Son of a former slave, William Cuffay was a prominent member of the Chartist Movement and one of its most militant. He was one of the key organisers of the rally at Kennington Common in 1848, but was said to be disappointed by the fact that many members were reluctant to use force to advocate their demands.
In the same year, Cuffay was convicted of conspiring to start an uprising against the government and was sentenced to transportation to Tasmania for 21 years. After 3 years, he was pardoned, although he chose to stay is Tasmania until he died a pauper in 1870.
The book is said to have been given to Cuffay by his Chartist colleagues before his transportation. It was found with a thumb print marked on one of the pages and leaves pressed in the cover.
Professor Malcolm Chase, author of Chartism: A New History said of the acquisition;
“What a wonderful find. William Cuffay is an inspirational figure in the history of Chartism, and in the struggle for democracy generally. This is the only object, anywhere in the world, that we definitely know belonged to Cuffay. His homes in London and Tasmania, and the workhouse where he died, have all been demolished. It’s all the more poignant because this book was a gift from his fellow Chartists. When you see the thumb print on the page that includes Byron’s ‘Song for the Luddites’ you can almost hear and feel the breath of history.”
The book will be on display in our Archive throughout June. Following this, it will be available to access upon appointment. Please note that the Archive is open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday. Please contact us before you make a special visit.