This week’s election violence Short Account is closely connected to elements of pageantry and carnivalesque celebration – or, in the case of the mock funeral for the defeated candidate, feigned commiseration. Violence was often sparked by such factors, but there is also evidence of at least some partisan efforts to blunt the official response:
At the 1874 election for Evesham, the Liberal candidate Joseph Napier Higgins was defeated, losing by only forty-seven votes to the Conservative James Bourne. Supporters of Bourne were in something of a triumphant mood; they organised a ‘mock funeral’ for the defeated Liberal, ‘having a coffin containing an effigy borne on a bier’. The mob, said to be 200-strong and dressed in the party colours of blue, surrounded the coffin and proceeded along the principal street for as long as three hours. Continue reading “Short EV Account: A Violent Mock-Funeral”
In the course of an election, candidates often employed a large number of people to perform a varied set of functions – a Chief Agent, many sub-agents, on-the-ground canvassers, messengers, colour-carriers, bands of music… and ‘others’. Some of these carried out roles other than their stated ones, however:
After the Sheffield election of 1865, a large crowd of people loitered outside the George Hotel, the headquarters of the two of the candidates. As noted in a newspaper article, ‘the crowd presented the same appearance as the gang who swept through the town on Wednesday night’. The crowd had attended because it had been advertised by the election committee that they would, at that time and that place, pay those who had been employed to help the candidates win – ‘check-clerks, canvassers, writers, “and others”’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Who Hired The Thugs?”
This Short Account focuses on the aftermath of an election, illustrating that those not-so-shadowy figures who engaged hired roughs to intimidate voters could find themselves on the receiving end of rough treatment …
For no fewer than eight days after the conclusion of the 1852 Carlisle election, the town was still in a state of considerable ferment – solely because the ‘bludgeon-men’ hired by the Conservative party for the duration of the election had been unable to obtain their pay (said to be 5 shillings per day). It was alleged that the Conservative candidate Hodgson had hired no less than 495 bludgeon-men; this is likely a slight exaggeration, as only the seat only boasted 1,134 electors. This would mean that there was almost one rough for every two electors, and a near one-to-one parity for every elector who had not voted Conservative. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Prompt Payment of Bludgeon-Men Needed”
Election violence was seldom simple or isolated; it could be the result of a complex and interlinked chain of events, across multiple elections and involving themes which included class, religion, and nationality. In this post, David Hughes explores one such richly complex event:
In November 1868, the Lancashire town of Blackburn was the site of intense electoral activity. The municipal elections, in which all six wards were contested, were held on Monday 2nd November. The borough parliamentary election followed on 16th November then, on the following day, the nominations for the newly created county seat of North East Lancashire. All three of these elections were accompanied by violence, with the most serious occurring, somewhat unusually, during the municipal elections – indeed, a man died two days after the municipal elections from injuries sustained at that contest. Soon, this death was politicised by both parties when alleged death threats were made against the Tory candidates. Continue reading “Electoral Violence in Blackburn, 1868: The Politicisation of a Death”
Our project covers not one period, but many – at different points between 1832 and 1914, different proportions of the adult male populace were entitled to the vote, as successive Reform Acts expanded the franchise. Towards the end, electoral violence by women seeking the vote is also evident. Research Assistant Genevieve Johnson explores the rather biased editorial line of an 1865 electoral violence report, one which suggests a close link between violence and exclusion from the franchise:
In nineteenth-century England and Wales, a wide and confusing variety of overlapping factors could prompt electoral violence, from the displaying of party colours to the utilisation of hired roughs as political weapons. Even more varied was the type of violence, which could range from brutal murders to the throwing of cabbages and herring. One common factor amongst many of the electoral events to be found in nineteenth-century newspapers was the type of person generally found in violent mobs. In many (if not most) cases across the decades, they were largely made up of working-class men and boys – labourers of various types, and “paupers”. In other words, the disenfranchised. Continue reading “‘Rough Rollicking Enthusiasm’: Relationships Between Election Violence and the Restricted Franchise”
The dismantling and distribution of wood from the hustings was a hallowed tradition in many constituencies – but not always an accepted one. Project Research Assistant Elise Boothroyd explores one such instance of the practice in which official intransigence provoked a serious incident of election violence:
Much of the electoral violence reported in articles from nineteenth-century newspapers is attributed to causes immediately relevant to elections, including disagreements between electors, electors’ disapproval of candidates, or a more general desire to create trouble and disturb the political process. In an article describing events in Whittlesey in April 1857, however, there is no specific mention of political feeling in favour of, or against, any party, nor about the election more generally. Indeed, 1857 was reputed to be one of the quieter Victorian General Elections. Yet, still a riot occurred. The cause? According to one newspaper report, the townsfolk of Whittlesey decided that they fancied the wood from the hustings platform, where candidates gave their nomination speeches, for their personal use. Having taken the wood by force, a conflict with the police ensued. Continue reading “Elections, Riots, and Election Riots: Whittlesey”
In this post, Research Assistant Sam Holden explores an election fatality, and touches on the role played by party colours and other visible partisan symbols in election violence more generally:
Votes weren’t necessarily the only things being counted at Victorian elections. Unfortunately, occasionally there was also a body count.
