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OLD TIME ELECTIONS
At the first general election in 1832, the country was divided into 9 districts with a membership of 15. Bonavista Bay was one of them. William Brown of King's Cove was the first member for the district. Only householders had votes then. Owing to the delay in getting the returns from Greenspond and other settlements on the north side of the Bay there was some dispute as to whether Mr. Brown was elected or not and he withdrew his candidature. However when the full election returns had come in, the Returning Officer, Mr. Peter LeMessurier declared Mr. Brown the legal representative of King's Cove and Bonavista Bay.
In the Session of 1855, there was an extension of the household suffrage, thereby allowing twenty percent more men to vote. Membership for the country was extended from 15 to 28. There were three members for Bonavista Bay. The candidates in the next election were Robert Carter, John W. Warren and Matthew WalBanks.
The year 1869 was famous for its General Election in which Confederation with Canada was the principal platform. The anti-confederate candidates for Bonavista were Winton, Barnes and Noonan. Probably the most depressed period ever witnessed by Newfoundland was the "Sixties-. In 1865, there was a movement on foot to confederate Newfoundland with Canada; but Newfoundland public opinion was against it The Canadian political leaders reasoned that now Newfoundland would be compelled by poverty to join the Union. The 1869 election was however a decided "No". It was an exciting and bitterly fought election. Michael Carroll of Bonavista was one of the confederate candidates. He was prevailed upon to go to King's Cave to make an electioneering speech. There was already a hostile feeling against Carroll in King's Cove on account of the failure of Munn and Carroll the previous Fall and people had to go through a winter of semi-starvation.
He came late one afternoon and with a few supporters started to make a speech. An opponent came behind him and cut off the tail of his coat. The crowd afterwards paraded the harbor singing the following anti-confederate ballad so popular at the time:
"Hurrah for our own native isle Newfoundland
The feeing against Carroll was so strong, he had to take refuge with John Hartery. The crowd surrounded the house and smashed some windows. About midnight he escaped under cover of darkness, and aided by his friends was put on the road to Bonavista.
A popular ballad frequently sung after the election was decided was the following:
"The men of Bonavista Bay Right manfully stood the test, Returned three anti-candidates They well knew what was best. Nor threats nor bribes could lure them From the path they did pursue; And in their country's darkest hour. They proved most loyal and true."
After the Poll was declared after any election the leader of the winning candidates was given a royal ovation. The candidate was forced into a chair to which two "longers" were attached and carried through the main street by ten or a dozen stalwart men, followed by practically all the male population of the winning side. Deafening volleys from sealing guns rent the air at intervals. The boys made bonfires at night of tar barrels and "blasty" boughs as a final act in the celebration.
If the old-time election contest served no useful purpose as a governing factor, it had the effect of relieving the monotony of outport life. There is apparently an instinct left in the human animal which arouses him when the occasion arises for the selection of a chief; and this instinct is partly responsible for the enthusiasm which a voter displays at election time. It is a time of excitement and the tension is increased by differences of political opinion. This was very evident at the election known as the "Douglas" election. Douglas was a candidate for Bonavista Bay. The King's Cove people were in favor of one party and the Broad Cove people (three miles from King's Cove) were in favor of the opposite candidates. The Broad Cove men came to King's Cove in a body. carrying a green flag and headed by Stephen Ryan (~ well-known business man of that harbor) playing a violin. It so happened that the King's Cove men were marching though the town when the Broad Cove men arrived. Then the fighting started. Tradition says that the fighting was carried on in a methodical manner similar to our modern warfare without much animosity on either side. It was no rough or tumble affair. Each man challenged his opponent and the issue of the day was decided by fair stand-up fights. It was more probable that the issue was decided by the boxers becoming exhausted.
Previous to Douglas starting out on his election campaign. he wrote to William Brown asking him what he thought his chances were for being elected. Brown wrote back as follows;
"Bring down plenty apples, cheese and rum and your election will be safe."
