Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

I met Murder on the way…

As with much of the rest of Australia, Sydney’s street names bear the stamp of its British colonial past – Pitt, George,Sussex and so on. One of the main thoroughfares through the city centre is Castlereagh St, a name I recognise principally from Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy, his lengthy poetic response to the Peterloo Massacre:

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Which set me to wondering if it was the same Viscount Castlereagh who gave his name to the Sydney Street. Which, a little Googling revealed, it was, according to Jen Willetts’ ‘Free settler or felon’ website, which states that in September 1810 “Chapel Row became Castlereagh Street after the Secretary of State for the colonies”. That ever-reliable fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, says that Castlereagh was Secretary of State for the Colonies between July 1805 and February 1806, and again from March 1807 until November 1809. So a decade before he was a key member of the government which approved the actions of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry in cutting down civilians at Peterloo, Castlereagh had responsibility for the colonisation of this continent. He committed suicide in 1822, apparently depressed by his political unpopularity after he passed repressive legislation to prevent similar large political gatherings.

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