The life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter X.

CHAPTER X.  This chapter covers 1838 to 1838 and Josh’s re-election to the council as a Liberal, or Reformer. The terms Liberal/Reformer/Whig and Radical were all used to describe the rough alliance, though the Liberal party in its modernly accepted form wasn’t officially used until the 1860’s. Josh probably regarded himself as a Reformer, and the Tradesmen’s Reform Association was without doubt an attempt to build a power-base outside the Whig [aka. Aristocratic, and landed gentry] interest. He seems to be very much in the tradition of proud northern businessmen who thought ” extending the franchise so sensible male voters would prevent profligate governments spending too much.”

At this period the scheme for the foundation of the Tradesmen’s Reform Association was conceived by Mr. Walmsley, and thirty of the leading reformers of the town entering into his views, the new society drew up its declaration of principles. [1836] Its public career was inaugurated by a banquet given to the Liberal member, Mr. Ewart. Great enthusiasm prevailed, the guests exceeding by many hundreds any similar demonstration. The Association soon became recognised as an important political body, and its numbers increased until there were two thousand five hundred names on its muster-roll. Its committee, formed of three representatives from each of the sixteen wards of the town, met weekly, while some of the leading reformers of Liverpool became its sub-presidents.

As president, it was Mr. Walmsley’s custom to address the monthly meetings, in a speech wherein he handled the leading political questions of the day — the Ballot Bill, laid by Mr. Grote before Parliament, the Irish Municipal Bill, and especially the Repeal of the Corn Laws. This address was followed by public discussion. The Tradesmen’s Reform Association was destined to fail, however, in the first object for which it was formed, namely, to secure a Liberal representation for Liverpool. In June, 1838, [Hugh’s wrong it was 1837] William IV. died, and the country was plunged into the turmoil of a general election.

On the result of the forthcoming contest throughout the kingdom, Mr. Walmsley considered the fate of the Corn Laws depended. Empowered by the General and Tradesmen’s Reform Associations to select a second Liberal candidate to stand with Mr. Ewart for Liverpool, he singled out Mr. Elphinstone, an uncompromising advocate of free trade. A requisition with four or five thousand signatures appended was forwarded to Mr. Elphinstone. No candidate had ever been solicited by so many voices to stand for the borough. The public meetings at the Amphitheatre, addressed by Mr. Walmsley, were crowded. All the indications tended to confirm his anticipations that Liverpool would certainly send to Parliament two reformers ready to fight for the abolition of all monopolies.

The Tories, however, were equally zealous in their efforts to secure the representation of the town. They continued to play their part of Defenders of the Faith, generally winding up their public meetings with three cheers for the Bible ; while, on the other hand, a vague notion dominated the uneducated mind that popery or infidelity was a latent element in that heavily- laden word Liberalism. In the taverns, the country people, as they smoked their pipes and drank their beer, declared that the Liberals were enemies to the Word of God !

On the 24th July, the election took place. Conspicuous in this pageantry of ribbons and flags were the blue colours of the Tradesmen’s Reform Association. The Tories’ procession was headed by a wooden Bible, carried aloft in full view of the crowd. The Liberals adopted for their device a loaf, bounteous in size, as one manufactured in the land of Brobdingnag, and a Lilliputian loaf contrasting with it. The big loaf was dubbed the “Ewart and Elphinstone loaf,” the small loaf the “Sandon loaf.” Beer flowed freely, and in due course the streets of Liverpool became the scene of rioting and violence. Mr. Whitty brought out his men, who valiantly strove to restore order, he directing the movement of his troops like a general on a battlefield. The final state of the poll showed the defeat of the Liberal candidates, and the victory of Lord Sandon and Mr. Cresswell.

”The failure of the Liberals greatly discouraged me,” says Sir Joshua, ” but it also made me reserve to work all the more strenuously to disseminate education amongst my fellow-citizens.” ” We must, more than the Tories,” he said at the first meeting of the Association after the Parliamentary defeat, “work for the diffusion of knowledge; and by establishing reading-rooms on a scale commensurate with that of the Association, offer to the humblest member that which, while tending to strengthen conviction of the justice of our principles, will make him a wiser citizen and a better man.”

This plan of forming libraries, and of inviting down eminent lecturers, was carried out.

Notwithstanding its failure to return a Liberal representative for Liverpool, the Tradesmen’s Reform Association did not lose influence in the town. Its president had many friends and many enemies. We find his name loudly called for at all Liberal public meetings, and his words attentively followed. We also find him abused in the columns of the Tory papers. Under his leadership the Tradesmen’s Reform Association became a recognised central power, to which the inhabitants looked for the removal of any local oppression.

We must not overlook, the public duties Mr. Walmsley during this time performed as councillor. He continued to be chairman of the Watch Committee, he was appointed member of the Dock Trust and Pilot Committee, the Finance and Improvement Committees. He became president of the Educational Committee. Of his energy and fitness we have the following testimony from one who worked with him : “Mr. Walmsley’s prompt business-like determination never came out to better purpose, making him the leading member of whatever committee he attended. He neglected no detail, and no inquiry was too trifling or too irksome for him to enter into.”

The following anecdote, given to us by Mr. Tindal Atkinson, secretary to the Association, illustrates the integrity of spirit which ever actuated Mr. Walmsley :

“ The general monthly meeting of the Association was at hand; as secretary I received due notice to prepare the minutes and accounts to be laid before the members. Weighted with much occupation, the time slipped by unnoticed, and the appointed day came round before I had drawn up the required paper. I knew, however, I could rely upon my memory, and on the night in question I fearlessly occupied my place on the platform, by the president’s side. When my turn came to speak I rose, took a blank sheet of paper, and proceeding apparently to read from it, gave a detailed and very exact report of the doings and the expenditure of the Association, On resuming my seat, Mr. Walmsley, very quietly, in a low voice, said : ‘ Very clever, Atkinson, very clever indeed; but do not repeat it, or “never more be officer of mine.” ‘ I never forgot the impression those few words made upon me.”

In November, 1838, Mr. Walmsley’s turn for retiring from the council board came round. An address, signed by the majority of the burgesses, urgently requested him to allow himself to be renominated. The address thanked him for the services he had rendered in the establishment and reorganisation of the police, and the indefatigable manner in which he had discharged the various and important duties of the different committees in the council. Mr. Walmsley, accepting to stand, was re-elected to the Castle Street ward without opposition ; no Tory candidate ventured to put up for a ward so thoroughly devoted to one of the leading reformers of the town. ” Who is to occupy the civic chair for the ensuing year ? “ asks The Liverpool Mercury of the 9th November. “ We know not. If it goes by desert, if it is to be determined by real and substantial services rendered to the cause of reform, there is one man whose zeal, energy, and ability entitle him to such a compliment from the hands of his fellow-townsmen ; and, whatever may be thought of the matter in the council, we are quite sure that the great body of reformers out of doors will be very much disappointed if his claims are again passed over. To him the town is mainly indebted for the establishment of the new police, the formation and the organisation of the ‘ Tradesmen’s Reform Association.’ We need hardly say that we allude to Mr. Joshua Walmsley, or add that it is he whom a majority of reformers wish to see mayor of Liverpool.”

Owing to a combination of circumstances, unnecessary to enter into here, Mr. Walmsley was not on that occasion elected mayor.

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