Advice to doorknocking politicians

Sunday 19 May 2013

Social media, 19th century style: This article in the South Australian Weekly Chronicle for 16 July 1859 shows that using the latest technology for electioneering is no new thing.


A member can pay a visit now to his constituents either in person or in the more elegant form of a visiting card, that not merely contains his electioneering address, but also his name and physiognomy in full. This is a new feature, that has never yet been put on the canvass of an election. For instance, we are informed by an advertisement that​—​

“Messrs. A. Marion & Co. think it will be of great advantage to candidates who cannot possibly wait personally upon all their constituents to use their Photographic Visiting Cards, which will prove a great saving of both time and trouble in canvassing. They will also afford the electors an op­por­tu­ni­ty of having a correct portrait of the hon. gentleman seek­ing their suffrages.”

In this way are likenesses brought home to every man’s door. What a boon, too, conferred on those delinquent M.P.s, who, conscious of having voted wrong, hav’nt the courage to face their constituents in any other form than that of photography. If they are not gifted with the call of eloquence, such a visit saves them an infinity of stuttering and stammering ; and yet, the little they so say is spoken strictly by the card, and must go home, if left at the right house. The boon would be further increased if Messrs. Marion would take off the entire supporters of Lord Derby, and take them off so effectually, that we should never see them again.

Reading old newspapers online is a wonderful research tool, and a black hole that can suck in any amount of time. After I found the article above, I wondered whether readers in Adelaide were fa­mil­iar with carte-de-visite photographs in 1859. I knew that the carte-de-viste craze was only just starting in Europe, and that the first Australian photographer to offer cartes-de-visite was Olaf W Blackwood of Sydney in 1859. I was not surprised to find that the fad reached Adelaide a bit later. By June 1862 an Adel­aide bookseller was advertising carte-de-visite portraits of the Royal Family and Distinguished Personages of All Nations. The earliest mention I found of an Adelaide photographer taking carte-de-visite portraits was an advertisement in January 1863 by Cornock & Cardell, druggists and photographers.

I mentioned yesterday the firm of Marion & Co which became a global supplier of photographic materials, particularly those con­nec­ted with the carte-de-visite business.

The disparaging reference to the Conservative Lord Derby is in­ter­est­ing because of its timing. Derby’s second prime-min­is­ter­ship ended on 11 June 1859, when his government was replaced in the British parliament by Palmerston’s Liberals. The article appeared in the Adelaide newspaper 30 days later. But the news traveled from Westminster to Australia by ship​—​a journey of two or three months​—​so the liberal-leaning journalist in Adelaide would not have known.

Engraved portrait of Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby (1799-1869). [Wikimedia commons]

filed under History + Photography

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