Life 178 Years Ago
Some old newpapers came in to the museum office recently – a year’s collection of the weekly Suffolk Chronicle of 1832.
They contain national and international, as well as local and regional, news.
They are from pre-Victorian England, the reign of William IV. It was the year of the Reform Bill, with Sir Robert Walpole and Lord John Russell quoted addressing parliament.
The 20 year old Charles Dickens would have been among the shorthand writers in the gallery.
Cholera and typhus stalked the land. Gruesome murders and accidents are reported.
Transportation was the establishment’s favoured punishment. Robert Hughes’ book The Fatal Shore shows that this was the nearest thing to hell on earth.
Men as young as 17 received 14 year transportation sentences, or even life, for stealing a sheep, some harness, oats or barley.
The man who stole a pig and got 12 months hard labour in an English prison must have sighed with relief.
A Marine was sentenced to be hanged at the yard-arm for striking a Serjeant and being insolent to an Officer. A Private in the Coldstream Guards received 300 lashes for insubordination and threatening language.
A simple-minded man threw a stone, hit the king on the head and was charged with high treason. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (later commuted to transportation.)
Public hangings were still common, watched by crowds and described down to the last twitch and convulsion.
Fast sailing ships offered a new life in America or Canada, if you could afford the £5 ticket.
The Diss correspondent was not overworked. His contributions included the time someone fell in the Mere and got out again; and when a horse galloped through a cottage window.
A man in Yarmouth had more excitement when he put his pipe into a pocket in which he had placed some gunpowder…
A farm fire at Winfarthing was tackled by the Diss engine; but the firemen found that a new India rubber pipe had been ‘so much injured by some malicious person as to become useless’.
The Phenomena Day Coach passed through Diss on its 13 hour journey from London to Norwich.
The sale of wives, the subject of Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, was not just a fiction. The newspapers describe several instances of this.
The passing of the Reform Bill, by which we eventually got the right to vote, was hailed as a great victory. Some towns (no mention of Diss) had Reform Festivals and dinners.
The newspaper was radical and spoke out against tithes, against the ludicrous treason trial and corruption in the elections following the Reform Act.
What an amazing glimpse into the England of 178 years ago.