Wednesday 16 March 2011

Contested Parliamentary Elections in the Borough of Lisburn, 1852-1863.



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In the "good old days" prior to the adoption of the Ballot Act, and the placing of restrictions on the energies and activities of candidates, a contested election in the Borough of Lisburn was "a thing of beauty and a joy for ever." Looking through the files of the "Northern Whig" and the "Belfast News-Letter" for those years, one realises in a vague kind of way how the citizens and electors of the good Town of Lisnagarvey enjoyed a contested election. They went into it with an enthusiasm and whole-hearted zest that is difficult to understand in this year of grace 1917. Broken heads, wrecked houses, kidnapping, coercion, bribery, mob-law, faction fights, turbulent meetings, these and much more of the same kind were the gentle arts practised, and, strange as it may appear, appreciated and enjoyed by all concerned.

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On the 10th May, 1850, the first meeting was held in Lisburn in support of the claim of the tenants to what was called "tenant-right." The tenants were as absolutely in the power of the agent as they had been a century before, and no tenant dared to exercise any right as an elector, or as a candidate, without first obtaining the permission of "the office" or running the risk of being turned out of his holding.

In November, 1852, there began the first battle of the Lisburn electors to secure the independence of the borough. Lord Hertford had nominated the candidates up to this time, and for this vacancy he sent over the Lord Advocate, Mr. Inglis, who had previously been defeated at Orkney. No opposition was anticipated, but the Independent electors of different creeds thought the time had come when the electors of Lisburn should make an effort to secure their freedom.

After many meetings of his friends, Mr. Roger Johnson Smyth was prevailed upon to become the Independent candidate. Mr. McCall always looked back with considerable pride to the effort that he made to call forth the Independent spirit in Lisburn, and to secure, as the Independent electors did secure, the return of Mr. Roger Johnson Smyth in December, 1852.

On the 13th December on article appearing in the London "Times" describing this election in Lisburn, and describing it truly as the decline and fall of the territorial influence in Ulster.

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From the "Northern Whig," December 2, 1852.

Dean Stannus in a letter to the "Chronicle" states that Lord Hertford is "most anxious for the return of Mr. Inglis," and that the result of this election will "prove to his Lordship whom he may regard as his true friends in and his future relations with this town." The article goes on to say -- The plain inference being that in Mr. Stannus' belief his Lordship will regard as his enemies all who do not support Mr. Inglis. Such a friend as Dean Stannus, is more ruinous to Mr. Inglis than a score of avowed friends of Mr. Smyth. But the Dean is fairly outdone by another writer in the "Chronicle," who in the midst of much raving about "high and holy principles," calls upon the constituency to do nothing that may be an affront to Lord Hertford or may vex Dean Stannus. But both the Dean and his friend are outshone in their reverence for "the office" by a rev. gentleman of Lisburn, who, if his speech on the occasion of this contest is accurately reported, declared that God had placed Lord Hertford over the people  of Lisburn "in matters political," an assertion which, if the rev. gentlemen had any proof to support it with, would certainly settle the whole question.

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From the "Whig," December 9, 1852.

Jonathan Joseph Richardson, The Island, in moving the nomination of Mr. Smyth said:-- I have the honour to rise to propose as a candidate for the representation of this Borough the first man who since 1786 has solicited the suffrage of the electors without having obtained the consent of the Lord of the Soil, etc., etc.

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From "Whig," December, 1852,

From an early hour in the morning, the excitement of the approaching contest took a much greater tone of reality, not only by the serried columns of military -- horse and foot -- which entered the town in all "pomp and circumstance." but also by the bands of the mobocracy which perambulated the streets, calling for "Smyth" or "Inglis" "to the rescue." The military force comprised 150 men of the 46th Regiment, one troop of the 16th Lancers, and a large body of Constabulary. A body of men armed with bludgeons, from the premises of Jonathan Richardson, Ingram, took possession of the ground in front of the Courthouse, the place of nomination. Soon, however, a large body of Mr. Smyth's supporters appeared on the scene, and a furious struggle ensued, the police coming up and forming a line between the parties. This first brush had scarcely concluded when another body of Mr. Inglis's friends, supplied of course with "argumentative" bludgeons, and stated to be "retainers" of the Hertford Estate, also presented themselves on the scene of contest, but were ultimately driven from the field.

