Short EV Account: The Press Fight Back

In another of our Short Accounts, Research Assistant Emma Varley explores a rather amusing (if unreliable) account of an incident involving an angry candidate, a printer skilled in self-defence, and a thorough dousing in black ink…

Slander, sensationalism, and general mockery are part and parcel of election politics. One need only look to the numerous cartoons depicting an exaggerated version of an orange-skinned, toupee-wearing former television star which continue to proliferate in nearly every newspaper across the globe. Opposing candidates, party members, and journalists are always on the lookout for the next opportunity to mock their competition, and it is all the better when this ammunition is handed to them by the opposition themselves.

This is precisely what the Conservative candidate Colonel Hanmer did during the Aylesbury election of 1832, immortalised in an article in the renowned Hunt paper The Examiner. After a series of jabs by Hanmer aimed at his competing candidate, Mr. Hobhouse, which maligned the latter’s ‘base nature’, one of Hobhouse’s partisans retaliated with an ‘extravagant electioneering squib’. This squib accused the Colonel of greed and cowardice, and it performed its function so perfectly that the Colonel was aggravated into direct action.

The candidate, accompanied by his friend Mr. Gray, accosted the printer at his workplace and demanded to know who had commissioned the irksome squib. The printer however, whether out of honour or partisan dislike, refused to disclose the names. A heated scuffle ensued. But, much to the embarrassment of the ‘gallant Colonel’, this printer was not one to be bested. He sent the pair running from his shop, not only leaving with less pride than when they entered, but with less hair.

Several locks of both men remained in the printer’s shop as ‘the trophies of victory’. In one final battle that befits a Laurel and Hardy sketch better than a dignified election, the printer doused the pair in black ink, forcing them to run to the local alehouse in search of ‘pearlash’, a baking agent, to scrub themselves clean – though not before the entire town was privy to the scene.

In the attempt to rid themselves of one nuisance squib, they unintentionally provoked even more humiliating mockery:

Despite the author’s certainty that this event would quench ‘the glimmering hopes of Toryism’ once and for all, Colonel Hanmer went on to win the Aylesbury election. For as is nearly always the case with newspapers, partisanship and reporting go hand in hand. The Examiner, in its first conception, was a Radical paper, and thus supported the Radical candidate Hobhouse. Hobhouse himself had ties with the paper through his friendship with Lord Byron, who was himself close with Leigh Hunt to the extent that they had founded their own paper, the Liberal, in the first quarter of the nineteenth-century. This may go some way to explain the cartoon-like description of the event – an interesting insight into how election incidents were reported by partisan journalists. What this article may lack in reliability, however, it makes certainly makes up for in entertainment.


Emma Varley has recently completed her MA in English Literary Studies at Durham University. An English and History graduate of Liverpool University also, her academic interest include medieval studies, specialising in the late medieval period, and medieval and nineteenth-century literature.


(Sources: The Examiner, 16 December 1832. Retrieved 30 October 2018 – via British Newspaper Archive. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

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