This week’s election violence Short Account is closely connected to elements of pageantry and carnivalesque celebration – or, in the case of the mock funeral for the defeated candidate, feigned commiseration. Violence was often sparked by such factors, but there is also evidence of at least some partisan efforts to blunt the official response:
At the 1874 election for Evesham, the Liberal candidate Joseph Napier Higgins was defeated, losing by only forty-seven votes to the Conservative James Bourne. Supporters of Bourne were in something of a triumphant mood; they organised a ‘mock funeral’ for the defeated Liberal, ‘having a coffin containing an effigy borne on a bier’. The mob, said to be 200-strong and dressed in the party colours of blue, surrounded the coffin and proceeded along the principal street for as long as three hours.
It was noted that such a demonstration did not provoke the calling out of a police presence – there were no officers to be seen, and it was noted that, given the size of the crowd compared to the local forces available, they would not have been able to end the procession even if they had wished to. It was possibly this lack of police presence, however, that emboldened some in the crowd to perpetrate several incidents of election violence. It was noted in a later court hearing that ‘a number of men were summoned assaults and malicious damage’. Indeed, in one case, the charges before the Magistrates of two defendants, George and Edwin Grove were withdrawn – not because of a lack of evidence, but because the damage was so severe that it was planned to pursue them in the more serious Assizes.
One crowd member, Samuel Boswell, was accused of assaulting a Mrs Mary Ann Martin. Whilst the funeral was taking place, Boswell was said to have crossed the street and, without any provocation, ‘struck the complainant with two violent blows, which caused her to bleed profusely’. Though it is unclear if the motive behind this particular assault was political, the proceedings of the election, its excited atmosphere, and the lack of a police deterrent were contributory factors.
The damage caused by one of the mock-funeral’s participants resulted in a Magistrate sentencing him to a £3/14s fine for costs, or the option of two months’ hard labour. The money was paid, and hard labour avoided. Intriguingly, Mr Allard, another Magistrate who was also said by the paper to be ‘a leading Conservative’, protested against the fine, claiming that it was far too heavy. Victorian Magistrates were (to put it mildly) not famed for their lenience (let alone Conservative officials). It is therefore not unreasonable to speculate that Allard’s partisan leanings may have played a role in the formation of his opinion…
(Source: Banbury Advertiser, 19 February 1874. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)