On August 7th 1912 four women- Gladys Evans, Mary Leigh, Jennie Baines (under the nom de guerre Lizzie Baker) and Mabel Capper were sentenced at the Green Street Special Criminal Court in Dublin accused of “having committed serious outrages at the time of the visit of the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.” The trial lasted several days during which police came under fire for initially refusing to allow admittance to women. Given the nature of the case, this act was met with steady and mounting pressure until the ban was repealed.
The “acts of serious outrage” have been mentioned in passing here before in an article on the Theatre Royal. The visit of Asquith to Dublin in July 1912 was met with defiance from militant suffragettes, some of whom (including the four above) had followed him over from England. On July 19th, a hatchet (around which a text reading “This symbol of the extinction of the Liberal Party for evermore” was wrapped) was thrown at his moving carriage as it passed over O’Connell Bridge. The hatchet missed Asquith but struck John Redmond, who was travelling in the same carriage, on the arm. There was also a failed attempt at setting fire to the Theatre Royal as he was due to talk on Home Rule in the same venue the following day. A burning chair was thrown from a balcony into the orchestra pit and flammable liquid was spread around the cinematograph (projector) box, and an attempt made to set it alight. It caught fire, and exploded once, but was quickly extinguished. The Irish Times, as below, reported the attempt which, in any case was foiled by Sergeant Durban Cooper of the Connaught Rangers who was in attendance:
At this moment Sergeant Cooper saw a young woman standing near. She was lighting matches. Opening the door of the cinematograph box, she threw in a lighted match, and then tried to escape. But she was caught by Sergeant Cooper and held by him. She is stated to have then said: “There will be a few more explosions in the second house. This is only the start of it.” (Irish Times, July 19th 1912)
The four women mentioned above were accused and charged over both actions. The then Attorney General for Ireland, C.A O’Connor conducted the prosecution, and the case was presided over by Judge Madden. It seems that the authorities were at great pains to quell the burgeoning suffragette movement, and so set out to brand the women as highly dangerous provocateurs. O’Connor spoke of the horrors the fire in the Theatre could have caused, and Judge Madden, upon passing sentence on the women, rendered it his “imperative duty to pronounce a sentence that is calculated to have a deterrent effect.” Large crowds had gathered inside and outside the court for their sentencing upon which, as seen in the Evening Post clipping below, applause rang out around a largely hostile room.
Gladys Evans, daughter of a London stockbroker, was accused of trying to set the cinematograph box alight and found guilty on the charges of conspiring to do bodily harm and damage property. She was sentenced along with Mary Leigh to five years penal servitude. The first time a sentence of penal servitude was handed down to a suffragette, the sentence was met with dismay and indignation in Britain. The Women’s Social and Political Union, of whom the women were members, issued a statement calling the sentences an “an outrage which is not devised as a punishment to fit the offences, but to terrorize other women.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 10th, 1912, pg. 2) A petition was raised against the sentencing, saying the “purity and honesty of the motives of the accused were questioned by no one” during the case, and arguing that the sentences were “far in excess of those that were ever passed down in the United Kingdom.”
Evans went on hunger strike upon her arrival at Mountjoy Jail and was force-fed for fifty eight days until her release on October 23rd 1912 due to ill-health. Another dubious first, she was, along with Mary Leigh, the first suffragette in Ireland to be force-fed as no Irish suffragette had been force fed up to this point. (“Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006- .) According to a niece of Gladys in a post on a genealogy website, Gladys eventually went on to drive a supply truck in World War I and then went as a chauffeur to a relief mission in Blerancourt Chateau, Aisne France near the Belgian Border.
Mary Leigh, born Mary Brown in 1885 was a school teacher until her marriage. A long serving activist within the movement, she is credited with being responsible for the first act of physical militancy a suffragette when she was arrested for throwing stones at the windows of 10 Downing Street after witnessing acts of police brutality at a suffragette march. (The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928. By Elizabeth Crawford. Pg 338.) She was responsible for throwing the hatchet at Asquith, missing and hitting Redmond. She initially evaded arrest, but was caught along with Evans and the others in the incident at the Theatre Royal, where she faced the same charges as Evans, having thrown the burning chair into the orchestra pit. She represented herself in court, and spoke so well as to illicit doubt as to whether she could be held responsible for the fire in the Theatre. She was however, found guilty of throwing the hatchet and was sentenced to five years penal servitude. Upon her imprisonment, she went on hunger strike and was force-fed for forty-six days until her release on September 21st 1912. She was re-arrested shortly after her release, and an attempted retrial was held. This was ultimately thrown out, with several references in the court report to her “fiery nature.” Putting her services forward upon the outbreak of World War I, she was turned down for being a “troublemaker.” She reverted to her maiden name and on re-applying, was successful, going on to train as an ambulance driver.
Jennie Baines (“Lizzie Baker,”) was another long time suffragette, and a volunteer in the Salvation Army. An early member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, she was a notably powerful speaker, and well respected in the movement for placing more of an emphasis on action over words. She had not been seen near the Theatre, and so, any blame for the fire could not be directly apportioned to her. She had, along with Mable Capper, come over with the other two, and lodged with them in a room on Mount Street in which was found flammable liquid and rubber gloves. She pleaded guilty to a minor offence of causing damage to property and was given seven months hard labour. Like the others, she went on hunger strike, but in her case, the prison doctor feared that force feeding may have had serious implications for her health. As such, she was freed after a matter of days. In her later life, she moved to Melbourne, Australia and achieved the status of a children’s court magistrate there.
Mabel Capper was born into a house driven by political activity. Her father was the Secretary of the Manchester branch of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage while her mother was an active member of the Women’s Social & Political Union. She was imprisoned over half a dozen times for activities relating to the Suffragette movement. Although accused of being Gladys Evans’ accomplice, prosecution entered a “non prosequi” in her case, and charges withdrawn due to lack of evidence. Like the others, she adhered to Christabel Pankhurst’s call for the WSPU’s call to abandon it’s campaign in order to support Britain in WWI and joined the Volunteer Aid Detachment.
On the case, and its outcome, the August 16th 1912 copy of Votes for Women, the voice of the WSPU, said that “by meting out punishment of such appalling severity, the government have created a situation which they themselves know cannot last. Even they realise that women cannot be sent to prison for years to convict prisons as the alternative to giving them the Vote.” On sentencing, Mary Leigh announced “It is a frightful sentence; but it will have no deterring effect on us.”
Entry at http://www.familytreemaker.genealogy.com, provided by Gladys’ niece, Joan Skinner.