Leeds Mercury (07/Sep/1839) - Disturbances at the Holme Reservoirs

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The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


A serious affray took place on Wednesday forenoon, between the English and Irish labourers employed at these works. On Tuesday, which was a wet day, a party of them were drinking together at a beer-shop, when they began to quarrel and fight; and the Englishmen, being well thrashed, were so mortified that next morning they commenced driving the Irish from the works. Such is the reason they give for their conduct; but circumstances seem to indicate a regular conspiracy to drive the Irishmen from the country. At the time of mustering for work at the Holmestyes reservoir, on Wednesday morning, there was some jarring amongst the parties who had been concerned in the quarrel the preceding night; and in a short time a red handkerchief tied upon a stick was hoisted by the English, a shout raised, and a general attack begun upon the Irish, who being much fewer in number, were, after some little resistance, driven off the ground. There were about 30 Irishmen employed at this place. The conquerors, elated with their success, proceeded to the Boshaw reservoir, where only six out of the 115 of the workmen were Irish. They ordered them to give over working, and leave the ground; but one of them resisting, was knocked down, beaten, and forced to take to his heels after his countrymen. They then persuaded about 20 of the workmen to join them from this place, swelling their number to about 70, and started off to drive the Irish, of which there were from 20 to 30, from the Bilberry reservoir. They now had two flags hoisted; and in their progress to this place, many country people followed them, and the affair began to wear an alarming appearance. Mr. Dransfield, the constable, was sent for to the Boshaw reservoir; but before he arrived the rioters had left for the Bilberry, when he and Mr. Take, the inspector of the works, made after them. Fortunately the Irish were not at work at the latter place; but the mob hunted them out of their lodging places, &c. and made them run in all directions. In the meantime informations against some of the ringleaders were made to the magistrates, and warrants were issued for the apprehension of four of them. John Harpin, Esq. one of the magistrates, rode off to the scene of disturbance, and warned the mob who were coming away from the place of their lawless proceedings, when they began to shy off, and separate themselves into small parties. Some of the ringleaders decamped forthwith; and the contractors at the Boshaw reservoir dismissed such of their men as had joined in the disturbance immediately on their returning to begin work. In the afternoon. Mr. Tate encouraged some of the Irish to resume their work at the Bilberry reservoir, upon seeing which the English, at a signal given by one of their party, threw down their tools and left the place, swearing that if the Irish were allowed to work they would not. The Irishmen were not working at lower wages than the English; and nothing but a reckless and unjust prejudice against them can in any way account for the brutal manner in which they have been treated. English labourers have much to learn before they know how properly to maintain the rights of industry ; and their disgraceful conduct here and at other public works, to the Irish labourers, is a dark stain upon their character. Up to the time when this information was sent off (Thursday morning), our correspondent had not learned that any of the delinquents had been secured. The magistrates had been in consultation during the afternoon; and at a meeting of the reservoir commissioners held at the same time, it was resolved to support the authorities in preserving the peace, and to protect the Irish labourers, if they wished to return to their works from the violence of the other party. The contractors were recommended to dismiss from their employ the ringleaders in the disturbances, and a number of constables were ordered to attend at the reservoirs early on Thursday morning.