Old News: February 1874 – What the papers said 150 years ago

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The Hunted Wolf
The Hunted Wolf

February 1874 was a limited news month in the papers with a general election dominating the pages. Tedious speeches from local and national candidates filled the pages leaving little room for anything else.

News – February 1874

General Election

The Liberal PM, William Gladstone, had called a snap election in January 1874 to the surprise of the Conservative opposition and his own party. Campaigning for a fresh mandate Gladstone promised a series of measures including the reduction of taxes and to repeal the income tax.

The gamble did not work with the previous Liberal landslide victory wiped out and success for Benjamin Disraeli with a Conservative majority of 52.

Mr. Disraeli had an interview with the Queen to- day at Windsor, and expressed his willingness to accept the post of Prime Minister, and his readiness to form & Ministry. The right hon. gentleman lunched with her Majesty. It is understood that he meets his principal supporters in London this afternoon, and it is expected that by to-morrow evening the composition of the Cabinet will have been definitely settled, and officially announced.

Newsletter 19 February 1874

Local Election Vote ‘Scandal’

Besides the obligatory coverage of the local candidates speeches, some local papers took particular offence at one ‘How to Vote‘ document describing how voters should “Please put a Cross thus X on the right hand side opposite Mr McClure’s name and not opposite the other names as you would lose your vote”.

These ‘instructions’ resulted in a furious outburst!

THE electors of the borough have been served with cards in the interest of Mr. M’Clure, and the following will show the recklessness of the party supporting him. The voter is told to – “Please put a Cross thus ‘x‘ on the right hand side, opposite Mr. M’CLURE’S name and not opposite the other names, as you would lose your Vote.”

The trick here is very clumsy, and every man of honour who would resort to such impertinence will put the cross opposite the names of William Johnston and James P. Corry, omitting Mr. M’Clure altogether. The party resorting to such tricks must be in a great strait.

Newsletter 3rd February 1874

The Conservatives promptly produced their own version of the ballot with associated instructions on how to vote for them:

Newsletter 3 Feb 1874 - Election Instructions
Newsletter 3 February 1874 – Election Instructions

Police / Court News – February 1874

A Posted Letter in Danger

In addition to the usual ‘drunk & disorderly’ and larceny charges brought by the police, one unusual case related to the non-delivery of a telegram.

We are told that two telegraph boys, James Parks and Wm. O’Hearn, were charged with having committed an act of negligence on 21st January “whereby the safety of a post-letter was in danger“.
Mr Gage, the solicitor for the Dublin Post Office, alleged that each boy received a letter on 21st January addressed to the Morning News and Examiner office. Instead of delivering the letters to the intended destination, the boys concealed the letters in their stockings and returned to the Post Office pretending that the letters had been delivered.

Mr. Gage emphasised that the offence was a serious one, as all postal telegrams were, by the Postal Telegraph Act, 1869, regarded as letters. The authorities in the Telegraph Office were determined to put an end to such behaviour as it damaged the reputation of the telegraph office and its service to customers.

It is noted that “His WORSHIP inflicted a fine of £5 or, in default, two calendar months’ imprisonment“.

Acting for the defence, Mr. Seeds suggested that the fine was too harsh for boys so young. His WORSHIP then consented, and reduced the fine to 20 shillings or, in default, fourteen days’ imprisonment.

Fire on Board

In the Summons Court (presided over by Samuel McCausland, Esq, Justice of the Peace) the Harbour Commissioners alleged that Thomas Hollings, master of a schooner lying at Queen’s Quay, was guilty of “allowing a fire on board his vessel after eight o’clock p.m. on the night of the 9th last“. Harbour-Constable Davidson confirmed the offence and the defendant was fined 20 shillings and 12 shillings costs.

Advertisements – February 1874

Prominent among the everyday adverts was an offer from the Government of New Zealand of free passage for those willing to emigrate. A range of required skills were highlighted.

Newsletter 5 Feb 1874 - Emigration to New Zealand
Newsletter 5 February 1874 – Emigration to New Zealand

A further advert promoted a Private House of Retirement for the ‘Recovery of Ladies Mentally Afflicted’ near Armagh.

Newsletter 4 Feb 1874 - Ladies Recovery Establishment
Newsletter 4 February 1874 – Ladies Recovery Establishment

Also, farmers in Enniskillen decided to take action against a wolf that had been attacking their sheep.

Newsletter 2 Feb 1874 - Wolf at large
Newsletter 2 February 1874 – Wolf at large

Finally, a search was on for a missing Brown Retriever named “Twig” on a journey (sadly no update on this appeared in the February papers)

Newsletter 23 Feb 1874 - Lost Dog
Newsletter 23 February 1874 – Lost Dog

A selection of the classified ads from February 1874

Newsletter 11 Feb 1874 - Lost, Found and Wants
Newsletter 11 February 1874 – Lost, Found and Wants

Local Theatre and Events

Theatre news informs us that Mr Warden will appear in the play “The Octoroon, or Slave Life in Lousiana“. Following this, Mrs Warden is to appear in ‘an amusing burlesque‘.

