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Wars among Savages: Homicide and Ethnicity in the Victorian United Kingdom

  • Carolyn A. Conley


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1 Most of the work on the making of the British national identity focuses on earlier periods than the one covered here. The leading work is Colley, Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT, 1992).

2 The statistics in this essay are based on research in the records of the High Court of Justiciary in the National Archives of Scotland (AD 14) and the Judicial and Criminal Statistics for England and Wales reported in the Parliamentary Papers, as well as crime, inquest, and trial reports in The Times (London), the Scotsman (Edinburgh), and other newspapers in England, Scotland, and Wales.

3 The Times, 11 December 1877, 9e.

4 Dickens, Charles, Our Mutual Friend (London, 1864–65), chap. 11; quoted in Haight, Gordon B., ed., The Portable Victorian Reader (New York, 1976), 147. Regarding English identity in the late nineteenth century, see Colls, Robert and Dodd, Philip, eds., Englishness: Politics and Culture, 1880–1920 (London, 1986).

5 The Times, 20 December 1876, 10d.

6 The Times, 30 July 1885, 12b. Regarding nineteenth-century English concepts of fair fighting and how they changed over the course of the century, see Weiner, Martin, Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness, and Criminal Justice in Victorian England (New York, 2004), chap. 2; Wood, J. Carter, Violence and Crime in Nineteenth-Century England: The Shadow of Our Refinement (London, 2004); Archer, John, “‘Men Behaving Badly’? Masculinity and the Uses of Violence, 1850–1900,” in Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850–1950, ed. D’Cruze, Shani (London, 2000), 4154; Conley, Carolyn, The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent (New York, 1991), chap. 2.

7 On this point in another context, see Weiner, Martin, “The Sad Story of George Hall: Adultery, Murder and the Politics of Mercy in Mid-Victorian England,” Social History 24 (May 1999): 173–95; and Hall, Catherine, “The Nation Within and Without,” in Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the Reform Act of 1867, ed. Hall, Catherine, McClelland, Keith, and Rendall, Jane (Cambridge, 2000).

8 The Times, 21 December 1872, 9e–f.

9 Quoted in The Times, 11 August 1874, 4f. On the idea of the working classes as aliens, also see Philip Dodd, “Englishness and the National Culture,” in Colls and Dodd, Englishness, 8–11.

10 For examples, see The Times, 19 April 1867, 11e (Belgium), 16 August 1869, 4d (Italy), 25 September 1869, 9b (France), 28 December 1872, 8a–c (United States), 3 January 1873, 3e (United States and France).

11 The Times, 4 October 1888, 10d.

12 The Times, 15 June 1872, 12c.

13 The Times, 17 August 1867, 11a.

14 The Times, 14 January 1875, 7c.

15 The Times, 24 June 1867, 9b.

16 Kilkenny Journal, 12 March 1879.

17 Herald of Wales, 6 February 1892.

18 The Times, 17 November 1879, 11f.

19 The Times, 8 October 1877, 9b–d.

20 The Times, 22 August 1882, 7b–c.

21 The Times, 21 March 1887, 6e.

22 See Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, eds., The Irish in the Victorian City (London, 1985), The Irish in Britain, 1815–1939 (Savage, MD, 1989), and The Irish in Victorian Britain: The Local Dimension (Dublin, 1999); MacRaild, Donald M., Irish Migrants in Modern Britain, 1750–1922 (New York, 1999); Lees, Lynn Hollen, Exiles of Erin: Irish Migrants in Victorian London (Ithaca, NY, 1979); Finnegan, Frances, Poverty and Prejudice: A Study of Irish Immigrants in York, 1840–1875 (Cork, 1982).

23 The Times, 6 February 1873, 11c.

24 The Times, 3 March 1870, 11e.

25 The Times, 16 January 1869, 11f.

26 The Times, 6 January 1876, 3f.

27 The Times, 28 October 1875, 6a. Regarding Irish immigrants and their relationships with law enforcement in the mid-Victorian period, see Roger Swift, “‘Another Stafford-Street Row’: Law, Order and the Irish in Mid-Victorian Wolverhampton,” in Swift and Gilley, Irish in the Victorian City, 181–206, and “Crime and the Irish in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” in Swift and Gilley, Irish in Britain, 163–82.

