Suffragettes March 13 1914





Before Mr. Robert Wallace K.C. at London Sessions yesterday, Mary Richardson, thirty-one, Suffragist, described as a journalist of Lincoln’s Inn House, Kingsway, was indicted for having wilfully and maliciously damaged the picture known as the “Rokeby Venus” of Velasquez, at the National Gallery, on Tuesday morning last, and doing damage to the extent of £100. Since her committal for trial on the afternoon of the outrage the prisoner had been in the gaol infirmary, having as hitherto adopted the hunger strike. On the indictment being read to her she replied, “As it was premeditated act I plead Guilty.”

CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION Mr. Travers Humphreys, prosecuting for the Commissioner of Police, said the act of wilful damage that the woman had admitted was about as senseless and wicked as one could well conceive. She had attempted to destroy, so far as lay in her power, a beautiful work of art presented to the nation by persons who, as subscribers, included women as well as men. The picture was kept by the nation in the National Gallery for the enjoyment of women as well as men, and was probably visited by quite as many of the former sex as the latter. That was what the prisoner had done for her sex, and as the immediate and direct result of her act it had been thought necessary by the authorities for the present to close, not only the National Gallery but a number of other galleries, so that persons both English and visitors to this country, were prevented from viewing the beautiful works of art kept there for that purpose. In describing the woman’s act, with a full sense of the responsibility for his words, he could only say that it was a dastardly outrage without any sort or kind of sense is it. When one found that this woman said that the reason – if such a word could be used – for this act was a sort of retaliation because the police in Glasgow had rearrested a criminal who was a fugitive from justice – a woman named Mrs. Pankhurst, who had been convicted at the Central Criminal Court of a most serious offence, that of being a party to the blowing up of a house – one doubted whether she could really be in possession of her right senses. But there was before the Court no medical evidence to show anything otherwise than that she was a person responsible for her actions, and his Lordship would have to deal with her on those lines. The damage when put into pounds shillings, and pence was nothing – whether it cost £100 to repair, so far as it could be, this very valuable picture was a small matter. But one regretted that any person who was not an inmate of a lunatic asylum could conceive that it advanced any sort of cause, political or otherwise to do such an act of wanton and malicious damage.

Detective-sergeant Hawkins then gave evidence of the prisoner’s record, which showed that she had been in the hands of the police on a great number of occasions for assault, wilful damage, obstruction, and setting fire to a house at Hampton-on-Thames. She was last sentenced in October, and was released four days later after a hunger strike. Mr. Travers Humphreys – Then she should have been in prison when she did this? Witness – Yes

PRISONER’S SPEECH FROM THE DOCK Prisoner, asked by Wallace, K.C., if she had any statement to make, said: I should like to say that my act was premeditated. What I did I had thought over very seriously before I undertook it. I have been a student of, and perhaps care as much for Art as anyone who was in the Gallery on Tuesday morning, but I care more for justice than I do for Art, and I firmly believe that when the nation shuts its eyes to justice and prefers to have women who are not only denied justice but who are ill-treated and tortured, then I say that this action of mine should be understandable. I don’t stay it is excusable, but at least it ought to be understood. As prosecuting counsel has taken pains to tell you about the dastardly nature of my outrage, I should like to say that the outrage which the Government have committed on Mrs. Pankhurst is the ultimatum of outrages. It is murder – it is slow murder, it is premeditated murder. That is how I look at it. In view of the fact that the Government permit and commit murder I think anything that a Suffragette does falls into a lesser degree of crime than murder. How you can hold women up to ridicule and contempt, put them in prison, and yet say nothing to the Government for murdering people I cannot understand. Neither can I understand why men taxpayers are willing to let thousands of pounds be spent each year on this state of affairs when a small, inexpensive arrangement, a few months spent in legislation, would remove this injustice. It is not looked at that light, however. It is preferred to spend thousands of pounds on private detectives rather than get rid of this inquisition on women. The nation is either dead or asleep, and to my mind there is undoubted evidence that it is dead because women have knocked in vain at the doors of administrators and Bishops and even the King himself. The doors have been closed to us by the Government, and remember that a state of death in a nation as well as in an individual leads to one thing – dissolution, I do not hesitate to say that if the men of the country do not, at this eleventh hour, put their hands out and save Mrs. Pankhurst before more years are past they will stretch out their hands in vain to save the Empire. I know that you will sentence me. Your sentence will not really make much difference, not only from, the fact that I can only stand a few months’ torture, but from the fact that I am really a grateful and happy woman that I have been able to live in the century in which Mrs. Pankhurst was, and in some small measure I have tried to carry out what I believe in. It matters not therefore what becomes of me in the future.

JUDGE AND “INADEQUATE” SENTENCE Mr. Wallace – When you were here last at these Courts I pointed out to you – I am afraid, uselessly – that acts such as yours would never advance any cause or bring about any good results. You have persisted in it. Prisoner – I must persist in what I believe in. Mr. Wallace – I cannot go into those matters. The amount of damage in connection with this charge is immaterial, because the destruction of a picture like this – because if the picture were destroyed or mutilated – no money could replace it. Mr. Wallace – I cannot go into those matters. The amount of damage in connection with this charge is immaterial, because the destruction of a picture like this – because if the picture were destroyed or mutilated – no money could replace it. Mr. Wallace – I have nothing to do with that. You have pleaded guilty, and you have gloried in this crime. Prisoner – I don’t say that. I think it is a great shame that I had to think it my duty to do it. Mr. Wallace – With the greatest regret it is my duty to pass upon you a sentence of six months imprisonment. After the prisoner had left the dock Mr. Wallace said: “I quite realise that the sentence is thoroughly inadequate for the crime, but it is the only sentence – the maximum sentence – for damaging works of art. If it had been a window I could have passed sentence of 18 months imprisonment.

THE MORNING POST MARCH 11 1914 ………. The “Rokeby Venus” damaged – Outrage at the National Gallery – Militant Suffragists  wanton Act



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