Olive Wharry

Olive Wharry

Olive Wharry, the daughter of a doctor, was born in London in 1886. On her father's retirement, the family moved to Devon and later studied at the School of Art in Exeter. In 1906 she travelled around the world with her mother and father.

Wharry became involved in the struggle for women's suffrage and joined the Church League for Women's Suffrage and Women's Social and Political Union. On 4th March, 1912, Wharry took part in a window-breaking demonstration. This time the target was government offices in Whitehall. According to Votes for Women: "From in front, behind, from every side it came - a hammering, crashing, splintering sound unheard in the annals of shopping... At the windows excited crowds collected, shouting, gesticulating. At the centre of each crowd stood a woman, pale, calm and silent."

Olive Wharry was one of the 200 suffragettes were arrested and jailed for taking part in the demonstration. She was found guilty of breaking windows worth £195 and was sentenced to six months in prison. As Holloway Prison was full she was sent to Winson Green Prison in Birmingham. She took part in a hunger strike and was released in July. According to the prison doctor, Wharry was "mentally unstable". However, Elizabeth Crawford argued that "Olive Wharry's prison notebook contains no hint of insanity. It is full of delightful drawings of prison life, along with poems, satirical and amusing."

In July 1912, Christabel Pankhurst began organizing a secret arson campaign. According to Sylvia Pankhurst: "Women, most of them very young, toiled through the night across unfamiliar country, carrying heavy cases of petrol and paraffin. Sometimes they failed, sometimes succeeded in setting fire to an untenanted building - all the better if it were the residence of a notability - or a church, or other place of historic interest." Occasionally they were caught and convicted, usually they escaped. Attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes.

The WSPU began a campaign to destroy the contents of pillar-boxes. By December, the government claimed that over 5,000 letters had been damaged by the WSPU. The main figure in this campaign was May Billinghurst. A fellow suffragette, Lilian Lenton, argued: "She (May Billinghurst) would set out in her chair with many little packages from which, when they were turned upside down, there flowed a dark brown sticky fluid, concealed under the rug which covered her legs. She went undeviatingly from one pillar box to another, sometimes alone, sometimes with another suffragette to do the actual job, dropping a package into each one."

Olive Wharry was one of the young women involved in this arson campaign. Along with Lilian Lenton she embarked on a series of terrorist acts. She was arrested on 19th February 1913, soon after setting fire to the tea pavilion in Kew Gardens. In court it was reported: "The constables gave chase, and just before they caught them each of the women who had separated was seen to throw away a portmanteau. At the station the women gave the names of Lilian Lenton and Olive Wharry. In one of the bags which the women threw away were found a hammer, a saw, a bundle to tow, strongly redolent of paraffin and some paper smelling strongly of tar. The other bag was empty, but it had evidently contained inflammables."

On 7th March 1913 she was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months. Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "She was released on 8th April after having been on hunger strike for 32 days, apparently without the prison authorities noticing. His usual weight was 7st 11lbs; when released she weighed 5st 9lbs."

In June 1914 she was tried at Carnarvon after breaking windows at Criccieth during a meeting being held by David Lloyd George. She was sentenced to three months in Holloway Prison. After going on hunger strike she was released into the care of Flora Murray on 10th August.

On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two days later the NUWSS announced that it was suspending all political activity until the war was over. The leadership of the WSPU began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.

Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." Ethel Smyth pointed out in her autobiography, Female Pipings for Eden (1933): "Mrs Pankhurst declared that it was now a question of Votes for Women, but of having any country left to vote in. The Suffrage ship was put out of commission for the duration of the war, and the militants began to tackle the common task."

Olive Wharry died in 1947.

Primary Sources

(1) The Morning Post (8th March, 1913)

At the Central Criminal Court, yesterday, before Mr. Justice Bankes and a jury, Olive Wharry, alias Joyce Lock, twenty-seven, student, was placed on her trial charged with having set fire to the tea Pavillion at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. She pleaded not guilty. Mr. Bodkin and Mr. Travers Humphreys prosecuted; Mr. Langdon, K.C., and Mr. E. D. Muir appeared for the defence.

Mr. Bodkin said that, apart from any technicalities the indictment charged the prisoner with setting fire to a building which was the property of his Majesty. The whole of the Tea Pavillion in Kew Gardens and its contents were destroyed and upon the two women who held the refreshment contract from the Crown a very heavy pecuniary loss had fallen. The contents of the building, which were the property of these two women, were worth £900, but they were only insured for £500. On February 19 the Pavillion was shut up as usual. At 3.15 next morning one of the night attendants noticed a bright light inside the pavillion and running towards the building he saw two people running away from it. He blew his whistle and did his best to extinguish the fire, which immediately broke out, but his efforts were unavailing. At this time two constables happened to be in the Kew-road, and after their attention had been attracted to the refection of the fire in the sky, they saw two women running away from the direction of the pavillion. The constables gave chase, and just before they caught them each of the women who had separated was seen to throw away a portmanteau. At the station the women gave the names of Lilian Lenton - who was too ill to appear before the Magistrate on remand - and Joyce Lock, the accused, who later gave her correct name of Olive Wharry. In one of the bags which the women threw away were found a hammer, a saw, a bundle to tow, strongly redolent of paraffin and some paper smelling strongly of tar. The other bag was empty, but it had evidently contained inflammables. On the way to the station one of the prisoners was seen to drop a little electric lamp. To the policemen prisoner said: "I wonder that the men on duty at the Gardens were doing that they did not see it done." In reply to the charge she said: "Yes: that1s right." The tow prisoners were handed over to the matron, who saw that their hands were covered with filth and grease. In these circumstances counsel submitted that the prisoner's guilt would be abundantly proved.

