Haslingden (1850 to 1870)
|This was Davitts home in Wilkinson St|
from 1867 to 1870
Settlement in Haslingden - from that early age (1850)
On arrival in Haslingden towards the end of 1850 (aged 4), the families very first accommodation may well have been a straw carpeted cellar in Pleasant Street, or there again it may have been at a property in Wilkinson Street with the Irish family of Mr Owen Egan, or maybe both. One thing for sure is that the family later moved to a house of their own at No.6 Rock Hall. They left Rock Hall in 1867 (aged 21) and the family then returned to Wilkinson Street and this was to be their home for the next three years up until Davitt's parents and his younger sisters emigrated to the United States in 1870 (aged 24). His older sister Mary had already emigrated to the United States earlier following her marriage to Neil Padden.
Religion always had a major influence on Davitts life
Throughout his life Davitt's fidelity to the Church never wavered, even though there were times when his attachment to it was to be sorely tried.
When the Davitts first settled in Haslingden local Catholics formed part of the mission of St. James-the-Less at Rawtenstall. Attendance at Sunday Mass meant a one and a half mile walk to a church capable of accommodating only a fraction of the widely scattered congregation. The situation became easier in 1851 when Father Unsworth recognized Haslingden as a "Station" within his mission, visiting the town occasionally to offer Mass. It was not until 1854 (aged 8), however that the Bishop of Salford was able to send a resident priest to Haslingden. Father Thomas Martin, a newly-ordained priest, arrived in August to learn that his newly-established mission lacked a Church, School or presbytery. Undaunted at the prospect Father Martin was encouraged on his arrival by the warm welcome extended to him by the Catholic community and a number of local Protestants. Within weeks rented accommodation for a Church and School had been secured, the opening being commemorated with a Mass on Sunday September 3rd, 1854. Initially the mission lacked a name, the omission being made good on December 8th, when it was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
The opening of the mission for the Davitts meant that Mass was now offered on Sundays and Holydays, while the children had access to the day and Sunday School. Landmarks in the development of the mission were undoubtedly the day in 1859 (aged 13) when Bishop Turner visited Haslingden and laid the foundation stone of the new church and the completion of the church later that year. Events of a more intimate nature for the Davitts came in 1861 (aged 15) when all the children were confirmed by Bishop Turner, Michael receiving the name Joseph (a name he would later employ as his nom-de-plum during his time as a revolutionary).
Education whilst in Haslingden
After his tragedy and now being left with only one arm, it was felt by his then employer Stelfox that his period of usefulness at their Mill had come to an end. Sadly he never received any help or compensation for the accident.
Thankfully on recovering from his accident, a local benefactor in the name of John Dean (a Wesleyan and Cotton Mill Proprietor) helped to send him to a Wesleyan school, which was connected to the Methodist Church and where he received a good education. Dean's act of charity was to be kept anonymous from all and would never become public knowledge during the lifetimes of both John Dean and Michael Davitt. (John Dean died in 1873).
Davitt entered the Wesleyan Day School as a pupil in 1857 (aged 11) and was to remain there for four years (up until the age of 15). Situated in Chapel Street, the school was under the direction of a certificated master, Yorkshire born George Poskett. Under Poskett the school grew in numbers and standards improved to such an extent that the school was placed under Government inspection in 1857, the first to be so in Haslingden.
Poskett formed a high opinion of Davitt's aptitude as a scholar, and while no certificate was awarded at the end of the four year course, there is no doubt that the instruction imparted at the Wesleyan school equipped Davitt with the ability to continue his education later, often under trying circumstances.
|A beautiful drawing showing Michael Davitt in the upper rooms of the Mechanics Institute (Haslingden Library) - source unknown|
The Workplace for Michael Davitt
In 1855 (aged 9), at such a young age Michael Davitt had his first taste of work, when he started in the employ of John Parkinson at his Ewood Bridge Mill. It was a textile mill and Davitt's work was first as a doffer, then a bobbin tenter, and eventually to a mule spinner. This employment was to last no more than four weeks because he only received half of his promised pay and those days young workers had no trade unions or protection of any kind.