About half-past ten o'clock the doors of the Courthouse were thrown open, and Mr. W. Gregg, J.P., Seneschal, took his seat on the Bench. Among those present were:-- Roger J. Smyth, John Inglis, Jonathan Joseph Richardson. The Island; Jonathan Richardson, J.P., Ingram; Redmond Jefferson, Jonathan J. Richardson, Glenmore; J. Coulson, Henry Seeds, J. Bannister, George Pelan, Wm. Johnson, J. Gray, John Millar, J. Bruce, John Hitchcock, A. Johnson, T. M'Creight, Dr. Campbell, T. C. M'Keown, J. M'Intyre, C. Bruce, J.P.; J. Harvey. Geo. Duncan, P. Woods, J. Mussen, J. Lynn, Geo. Bell, S. Kennedy, John Birney, David Beatty, J. Pennington, F. O'Flaherty, L. Waring, W. Coulson, D. Mack, Matthew Smyth, J. Boomer, Hugh Seeds, W. Whitla, etc.

For a considerable time after the Court had been formally opened the Seneschal appealed in vain for a hearing.

Jonathan Joseph Richardson, The Island, proposed Mr. Smyth. Jonathan Richardson, Ingram, proposed Mr. Inglis. Both proceeded to address the meeting together and neither would give way. Wild and furious uproar raged around the Seneschal. At the same time, at the entrance to the hall and on the street the factions fought with unholy glee, and blows of no gentle nature were given and taken in quick succession.

James Coulson seconded the nomination of Mr. Inglis; Redmond Jefferson that of Mr. Smyth.

Wild confusion and uproar characterised the whole meeting, an account of which occupies two columns.

On the evening previous to the election huge number of bludgeonmen from the neighbourhood of Ballymacarrett came up to Lisburn, but they were wet by a fully equal force of the other side, who not only scattered what they considered the not legitimate supporters of freedom of election, but chased them out of the town.

The political opinions of Mr. Inglis are in the main identical with those of Mr. Johnson Smyth, and he will owe his defeat to the honourable determination of the electors of Lisburn not to be represented by a gentleman brought forward under Lord Hertford's influence.

The electors of Mr. Smyth profess to ground their preference of their man on no other merit which he could boast of over his opponent than on the special and most desirable merit of being entirely destitute of the influence of the family whose will has hitherto given Members of Parliament to Lisburn. In returning Mr. Smyth they have asserted the independence of the Borough. They had to make their choice between two Conservative candidates, and they do not profess to have chosen the one who is the more liberal of the two in general politics or the man of greater abilities or higher character.

Mr. Smyth polled 99 votes, Mr. Inglis 81: Majority for Mr. Smyth 12.

On December 29 a banquet was given in the Queen's Arms Hotel, Lisburn, to Mr. Roger Johnson Smyth. M.P., Castle Street, Lisburn. Upwards of 160 gentlemen sat down to dinner. Chairman, Captain Bolton. Speakers -- John Millar, R. J. Smyth, M.P.; Thomas J. Smyth, J.P.; Redmond Jefferson, Edward A. Stott, Geo. Stephenson, Geo. Pelan, J. J. Richardson, The Island; Hugh McCall, H. Major, H. Seeds, T. M'Creight.

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From the "Recollections."

The battle of independence was soon to be fought again. Mr. Roger Johnson Smyth died in the year succeeding his election, and Mr. Jonathan Joseph Richardson was selected as his successor. In the "Northern Whig" of the 3rd September, 1853, there is a report of a meeting held in support of Mr. J. J. Richardson. The intimidation exercised by "the Office" against the tenants was there denounced in terms no doubt strong, but not stronger than the oppression merited, On the 13th October, 1853, Mr. Richardson was returned at the head of the poll -- the first member of the Society of Friends who had been returned for an Irish constituency.

