Although the Luddite Rebellion very quickly prompted the passing of the Frame-Breaking Act, which made the destruction of machinery a hangable offence, no-one was ever actually sentenced to death under this act. Instead, prosecutors preferred to use existing legislation, trying Luddites for assault, destruction of property, or when those were not possible, using more creative means.
John Baines of Halifax and his son (inventively also named John Baines), along with three of his friends, were charged in January 1813 with administering an illegal oath. The oath in question happened at the Crispin Inn, a pub that stood on Winding Road, a mere two minute walk down the same road that Square Chapel now stands on. It was called the Luddite Oath, one sworn by members of the group on joining, a process they called “twisting in”. They would lay their hand on a “small book” (presumably a bible) and recite:
“I, [name] of my own free will and accord do hereby promise and swear that I will never reveal any of the names of any one of this secret Committee, under the penalty of being sent out of this world by the first Brother that may meet me. I furthermore do swear, that I will pursue with unceasing vengeance any Traitors or Traitor, should there any arise, should he fly to the verge of —- I furthermore do swear that I will be sober and faithful, in all my dealings with all my Brothers, and if ever I decline them, my name to be blotted out from the list of Society and never to be remembered, but with contempt and abhorrence, so help me God to keep this our Oath inviolate.”
Unluckily for these men, one of the fellows present, John McDonald, was willing to risk pursuit with unceasing vengeance. An informer for the government, his testimony saw them sentenced to transportation to Australia. John Baines, already an old man, died there two years later aboard a prison ship. The other men were pardoned in 1816, but whether they made it home is not yet known. Scout’s honour.