28 The Times, 4 March 1867, 9c.

29 The Times, 21 March 1887, 6e.

30 The Times, 6 May 6 1868, 14f.

31 The Times, 11 December 1877, 9d–e.

32 The Times, 25 March 1887, 9f. On Scottish national identity, see Devine, T. M., The Scottish Nation (New York, 1999); Lynch, Michael, Scotland, a New History (London, 1991); Donnachie, Ian and Whatley, Christopher, The Manufacture of Scottish History (Edinburgh, 1992); Harvie, Christopher, Scotland and Nationalism: Scottish Society and Politics, 1707 to the Present, 3rd ed. (New York, 1998).

33 The Times, 3 January 1889, 13a.

34 The Times, 24 May 1871, 12c. The Scots could give as good as they got. The Scotsman observed “the inability of certain classes of Englishmen and especially of Londoners to understand a joke. … The truth is that of all classes of men in the British dominions your genuine Londoner has the least perception of either wit or humour beyond his own narrow circle” (Scotsman, 19 February 1891).

35 Regarding British, English, and Welsh identities and their interworkings, see Ellis, John S., “Reconciling the Celt: British National Identity, Empire, and the 1911 Investiture of the Prince of Wales,” Journal of British Studies 37 (October 1998): 391418.

36 The Times, 13 October 1887, 11d.

37 The Times, 23 August 1889, 7a–b.

38 The Times, 23 February 1867, 9f.

39 The Times, 2 July 1868, 5f. Backwardness was not limited to the Celtic fringe. In 1875 Justice Bramwell heard a case from Warwick against James Haywood for the murder of Ann Tenant. “This is a curious case from the fact that it shows that there is a general belief in witchcraft at Long Compton and other villages of South Warwickshire among a certain class of the agrarian population.” The victim was eighty years old and had no quarrel with Haywood, who was a man of “good character.” He saw her walking in the road and ran over and stabbed her three times with a pitchfork because he “was and still is under the impression that there are 15 or 16 witches who live in the village and that Ann Tenant was one of them, and that they had bewitched him and prevented him from doing his work and that being possessed of that delusion it excited him to stab the old woman.” The victim's husband said that Haywood's parents had often complained “that witches would not let the boy alone.” Haywood was considered a madman in the village. Justice Bramwell “never remembered a sadder case than seeing a half-witted man stand charged with the murder of a poor inoffensive old woman, whom he had killed under an impulse arising from a belief in witchcraft which would be discreditable to a set of savages.” Haywood was found insane (The Times, 17 December 1875).

40 The Times, 11 December 1877, 9d–e.

41 The Times, 28 August 1868, 9f.

42 The Times, 25 December 1889, 7d.

43 The Times, 8 October 1867, 9e.

44 Camarthen Weekly Reporter, 31 August 1877.

45 The Times, 4 August 1882, 5f.

46 The Times, 18 October 1870, 5d, and 20 July 1871, 10f.

47 The Times, 8 September 1868, 10a.

48 The Times, 8 October 1877, 9b–d.

49 The Times, 5 December 1868, 11a.

50 The Times, 29 July 1878, 4c.

51 For example, see the London Standard, 29 December 1869. On this point also see Curtis, L. P., Anglo-Saxons and Celts: A Study of Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England (Bridgeport, CT, 1968), 53; Conley, Carolyn A., The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent (New York, 1991), 161.

52 On faction fights, see O’ Donnell, Patrick, The Irish Faction Fighters of the Nineteenth Century (Dublin, 1965); and Conley, Carolyn, Melancholy Accidents: The Meaning of Violence in Post-famine Ireland (New York, 1999), 2024.

53 The Times, 21 March 1874, 12f.

54 The Times, 25 November 1872, 11c.

55 The Times, 18 August 1867, 9d.

56 On the general decline in homicides, see Gatrell, V. A. C., “The Decline of Theft and Violence in Victorian and Edwardian England,” in Crime and the Law: The Social History of Crime in Western Europe since 1500, ed. Gatrell, V. A. C., Lenman, Bruce, and Parker, Geoffrey (London, 1980); and more recently, Weiner, Men of Blood. On the reduction in ethnic violence see Swift, “Crime and the Irish.”