In 1857 the battle of electoral independence in Lisburn was fought again. Lord Hertford had promised that the influence of "the Office" should not be used in the election, but he had promised the same thing more than once before, and in spite of his promise his agent, in this election, as in other elections, used all his influence to procure the election of the office nominee, Colonel Hogg, afterwards Lord Magheramorne.

In this contest Mr. Jonathan Richardson, of Lambeg, was returned.

In the "Whig" of April 28 and April 30, 1857, the report of this election shows the struggle which was then going on in Lisburn, and the sacrifices that had been made by those supporting the cause of electoral independence.

In the year 1863 another election occurred in Lisburn. Mr. Jonathan Richardson retired, and Mr. John D. Barbour came forward as the candidate of the Independent party. The battle that was fought, and the victory that was won, are recorded in the columns of the "Whig." But the triumph was short lived. Mr. John D. Barbour was unseated on petition, and the representative of "the Office," Mr. Edward Wingfield Verner, was, elected, and remained member for for Lisburn until, on the death of Lord Hertford, Sir Richard Wallace became the owner of the Hertford Estate.

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We, the undersigned Electors of the Borough of Lisburn, having in remembrance  the riotous and turbulent conduct pursued at the late Elections for the Borough, whereby much injury Was inflicted on both Persons and Property, and a heavy charge laid on the Ratepayers of the Town, have determined not to support or Vote for any Candidate at the ensuing Election who may, directly or indirectly, by himself or his Agents, introduce or employ any Mob, or encourage Drunkenness, or permit any of his adherents, so far as in him lies, to molest, or disturb any Elector, or injure his property.

Lisburn, 15th April, 1859.

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T. J. Smyth. John Millar.
David Mack. George Bell.
George Wilson. Michael Woods.
Samuel Musgrave. William Graham.
Alex. Titterington. John Brown.
Arthur Macartney. Erskine Neely.
Michael Linn. Robert M'Call.
John Finlay. Hugh M'Call.
Alexander Kenmuir. John Armstrong.
M. M'Harg. Henry Major.
John Herron. David Carlisle.
George Thompson. David Beatty.
James Bell. John Campbell.
John Gillen. George Major.

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H. W. Reilly, Printer, Lisburn.

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This electioneering squib or burlesque, harmless from its very extravagance, evidently relates to the member who retired previous to the 1863 election:--


     'Tother night in our meeting a question arose,
Of our member in London how we should dispose;
Each man was called up, his opinion to state,
And thus Doctor Kel--o began the debate:--
     "My brother electors, I've latterly found
That the heart of our member is not very sound;
He's grown pigeon-livered (John Bel--w cried 'hear, him,')
Quite ricketty too -- and his blood turned to serum.
As well as I'm able to judge of his case,
He's not the right man nor in the right place."
     Sly Pat of the market-house said if they'd strip him,
Through each street in the borough he soundly would whip him,
Then plunge him in pickle quite up to the throat,
For having so frequently turned his coat.
     A sleek son of Crispin, with Pharisee
Thought it clearly our duty to deal with the case.
Our member's' backslidings and faults weren't few,
But he'd torture him first with the boot and thumbscrew.
     Elector M--ee (in argument apt)
Declared to the meeting he wasn't kidnapt:
"He'd pardon the member -- but just on condition
He'd go down on his knees -- make an act of contrition --
Acknowledge that Bir--y had manfully beat him,
And cry mea culpa each time he should meet him!"
     Then Timothy rose 'mid a deafening cheer,
And shouts of "No Hogg, either bigger or We--ir."
He would sentence the member to six hundred lashes,
And afterwards clothe him in sackcloth and ashes;
Then send him to wander like vagabond Cain,
And ne'er let him enter the Borough again."
     But Robin the miller he couldn't agree
With his friend who spoke last or Elector M--ee.
He thought it was idle in wasting their breath,
His counsel, at once, was -- to put him to death.
     Said Orator Hugh, "I have taken a thread.,
And carefully measured in inches his head;
Its structure most truly establishes all
The phrenological doctrines of Spurzheim and Gall --
Its peryphery measures full half-an-inch less
Than that of a traitor whose name you may guess;
I know that his pledges he'll never redeem,
So I'd hang him in Smithfield upon a crossbeam."
     Then Redmond proposed, amid jeering and scoffing
To inter him alive in a charity coffin;
But Johnny, the jackall, indignantly cried,
"I'll skin him and sell David B--y his hide;"
     While Bel--w would burn him alive in his bed,
And Hart--y would stick on the steeple his head;
While twenty electors, with Mus--n and Yo--g,
All counselled the meeting to cut out his tongue;
John Gill--n still pleaded, "Boys! leave him to me,
And I'll scald him to death in a furnace of lye."
     But ere from the room the meeting retires,
Our member knows all by the telegraph wires,
And wisely resolving beforehand to be,
Committed political felo de se.

