Sunday, 30 July 2017

A portrait of Dr Matthew Fletcher: delegate to the first Chartist convention

The small portrait photograph shown here is of Dr Matthew Fletcher, the delegate from Bury to the First Chartist Convention of 1839.

Although undated, the picture appears to have been taken towards the end of his life in 1878. The reverse carries what appears to be Matthew Fletcher’s signature.

Fletcher came to the 1839 Convention with a record of opposition to the New Poor Law then being imposed on the country by the Whig government.

While serving as a delegate, he was profiled by The Charter newspaper. Both the profile and the sketch portrait that accompanied it now appear on Chartist Ancestors.

As a General Practitioner in Bury, the Lancashire town in which he had been born and brought up, Fletcher was acutely aware of the impact of the factory system on its workers and was appalled by the treatment being meted out to the poorest members of the community.

As one of the more middle class members of the Convention, he might have been expected to bring some gravitas to its deliberations. In fact, he won it some rather unwanted publicity through an over-excited speech in opposition to the Rural Police Bill.

Claiming that the police officers created under it would be no different to the soldiers of an army, he urged all men to arm themselves with bludgeons, and to be prepared to strike back hard if attacked.

As time went on, however, Fletcher lost his appetite for Chartism, and came to the somewhat unlikely conclusion that it had all been got up – perhaps by the government – to divert activists away from the campaign against the New Poor Law.

He retired to Bury and to his medical practice, but continued to take an interest in factory reform, his name appearing in local newspapers on a regular basis after that as he gave evidence in cases where workers had been injured.

There is also some indication that he remained committed to the widening of the franchise, his name appearing in a list of prominent local supporters of parliamentary reform as the 1867 Act was making its way through Parliament.

Read the Chartist Ancestors page on Dr Matthew Fletcher.

No comments: