Short EV Account: The Torchlight Procession That Did Not Come Off

Newspapers often reported violent events connected to elections – less commonly, they also reported events which did not happen.  These reports are of great use to our project, as one of our main aims is to uncover not only the causes of electoral violence, but also why widespread election violence gradually disappeared from the political landscape as the nineteenth century progressed: 

One report, in the Bolton Evening News of 26 November 1868, discusses one such instance – or, rather, almost-instance, of election-related violence.  In an article entitled ‘THE TORY TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION THAT DID NOT COME OFF’, it is revealed that in Liverpool, local Orangemen intended to organise a torchlight procession to celebrate the successful election of Messrs. Turner and Cross, the new Conservative MPs for South-west Lancashire.  The local authorities, however, had had recent experiences of such events. Sectarian-related election violence had been a prominent feature of the 1868 contest throughout the region. 

Unusually for the period, specific local bye-laws allowed the municipal government in Liverpool to declare any intended procession illegal; ‘it was therefore determined to nip the torchlight procession in its bud’.  In the opinion of the news reporter, they ‘had avoided a serious public calamity’.  Given that local tensions were still heightened in the immediate aftermath of the election, renewed violence was a distinct possibility ‘in the present disturbed state of the public mind’, when the procession would have marched through ‘localities where vast numbers of Irishmen and Liberals reside’.

Crucial to the prevention of the procession was the lack of support from within the Orange Lodges themselves – the idea was said to have originated in ‘an obscure Lodge’, and the proposal ‘repudiated by the general Orange body, who issued a placard …  requesting Orangemen not to take part in the proposed procession’.  At the stated meeting-place and time, the combined efforts of the municipal authorities, Lodge members, and a police presence led to a low turnout.  ‘At the appointed hour … there were certainly a number of youths and girls present, and two or three persons had torches with them, which no doubt they were ready to light had the procession been formed’.  At this point, however, ‘Mr Jarvis and other prominent Orangemen appeared among the crowd and announced that the intended procession was illegal, that it had been announced by “some rash man, or by one of the enemy”, and recommended the people to go home’.  This was seconded by the senior policemen – no fewer than three superintendents were present – and the group dispersed.  Such tactics were to become more common as the century wore on.  The targeted presence of a professional and large body of police, and local bye-laws which authorised the prevention of processions, were increasingly effective.  The intervention of Orange leaders also played a prominent role in this instance, and the procession was ‘nipped in its bud’.

The articles noted that the events ended with ‘a few ragged urchins, headed by a boy playing a concertina.  They went to Everton, and “marched up the hill and down again”.


(Source: Bolton Evening News, 26 November 1868. Retrieved 2018, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

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