‘[Loud cheers, and eggs]’: Protests at the 1865 Election for Colchester

In today’s guest blog, Lara Green explores the interplay between national issues and local reputations, and how these affected the character of electoral violence:

At the nomination for the 1865 election for Colchester borough, Essex, the arrival of the Conservative candidate Phillip Oxenden Papillon and his supporters on the hustings was greeted with ‘eggs, fresh and rotten’, thrown by members of the crowd. When it finally came time for Papillon to make his speech, he was assailed with further volleys of eggs and a newspaper, which he attempted to deflect with his umbrella. The crowd, estimated at around four thousand, called for ‘soot’ and mocked Papillon’s campaign. More than once, their actions forced those on the hustings to retreat.

Reports of incidents of election violence such as this provide an insight into both the national and local political issues playing out in the course of an election. The detail with which newspapers recounted the content of the candidates’ speeches, the incidences of election violence, and the shouts and calls of the crowd illustrate the issues which inflamed them.

Papillon’s fellow Conservative candidate and former sitting MP, Taverner John Miller, also received a hostile reception while delivering his speech. His criticisms of Gladstone’s Liberal government were treated with contempt and greeted with uproar, and his opposition to the ballot with laughter. The crowd spared Miller the eggs, in sharp contrast to their response to Papillon’s statement that he was opposed to the ballot because it was ‘un-English’, and unwisely suggested that the crowd were not making their case for the extension of the franchise.

The crowd were incensed by the presence of Thomas Rouse, the borough inspector of weights and measures, who attempted to address the crowd from the hustings. Rouse, having recently switched his allegiance from the Liberal to the Conservative cause, was assailed with eggs, flour, and bread, forcing all of the people on the hustings to take refuge in the council chamber behind. The crowd, seemingly taking Rouse’s decision as an affront, did not permit him to speak.

What was the key issue for the crowd, however, was that notices had been issued prior to that year’s traditional Good Friday sports held at Papillon’s estate at Lexenden, forbidding the gathering of people there. Papillon was further accused of laying ‘tar and soot’ on the meadow where the sports traditionally took place. This incident therefore shows the importance people placed in what they saw as their traditional rights to use land, and the influence of local community relationships on elections to parliament.

The crowd, through a show of hands, further demonstrated its opposition to Papillon’s candidacy. Although they were non-electors, and the election was decided by a poll of electors, they had used the hustings to demonstrate their support for the Liberal candidate and their contempt for Papillion. Papillon would lose his seat in this election, while Miller and the Liberal candidate, John Gurdon Rebow, were returned to parliament.

While this account of election violence illustrates the role of national politics and issues in elections, it also highlights the central role played by the images of local political figures and their relationships with communities of non-electors.

Lara Green is a Teaching Fellow in Twentieth-Century Russian History at Durham University, and a former Research Assistant for the Victorian Election Violence project.  Her research examines Russian and Soviet history in transnational perspective, cultural histories of terrorism, and networks of political activism. 

(Source: Chelmsford Chronicle, 14 July 1865.. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

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