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William Cuffay (1778–1870)

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William Cuffay [also known as William Cuffy] (1788-1870) tailor, Chartist and convict 

Baptised: 6 July 1788 at Chatham, Kent, England, eldest of five children of Chatham Cuffay (d.1815), a Chatham dockyard worker who had been born a slave at the British colony of  St Kitts, and Juliana, née Fox (d. 1837). Marriages: (1) 1819 in London to Ann Marshall (d.1824). (2) 1825 to Ann Broomhead, who died in childbirth in 1826. Their only child, a daughter died soon after birth. (3) 1827 to Ann Manvwll. Death: 9 July 1870 in Brickfields pauper establishment at Hobart Tasmania. 

  • Journeyman tailor born with severe physical defects which meant that he stood just four feet tall. Became leader of 1834 tailors’ strike in London, subsequently sacked and unemployed.
  • In 1839 helped form Chartist Association among London’s tailors. By 1848 was a leading London Chartist.
  • Arrested and charged with ‘conspiring to levy war against her Majesty’. Convicted on evidence of notorious informer, ‘Lying Tom’ Powell, but not surprised by court judgement, ‘As I have been certainly been an important character in the Chartist movement. I laid myself out for something of this sort for some time’.
  • Transported to Van Dieman’s Land, arriving in 1849. Permitted to work at his trade and joined by wife in 1853.
  • Granted free pardon in 1856 and recommenced political activities. Took leading part in trying to amend Tasmanian Masters’ and Servants Act in the mid 1850s.
  • In the 1860s became stalwart of Protection Association. Obituary in Hobart Mercury in 1870 referred to his skills as orator and agitator, and popularity with working class whom he styled, ‘Fellow Slaves’.
  • In 1857 was reported as managing the re-opened Albert Theatre. Employed as a tailor in one of the principal shops in Hobart Town. Described as “pauper” on his death certificate. Cause of death “senilis”.
  • In 2021 a memorial plaque to him and his father was unveiled at Chatham dockyard.

Paul Pickering, ‘A wider field in a new country: Chartism in colonial Australia’, in Marian Sawyer (ed.), Elections: Full, Free and Fair, Leichardt, Federation Press, 2001, pp. 28–32; Martin Hoyles, William Cuffay: The Life & Times of a Chartist Leader. Hertford, Hertfordshire, 2013).

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Citation details

'Cuffay, William (1778–1870)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 30 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cuffey, William
  • Cuffy, William
  • Cuffei, William

6 July, 1778
Chatham, Kent, England


29 July, 1870 (aged 92)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Political Activism
Convict Record

Crime: insurrection
Sentence: life
Court: Old Bailey, London
Trial Date: 18 September 1848


Occupation: tailor/tailoress
Married: Yes
Children: Yes (1)