Maurice Margarot (1745–1815) is most notable for being one of the founding members of the London Corresponding Society, a radical society demanding parliamentary reform in the late eighteenth century.
Margarot had been a member of the campaign to free John Wilkes, and latterly the Bill of Rights Society, but he became truly radicalised as a result of the French Revolution. Living in France at the time, he was suitably impressed by the events in France that he returned to England to further the cause of reform. He followed Thomas Hardy into the newly established London Corresponding Society in January 1792, and was subsequently elected as its chairman in May 1792. Margarot's signature, along with Hardy's, were present on all the early publications by the London Corresponding Society, and this continued for several years.
In November 1793, Margarot and Joseph Gerrald were chosen to attend the Edinburgh Convention organised by the Friends of the People Society - ostensibly a meeting for reformers, but seen as a threat and an attempt to establish an illegal government by William Pitt the Younger's ministry at the time.
Trial and transportation
In December 1793, Margarot was arrested and charged with involvement in seditious practices. At his trial, Margarot defended himself with a speech described by the judge, Lord Braxfield, as itself being "sedition". He was found guilty, and along with four other radicals (later known as the "Scottish Martyrs to Liberty") was transported to Australia in May 1794.
Margarot was joined by his wife, but almost immediately a controversial and still mysterious set of events overtook the prisoners. Late in the voyage, Captain Patrick Campbell of the Surprize transport ship claimed to have been informed of a plan for mutiny and locked up several of the prisoners he was carrying, including Thomas Fyshe Palmer and William Skirving. Margarot was not locked up, and in his Narrative of the Sufferings of T.F. Palmer and William Skirving (1794) Palmer claimed that Margarot was in league with Campbell. No hearings were held, however, when the Surprize reached Australia later in the year.
Margarot fell into further trouble with authorities in New South Wales, for example, claiming at several points to have been appointed by the British government to report on the misgovernance of the young penal colony. His most notable run-in was in 1804, when he was suspected of involvement in the Castle Hill Rebellion. Shortly after this, he was briefly sent to hard labor at the Newcastle, New South Wales settlement. From 1804 to his return to England in 1811, his movements in Australia are unknown.
Following his and his wife's return to England, Margarot served as a witness in Parliamentary hearings concerning misgovernance and corruption in New South Wales (such as that which led to the Rum Rebellion), but died in Dec. 1815 in extreme poverty, and under continued government suspicion as a pro-French radical. By that time, many domestic British radicals also held Margarot in suspicion, primarily because of Palmer's accusations concerning the mutiny.
In the early years of the Chartist movement, Francis Place and others (including, earlier, Thomas Hardy) sought to rehabilitate Margarot's reputation, as plans went forwards for monuments to the martyrs in Edinburgh, and in London. The monuments stand today at the Old Calton Burial Ground, on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, and in Nunhead Cemetery, London. The commemoration of the sacrifices made by Scottish Martyrs became a key touchstone of Chartist publicity.