Monday 19 January 2009

The Deptford election 1888 and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

When decorator Samuel Newson was prosecuted for impersonating a voter in the Deptford by-election of February 1888, the police officer commented that 'there was a great deal of excitement that day'. There certainly was: in the keenly-fought election, one of the candidates was campaigning from prison.

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an upper-class explorer, horse breeder, poet and anti-imperialist. After travelling to Egypt, Lebanon and Arabia in the 1870s he started breeding Arab horses and often wore Arab dress at home. His wife Anne was actively involved with him in these travels and other activities, not least the 1888 election campaign, until their legal separation in 1906 (he had been persistently unfaithful and the last straw came when he moved a mistress into the home).

The Deptford election was Blunt's third attempt in as many years to get elected to parliament. However, this campaign was hampered by the fact that he was serving a two-month prison sentence in Ireland for breach of the peace and resisting the police after presiding over a meeting in favour of Home Rule. Indeed, support for Irish home rule was a key part of his campaign. His wife and Gladstone's wife canvassed the constituency on his behalf, but he lost by just 275 votes - in itself quite an achievement. The victorious candidate was Charles Darling, a Conservative like his predecessor William John Evelyn. Blunt would not contest any further elections.

Image: Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, from Wikimedia Commons.

Related post: Deptford election joke.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Blunt was an interesting character and it's fascinating to read about his Deptford connection. A vocal critic of empire, he wrote a lot about India and Egypt, which he regularly visited (I think he owned property there). His wife, who was Lord Byron's granddaughter, wrote books about their travels too. Blunt also seems to have been anti-religious. He requested when he died to be buried without religious ceremony, and this wish was granted.

Adam said...

A very interesting story again. I'm always very impressed by your research - where do you find most of the information?

I would never have guessed that Deptford had such a wealth of fascinating tales to tell!

Another question - would Deptford return a Conservative MP today?

CarolineLD said...

He really is fascinating - if not very nice to his family (as well as his infidelities, he also caused enormous trouble between his wife and daughter to try and get his hands on his wife's estate). Both he and his wife spent a lot of their lives living (together and later separately) in Egypt.

Thank you, Adam - I buy too many books, spend too much time in libraries and archives looking at this stuff instead of doing my 'proper' research, and spend too much time online!

I can't imagine that Deptford would return a Conservative today as it's been Labour since 1935 and Joan Ruddock got 65% of the vote at the last election. It's funny - I grew up in an equally solidly Conservative area which had returned a radical MP back in the 1930s.