Short EV Account: Torchlight Battle

This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred 139 years ago tomorrow.  Quite possibly the largest event of that day, with an alleged crowd of 20-40,000 present, but it was by no means the only violence taking place on 30 March:

The Liberal candidate, Mr Reed, led a torchlight procession composed of his supporters, who numbered 2,000. Surrounding the procession was a much larger crowd, which ‘eventually numbered 20,000 persons, the total number of spectators being estimated at twice that number’.  During its progress, however, it was stopped in its tracks by a group reported to consist of ‘stalwart Irishmen, who literally mowed the foremost ward of Liberals down with long sticks’.

After roughly a dozen of this leading row of Liberals had been trampled and knocked down, many were rendered ‘insensible’, and it was not yet known by the writer how extensive the injuries had been.  This was the spark for a much larger conflict.  Outside the Royal Hotel, supporters of rival parties collected and burned rival torches in the darkness, proceeding to engage in free fights.

The candidate Mr Reed, it was noted, was understandably unable to make himself heard above the tumult from the hotel’s balcony; the police were also powerless in the face ofd such a large scale disturbance of the peace.  The article finishes with a notation that a late-hour telegram indicated that streets of the town were ‘entirely in the hands of an excited mob’, but that people were gradually dispersing: ‘the fighting had been general, and a large number of persons had been beaten with sticks’.

Interestingly, the local correspondent states that ‘such a violent occurrence is not known to have happened here before’.  While that may be true in terms of the sheer scale of the crowds involved, the inhabitants of Carlisle were definitely not new participants in election violence – one of our previous blogs covered a rather long-running dispute in the town during the 1852 election, 28 years before.  Moreover our draft database records violent incidents in Carlisle at the elections of 1837, 1841, 1859, 1865, and 1868!  In other words, 7 of the 12 elections since 1832 had been violent. Many of these also involved crowds of thousands.  Presumably the reporter was new to Carlisle, or had a short memory…


(Source: Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 3 April 1880. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)


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