The Tolpuddle Martyrs, by H. V. Evatt

Injustice within the law: a new edition with a new introduction

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 QC 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 a bill of rights in Australia today.


The Tolpuddle Martyrs was launched by the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG at NSW Parliament House on 9 December 2009.

Proudly published in association with Sydney University Press to mark the 175th anniversary of the transportation of the six labourers to Australia and the 30th anniversary of the Evatt Foundation.


Herbert Vere Evatt, The Tolpuddle Martyrs: Injustice within the law, with an introduction by Geoffrey Robertson, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 2009, 126 pp, ISBN 9781920899493 (pbk) $25.00.