Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jones, Ernest Charles

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JONES, ERNEST CHARLES (1819–1869), politician, of a Welsh family, son of Charles Jones, major in the 15th hussars and equerry to Ernest, duke of Cumberland, was born at Berlin 25 Jan. 1819. His father lived on his estate in Holstein, and the son was educated on the continent and attained some distinction at the college of St. Michael, Lüneburg. He wrote some poems before he was ten years old, which were published by Nesler at Hamburg, and at the age of eleven ran away from home to join the Polish insurgents, but was overtaken and brought back again. In 1838 his father returned to England, and Ernest entered upon the life of a man of good means and position, was presented to the queen in 1841 by the Duke of Beaufort, and married Miss Atherley of Barfield, Cumberland. In the same year he published a romantic novel, ‘The Wood Spirit,’ and engaged successfully in journalism. On 19 April 1844 he was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, but did not practise. In 1846 he first took the political course which he followed for the rest of his life, and joined the chartist movement. Though he was physically a small man, his powerful voice, his brilliant rhetoric, his dramatic gesture, his flowing speech, made him a most persuasive orator. He attached himself, probably without much serious consideration, to Feargus O'Connor, appeared at the Leeds conference in August 1846, and defended O'Connor against the attacks of Thomas Cooper. He threw himself energetically into the chartist cause, assisted in conducting O'Connor's monthly magazine, the ‘Labourer,’ in 1847, and wrote in the ‘Northern Star,’ of which he subsequently became editor. In August 1847 he contested Halifax, and polled 280 votes; he was the delegate for Halifax in the chartist convention in April 1848, and spoke after O'Connor at the monster meeting on Kennington Common. He was now an ardent advocate of physical force, visited Aberdeen, Dundee, and Edinburgh to urge the formation of a provisional government and a national guard, and was elected by the chartist national assembly a member of the chartist executive government. He had parted from O'Connor, who was for a peaceful movement. At length, after his seditious speeches at Clerkenwell Green and Bonner's Fields, 29 and 30 May, he was arrested at Manchester, tried at the July sessions of the central criminal court, found guilty, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. In gaol he refused to pick oakum, and was put upon bread and water for three days. O'Connor brought this treatment of a political convict before the House of Commons (Hansard, Parl. Debates, 18 June 1849), and was allowed to purchase his exemption from oakum-picking by a small weekly payment. On his release from gaol Jones became the principal leader of the disunited remnants of the chartist party, and used his influence strongly against O'Connor, whom he described under the name of ‘Simon de Brassier’ in his ‘History of a Democratic Movement,’ published in ‘Notes to the People.’ He lectured up and down the country, advocated a communistic plan of dealing with property in the chartist convention of 1851, again contested Halifax in 1852, obtaining fifty-one votes, and became editor of the chartist paper, ‘The People's Paper,’ at the same time. But chartism was practically extinct. By 1854 he was almost its only lecturer; he was at feud with several other chartist leaders, and henceforth passed into the ranks of the advanced radical party, advocating a land-reform scheme of his own of an indefinite nationalising character. In 1853 and 1857 he contested Nottingham. He devoted himself to law and letters, joined the northern circuit, and obtained some criminal practice. Between 1853 and 1855 he published a fiercely sensational novel, called ‘The Lass and the Lady;’ and a number of tales entitled respectively ‘Lord Lindsay,’ ‘The Maid of Warsaw,’ ‘Woman's Wrongs,’ ‘My Life,’ ‘Beldagan Church,’ and ‘The Painter of Florence.’ In 1855 appeared ‘The Battle Day and other Poems,’ of which Landor wrote to him: ‘It is noble; Byron would have envied, Scott would have applauded.’ His political songs, of which the best are ‘The Song of the Poor,’ ‘The Song of the Day-labourers,’ ‘The Song of the Factory-slave,’ and ‘The Song of the Poorer Classes,’ displayed considerable lyrical power, and were highly successful. In 1856 he wrote ‘The Emperor's Vigil,’ and published ‘Evenings with the People,’ a series of political addresses. In 1857 he published ‘The Revolt of Hindostan,’ said to have been written in prison with his own blood on the loose leaves of a torn prayer-book in 1848 and 1849, and privately printed in 1850; in 1859 he wrote ‘Corayda and other Poems.’ In 1867 he published a lecture on labour and capital, which he had delivered in several towns during that year. He was on the point of contesting Manchester, where he resided, as the radical candidate, and had almost a certainty of success, when he died suddenly at Higher Broughton, Manchester, on 26 Jan. 1869, and was buried with an imposing public funeral at Ardwick cemetery on 30 Jan. He left little or no property, and a public fund was raised for the benefit of his children. He was generally regarded, even by strong political opponents (e.g. Times, 27 March 1869), as a thoroughly disinterested, if mistaken, politician, and personally he was attractive and winning. It was currently said and generally believed that he had sacrificed his property to the chartist cause, and had refused a relation's offer of a large fortune on account of the condition attached to it, that he should renounce his political views. But his former chartist colleagues freely denied both his disinterestedness and his sincerity. As a poet he had much lyrical ability; his prose writings are of small value.

[His career as a chartist is fully but very adversely described in R. G. Gammage's Hist. of the Chartist Movement; see too T. Frost's Forty Years' Recollections. For other facts of his life see Times, 27 and 29 Jan. and 31 March 1868. For reviews of his poems see English Quarterly, 1851, and Dublin University Magazine, vol. iii.]

J. A. H.