Months later Davitt managed to get employment at one of the local Mills owned by "The Old Master" Lawrence Whitaker. This employment did not last longer than one week when Davitt was made to quit by his parents because of the atrocious safety record which came to light at Whittaker's Mills.
|"Davitt's Haslingden" by Dr. John Dunleavy|
Following on from his tragic accident, together with the four years he had spent at the Wesleyan School, it was now 1861 (aged 15) and Davitt managed to procure employment with Henry Cockroft who was the Town's Postmaster and who also ran a printing and stationery business which was situated on Regent Street at the corner with Bell Street. The building is still there today, over the years its been several different sorts of businesses.
|Alliance Mill where Davitt lost his arm|
Davitt became a firm friend not only of his employer but the whole Cockroft family, and this friendship was to endure down the years. There is no doubt that Davitt found his position very congenial, for the location and nature of the business meant that he was brought into contact with the leading people in Haslingden. Hence, years later, long after Davitt had left the town and people claimed to have "known" Michael Davitt they had usually made his acquaintanceship during the time he was employed by Cockroft.
Michael Davitt, - The Fenian
The 1860's found Michael Davitt an acutely aware person in the political sense. While not indifferent to the various contemporary reform movements, given Davitt's ethnic origin it is not surprising that he was drawn to the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood.
In 1865 (aged 19) this interest led Davitt to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) which had strong support among working-class Irish immigrants. He soon became part of the inner circle of the local group. Two years later (aged 21) he left the printing firm to devote himself full-time to the IRB, as organising secretary for Northern England and Scotland, organising arms smuggling to Ireland using his new job as "hawker" (travelling salesman) as a cover for this activity.
In 1867 (aged 21) Davitt participated in the abortive attempt to capture Chester Castle, hijack the Holyhead boat train, and ship the captured arms to Ireland. Later in the same year the Fenians succeeded in freeing some of their leaders from a prison van in Manchester, but in the attempt a police officer was killed.
Inevitably there were angry reactions in England at these audacious acts perpetrated by the Fenians. The anti-Irish sentiment played into the hands of a group of extreme Protestant lecturers led by William Murphy. The "Murphyites" maintained that there was a conspiracy between the Roman Catholic Church (which received much of its support from the Irish) and the Fenians to take over the United Kingdom. The moral was obvious, Murphy argued: only when the Irish had been repatriated and the Catholic churches closed would the kingdom really be made safe from subversion. A great deal of provocation took place in some towns, hostile demonstrations took place, and at Haslingden, following a Murphyite lecture a mob supposedly making for the Catholic Church were only deflected from their purpose when shots were fired over their heads in Pleasant Street. Davitt was reputedly the man who fired the gun. In addition to organising the defence of church buildings Davitt was now recognised as the leading figure in local Irish circles.
Having by now come to the attention of the police he was arrested in Paddington Station in London on 14th May 1870 (aged 24) while awaiting a delivery of arms. He was convicted of treason felony and sentenced to 15 years of penal servitude in Dartmoor Prison; Davitt felt that he had not had a fair trial or the best of defence.
He was kept in solitary confinement and received very harsh treatment during the un-remitted portion of his term. In prison he concluded that ownership of the land by the people was the only solution to Ireland's problems. He managed to get a covert contact to an Irish Parliamentary Party MP, John O'Connor Power, who began to campaign against cruelty inflicted on political prisoners. He often read Davitt's letters in the House of Commons, with his Party pressing for an amnesty for Irish Nationalist prisoners. Partially due to public furore over his treatment. Davitt was released (along with other political prisoners) on 19th December 1877 (aged 31), when he had served seven and a half years, on a "ticket to leave". He and the other prisoners were given a hero's welcome on landing in Ireland.
