Margaret Jollie: "Unflinching Supporter of the Cause of the People"
Occasionally family oral history turns out to be true. One such story, passed down to many Jollie descendants, was that of Edward Jollie’s mother, Margaret (1795-1872). As Edward's memoir recounts, she was widowed at a young age and left with five children to support. He does not mention, perhaps because at the time it was embarrassing, that his mother had done time in Carlisle Goal. The family story is that, as the owner of a newspaper, she was unjustly sued for libel, went to goal taking the infant Edward with her, and emerged undaunted some time later, whereupon she was presented with a silver tea service by her numerous admirers. There was some corroborating evidence for this story as someone had photographed the tea service and copied out its inscription: "Presented by the Reformers of East Cumberland to Margaret Jollie, One of the Proprietors of the Carlisle Journal, The unflinching supporter of the cause of the people. June 7, 1834." The details of the libel and its political context were lost from the oral history but a little research reveals an interesting "back story" including a connection to William Wordsworth which does not show him in a favourable light. The historical record corroborates most of the family narrative though I have not been able to ascertain if Edward Jollie, actually eight years old at the time, not an infant, did indeed accompany his mother to prison.
The Carlisle Journal was a radical Whig newspaper founded by Francis Jollie the Elder in 1798 and inherited by Francis Jollie the Younger, who married Margaret Routledge, the daughter of a tanner from Brampton, around 1813 when she was about 17 according to Edward's memoir. Francis the Younger died in 1826 when Edward was a year old. The widow Margaret then became the owner of the paper and hired James Steele as Editor. She moved to a small house in Lonsdale St. (the street name is ironic in the context of what follows), Carlisle where, Edward writes: "She had but a small income to keep the house going and to feed five hungry children, but by careful economy she managed to satisfy our hunger, clothe us comfortably, and to give us as good schooling as the Town afforded." Between 1831 and 1836 Margaret Jollie and James Steel were co-owners of the journal, after which she sold it to him.
The trial of Margaret Jollie took place in 1833, just after the Whigs had defeated the Tories and passed the Reform Act. It was a time of rapid industrialization and raised political consciousness among the working and middle classes. The Act responded to concerns about the exodus of people from the countryside to the cities and the dangers of unregulated industry. It implemented radical changes to Britain's electoral system, redistributing seats in favour of the industrial cities rather than the wealthy landed gentry, and presaged other reforms such as the abolition of slavery, the introduction of state grants for schools, and the beginnings of a state funded welfare system. The Carlisle Journal was pro reform and the Jollie family had long supported parliamentary reform (for example see The Times, 07 Jan 1817 - Carlisle Reform Meeting at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/cumberland/2006-05/1147818973). More specifically, in relation to Margaret Jollie's trial and imprisonment, the newspaper was highly critical of a powerful coal magnate, Tory politician and landowner, William Lowther, First Earl of Lonsdale. Lonsdale opposed reform and manipulated the press to support his views, ensuring that newspapers he owned or controlled reported little on various disasters in mines owned by his family or on the anti-Lowther riots that took place in Carlisle in 1826 in which a woman and a child were killed by soldiers (for more information see the discussion thread at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/CUMBERLAND/2007-02/1172355445).
The Carlisle Journal, along with two other newspapers, claimed that Lonsdale had misappropriated funds donated for a charity he had established, St. Bee's School, by surreptitiously obtaining a lease of coal-mines belonging to the school. It was alleged that over the years he had defrauded the charity of about a third of a million pounds, a vast sum of money in those days. Lonsdale sued the newspapers for libel. The other two backed down and apologized but The Carlisle Journal did not and Margaret Jollie was tried and convicted. Her co-proprietor, James Steel was acquitted on a technicality because his name was incorrect on an affidavit provided by the distributor of stamps for Westmoreland.
The Times (Aug 10, 1833) reprinted an account of the trial from The Carlisle Journal, excerpted here:
Mr. Cresswell, who appeared for the defendant Margaret Jollie… cross-examined the witness at considerable length, as to whether there was not such a lease in existence as that mentioned in the publication of the defendants, and whether an inquiry had not taken place into the circumstances under which the noble Earl held the mines, before the House of Commons or before the commissioners for investigating public charities, and whether those commissioners had not directed a bill to be filed against the Earl, and whether a bill had not, in fact, been filed against and an answer been put in by him.
During the whole of this cross-examination, Mr. Pollock contended that these questions could not be put… which left only the simple questions - whether the defendants were the proprietors of, and whether they did publish, the paper complained of... [Mr. Cresswell concluded that he] could not but quote the words of a great constitutionalist upon this subject: - "Shame to England! oh, shame to England; shame to the grass in her fields, and the dust in her graves, when her nobles depart from the path of rectitude and violate the trust reposed in them, and the people raise not their voice; then woe and sorrow to England."
"You may find that," continued the learned gentleman, "the time may come when the press shall have ceased to watch over the actions of nobles and of rulers, but you will find it only in the grave of the liberties of the people of England". The learned gentleman concluded a short but powerful and eloquent speech, which was followed by the applause of the numerous audience.