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From "Belfast Newt-Letter," 19th February, 1863.

Gentlemen, -- I am no stranger to you, and, as so much is said about family matters and family claims, I think I may venture to say that my family are no strangers to Lisburn. Since I first addressed you, on the retirement of our late respected member, I have been accused by my opponents with being a Radical. At this time of day I need scarcely tell you that I am no Radical, and never was one. It has also been attempted to cast doubts on my Protestantism. You all know I have been brought up a Protestant. This fact is known to you all from personal observation, and this sectarian cry is as false as it is futile. I would not wish to enter Parliament either as a religious bigot or as a political tool, but to give my and what is just and right -- for what will best advance the true interests of the country at large and my own town in particular. I rest my claims mainly on my local connection with you. . . I come before you on independent grounds -- to ask your independent support. I think Lisburn is entitled to  local representative. . . I have no personal ends to serve in going into Parliament. I am ambitious of representing my native town, but I expect neither place nor profit for myself or my friends.

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Extracts from the "Northern Whig,"
19th February, 1863.

The greatest activity of preparation was displayed on both sides during the day, Mr. Barbour's committee resting confident on the eve of the nomination day that, if promises be kept and votes recorded, the popular candidate will be far the highest on the poll before twelve o'clock on Saturday, and will so remain until the close.

In Belfast last night an agent of Mr. Barbour was savagely assaulted by a man connected with the opposite party. It is known that several of Mr. Barbour's supporters are secreted in a certain hotel in town. The gentleman inferred to went last night into the hotel for a short time and on coming out he was followed by a man, who struck him down by a blow from a heavy bludgeon. He was so severely wounded on the head, face and hands that it was with difficulty that he could walk. He was conveyed to his home. The wounds are of a serious nature. The perpetrator is known.

The nomination of candidates took place at ten o'clock. An imposing force of police and military -- horse and foot -- was in Lisburn long before that hour, and by nine o'clock the approaches to the Courthouse, in Castle Street, were lined with Constabulary, who, assisted by patrols of Mounted Police and Dragoons, most efficiently kept the peace. Messrs. R. Barbour, W. J. Smyth, Philip Richardson, Hugh M'Call, John Millar, Kennedy, J. Mussen, Major, Duncan, Turner, Corken, R. Mussen, Young, Finlay, Brownlee, Dr. M'Harg, Dr. Kelso, Titterington, Dr. Campbell, etc., accompanied Mr. Barbour to the Courthouse. Mr. Verner was accompanied by his father, Sir William, Mr. Richardson, Glenmore; Redmond Jefferson, C. H. Ward, M'Neilie, Langtry, Pennington, Crossley, Waring, Graham, David Beatty, etc. After a short delay, during which the ticket-holders were admitted, the crowd poured in with vociferous shouts and in high excitement. Mr. Hugh M'Call, in proposing Mr. Barbour, made a lengthy speech which was continuously interrupted. He spoke at times amid the wildest uproar.

Order having been partially restored, the police prevented any other parties from entering, the Courthouse being completely crammed. The shouting of the crowd in the house being a mere echo of the vast multitude on the streets, vociferating "Barbour for ever!" "Barbour for Lisburn!" "Verner for ever!"

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(To be Continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 16 March 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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