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.
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