Wednesday 11 December 2019

Election 1888: Scawen Blunt in Deptford

As Britain again votes in a general election, we revisit a story from Deptford's 1888 by-election.

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. As a young man, he was posted around Europe in the diplomatic service. He married and left the service in 1869, exchanging postings for expeditions. After travelling to Egypt, Lebanon and Arabia in the 1870s he started breeding Arab horses and often wore Arab dress at home. His wife Lady Anne King, granddaughter of Lord Byron, 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). She also wrote several books about their travels.

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. (He would later write sonnets, In Vinculis - 'in chains' - about his imprisonment in Galway and Kilmainham prisons.) 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.


Ralph Hancock said...

But Wilfrid's grandnephew Anthony did not go to prison for a far more severe offence.

CarolineLD said...

Ooh, I didn't realise he was a relative!