Much like today, election periods provoked much excitement in the Victorian period. Allegiances were often ironclad, and rivalries fierce. In some instances, simply displaying party colours was an invitation to violence. This was one visible manifestation of what some have termed a ‘carnival’ atmosphere; some historians posit that this atmosphere was one of the main catalysts for elections which spilled over into lawlessness, rioting, and even killing. It’s often difficult to uncover the motivations behind different incidents, be they elite strategic manoeuvring or popular partisanship on the one hand, or adrenalin-fuelled excitement on the other.
Continue reading “Across The Spectrum: Party Colours, Election Violence, and the Tragic Case of William Mellor”
In addition to other sources such as the Home Office Disturbance Book, one of our main sources for detecting election violence is newspaper reports. These can be of immense value, but must always be taken with a pinch of salt…
One of our main aims is to discover the identity and intensity of partisan allegiances in Victorian electoral violence. How much of the violence was down to groups or individuals who clashed because of opposing party loyalties? What’s more, of these partisan-caused incidents, was any party or parties particularly likely to be the perpetrators or victims? How did these trends vary geographically, and over time?
Continue reading “Victorian Election Violence and Newspaper Bias”
Religion played a prominent role in Victorian politics, and religious figures enjoyed a special (and precarious) position in relation to party politics. In looking at a non-violent mass disruption which followed election property damage, Research Assistant Sam Holden explores the religious dimension to partisan rivalries:
Election violence generally involved damage to persons and/or property – the Causes and Consequences project also records the explicit and immediate threat of violence in order to examine events which never quite boiled over into outright violence. How such near-violent situations were resolved is, after all, indicative. The following event was never likely to descend into violence, but does illustrate that violence was merely one extreme in a spectrum of activity which encompassed remonstration, disobedience, and disruption.
On Friday 7 August 1847, the Liberals won the constituency of Taunton during a General Election. That Sunday, at St. Mary Magdalene Church, the Reverend Dr. Cottle was surprised to observe that there were over two hundred extra people in his congregation than was normal, many of whom he had never seen before. Continue reading “Reverend And The (Noise) Makers: A Mass Walkout”
Throwing things at elections may or may not be classed as election violence – a tomato is unlikely to do much damage, but a brick aimed at a candidate’s head could do a great deal of damage. In this blog post, Richard Lambeth, one of our Project’s Research Assistants, shares his thoughts on one less dangerous but definitely unpleasant missile regularly employed – flying herring:
One striking feature of Victorian elections, amidst the frequent bouts of violence, was the use of symbolism by its bustling crowds. The placards and banners that Victorian crowds held aloft for all to see ranged from pro-free trade images of large and small loaves of bread side-by-side, to the near-inexplicable images of figures dressed in blue riding squirrels, or funeral processions followed by mourning donkeys! These visual aids were seemingly the memes of the Victorian period, except instead of provoking trolling in response to pithy political observations, banner-holders could end up in fist-fights, covered in mud and flour, and possibly rendered unconscious.
Continue reading “Herring: A Dish Best Served Cold”