Trolling is a feature of today's online environment.
Often when trolls exchange verbal blows in social media and on online news commentary sites, they do so anonymously.
The language they use is typically harsh, provocative, inflammatory and designed to offend. Such language is not new, of course: it goes back well before the online era. In the nineteenth century it was seen often in newspapers, for example in Letters to Editors.
It was on show in the Maitland Mercury, often effusively, sometimes wittily and in the flowery style of the times.
There was an exchange in 1893 when two letter writers, John F Holden and 'Observer', traded verbal blows on the question of flogging and execution as punishments.
At that time these punishments were coming under question on humanitarian grounds and their effectiveness was being challenged.
But opinions were divided, and society was only beginning to move away from them. Holden, evidently a humanitarian, opposed these "corrections".
He thought "making butchers' chopping blocks of human backs" was both barbaric and ineffective, and execution unchristian and used disproportionately against the poor and wretched.
- Lost rail link from Morpeth to East Maitland
- When rowing attracted huge crowds in Maitland
- Important role of the Mead family in Maitland's agrculrutal past
- The macabre world of phrenologist Archibald Hamilton
- When beekeeping was all the buzz in Maitland
- Convict John Smith, one of the first settlers who made good
- The plan to relocate Maitland to beat flooding
- Deep water river port was what gave Maitland the edge
- When loose cattle were bound for the pound
Better, he thought, that governments invest in the 'instruction' today we would say education of those who are "bred up without morals and cast upon the world without a prospect".
The circumstances of the poor, he was saying, encouraged criminality and thus exposed them to society's retribution by the brutal means of the time.
'Observer' took a different stance. He wrote sarcastically of Holden's "ridiculous effusions" and went on: "Although I do not intend to notice any future personal letters of your correspondent, I will, nevertheless, continue to watch his newspaper contributions, and when I think fit, criticise them when they deserve it, which I conclude will be pretty often, unless he greatly improves, and manages to shake off his antediluvian impressions, which are wholly unsuited to this nineteenth century".
'Observer' even resorted to verse: "Behold a man who loves to prate/ On all affairs of Church and State/ Proud owner of a clever pate/ Infallible as sure as fate".
And "I long have marked his bold career/ And far be it from me to jeer/ Although his logic's rather queer/ And scarcely that of Sage or Seer So farewell, Johnny Holden".
Holden shot back: 'Observer' had "again escaped from his keepers". He "sheds the luminous refulgence of his lofty intellect upon my humble expression of opinion." 'Observer' came again.
Holden's tactics, he said, had been "abuse in lieu of arguments, entirely ignoring the opinions of those who differ from him, forgetful of the fact that they may possibly be right and himself wrong. But his egregious egotism will not allow him to see this".
Maitland and District Historical Society
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