Monday, May 11, 2009

Cunninghame Graham - Bloody Sunday 1887

Robert Bontine Cunninghame-Graham

Bloody Sunday

Born in London on the 24th May 1852 to a prosperous family, he spent much of his childhood in Scotland. Later he made his fortune cattle ranching in Argentina, returning to Britain on the death of his father.

Although a socialist, at the 1886 General Election he stood as a Liberal Party candidate for North-West Lanarkshire.

He stood on a progressive platform which included:

  • the abolition of the House of Lords
  • universal suffrage
  • the nationalisation of land, mines and other industries
  • free school meals
  • disestablishment of the Church of England
  • Scottish Home Rule
  • the establishment of an eight-hour-day

Winning the seat he continued his socialist agitation on September 12, 1887 he was suspended from parliament for making a "disrespectful reference" to the House of Lords.

He was the first MP ever to be suspended from the House of Commons for swearing, using the word damn.

He attended the protest demonstration in Trafalgar Square on November 13, 1887 that was savagely broken up by the police. During what became known as Bloody Sunday 300 were arrested and many more injured, Cunninghame- Graham was just one of the many who was badly beaten by the Metropolitan Police and arrested.

The huge march was organised by the Social Democratic Federation and the Irish National League to demand the release from prison of William O'Brien MP, who was imprisoned for inciting a Land League rent strike on Lady Kingston's estate near Mitchelstown, Cork. When William O'Brien MP, was brought to trial on 9th September 1887 for his involvement, a 8,000 strong crowd outside the courthouse was attacked by the the Royal Irish Constabulary, shooting three men dead (John Casey, John Shinnick and Michael Lonergan) and wounding many more, this event was later known as the "Mitchelstown Massacre". An initial coroners report stated that the men had been killed unlawfully but this was soon quashed by the establishment. William Gladstone coined the phrase "Remember Mitchelstown".

On "Bloody Sunday" Alfred Linnell, a radical clerk, was run down by a police horse, trampled and killed. another man W. B. Curner was also killed. At Linnell's funeral on 18th December 1887 became a major political event organised by the socialists. William Morris wrote A Death Song' for the funeral, which was sung by the thousands who attended his funeral at Tower hamlets cemetery.

"We asked them for a life of toilsome earning,
They bade us bide their leisure for our bread;
We craved to speak to tell our woeful learning:
We come back speechless, bearing back our dead.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day

Both Cunninghame-Graham and John Burns were found guilty for their involvement in the demonstration and sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment in Pentonville prison.

Undaunted he continued to support workers fighting to improve conditions, He was suspended from the House of Commons in December, 1888 for protesting about the working conditions of chain makers, he gave valuable support to Annie Besant organising the Match girls as well as the Dock strike of 1889.

He was a friend of Kier Hardie and Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl Marx, Eleanor Marx being the first women political speaker on West Drayton common September 1890 in support of the local Gas Workers Union (brickmakers & horticultural) branch.

Cunningham Graham spoke on West Drayton Green, Hillingdon in June 1891

Cunninghame Graham died in 1936 and is buried at Inchmahome Priory on the island of Inchmahome in the Lake of Menteith, Scotland.