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Printed attacks on the Poor Law Amendment Act

"Marcus on Populousness"

This famous piece of anti-Poor Law propaganda came from two obscure pamphlets published in 1838, An Essay on Populousness and On the Possibility of Limiting Populousness by 'Marcus' . Both pamphlets discussed the possible use of infanticide for dealing with the population explosion. The former suggested painless extermination by gaz. Both were probably the work of a Malthusian crank. They were publicised widely by Joseph Rayner Stephens and also by two leading Chartist newspapers, Augustus Beaumont's Northern Liberator and Feargus O'Connor's Northern Star. It was alleged that the pamphlets were the work of the Poor Law Commissioners or their associates, who were known to hold Malthusian views on population. The anti-Poor Law movement claimed that the original pamphlet had been suppressed and so produced a "People's Edition" which they called The Book of Murder.

Northern Liberator, 12 January 1839

We see that our exposure of this shocking publication has done its work, and that the country rings with execrations of it and of its author or authors.

The Rev. Mr. Stephens amongst others, our readers will see, has made good use of it. The hack-slave Globe half denies its existence and then says "even if it be a bad joke, the author should be punished." We repeat WE HAVE the murder pamphlet; we quoted it verbatim et liberatim in our dissection of it; and it is NO JOKE!!

It is a bona-fide, grave, earnest, scientific proposal to murder every third infant (with a few exceptions) by "painless extinction" by means of (carbonic acid) "gas". Who may be Marcus its author, we know not. Certain it is that it cannot have been written by any Christian, nor by any infidel who admits the beautiful morality of the New and much of the Old Testament; nor by any person unhardened by doctrines subversive of humanity as well as charity. By a Malthusian it MUST have been written. Now Lord Brougham is a defender of Malthus to the uttermost horrors of his doctrine. Lord Howick is the same. Mr. Place, the drawer up of the horrid bill, is the same. the villainous Commissioners are their agent to carry out these execrable doctrines with effect. Amongst THE GANG then, the authorship rests. We are well read in "styles"; and we say that Marcus, whoever he be, has read Jeremy Bentham's works much; and that the style is tinged with that of the Malthusian sage.


I am grateful to Roger Hawkins for the following information concerning Augustus Beaumont and the Northern Liberator.

He notes:

The above quotation from the Northern Liberator for 12 January 1839 cannot be ascribed to Augustus Beaumont, who had been dead for almost a year by then, and would have known nothing of the Marcus affair, let alone have been responsible for the editorial of January 1839.  Robert Blakey of Morpeth bought the paper from Beaumont about four weeks before his sudden and unexpected death.  Blakey himself wrote some of the editorials, but the chief contributor (often referred to, incorrectly, as the editor) was his friend Thomas Doubleday.  The Northern Liberator's best days were from early in 1838 to December 1839, when Blakey was the proprietor, Thomas Doubleday the chief contributor, and Thomas Devyr the sub-editor and reporter. back

 Anti-Poor Law Tales

George R. Wythen Baxter's The Book of the Bastiles (1841) was a cut-and-paste production, mainly from newspaper reports of anti-Poor Law demonstrations and speeches, together with lurid accounts of the cruelties practised on pauper inmates by sadistic workhouse master. The master of the Rochester workhouse was prosecuted and found guilty of assaulting the inmates. Baxter's book contains several extracts from reports of the master's trial and no doubt served to titillate its reader's imagination as well as to persuade the reader as to the frequency of such occurrences.

Richard Oastler's letter to Lord John Russell, 3 March 1838.

'Harriet Decoster Rushworth, twenty years old, with her daughter, an infant nine months old, were placed in the workhouse of St. George's-in-the-East.

Her baby was taken from her? and two other babies were put for her to suckle.
This was done the very day she went in.

'A little boy having been separated from his mother in Nottingham Union, raged in all the agony of despair, and actually tore off his own hair by handsful'.

Letter from Mr. John Perceval to Richard Oastler, Hastings, 11 May 1838

'It was stated at Icklesham, that a little child had been heard crying in the Union workhouse, in violent grief. "Let me out - let me out - I want to see my daddy - I must go to my daddy"'.

'One of the aged paupers said, 'that he was afraid to say all he knew, but he doubted if all that died, got fair burial.'

Rochester correspondent to The Times, 26 December 1840

'Upwards of half-a-dozen girls in the Hoo workhouse, some of them verging on womanhood, have at times had their persons exposed in the most brutal and indecent manner, by the Master, for the purpose of inflicting on them cruel floggings; and the same girls, at other times, have, in a scarcely less indecent manner, been compelled by him to strip the upper parts of their persons naked, to allow him to scourge them with birch rods on their bard shoulders and waists, and which, from more than one of the statements from the lips of the sufferers, appears to have been inflicted without mercy.

One girl says, "My back was marked with blood".

Another, a witness, who had not herself been punished, says, "We women were called to hold one of the girls while the Master flogged her; but we went down in the yard out of the way, because we could not bear the sight; afterwards we got ointment out of the sick ward to rub her back, for it was all cut to pieces".

Again, "One Sunday the Master flogged little Jemmy (a pauper's illegitimate child, then two years of age) with a birch rod, so that the child carried the marks a month, because it cried for its mother, who was gone to church, and for its little brother, who was that day put into breeches, and taken away from the children's ward."'


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