Election Violence Poetry, Part II: The Hero Of The Hustings

We have previously brought to light Victorian election poetry of questionable quality – to celebrate the recent sunny weather, we are republishing another dubious poem from 1852, about a fictional candidate braving the summer heat on the hustings,  not to mention the various missiles thrown at him:



The honourable gentleman upon the hustings stood

For two hours of a summers day–a feat of lustihood–

And shouted forth, and saw’d the air with all his force and might,

The temperature higher than a hundred, Fahrenheit.


The sun above him blazing from a blue unclouded sky,

He frying like a sausage that could feel itself to fry:

It rain’d upon him cats and dogs; and likewise, it is true,

However strange the circumstance, that he was dripping too.


The undeveloped offspring of the gallinaceous tribe,

The free and independent men with many a taunt and gibe,

Launch’d also at the candidate’s unvenerated head,

And frequently advised him to go home and go to bed.


Not only did this hero spout thus long upon his legs,

And brave the sun, the puppy-dogs, the kittens, and the eggs;

Not only he incurr’d the execrations of the mob,

But lost above a thousand pounds, moreover, by the job.


Such lots of money, fortitude, exertion, pluck, and nerve,

It costs to gain the privilege those gentlemen to serve,

Who yell at you and pelt you with all sorts of nasty things;

Surely a seat in Parliament some vast enjoyment brings!


(Source: Reprinted from Punch, in the Wiltshire Independent, 22 July 1852. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)


Short EV Account: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Today’s Short EV Account looks at an attack on a constituency’s Conservative committee rooms, with the mob targeting someone in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity:

In Buckley, North Wales, the 1885 election was a heated one – having been elected unopposed in 1880, the Conservative Lord Richard Grosvenor, MP for Flintshire, was locked in a battle against a Liberal challenger, Henry Lloyd-Mostin. After the contest, serious rioting broke out as soon as darkness set in, and continued until about 9pm. The conservative committee rooms were savagely attacked, with ‘every window being broken’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: A Case of Mistaken Identity”

Short EV Account: Party Urchins

Victorian elections took place before universal suffrage, when only some propertied men could vote.  Today’s Short EV Account looks at a serious riot started by a group which is still unenfranchised in the present day:

During the 1868 election at Trowbridge, a group of ‘disreputable characters’ were evidently hired by the Liberal party to cause disruption at polling, and intimidate the electors.  This group was, of course, unenfranchised. What makes them all the more unusual, however, is that the group would not possess the vote even in the present day – they were hired thugs well under the age of 16! Continue reading “Short EV Account: Party Urchins”

Short EV Account: Larking About

This week’s Short EV Account explores an unusual incident of window-breaking and stone-throwing in Sunderland, involving yet more animals – in this particular case, a lark:

The 1885 election for the borough of Sunderland saw two Liberals, Storey and Gourlay, narrowly beat the sole Conservative candidate, Austin, by just over a thousand votes. The contest also saw some rioting, during which Storey was targeted by missiles and some damage to property occurred. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Larking About”

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’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Bottled Voters”

Dead Cats, and other missiles

In a guest blog, Alan Heesom explores the history of dead cats in electoral politics, straddling, fact, fiction, and symbolism:

Election speaker in 1847 has dead cat and other missiles flung at his cab

Recent assaults with milk shakes, eggs and vegetables are (at least from a candidate’s point of view) presumably preferable to the early custom of using dead animals as election projectiles. Dead cats seem to have symbolised hatred towards an individual. When the unpopular John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, died in Dublin in 1802, dead cats were flung on his coffin. Continue reading “Dead Cats, and other missiles”

Throwing Things At Candidates

Victorian men and women, most/all of whom did not have the vote, were often to be found throwing missiles at candidates. This blog explores a few of their choices:


Perhaps the most traditional missile; the Roman Emperor Vespasian was pelted with turnips, and those medieval unfortunates sentenced to the stocks would often be pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables.

Rotten apples


The traditional aggressive accompaniment to fruit and vegetables, throwing rotten eggs has a similarly long history. Without the availability of modern refrigeration, spoiled food was more readily available to use as missiles.

Another common choice

Dead Cats (and dogs, and rabbits…)

The subject of our popular tweet, it would appear to have been fairly common for crowds to throw dead cats (and occasionally dead dogs and rabbits) at politicians – it was an established election custom as far back as the eighteenth century. Thus far, we have not been able to identify any possible symbolic reason for their use, or the origins of the practice – if anyone has any leads, please do contact us on Twitter.

Can be spotted at the top centre-left


Not by any means a popular choice, but certainly famous – during the election of 1892, William Gladstone himself was struck in the eye by a piece of flying gingerbread biscuit. While it was unlikely that this was intended to do serious harm, there were serious consequences – the eye was treated at Chester Infirmary, but never fully recovered.

The Grand Old Man


Another popular choice, especially in cases of unplanned pelting by a crowd which had not prepared missiles in advance – mud, after all, tends to be readily to hand.

