Craig, Edward Thomas (1804–94), Owenite social reformer, was born 4 August 1804 at 49 Hanover St., Manchester, son of Joseph Craig (d. 1808) and his wife Elizabeth. Losing his father at the age of 4, he was fostered with his paternal grandparents in Lancaster till the death of his grandmother (1815); he then returned to his mother's home in Manchester, where he was plunged into an atmosphere of rigid Calvinist piety. He witnessed the killings at ‘Peterloo’ (1819). Trained as a fustian cutter, he joined the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute on its inception (1825). Reading an account by Robert Owen (1771–1858) of the social experiment at New Lanark, Scotland, he became an enthusiast for cooperation on the utopian Owenite model. He helped to set up (1828) a profit-sharing fustian manufacturing society in Manchester, which broke up due to problems in marketing. By 1830 he had become president of the small Owenian Co-operative Society. In May 1831 Craig acted as one of the organisers of the first British co-operative congress in Manchester, and between June and September 1831 he edited several northern co-operative journals.
He was not by any means well versed in the practicalities of co-operative organisation when approached in the summer of 1831 by John Scott Vandeleur (qv) seeking a suitable manager for a proposed co-operative commune at Ralahine on his Co. Clare estate. Vandeleur, however, did not tell Craig the whole story of his preparations at Ralahine. Having been curious since 1823 about the theories of Robert Owen he had systematically enlarged his demesne near Bunratty, Co. Clare, by ejecting smallholders out of lease, with the vague intention of ultimately setting up a co-operative farm ‘to secure better rents . . . more interest for capital, and ten times more . . . enjoyment to labourers’ (Craig, 18). While intensifying agriculture on the demesne he approved the harsh labour regime of his steward, Daniel Hastings, who was shot (April 1831) by ‘Terry Alt’ agrarian protesters. By this date the buildings that were to comprise a co-operative village were already under construction on the demesne. Fleeing to England with his family after the murder, Vandeleur consulted John Finch of Liverpool, an iron-merchant and noted Owenite, who recommended Craig. It is clear that Craig leapt at the opportunity of running his own community and he took ship for Dublin in late August 1831. Though he was surprised to find buildings already constructed and worried to hear of the murder carried out months earlier on the estate, his naive goodwill in a few weeks won over ‘moody, dubious and discontented’ Irish-speaking estate labourers (Craig, 21). It did not lessen their suspicions of Vandeleur.
While Craig drew up regulations for the commune and attempted to inculcate the advantages of organising work by a division of labour, Vandeleur prepared a tight-fisted contract, unveiled on 7 November 1831 to the assembled fifty-odd individuals more or less under obligation to work in the commune. On condition of being provided with the use of buildings, land, and stock, the commune ‘agreed’ annually to deliver to different agents of the estate a ‘commodity-bundle’ made up of wheat, barley, oats, butter, pork, beef, and hay to the value of approx. £900 at 1831 Limerick market prices. Any surplus might be shared once the goods on loan were purchased. Vandeleur himself nonchalantly agreed that the rent was severe; a committee (which he formally dominated) served to organise the labour routine. Craig was more interested in the edifying effect of rules designed to bring about social harmony within the commune than in the economic and other constraints on the experiment, and neglected, for instance, to ensure that the contract had legal validity. He was in fact an ideal instrument for Vandeleur's purposes, and was quickly caught up in the minutiae of preparing daily labour sheets, developing an internal communal currency in labour notes, working out rules for the marriage of members inside and outside the commune, and ensuring justice and equality in all internal transactions. In essence Vandeleur did not care how the labourers managed themselves, so long as returns were regular and inconvenience was minimal. Though Craig liked to think that Vandeleur pursued a heroic course in championing the interests of utopian cooperation against the wishes of his wife and family (they were indeed critical), Vandeleur rarely concerned himself with the commune and showed no companionable interest in his manager.
Somewhat moralistic in outlook, Craig was, however, gentle and innocent by nature and, though the routine was fairly demanding, the community was happy with the security and spartan pleasures of well ordered communal life. There is no doubt that the stress on equity had immense appeal to the former labourers. William Thompson (qv) and Robert Owen came to see the small miracle of contented industry. The enterprise collapsed suddenly in November 1833 when Vandeleur went missing after a disastrous bout of gambling in Dublin clubs. The contract was found not to protect the commune and the family clawed back its nominal possessions in order to pay creditors. Craig managed to pay all outstanding debts to the unfortunate labourers and returned to England. His memoirs never conceded the extent to which he may have been manipulated. The myth of Ralahine as one of the grand misadventures of Irish (and British) socialism does not bear examination.
Between 1834 and 1841 he organised an industrial school at Ealing Grove, London, edited the journal The Star in the East, commenced an innovative school for infants in London, and finally, assisted in the establishment of the Monea Fen community in Norfolk. From 1841 he made a penurious living as a lecturer and journalist. In the 1880s he supported the renewal of socialist organisation in England. He continued to oppose what he saw as the coercive aggression of capitalist society. He also believed in phrenology. He died 15 December 1894 at Ralahine Cottage, Hammersmith, London, and is buried in Hammersmith cemetery.
He married (11 July 1833) Mary Bottomley (b. July 1810), who survived him. They seem to have had no children.