Davitt rejoined the IRB and became a member of its Supreme Council. The British Government had introduced a concept of "fair rents" in 1870 as a part of the first of the Irish Land Acts, but he continued to hold that the common people of Ireland could not improve their lot without the ownership of their land, and frequently insisted at Fenian meetings that "the land question can be definitely settled only by making the cultivators of the soil proprietors".
|Michael Davitts grave at Straide Co. Mayo,|
(John O'Connor of Swinford - Chairman of
Davitt Museum 1984 - 1986
In 1873 (aged 27) while Davitt was imprisoned his mother and three sisters had settled in Philadephia, Pennsylvania. In 1878 (aged 32) Davitt travelled to the United States in a lecture tour organised by John Devoy and the Fenians, hoping to gain the support of Irish-American communities for his new policy of "The Land for the People". He returned in 1879 (aged 33) to his native Mayo where he at once involved himself in land Agitation.
There is also further documentation about the follow on years when Davitt was not resident in Haslingden eg: (1876 to 1906) (aged 30 to aged 60) When on release from prison he became heavily involved with the formation of the Land League and was also very busy helping the land agitation cause through politics.
Davitt died in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on 30th May 1906, (aged 60), from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attended the funeral was a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner had taken. The plan had been not to have a public funeral, and hence Davitt's body was brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin. However, the next day over 20,000 people filed past his coffin. His remains were then taken to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey at Straide (near Foxford), near where he was born.
Davitt's - Haslingden Memorials
There is a mural tablet commemorating Davitt at St. Mary's Church, Haslingden unveiled in 1908. Also the Church organ was given in memory of Michael Davitt.
On Wilkinson Street in Haslingden at just the site where Davitt's house used to be there is a memorial to Michael Davitt.
1. (I have tried to make references throughout all historic dates in relation to the age of Davitt at that time which are shown in bold type within brackets)
2. (Most of this information has been extracted from the "Davitt's Haslingden" by kind permission of Dr. John Dunleavy and also some notes have been taken from the Wikimedia Commons Attributions articles). I have also have had kind contributions from Marie Ives, Angus Lindsay and the undermentioned newspaper cuttings from Jackie at Haslingden Roots)
3. The above information covers most of the Davitt events that happened during the time Michael Davitt and his family were living in Haslingden (1850 to 1870).
4. May I suggest if you want a more comprehensive read on Michael Davitt. The following two publications are well worth perusal and available at the local Library:
Davitt's Haslingden by Dr. John Dunleavy,
Davitt Exile and Exiles by Dr. John Dunleavy
also for Davitt generally, his "Jottings in Solitary and the Collected Writings of Michael Davitt, both compiled and edited by Carla King, provide an invaluable source of information. There are also numerous other books on Davitt's writings.
Following on are odd Newspaper Cuttings and a couple of brilliant poems which were done by the late Jim Garnett on the Davitt story and are portrayed on the walls at the IDL Club in George Street, Haslingden. I will try and add further information from time to time.
