With The Poor People Of The Earth. A Biography of Doctor John Creaghe of Sheffield and Buenos Aires by Alan O'Toole [Review]

This is a fine extended essay on the life and times of one of the lesser-known figures of anarchism, Dr John Creaghe. Born sometime in 1841, in Ireland, possibly in the Limerick or Cork areas. Surviving the potato feminine, he prospered sufficiently to qualify as a doctor in 1865 in Dublin. However, he soon moved to the United States, (whilst obtaining further medical qualifications in Ireland) and then emigrated once more, this time to Argentina, arriving there in 1874. Here he practiced his profession for many years before becoming politically active in 1888 with his publication of a journal entitled La Verdad (Truth). Shortly thereafter he came under the influence of Errico Malatesta, who was staying in Argentina temporarily, and then decided in 1890 to return to the British Isles, this time ending up in Sheffield.

England, at this time, was in a period of revolutionary “upswing” (although this is only comparative - no revolution actually took place), and Sheffield was one of the places where there was anarchist activity. Dr Creaghe got stuck in as soon as he had got himself established. He engaged in a polemic with William Morris in Commonweal over the relative value of “propaganda by deed” as opposed to simple spoken and written propaganda. Creaghe also engaged with street politics, fighting off bailiffs and then his group of anarchist communists set-up their own local newspaper, “The Sheffield Anarchist”, at times echoing the thoughts of French illegalist anarchists such as Ravachol who were active at this time. The paper also carried a strident line in anti-religion articles and some rather confused “messages” on women and sexuality.

Following the decline of the paper and the group, Creaghe next made his way to Liverpool, in 1891, swiftly followed by Burnley and back to Sheffield. The anarchist movement was in disarray, the various bomb plots (doubtless deliberately) had undermined the activists in various ways and so Creaghe, bid his fond farewells and set off on his travels this time returning to Argentina, via Spain, arriving in 1894. Here he soon was back in the publishing “business”, this time editing “El Oprimo” (The Oppression). Other titles followed, with Creaghe heavily involved, often writing on public health and hygiene. For the following few years Creaghe was engaged in the social and political struggles in Argentina, including attempts by the military regime to close down “La Protesta” in 1905 and again in 1910.

Events elsewhere then led Creaghe to move residence once again, this time moving to Los Angeles, in 1911, where he joined the editorial board of “Regeneracion” which was supporting the Mexican revolutionaries, in particular the PLM and Zapata. Creaghe continued his campaign of supporting the Mexican revolutionaries through the First World War and beyond, before dying, at the age of 78, in poverty in Washington, in 1920.

Well that’s the brief biographical synopsis of the pamphlet. Alan O’Toole has done a fine job in piecing together the main elements of John Creaghe’s life. However that’s only about half the text. The rest is about giving the reader the context in which this life was lived. Consequently each of the major players is given biographical details and the political contexts, in Ireland, Argentina, USA and Mexico are given plenty of space, so the reader can fully appreciate what Dr John Creaghe was involved in and why. The text is fully footnoted and the bibliography will give interested readers a useful reading list to find out more about the background to Dr John Creaghe’s life. The only real query (and it is really a trivial one) is that the text is copyrighted 1982 and this is it’s first publication - so we are left wondering why the text was originally prepared and where it has been languishing all this time!

All in all this is a fine pamphlet, which delivers, what it sets out to do. Barring a full-scale biography of the good doctor, this will serve readers well in their search for information on one of the most active anarchist propagandists of the late 19th - early 20th century.

Highly Recommended.


Richard Alexander

O’Toole, Alan “With The Poor People Of The Earth. A Biography of Doctor John Creaghe of Sheffield and Buenos Aires”. Kate Sharpley Library, London and Berkeley, CA. 2005. Pamphlet, 32pp. notes, bibliography.