Dead Cats, and other missiles

In a guest blog, Alan Heesom explores the history of dead cats in electoral politics, straddling, fact, fiction, and symbolism:

Election speaker in 1847 has dead cat and other missiles flung at his cab

Recent assaults with milk shakes, eggs and vegetables are (at least from a candidate’s point of view) presumably preferable to the early custom of using dead animals as election projectiles. Dead cats seem to have symbolised hatred towards an individual. When the unpopular John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, died in Dublin in 1802, dead cats were flung on his coffin. Continue reading “Dead Cats, and other missiles”

Throwing Things At Candidates

Victorian men and women, most/all of whom did not have the vote, were often to be found throwing missiles at candidates. This blog explores a few of their choices:

Fruit/Vegetables

Perhaps the most traditional missile; the Roman Emperor Vespasian was pelted with turnips, and those medieval unfortunates sentenced to the stocks would often be pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables.

Rotten apples

Eggs

The traditional aggressive accompaniment to fruit and vegetables, throwing rotten eggs has a similarly long history. Without the availability of modern refrigeration, spoiled food was more readily available to use as missiles.

Another common choice

Dead Cats (and dogs, and rabbits…)

The subject of our popular tweet, it would appear to have been fairly common for crowds to throw dead cats (and occasionally dead dogs and rabbits) at politicians – it was an established election custom as far back as the eighteenth century. Thus far, we have not been able to identify any possible symbolic reason for their use, or the origins of the practice – if anyone has any leads, please do contact us on Twitter.

Can be spotted at the top centre-left

Gingerbread

Not by any means a popular choice, but certainly famous – during the election of 1892, William Gladstone himself was struck in the eye by a piece of flying gingerbread biscuit. While it was unlikely that this was intended to do serious harm, there were serious consequences – the eye was treated at Chester Infirmary, but never fully recovered.

The Grand Old Man

Mud

Another popular choice, especially in cases of unplanned pelting by a crowd which had not prepared missiles in advance – mud, after all, tends to be readily to hand.

Children were often enthusiastic participants in mud-throwing, even at elections

Bottles

There was a close link between Victorian election rioting and widespread drunkenness – bottles were therefore often used.

Flying bottles during Dublin election rioting, 1886

Herring

We’ve explored the use of herring in a previous blog – a noxious fish, especially once rotten, its use as a missile may also have been politically symbolic.

Herring

Bricks/Stones

Probably the most dangerous type of missile – these could range from small pebbles to altogether more dangerous varieties. Newspaper reports of election violence usually refer vaguely to the throwing of stones, but a few go into more worrying detail, indicating that crowd-members pulled up extremely heavy paving slabs from the ground, and hurled these at candidates. In several instances during election riots, the desire for such missiles was so strong that group raided churchyards, breaking apart headstones to use the pieces as missiles. At least half a dozen bystanders lost their lives after being hit by stones during Victorian elections, including this unfortunate voter in 1880.

Missiles flying during election rioting at Wilton, 1885

Anything That Came To Hand

Members of Victorian election crowds were notably inventive when it came to sourcing missiles, choosing items rich in symbolic meaning, and otherwise employing anything practical that came to hand. As and when our project uncovers these, we will add them to the list.

 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32537203

Wikipedia

ec.europe.eu

Illustrated London News, 12 December 1885; 17 July 1886

Short EV Account: Illegality and ‘Extreme Illegality’

This week’s Short EV Account looks at boisterous series of tit-for-tat violent exchanges between Welsh Conservatives and Liberals during the 1841 Flintshire contest. Many were illegal but ignored by authority, but the final incident may well have crossed the line – giving a useful indicator of where the line was located at that time and place:

A newspaper alleges that the Conservatives made every effort to win the contest, and that ‘neither cajolery, gold, nor threats was spared by them’.  When it became clear during the first of two days of polling that the Conservatives were significantly behind the Liberal candidate Mostyn, all seemed lost. It was at this point that ‘a certain indiscreet supporter of the Tory candidate’ brought a large party of miners in his employ to the polling place at Mold. They were alleged to have been brought ‘for the avowed purpose of fighting’.  The miners, having been ‘well primed with drink’, proceeded to do so, in the afternoon of the first polling day. A bottle and other missiles were hurled out of the Lion Hotel (The Conservative Election HQ) at a passing (and peaceful) group of opposing Liberal ‘Mostynites’.  Continue reading “Short EV Account: Illegality and ‘Extreme Illegality’”

Short EV Account: ‘Win, Tie, Or Bring It To A Wrangle’

Before the Liverpool election of 1852, the swift actions of local police prevented hundreds of deadly weapons from falling into the hands of partisans – uniquely, the detail offered by the reporter gives an idea of the scale of organisation behind election violence, especially when sectarian factors came into play:

Acting on information received, a group of constables raided a workshop operated by a Mr Turner of Williamson Street. There, they found an incredible cache of several hundred weapons, ‘of the most formidable description’. Having seized and then and conveyed them to the police station, they ‘filled a large spring cart’.

The article notes that for some time, the Protectionist party in Liverpool had been boasting that, with regard to the upcoming 1852 contest for the city, they would ‘win, tie, or bring it to a wrangle’. It was further alleged that many of the ‘worst characters’ in the surrounding counties had been brought to the city to intimidate Liberal electors, discouraging them from appearing at the polling booths.