Sir D. Prain, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, gave evidence to the effect that the Gardens were only opened at certain hours.

Replying to Mr. Langdon, witness said the Gardens were bounded by what was technically termed an unclimable fence.

Mrs. Katherine Mary Strange, of Duke's-avenue, Chiswick, one of the two lesses of the tea pavillion at Kew Gardens, put her loss at between £900 and £1,000 as a result of the fire.

The matron of Richmond Police Station said she found the rope produced upon the accused whose hands were black and greasy. The bags thrown away by the prisoner and her companion were produced and their contents examined by the jury.

The case for the prosecution having concluded, Mr. Langdon, who did not call evidence, addressed the jury for the defence. He contended that a small woman thickly clad in a long coat, like the prisoner was, could not have climbed the "unclimbable fence," and that the two figures seen in the garden were not those of the prisoner and her companion. Dealing with the portmanteaux and their contents, Mr. Langdon suggested that they were intended for a raid on the neighbouring golf links. The women were discovered in the Deer Park, close to the links and he would not deny that they were there probably for the purpose of committing an offence of some kind or other. They might have their own moral justification for what they were going to do, but their presence in the Park with the intent to commit some offence was very different from being found guilty of the serious outrage at the pavillion.

Mr. Justice Bankes, in summing up, said that "not very long ago it would have been unthinkable that a well-educated, well-brought-up young woman could have committed a crime like this. Not long ago one would have heard appeals to juries to acquit her on the ground that it was unthinkable she could have committed such a crime. But, unfortunately - and this was all he wanted to say about it - women as a class had forfeited any presumption in their favour of that kind. Unfortunately, they knew that well-educated, well-brought-up women had committed these crimes, and as a consequences it was impossible to approach these cases from the standpoint that they would have approached them from only a few years ago. It was open to the accused to give some explanation, but she had not done so, and the suggestion of her counsel was that she was out on a marauding expedition after golf greens. But did they want tow to attack golf greens? Did they want a hammer or a saw or a rope? One would have thought a trowel would have been more appropriate.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Mr. Bodkin said there were two previous convictions against prisoner for smashing windows. The second occasion was in March, 1912, when she broke windows worth £195, and was sentenced to six month` imprisonment..

Mr. Muir said prisoner was the daughter of a country doctor.

Prisoner then proceeded to read a long statement in which she denied the jurisdiction of the Court, contended that women should be on the jury, and generally outlined the case for woman's suffrage. Ministers must be warned by the fires in Regent's Park and at Kew "lest a worse thing befall them." She was sorry that the two ladies had sustained loss, as she had no grudge against them. At the time she believed that the pavillion was the property of the Crown, but she wished the two ladies to understand that she was at war, and that in war even non-batants had to suffer. She would not submit to punishment, but would adopt the hunger strike.

The Judge: I have listened to what you have had to say, and my duty is to pass sentence upon you. It is no desire of mine to lecture you, but I am provoked by what you said to day this, and this only; The statement you have made seems to me to indicate that you have lost all sense of the consequence of what you are doing. You do not seen to realise the lose and injury and anxiety that such acts as yours cause to all classes - not only to the rich but to the poor and struggling; not only to men but to women. You talk about man-made law as if that was the only law that ought to govern people's actions. You must have heard of another law which says: "Ye shall do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you." That is the law you are breaking. I do not punish you for that. I punish you for the law which is made in consequence of it, and my sentence upon you is that you pay the costs of these proceedings.

Prisoner: I shall refuse to do so. You can do anything you like. I will never pay the costs.

The Judge: My order is that you pay the costs of these proceedings, that you be imprisoned in the second division for eighteen months.

Prisoner: But I shall not stay in prison.

The Judge: An, in addition, to find two sureties in £100 each that you be of good behaviour and keep the peace for two years from to-day.

Prisoner: Never.

The Judge: Of course, that will cover any time you are in prison. The consequence of your not finding sureties will be when you come out of prison you will be further imprisoned for a period not exceeding 12 months.

Prisoner: But I won't be bound over.

The Judge: I don't ask you to be bound over. I call on you to find sureties.

Prisoner was then removed.