The unique Irish Independence Fenian Rising 1867 Presentation Medal to James Varley, as believed presented to him on 9th July 1867 by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Leeds, Yorkshire as a slight token of their esteem and respect for him as an Englishman who has laboured zealously for Irelands Independence.
Irish Republican Brotherhood 1867 Presentation Medal, silver, large struck flan of 65 mm diameter, the obverse with attractively engraved shamrocks and an Irish harp in the centre, the reverse with cast oak and laurel wreath, and the enclosed engraved inscription: ‘Presented to James Valley, by the Irishmen of Leeds, as a slight token of their esteem and respect for him as an Englishman who has laboured zealously for Irelands Independence July 9, 1867.’ This fitted with a silver swivel scroll suspension, and housed in its original fitted presentation case.
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Provenance: Ex Peter Maren Collection and American Numismatic Society Collection, Part II, as sold in Morton and Eden in 2006.
Of James Varley little is known other than what is stated on the medal, but he presumably came from the Leeds area of East Yorkshire, and campaigned for Irelands Independence, which resulted in the presentation of this unique medal by the Irishmen of Leeds on 9th July 1867.
There were a number of Fenian Riots during 1867, and one was the Leeds Fenian riot of 15th December 1867, though it was in many ways a non entity. On 23rd November 1867, three Fenians, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien had been hanged in Manchester, which had served to heighten existing tensions between Britain and Ireland. Major processions in memory of the dead were planned throughout Ireland, and in English towns with significant immigrant communities - Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds among them. Leeds had received very considerable numbers from Ireland during and after the 1840s famines, and they went on to form a considerable influence on the city’s social development.
In Leeds, widely reported public speeches and handbills called for a congregation of 20,000 to assemble at Vicar’s Croft cat 2 pm on Sunday 15th December. Given the density of housing and the location of most of the Leeds Irish community, this was not an unreasonable number to expect in the prevailing political atmosphere. The City authorities were nervous enough of the prospect of major disorder to ban the assembly. This decision was supported by the Saturday editions of the Leeds Express and Leeds Mercury, particularly in view of a Fenian inspired explosion at Clerkenwell in London on 13th December, which was designed to liberate two imprisoned nationalists, and killed 20 people.
Having banned the assembly, there was a significant fear that the mood of the local Irish population would cause it to go ahead regardless, and the authorities took precautions with all the considerable force they could. The entire Leeds garrison, including troops of the Yorkshire Hussars, the Leeds Rifles, the 70th Regiment of Foot, and the Royal Horse Artillery, were deployed, together with large numbers of police, both mounted and on foot, armed with cutlasses and revolvers, and as many special constables as could be mustered. This formidable display of uniformed force was watched by large numbers of sightseers, many of whom are reported as regarding the display with great admiration. The Express reports that, despite the present of “swarms of low Irishmen”, at 2 pm “Fenianism made not the least sign”. The City Magistrates in person, protected by a double line of police, stood in the drizzle and watched noting much happen, until at about 4 pm the forces dispersed assaulted by no more that catcall as it became dark.
So the riot didn’t actually happen, but there is every reason to suspect that a major demonstration could have taken place; a smaller force deployed to prevent them might well have seen violence.