Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Loveless (1797–1874)

by G. Rudé

This article was published:

George Loveless (1797-1874), Dorchester labourer and Tolpuddle 'martyr', was born in 1797 at the village of Tolpuddle, near Dorchester, in Dorset, England, where he worked as a ploughman, married and had three children. By 1830 he appears to have become respected in his own and neighbouring villages as a community leader and Wesleyan preacher. His writings and his part in the agricultural workers' movement of the 1830s indicate that he had read Robert Owen and was familiar with attempts then being made to establish trades unions in London, Birmingham and other districts. According to his own account he played no part in the agrarian disturbances that convulsed the southern counties in August-December 1830; but in the next two years he represented the Dorchester agricultural labourers in discussions with the farmers, who agreed to raise wages to 10s. a week. At Tolpuddle, however, farmers refused to pay more than 9s. and later reduced wages to 8s. and 7s., and threatened to reduce them to 6s. To protect their livelihood the labourers, advised by Loveless and two delegates from London, in October 1833 formed a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, which charged an entrance fee of 1s. and a subscription of 1d. a week and began to meet at Thomas Standfield's cottage at Tolpuddle. Since 1824 it had no longer been illegal to form trades unions, but witnesses were found to testify that Loveless and his associates had bound their members by 'unlawful oaths', a felony under an Act of 1797, and for this offence the labourers' six leaders, George Loveless, his brother James, their brother-in-law Thomas Standfield, their nephew Thomas Standfield, James Hammett and James Brine, were found guilty at the Dorchester Assizes in March 1834, and sentenced to transportation for seven years to the Australian colonies.

James Loveless, the two Standfields, Hammett and Brine sailed in the Surry to Sydney, where they arrived in August 1834. George Loveless was separated from his companions and sent to Van Diemen's Land in the William Metcalfe, reaching Hobart Town on 4 September. Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur appreciated his sterling qualities and exemplary character and sent him to work on the domain farm at New Town as a shepherd and stock-keeper. Later he was employed by Major William de Gillern at Glen Ayr, near Richmond; there he read in the London Dispatch of the great campaign that had been conducted in London for the prisoners' release and of Lord John Russell's order on 10 March 1836, that free pardons be issued to them. Loveless, however, had some months previously been persuaded to write to ask his wife Elizabeth to join him; when offered a free passage to England, he refused to accept it until certain that she had not already sailed. This delayed his departure for several months, but on 30 January 1837 he embarked in the Eveline and reached London in June. Meanwhile the authorities in New South Wales had been far more dilatory in conveying the government's instructions and offer to his companions. It was not until 11 September that James Loveless, Brine and the Standfields sailed from Sydney in the John Barry, reaching Plymouth in March 1838. James Hammett, who had been working in the interior of the colony, did not arrive in England until September 1839.

On their return the Lovelesses, Standfields and Brine settled on farms near Chipping Ongar in Essex, and migrated to Canada a few years later; James Hammett alone went back to Tolpuddle. George Loveless, like his companions, became an active Chartist; he wrote The Victims of Whiggery (London, 1837), a remarkable account of the Dorchester labourers' experiences and of the transportation system. He died on a farm at London, Ontario, on 6 March 1874.

Select Bibliography

  • W. M. Citrine et al (eds), The Book of the Martyrs of Tolpuddle, 1834-1934 (Lond, 1934)
  • Ac nos 2/159, 2/395 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. Rudé, 'Loveless, George (1797–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Tolpuddle, Dorset, England


6 March, 1874 (aged ~ 77)
London, Ontario, Canada

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: unlawful oaths
Sentence: 7 years
Court: Dorset
Trial Date: March 1834


Left the colony: Yes