The Cato Street Conspiracy

Plotting, counter-intelligence and the revolutionary tradition in Britain and Ireland

Edited by Professor Jason McElligott and Martin Conboy

The Cato Street Conspiracy


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4498-0
  • Pages: 216
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: December 2019
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Social & cultural history, Modern History, HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / Georgian Era (1714-1837), Humanities / Revolutions, uprisings, rebellions, Humanities / British & Irish history, Humanities / Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900


On 23 February 1820 a group of radicals were arrested in Cato Street off the Edgware Road in London. They were within sixty minutes of setting out to assassinate the British cabinet. Five of the conspirators were subsequently executed and another five were transported for life to Australia.

The plotters were a mixture of English, Scots and Irish tradesmen, and one was a black Jamaican. They were motivated by a desire to avenge the 'Peterloo' massacre and intended to declare a republic, which they believed would encourage popular risings in London and across Britain.

This volume of essays uses contemporary reports by Home Office spies and informers to assess the seriousness of the conspiracy. It traces the practical and intellectual origins of the plotters' willingness to use violence; describes the links between Irish and British radicals who were willing to take up arms; makes a contribution to early black history in Britain; examines the European context to events, and follows the lives and careers of those plotters exiled to Australia.

A significant contribution to our understanding of a particularly turbulent period of British history, these well-written essays will find an appreciative audience among undergraduates, graduate students and scholars of British and Irish history and literature, black history, and the related fields of intelligence history and Strategic Studies.


'The essays in The Cato Street Conspiracy present valuable new work on the international context and political repercussions of the Cato Street conspiracy. The essays by Chase, Hanley, and Murtagh are further useful as readings about the wider themes of four nations history, Black history, and Irish migrant history. This book of essays opens a series of windows on the post-Peterloo world of radical conspiracy, and is particularly strong on the Irish and Caribbean dimensions. At the same time, it opens a debate about the real strength of the English Jacobin tradition at the time of Cato Street.'
Reviews in History, Dr Robert Poole (University of Cumbria)


Introduction 'We only have to be lucky once': Cato Street, insurrection and the revolutionary tradition
Jason McElligott and Martin Conboy

1. When did they know? The cabinet, informers and Cato Street
Richard A. Gaunt

2. Joining up the dots: contingency, hindsight and the British insurrectionary tradition
John Stevenson

3. The men they couldn't hang: 'sensible' radicals and the Cato Street Conspiracy
Jason McElligott

4. Cato Street in international perspective
Malcolm Chase

5. Cato Street and the Caribbean
Ryan Hanley

6. Cato Street and the Spencean politics of transnational insurrection
Ajmal Waqif

7. State witnesses and spies in Irish political trials, 1794-1803
Martyn J. Powell

8. The shadow of the Pikeman: Irish craftsmen and British radicalism, 1803-20
Timothy Murtagh

9. The fate of the transported Cato Street conspirators
Kieran Hannon

10. Scripted by whom? 1820 and theatres of rebellion
John Gardner

Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid and Colin W. Reid


Jason McElligott is the Director of Marsh's Library, Dublin, Ireland

Martin Conboy is Professor of Journalism History at the University of Sheffield

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