The Tolpuddle Martyrs


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Who were the Tolpuddle Martyrs?

They were a group of agricultural workers transported to Australia for joining a Trades Union!

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What happened?

In 1833 - a group of farm laobourers in the village of Tolpuddle, in Dorset, met in secret.

When they were sure they were not being watched the ceremoney began. Each man was blindfolded in turn. Then they swore an oath, led by George Loveless, the local Methodist preacher.They swore to keep their union a secret and to work for the aims of the union, the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers.

It was not illegal to belong to a union. 

In 1824 the laws banning unions had been repealed. However many employers were increasingly worried about the growth of unions.

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Why were employers worried about the growth of uni

  • They believed that unions would interfere with their freedom to fun their buisnesses however they liked.
  • They were particularly anxious about the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (GNCTU) set up in 1833 which aimed to bring all workers together to fight for better conditions.
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What happened to the men?

  • Despite the men's oath of secrecy, the local farmers heard about the new union and set about breaking it up.
  • They ahd strong memories of the Swing Riots and believed unions of farmworkers would lead to more attacks.
  • They used a law that was really meant to apply only to the navy, sayign that was secret oaths was illegal. Even though joining a union was not against the law and they ahd not planned a strike or threatened anyone, Loveless and five others were arrested and charged with taking illegal oaths. Their sentence was seven years transportation to Australia.
  • As a result unions were badly hit. The GNCTU broke up and it was another 20 years before unions survived.
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Transportation of the men led to protest meetings.

The Tolpuddle men did not serve their full sentences. There was a widespread campaign saying that they had been unfairly convicted and they were released and retuned to Britain in 1836.

Demonstration in Support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Held at Copenhagen Fields London on April 21 1834 (

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