Friday 16 January 2009

Deptford election joke which ended in jail

On 28 February 1888, a parliamentary election was being held in Deptford. That same day, 25-year-old decorator Samuel Newson went to a local pub for a drink. When somebody gave him a voting card, he thought it would be a bit of fun to go and vote. Sadly for him, the joke went very wrong.

Newson arrived at the polling station in Monson Road and told the Presiding Officer that he was Samuel Buckoke of 1 Faulkner Street. He declared this on oath (a procedure used for those who could not read or write) and stuck to his story despite being asked his name four times. However, a personating agent - whose duty was to make himself acquainted with local voters precisely so that this kind of imposture could be spotted - was also present. He had canvassed the house of Mr Buckoke, so knew that Newson was a fraud. Newson was then given in charge to the police and admitted his real identity. The arresting officer did not think he was drunk but he may have been excited as 'there was a great deal of excitement that day'.

Unfortunately, the matter didn't end there. Newson was charged with personating a voter. At his first trial on 19 March the jury couldn't agree a verdict, but he was convicted on retrial in May. The incident doens't seem to have been taken too seriously - the personating agent told the court that he had made inquiries and found the defendant to be honest and respectable. The jury also recommended mercy on account of his good character. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to (a relatively lenient) one month's imprisonment with hard labour.

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