In the depression following the Napoleonic War, the mood of the country was for reform. Thomas Barnes, the recently appointed editor of The Times, deployed reporters across the country to report on local feeling and to cover the political meetings taking place.
One such meeting was held at St Peter’s Field, Manchester on August 16, 1819. Between 60,000 and 100,000 people attended, including John Tyas for The Times, to hear “Orator” Hunt, a leading Radical, speak. The crowd was charged by cavalry, assisted by yeomanry, in an attempt to break it up. Over 600 participants were killed or wounded. The massacre was given the name Peterloo in an ironic comparison to the Battle of Waterloo, which had taken place four years earlier.
The Times was the only newspaper to have a reporter present. However, Tyas was arrested along with Hunt and The Times wrote in the leading article on August 19:
“Our readers will find amongst the names of the prisoners, that of a gentleman of the name Tyas. Mr. Tyas went down from London to take notes of whatever he should see and hear, and report it for The Times. He is a gentleman of talent and education; nephew to an individual of great respectability in the town of Manchester, and, so far as we can judge from his preceding conduct towards this journal, about as much a Jacobin, or friend of Jacobins, as is Lord Liverpool himself. Mr. Tyas had been very seriously indisposed from the day of his arrival at Manchester. Anxious, however, to discharge in the most satisfactory manner, his duty to us and to the public, he determined to procure, if possible, a place near Hunt on the day of the meeting, for the sake of sparing his own infirm health, and for the greater facility of sending us a complete report.”
As a result of Tyas’ arrest he was only able to file his report the following day after being freed from jail. It was published in The Times on August 19. Despite the delay, Tyas’ measured report outshone all the other, second-hand, accounts and was the most accurate and detailed to be published. It proved the value of having one’s own reporters as eye-witnesses to the events being reported.
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