George Swift

George Swift was a nineteen year old shoemaker in 1819. John Tyas, the journalist from The Times described him as looking "not more than seventeen or eighteen." Although only a teenager, George Swift had already developed a reputation as one of the leaders of the parliamentary reformers in the Manchester area. Swift was one of the main speakers at the meeting at St. Peter's Field on the 16th August, 1819. As a result he was arrested along with Henry Hunt, Joseph Johnson, Joseph Healey, Samuel Bamford, John Saxon, James Moorhouse, Robert Wild and Robert Jones and charged with an "alleged conspiracy to alter the law by force and threats and for convening and attending an illegal, riotous and tumultuous meeting at Manchester on Monday, 16th August 1819."

Poster entitled Manchester Heroes was published in 1819
Poster entitled Manchester Heroes was published in 1819

The trial took place in March, 1820. After three days of evidence Hunt, Johnson, Knight, Healey and Bamford were found guilty on the charge of "assembling with unlawful banners at an unlawful meeting for the purpose of exciting discontent". George Swift, along with Saxon, Moorhouse, Jones and Wild were found not guilty and released. While in New Bayley prison, Swift wrote a letter to his brother describing what happened at the Peterloo Massacre. Later this letter was published as the Swift Narrative.

Primary Sources

(1) The Manchester Gazette (28th August, 1819)

Another party marched in from St. Peter's Road direct up to the hustings. Another party marched in at twelve o'clock, with a band of music and a flag, accompanied with a cart for the hustings, in which women were riding. At this moment the hustings were filled with men, eight flags or banners flying, several thousands standing round with hats off. George Swift, a Reform orator, now addressed the meeting, and on ending his speech four or five huzzas were given by order. At 12.30 another cart, with planks; and a large chair, were brought to add to the hustings.

(2) In his account in The Times published on 19th August, 1819, John Tyas described George Swift's speech.

By one o'clock 80,000 people were assembled on the ground. A young lad, not more than seventeen or eighteen, was addressing the meeting with great vehemence of action and gesture, and with great effect, if we may judge from the cheers which he every now and then extracted from his audience, who were now beginning to be impatient for the arrival of Hunt.

(3) While in New Bayley prison George Swift wrote a letter to his brother explaining what happened when the military attempted to arrest Henry Hunt at St. Peter's Field on 16th August, 1819.

Mr. Hunt had 130,000 people under his command, he gave a signal for a general cheer and ordered the people to stand fast. "If they want me," said Mr. Hunt, "let me go - don't resist". The cavalry formed in front of a range of building at the top of the area. After a pause of about two minutes they dashed towards us as well as they could, closing in as they got farther into the crowd. Their swords were lifted up and struck down all the way but I could not at that distance see whether they cut any one or not.

They took a considerable time getting through the dense crowd considering the distance was so short. I saw several of the fellows showing their staves and begging them to observe they were constables. Not so; they slashed amongst them, and they squeaked out like Irish pigs.

They came to the cordon or wall of men round the hustings but no resistance was made to their progress there more than any other place. The inside of this circle we had filled with women from the Union Schools, music and flags. The cavalry surrounded the hustings and made a full stand for the space of one minute and then turned round to the unoffending multitude.