Belfast election – July 10th 1841

BOROUGH OF BELFAST.—JULY 10.—The following is the final close of the poll :—Tennent (T), 927;  Johnson (T), 913 ; Lord Belfast (R), 623 ; Mr. Ross (R), 794. The Tories bribed to a tremendous amount, and committed enormous perjury. The Liberals will petition. On Tuesday a question arose as to the affidavits on which a great body of the voters polled. Mr. Whiteside took the objection that the certificate placed on those affidavits had not the signature of the clerk of the peace, as expressly required by the act of Parliament. The objection, if it had prevailed, would have struck off, at once, about seventy of the votes of the Reformers. The learned gentleman was heard in support of the objection at great length. Mr. O’Hagan replied in an argument which occupied several hours. The assessor took time to consider; and, on Wednesday morning, to the great disappointment of the Tories, who expected, as in the ” house and shop case,” to carry the election by a coup de main, overruled the objection, although his own opinion, in a book published by him some years ago, was cited and strongly urged by Mr. Whiteside. The next device of the Tories was to raise innumerable objections, for the purpose of creating delay to the voters in booth ‘M’,  [ voters went to a booth allocated by the first letter of their surname] where the great strength of the Liberals lay. Mr. O’Hagan pressed the assessor in every way to remedy this grievance. He urged that the letter might be divided, and two booths erected, which would have enabled the Reformers to poll their men. The assessor would not consent to this, holding himself bound to keep all the voters whose names began with the same letter in the same booth. Mr. O’Hagan then contended for the placing of more than one deputy in booth M ; but the assessor would not consent to this, declaring that he had no power to do so under the act of Parliament. The result was, that an immense body of the stanchest electors in the borough remained unpolled.

The above text was found on p.6, 17th July 1841 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at http://www.thetablet.co.uk .

The text below is taken from the Spectator also on 17th July 1841. Both papers took a strongly anti-Tory stance.

BELFAST. The poll finally stood thus on Saturday evening—Emerson Tennent, 927; Johnson, 913; Lord Belfast, 321 Ross, 792. Charges of obstruction, bribery, and personation abound- ” In the first place,” says the Northern Mail,” there was the system of delaying, for the purpose of preventing part of the electors from voting. In one booth, this system was carried so far, that, as we are informed, a whole hour, or even more, was occasionally spent in polling a single tally !  The consequence is, that it is impossible but that a large number of the electors (probably from 80 to 100) who belong to the particular booth will be unable to vote at all! Corruption and abomination have stalked abroad, almost without an attempt at disguise. One man, when on his oath in the booth, stated that the Tories had offered him a bribe of 30/.[shillings – modern day £1,790] Another elector mentioned elsewhere, that a leading person in the Tory party had tempted him with 100/.[shillings – modern day £5,967] to be applied in corrupting two or three voters.”

The same paper relates, among others, rather a striking story of perjury and personation- ” In booth No. 2 (B and D), when the Tory strength was nearly exhausted, a broken tally of two was brought up, for Mr. Johnson. The two names on the tally were John Gilmore Dunbar, and James Buchanan. Mr. Dunbar’s vote was admitted, of course, without hesitation. When the name of Buchanan (registered from a house in Verner Street) was called, the agent for Lord Belfast (Mr. Smith) at once suspected that all was not right. The unfortunate man—not Buchanan (who had been two years out of his house)— but a hired perjurer, who had been sent up to personate him—looked ghastly pale ; his lips quivered, and his whole frame seemed agitated. It was whispered to the agent, that the man was a personator. The wretch took the Bible in his hand, and, in a state of awful trepidation, proceeded to repeat the false oath. When he came to the solemn words, ‘So help me God,’ there was a cry of ‘Perjury, perjury !—that man is William M’Dowell the carpenter, and not Buchanan, the lawyer.’ This was too much for him. He had struggled hard with his conscience, in order to earn the wages of crime; but the better impulse, fortunately, prevailed, when he was thus confronted ; he dropped the sacred book, in dismay, and fled from the booth, a dreadful living testimony to Tory criminality. As he was going out of the booth, Mr. Smith said to him, ‘ You have saved your soul from perjury ; and you will bless me, and curse the party who tempted you, on your deathbed.'”

On petition Emerson Tennent and Johnson were unseated and new writ issued. At the by-election in 1842, James Emerson Tennent and David Ross were elected as ‘a compromise entered into by which one of each party was to be returned’.

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