© 2014 University of Chicago Library
Hunt, Henry. Papers. MS 563
2.5 linear feet (2 boxes)
Special Collections Research Center
The collection, Codex MS 563, contains correspondence to, from, and about English political reformer and orator Henry Hunt. The collection also contains other papers, such as business agreements and financial settlements, petitions, and poems. The material dates from 1760 to 1838, with the bulk of it dating from 1819 to 1831.
The collection is open for research.
When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Henry Hunt Papers. MS 563, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
Henry Hunt was born on November 6, 1773 to Thomas and Elizabeth Powell Hunt, on a prosperous farm in Wiltshire, England. He grew up and was educated in and around Wiltshire. During the 1790s, Hunt served in the local yeoman cavalry, and upon succeeding to his father’s estate set himself up as a gentleman farmer. On January 19, 1796, Hunt married Ann Holcomb. The couple had two sons, Thomas and Henry, and a daughter Ann. Henry and Ann separated in 1802, and it is believed that Henry settled with his mistress Catherine Vince.
The dissolution of Hunt’s marriage coincided with his political radicalization around the turn of the century. He became a follower of Major John Cartwright and a supporter of reformist MP Francis Burdett. Hunt himself made several unsuccessful runs for Parliament, running on programs of radical democratic reform that included annual Parliaments and universal suffrage. Hunt’s political activities made him the target of numerous spurious legal actions and politically motivated prosecution attempts, which forced him to quit farming in the early 1810s and eventually move to London.
Hunt’s political reputation derived mainly from his skills as a public speaker; detractors dubbed him “Orator Hunt.” He was invited to speak at the mass meetings at Spa Fields 1816, which devolved into the Spa Fields riots. More significantly, he was the featured speaker at a Manchester rally that took place on August 16, 1819. Organized by the Manchester Political Union, the rally was a reaction to poor economic conditions following the Napoleonic Wars, limited suffrage in the North of England, and legislation such as the protectionist Corn Laws, which imposed high import duties on foreign grain, keeping food prices high and preventing adequate food access for the working classes. Hunt was arrested at the rally on a warrant issued that day, but as the cavalry charged though the crowd to get to him, chaos ensued and about 15 people were killed. The gathering had taken place in St. Peter’s Field, and so the event was dubbed the Peterloo Massacre in an ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo. Hunt was tried in early 1820 for sedition, and was sentenced to a term of 30 months at Ilchester Gaol.
During his incarceration, Hunt kept busy writing. He drafted petitions and speeches, wrote letters, and attempted to launch repeated inquiries into the circumstances of his trial and conviction. He complained vociferously about the conditions of his imprisonment (he spent about 40 days in solitary confinement) and about prison conditions generally. His time in prison also produced The Memoirs of Henry Hunt, Esq., a three-volume account of his life and political activities published between 1820 and 1822.
Upon his release, Hunt returned to London, where he was elected city auditor in 1826. Ever the reformer, he pushed for openness and accountability with the city’s accounts. He served until 1829, and in December 1830 was elected to Parliament from Preston, where he continued to fight for universal suffrage, parliamentary reforms, improved labor conditions and agricultural policies, and an end to the Irish tithe and expansion of the English Poor Laws to Ireland.
After leaving farming, Hunt turned to various business ventures to make money. One, launched just before his imprisonment, was a “Breakfast Powder” made of roasted grain that was meant to be tax-exempt, an affordable alternative to the heavily-taxed tea and coffee. After prison he went into the boot blacking business, selling bottles in England and Paris with progressive slogans on the labels. The boot-blacking venture provided cartoonists of the period with easy material, but did not survive past 1830.
Hunt’s term in Parliament ended in 1832 and he failed to win re-election. He died in February 1835 at Arlesford, Hampshire, shortly after suffering a stroke.
The collection was originally catalogued as Codex MS 563.The collection is divided into three series: Correspondence, Documents, and Oversize.
Series, I, Correspondence, contains letters to and from Henry Hunt, as well as some correspondence among his associates. Much of the correspondence dates from Hunt’s 1819-1922 prison term. Material is arranged chronologically, with undated material at the end.
Series II, Documents, contains business agreements and other records, petitions and legal documents as well as manuscripts of two poems by Thomas Hunt, Henry’s father. Material is arranged chronologically, with undated material at the end arranged alphabetically by author.
Series III, Oversize, contains oversize correspondence and a petition.
Though small, the collection is notable for the correspondents represented and the letters from Hunt’s imprisonment. It includes correspondence with radical Scottish MP Joseph Hume, prison reformer and suffrage supported Charles Pearson, writer and editor Richard Alfred Davenport, and one letter from Hunt to the Marquis de Lafayette. Of particular interest is a short series of letters from Ellen Courtenay, mother of a child by Irish Catholic political hero Daniel O’Connell. Arrested long after the child’s birth for debts incurred in raising it, Courtenay appealed several times to Hunt for whatever assistance he could give her. Hunt forwarded a copy of the first of her letters to O’Connell, accompanied by a letter of his own indicating no great admiration for O’Connell’s character and an inclination to believe Courtenay.
Among the other documents, items of interest include Hunt’s separation agreement with wife Ann and a draft page of his memoir. Series III includes an 1821 petition (not apparently signed by Henry Hunt) regarding conditions at Ilchester Gaol.
The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:
O'Gorman Mahon. Papers
Series I: Correspondence
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Correspondence [1 of 2], 1822:
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Correspondence [2 of 2], 1822:
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Correspondence, 1834, 1838:
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Series II: Documents
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Hunt, Thomas – “The Gentleman’s Scull [sic]” and “The Lady’s Scull,” July 23, 1760
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Henry Hunt, et al. – Parish of Enford, Cattle Pioneers Resolution, May 4, 1798
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Bond for Provision of Ann Hunt and Children (Henry and Ann Hunt Separation), September 6, 1802
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Hunt, Henry and James Target, Gamekeeping Agreement, February 20, 1811
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Hunt, Henry – Subscription Account Statement of Payment, July 10, 1820
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Tripp, Henry – “Mr. Tripp’s Opinion” (Prison Rules), March 22, 1821
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Hunt, Henry – Memoir Excerpt (manuscript draft, numbered 368) with letter from Henry Hunt, Ilchester, to Richard Alfred Davenport, “Tuesday 19th Day Solitary,” on overleaf, circa 1821
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Hunt, Henry and James Down – Agreement, September 6, 1822
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Hunt, Henry and John Epps – Rental Agreement, October 13, 1823
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Hunt, Henry, Charles Wolseley, and Frederick Stade – Blacking Manufacture and Sales Agreement, July 17, 1828
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Hunt, Henry, Thomas Sunderland, and Levy Zachariah – Business Agreement, May 15, 1830
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Berthold, Henry – Petition to the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament Assembled, undated
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Hunt, Thomas – “Song,” undated
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Pearson, Charles – Bankruptcy Settlement with Henry Hunt, undated
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Unsigned Manuscript “Read this and tremble . . .,” undated
Series III: Oversize
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Petition to William Hanning, High Sheriff of the County of Somerset, 1821