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A Letter from George – Storytelling #5

Betsy Loveless was beating the back out of a piece of meat with a weighty rolling pin.  The occasional trapped rabbit with wild vegetables regularly put food on the family table since the day George had been dragged into Dorchester Assizes and found guilty of swearing that secret oath.  She beat the meat once more. 

Betsy thanked God every night in her Methodist prayers for the £2.3s each family had received from the Union.  They would never have managed without it.  She also prayed that her dear husband George and the others now in the Australian colony had enough for themselves; enough sun and enough rain that they should wish for nothing more.  Prayer was easy, sleep less so.  It was the not knowing that was so very hard. 

When the six were sentenced in March last year, George had been too ill to travel and did not leave with the others.  He was alone out there in Van Dieman’s Land … without his comrades. They had sailed for New South Wales when sentenced.  AND he was out THERE without HER all alone – she bit her lip, threw the pin to one side and picked up a knife.

Suddenly, there was a sharp rap on the door.  Betsy hurried over wondering who this might be.  Anyone of  the Tolpuddle families would just clatter in.   She gasped with shocked delight when she saw James, the rural post boy. She wiped her hands on her pinny and grasped the proffered letter from the poor boy’s grip.

Without speaking, Betsy closed the door, took her reading glasses from the pocket of her piny, perched them on her nose, and stared at the hand writing she knew so well. 

The letter was dated … January 29th 1836

Dearest Elizabeth – She frowned that was odd. He never called her by her given name!

I have once more been asked for you and our children to join me here in Van Dieman’s Land. As I have told to you in earlier letters, nothing could give me so much satisfaction as to join with you, my wife and children.  Until now I have said that should not be while I am a prisoner.  Now, I should very much like you here with me. Let me explain.

Two days past, his Excellency, the governor, came out to the farm where I am living. Walking with me into the field, he asked me if I had any objection that government should send over my wife and family to me, as they had offered to do it free of expense.

I told him I should be sorry to send for my wife and children to come into misery — he asked me what I meant.

I replied “Why, Sir, I have seen nothing but misery above seventeen months since I came in to this country.” The food and clothing allowed to government men only renders them miserable. It is no better than slavery.”

“There are no slaves under the British dominions; you are only prisoners.” His Excellency replied.  “You may call it by what name you please, Sir I call it slavery, and that of the worst description.”

“But George, do you not think that you could do very well together here?”

“Sir, I should be a monster to send for my wife to come over here, and see no way of supporting her; what could I do with my wife while I am a prisoner?” I responded.

“I have no doubt but you will have your liberty as soon as your wife arrives.  I would gladly give you indulgence myself, but that I dare not, in consequence of an act of parliament passed that no seven years’ man is to obtain a ticket of leave till he has been four years in the colony. Government has sent out to know how you have conducted yourself since you have been here, and I have sent home an excellent character of you to them.  Tell me, how would you support your wife and family in England ?” 

“By my labour, Sir.” 

“Then George, why cannot you support them by your labour here?”

“Sir, I consider, while they are in England they are surrounded with friends; if they were here it might be otherwise.”

“Well, George, you must consider of it, and let me know, in the course of two or three days.”

That I have done, I feel, it would be churlish not to accept the goodwill of this Authority.  So my dear Elizabeth it would give me great pleasure if you and our three children would agree to join me here at the earliest opportunity.

Your devoted husband,

George

Strange – he never left a letter without addressing each of the three children and his sister.  Something was not quite right.  Betsy knew from previous correspondence the lashings that George had received from chiding the Colony Established.

She was greatly disturbed.  She whipped up her skirt and hurried three doors along to discuss it with Dianah Standsfield.  Dianah was George’s sister, and the wife and mother of two other Martyrs.  They always shared whatever news they received.

A short time later, during the walk back to her own cottage, she felt as cross as she had ever been. She blinked back the tears what were welling.  She didn’t know what to do about the news in this letter.

George had no idea of the massive protest that had swept across the country. Thousands of people had marched through London and many more organised petitions and protest meetings to demand the Martyrs freedom.  Everyone was convinced it would be so. 

{Of course, for now she could not know that George would be the first home within the year indeed.  She could not know that five of the Tolpuddle families would first move to farms Essex then start wonderful new lives for themselves in Canada.  Nor could she know that one day they would become famous as the founders of the civilised trade union movement celebrated annually in their home town of Tolpuddle}

Betsy shook her head.  No!  No! No! This won’t do … She sucked in her bottom lip.  There’s a rabbit needing a vegetable stew she had to attend to. And for now – that was that!

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