By the time
Gerrald arrived in the West Indies the plantation was in financial
difficulty. Gerrald married but his wife died after giving birth
to her second child. Gerrald took his two young children to
America where he practised law in Pennsylvania. It was while
in America that he met Tom Paine. Gerrald was deeply influenced
by Paine's political ideas and when he moved to England in 1788
he became involved in the campaign for parliamentary reform.
In 1792 Gerrald joined the London Corresponding Society and
the following year wrote the pamphlet A Convention is the Only
Means of Saving Us from Ruin.
At an open-air
meeting held at Chalk Farm on 24th October, the London Corresponding
Society elected Gerrald and Maurice Margarot as its delegates
to the Edinburgh Convention planned for November. Before they
left London, Margarot and Gerrald heard the news that two of
the leaders of the Scottish Reformers, Thomas Fyshe Palmer and
Thomas Muir, had been arrested and charged with sedition.
1792, Gerrald and Maurice Margarot arrived in Edinburgh as delegates
to the British Convention of the Friends of the People. Government
spies also attended these meetings in Edinburgh and on 2nd December
1793, Gerrald, Margarot and William Skirving, secretary of the
Society of the Friends of the People, were arrested and charged
managed to obtain bail and returned to London. While waiting
for his trial to take place, Gerrald heard that Margarot and
Skirving had been found guilty of sedition and had been sentenced
to 14 years transportation. Gerrald suffered from poor health
and his friends were convinced that he would never survive being
transported to Australia. Gerrald's friends pleaded with him
to flee the country. Gerrald refused, arguing "my honour
is pledged; and no opportunity for flight shall induce me to
violate that pledge." , William Godwin, wrote a letter
to Gerrald praising his decision: "Your trial, if you so
please, may be a day such as England, and I believe the world,
never saw. It may be the means of converting thousands, and,
progressively, millions, to the cause of reason and public justice."
of Joseph Gerrald began on 10th March 1794. He defiantly wore
his hair loose and unpowdered in the French style. He made no
real attempt to defend himself against the charges and instead
concentrated on using the court to express his views on parliamentary
reform. Gerrald upset the judge, Lord Braxfield, when he argued
that Jesus Christ was a radical reformer. Gerrald ended his
speech with the words: "What ever may become of me, my
principles will last for ever. Whether I shall be permitted
to glide gently down the current of life, in the bosom of my
native country, among those kindred spirits whose approbation
constitutes the greatest comfort of my living; whether I be
doomed to drag out the remainder of my existence amidst thieves
and murders, my mind, equal to either fortune, is prepared to
meet the destiny that awaits it." Lord Braxfield's response
was to sentence Gerrald to fourteen years transportation.
to be transported to Australia, a government minister, Henry
Dundas, offered to arrange for Gerrald to be given his freedom
if he promised to stop advocating parliamentary reform. Gerrald
refused and on 25th May he left Portsmouth aboard the Sovereign.
was seriously ill when he arrived in Australia on 5th November,
1795. John Fyshe Palmer looked after him for several months.
Later Palmer claimed that he: "attended him night and day,
and the attention of my friends who live with me was equal to
mine. Some few hours before his death, he called me to his bedside,
'I die', said he, 'in the best of causes and, as you witness,
without repining'." Joseph Gerrald died of tuberculosis
on 16th March, 1796.
Thomas Hume, the Radical MP, organised the building of a 90
feet high monument in Waterloo Place, Edinburgh. It contained
the following inscription: "To the memory of Thomas Muir,
Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot and
Joseph Gerrald. Erected by the Friends of Parliamentary Reform
in England and Scotland." On the other side of the obelisk,
based on the model of Cleopatra's Needle in London, is a quotation
from a speech made by Muir on 30th August, 1793: "I have
devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause
- it shall ultimately prevail - it shall finally triumph."