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The 1820 Rising
The Radical War

My own interest in the Radical War of 1820 was prompted by a pamphlet on the Rising by Glasgow lawyer, Frank A. Sherry, published in the late 1960’s. This was followed by the publication of 'The Scottish Insurrection of 1820’ by Peter Berresford Ellis and the late Seumas Mac a’Ghobhainn in 1970 which gave an invaluable picture of the radical build-up from the days of Thomas Muir and the Friends of the People, through the Society of United Scotsmen, to 1820 and its aftermath.

The Scottish Radicals of 1820 had the smeddum to play and sing the Scottish National Anthem - unlike present day Scots - indeed the band leading a demonstration in Airdrie were arrested for playing ‘Scots Wha Hae’.

Earlier this year I came across an eyewitness account of the involvement of the 63 year old Nationalist Radical James ‘Purlie’ Wilson, Strathaven, in the 1820 Rising. The eye-witness, Mrs Hunter, was also among the crowd of 20,000 who witnessed his ‘murder’ by the authorities at Glasgow Green on 30th August 1820. The Authorities had decided to execute Wilson, in spite of a plea for clemency by the jury, but they certainly did not break his spirit. He stoically remarked to his executioner Thomas Moore on the way to the gallows "Did y’ever see sic a crowd Tammas?".

The pamphlet by Frank A. Sherry, reprinted in 1973, is long out of print, but the 1887 newspaper account by Mrs Hunter of 1820 reminded me that James Halliday, then Principal History Lecturer at Dundee College of Education, had carried out a similar task with a series of articles on 1820 in the monthly Nationalist newspaper the Scots Independent.

Ready permission was given to reprint the articles in booklet form, and furthermore ‘The Scots Independent’ agreed to publish same. Valuable additional information was provided by Ian O. Bayne of the 1820 Society particularly on the 19 Radicals transported to New South Wales.

It seemed appropriate in the year that the 19 names were added to the Martyrs Memorial in Sighthill Cemetery, Glasgow that details of their fate should appear in the appendices. The new plaque was unveiled in the presence of Mr Ian Wilcock, Minister of Trade and Policy at the Australian High Commission in London on 5 September 1993. After the unveiling Mr Wilcock laid a wreath and spoke of the contribution of the transported Scots to the development of Australia.

Their names along with the three executed Radicals James Wilson, Andrew Hardie, and John Baird should remind us, as Ian O. Bayne wrote in 1990 that 'The sacrifices made by the men of 1820 set a Scottish Agenda which - 170 years on - we have yet to complete’.

My thanks are extended to James Halliday, lan O. Bayne, John G. Inness, Jeff Fallow, Angus McGillveray, David Rollo, Hamish MacQueen and the Editor and Directors of the Scots Independent (Newspapers) Ltd for their assistance towards this publication. I would hope that this booklet will, as with Frank A. Sherry’s 25 years ago, inspire readers to seek greater knowledge of the 1820 Rising, the Radical War and its place in the history of Scotland.

Peter D. Wright

November 1993

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