Mimi MatthewsMimi Matthews

The Victorian Case of the Turnip-Wielding Trick-Or-Treater

Carving the Pumpkin Detail by Franck Antoine Bail 1910. e1626157253498

Carving the Pumpkin by Franck Antoine Bail, 1910.

Today, if you don’t wish to hand out candy on Halloween, you can simply switch off your porch light to indicate that you are not at home to trick-or-treaters. Unfortunately, not all trick-or-treaters accept this withdrawal from the holiday with good grace. Some even retaliate by smashing pumpkins in your driveway or against your front door. Disgruntled trick-or-treaters in the Victorian era had similar responses.

On Halloween night in Scotland in 1899, a man by the name of Gilbert Tulloch bolted his door against the youths celebrating in his neighbourhood. Shortly thereafter, he heard the sound of something striking his door. The 16 December 1899 edition of the Shetland Times reports that, when Tulloch opened the door, he saw “a number of youths about 60 or 70 feet off.” One of these youths, a boy by the name of Arthur Robertson, was standing near the door. He spoke to Tulloch and then, violently, “threw a turnip at him, striking his face and breaking his nose.”

In the nineteenth century, turnips (also known as neeps) were often carved to use as lanterns on Halloween. In his 1897 book Golspie: Contributions to Folklore, Edward Nicholson explains:

“The boys go about the village with turnip-lanterns, which they make themselves, doing all kinds of mischief.”

A Turnip Jack O Lantern Geni at English Wikipedia CC BY 3.0 e1509465557965

A Turnip Jack-O’-Lantern.
(Credit: Geni at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0)

Robertson’s neep must have been particularly large, for when he threw it at Tulloch’s face, the resulting damage was severe. According to the Shetland Times:

“The blow was so heavy that five of his teeth were loosened and he was rendered deaf on the right ear.”

When the Sheriff was summoned, Robertson denied having thrown the turnip—though he did admit to being present at Tulloch’s house. However, after examining the evidence, the Sheriff, determined that the charges against Robertson were not without merit. Robertson was later convicted of “the crime of recklessly throwing a turnip” and “striking Tulloch with it.” The Sheriff is quoted as stating that:

“[He] had no objections to boys having larks, but they would require to avoid anything which could lead to annoyance and injury to others, as had been the case here.”

As a punishment for Robertson’s reckless behaviour—and as a warning to other “youths of the county” that they should not carry their Halloween pranks “beyond the degree of moderation”—the Sheriff imposed a penalty of “10s or four days’ imprisonment.”


Sources

Nicholson, Edward Williams. Golspie: Contributions to Folklore. London: David Nutt, 1897.

Shetland Times (Shetland, Scotland), 16 December 1899. © British Library Board.

About Mimi Matthews

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library JournalPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

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