Ernest Charles Jones
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Born on 25th of January 1819
Died on 26th of January 1869

ERNEST CHARLES JONES (1819-69) -- barrister-at-law, poet, novelist, radical newspaper publisher and political agitator -- spent much of his life campaigning to establish fundamental political rights, such as universal suffrage, that today we recognise as the corner-stones of a democratic society.

Ernest Jones was born in Vienna, on 25 January, 1819, into a well-to-do background. His father, Major Charles Jones of the 15th Hussars -- who had served in the wars of Wellington and was at Waterloo -- was descended from an old Norman family and was equerry to the King of Hanover. Ernest Jones passed his boyhood on his father's estate in Holstein on the border of the Black Forest, being was educated at St. Michael's College in Luneburg.

In 1844, Jones was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple and commenced what promised to be a successful professional career on the Northern Circuit. However, during the winter of 1845 he came across a copy of the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star, and finding that the political principles advocated coincided with his own he joined the National Charter Association under the leadership of Feargus O'Connor. Jones saw that he could make a useful contribution to the movement using his talents as a poet and his poems became an immediate success, there being few Chartist meetings when one of them was not sung or recited. To working people whose reading was limited or lacking, their sentiments struck a chord while they could be remembered easily for passing on to others. Jones had the gift of putting into words what his audience needed and wanted and his poems appeared in nearly every issue of the Chartist journals. He soon became involved in speaking engagements throughout the country where on the platform (and also in the press) he was indefatigable in enforcing the claims of the Chartist cause. He was later to publish a number of radical newspapers, among which were The Labourer, Notes of the People, The Cabinet and The Peopleís Paper, which remained the Chartists organ for a number of years.

The authorities of the time watched Chartist activity with alarm and took steps to contain the growing unrest among the then disenfranchised working-class. In June, 1848, while addressing a Chartist rally, Jones called upon the gathering to "organise, and you will see the green flag floating over Downing Street; let that be accomplished, and John Mitchell shall be brought back again to his native country, and Sir G. Grey and Lord John Russell shall be sent out to exchange places with him." The government's law officers held the speech to be seditious, and Jones was tried and sentenced to two years' imprisonment.

During his imprisonment, every attempt was made to break Jones's indomitable spirit. He was kept in solitary confinement and while he complied with the prison regulations he steadfastly refused to take part in oakum picking. To break his firmness on this point he was repeatedly confined in a dark cell on a diet of bread and water. When suffering from dysentery, he was placed in a cell in which another prisoner had recently died from cholera, from which it may be reasonably assumed that it was intended to kill him, for cholera was then raging in London and, had Jones died, no questions would have been asked -- but the authorities never succeeded in making him pick oakum. In the second year of his imprisonment Jones was so broken in health that he could no longer stand upright. He was found lying on the floor of his cell and only then taken to the prison hospital. He was told that if he would petition for his release and promise to abjure politics, the remainder of his sentence would be remitted. But he refused his liberty on those conditions and was reconsigned to his cell.

Released in August, 1850, Jones was considerably weakened in health, but not in political spirit. A speech he made in Manchester soon after his release indicated that he had strengthened his opinions sufficiently to be able to say, "Two years ago I went to prison for speaking three words, "ORGANISE! ORGANISE! ORGANISE!" He went on to repeat that message and added, "I went to prison a Chartist, but I have come out of it a Republican.... In the speech for which they arrested me I spoke of a green flag waving over Downing Street. I have changed my colour since then. It shall be a red one now." Undaunted, he returned to his old advocacy of the people. A wealthy uncle offered to leave him £2,000 a year if he would abandon the Chartist cause, which Jones refused to do, the outcome being that the uncle left his money to his gardener.

During his imprisonment, Jones composed an epic poem, published after his release in 1851, entitled "The Revolt of Hindostan," entirely written with his blood on the leaves of the prison prayer-books.This was not from sensationalism, but from necessity, for pen and ink were denied him. He later published further poems, of which "The Battle Day", "The Painter of Florence", "The Emperorís Vigil", "Beldagon Church" and "Corayda" are among the better known.

Jones later returned to his legal practice and by the end of the 1860s had established himself as a lawyer, a popular radical politician and a notable speaker. In his last years he tended to veer towards the middle class viewpoint, although he was acknowledged as a defender of trade union rights and a firm believer in democracy. In 1868, although adopted as Liberal candidate in the Parliamentary election, he was unable to stand because of illness. He spoke at Chorlton Town Hall on 20 January in spite of a severe cold, which developed into pleurisy from which he died the day after his fiftieth birthday on 26 January, 1869.

In his history of Chartism, R. G. Gammage described Jones as small in stature but having a stentorian voice with much eloquence, good delivery and brilliant language. Benjamin Wilson an old Halifax Chartist said, "He had a noble and striking appearance, and by some might have been looked on as a proud man; he was quite the opposite. If he had been, he would not have joined the Chartist movement, for it was composed chiefly of working men. To have a few hours with Mr Jones at one of our private meetings was always a great treat. He had many stories to tell of his experiences among all classes of society, from the highest to the lowest. The way in which he could give expression to his thoughts was wonderful."

More information, including contemporary press reports and examples of Jones's poetry and of his radical journalism are available on the Ernest Jones website . .

Links:
http://www.gerald-massey.org.uk/jones/index.htm Ernest Jones website

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