|Michael Davitt in the 1890s|
The electors of Rossendale will next week have the advantage of seeing and hearing a man who is in some respects the most remarkable of his time – Mr Michael Davitt. The Irish lad who lost his right arm in a Haslingden mill more than 30 years ago will re-appear in that town, the foremost man of his race. But what is he coming to do? That is the question which the men who work for their living in the Rossendale Valley should ask themselves. The answer most likely to be given to the question is – “Why he is coming to help Mr Maden to beat Sir Thomas Brooks.” But I hope and believe there is amongst the workers of Rossendale sufficient astuteness to see that Mr Maden and Sir Thomas Brooks in this contest are representatives respectively of two great powers, viz, the Power of the People and the Power of Privilege. The real question at issue therefore is not merely whether Mr Maden shall beat Sir Thomas, but whether the Power of the People shall prevail over the Power of Privilege. The privileged classes all over the world toil not, neither do they spin. It is their privilege to revel in luxury, and often in wantoness on the proceeds of the agony and bloody sweat of the people. But all over the World the people are engaged in a mighty struggle to get rid of the burden of privilege. No living man has done more than Michael Davitt to aid the toiling masses to accomplish this purpose, and he is coming to Rossendale next week to help the working men and women in this valley to strike an effective blow in the sacred cause of the people as against the selfish cause of the privilege. Let the people of Rossendale look at the present contest in this light and they cannot have a moment’s hesitation in recording their votes for Mr Maden, the champion of the cause of the unprivileged people, and against Sir Thomas Brooks, the representative of the cause of the privileged class. It is a great occasion. The seat has for years been held by one of the foremost representatives of the privileged classes. To win it for the representative of the cause of the people will be the greatest triumph that cause has enjoyed in recent years. The victory of Mr. Maden will give a thrill of joy to all the friends of popular liberty, not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but all over the world. Other victories have served to fill Irish hearts with confidence, and to unite the Irish and English people, but to win the seat lately held by one of the most powerful leaders of the Party of Privilege would do more than has yet been done to settle the Irish question, and make the way clear for the reactment of those other questions affecting the well being of the toilers of these islands which are every day becoming more and more argent. In short, victory in Rossendale will be prophetic of the victory of the Party of the People over the Party of Privilege at the general election now rapidly approaching.
|Michael Davitt 1904 aged 58|
Obituary (taken from one of the local newspapers of the time and dated: 31st May 1906
The Haslingden branch of the League was named after the patriot whose strenuous life so unfortunately terminated early yesterday morning. Mr Davitt was in excellent health until a few weeks ago, and he rendered great help to English Liberal and labour candidates during the recent general election, his last appearance in Lancashire being on January 6th, when he spoke on behalf of the respective candidatures of Messrs. Kelly and Clynes, both of whom were successful at the poll. Aged 60 years in March last, Mr. Davitt had one of the most remarkable careers in Irish political history. He will be best remembered as a fierce and life-long opponent of landlordism, a struggle which involved him in frequent imprisonment. Altogether he spent over nine years in gaol, May 6th 1882 being
A DARK DAY IN HIS HISTORY and in Irish annals. It is the date of the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke, in Phoenix Park, and Michael Davitt's day for rejoicing on his liberation from prison was turned into one of mourning. "I wish to God I had never left Portland" was his cry as he learnt of this terrible misdeed of the Irish Invincibles.
Mr. Davitt succumbed in Dublin , after a brief illness, the cause of death being blood-poisoning, which appears to have been set up by the generally simple operation of the extraction of a tooth. The end came peaceably and without pain. At ghis bedside were his eldest son, Michael, two daughters, who had been attending him and a number of his most intimate friends. Mrs. Davitt has herself been ill, and was too weak to leave her room. Under such pathetic conditions died the man who, while in Haslingden, commenced his career as a rebel, and later became a strenuous reformer of an admittedly harsh system of government. He was an admittedly harsh system of government. He was an untiring advocate of Land League principles, the Irish National League being practically the outcome of his efforts.
ACCIDENT AT ALLIANCE MILL, BAXENDEN - "And it was there I had my arm so lacerated through being caught between exposed cog wheels that it had to be amputated ten days subsequently. The accident occurred on the 8th of May, 1857 (aged 11). Needless to say how proud I was of the part which dear old Haslingden played in the glorious victory which rescued Rossendale from the "paper Unionist." I presume Sir Tom Brooks' colour is no longer a 'puzzle'. Poor chap looked terribly blue when the poll was declared. Yours truly, Michael Davitt." Whether the proprietors of the mill at which the accident occurred were su bsequently responsible for - MICHAEL'S EDUCATION is not definately known, although it has been assumed that such was the case. At that time there was of course no Catholic School in Haslingden, and one of Michael's teachers was Mr. Poskett, who has naturally always taken great interest in the career of his distinguished pupil. The misfortune already referred to in all probability contributed to the shaping of his after career. When sufficiently recovered from the effects of the operation, which was performed by Dr. Taylor a Rawtenstall surgeon of repute. Michael entered the service of Mr. Cockcroft, printer and stationer, and postmaster of Haslingden. Here the future Irish leader remained for several years, employing his leisure hours in the cultivation of his mind and fitting himself for the part he has subsequently played in his country's history. As a proof of Mr. Davitt's indomintable pluck, ready resource, and energy, even in his youthful days.
