Wednesday 23 March 2011

Contested Parliamentary Elections in the Borough of Lisburn, 1852-1863. (part 2)



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Mr. Redmond Jefferson, in seconding Mr. Verner's nomination, said -- I feel from the bottom of my heart the truth of a statement just made, and of which our opponents must also be aware, that the political opinions of Mr. Verner are those of about three-fourths of the electors of the Borough of Lisburn. (Groans continued for a minute or two, an an odd "Here here.") I would be sorry to say anything derogatory of the respectable firm of Wm. Barbour and Sons. (Here, here, and cheers.)

A Voice -- You could not say a word, against them. (Renewed cheers.)

Another Voice -- Nor no man. Three cheers for Mr. Barbour. (Loud cheers.)

Mr. Jefferson -- I will now tell you, in reference to the way in which this election has been conducted, that I believe that not only Mr. Barbour and my friend Mr. Kennedy but that others of his committee will say that we have met them in their canvass in a fair and honourable way. (Groans.) I defy any one to say a single shabby or dishonourable trick was performed on our part from first to last. (Groans and confusion.)

A Voice -- Yes, there was.

A second Voice -- No, no. Who broke our windows? Who brought in the bludgeons? (Renewed groans and confusion, wild cheers "Verner for ever!")

Another Voice -- You broke Sunday. (Laughter and cries of "He did," "Hurrah for Barbour," "Put him out.")

Great confusion and deafening uproar. "Order!" "Silence!"

Mr. Jefferson -- I was not out of my house from Saturday till 12 o'clock on Monday, and I stayed in purposely to avoid such a calumny. I will not allow any of the shabby fellows -- (groans) -- I see before me to interrupt me, a townsman, when I am speaking. (Great groans, "Put, him out," etc., etc.)


We are authorised to state that Lord Hertford and his Agent have strictly forbidden any party connected with the Office to interfere in the present election. Should any interference take place in opposition to those directions, we request the earliest information shall be given to us.

          M. J. SMYTH.
          HENRY MAJOR.

Committee Rooms,
          February 18, 1863.


Take Notice -- I have this morning received a Telegram from Mr. Walter Stannus stating that "the notice signed M.J. Smyth, Henry Major, Robert Kennedy is not authorised by Lord Hertford. Publish this."

          (Signed) DAVID BEATTY.
Lisburn, Friday Morning.


A Notice has just been posted, signed by Mr. David Beatty, attempting to contradict the one to which our names are affixed, which notice was to the effect that "Lord Hertford and his Agent had strictly forbidden any party connected with the Office to interfere in the present election." Why does not Mr. Beatty publish his telegram to Mr. Stannus and the reply verbatim? Mr. Walter Stannus, when he was asked the question, always stated plainly and distinctly "that no Office interference would be permitted," either by Lord Hertford or himself, and that every elector was at liberty to vote as he pleased at the present election, without fear of consequences.

          M. J. SMYTH.
          HENRY MAJOR.
Lisburn, Friday.

Mr. Hugh McCall, as reported in the "Whig" of a week previous, stated -- I had a few days ago a conversation with Lord Hertford's Agent, and he stated to me, and I have a letter from him to the same effect, that under no circumstance would Lord Hertford interfere in the present election. Not only so, but that he, the Agent, had called in his bailiffs to the office and told them that the first man he knew interfering with the election on one side or the other, that man would no longer have anything to do with Lord Hertford's Office.


On Thursday night a large placard was extensively posted in Lisburn and Belfast in exact imitation of Mr. Barbour's election address, headed, "To the Independent Liberal and Catholic Electors of Lisburn," and signed J. D. Barbour. In this address Mr. Barbour was made to state the most palpable falsehoods -- to "pray" that his friends will not "desert him in the day of danger," to announce that a meeting would be held at his committee-rooms at an appointed hour, when he would place himself in their hands, "either to go to a poll or to resign," and concluding in these words:--

"And it will be a question for you to decide whether or not, owing to the session having almost expired, the contest should be longer continued, and should it meet your wishes, in order to prevent a continuation of riot and such ebullition of sectarian feeling, that I should resign, hereby pledge myself to go forward at the next general election, and there enforce by all lawful means my claim to the honour of representing you in Parliament."

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From "Belfast News-Letter," February, 1863.

