Short EV Account: Party Urchins

Victorian elections took place before universal suffrage, when only some propertied men could vote.  Today’s Short EV Account looks at a serious riot started by a group which is still unenfranchised in the present day:

During the 1868 election at Trowbridge, a group of ‘disreputable characters’ were evidently hired by the Liberal party to cause disruption at polling, and intimidate the electors.  This group was, of course, unenfranchised. What makes them all the more unusual, however, is that the group would not possess the vote even in the present day – they were hired thugs well under the age of 16! Continue reading “Short EV Account: Party Urchins”

Short EV Account: Bottled Voters

This week’s Short EV Account is looks at some violence associated with a local municipal election. It would appear that the Victorians perpetrated and experienced violence during elections of all types:

During the 1868 election in Bolton, a major disturbance led to serious damage of a mill owned by Thomas Barlow, with the perpetrators eventually standing trial.  In their defence, it was asserted that the ‘riot’ had been caused by the system of ‘bottling’ employed by the Liberal party (this being a contemporary term for kidnapping/detaining voters during an election). On the night of Sunday 1 November, a number of voters were kidnapped and detained in Barlow’s mill, and then ‘supplied with drink until their senses were stupefied’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Bottled Voters”

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)

Short EV Account: Who Hired The Thugs?

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?”

Short EV Account: Pre-Advertising a Riot

The disruption of political meetings by organised groups of opposing partisans became commonplace as the nineteenth century wore on. One such incident, discussed in an article ‘RIOT AT AN ELECTION MEETING’, illustrates just how organised and commonplace they could actually be:

During the 1886 contest for West Islington, the Unionist candidate, Richard Chamberlain, intended to address a political meeting.  Evidently, however, others had other ideas, and intended to disrupt this meeting with heckling, assaults, and an attempted rushing of the stage.  In fact, this was so anticipated that an advertisement announcing the disruption had been pre-placed in the Pall Mall Gazette! The electors were encouraged in print to ‘come and see the sport’ at the meeting, of which there would be a considerable amount.  In the meeting-room, there was considerable commotion; at a given signal, a rush was made at the platform, and the candidate only barely managed to escape.  Continue reading “Short EV Account: Pre-Advertising a Riot”

Short EV Account: Prompt Payment of Bludgeon-Men Needed

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”

Two Sides of the Coin: Bribery and Corruption in the 1852 Election

Intimidation and violence could be used as tools of electoral corruption, but there were other means at the disposal of candidates.  Research Assistant Sam Holden looks at one 1852 newspaper editorial and what it can tell us about the carrot and stick in mid-Victorian elections:

In 1852 a senior Government member was directly linked to a plot offering money for votes in Derby, while landlords demanded more than just rent from their tenants. An editorial carried by the Londonderry Times of 29 July 1852 lamented the corrupt state of British politics.

Elections during this period were particularly susceptible to “undue influence”. Continue reading “Two Sides of the Coin: Bribery and Corruption in the 1852 Election”

Electoral Violence in Blackburn, 1868: The Politicisation of a Death

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”

Across The Spectrum: Party Colours, Election Violence, and the Tragic Case of William Mellor

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”