First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win – women taking on the establishment in Aberdeen in 1912

suffragettes from newspaper 1912

There were extraordinary scenes in Aberdeen’s police court on 30 November 1912 when a group of suffragettes were accused of disorder during a visit to the city by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, in town to address a meeting at the city’s Music Hall. Amid the farsical prodeedings one accused removed her shoes and threw one at the magistrate and the other at the procurator fiscal.

One of the four, Mary Humphreys, was charged with breaking a window of a car she maintained carried Lloyd George. However in what reeks of jiggery pokery by the prosecution and the court authorities the actual charge and the identity of the car were brought into question.

The men of the court, thinking they had matters well in hand, proceeded to outline the case against Humphreys which involved a good deal of ridicule. However Humphreys realised she was being faced with a different charge from that on arrest so repeatedly asked for it to be re-read so she could understand precisely what it was she was accused of.

The baillie or magistrate tried to ignore her and pressed for her plea, guilty or not guilty. Humphreys insisted the charge be re-read so she could follow the names of those the court claimed were involved in the incident and was eventually told by the clerk to read it for herself. She did then contested the charge on the grounds that no owner of the car was named, only a chauffeur.

A verbal rammy ensued between her and the Fiscal who maintained it was irrelevant whose car it was but Mary Humphreys insisted that was entirely relevant to any charge against her.

After a delay the charge was clarified. She was accused of breach of the peace and behaving in a disorderly manner. Humphreys retorted the breach of the peace charge was ‘very vague.’

A clearly exasperated Fiscal tried once more to drag a plea out of her but found his match in Humphreys who declared she had acted for political reasons, not criminal, and the charge was inaccurate and she demanded witnesses, including Lloyd George whom she maintained was her target and was in the car she attacked and so the reason for the incident.

The bickering continued, neither side willing to relinquish ground until the baillie ordered she be bailed till the following Tuesday. Humphreys was told if she wanted witnesses from those in the car she should provide the court with their names. She did, requesting Lloyd George be called as a witness.

Meanwhile three other women who planned to target Lloyd George while at the Music Hall, by attacking him with Knall Korkes (a kind of cork used in small guns to make loud noises), had also pleaded not guilty to their charges of breach of the peace. Contesting her charge also was a Miss Parker. She had been arrested for being in the Music Hall for ‘some unlawful purpose’ but in court she was told, “You are charged with breach of the peace now.”

antii suffrage pc


The Fiscal was keen to delay the proceedings while the defendant wanted it finished there and then and carried on with her defence,  challenging the court’s refusal to bail the women the previous evening when they were detained, forcing them to endure a night in the ‘drunk cells’ with a man staring at them throughout.  All to no avail – the case was adjourned and she was granted bail. At this point another of the accused, Locke – an art student from London, removed her shoes and hurled one at the magistrate and the other at the Fiscal. She was manhandled out of the court by five bulky bruisers. The women’s supporters in the court room were thrown out at the same time.

When Humphreys case was resumed the car’s occupants were then  identified as a Mrs Crombie, owner, and two prominent northeastern men, Robert and Joseph Farquahrson.  Robert Farquharson was a Liberal MP, from Lloyd George’s Party. The chauffeur was Thomas Bartlett of Balgownie Lodge. Humphreys questioned their involvement – especially when they were said to have travelled in a blue car while she had thrown her stone at a red one, carrying Lloyd George. And once more she demanded the Chancellor turn up in court as a witness. The court ignored her repeated demands for him to be called insisting he had not been in the car.

Humphreys more of less accused Joseph Farquharson, an artist of considerable reputation, of dressing up as Lloyd George to give the appearance of confusion. Despite his abilities with paint pots Farquahrson did not appear to know whether the car he travelled in was red or blue and he came across as an unreliable witness. He didn’t recall which window had been broken, misidentifying it. The more Humphreys questioned him the more agitated he became.

