Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vincent, Henry

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717088Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58 — Vincent, Henry1899Albert Nicholson

VINCENT, HENRY (1813–1878), political agitator, was the eldest son of Thomas Vincent, gold and silver smith, of 145 High Holborn, where Henry was born on 10 May 1813. Business misfortunes led to the removal of the family to Hull eight years later, and when Vincent was eleven years of age he had already begun to earn his livelihood. In 1828 he was apprenticed to a printer in Hull. Owing to his father's death on 21 Feb. 1829, the widow and five other children became dependent to a great extent upon him. His father had inculcated in his mind a love of freedom and justice, and he had early taken an active part in public life in Hull, and was elected a member of the political union of that town. On the termination of his apprenticeship he removed with his mother and the rest of the family to London, where, through the influence of his uncle, he obtained a situation at Spottiswoode's, the king's printers, but, through some dissatisfaction arising with regard to the government printing, he and about sixty others left the firm. At this time his mother became possessed of a small independence. This enabled young Vincent to take an active part in the agitation which became known as the ‘Chartist’ movement. He was the chief speaker at the great meeting held in London in the autumn of 1838, and so remarkable had already become his command over an audience that he was styled by Sir William Molesworth [q. v.] the Demosthenes of the new movement.

On 9 May 1839 Vincent was arrested at his house in Cromer Street, London, on a warrant from the magistrates of the Newport Association for attending a riotous assemblage held in that town. He was taken to Bow Street, charged, and committed to Monmouth gaol to take his trial at the ensuing assizes. So great was the tumult outside the court that the mayor was obliged to read the Riot Act. On 2 Aug. 1839 Vincent, who had been refused bail, was tried at the Monmouth assizes by Sir Edward Hall Alderson [q. v.], baron of the exchequer. Serjeant Thomas Noon Talfourd [q. v.] conducted the case for the crown, and John Arthur Roebuck [q. v.] that for the defence. Roebuck showed clearly from the admissions of the chief witnesses for the prosecution that Vincent had told the people to disperse quietly and to keep the peace. Vincent, however, was found guilty and sentenced to twelve calendar months' imprisonment. On 9 Aug. Lord Brougham called the attention of the House of Lords to the case of Vincent, who, though found guilty of a misdemeanour on one count only, was treated as a felon. Lord Melbourne had to promise inquiry. The intense feeling among the Welsh miners at the treatment of the prisoner led to an armed rising of the chartists, and on the morning of 4 Nov. 1839 large bodies of these men, estimated variously at from eight thousand to twenty thousand, came in the direction of Newport, one of their objects being the release of Vincent and his friends. At Newport they came into collision with the military, and in a few minutes ten of the rioters were killed and about fifty wounded. Frost, their leader, was arrested that night, with Williams and Jones, leaders of other divisions which had not reached the town in time for the riot. In the March following Vincent and Edwards were a second time put upon their trial at the assizes at Monmouth for ‘having conspired together with John Frost to subvert the constituted authorities, and alter by force the constitution of the country;’ in another count they were charged with having used seditious language. Again Serjeant Talfourd conducted the prosecution. Vincent defended himself in so able a manner that the Monmouthshire jury, while bringing in both prisoners guilty, recommended Vincent to mercy. He was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment. The impression made by his defence may be judged by the fact that on 2 June following Talfourd presented a petition from Birmingham to the House of Commons, and called attention to the case of Vincent, and the great injustice that was being done him. He had been removed to the penitentiary at Milbank, where he was attired in a prison dress, fed on the prison diet, denied the use of books, pens, ink, and paper, and permitted to communicate with his friends only once in four months, and then only by letter. The discussion that took place on the occasion in the house, and the continued effort made by John Cleave, the printer and bookseller of Fleet Street, at last obtained a remission of the sentence, and Vincent was released from Oakham gaol, to which he had been removed, on 31 Jan. 1841. After his release Vincent married and settled at Bath, where he and his wife occupied themselves with the publication of the ‘Vindicator,’ an unsuccessful paper which Vincent had originally issued from Bath for some three or four months previous to his arrest in 1839. In the summer of 1841 he was persuaded to contest Banbury as an advanced radical. He was defeated. He suffered a like experience at Ipswich in 1842. It was at this time that, with his friend Joseph Sturge [q. v.], he helped to form the ‘Complete Suffrage Union,’ to endeavour to obtain the real advantages he had hoped from the chartist movement. In 1843 he contested Tavistock, in 1844 Kilmarnock, in 1846 Plymouth, in 1847 Ipswich again, in 1848, and again in 1852, York, but on all these occasions he was defeated.

His long career as a public lecturer began soon after his marriage with addresses on ‘The Constitutional History of Parliaments.’ He afterwards lectured on numbers of social and historical questions, and as an advocate of free trade and the education of the people did much to make great reforms possible. His subjects included: ‘Home Life: its Duties and its Pleasures,’ ‘The Philosophy of True Manliness,’ ‘Cromwell,’ ‘Milton,’ ‘Garibaldi,’ ‘The Working Classes of the World: their Social and Political Rights and Duties,’ and ‘City and Country Life in England.’ His strong advocacy of the cause of the north in the great struggle with the south made him a welcome visitor when he arrived in the United States in September 1866. He returned to England in the following spring, but so great had been his success in America that in October 1867 he repeated the visit, and again for the winter of 1869. He made his final tour in the States in the winter of 1875–6. It is difficult to overestimate the effect of his lectures both in England and in America.

Vincent's religious sympathies were with the Society of Friends, and it was his practice to attend ‘meeting;’ but he never was a member of the body, and he very frequently conducted the services on Sundays among the free churches as a lay preacher. He died on 29 Dec. 1878 at his house, 74 Gaisford Street, London. On 27 Feb. 1841 Vincent was married at the registration office, St. Luke's, Chelsea, to Lucy Chappell, daughter of John Cleave. His wife and several children survived him.

[Dorling's Biographical Sketch, 1879, with photographic portrait; Holyoake's Agitator's Life, 1892, i. 104.]

A. N.