An 1816 diary entry, December.
“This year has been a very uncommon one. The Spring was exceeding cold and backward or rather there was no spring, the summer was cold and wet, or rather we had no summer. The Crop was very bad and unproductive. The Harvest was very late, the crop was not well got inn. A Scarcity has taken place. The Quartern loaf is 1/6, other articles in proportion. There never was so many beggars as thee is at present in our streets. Taxes are high and are levied with Severity. Petitions for a reform have been presented to the Prince Regent from London and other Cities, and have not been well received. Neither trade nor commerce are revived. Tradesmen and labourers are out of employ and are in a state of Starvation. The Regent and his ministers do not seem to care for the grievances under which the Nation groans under, and seem to be deaf to a reform of flagrant abuses that universally exist in the expenditure of the Public money.”
This is the end of year 1816 entry in the diary of the Dr Thomas Lucas of Stirling. His diary for 1816 is a businesslike affair, noting prices, transactions and the marriage of his daughter. This entry is by far the longest. The weather had been appalling. Winter and spring merged together and the summer did not arrive. The year is known as the “Year without a summer” and, even though it seems that Scotland was spared the worse of it, Dr Lucas has noticed.
As Dr Lucas also noticed, starvation returned to the UK for possible the final time ever. Bread was expensive, as the doctor said and the government deliberately keep the price high by the introduction of the Corn Laws. Taxes were high on everyday consumer items such as soap because the parliament had removed the Income tax that was mostly paid by the rich. The massive era of government spending ending after the war with Napoleon finished .Poor people with no money could not stimulate trade, and the only people who were comfortable were the royal family, the government and those on the payroll.
At the same time it was a year of violence. The “Bloody Code” meted out very serious punishments for a large number of crimes of property. Stealing small amounts or fencing stolen goods would lead to transportation to Australia; and large number of crimes varying in nature from house breaking to murder, attracted the death penalty. The poor people themselves reacted with what sometimes were called “Bread and Blood riots”. There were protests against the price of bread, the exportation of food and the forced reduction of wages by employees. Some broke machinery, or the factories were machinery was made. Some rioted as a result of actual starvation; and this was probably the last year were starvation affected communities and nations, not just unfortunate individuals.
This blog is the story of this terrible year of darkness, 1816. It was a fatal coming together of environmental and economic disaster. It was the painful birth of a new system of production and politics.