Robert Gammage was born into a working class family in Northampton in about 1820. His parents were staunch members of the local Conservative Club. After a brief education Gammage left school at the age of eleven and found work in the Rose and Crown public house. At the age of twelve he became a coach trimmer with a local coach builder. Soon afterwards he became a Radical after reading Common Sense by Tom Paine.
When Henry Hetherington arrived in Northampton to form a branch of the Working Men's Association, Gammage was one of the first people to join. He was further inspired by hearing Henry Vincent make a speech in Northampton. At the age of eighteen, Gammage obtained his first speaking experience at recruitment meetings in villages in the Northampton area.
In February 1840, Gammage decided to leave Northampton. After visiting London, Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton and Salisbury he found temporary work in Sherbourne. A few weeks later he was on his travels again and over the next few months travelled 1,400 miles in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Wherever he went Gammage made contact with fellow Chartists. Gammage eventually found nine months work in Chelmsford, Essex. However, after nine months he was sacked when his employer discovered he was selling radical newspapers.
Back on the road Gammage met Thomas Cooper in Leicester, George Julian Harney in Sheffield and Fergus O'Connor in Leeds. Gammage gradually developed his public speaking skills and after a spell in Newcastle, he made his living by travelling around the country giving political lectures. An attempt to settle down by becoming a shoemaker came to an end when he was again sacked for his Chartist activities.
In 1852 Gammage joined with Bronterre O'Brien to help establish the National Reform League. In 1852 Gammage was elected to National Executive of the Chartist movement. However, he was a strong opponent of Physical Force and while on the Chartist executive constantly quarreled with Fergus O'Connor and Ernest Jones. Gammage lost the battle and in 1854 was ousted from the National Executive. Gammage had been working on a History of the Chartist Movement for several years. The first edition was published in 1855. Gammage continued to work on the book and a more detailed second edition was published after his death.
After a period working as an insurance agent, Robert Gammage qualified as a doctor in Newcastle. He worked in the Newcastle Infirmary for many years and then opened a medical practice in Sunderland. After his retirement in 1887 he moved back to Northampton where he died on 7th January, 1888, after an accident when he fell off a tram.
(1) R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement (1894)
That O'Connor had a desire to make the people happier, we never in our lives disputed. He would have devoted any amount of work for that purpose; but there was only one condition on which he would consent to serve the people - the condition was, that he should be their master; and in order to become so, he stopped to flatter their most unworthy prejudices, and while telling them that they ought to depend upon his judgment, he at the same time assured them that it was not he who had given them knowledge, but that on the contrary, it was they who had conferred on him what knowledge he possessed.
No other man ever stooped to flatter them so much. This was one of the secrets of his great popularity; but it was a popularity which was as unsettled as the waves. It swelled, and bubbled, and foamed for a while, only to recede, and to be lost to its former possessor. An excessive hankering after popularity, purchased at whatever price, was the great mistake of O'Connor's life. It led him to lend his influence, whenever the time arrived, to knock down every man who promised to rival him in the people's estimation.
(2) R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement (1894)
In 1848 almost every country was now in the throes of revolution; and as each post brought news of the risings and triumphs of the people in Austria, Prussia, the minor German, and many of the Italian states, so appeared to increase the determination of the Chartists to establish the long cherished principles for which they had struggled.
John Street was, on the 27th March the scene of another great gathering. W. J. Vernon presided over a densely packed meeting. He expressed his disgust at the folly and farce of petitioning, which he pronounced as a mockery. He was for giving the House of Commons only one hour to consider whether they would grant the Charter. This sentiment was loudly cheered. John Skelton read a written speech, urging the meeting to moral force, but was compelled to leave off reading.