasant man.

Violently reactionary in his attitudes to political reform, he formed part of the Tory “Ultra” group that stood to the right even of the Duke of Wellington and his supporters, and among other causes opposed Catholic emancipation and the reform of Parliament – where he controlled a number of seats.

Newcastle was Lord Lieutenant of Nottingham and Steward of Sherwood Forest, but was not much loved by those over whom he held sway. In 1831, in the political turmoil that swept the country as the struggle for the Great Reform Act reached its climax, Nottingham Castle, which belonged to the Duke was burnt to the ground (see picture below).

Newcastle insisted on compensation – and then pocketed the cash rather than rebuilding the castle. 

Here are extracts from his diary for 1848.

9 March The mob have proceeded about the Town for two days breaking windows & lamps & breaking open & stealing from the shops. There were several affrays with the Police, who have always been victors. The Soldiers were not required. This business is nearly if not quite at an end now but a very large meeting is announced for Monday 13th on Kennington Common – when it is supposed that the rabble will endeavour under some paltry leaders, a Mr Reynolds & some others, to make a great demonstration. Doubtless they will give a good deal of trouble, but the well-disposed are so active that the rabble can effect nothing but temporary mischief.

14 March The meeting at Kennington Common, from which so much was expected went off without any tumult up to the time of the post leaving. The reports say that there [were] not above 4000 people present. Mr Reynolds as before harangued the people but did not make much impression.

31 March At Nottingham, a chartist meeting has been held at which speeches of the worst & most revolutionary description were uttered. It seems that there is to be a meeting of Chartists in London on the 3rd April to be called the National Convention, to which delegates are to be sent from all parts of the Country, & it was stated at Nottingham that they mean to declare themselves permanent & do great things. I have little doubt of their doing their utmost to effect the largest quantity of mischief.

7 April Ministers are acting well & vigorously, they have made extensive & well devized plans in preparation to meet any thing which may happen on the 10th at the great Chartist meeting. They have also brought in a bill for the better protection of the Crown & Govt of the United Kingdom & are showing the most praiseworthy determination to resist republicanism & disorganisation, & to secure order & tranquillity.

8 April Charles has been hurried away from the society of his future bride & has been ordered up to London where he will arrive tomorrow to join his regiment – it is very hard upon him poor fellow as he had only been in Scotland 4 or 5 whole days. All the troops that are any where near to London have been ordered up in case of accident, altho’ after all there will not be above 10,000 men. But the great reliance will be on the Police & constabulary force which will be made to act in the first instance & if required aided by the military force. This is quite the right mode, & meets with the most strenuous support from all classes & has brought out the best & noblest feelings from all well thinking men. All have stepped forward & have been sworn Special Constables. Nobles, gentlemen, the middle-classes, professional men of all kinds, shopkeepers, working men, everybody. A most admirable spirit prevails & by God’s will we shall be secure.

9 April The last weeks have made me think deeply & reflect upon the past & the future. For myself . . . I have come to the conclusion that tomorrow may decide the future fate of England & be indicative of God’s will towards us – as other Nations & Kings have been sacrificed to the first burst of popular action almost without a struggle so may we, if such be God’s decree, so that if we are respited that may be a warning to us & a token that we are not to be afflicted to the same degree as other nations.

10 April This is Monday & no post from London. I had made arrangements to receive advices from all quarters if any thing were happening today within a circle of 30 miles around the place – but I am informed this evening that all is quiet up to 2 o’clock. A traveller brought an account to Worksop that at some station which he passed news had been received from London by telegraph that all was quiet at 12 o’clock. I shall most anxiously open the newspapers tomorrow morning.

I was informed today that at Sutton in the neighbourhood of Mansfield, the wretches were so bent on mischief that they had bought from the pawnbrokers all the fire arms & other arms that they had by them, & would have bought more if procurable – lead they have taken wherever they could find it – ripping up the gutters & cisterns & every leaden thing for bullets. Hereabouts they will probably wait the issue of the proceedings in London & regulate themselves accordingly

If numbers shall be wanting I have determined to call together my tenantry & others, arm them as well as I can & instantly march at their head to succour or attack as circumstances may require. The most admirable spirit prevails here as elsewhere.

11 April The boasted meeting which was to carry all before it has vanished, not into thin air perhaps, but into the smoky air of London. The Standard states that not above 10,000 at the utmost could have been present. Some inflammatory speeches were made by the leaders, when a Police Constable went up to O’Connor & spoke to him when O’Connor informed the people that he had been desired to desist, & advised the meeting to disperse quietly as resistance would be unwise as they were unarmed. At another time if they wished to resist the govt they must come armed. The crowd then dispersed & the petition which Mr Feargus O’Connor said was signed by more than 5,000,000 was rather unceremoniously taken from the stately van & 8 horses & bundled into 3 cabs & sent there to the H of Commons – where shortly after the knavish O’Connor presented it to the house – & there was an end of this grand bravado. Everything was quiet afterwards. O’Connor & the leaders are accused by the Chartists of treachery . . . In this county all went off quietly the same at Liverpool & Manchester & presumably elsewhere, but they talk of all meeting again in a few days. I hope that this will not be permitted & the absolute repression of them is called for by all, even by the Manchester people, who entertain a strange dislike to being robbed & plundered themselves altho’ they have no feeling for others.

