The Tolpuddle Martyrs: injustice within the law
by Herbert Vere Evatt with a new introduction by Geoffrey Robertson
Sydney University Press
The legend of the six rural labourers who were transported to Australia in 1834 for swearing an oath of solidarity is celebrated as the foundation of the modern trade union movement. In his introduction to this new edition of Herbert ('Doc') Evatt's brilliant account, Geoffrey Robertson points out that the case stood for something different, and something very frightening: that oppression and cruelty do not always fail. Indeed, they sometimes succeed beyond the hopes of the oppressors.
The labourers suffered no violence 'save the extreme and horrible violence of the law itself'. The true lesson from the story demonstrates that societies need guarantees to prevent 'injustice within the law'. The Tolpuddle Martyrs inspired Doc Evatt's support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Robertson argues that it should inspire the Rudd Labor government to legislate for a bill of rights in Australia today.