Children were often enthusiastic participants in mud-throwing, even at elections


There was a close link between Victorian election rioting and widespread drunkenness – bottles were therefore often used.

Flying bottles during Dublin election rioting, 1886


We’ve explored the use of herring in a previous blog – a noxious fish, especially once rotten, its use as a missile may also have been politically symbolic.



Probably the most dangerous type of missile – these could range from small pebbles to altogether more dangerous varieties. Newspaper reports of election violence usually refer vaguely to the throwing of stones, but a few go into more worrying detail, indicating that crowd-members pulled up extremely heavy paving slabs from the ground, and hurled these at candidates. In several instances during election riots, the desire for such missiles was so strong that group raided churchyards, breaking apart headstones to use the pieces as missiles. At least half a dozen bystanders lost their lives after being hit by stones during Victorian elections, including this unfortunate voter in 1880.

Missiles flying during election rioting at Wilton, 1885

Anything That Came To Hand

Members of Victorian election crowds were notably inventive when it came to sourcing missiles, choosing items rich in symbolic meaning, and otherwise employing anything practical that came to hand. As and when our project uncovers these, we will add them to the list.






Illustrated London News, 12 December 1885; 17 July 1886

Short EV Account: Illegality and ‘Extreme Illegality’

This week’s Short EV Account looks at boisterous series of tit-for-tat violent exchanges between Welsh Conservatives and Liberals during the 1841 Flintshire contest. Many were illegal but ignored by authority, but the final incident may well have crossed the line – giving a useful indicator of where the line was located at that time and place:

A newspaper alleges that the Conservatives made every effort to win the contest, and that ‘neither cajolery, gold, nor threats was spared by them’.  When it became clear during the first of two days of polling that the Conservatives were significantly behind the Liberal candidate Mostyn, all seemed lost. It was at this point that ‘a certain indiscreet supporter of the Tory candidate’ brought a large party of miners in his employ to the polling place at Mold. They were alleged to have been brought ‘for the avowed purpose of fighting’.  The miners, having been ‘well primed with drink’, proceeded to do so, in the afternoon of the first polling day. A bottle and other missiles were hurled out of the Lion Hotel (The Conservative Election HQ) at a passing (and peaceful) group of opposing Liberal ‘Mostynites’.  Continue reading “Short EV Account: Illegality and ‘Extreme Illegality’”

Short EV Account: ‘Win, Tie, Or Bring It To A Wrangle’

Before the Liverpool election of 1852, the swift actions of local police prevented hundreds of deadly weapons from falling into the hands of partisans – uniquely, the detail offered by the reporter gives an idea of the scale of organisation behind election violence, especially when sectarian factors came into play:

Acting on information received, a group of constables raided a workshop operated by a Mr Turner of Williamson Street. There, they found an incredible cache of several hundred weapons, ‘of the most formidable description’. Having seized and then and conveyed them to the police station, they ‘filled a large spring cart’.

The article notes that for some time, the Protectionist party in Liverpool had been boasting that, with regard to the upcoming 1852 contest for the city, they would ‘win, tie, or bring it to a wrangle’. It was further alleged that many of the ‘worst characters’ in the surrounding counties had been brought to the city to intimidate Liberal electors, discouraging them from appearing at the polling booths.

The new Head Constable for the city however, Captain Greig, had taken several innovative precautionary measures in the run-up to the contest – as had the Mayor, who despite being a Protectionist was thought by the reporter to be a ‘high spirited honourable man’. The man who had allegedly ordered the weapons to be manufactured was in fact a colleague of the Mayor – an Alderman, who was both a Protectionist and a member of an Orange Society.

Each weapon consisted of a two-foot long wooden staff, with a handle at one end and an indent at the other, ‘into which a pike blade or spike could be driven’ – similar to a pikestaff. The reporter notes that other weapons of a similar (but not identical) description had been manufactured elsewhere; interestingly, he alleges that the original design for these was given by ‘a foreign refugee to the chartists some years ago’.

During and after the election itself, several riots nevertheless occurred in Liverpool with many weapons employed; in addition to widespread damage to property and injuries, this led (at least indirectly) to the death of a pregnant woman.  Even the most determined preventative measures were inadequate in the face of such a strong determination by various groups to ‘bring it to a wrangle’.


(Source: North & South Shields Gazette, 9 July 1852Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Religion and Electoral Violence: Blackburn, 1868

The election of 1868 was particularly violent, as set out in our tweets of last year.  Following on from a previous blog exploring the 1868 election violence in Blackburn, David Hughes delves deeper into earlier events, identifying sectarianism as a major cause of subsequent events:

When William Murphy proposed giving a series of anti-Catholic lectures in Blackburn in October and November 1867, the mayor and magistrates tried to stop him. Murphy ended his visit to Blackburn with a ‘Great Protestant and Orange Demonstration’ which received no support from local political parties and was described sneeringly by the Conservative-supporting Blackburn Standard. Continue reading “Religion and Electoral Violence: Blackburn, 1868”