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”’. 

However, some were unhappy at the outcome – the committee paid some considerably less than they thought they were owed, and others were disowned altogether.  This denial of payment itself threatened at one point to cause a disturbance, but one did not occur.  Nonetheless, many loitered about a nearby inn, ‘from their sullen demeanour, and the ominous expressions in which they occasionally indulged, a sudden outburst of violence was not unreasonably feared’.

Policemen were stationed at the inn, and this seems to have restrained the ‘political roughs’.  Many loudly declared that they had been ‘distinctively engaged’ for their violent activities previously, and that their names were on the books. ‘”But what were you engaged for?” was asked, and one of the discontents replied, with a sly expression on his face, “Woy, they cawed as canvassers, and we got no books!”’.  The roughs had allegedly been hired as legitimate canvassers, but their true purpose was very shoddily disguised.

Later that evening, some 200 of the political roughs went searching around the town for the man they claimed had engaged them on behalf of the committee.  He had been at the forefront of the disturbance, and was ‘with no little difficulty, on consequence of his weight, once or twice raised shoulder height by his followers’.  He was eventually found in one of his regular haunts (The Nag’s Head), but the presence of a few well-known detectives prevented the crowd of 200 from doing him harm.  They then returned to the George Hotel, but broke up at about midnight without breaching the peace when additional police presented themselves.

Whether or not the weighty gentleman in question had indeed been acting on behalf of the candidates is unresolved – whatever the truth of it, those whom he had hired never saw recompense for their actions in support of the candidates.


(Source: Morning Advertiser, 17 July 1865. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

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