The new Head Constable for the city however, Captain Greig, had taken several innovative precautionary measures in the run-up to the contest – as had the Mayor, who despite being a Protectionist was thought by the reporter to be a ‘high spirited honourable man’. The man who had allegedly ordered the weapons to be manufactured was in fact a colleague of the Mayor – an Alderman, who was both a Protectionist and a member of an Orange Society.

Each weapon consisted of a two-foot long wooden staff, with a handle at one end and an indent at the other, ‘into which a pike blade or spike could be driven’ – similar to a pikestaff. The reporter notes that other weapons of a similar (but not identical) description had been manufactured elsewhere; interestingly, he alleges that the original design for these was given by ‘a foreign refugee to the chartists some years ago’.

During and after the election itself, several riots nevertheless occurred in Liverpool with many weapons employed; in addition to widespread damage to property and injuries, this led (at least indirectly) to the death of a pregnant woman.  Even the most determined preventative measures were inadequate in the face of such a strong determination by various groups to ‘bring it to a wrangle’.

 

(Source: North & South Shields Gazette, 9 July 1852Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Religion and Electoral Violence: Blackburn, 1868

The election of 1868 was particularly violent, as set out in our tweets of last year.  Following on from a previous blog exploring the 1868 election violence in Blackburn, David Hughes delves deeper into earlier events, identifying sectarianism as a major cause of subsequent events:

When William Murphy proposed giving a series of anti-Catholic lectures in Blackburn in October and November 1867, the mayor and magistrates tried to stop him. Murphy ended his visit to Blackburn with a ‘Great Protestant and Orange Demonstration’ which received no support from local political parties and was described sneeringly by the Conservative-supporting Blackburn Standard. Continue reading “Religion and Electoral Violence: Blackburn, 1868”

1880 Election Violence Mapped

For Easter Friday, we have suspended our usual Short EV Accounts in favour of releasing a geographical day-by-day representation of our 1880 election violence tweets; the red dots appear on the day that they occurred, while the black dots represent all events over the election period:

It seems clear that election violence was both common and geographically widespread, reaching most areas of England and Wales.  The most interesting things among the dispersed events that we’ve noticed are as follows:

  1. The relative concentration of violent events in Lancashire and the surrounding region; this broadly conforms with our data for previous elections – possible causes for this include the economic and religious composition of the population.
  2. Given the size of London’s population, the number of events occurring in the capital is much lower than might be expected – one possible explanation for this is the relative skill of local authorities (especially the Metropolitan Police) in maintaining order, as opposed to still-developing Victorian constabularies in other areas of the country.

These, and other potential causes and consequences of electoral violence, will be explored in detail by our project.

 

(The county boundaries are provided by www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth)

Short EV Account: Struggle for an Effigy

Today’s Short EV Account took place #OnThisDay in 1880.  One feature of the disturbance was the presence of an effigy of a leading statesman – though it did not survive for long…

On the 12th of April 1880 (a Monday night), the local election contest in Barrow-in-Furness was in full swing.   A torchlight procession proceeded throughout the town to great fanfare.  At the head of the procession, an effigy of Lord Beaconsfield, Conservative Prime Minister (better known as Benjamin Disraeli), was held aloft.  As the figure was passing along Cavendish Street, however, ‘some of the admirers of the earl dashed into the crowd, and, seizing the figure, demolished it’, simultaneously trading blows with the ringleaders of the procession. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Struggle for an Effigy”

Short EV Account: Trouble at Goole

This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred 139 years ago today.  There was some difficulty in selecting only one to highlight, as 5 April 1880 featured eight disturbances, two outright riots, one small incident, and a partridge in a pear tree:

In the Yorkshire town of Goole, the county election was in full swing. Historically said to be a rather quiet town during contests, a disturbance occurred ‘unlike any that has occurred before’.  The crowd, which included a considerable number of non-voters, gradually increased in size throughout the day; eventually, some members began amusing themselves by pulling off the favours and rosettes of those who supported the ‘blue’ party.  They ‘hooted and be-spattered with mud the blue vehicles and their opponents’, and then began to throw stones.  Continue reading “Short EV Account: Trouble at Goole”

Short EV Account: Torchlight Battle

This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred 139 years ago tomorrow.  Quite possibly the largest event of that day, with an alleged crowd of 20-40,000 present, but it was by no means the only violence taking place on 30 March:

The Liberal candidate, Mr Reed, led a torchlight procession composed of his supporters, who numbered 2,000. Surrounding the procession was a much larger crowd, which ‘eventually numbered 20,000 persons, the total number of spectators being estimated at twice that number’.  During its progress, however, it was stopped in its tracks by a group reported to consist of ‘stalwart Irishmen, who literally mowed the foremost ward of Liberals down with long sticks’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Torchlight Battle”

Short EV Account: On Your Marks, Get Set…

This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred #OnThisDay 139 years ago – the very first recorded incident of violence for the 1880 UK General election.  We’ll be tweeting the many other incidents throughout the rest of March and into April:

In the run-up to the 1880 election for Derby, it was widely rumoured that the Conservative candidate, Thomas Collins, would be appearing at the open-air marketplace to give a speech to locals, both electors and non-electors.  On Monday night between six and seven o’clock at night, an ‘immense crowd’ gathered at the square in anticipation of his arrival.  Gradually, however, the conviction came over the crowd that Collins would not be attending, as he was ‘otherwise engaged’.  Continue reading “Short EV Account: On Your Marks, Get Set…”