Newsletter 2 Feb 1874 - Theatre Update
Newsletter 2 February 1874 – Theatre Update

‘The Octoroon’ play is interesting in its own right.

The Octoroon

The Octoroon, an anti-slavery play by Dion Boucicault opened originally at The Winter Garden Theatre, New York City in 1859. Such was its popularity, it was performed continuously for years. Boucicault had adapted the play from the novel ‘The Quadroon’ by Thomas Mayne Reid (1856). The Octoroon, set in a Louisiana plantation, explores the lives of free whites, and enslaved mixed-race and black Americans.

The Essence of the Story

Returning from a trip abroad, George Peyton finds that the plantation he has inherited is in dire financial straits. Jacob McClosky, who contributed to the financial difficulties, was now prepared to take advantage of those same financial troubles. He advises George that their land is to be sold and their slaves sold via public auction to cover the debts.

George falls in love with Zoe (the Octoroon in question). She is the mixed-race enslaved daughter of his uncle by one of the slaves and lived in the house with the family. (An Octoroon is a person with one-eighth African ancestry). George proposes marriage but she refuses as the law prohibits any white man marrying someone with mixed lineage.

Meanwhile McClosky wanting Zoe for himself, threatens that, as Zoe is an Octoroon, she is legally part of the plantation property and will be sold with the rest of the slaves. He will then buy her and make her his mistress.

The subsequent events leading to an exciting climax involve relationship disputes, the auction, betrayal, arson, murder and a courtroom battle introducing damning evidence based on the new, emerging science of photography.

(Interestingly, when the play opened in the UK the ending was changed to a more palatable conclusion).

The play was much discussed in its day for its anti-slavery stance and denounced by some for using the stage to promote social and political causes.

A Modern Adaptation of the Play

The play was adapted/ reworked by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as ‘An Octoroon‘ in 2014 to critical and popular acclaim. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins subsequently won the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for the Most Promising Playwright.

Other News – Home and Abroad

A Case of Matrimonial Complications (© Microsoft Image Creator)
A Case of Matrimonial Complications (© Microsoft Image Creator)

Matrimonial Complications (reported in the Newsletter 14 February 1874)

A court correspondent, reporting on the case of Colonel Walter Price in law courts in the United States, demonstrated a surprising sympathy for a man who had the “melancholy fate to contract three marriages” with all 3 wives still living.

It was reported that the domestic affairs of “this gallant and unfortunate gentleman” reached the Supreme Court and noted that “a confusion of divorce salts incidental to such matrimonial alliances are abundant basis for a prolonged litigation.”

Complicating the case is that Colonel Price was known to be anxious to “get rid of one or more, if not of all of his wives“.

The Colonel’s counsel provided more details that were described as “touching in the extreme” as the Colonel was entrapped into his first marriage with an English lady much older than himself and, after mutually agreeing to separate, he travelled America. , Through “unwearied industry” he had since become a millionaire and married his second wife, supposing his first wife to be dead or, by now, legally separated. This second wife had proven to be unfaithful to him, and, obtaining a divorce from her, he married his third wife. His hopes for happiness in this third marriage failed and it only added to his misery.

In delivering the verdict Judge Davis acknowledged “the learned counsel seemed much affected when giving this painful recital of the colonel’s woes“, but, its noted, Judge Davis “with wonderful self-possession, expressed his opinion that… the whole effort seemed to be to get rid of two wives by a single shot“. Judge Davis then delivered his decision on the single motion in question in this trial – agreeing the payment of alimony to one of the wives.

It was noted that the question of whether Colonel Price is trebly married or free to contract fresh engagements remains undecided and is likely to remain so for some time.

Race for the Church (© Microsoft Image Creator)
Race for the Church (© Microsoft Image Creator)

A Race to Marry

Reports from Pennsylvania revealed that a clergyman had presided over the marriage of 999 couples. This revelation created

“great competition among the belles of this town as to who shall make the round thousand, and the beaux have a hard time of it , you may be sure”

(Newsletter 3 February 1874)


Houses Of Ill-Fame

In conclusion, one particular reader was vexed by the number of ‘Houses of Ill-Fame’ (brothels) in Belfast and requested further effort in this respect


SIR – I notice, with pleasure, that the worthy Recorder for this district is taking active steps to have houses of ill-fame put down by the strong arm of the law. This is a step in the right direction, and, no doubt, will, in many cases, be the saving of our sons and daughters from the criminals and, in not a few, the suicide’s fate.

I trust that this wholesome clearance will not end here, but that the more aristocratic dens will also be rooted out of this prosperous town, as has been done in Glasgow and other large cities.

Your kind insertion of the foregoing will much oblige the father of a young family.
J. W. WILLIAMSON. Imperial Hotel, Belfast, Feb. 17, 1874.

Newsletter February 1874

Newspaper boy 1873 (© Copyright Microsoft Bing Image Creator)
Newspaper boy 1873 (© Copyright Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

Previous Monthly News

Old News – What the Papers Said 150 Years Ago January 1874

Old News – What the Papers Said 150 Years Ago December 1873

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