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

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Celebrations in Town
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March 1874 News

General Election Update

With the Liberal Party, led by William Gladstone, losing the election one month before news coverage in March 1874 focused at length on the activities of Benjamin Disraeli in establishing the new Conservative government.

Aside from the post-election updates, local newpapers in March 1874 covered a wide variety of stories at home and abroad…

An ‘Ungrateful Robbery’

An Austrian sailor approached a schooner at the dockside and asked for accommodation for the night. He explained that, due to his delayed arrival at the harbour, his ship had continued its voyage without him – leaving him with nowhere to stay.

He was offered accommodation for the night in a bad in the forecastle. At about two o’clock in the morning, one of the crew members woke and saw the sailor leaving the boat wearing clothing belonging to another member on the boats crew. The crewman followed after the sailor, and informed Harbour-Constable Williamson of the theft. Constable Williamson immediately gave chased to the fleeing sailor.

“The Austrian jumped on board a vessel in Clarendon Dock, and from thence into the water. The constable observed him swimming for some distance, and then lost sight of him. He has not since been heard of, and whether or not he made his escape out of the water remains a mystery”.

Northern Whig, 2nd March 1874

Saint Patrick’s Day 1874

Reporting on the March 1874 St Patrick’s Day celebrations, the Northern Whig disclosed that, while the day was celebrated in many towns and villages (though opposed in others), Belfast had only a muted recognition of the day. There was no need to deploy of additional policemen in the town.

‘the ordinary force here (Belfast) was found quite sufficient. Indeed, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other day, except the quantity of shamrock which was worn – from the tiny sprig to the large-sized bunch – and worn by people of all denominations, in memory of the Patron Saint.

In the afternoon, there appeared to be a good many people off work, and in the evening, the streets and public-houses in some districts were more crowded than usual; but, so far as we could hear, there was no manifestation of ill feeling”.

Northern Whig 18th March 1874

The day was rounded off with a “soiree and ball” in the Music Hall.

Celebrations in Town
Celebrations in Town © Microsoft Bing Image Creator

Police / Court News March 1874

A Vicious Donkey

On 20th March the Northern Whig reported that “James Finlay, 44, Massereene Street, was summoned by Sub-Constable McLaughlin for allowing his ass to wander on the public street without any person in charge of it”.

Sub-Constable McLaughlin explained that, about four o’clock on the day in question, he was made aware of a donkey in McDonnell Street and was told that it had bitten a little boy on the arm. There was no person in charge of the donkey, which was owned by the accused.

The defendant said his son had taken the donkey away to get shod. Some boys then attacked and beat his son and made off with the donkey. This version of events was not accepted and Mr Finlay was fined 1 shilling and costs.

Wandering Donkey
Wandering Donkey © Microsoft Bing Image Creator

Pitch-and-Toss Prosecution March 1874

At the Belfast Police Courts three men, Joseph White, James White, and Francis Murphy were charged by Sub-Constable Andrew M’Ginn with fighting in Gregg’s Lane.

The policeman explained that he had come across a crowd of about fifty men and boys playing pitch-and-toss in Gregg’s Lane, off Samuel Street. (Pitch-and-toss is a gambling game where those playing throw a coin towards a mark to see which coin lands closest. The player who manages to get his coin closest to a target gets to toss the ‘losing’ coins – keeping those that land ‘heads up’).

On seeing the policeman, everyone ran off apart from the three accused. Instead Joseph White, James White, and Francis Murphy began to fight about the ownership of the coins lying on the ground.

Sub-Constable McGinn explained that “Gregg’s Lane was a most disorderly place” and he was “obliged to return to it no less than ten times during the period of an hour and a half”.

Joseph White, against whom there were three previous convictions, was fined in 40s and costs. If the amount was not paid then he was to be imprisoned for one month. His son, James White, was fined 20s and costs – facing fourteen days in prison if the fine and costs were not paid. Noting that Francis Murphy had not been before the Court previously, a fine of 5s and costs was imposed (or seven days in prison).

Advertisements/ Classifieds March 1874

John McKenna advertisement for Dunville’s whiskey emphasised the pedigree of the product

Dunville Whisky Advert - Northern Whig 2nd March 1874
Dunville’s Whiskey Advert – Northern Whig 2nd March 1874

As usual, a range of properties listings were reported

Properties to let - Northern Whig 3rd March 1874
Properties to let – Northern Whig 3rd March 1874

The sale of the Clarendon Hotel, Victoria Street also appeared

Sale of Central Hotel - Northern Whig 14th March 1874
Sale of Central Hotel – Northern Whig 14th March 1874

Local Theatre and Events March 1874

The Theatre Royal presented audiences with a variety bill…

The Theatre Royal Acts March 1874 - Northern Whig 2nd March 1874
The Theatre Royal Acts March 1874 – Northern Whig 2nd March 1874

Review of ‘Rob Roy’ at the Theatre Royal

The Northern Whig, 3rd March 1874, reviewed “the remarkably good production of Rob Roy” described as a popular play with an ample variety in its changing scenes and an abundance of comedy in the character of Baillie Nichol Jarvie. The cast and scenery were reviewed in turn:

