Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Boycott, Charles Cunningham

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BOYCOTT, CHARLES CUNNINGHAM (1832–1897), land agent, from whose surname the word 'boycott' is derived, born on 12 March 1832, was the eldest surviving son of William Boycott, rector of Burgh St. Peters, Norfolk, and Elizabeth Georgiana, daughter of Arthur Beevor. He was educated at Blackheath and Woolwich, and in 1850 obtained a cummission in the 89th foot. Some years later he retired from the army with the rank of captain. In 1873 he became agent for Lord Erne's estates in county Mayo, and himself farmed five hundred acres near Loughmask. Six years afterwards the land agitation began. On 1 Aug. 1879 a notice was posted on Boycott's gate threatening his life if he attempted to collect from the tenants any rents without making a further reduction than the abatement of 10 per cent, already granted by Lord Erne. Notwithstanding this all the tenants except three paid the sum demanded. But in the following year a reduction of 25 per cent., which would have brought the rents below Griffith's valuation, was demanded under the influence of the land league, and Boycott had to issue eleven processes. In September 1880 attempts were made to serve them, but the servers and police were forced by a mob to retire and take refuge in Boycott's house. He himself had to be placed under police protection, and on 1 Nov. was hooted and hustled by a mob at Ballinrobe. He was received into the barracks, and was thence escorted by a combined force of police and infantry to Castlebar, where he received such rents as were paid. Meanwhile Charles Stuart Parnell, the leader of the agitation, had in a speech at Ennison 19 Sept. advised tenants who could not obtain the reductions they demanded to take certain measures against the landlords and their representatives. The result was seen in the treatment of Boycott. Labourers refused to work for him; his walls were thrown down and his cattle driven about; he was unable to obtain provisions from the neighbourhood, and the ordinary necessaries of life had to be conveyed to him from a distance by steamer. He was hooted and spat upon as he passed in public roads, and only with great difficulty received letters and telegrams.

Appeals to the government for assistance were at first made in vain, but at the beginning of November 1880 fifty Orangemen, chiefly from county Cavan (afterwards known as 'emergency men'), volunteered to gather in Boycott's crops, and were granted an escort of nine hundred soldiers with two field-pieces. At the end of the month, when the work was done, Boycott left Loughmask for Dublin, but the landlord of Herman Hotel, having received a threatening letter, refused to accommodate him. He then went on to London, and thence to the United States. On his return to Ireland in the autumn of 1881 he was mobbed at an auction at Westport, and his effigy was hanged and burnt. He also received letters signed 'Rory of the Hills,' threatening him with the fate of Lord Leitrim, who had lately been murdered. But things gradually improved, and in little more than a year were in a normal condition. In February 1886 Boycott left Ireland and became agent for Sir H. Adair's estates in Suffolk. He soon lived down his unpopularity and was even accustomed to take his holidays in Ireland. He was unable to obtain any compensation from the government. On 12 Dec. 1888 he gave evidence before the special commission appointed to investigate the charges made by the 'Times' against the Irish leaders. He was not cross-examined.

The word 'boycott' first came into use at the end of 1880. In the 'Daily News' of 13 Dec. it is printed in capitals. Joseph Gillis Biggar [q. v.] and others habitually employed it to signify all intimidatory measures that stopped short of physical violence. It is now generally used in both England and America in the sense of a deliberate and hostile isolation. Boycott as he appeared before the commission is described as a shortish man with a bald head, a heavy white moustache, and flowing white beard. He died at Flixton, Suffolk, on 19 June 1897. He married, in 1853, Annie, daughter of John Dunne, esq., who survived him.

[Report of the Special Commission, 1890, i. 613-14, iv. 267-8, &c.; Barry O'Brien's Parnell, i. 236-8; Macdonald's Diary of the Parnell Commission, p. 80; Times, 22-24 June 1897; Daily News, 22 June; and Standard, 22-23 Jane; Corresp. of Lord Erne and the Loughmask Tenantry, 1880; Norfolk Chronicle, 26 June 1897; Walford's County Families; Murray's Engl. Dict.; private information.]

G. Le G. N.