1914 - Suffragette tries to blow up Burns Cottage


Votes for Women, Gunpowder for Burns

Despite the fact that women in New Zealand were given the vote in 1893 and that Australia had followed suit in 1902, British women continued to be denied the vote until 1918. In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst, assisted by her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, founded the Women's Social and Political Union. Seeing that peaceful debate and agitation had got them nowhere, her followers took more militant action. By 1914 Scottish newspapers could be found running columns headed 'Today's Outrages', as the most zealous suffragettes stepped up their campaign to obtain maximum publicity during the visit to Scotland of King George V. One of the most striking of these protests was Janet Parker's attempt to blow up Burns's Cottage, especially as she turned out to be the niece of Lord Kitchener.

Alloway outrage - attempt to blow up Burns's Cottage - suffragist in custody

A dastardly attempt was made in the early hours of yesterday morning by suffragists to fire and blow up Burns's Cottage, Alloway, the birthplace of the national poet, which is annually visited by thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world. The attempted outrage was fortunately frustrated by the timely appearance on the scene of the night watchman, but the fact that an attempt was made to destroy a shrine that Scotsmen in all parts of the world regard as sacred has roused in the locality the most intense indignation.

The Burns Cottage and Monument Trustees have for about 15 months employed a night watchman to guard against possible damage by suffragists, and it was the watchman, an Ayr man named Robert Wyllie, who surprised the militants in their attack on the building. Wyllie was seated inside the old byre, which forms part of the original building, when, shortly after two o'clock in the morning, his attention was attracted by a noise as of something heavy being laid on the ground outside. On going out of the door on the west side of the cottage, being the rear of the building, he saw two women who had apparently just placed two canisters in the gutter formed by flagstones which surrounds the building.

On seeing the watchman the women made off through the garden, which forms part of the cottage grounds, and the watchman gave chase. He came up with them as they were attempting to get over the garden fence into a field beyond. He succeeded in getting hold of them both, and a violent struggle ensued. One of the women, apparently with the object of distracting the man's attention, shouted to him to run and take the canisters from the building because they would explode. The watchman, however, held on to both women for some time. Eventually one of them struggled free and made good her escape. The watchman's shouts for help and the other woman's screams caused a dog to bark, and this roused Mr A. H. Scott, the tenant of Alloway orchard which adjoins the cottage grounds. Mr William Monaghan, the custodier of the cottage, who lives in a house within the grounds, was also aroused. The local officer of the Ayrshire Constabulary was called, and he got into communication with the headquarters in Ayr. Additional officers soon arrived on the scene, and the woman was taken to Ayr by motor car. An examination of the premises showed that very complete preparations had been made for the blowing up of the building. The two canisters which were wrapped in brown paper, were found to contain 4lb of gunpowder each, and a separate fuse had been attached to each canister. In a subsequent search a new bicycle, bearing the name of a Glasgow maker, was found in Doonholm Road near Alloway Manse. Beside the bicycle was a quantity of brown paper. The bicycle is supposed to belong to the arrested woman, and the likelihood is that the other woman made her escape on another bicycle. Mr T. C. Dunlop, secretary to the Burns Cottage and Monument Trustees, was informed of the affair and at four o'clock in the morning made an assiduous search of the roads in the district for the escaped woman, but could find no trace of her. The arrested woman was found to have in her possession a map of the district, a diary and 10 in money. She gave the name of Janet Arthur.

In the course of the day the prisoner was brought before Sheriff Broun in Ayr Sheriff Court for declaration. The charge preferred against her is that of attempting maliciously to destroy Burns's Cottage. She refused to make a declaration, and was committed to prison pending further proceedings. Before her case was called a woman had been fined 1 with the usual alternative for resetting stolen money. The woman was crying bitterly and the suffragist ordered that the fine be paid from the money that had been found in her (the suffragist) possession. During the proceedings in Court the accused talked volubly and quoted Burns at some length 'Liberty's in every blow, let us do or die.' She said and added 'You Scotsmen used to be proud of Burns; now you have taken to torturing women.' She made a protest against the treatment of suffragists in Perth Prison. At times she was somewhat violent and the police had to use force to restrain her. Thereupon the Sheriff asked them to be as gentle as they could with her. The accused who wore a fawn waterproof coat, brown skirt, and blue toque hat, is of slim build, and apparently about 40 years of age. A considerable crowd of people had assembled at the gates of the County Buildings and witnessed her removal to prison in a cab, into which she had to be forcibly pushed. There was no demonstration. Since being taken into custody the accused has been on hunger strike.

Glasgow Herald, 9 July 1914.

Suffragist outrage - woman's identity - Lord Kitchener's niece

Ayr, Friday. - the woman arrested in connection with the outrage at the Burns Cottage on the morning of July 8 and liberated after ten days' hunger strike from Perth prison is now stated to have been identified. - She gave the name of Janet Arthur, but the police authorities are understood to know from information that her real name is Janet Parker, and that she is a niece of Lord Kitchener, and has a brother inspector of schools in Cairo.

'News 24 July 1914', cutting from Miss Janie Allan's collection, Acc. 4498/2.

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