There ensued a game of evasion. Humphreys again called on Lloyd George as a witness but the court prevaricated over whether or not he should have been cited – clearly not taking her request seriously. When pushed they replied they hadn’t bothered citing him as -“he was out of town” and the court had no jurisdiction beyond the city, not in the Shire and certainly not in the Houses of Parliament which Humphreys gave as his address.

She accused all involved of a cover up to protect Lloyd George from facing her in court.

A witness came forward to say the suffragette had broken the window of a red car while the car with the Farquahrsons was blue. Again the court found the best means forward was opacity. The charge was read out that she had damaged a ‘certain motor-car’ and so in a clear case of witness collusion the ill-tempered exhanges resumed.

A fine of 40 shillings was placed on her but when Humphreys refused to leave the court she was set upon by several policemen who tore her clothing as they ejected her to cries of ‘Shame! from the back of the court.

The women refused to pay their fines  and so were sent to Craiginches prison.


Following his engagement the Chancellor Lloyd George had been returning home by train and so the Joint Station became the focus for suffragettes hoping to catch his ear before he fled south.

Moments before the train departed, a Baptist minister, Rev Forbes Jackson, said to resemble Lloyd George, was standing in a compartment taking leave of his wife, when a woman, mistaking him for the Chancellor, hurled herself forward and struck him across the face with a dog-whip.

“Villain, traitor! take that – and that,” she cried while continually ‘pummling’ him.

The police were called and she was dragged away still convinced it had been the MP she had assaulted. Of course at a time before television when peoples’ likeness came from newspaper photographs it was very easy to misidentify a person. As for the minister, Rev Jackson, he took the incident very calmly, saying his concern was for the woman and in her defence agreed he did bear a striking resemblance to Lloyd George.

Despite his not wanting to press charges the authorities were determined to do so and the suffragette in question, who found herself before Aberdeen Police Court was none other than Emily Wilding Davison (or Mary Browne as she was named) who died a few months later under the king’s horse while fighting the cause of votes for women.

Emily Davison at court in Aberdeen

Emily Davison at court in Aberdeen

That December 1912 she was found guilty of whipping the minister and her fine of 40 shillings was paid anonymously. Might it have been by the Baptist minister?

During her four days in Craigniches prison she maintained a hunger strike but did comment that she was treated kindly by the prison staff. force feeding






The newspaper account of the court case exuded prejudice and hostility against the women and their cause, showing itself a stout defender of the status quo. Some things don’t change.

‘Something in the nature of a sensation was created yesterday afternoon when, shortly after four o’ clock, three Suffragettes with ‘explosive bombs’ in their possession were found concealed in the Aberdeen Music Hall three hours before Mr Lloyd George was to address his great meeting. The discovery was made while the attendants, accompanied by detectives and members of the Shore Porters’ Society, were making a careful search of the premises.

One of the Suffragettes was discovered in the hall, and two in a paybox at the Golden Square entrance. This paybox is open at the top but had the door locked. In the possession of one of the Suffragettes there was a box of Knall Korke explosive cork cartridges, known as ‘explosive bombs,’ which, when fired from a small toy pistol, make a loud report. No pistol was found, but it is assumed that the intention of the Suffragettes was to throw the cartridges high over the hall from the open spaces above the paybox, so that they might fall on the platform while the Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking, and thus create a disturbance, and, in all probability, a panic. The box of those cartridges found in the possession of the Suffragettes contained several dozens of the explosive corks, and, if the plot had not failed, would probably have been the cause of great alarm; indeed, might have resulted in a fatal rush from the building.


