Thomas Wooler

Thomas Jonathan Wooler was born in Yorkshire in 1786. Wooler moved to London where he was apprenticed as a printer. After working for the radical journal, the Reasoner, Wooler was appointed editor of the Statesman. Wooler took a particular interest in legal matters and in 1817 he wrote and published the pamphlet An Appeal to the Citizens of London against the Packing of Special Juries.

In January 1817 the British government persuaded Parliament to pass the Gagging Acts. Whereas William Cobbett responded to this act of government repression by leaving the country, Wooler was motivated to start publishing a new radical unstamped journal, the Black Dwarf. When the journal first appeared in January 1817 it was an eight page newspaper but it later became a 32 page pamphlet.

In his journal Wooler was highly critical of Lord Liverpool and his government and within three months he had been arrested and charged with seditious libel. The prosecuting council argued that Wooler had written the articles that had libeled the government. However, Wooler, who defended himself, was able to convince the jury that although he had published the article, he had not written it, and so was therefore not guilty.

George Cruikshank, Funeral Pile,published in 1820. Thomas JonathanWooler is the one with the bellows.
George Cruikshank, Funeral Pile,
published in 1820. Thomas Jonathan
Wooler is the one with the bellows.

The court case did not stop Wooler from publishing the Black Dwarf and he continued to use the journal to argue the case for parliamentary reform. Wooler was also an active supporter of Major John Cartwright and his Hampden Club movement. In 1819 Wooler joined the campaign to elect Sir Charles Wolseley to represent Birmingham in the House of Commons. As Birmingham had not been given permission to have an election, Wooler and his fellow campaigners were arrested and charged with "forming a seditious conspiracy to elect a representative to Parliament without lawful authority". Wooler was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.

After the death of his main patron, Major John Cartwright, in 1824, Wooler decided to stop publishing the Black Dwarf. For a while Wooler was the editor of the British Gazette but after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act he gave up politics and became a lawyer. In later life Wooler wrote books and pamphlets on the British legal system, including Every Man his Own Lawyer (1845).

Thomas Jonathan Wooler died on 29th October 1853.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Thomas Wooler, Black Dwarf (20th August 1817)

The principal justification of Mr Owen's pretensions are that he has succeeded in changing, as he calls it, the moral habits of the persons under his employment in a manufactory at Lanark, in Scotland. For all the good he has done in that respect, he deserves the highest thanks. It is much to be wished, that all who live by the labour of the poor would pay as much attention to their wants and to their interests as Mr Owen did to those under his care at Lanark.

But it is very amusing to hear Mr Owen talk of re-moralizing the poor. Does he not think that the rich are a little more in want of re-moralizing; and particularly that class of them that has contributed to demoralize the poor, if they are demoralized, by supporting measures which have made them poor, and which now continue them poor and wretched?

Talk of the poor being demoralized! It is their would-be masters that create all the evils that afflict the poor, and all the depravity that pretended philanthropists pretend to regret.

In one point of view Mr Owen's scheme might be productive of some good. Let him abandon the labourer to his own protection; cease to oppress him, and the poor man would scorn to hold any fictitious dependence upon the rich. Give him a fair price for his labour, and do not take two-thirds of a depreciated remuneration back from him again in the shape of taxes. Lower the extravagance of the great. Tax those real luxuries, enormous fortunes obtained without merit. Reduce the herd of locusts that prey upon the honey of the hive, and think they do the bees a most essential service by robbing them. The working bee can always find a hive. Do not take from them what they can earn, to supply the wants of those who will earn nothing. Do this; and the poor will not want your splendid erections for the cultivation of misery and the subjugation of the mind.