Douglas' election was hotly contested. His opponents relieved their adverse feelings by singing a verse composed by a local poet:
"Douglas wears a beaver hat,
A humorous incident connected with this row was that the porter cheese and biscuits had only been opened when the row started. In the excitement the biscuits and cheese were left unguarded. Two well-known characters who were not interested in fighting, sneaked back to the store and carried the biscuits and cheese to a secluded spot in the woods below Mun & Carroll's premises where for many days afterwards they regaled themselves secretly on material that was intended as a factor in the destiny of the country.
These were the days of the open voting. Each voter passed in to the crowded booth, went up to a desk and after calling out his name, stated the name of the candidates for whom be wished to vote Then he went out if he did not wish to join the throng in the booth room. If there were some ardent politician present who did not like the way the new comer voted, the latter was liable to receive a clout under the ear, and if he felt inclined to resent the courtesy of his assailant a row started then and there Just as to-day, there were many illiterates who did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were voting. When Burton the Editor of the St. John's "Chronicle" was a candidate for Bonavista, a voter who did not know Burton's name, when asked for whom he was going to vote, called out: "A plumper for the printer."
Each Party, as to-day had one or two agents in the booth room. If a voter registered his vote for the opposing candidate, the agent, unobtrusively managed to make a-pre-arranged mark on the voter's coat with chalk as he was going out. This was the signal to the agent's friends on the outside to rough-handle the voter.
It does not appear, however, that there was much animosity in the political quarrels of these days. "Beaver hats were in style at this period, and there were many occasions when the disputants did not take the trouble to remove this cumbersome headgear. It is not on record how they managed to keep this headgear in position during the fray; but the scent must have been more productive of comedy rather than anger.
In the election of 1874 one of the candidates for King's Cove district was John W. Warren, grandfather of the late Judge Warren He had a short election speech learned off by heart and he delivered this speech wherever he went canvassing. It is remembered solely by one sentence in it stressing the well known simile: "Can the leopard change his spots; can the fox change his cunning?" This was the crushing allegory which he employed to decry his opponents in the district and to demonstrate their irradicable insincerity and dishonesty.
After one of these speeches, he was placed in a rocking chair to which two spruce "longers" had been tied and he was carried through the streets of King's Cove from Lawton's to Devine's -"Longshore" supported on the shoulders of eight stalwart politicians. Loud cheering accompanied the procession and Mr. Warren kept smiling genially on the groups of admirers by the roadside. Some rum had been delivered at the liquor stores in the forenoon, and it was probably with the hope that more would be forthcoming in the afternoon that these enthusiastic palanquin bearers were willing to show the sincerity and intensity of their political views. But after the parade, Mr. Warren merely thanked them profusely and returned to his boarding house.
This was rather a shock. What was the meaning of it? Did the liquor stores get any orders to revive these men after their laborious efforts to carry a man of 180 pounds all the evening from one end of the harbor to the other? There was evidently some mistake. A heavy shower of rain increased the dissatisfaction and the appreciative huzzas of the forenoon changed into imprecations. A sullen crowd gathered outside Mr. Warren's boarding house. But the situation was dissolved by a heavy downpour. As they slowly departed one of the palanquin bearers was heard to say:
"If I had known that this was the way it was going to turn out, I'd have thrown the bugger down and broke his neck"
So much for the honesty of the old-time electorate. That the candidates were equally dishonest admits of no dispute. They appealed not to the honesty of the electorate, but to their lowest instincts. When they started canvassing for votes, they carried with them barrels of porter, boxes of cheese and biscuits, for distribution amongst the electorate. On their arrival at a settlement, they gave an open order to the liquor stores to give a glass of rum to everyone applying for it. This sapping of civic and political morality was checked somewhat when the ballot became secret.
Page transcribed by: Bill Crant May, 2000
Page revised: Sept 2002 (Terry Piercey)
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