  • “As Rob Roy, Mr. Warden was admirable- looked the character well, played it well, and did not venture upon a further use of the Scotch language than he could manage conveniently and with effect”.
  • Mr. Johnston, who last night made his first appearance in Belfast, playing Baillie Nichol Jarvie provided an “altogether a very amusing performance. His command of Scotch was complete; there were no solicisms, if we may use the term in such a connection; and he certainly did not miss the broad points of the “canny” Baillie’s character. Perhaps he displayed occasionally just a little too much of the broad comedian. Baillie Nichol Jarvie”
  • With Miss Maude Brennan’s Helen MacGregor we were rather surprised, for we feared that it would prove too strong – not to say heavy a part for her. She seemed, however, to rise with wonderful force to the occasion. She showed great spirit, very fair elocution, such dignity as befits the wife of Rob Roy, and all that careful study which so creditably characterises this lady in whatever part she assumes”.
  • M. Loredan fared less well – “though he may be a ‘rising young tenor’ we can hardly, much as we might wish to do so, praise his singing. He may have been suffering from cold; but his voice seems to want flexibility and range, too, from what we heard of it”.
  • “The scenery, as we have said, was throughout excellent, and, taken altogether, there are very few theatres where so good a play can be so well put upon the stage, and acted with such a creditable standard of excellence. “

The supporting acts were similarly praised:

“The Wonder of the World,” Signor Coopar, is a very clever dancer. If one did not see him one could hardly believe that he had not the full use of both legs”.

“The Sisters Duverney were warmly applauded in their admirably executed ballet”

Other News

The Ohio Whiskey Wars


In America, Social and religious reform movements of the early 1800s temperance groups such as Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Ohio Anti-Saloon League saw alcohol as one of the evils of American society, and aimed to reduce and even eliminate its consumption.

The end of the American Civil War in 1865 saw temperance advocates throughout the USA step up their activities to stop the consumption of alcohol.

In 1873 women in Hillsboro, Ohio, marched through the town, stopping at every saloon (approximately twenty of them) and praying for the souls of the barkeepers and their patrons. Prayers were said outside the public houses with questions raised on the morality of patrons attempting to enter the premises.

The temperance movement spread rapidly with advocates demanding

that the (saloon) owners sign a pledge to no longer sell alcohol. By 1875, more than 130 other communities around Ohio the state had also had experienced marches–a period often known locally as the “Ohio Whiskey War.”

The movement continued to gather steam over the coming decades, culminating in the passing of the 18th Amendment, also known as the Volstead Act, in 1919.


Congress ratified the 18th Amendment on January 19, 1919 banning ‘the manufacture, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages’. This ushered in the notorious ‘Prohibition Era’ in America. The 18th Amendment was later repealed in 1933.

Northern Whig Commentary on the Ohio Whisky/ Whiskey War

Covering the ‘ Ohio Whiskey War on the 3rd March, the Northern Whig included an assessment on the subject noting that

The “women’s whisky-wars” in Southern Ohio, United States, have had a great, if probably somewhat temporary, fame.

Northern Whig 3rd March 1874

While acknowledging the “remarkable success against the saloon-keepers or publicans of the various towns in that State” and “the evident sincerity that characterises the movement” the commentary was not supportive:

There is much that is silly, and not a little that is ludicrous, about it. It has been the cause of much fun. The wits have laughed until they have tired, and they have caused others to laugh, at the droll instances which have been recorded of the action of the ladies of Ohio – even to the conversion of “the wickedest man in Ohio,” and the dramatic scene in which he is represented, surrounded by a group of earnest and pretty-ladies, ready, with uplifted axe, to destroy the whisky-barrels which, in his time of iniquity, he had vowed he would never desert.

There have been odd combinations, odd incidents, and altogether very strange doings in these whisky-wars…

Northern Whig 3rd March 1874
The Wickedest Man, Ohio - Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
The Wickedest Man, Ohio – Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

The actions of the temperance advocates were disparaged…

We may hope they will do good; we may trust that their effects will be permanent; but we have little confidence in the result. We may respect the fervour of the enthusiasm which inspires these ladies; but we should certainly have preferred that it had a little more respect for law, a little more consideration for individual freedom, and some considerable tincture of toleration.

Northern Whig 3rd March 1874

The ‘case’ against the temperance advocates was outlined “in these days of civilised government and unlimited toleration, it cannot be left in the power of even the majority to capriciously and forcibly lay down rules for the guidance of men’s social lives.

The influence and results of the movement was recognised with a note that Mr. Van der Pelt, “the wickedest man in Ohio” mentioned above, is currently one of the prominent missionaries against the whisky saloons. “He is doing a good and a paying business some say better than ever he did in his now deserted saloon. His photographs sell largely at a shilling apiece”.

The conclusion of the editorial/ commentary was biting in its assessment of events in America:

It is one of the curiosities of American character. It is not the first wave of popular enthusiasm which has overridden the law and the liberty of society, and of the individual.