In fact the mysterious disappearance of voters became so general that it ceased at last to excite astonishment. An elector put up his shutters at night without being able to say whether or not he would find himself at home the next morning. So general had this system become that it is very doubtful if on the night of the nomination very much more than one half of the voters slept at their own homes.

As the day of election approached the Constabulary was reinforced by about 300 men and three stipendiary magistrates. Detachments from the 19th and 62nd Regiments and two troops of Hussars were drafted into the town.

Never in the history of political contests in Lisburn had the struggle been so determined.

There were two polling booths, and in them during, the greater part of the day pandemonium reigned unrestrained.

The poll closed at 5 o'clock, and fortunately for the peace and safety of the town rain fell in torrents, and continued to fall all through the evening and night.

Coulson's Factory, M'Creight's Hotel, C. Maguire's house, etc., etc., were wrecked.

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From "Northern Whig," February 13, 1883.

The arrangements made for the preservation of the peace on the day of the poll were all that could be desired, and he must have been a very enthusiastic Tory indeed who on witnessing the great array of Military and Constabulary in Lisburn could have reckoned on the carrying of the election by storm. There were altogether nearly 1,000 men under arms, and with such a force in a small town it would have been sheer madness to attempt to impede the electors on their way to the polling-booths. However, all the precautions taken were necessary. Train after train from Belfast was crowded with enthusiastic partisans of the Conservative candidate, supplied with tickets at the Railway steps in Belfast by a well-known local character, and who roared lustily at the top of their voices, "Verner for ever!" Upwards of 2,000 persons left Belfast on Saturday morning for Lisburn, and their object can easily be conceived when in all probability, in the whole batch, there was not a vote even for Verner.

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The "Belfast News-Letter" espoused the cause of "the Office" nominee; the "Whig" that of the Independent candidates. Both papers, as was the Custom in those days, championed their men in a whole-hearted and thorough manner. Nothing was left to the imagination in regard to the failings, delinquencies and general unfitness of an opponent or of the cause he advocated.

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"Northern Whig," February 23 and 24, 1863.


Mr. Barbour .............. 140
Mr. Verner ................ 134

"Belfast News-Letter," March 14, 1863.
"Northern Whig," March 16, 1863.

Copy of Petition against Mr. Barbour's return, signed by the two Lisburn electors.

The Petition is in the usual form, as to sets, by the Candidate, his Agents, or others on his behalf, etc., etc.

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The history of the Petition is rather curious. Alexander M'Cann appears to have been the chief mover and engineer in promoting it. Yet in evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons he stated -- The so-called Conservatives of Lisburn took no interest in the matter. The getting up of the Petition was left to me. Practically there was no Conservative committee in existence to give me instructions. M'Cann procured the signature of two Lisburn electors to the Petition

After some time he and his friends appear to have lost their nerve and become frightened at the action they had taken, and a withdrawal of the Petition was procured. The withdrawal, however, did not take effect. The final result was that on June 6, 1863. Mr. Barbour was declared as "not duly elected for the borough," etc. The House of Commons, however, refused to give costs in the hearing of the Petition as against Mr. Barbour.

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"Belfast News-Letter," May 20, 1883.

Statement re the Petition.

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"Belfast News-Letter," May 1, 1863.
"Northern Whig," May 1, 1883.

Examination before Committee of House of Commons re the Petition and Breach of Privilege. This arose out of the proposed withdrawal of the Petition.

Principal witnesses examined -- Alexander M'Cann. Moses Bullick, W. J. Knox, William Barbour.

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"Belfast News-Letter," June 8, 1863.
"Northern Whig," June 6 and 8, 1863.

Proceedings before Committee of House of Commons re the Petition.

The "Northern Whig"  gives a very full report.

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"Northern Whig," June 8, 1863.

Leading article on the finding of the Committee.

June 17, 1863

Reference to the fight for independence in Lisburn, 1852-1863.

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"Belfast News-Letter," April 10, 1863.

Complimentary dinner to Edward Wingfield Verner, in the Assembly Rooms, Lisburn. Jonathan Richardson, Glenmore, in the chair. The list of names of those present occupies a third of a column of the paper.