At the end of a trial in which the jury was apparently not allowed to hear evidence supporting the truth of The Carlisle Journal's allegations and had to base their decision on Lonsdale's oath alone, the following verdict was returned: - "We find the defendant Margaret Jollie guilty, but recommend her in the strongest manner to the merciful consideration of the Court." Yet, despite this recommendation, the actual outcome was that she was sent to Carlisle Goal without possibility of bail. The Times editorial of Dec. 3, 1833 described the treatment of "the widow Jollie" as "a piece of gratuitous harshness to which there is seldom parallel found" and other papers also expressed shock at these events and concern for the five children left without a mother while she was in prison. The Whitehaven Herald, one of the other papers originally accused of libel, commented ironically on Lonsdale's "manly and charitable purpose of consigning to goal before sentence, a defenseless female".
The poet William Wordsworth played a cameo role in this trial. Though minor, his role was revealing in that it shows him in a different light from the one most people today might imagine. Wordsworth, who earlier in his life had passionately argued for reform and republican causes, was present at the trial in his official role of distributor of stamps for Westmoreland. Lonsdale was William Wordsworth's patron and, in another example of his manipulation of the press, had insisted a number of years before the trial that if Wordsworth wanted a government post all remaining copies of a radical tract he had written, Concerning the Convention of Cintra, on the betrayal of Spanish and Portuguese patriots by British senior officers during the Peninsular War, should be withdrawn and destroyed. Thus, ironically since he was Lonsdale's protégé, it was Wordsworth's office that was responsible for James Steel's acquittal. Even more ironically, despite the destruction of the Cintra tract, it happened that there was present in the court a young radical lawyer, Edward Rushton Jr. (1795-1851), who had memorized long passages from Cintra and was able to pass them along to Mr. Cresswell, counsel for the defense. Thus Wordsworth's radical words, suppressed by Lonsdale, were nevertheless used eloquently against the latter and in favour of freedom of the press. Rushton described Wordsworth's reaction: "Wordsworth sat, during the trial, with his face buried in his hands, but when he heard this glowing passage [a quotation from Cintra used by Cresswell] he uncovered his face, which was suffused with a blush which made his ears red… the most was not made of it." (W. L. Rushton (Ed.) Letters of a Templar, 1820-50 (London, 1903), 169-70 cited in Burke, 2007). Immediately following the trial, however, Wordsworth, still in the pay of Lonsdale, wrote two sonnets defending him, "Lowther, in thy majestic pile are seen" (referring to Lowther Castle, Lonsdale's home) and "To the Earl of Lonsdale". The former declaims "Hourly the democratic torrent swells" (against Lowther Castle) and the latter describes Lonsdale's "fortitude and Christian charity". It seems that, even though Lonsdale's name was officially cleared with Margaret Jollie, "unflinching supporter of the cause of the people", being found guilty and imprisoned in Carlisle Gaol, public opinion was with her, necessitating Wordsworth's all too obvious "spin" in Lonsdale's favour.
A postscript relating to the oral history is that one version of the family story says that Margaret Jollie was very well treated while in prison, and in fact stayed with the gaoler's family rather than in a cell. This may be a sort of "cover story" to soften the family's humiliation but, given the pro-reform and anti-Lowther sentiments prevalent in Carlisle at the time, it may well be true. However, it is another detail that I have not been able to corroborate. It is also interesting that the colonial gentry couple, Edward Jollie and Caroline Orsmond each had a parent or grandparent who had been imprisoned.
Burke, Tim. (2005). Lord Lonsdale and His Protégés: William Wordsworth and John Hardie. Criticism. Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 515-529. Retrieved Aug. 1, 2008 from: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/criticism/v047/47.4burke.html
Coleman, Deirdre. (1989). Re-Living Jacobinism: Wordsworth and the Convention of Cintra, The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 19, The French Revolution in English Literature and Art Special Number, pp. 144-161.
Wordsworth, William. (1809, 2008). Concerning The Convention Of Cintra, W. J. B. Owen (Ed.). Humanities E-books 2008. Retrieved Aug. 1, 2008 from (http://www.humanities-ebooks.co.uk/Catalogue/William_Wordsworth_The_Convention_of_Cintra.html)
Wordsworth, William. (1876). The Prose Works of William Wordsworth: For the First Time Collected with Additions from Unpublished Manuscripts. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Ed.) Moxon, 1876. Retrieved Aug. 12, 2008 from
[CUMB] The Times, 10 Aug 1833 Earl of Lonsdale Libel Cases (6). Retrieved Aug. 12, 2008:
[CUMB] The Times, 26 Nov 1833 - Earl of Lonsdale Libel Cases (7). Retrieved Aug. 12, 2008:
[CUMB] The Times, Tuesday, Jan 07, 1817; pg. 3; Issue 10038; col B, MEETING FOR REFORM AT CARLISLE (From The Carlisle Patriot) at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/CUMBERLAND/2007-02/1172355445
[CUMB] The Times, 07 Jan 1817 - Carlisle Reform Meeting at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/cumberland/2006-05/1147818973