JUNE 15TH 1867

(N.B. The following has been taken almost verbatim from contemporary local newspaper accounts. However, as the earlier accounts give pretty detailed descriptions of what was said and done at these meetings, I have decided to try and recreate what happened using a little dramatic licence. I hope this will provide a detailed account of the Murphy Riots whilst offering a little atmosphere of my own.)

Murphy’s first lecture takes place in a large wooden building he has had especially erected in Carrs Lane in Birmingham city center, Tickets for seats on the lecture platform and reserved seats are six pence, seats at the back are three pence.

3.00pm: 4000 people are gathered inside the building. A gang of “roughs” assembled outside. Fearful of possible trouble it is decided that some 40 police be delegated to the area, however only four are actually present in the event. No serious trouble is reported before the service begins. However, inside the building, there is a huge round of applause as Murphy ascends the platform. He tells them that he would rather have “no acclamation” today.

As the service starts, smoke begins to appear from various quarters of the hall. This causes a fair amount of concern among the congregation, but Murphy assures them that it is only a chimney fire outside and is only intended to frighten them.

Murphy reads out the 27th Psalm and is asked why he chose to risk his life in Birmingham. He replies that his life is in the hands of the Lord and that not one hair on his head would be touche without God’s permission. If they threaten him with bludgeons God would drive them away. He had no fear because God had raised him up for this purpose.

CHOSEN TEXT: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man shall come to the father except through me.”

As he give his sermon, stones are thrown at the roof of the building and a large crowd can be heard rushing around outside. Murphy tells his congregation to remain quiet and steadfast in their faith as witnesses for God.

Five minutes later a man (Mr Edward Jones, a member of the church committee) is pushed forward onto the platform, he has a gash on his forehead. Two others ( a Mr Taylor, a traveller with Murphy, and a Mr Neale) who have been guarding the doors are also hurt. All three have their wounds dressed.

Murphy: Will you please all kindly sit down. It is a sad thing that a man cannot, in England, proclaim the truth as it is revealed in the book divine. (Applause)

This day, I tell you, you have inferred what Popery is- it is the same now as it has always been.(Loud applause) Stand firm. Remember these are the same people who burnt Latimer and Cranmer. It is sad, indeed, that my friends have been injured. My father, himself, was killed by bludgeons and sticks. It is the fault of the town authorities that this has come to pass. It is their not allowing access to public buildings like the Town Hall that this has come to pass. Their decision is a sign to the Papists that the authorities will not protect me. Now go in peace.”

Outside the crowd has become rowdier and police armed with cutlasses have been called in to disperse them. They manage to keep them away from the building and the worshippers leave unmolested. A constant battle between the crowd surging and the police driving them back carries on for the rest of the day.

A band of one hundred “ruffians” gain control of the streets and a portion of them go to a shop owned by a Mr Thomas Aston (a member of the Protestant Association) in Dale End and smash all the windows. The furniture and mirrors are also smashed up but nobody is injured.

6.00 pm: Aware of the extent of the afternoon’s troubles the building is now surrounded by 40 policemen. Inside, a motion is passed, before the second service starts, that the attendees should band together for protection from the mob in the name of free speech.

Murphy:”Before we start tonight, I would like to express my utter dismay over the damage inflicted on the house of my friend Thomas Aston. It is astonishing that in such a Liberal country as England that such an event should occur. However the responsibility for this action are the ones who refused me the use of the Town Hall. No doubt it will fall to the poor rate payers to foot the bill for the damage. I feel sorry for them that it should fall to this, but it is all the fault of Popery and that is who they should blame for it. For myself, I announce my intention to preach here for the next five weeks and if this building comes down in the meantime, we shall rebuild it as many times as it falls. I care nothing for what magistrates say. I am an Irishman and my motto is “war to the knife”.”

CHOSEN TEXT: Acts Chapter Four. Galatians Chapter 1 verse 8

Murphy: “I fear no Papist. In twenty five years of combating Popery and Puseyism (1) I have yet to find a man worthy of my fear. On the contrary it is THEY who are afraid, and rightly so. I challenge Bishop Ullathorne (2) to meet me here on this platform and show me where in the bible it talks about “Baptismal Regeneration” of the doctrine of “Salvation by Works.” Yes, let him stand up here and tell me where it speaks of Purgatory and the Virgin Mary descending to relieve souls stranded there. Let him come and tell us the truth on these matters. Now, all of you, leave here in an orderly fashion as both Christians and as Englishmen.”

As they leave they are threatened by the crowd, but most of the injuries are sustained by the crowd themselves and consist of lacerations caused by police cutlasses. Only one of Murphy’s congregation is injured, a Mary Ann Bennett, who receives a laceration from a brick thrown at her. Other reported injuries include a fractured skull and a number of dislocated elbows.


(1) Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was one of the main figures of the so called “Oxford Movement”, late to become Anglo-Catholicism. Alongside such figures as John Henry Newman he sought to introduce back into Anglicanism certain ritualistic aspects of Catholicism which had been abandoned at the time of the Reformation.

(2) William Bernard Ullathorne (1806-1889). Installed as the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham in 1848.


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