With us the policeman would long ago have ordered the fair preachers to “move on.” They would never have been permitted to interrupt the traffic by even earnestly enthusiastic gatherings opposite a publican’s door from eight in the morning until ten at night. But in America numbers of people, moved by an evident enthusiasm, have often exercised an absurdly preponderant and unreasonable power over their fellow citizens.

It is scarcely a healthy sign. Its good effects are doubtful; its evil results are frequently but too manifest. Like every phase of social tyranny, it encourages hypocrisy rather than genuine reformation…

Fanaticism is beginning to get the upper hand of enthusiasm; and as soon as this happens – and it is sure to happen – the movement will either die of itself, or become so intolerable that it will have to be stamped out.

Northern Whig 3rd March 1874

The Outcome of Prohibition

In the event, the final Northern Whig comment on the outcome of the whiskey wars proved prescient. A CNBC report on the the centenary of the “Prohibition Act” highlighted some of the unanticipated outcomes of 13 years of prohibition, described as a “noble experiment aiming to improve American life”.

  • Prohibition is known for accomplishing everything it wasn’t supposed to — it provoked intemperance, eliminated jobs, created a black market for booze, and triggered a slew of unintended economic consequences.
  • a quarter of a million people lost their jobs
  • prohibition created a “shadow economy” (i.e. organised crime) that was run by crooks and thugs
  • the federal government lost approximately $11 billion in tax revenue and spent more than $300 million trying to keep America on the wagon.
  • doctors pocketed an estimated $40 million in medicinal whiskey prescriptions and the bootleg market saw earnings of $3.6 billion in 1926, or approximately $50 billion in today’s dollars
  • Unintended consequences included a decline in amusement and entertainment industries across the board. Restaurants failed, as they could no longer make a profit without legal liquor sales. Theatre revenues saw a decline rather than an expected increase, and few of the other economic benefits that had been predicted came to pass
Extracted from CNBC Report on the centenary of Prohibition
Whiskey War Protests - Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
Whiskey War Protests – Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

‘Courageous Duellists’

The Northern Whig on 17th March 1874 carried a tale from the Pall Mall Gazette on a duel in Lincolnshire which took place between two schoolboys.

The two young gentlemen, Masters Brown and Seagrave, quarrelled about a “trivial affair” and agreed to settle their differences with a duel involving pistols.

Both schoolboys, after purchasing “these deadly weapons” for sixpence each at a neighbouring toyshop, headed, with their seconds, to a secluded spot. With the pistols loaded with powder and ball, the boys stood 13 paces apart.

When the agreed signal was given both pistols exploded simultaneously. Master Seagrave immediately fell shouting that he was “hit”. However it was discovered on examination that his leg wound was not caused by his opponents weapon but rather by the ‘bursting‘ of his own weapon. Master Brown and the seconds bound the wound and helped Master Seagrave home.

The report on the duel could not be described as critical of the actions of the boys. “The gallant Brown and the two seconds were brought before the magistrates at Lindsey to answer for their conduct. Young Brown has since been sent for trial at the next assizes”.

The admiration for the actions of the two boys was further emphasised with criticism only of the quality of the pistols…

It is impossible to arrive at any other conclusion than that the charge of sixpence for the duelling pistols was a most exorbitant one. They were evidently not worth half the money, and the courage displayed by these two boys in firing them off far exceeds that of any of the most famous duellists who have won themselves a name in history.

Northern Whig on 17th March 1874

Sentenced to Matrimony

At the Tipperary Assizes at Clonmel, Ellen Flynn sued John Nugent for damages for breach of promise of marriage.

I was noted that Ellen Flynn’s father had, on the previous day, succeeded in an action against the defendant for the seduction of his daughter and was awarded the full amount of the damages claimed, £300.

Before calling anyone to the witness stand to hear evidence, Mr. Hemphill. Q.C on behalf of the plaintiff informed the court that an amicable settlement had been arrived at. The young couple had agreed to take the only sensible course left open to them – they had decided on getting married. The defendant, John Nugent, had consented to have a verdict for £100 recorded against him with an understanding that the nuptials should be celebrated as soon as possible.

Acting for the defendant, Serjeant Armstrong reminded all that they could not expect to have the young couple get married in Lent as both were Roman Catholics. (Laughter filled the courtroom)

Mr Hemphill emphasised that the sooner the marriage took place the better and that this course must be pursued. Serjeant Armstrong agreed.

The judge, Lord Chief Baron, expressed his satisfaction with the proposed compromise.

Serjeant Armstrong added that “The plaintiff is a well-looking modest, and respectable woman. She will make, I am sure, a good and dutiful wife, and it is evident she still likes the defendant better than any person else”.
Lord Chief Baron directed the jury “to find a verdict for the plaintiff, staying the execution till the 15th of April, by which time the marriage is to come off”.

The parties then left the court, apparently on good terms.

Previous Monthly News

February 1874 – What the Papers Said 150 Years Ago

The Hunted Wolf
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January 1874 – What the Papers Said 150 Years Ago

January 1874 Newspaper Image - © Microsoft Bing Image Creator
January 1874 Newspaper Image – © Microsoft Bing Image Creator

December 1873What the Papers Said 150 Years Ago

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

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