John Smith

John Smith, the eldest son of Benjamin Smith, a cotton merchant from Salford, was born in 1794. As a young man he held Radical political beliefs and gained the name John 'Mad' Smith. As a strong supporter of universal suffrage and an opponent of the Corn Laws, Smith was at the meeting at St Peter's Field on 16th August, 1819.

Massacre by George Cruikshank published by Thomas Tegg in August 1819
Massacre by George Cruikshank published by Thomas Tegg in August 1819

Smith was active in the campaign for parliamentary reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws throughout the 1820s. After the death of his father, John Smith took over the management of the family firm in Manchester. He was a successful businessman and after amassing a considerable fortune was able to retire from the company in 1837.

After his retirement from the textile business, Smith concentrated his energies on politics. He failed in his attempt to become M.P. for Blackburn in 1837. He was also unsuccessfully when he contested the parliamentary seats of Walsall and Dundee in 1841. However, he was elected M.P. for Stirling Birgh in 1847. Smith moved to Stockport in 1852 and held the seat until 1874.

John Smith died on 15th September, 1879.

Primary Sources

(1) John Smith's account of the Peterloo Massacre was not published in his lifetime. Smith's reminiscences of the event were eventually published in F. A. Bruton's book Three Accounts of Peterloo in 1921.

It seemed to be a gala day with the country people who were mostly dressed in their best and brought with them their wives, and I saw boys and girls taking their father's hand in the procession. At length Hunt made his appearance in an open barouche drawn by two horses, and a woman dressed in white sitting on the box. On their reaching the hustings which were prepared for the orator, he was received with enthusiastic applause; the waving of hats and flags; the blowing of trumpets; and the playing of music. Hunt stepped on the hustings, and was again cheered by the vast assemblage.

I heard the sound of a horn, and immediately the Manchester Yeomanry appeared. I heard the order to form three deep, and then the order to march. The trumpeter led the way and galloped towards the hustings, followed by the yeomanry. Their sabres glistened in the air, and on they went, direct for the hustings. As the cavalry approached the dense mass of people, they used their utmost efforts to escape, but so closely were they pressed in opposite directions, the special constables, the position of the hustings, and their immense numbers, that immediate escape was impossible.

A troop of soldiers, the 15th Hussars, turned round the corner of the house where we stood and galloped forwards towards the corner of the house where we stood and galloped forwards towards the crowd. They were succeeded by the Cheshire Yeomanry, and lastly by two pieces of artillery. On the arrival of the soldiers, the special constables, the magistrates, and the soldiers set up loud shouts. This was responded to by the crowd with waving of hats. After this the soldiers galloped amongst the people creating frightful alarm and disorder. The people ran helter-skelter in every direction. It was hot, dusty day; clouds of dust arose which obscured the view. When it had subsided a startling scene was presented.