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This electioneering squib was issued in connection with the 1863 election. Although the local references and points are lost through lapse of time, it is evident that the intention was to throw ridicule on the Independent candidate and the cause he represented:--

To the Worthy and Independent



Now or never! Look to France and be Free! Brass Money and wooden shoes! Your Independence is at stake! Your Franchise is in jeopardy! I'll name three good men, -- good men and true -- choose for yourselves:-- first comes Mr. Johnny M'I--tyre, a man "full of wise saws," a chip of the old block, and, tho' not having a seat in the Cabinet, allowed by all to be a first-rate "Cabinet"-maker, and altho' he has frequently been "chiselled" by the "Board of Trade,' firmly declares that he will not suffer himself to be made a "tool" of by any one. "The next that does come in" is Mr. John H--on, a man who has handled many a "grave" subject, and you may rely that any "measure" he "undertakes" shall be duly "carried out" if not on his own, on the shoulders of others. On investigation his dealings will be found to be "plane" and "above board" and as things are now "going" may be said to be a "rising" man. The last that I shall mention is Mr. Arthur F--lay, a gentleman well known in sporting circles and of long standing on the turf, in whom is allied the happy "knack" of "disposing" of any "subject" that is laid before him in the shortest possible space, together with that firmness of purpose and "flay" -- grant determination which cannot fail to "garron"-tee him a crowd of admirers. You will find him ever at his "post," "a Free Trader" in heart; none need apply to him for "Protection," as he has ocular "intestine" demonstration' of the injurious working of the "Corn Laws;" and lastly his attention to your interests will be unremitting, from the fact of his being seldom, if ever, "Horse de Combat;" and should the other respectable gentlemen "decline," I have no doubt but that he will accede to your wishes should a depitation of five of the "Neigh"-bouring gentry wait on him for that purpose.

The above gentlemen disown all "moral turpitude," "baseness of feeling," or any want of Independent Spirit."

     Farewell my Boys,
          I'm One of Yerselves,
               And no mistake.
                    Who's afeer'd!!!

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So ended eleven years of intense political strife in the Borough of Lisburn. The result of the 1852 election was simply a declaration of the inhabitants of the town that the state, of affairs which had existed for so many years must cease. Previous to this Lord Hertford nominated the member, and the electors obediently elected him. The return of Mr. Roger Johnson Smyth was a breaking away from old traditions and customs and a declaration of independence on the part of the electors. The political opinions of Mr. Smyth were in the main identical with those of Mr. Inglis, "the Office" candidate. The electors had no fault to find with Mr. Inglis save only that he was Lord Hertford's, nominee. They preferred to elect a man of their own choice, and once and for all to assert their independence and right to vote as their conscience dictated.

The same may be said of the two following elections. The 1863 election, however, stands on a somewhat different footing. Lord Hertford and his satellites had grown weary of the struggle, and were disposed, to a certain extent, to recognise the situation as it was. They felt and saw that the growing spirit of the age, the march of independent thought, could no longer be stemmed. They wisely but reluctantly, very reluctantly, decided to submit to the inevitable. They decided in regard to this election to take up a position of non-interference. In the 1863 election the politics of the two Candidates were clearly defined -- Liberal and Conservative. The Liberal -- Mr. Barbour -- based his claims on the constituency on his local connection and local interests; the Conservative -- Mr. Verner -- on his politics. The Liberal candidate, it must be conceded, did not receive all the support and consideration his local connection and position might have entitled him to expect. It is safe to state that the contest was one of the fiercest ever waged in the constituency. The methods used by both sides, even according to the somewhat lax code of the time, were crude and unscrupulous. Victor and vanquished have now passed into the "great silence." They fought the fight according to their lights. Such a contest, conducted on similar lines, has not been fought since, and it is to be hoped Lisburn may never see the like again.

Robert Barbour decided to contest the vacant seat with Mr. Verner. His election address appeared in the "Whig," June 17, 1863. He withdrew, however, on the 25th of the same month in favour of J. J. Richardson, The Island. In the "Whig," June 26 and 27, may be seen an account of the polling and declaration. Result -- Verner 151, Richardson 90. Mr. Verner continued to represent the Borough till 1874, when he was succeeded by Sir Richard Wallace.

The files of the "Belfast News-Letter" and "Northern Whig" may be seen in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, or in the offices of the respective papers.

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List of Voters next week.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 23 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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