57 In his study of youth gangs in Manchester in the late nineteenth century, Andrew Davies noted that ethnic rivalries were not part of gang definitions. Davies, Andrew, “Youth Gangs, Masculinity and Violence in Late Victorian Manchester and Salford,” Journal of Social History 32, no. 2 (Winter 1998): 352. Pieter Spierenburg has suggested that studies of collective fights in America have focused on ethnicity rather than honor. Spierenburg, Pieter, ed., Men and Violence: Gender, Honor; and Rituals in Modern Europe and America, (Columbus, OH, 1998), 99. The distinction may be overstated, as honor and ethnic bonds would seem to be closely linked. Regarding multidimensional violence, see Crenshaw, Kimberle, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43 (July 1991): 1241–99.

58 Census figures cited in David Fitzpatrick, “A Curious Middle Place: The Irish in Britain, 1871–1921,” in Swift and Gilley, Irish in Britain, 11.

59 Swift, “Stafford Street Row,” 199. For a variety of perspectives on the assimilation of the Irish in late Victorian Britain, see Swift and Gilley, Irish in Britain.

60 The Times, 3 August 1888, 10a.

61 The Times, 22 August 1868, 8f.

62 The seminal work on the Murphy riots is Arnstein, Walter, “The Murphy Riots: A Victorian Dilemma,” Victorian Studies 19 (1975): 5171.

63 The Times, 3 August 1868, 11c, and 11 August 1868, 9d.

64 Scotsman, 2 January 1868.

65 Scotsman, 9 December 1868.

66 Scotsman, 21 February 1877.

67 See Bernard Aspinwall and John McCaffrey, “A Comparative View of the Irish in Edinburgh,” in Swift and Gilley, Irish in the Victorian City, 130–57; Smout, Thomas, A Century of the Scottish People, 1830–1950 (New Haven, CT, 1986), 91.

68 The Times, 6 January 1876, 3e.

69 Glasgow Herald, 17 September 1875.

70 National Archives of Scotland (NAS), JC14 and AD14 70/275; Glasgow Herald, 11 January 1870.

71 NAS, AD14 72/112; Glasgow Herald, 25 September 1872, and 15 July 1872; The Times, 15 July 1872, 7d. For more on the treatment of Irish offenders in Scotland, see Conley, Carolyn, “Homicide in Late-Victorian Ireland and Scotland,” New Hibernia Review 5, no. 3 (Autumn 2001): 6686.

72 Scotsman, 9 January 1869.

73 Scotsman, 12 June 1879.

74 Scotsman, 11 May 1878.

75 Scotsman, 27 November 1882.

76 Scotsman, 21 May 1886.

77 Scotsman, 18 May 1886.

78 Scotsman, 21 May 1886.

79 Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, November 18, 1871. The Welsh Language Census of 1891 found that 54 percent of the population over the age of two spoke Welsh. Parry, Gwenfair and Williams, Mari, The Welsh Language and the 1891 Census (Cardiff, 1999), 11.

80 Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 4 December 1869.

81 Carmarthen Journal, 12 March 1875.

82 Carmarthen Journal, 24 July 1875.

83 The Times, 26 July 1876, 11d.

84 Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 29 January 1870.

85 Herald of Wales, 10 September 1892.

86 North Wales Chronicle, 10 December 1881.

87 Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 26 February 1870. The Scots were more sympathetic to the Welsh than the Irish, noting that “the Welsh farmer though Celtic to the core, is unlike his Irish kinsman in that he prefers honest work to agitation; he is industrious and frugal almost to a fault, and would willingly if he were left alone, return to the peaceful cultivation of his farm” (Scotsman, 30 May 1888).

88 Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 25 August 1876.

89 Llanelly Guardian, 19 July 1877.

90 Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 4 September 1869.

91 The Times, 27 October 1874, 9d, and 15 March 1875, 12c; Carmarthen Journal, 12 March 1875.

92 The Times, 1 April 1867, 11c; Cardiff Times, 27 July 1872.

93 The Times, 9 September 1874, 8c.

94 The Times, 18 December 1874, 9f; also see Colls and Dodd, Englishness, 3–19. For a discussion of ethnicity, race, and character in a slightly earlier time period, see Hall, McClelland, and Rendall, Defining the Victorian Nation.

95 The Times, 11 December 1877, 9d–e.

96 The Times, March 21, 1887, 6e.

97 Scotsman, 28 June 1870.

98 Scotsman, 4 January 1868.

99 North Wales Guardian, 13 November 1880.

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Wars among Savages: Homicide and Ethnicity in the Victorian United Kingdom

  • Carolyn A. Conley


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