New Book by Martin Hoyles
William Cuffay (1788-1870) was one of the leaders of Chartism, which was
the largest political movement ever seen in Britain. His grandfather was an African
slave and his father was a West Indian slave, from St Kitts, who managed to gain his
freedom and settle in Chatham, Kent.
Cuffay trained as a tailor and moved to London where, in 1834, he was
involved in the tailors' strike for shorter hours. In 1839 he joined the Chartist
movement and soon became well known for his oratory and sense of humour.
At the final mass demonstration for the Charter on Kennington Common on 10
April 1848, he protested strongly at the decision to call off the march to the House of
Commons to present the petition. He called the national leadership 'a set of cowardly
In August 1848 Cuffay became involved in a secret revolutionary committee
which was planning an uprising in London. He was arrested, tried and convicted,
on the evidence of two police spies, of levying war against the Queen. He was
sentenced to transportation for life in Tasmania.
In Hobart he carried on working as a tailor and remained actively involved in
Tasmanian politics for twenty years. His wife was able to join him in 1853 and he
was granted a free pardon in 1856. In 1870 he died a pauper in the workhouse.
William Cuffay's reputation during the Chartist years was immense, yet he
was subsequently forgotten for over 130 years. This book aims to set him in his
historical context and restore him to his rightful place as one of the key figures in