A digitised and transcribed edition of a memo from the archive of British civil servant Francis Hopwood (Baron Southborough) is now available through the Taylor Institution Library’s Taylor Editions site. Initialled ‘MN’ by Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the Under-Secretary of Ireland from 1914-1916, the memo details the suppression of “seditious” speech in Ireland at the beginning of World War I, which included shutting down Nationalist newspapers and monitoring public speeches.
The memo formed part of a package of papers that was passed to Lord Southborough when he served as general secretary to the 1917-1918 Irish Convention. The Convention tried to find a path towards Irish self-government following the 1916 Easter Rising, however their final report, which recommended the immediate establishment of All-Ireland Home Rule, was fatally undermined by Britain’s desperate need for soldiers. In April 1918, Britain imposed conscription on Ireland and attempted to link conscription with the implementation of home rule. This move was so unpopular that public opinion swung towards full independence.
Lord Southborough’s archive is held by the Bodleian Library, and catalogued online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts. This fascinating collection documents his career as a senior civil servant at the Board of Trade, Colonial Office and the Admiralty and his involvement in numerous government commissions and royal tours. It includes correspondence from Winston Churchill, Admiral Lord Fisher, General Botha, Lord Midleton, Herbert Gladstone, and G.W. Balfour.
The digital edition of this memorandum on seditious speech is the product of a course on imaging, encoding and preservation offered to students, faculty and staff by the librarians of the Taylor Institution Library (the Taylorian), one of the Bodleian Libraries. You can find out more about the digital editions course and Digital Humanities on the Taylorian website.
A poster showing the Home Rule Bill clauses ‘gagged’ and those discussed in the the House of Commons (Click here for a larger and zoomable version)
In 1893, Gladstone put his second Home Rule Bill to the House Commons. Although it narrowly passed in the Commons, it was defeated soundly by the Conservative majority in the House of Lords.
Gladstone had asked Parliament to grant Ireland Home Rule in 1886, but his attempt not only failed but sparked riots in Belfast and splits in the Liberal Party; it also cost Gladstone the Premiership. He regained power 1892 and quickly put forward the the 1893 Government of Ireland Bill. The controversial bill, drafted in secret, led to nationwide debates and even fist fights in Parliament.
Many Conservatives opposed the Bill and the concept of Home Rule. They sided with the Liberal Unionist Party, who broke away from the Liberals and Gladstone’s support of Home Rule, and the issue continued to divide the Party until (and even after) 1914. The 1894 Conservative Party Campaign Guide called Home Rule ‘the great question of contemporary politics’ (PUB 224/16). It went on to criticise Parnell and the leaders of the Home Rule movement, claiming that they had been ‘in friendly relations with the most atrocious criminals’. The guide laid out the Party’s foremost arguments against Home Rule in 1894, including issues of nationality and historical connection, and it discounted the popular arguments that Ireland could be similar to other independent colonies and that ruling would require ‘coercion’.
It is worth pointing out that the concept of Home Rule changed over time. Gladstone did not argue for total Irish independence; in fact, he insisted that any Home Rule scheme should not be inconsistent with Imperial unity. The 1893 bill allowed Irish representatives to Parliament, but it retained Parliament’s supremacy on Imperial issues (a particularly controversial issue in Parliament). When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was enacted following Ireland’s War of Independence, it allowed for an Irish Free State as a separate nation in the British Empire, and offered Northern Ireland the opportunity to withdraw from the Irish Free State – not quite what Gladstone had in mind.