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Swing, Francis [known as Captain Swing] (fl. 1830–1831), mythical incendiarist, was the signatory of letters announcing incendiary raids in the agricultural areas of England, especially in the south, in the autumn and winter of 1830–31. The first ‘Swing’ letters were recorded in Kent by The Times on 21 October 1830. Initially, the letters supported rural incendiarism directed at farmers who were introducing machine threshing and had little overt political content. The movement rapidly broadened to include the demolishing of buildings, burglary, larceny, robbery, and riot of every kind. No person was identified as the original or the originator of Captain Swing, but many were arrested for acting or writing letters in his name as the whig government savagely restored order by hangings, imprisonment, and transportation. As a result of the last, Captain Swing also became a familiar figure in Australia. Although the disturbances were not directly linked to a political movement Captain Swing reminded the cabinet committee preparing the Reform Bill of the need for a bold measure. The Genuine Life of Mr Francis Swing (1831) purports to describe his life: he had good parents and education, but he took up poaching in bad company, and this led to rick burning. The Life and History of Francis Swing, the Kent Rick-Burner, Written by Himself (1830) is more political, mentioning the butchering of peaceful petitioners by the military and ‘pluralist parsons taking a poor man's cow for tithe of his cabbage garden’ as among his motives for violent protest.

H. C. G. Matthew


‘An Inner Templar’, N&Q, 3rd ser., 4 (1863), 398 · E. G. Wakefield, Swing unmasked (1831) · E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1969) · G. Rudé, ‘“Captain Swing” and Van Diemens Land’, Tasmanian Historical Research Papers and Proceedings, 12 (1964) · J. R. M. Butler, The passing of the great Reform Bill (1914) · A. Charlesworth, Social protest in rural society: the spatial diffusion of the Captain Swing disturbances of 1830–1831 (1979) · J. Thirsk, ed., The agrarian history of England and Wales, 6, ed. G. E. Mingay (1989)