Joseph Gerrald

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Joseph Gerrald (9 February 1763 – 16 March 1796) was a political reformer, one of the "Scottish Martyrs".

Early life[edit]

Gerrald was born on Saint Kitts, in the West Indies, the only son of an Irish planter. Gerrald was brought to England whilst still a child and educated at Stanmore school, under Dr. Samuel Parr, where he showed promise as a student. He inherited a somewhat involved estate from his father, married young, and was left a widower with two young children. Gerrald was in the United States for some years and practised as an advocate in Philadelphia, where he also published several essays on universal suffrage.

Political reformer[edit]

Returning to England in 1788, Gerrald was encouraged by the hopes raised by the French Revolution and joined the movement for political reform. In 1793 he published a pamphlet A Convention the only means of saving us from ruin, in a letter addressed to the People of England . In this he stated that the influence of 162 men returned 306 of the 573 members of the house of commons. He advocated that a convention should be elected that would truly represent the people of Great Britain, and that there should be universal suffrage in the election of delegates. There was no machinery for carrying out his plans even if they met with general approval, but in November 1793 the "British Convention of the Delegates of the People associated to obtain Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments" met at Edinburgh. The delegates represented various political societies of the day in Scotland and England.

Arrest and conviction[edit]

The aims of the Suffrage Convention were moderate, but Gerrald and others were arrested, and in March 1794 he was tried for sedition. It was felt that the case was prejudiced, and while out on bail Gerrald had been urged to escape, but he considered that his honour was pledged. At his trial at Edinburgh he made an admirable speech in defence of his actions, but was condemned to 14 years transportation. The apparent courtesy and consideration with which the trial was conducted could not conceal the real prejudice which ruled the proceedings. Gerrald was imprisoned in London until May 1795, when he was hurried on board the storeship Sovereign about to sail for Sydney. He arrived there on 5 November 1795. He was then in a poor state of health suffering from tuberculosis and was allowed to buy a small house and garden in which he lived. He died on 16 March 1796.


Gerrald was a man sustained by his belief in the rights of mankind. In the account of his death David Collins speaks of his "strong enlightened mind" and that he went to his death "glorying in being a martyr to the cause which he termed that of Freedom and considering as an honour that exile which brought him to an untimely grave". (An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, 1798, p. 469). He was buried in the plot of land he had bought at Farm Cove. His son Joseph was cared for by Dr. Parr. Gerrald's associates included Thomas Muir, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving and Maurice Margarot.

His name appears on the Political Martyrs monument (1844) on Calton Hill at Edinburgh and a similar monument at Nunhead Cemetery (1852) in London.