The Race for Westminster

Political cartoons are a regular feature in modern-day newspapers and periodicals. Cartoons have long been used to capture, and provide comment upon, significant events as they occur. As the day of the 2015 general election draws closer, we take a step backwards, to look at the Race for Westminster as it was depicted in the run-up to the 1874 general election. This was the first election to use a secret ballot. The Conservatives, under Benjamin Disraeli won the majority of seats. However, the Liberals, under William Ewart Gladstone, actually won a majority of the votes cast.

The Boat Race

Cartoons for parliamentary elections often portray the candidates as contenders in a sporting contest. Here, the Conservative candidates for South East Lancashire, Algernon Egerton (9,187 votes) and Edward Hardcastle (9,015 votes), are seen coasting to victory in a boat race against the Liberal candidates, Peter Rylands (7, 464 votes) and J.E. Taylor (7,453 votes).

jrl15040021The Liberal candidates for Manchester, Thomas Bazley and Jacob Bright, are predicted to triumph in this chariot race against the Conservative candidates Hugh Birley and William Romaine Callender. In fact, although the contest was closely fought, the Conservative candidates went on to win the race.


jrl15040023The printer, J. Murray, seems to be hedging his bets in this pair of cartoons entitled ‘Close of the Poll’. The Conservative candidates for Manchester, Birley and Callender, are depicted as winners of the horse race, but the Liberal candidates, Bazley and Bright, are shown as triumphant in the foot race. The numbers of votes cast (shown on the signposts) are fictitious. The actual results were Hugh Birley – 19, 984 votes; William Romaine Callender – 19, 649 votes; Thomas Bazley – 19, 325 votes and Jacob Bright – 18, 727 votes. The woman shown in these two cartoons is Lydia Becker, a key campaigner for women’s suffrage.

These cartoons are from a collection of over a hundred 19th-century satirical prints relating mainly to Manchester. These, and other cartoons held by The John Rylands Library, can be viewed on the website of the British Cartoon Archive.

Julie Ramwell
Librarian (Rare Books)

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