Friday, November 11, 2016

The Workers' Struggle: A Book Report

Roman Amphitheater, Caerleon, Newport, Wales. 16 July 2016
Distancing myself from current politics into the old country and times past, I am rereading the historical novels of Alexander Cordel now that I have been to more of the places and learned a little better how they connect to my family.

Rape of the Fair Country carries the reader through a passionate narrative of the sorrows and joys of the working and non-working Welsh to the Chartist March on Newport. A foreshadowing is presented when the families of Garndyrus (where my Third-Great-Grandfather worked) had a holiday in Newport for a singing competition. It's a fictional account. The later march on Newport was not.

I don't know if my family was involved in the Chartist Rising of 1839. Even if they were, and apparently survived, they would not have mentioned it to anyone as it carried a penalty of death or transportation to Australia or Van Diemen's land [that's for my Tasmanian friends].

Here are the excerpts from Cordell:
Viking and Dane, Roman and Spaniard have thundered into Newport with sunlight gleaming on spur and mace, for Cardiff is a farming town and never worth its capture. Chained slaves have toiled in the galleys of Conquering fleets that came with bloody pennants to the Channel to the North Sea to rape the women and slaughter the men, but he lot bundled together never caused the stir in this fussy little seaport as we mountain iron-workers sailing in by barge for our annual outing. Twenty-two barges, every one decked from prow to stern with ribbons and wild flowers; a brass band letting fly and the banners of the illegal Benefit Clubs waving in the faces of scowling Redcoats. Past moored ships we went; barques from the West Indies with their smells of Eastern spices; alongside white-sailed schooners with prows of sweeping dignity to the tumbledown poverty of the waterfront and the crowded jetties where whole families jostled for position to see us march by. Urchins who had not seen a bath since the midwife danced alongside catching the food we threw; ancient faces peered from little square windows, shouting and laughing, for a town in the clutch of the English is happy at a show of spirit. Groups of Redcoats leaned idly on muskets with watchful, nervous glances at the mad Welsh workers.
Our young protagonist wanders by a labor [labour] auction. A wealthy, fat, farmer is referred to as "Pig":
I watched Pig's eyes as a girl was pushed on to the platform. She was about my age, noble in the face and clean, her ragged dress tight about her waist. He dark hair she wore over he shoulders like the Irish, her legs and feet were bare.
"Two pounds," said Pig, "and give her here."
The crowd murmured. White-faced women were moving angrily in the crowd. The girl looked down at Dewi Lewis [just "hired" for 15 shillings], swept back her hair and joined him by the farmer.
"That will suit me," said Pig. "One for the yard and one for the house," and gripping their shoulders he took them away.
Sickened, I watched the buying. The poor, who had been keeping the poor, sold them. Mothers sold their sons for hire, fathers their daughters, and the orphanage sold its children in droves of ten.
Romans to Redcoats, slavery is pretty much the same.

If my family was not in the uprising, they certainly knew people who were. And if they knew, they didn't talk. They did survive there a generation beyond.
Then rouse my boys, and fight the foe,
Your weapons are truth and reason,
We will let the Whigs and Tories know,
That thinking is not treason.
Ye Lords oppose us if you can,
Your own doom you seek after;
With or without you we will stand
Until we gain the Charter!
The labourer toils and strives the more
While tyrants are carousing.
But hark! I hear the lions roar,
The British youths are rousing.
The rich are liable to pain,
The poor men feel the smart, sir.
But let us break the despot's chain,
We soon will have the Charter!

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