Dundee was particularly famous for its savage behavior at coronations in the 19th century and became the cause of widespread outrage in 1838.
The Dundee Coronation Riot made national and even international news at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, which got off to a royally unwelcome start in the city.
Author Tom Welsh said it was time to consider Dundee’s coronation experiences in the 19th century “because we are not so far off from the imbalances of the 19th century”.
“Some people might worry in case it influences modern factions when King Charles is crowned next year, but I think it’s important to be aware,” he said.
“It’s a reality that we might hope will not appear this time, but I think the risk is there.”
Tom has delved into the 1838 screaming scenes he uncovered while researching his new book, Hilltop Bonfires – Marking Royal Events.
“We really know very little about coronations,” Tom said.
“The last was in 1953, and before that in 1937.
“In the 20th century, coronations were very civilized affairs, very impressive public events. In the 19th century, they were very different.
“The monarchy was discredited, chiefly because of the excesses and misconduct of the Prince Regent, crowned in 1821 as George IV.
“The public protested and revolted against the coronations more than they celebrated. We could argue that these rowdy coronations are a thing of the past, but the ideas of republicanism and other forms of dissent have surfaced even in twentieth-century coronations.
“It may be a regrettable story, but it is a risk that we must take into account.”
In the 19th century, there were real problems with crowds.
If these poorer elements felt an injustice, they reacted collectively.
Nowadays, in the digital age, where we have access to television, radio, telephone and the Internet, we can quickly come together to show our strength of feeling.
However, these sentiments were much more difficult to express in the 19th century.
“There were bad scenes all over Britain, but the Dundee Coronation Riot of 1838 made national and even international news,” Tom said.
“You could say it was caused by a minority, made up of the lower working classes. However, it was usually the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ that fueled the unrest. It was the spectacle of coronations, the lavishness and opulence displayed, that tended to exacerbate the unease among the lower ranks.
When Dundee rebelled against Queen Victoria’s coronation
At Queen Victoria’s coronation, the crowd went too far.
Tom said: “They started off quite cheerful and good-humored, but some rough elements soon kicked in. At first it was fireworks launched.
“Sticks appeared and people were injured, and a person with a long pole used it to mow people down. The usual call for a bonfire emerged.
Volunteers went to the docks to get fuel and they came back with a boat and barrels. The boat was dragged onto the main street, where it was set on fire.
Now they had mobile fire.
Around 10:30 p.m., a scream rose to set something else on fire, suggesting the semi-permanent circus near the docks, or Scott’s Shakespearean pantheon.
“This building is a bit of a mystery,” Tom said.
“Mostly of wood, but with a very grand facade, it had been erected some years earlier to bring Shakespeare and other theatrical performances to the masses.
“However, it seems to have had other uses, which made it dishonest, so the chance to destroy it seemed to be a crowd pleaser.
Dundee theater burned down in riot
“So the burning boat was dragged down Union Street and dragged along the theatre.
“The crowd broke down the doors and took away sets and props and whatever they could carry, to complete the bonfire.
“This greatly increased the violence of the fire and loud cheers were raised.
“Then the boat was thrown against the walls, which quickly caught fire, causing an inferno. It was so fierce that people had to get away from the fire, but they enthusiastically encouraged the process for half an hour. By the time the firefighters arrived, the theater had been reduced to ashes, satisfied with this, the crowd gradually dispersed.
“Fortunately, there was no wind, because the theater was close to the quays.
“The ships there were in good condition, except the tar in some of the rigging melted with the heat.
“There seems to have been some approval of the destruction of the Pantheon as it had been seen as a corruption of morals, especially of young people.
“However, this was a serious civil incident and a threat to property, and it has led to efforts to contain future demonstrations of crowd rioting.”
Accounts of the riot also gave Dundee national recognition.
Within days, the original Courier story had made London newspapers, such as the Morning Chronicle and the London Evening Standard on 6 July.
But he also made many Irish newspapers, which seemed to pick up incidents like this, and many county newspapers in England. Various versions of the story circulated throughout July and even appeared in foreign newspapers.
There were also riots in 1831
Even less dramatic, the coronation of Guillaume IV on September 8, 1831 caused riots.
Tom said: “Dundee had a problem with unruly behavior at fairs, and the potential for a rammy was always below the surface.
“There was a lot of very poor housing and people working in low-paying jobs. Authorities had tried to keep the Dundee celebrations low-key. Gatherings were discouraged and shops closed. However, in the evening, a crowd of around 1,500 young people gathered at the foot of Union Street near the docks.
“There was a call for a bonfire, and fuel was found, including old barrels, but the police intervened, throwing the barrels into the wet basin. The crowd pelted them with flaming fagots, and eventually the police gave up and a fire was successfully started.
“They later attacked a gentleman in Castle Street, who they mistook for a police sergeant because of his clothes, some beating him with sticks.
“He took refuge in the Lion Tavern and the crowd broke the windows of the pub in protest.
Will Dundee still revolt at Charles’ coronation?
“This story appeared in the Dundee Courier, and other newspapers soon after.”
Not everyone in Dundee will be celebrating the coronation of King Charles, but there is unlikely to be a repeat of these unruly scenes in the city on May 6.
Although history tells us that nothing is certain except death and taxes.
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[When Dundee made headlines for Queen Victoria coronation riot]