When the women were discovered they manifested great disappointment, and at once showed signs of fight when the attendants sought to arrest them. According to the police report they struggled and kicked out vigorously, scratched and bit their would-be captors, and resisted with considerable power. At length superior forces and numbers prevailed, and the Suffragettes were taken into custody. Chief Constable Anderson, who happened to be in the vicinity at the time, ordered the prison van to be sent for, and it was not long before passers-by were surprised to see “Black Maria” in front of the Music Hall Buildings. When the women were conveyed to the Police Office in Lodge Walk they were asked to give names, addresses, and other information, but this was looked upon, in certain cases, as inquisitorial. According to the statements given the women are –

JOYCE LOCKE, aged 22, art student, London

MARION POLLOCK, who, though not belonging to Aberdeen, gave her address as the Aberdeen Branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union, 7 Bon-Accord Street, Aberdeen; and

FANNY PARKER, who would give no address.

The three will be brought before the Aberdeen Police Court to-day on a charge of having been found upon premises – namely, the Aberdeen Music Hall – contrary to the Prevention of Crimes Act, for an unlawful purpose.

In the course of the evening a sympathiser took tea to the Police Office for the three arrested women. There was no question of bail, and the Chief Constable stated that that would have required consideration if it had been raised.

It is pointed out that although the “explosive corks” may not be dangerous in the sense of inflicting bodily harm, yet by the loud report they give on exploding were calculated to create panic, and that therefore they were not to be used with impunity at any large meeting, where panic might lead to serious disaster.


While the arrest of the three Suffragettes referred to was being effected, a fourth was seen making her way from the hall, but she escaped and no attempt was afterwards made to secure her. It is alleged that she had a dog-whip in her possession.


While Mr Lloyd George was departing, in a motor car from the Young Men’s Christian Association Hall, a Suffragette was seen to throw a piece of granite in the direction of the car. As was remarked, a woman’s aim in missile throwing is proverbial for its inaccuracy, and that proved so in this case, for instead of striking the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the motor car he had entered, the granite struck and did some slight damage to a cab in the vicinity! The Suffragette who threw the missile was arrested, and speedily removed to the Police Office, where she refused to disclose her identity. She was locked in a cell, and will appear with the other three before Baillie Robertson at the Police Court to-day.


Just as he had reached the entrance gateway to Glenburnie Park on his return from the meeting, Mr Lloyd George had his narrowest escape from personal violence. Very few people were in the vicinity of Rubislaw Den North at ten o’clock. About the time the the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s motor car was approaching a Suffragette, well known to the authorities, made her appearance on the scene. Her movements naturally attracted attention and her companion, who remained less conspicuous, forced her way forward when the motor car was entering the gateway. With a big stone in her hand she thrust it at the car, crashed it through the window, and made her escape.’

 Aberdeen Journal Sat 30 November 1912

suffragette cartoon male suffering


The Chancellor’s venture north was deftly defended by a thick black line of police and the courts. There was so much social agitation taking place in Britain during this period and women, demanding equal rights with men, were proving to be some of the most ruthless and determined campaigners – demanding answers from the politicians who, abetted by the police, courts and other parts of the establishment, evaded whenever possible being accountable for their actions.

A male supporter of the women’s cause shouted out to Lloyd George as he passed by the Music Hall, “Don’t forget the women,” but the local newspaper said with not a little glee, ‘The Chancellor passed on without taking any notice.’

Protesters spilled out from the Music Hall, congregating by the Wallace statue including members of the Aberdeen Branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union to plan for another day.

The reluctance of politicians to defend their positions through proper debate with those whose lives are impacted by their actions was as reprehensible then as it is now.

The disgraceful behaviour of the courts to cover-up, collude over evidence and protect public figures was as reprehensible then as it is now.


The shameful denigration of women through coverage in the press is part of a broader attack that goes on by much of the press when authority or the establishment is challenged by any group. The eagerness to laugh at, collude against, humiliate and dismiss arguments – to concentrate on the sensational at the expense of the rationale behind protests was as reprehensible then as it is now.

One Comment to “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win – women taking on the establishment in Aberdeen in 1912”

  1. Mrs Crombie, the owner of the car, was herself a prominent supporter of suffrage in Aberdeen. I wonder if she wanted this down-played.

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