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’.

In this extremely drunken state, they were then taken to the polling booth to vote for Liberal candidates. It was contended that this was unjust and illegal, and that those who had damaged the mill had every right to try and release their friends, ‘and to use as much force as was necessary to accomplish their freedom’. Multiple witnesses were called, who confirmed that from nine o’clock on Sunday night to late morning on Monday, Conservative voters were continually taken into the mill, and detained their against their will. During the Sunday night the shouting and singing were so loud that the entire neighbourhood was disturbed – it was most definitely not a party atmosphere, however.

On Monday, several of the mill’s inhabitants went to its windows, and pleaded with passers-by to release them.  A group of roughs (said to be Irishmen) were armed with sticks and stationed at the top and bottom of the mill’s staircase. Five of the detained voters’ faces were covered with blood, likely because of an escape attempt.

Some were walked around for half-an-hour on Monday morning to enable them to walk once taken to the polling booth, and others who flat-out refused to vote Liberal were detained for the rest of Monday until after the polls had closed. When a crowd eventually began to attack the mill to free them, one of the guards took up a stick and began smashing the windows himself, presumably in the hope that the crowd would think he was one of them and not an enemy. This guard, it was said, was employed by the Mayor of Bolton himself – who also happened to be the brother of Barlow, who owned the mill.


(Source: The Standard, 8 December 1868Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

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