MR. MADEN'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN bore magnificent witness. During the memorable campaign, which culminated in such a striking Liberal and Home Rule victory Mr. Davitt supported the candidate of Mr. Maden, and it was during his visit to Rossendale that he, in company with the Rev. J. Hirst Hollowell, of Rochdale, a well known minister who was actively exposing the cause of Home Rule, paid a visit to the house of his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Cartin. Mr Davitt is held in affectionate esteem by Councillor Cartin, who has a distinct remembrance of his friend's impulsive temperament and disregard for danger. Mr. Cartin remembers that when Michael's father and mother eventually emigrated to America, Michael, then a young man, accompanied the old people to Liverpool; that he was shadowed by detectives en route, and that he was very soon afterwards apprehended. Mr. Davitt also spoke at St. John's School, Baxenden, on behalf of Sir Joseph Lo_se, and on every possible occasion he has evinced an active interest in the locality which was formerly his "happy hunting ground." His earlier exploits are spoken of pretty freely by the older generation of Haslingden people, although many of the anecdotes are probably exaggerated. It is recorded of him that he got together a band of Irishmen during the riots brought about by the visit to Haslingden of Mr. Murphy, the famous Protestant lecturer.
AT COUNCILLOR CARTIN'S HOUSE Davitt's political opinions were moulded at an early age, and he would naturally be stirred to indignation by the recital of his father's eviction from the farm. His mother, who since coming to Haslingden is said to have gone about hawking smallwares, was a strong minded woman and she told him again and again in her native, passionate Irish the story of landlord tyranny and wasting famine; a speech delivered at a local meeting suddenly crystallised his anger and aspiration, and Michael flung himself heart and soul into the ill fated Fenian movement. From being letter-carrier, book-keeper, and printer's devil he was eventually, in 1868 (aged 22), advanced to be a commercial traveller, dealing extensively in firearms. During the Murphy anti-Catholic riots he is said to have organised the Catholics of the neighbourhood in defence of their churches, and to have shown himself, on more than one occasion, a cool and resolute leader, in spite of his physical disadvantage and early years. In February 1867 (aged 21) he took part in the attempt to capture Chester Castle by a surprise attack, the attempt, like many other projects of the kind, coming to nothing. With the treason trials of 1868 practically all the world, friend and enemy, regarded Fenianism as a game that had been played and lost. Michael Davitt and many of his friends in the North of England, however, did not accept that verdict. They continued to push on their "secret" organisation and to buy and store up arms that were never to be used. For Davitt, the enterprise had a rapid and tragic issue. On May 14th 1870 (aged 24) he was
ARRESTED IN LONDON and on July 5th (aged 24) put on trial at Newgate in company with John Wilson, a Birmingham gunmaker, on a charge of treason-felony. It is true that Michael Davitt, in his youth, was a Fenian. He was only 24 when he was convicted of treason felony and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude.
Here above we have the two poems written by Jim Garnett in 1979. Jim, a local historian and member of the IDL Club, was born in Devon and moved to Haslingden during the Boer War. He resided at 189 Blackburn Road, till his death in 1981. His wife Bridget (Beasy) formerly Melvin, from Ballina, Co. Mayo survived him by 12 months. Jim's Grandparents lived on Wilkinson Street at the time when the Davitt's lived there and they were to become friends.
(Kindly given permission to use these poems here within this blog, and the poems can also be seen displayed upon the walls of the Irish Democratic League Club in George Street, Haslingden. 14th Mar 2015)