And now I thank God that he has disposed to avert mischief from our land, & may we be sensible of the inestimable blessing & so may we as a Nation so order ourselves that we may become an acceptable people in His sight & a glorious example of a righteous Nation – eschewing Evil & cleaving to what is good.

13 April The Chartist petition to the H of Commons has been discovered to be a gross & insulting fraud upon the House. There are hundreds & thousands of pretended signatures in the names of various persons, such as the Queen, Prince Albert etc & then all sorts of low filthy & obscure words. In short this famed petition of 5 millions, does not contain, such as they are, more than about 1 1/2 millions & very many of them such as above described. By this all self respect has been forfeited, & I trust that on this account the petition will be indignantly rejected by the House.

June 1 The Chartist meetings are becoming very troublesome not that we know any thing of them in this part of the Town for they meet in Clerkenwell to the amount of some thousands – but they require much watching both by police & soldiers. At Bradford there has been a very serious affair, & the rioters were very difficult to beat.

2 June In the H of Lords notice was taken of the tumultuous assemblies holden every night in the eastern parts of this metropolis – disturbance of the peace, good order, & mercantile transactions of the inhabitants. The Police, special constables & soldiers have been out every night of the week – amongst only Peers the D of Wellington called upon ministers to put down this nuisance, & suggested two modes either to prevent assemblage by dispersion before meeting, or else to make the ring leaders personally responsible for all damage done & for all delinquency either by word or deed. Ld Lansdowne promised that the evil should be put down. It is time that it should, the citizens complain of it bitterly.

3 June The Chartists have been out every night this week & today (being Sunday) they were out by ten o’clock & continued to hold meetings throughout the day in various parts of the town. The Police had to be on the alert throughout the day & had some very sharp affrays with them. On one occasion they broke all the windows of a Church. Their conduct has been very scandalous & they give out that they shall go on until they have worn out the authorities & shall have carried their point. The desecration of the Sabbath is a new practice in English outrage. They say openly that in Whitsun week they shall make such a dramatic time throughout the Kingdom as the like has never been seen before.

7 June A man of the name of Jones, a Chartist orator & firebrand, & another have been arrested. Their language has been so outrageous that there can be but little doubt that they will soon follow to the penal Colonies. Yesterday & the day before these miscreants have not shewn themselves as they announced – possibly they may think it advisable not to meet the police until they may be better organised & prepared.

8 June Several more of these miscreant Chartist leaders & orators have been arrested. They are all upon their guard just now & since the beginning of this week have been very quiet – but I suspect that they are now waiting for any opportunity, it is expected that on the 12th they will show themselves in many places. Great preparations are making to meet them whenever they may appear – for the first time they are secret as to their intentions – which appears the more like earnest.

10 June It is intimated to us that the Govt & the Vestry are very desirous that special constables should be made & sworn in – & that we should send our Servants for that purpose, also go ourselves if we do not object to it. I sent many of my servants & they went with great good will & alacrity. I myself went to the office & enquired of the magistrate whether if I were to be sworn in I could be excused from ordinary work, & might only be called upon when danger threatened & there was a foe to meet. He told me that he thought no exceptions could be made & that I could not be excused if others were called out. He mentioned a report that tomorrow (Sunday) the Specials would be called upon to do the duty of the Police who were to have rest to better able to undergo the probable fatigues of Whit Monday. This scared me & I retired telling that if on Monday (12) I found that there was really likely to be a great stir, I should probably call upon him to be sworn a special constable. I will do so if occasion requires, but I have no taste for acting Police watchman in the streets.

12 June I am now writing at past 7 o’clk. I have heard of no disturbances anywhere, & I was told today that telegraphic accounts had been received from all the great northern [towns] there had been meetings, but all had gone off quietly & the mobs had dispersed. A meeting was conducting near Mr. O’Neil’s by Westbourne Grove – but since 10 o’clock it has so absolutely poured with rain that no mob would like to be washed by it.

13 June Not the slightest disturbance or appearance of disturbance occurred yesterday & today every where all has been equally quiet. The Chartists have taken us in most completely – & if they ever intend to do anything, it will now not be attempted except when we may be entirely off our guard.

31 Dec Here ends the most extraordinary & eventful year that has occurred since the coming of our Saviour. The rapid fulfilment of prophecy is most marked & indubitable & is but a small beginning of more immense events yet to come. For these may God in his infinite mercy prepare us individually & nationally.

Source: 1848: Extracts from the diaries of the fourth Duke of Newcastle, Archives Department of the University of Nottingham. Published by Open University in “Arts: A Third Level Course. The Revolutions of 1848”, Unit 3, Document Collection, pp. 108-09.

His papers are held at the University of Nottingham.