The occasion was a meeting called in the Dissenting Chapel in Deptford High Street 'to discuss the present existing distress of the country'. The meeting was to have been addressed by George Thompson, nationally known for his activities in the Anti-corn-law league and the movement for the abolition of slavery, but in the event he was unable to attend. 2,000 people squeezed into the hall, with hundreds more outside.
When The Rev. Mr Pullen announced that Thompson would not be attending 'a body of Chartists... rose and proposed that the Chair should be filled by a working man' and then 'attempted to get possession of the table'. The minister called the police and fighting erupted as 'their attempt to secure the principal parties induced their friends and partisans to join the fray and prevent their being captured'. The meeting resumed with a man named Taylor speaking 'on the condition of the working classes' before fighting resumed when another man denounced the minister for 'sending for bloodhounds to rob those who spoke their minds of their liberty'. The meeting dissolved with 'three cheers for the Charter, and three for Feargus OConnor', and a proposal to reconvene in the Broadway.
Dr. M'Douall, a well-known Chartist who had participated in an uprising at Newport, addressed the crowd in the Broadway from the top of a pump, denouncing 'the tyrant aristocracy of the country who are trampling upon the rights of poor men'. The police ordered the meeting to disperse and when this was ignored, arrested M'Douall and several others. Police superintendent Mallalieu complained that he had 'never seen an assemblage in this neighbourhood so mischievously inclined' and that there had been 'several attempts to rescue the prisoner' (KM 30/7/1842).
In court M'Douall complained that 'the Broadway is a public way, and that the householders have a right to meet there'. The events were also raised in Parliament by Thomas Duncombe, one of the few MPs who supported the Chartists. He presented a petition 'from 4,000 of the inhabitants of Deptford' complaining that the police had violated the constitution. This did not impress the conservative local paper which complained that the petition 'was got up by another itinerant of the name of Phillips, and an assemblage of no more than 300 persons, chiefly of the lowest description in one of the corners of Blackheath'. What it termed 'The Deptford Riot' was denounced as the action of 'brawling reckless vagabonds' incited by an 'itinerant rebel' (KM 6.8.1842).