Feargus OConnor Biography

Feargus O’Connor, the leading face of the Chartist movement, dedicated his life to restoring the rights of the working class. Despite his upbringing in an Irish Protestant household, O’Connor rejected the power of the Church and instead focused on building a party that represented the interests of the working class. His charismatic leadership and ability to connect with crowds made him an effective speaker, and he traveled across the country organizing and addressing large meetings. O’Connor’s influence was so significant that five of his six points’ charter were later embodied in the People’s Charter. However, after the failure of his Land Scheme, his behavior became increasingly erratic and he was eventually declared insane and placed in a mental asylum. O’Connor passed away on August 30, 1855.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Feargus Edward O’Connor
  • Died At Age: 61
  • Died on: August 30, 1855
  • Place of Death: London, England
  • Occupation: Political Leader
  • Nationality: Irish Men

Childhood & Early Life

Feargus O’Connor was born on July 18, 1794 to Roger O’Connor in Connorville house in West County Cork. His family was Irish Protestant by faith. He was christened Edward Bowen O’Connor, but his father preferred calling him Feargus. O’Connor spent much of his early life at family estates in Ireland, including the Dangan Castle. He completed his early education from Portarlington Grammar School before enrolling for a course in law at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1820, he inherited an estate from his uncle in Cork. The same year, he was called to the Irish bar and became a member. However, his membership at the bar offended his father, who eventually disowned him.


O’Connor’s career began during the early 1830s as he emerged as the leading advocate of Irish rights and democratic political reform. He was critical of the British Whig government’s policies on Ireland. In 1830, he participated in the agitation raised by the passage of the Reform Bill. Though he was arrested, he managed to escape detainment. With the help of Daniel O’Connell, leader of the Irish Radicals, he became a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons as a Repeal candidate. However, O’Connor and O’Connell soon became foes, and O’Connor failed in his attempt to replace O’Connell as the leader of the Irish Radicals.

In the 1835 general elections, O’Connor was unseated from the parliament as he did not meet the property qualifications. He ran for the late William Cobbett’s seat but only ended up splitting the Radical vote, which benefited the Tories. O’Connor then toured the country campaigning for parliamentary reforms, advocating for universal suffrage, equal representation, abolition of property qualification, and better working conditions in the industrial districts of England and Scotland. In 1836, he joined the London Working Men’s Association and founded the radical newspaper, Northern Star, in Leeds, Yorkshire the following year. Northern Star started as a voice against the Poor Law but soon became the most prominent vehicle for the Chartist cause. O’Connor became active in the Chartist Movement and became one of its most popular orators. He advocated for using ‘physical force’ instead of ‘moral force’ to achieve access to democracy for the working class, which led to his imprisonment in 1840 on charges of seditious libel.

During the early 1840s, O’Connor focused on working people’s alienation from the land and founded the Chartists Cooperative Land Company in 1845. The company aimed to make the working class self-sufficient by turning them into farmers. However, the land scheme failed miserably, resulting in bankruptcy and eviction of the settlers. Despite this failure, O’Connor continued to contribute actively in the Chartist Movement. In 1847, he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Nottingham, becoming the first and only Chartist MP. He organized the Chartist meeting on Kennington Common, London, which marked the last Chartist demonstration as the movement declined due to lack of credibility. O’Connor’s mental health deteriorated in his last years, and he exhibited irrational behavior. He was arrested and sent to a mental asylum in 1852. He passed away on August 30, 1855, and was buried at the Kensal Green cemetery.

Personal Life & Legacy

O’Connor never legally married but was involved in numerous love affairs and fathered several children. Towards the end of his life, his mental health became sharply unbalanced, and he exhibited irrational behavior. It is speculated that he faced a mental breakdown, possibly due to early stages of general paralysis of the insane caused by syphilis. He passed away on August 30, 1855, and was buried at the Kensal Green cemetery. O’Connor was the first and only Chartist Member of Parliament, serving from 1847 to 1852.

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