The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown

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The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: The true story of a young man deported to Australia in 1834 for joining a trade union.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Five Leaves
ISBN: 978-1905512775

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In 1834, six men from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle were deported to Australia for their trade union activities. This book, written in a very simple style for children, tells the true story of what happened to them, the politics of their arrest and deportation and the campaign by trade unionists and other supporters of trade union rights to overturn their convictions.

Brown focuses on one of the youngest men, 21 year old James Brine, and tells the story mainly from his viewpoint, making it more personal and accessible. They were all farm workers. James was courting the daughter of another deportee. Landowners had pushed pay down at that point to a level which wasn’t a living wage. They were keen to suppress the trade unions springing up to ask for better pay.

Unions were not illegal at this time, but James Brine and his friends had a little ceremony where they promised to work together for the good of the union – this was considered to be swearing a secret oath. James had invited a couple of other young men to the meeting, who unfortunately turned out to be spies. There was a law against secret oaths, and the workers were convicted under this law. The judge stated very clearly at their trial that the punishment was intended for the sake of example – the intention was to frighten anyone thinking of joining a union out of doing so.

The six were deported to Australia, enduring a horrible voyage. Back in England, the local landowner took every opportunity of further punishing their families, already deprived of their main breadwinners. However, in London, a group of trade unionists set up a campaign for the Martyrs to be pardoned, and over 50,000 people marched to take a petition to the Home Secretary. In 1835 they found a sympathetic ear with a new Home Secretary with a belief in human rights and the need for reform, who took up the argument that some of the richest and most powerful in the land swore secret oaths as Freemasons. The Martyrs were pardoned and eventually they were able to come home.

I had heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs before I read this book, but I learned a lot more about their story from this short book, written in quite simple and accessible language. It could be enjoyed by older children and teenagers, but might also interest other adult readers with an interest in trade union and social history. It is quite short, and the focus is on the story of James Brine – I think this is as it should be but I would like to read more about the political background to the story – I wanted to know more about why the case became such a cause celebre for London workers, and why the campaign for their release succeeded. I would like to know a little more about Lord Russell, as I was surprised to read of a politician at this time who was so sympathetic to the Martyrs. I was also tantalised by the glimpse of Australian social history and what it was like to be deported there. Brown does offer a few 'Further Reading' suggestions, and I would like to read them too, but they are trade union publications and local social history books and clearly only a selection of those he must have used in his research.

I did like the chapter at the end explaining what the men did when they all eventually got home to England – as their employment prospects locally were dismal, they moved with their families to Essex where James Brine lived to the ripe old age of 89. The book also mentions the commemorations of Tolpuddle which have continued more than 175 years later, with an annual music festival in the village.

I enjoyed reading this, and would like to thank Five Leaves for sending a copy of this book to the Bookbag.

A children’s novel about social and political issues is Beyond the Barricade by Deborah Ellis. Geraldine McCaughrean has written lots of books for children who are interested in history, including Stop the Train and The Death Defying Pepper Roux.

Buy The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown at Amazon.com.


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