RICHARD Carlile was sound proof that the pen is mightier than the sword. The shoemaker's son from Ashburton in Devon never ceased to be a major headache for governments and authority in general through the power of his writing and the influence of his publishing ventures.

Carlile was born in 1790, and he and his family were abandoned by his father when he was four. He had a free church education before being apprenticed at 12 to a Plymouth metalworker. He married his wife Jane at 23 and the couple moved to London, where he worked as a tinsmith.

But after being forced into short-time working in 1816, the political animal in him was awakened and he began attending reform meetings. Soon, he took to the streets of London selling the writings of political mavericks like Thomas Paine, and a year later he rented a shop in Fleet Street, where he published Paine and other writers in part-work format.

By now, Carlile was a committed reformer and his next venture was to sell the proscribed radical weekly Black Dwarf. But when he reprinted a banned work by radical William Hone - a parody of parts of the Book of Common Prayer - the law stepped in and he served 18 weeks in gaol, before being released quietly without any charges being brought.

Undaunted, he began his own radical newspaper, Sherwin's Political Register, which at its height brought him in 50 a week - and more trouble with the law.

In August 1819, Carlile was due to speak at a reform meeting in St Peter's Fields, Manchester, in support of Henry 'Orator' Hunt. As thousands gathered, the magistrates panicked and sent in the Yeomanry, who killed 11 people and wounded hundreds more. While Hunt was arrested, Carlile escaped and was hidden by radical friends before catching the mail coach to London.

There, his placards announced "Horrid Massacres at Manchester" and the Register carried the first full report of what was to become known as the Peterloo Massacre.

The authorities retaliated by confiscating his stock. Carlile just carried on, changing the name of The Recorder to The Republican and lashing the Government for its part in the affair.

Carlile was arrested for seditious libel and blasphemy - for publishing Paine's anti-Church of England book Age of Reason - and was gaoled for three years, with a 1,500 fine.

RICHARD Carlile (left) was a constant thorn in the side of the British establishment. One of his early moves was to publish the controversial The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (right).

While he was in prison, Carlile continued to write for The Republican, which was now being published by his wife. The paper became the most popular in the country, stinging the Government into introducing a 4d (2p) tax on cheap newspapers.

As the battle of wills continued, Jane Carlile joined her husband in Dorchester Jail for two years in 1821 for seditious libel. She was replaced as editor by Carlile's sister Mary, but Mary suffered the same fate six months later.

Carlile immediately took up the battle for female emancipation, insisting that women should have the right to vote and stand for parliament, and he also advocated birth control.

In 1822, while Carlile was still in jail, The Republican attempted to enlist support in the North and as a result, several towns, among them Salford, formed so-called "Zetetic Societies." Carlile had given the name "Zetetic Principle" to the power of popular knowledge

Another Carlile publication, The Lion, took up the fight against child labour and by 1830, he was back in prison, this time for backing a campaign by farm workers against unemployment and wage cuts.

On his release 30 months later he launched a new newspaper, The Gauntlet, but despite sales of 20,000-plus, mounting debt forced him to close it. Government fines and a total of 10 years spent behind bars had taken their toll, and Carlile lived the rest of his life in poverty. He died in 1843.