Seven Men of Jarrow: Community to unite and remember miners sentenced to death and banished in a 'travesty of justice'

South Tyneside will this weekend remember seven miners transported to Australia almost 200 years ago and lost to history until modern day research cast light on their lives.

Thursday, 30th May 2019, 4:22 pm
South Tyneside pits in the 1830s, from David Douglass's book Red Banner Green Rosette.

Their story will be told over two days of music, speeches and celebration in Jarrow after a study which started three years ago revealed their desperate plight.

Those paying tribute to the 'Seven Men of Jarrow’ will include the town’s Labour MP Stephen Hepburn and Alan Mardghum, general secretary of the Durham Miners Association.

South Shields historian and former miner David Douglass.

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In 1831, Thomas Armstrong, John Barker, Isaac Ecclestone, David Johnson, John Smith, Bartholomew Stephenson and John Stewart were accused of fermenting union unrest.

Found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to death, they were instead banished to the penal colony of Botany Bay, at the furthest reach of the Empire, from which they never returned.

South Shields historian and former miner David Douglass collaborated with the National Education Union to delve back in time to uncover trial notes and contemporary newspaper cuttings.

Tomorrow, (Saturday, June 1) the public is being urged to join musicians and singers for the Seven Men Commemoration at the Jarrow Gin and Ale House, in Walter Street, from 1pm.

South Tyneside pits in the 1830s, from David Douglass's book Red Banner Green Rosette.

On Sunday, a wreath will be laid at the Jobling Memorial, in Tyne Street, at 9.15am with speeches by the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Norman Dick, and Mr Mardghum.

At around 10.30am at Jarrow Town Hall, supporters will join with participants of the annual Jarrow Festival in a walk to Drewitts Park, where Mr Hepburn will deliver a speech.

Mr Douglass, of Osborne Avenue, said the convicts’ sentences came amid a period of severe social unrest in which miners had fought – and won - reduced working hours for children in pits.

He said: “Their sentences were an absolute travesty of justice. The conditions that they worked in were murderous and the death rates appalling.

An illustration of Jarrow Colliery in the 1830s.

“They were prominent union men and police spies gave evidence that they were going to union meetings, which was called illegally stopping the mines.

“Children worked so many hours down the mines that it is inconceivable to people today, and the reason they did was because the adults couldn’t earn enough.

“It’s important that we learn where wealth comes from, and how the wealth of our country was achieved by people in desperate conditions who had to fight for everything.”

Research found the men's names on a register of 226 passengers who set sail on the Isabella to New South Wales, Australia, in 1831.

Ecclestone’s crime is recorded as house-breaking, but for the others the convict records fail to detail any offence.

Earlier the same year, miners had forced pit owners to reduce the daily working hours of children, from 18 to 12.

But their retribution was swift and soon after they were able to break the Northern Union of Pitmen, the forerunner of the National Union of Mineworkers.