Tragic Election Death at Cheltenham

The carnival atmosphere of Victorian elections was often characterised by visible party colours and the presence of music. This atmosphere was thought by many to contribute to the ‘excitement’ of participants and bystanders – with occasionally terrible consequences. In this blog post, Paul Reynolds, one of our Project’s Research Assistants, shares his summary and analysis of a particularly tragic case of election violence involving both colour and music:

On the evening of the 12th of July 1865, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, William Lynes, a ‘labouring man’ who worked as a messenger for the Liberal candidate Colonel Francis Berkeley, was wandering down the High-Street with another messenger called Fitts. Passing them along the street came a band, playing the Scottish ‘The Bonnets of Blue’, and Lynes piped up with a hearty ‘Hurrah for the Bonnets of Yellow’, as yellow was the Liberal colour.

Hogarth’s Enraged Musician (1741)

Nearby, John Thomas Glass, a Bournmouth chemist and supporter of the Conservative candidate Charles Schreiber, who had come to Cheltenham specifically to vote Conservative, heard Lynes’s shout and ‘interfered with him’. The two argued on the street, with Lynes saying that he had worked hard for the Liberals, and finishing with ‘Berkeley for ever!’

Glass responded by drawing a four-barrelled revolver and shooting Lynes in the mouth. He was quoting as exclaiming ‘Here’s Berkeley for ever, you _____’, as he did so.  ‘Good God, I’m shot; I shall die’ Lynes declared, collapsing. Glass, perhaps showing some regret, responded ‘My God! I hope it’s not so bad as all that.’

Glass was quickly taken into custody, and Lynes conveyed to the hospital, but the bullet had punctuated the roof of his mouth and he died at seven o’clock the morning after. He left behind a pregnant wife with four other children, and a fund was raised to try and support the widow and children. We are told that there was also ‘a deep feeling of sympathy for Mr. Glass and his family’, perhaps because it was alleged that Glass suffered from ‘symptoms of insanity’.

From further research, it appears Glass was later tried at Gloucestershire. He was charged with wilful murder, but the jury reduced the offence to manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude. The judge disagreed but deferred to the jury’s decision. On a slightly bittersweet note, it is noted that while the Liberal Francis Berkeley lost the Cheltenham election, he did contribute to the fund for Mrs. Lynes and family.

The prominence of music and political colours in the incident itself provides a powerful indication that many contemporary analysts were correct – the colourful and carnivalesque elements which attended many Victorian elections could lead directly to violence. More than this, however, it was made apparent in these articles that ‘election excitement’ was the major contemporary source of blame for Glass’s actions, hence the verdict of manslaughter rather than murder. That the judge disagreed shows that this was not an entirely universal view, but the suggestion that there was ‘a deep feeling of sympathy’ for the murderer seems to suggest that ‘election excitement’ was seen as a mitigating factor. It provides an insight into both how worked-up people could become over such matters – though Glass’s alleged ‘symptoms of insanity’ may also have contributed – and how electoral violence could be partially excused by some as  a consequence of the excitement that surrounded the process.

 

Paul Reynolds is a postgraduate student, currently finishing his MA in History at Durham University.  From Penrith, Cumbria, he is in the process of finishing a biography of the Anglo-Saxon king Eadwine, and his academic interests include the nature of Anglo-Saxon kingship and the role of personal power in early medieval rulers.

 

(Sources: Watchman and Wesleyan Advertiser, 19 Jul 1865, Lincolnshire Chronicle, 18 Aug 1865, Burnley Gazette, 26 Aug 1865, Wallaroo Times and Mining Journal, 30 Sept 1865. Retrieved  2018, via British Newspaper Archive and trove.nla.gov.au).

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