Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Chartist Lives: Thomas Doubleday

Doubleday[1] was a politician and author, born in Newcastle upon Tyne in February 1790, the son of George Doubleday, a manufacturer of soap, tallow, and sulphuric acid, and his wife, Mary, née Fawcett. His political activities during the 1830s are his greatest claim to fame: although a poor orator, he was a competent organiser of political agitation with a considerable gift for propaganda.

Under the early influence of William Cobbett, Doubleday became a leading figure in the Northern Political Union throughout the struggle for parliamentary reform in the early 1830s. After the enactment of parliamentary reform in 1832, he believed that the Whigs betrayed the people. He thought the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act to be ‘a scheme, the most atrocious, probably, ever entertained by any legislators calling themselves civilised’[2]. After the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 he entered the reformed Newcastle council, but opposed the creation of an ‘Austrian-like’ borough police[3] in a town ‘remarkable for its good behaviour’[4]. Newcastle police had recorded 1327 cases of ‘disorderly conduct’ in 1835.

Doubleday was an enthusiastic Chartist in the early Victorian years, taking a leading part in the Northern Liberator during that sprightly Chartist newspaper’s short life. As an elected councillor from 1835 to 1840, he defended Chartists from criticism in the reformed Newcastle town council. Although by 1856 he claimed to have lost ‘the feelings of a partisan of any line of policy’[5], his hostility to the Whigs persisted. In 1864, he appealed to fellow radicals to vote Conservative, noting that ‘If ruled by Tories, we should at all events be ruled by gentlemen’[6]. He supported the Northern Reform Union and the Reform League, but like Cobbett, his liberalism had its limits; in 1847 he denounced ‘the Jew or moneyed interest’[7], and when The Times supported Whig foreign policy in 1861 he castigated it in a pamphlet as ‘that Jew-organ’ (The French Alliance: its Origins and Authors)

Doubleday’s political activities were complemented by varied intellectual interests. His first published work (1818) comprised sixty-five sonnets, and was followed by the undistinguished verse dramas The Italian Wife (1823), Babington (1825), Diocletian (1829), and Caius Marius (1836). Such lines as ‘How poor a stay has she who leans upon thy bosom for support’ (from The Italian Wife) might well fail to achieve the desired effect on contemporary audiences. Like the sculptor John Graham Lough, Doubleday’s creative talents aroused an enthusiasm in his own region that was not shared by a wider public, although his novel The Eve of St Mark: a Romance of Venice (1857) shows some merit. A keen angler, he co-operated with his friend Robert Roxby in writing, collecting, and publishing fishing songs (for example, The Coquetdale Fishing Songs, 1852). He wrote widely on political economy and similar subjects, and published a philosophical treatise On Mundane and Moral Government (1852). He was also much concerned with the nature and proper administration of the money supply, notably in A Financial, Monetary and Statistical History of England from the Revolution of 1688 to the Present Time (1847). His Political Life of Sir Robert Peel (2 volumes, 1856) is a substantial work in which W. L. Burn rightly discerned in 1956 ‘considerable judgment and discernment’[8]. He wrote extensively on diverse topics for both local and national newspapers and reviews.

The collapse of the family business in the early 1840s was largely caused by Doubleday’s absorption in political and literary activities. Other factors included a disastrous fire in 1841, speculation in lead-mining shares, and extravagant expenditure by his business partner Anthony Easterby. Doubleday’s personal popularity was never in doubt, and after this catastrophe even political enemies helped to ensure that he retained enough income to live in modest comfort. He was given the post of registrar of births, marriages, and deaths for St Andrew’s parish, Newcastle, and subsequently served as salaried secretary of the Tyneside coal owners’ organisation. In late 1870, his health failed, and he died at his home, Gosforth Villas, Bulman village, Gosforth, on 18th December. Although the evidence is incomplete, it appears probable that Doubleday had married twice; his second wife, Mary, survived him for only a few months, dying on 4th March 1871. He had three sons, all probably from his first marriage and probably three daughters by his second marriage. He was buried at Gosforth parish churchyard. His funeral attracted much public attention and there were laudatory obituaries[9].


[1] W. L. Burn ‘Newcastle upon Tyne in the early nineteenth century’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th series, volume 34 (1956), pages 1–13, Lawson’s Tyneside celebrities, 1873, page 279, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 19th December 1870, Newcastle Daily Journal, 19th December 1870, T. Nossiter Influence, opinion and political idioms in reformed England: case studies from the north east, 1832–1874, 1975, R. S. Watson The history of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1793–1896, 1897, R. Welford Men of mark ‘twixt Tyne and Tweed, volume 2, 1895, pages 109–19. Archives: Newcastle Central Library; National Library of Scotland: letters to Blackwoods

[2] A Financial, Monetary and Statistical History of England from the Revolution of 1688 to the Present Time, 1847, page 313.

[3] Newcastle watch committee minutes, 5th May 1836.

[4] Newcastle watch committee minutes, 4th March 1837.

[5] T. Doubleday The Political Life of Sir Robert Peel, volume 1, 1856, page iii

[6] Crimes of the Whigs, or, A Radical’s Reasons for Supporting the Tory Party at the Next General Election, 1864.

[7] A Financial, Monetary and Statistical History of England, 1847, page 305.

[8] W. L. Burn ‘Newcastle upon Tyne in the early nineteenth century’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th series, volume 34, (1956), page 7n.

[9] Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 19th December 1870, Newcastle Daily Journal, 19th December 1870.

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