Olive Wharry

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Olive Wharry after a 32 day hungerstrike in 1913

Olive Wharry (1886–1947) was an English artist, arsonist and suffragist who in 1913 was imprisoned with Lilian Lenton for burning down the tea pavilion at Kew Gardens.[1]

Early life[edit]

Olive Wharry was born in London, the daughter of a doctor into a middle-class family and the only child of her father's first marriage; she had three much younger half-brothers and a half-sister from his second marriage. She grew up in London, then the family moved to Devon when her father retired from medicine. On leaving school Wharry became an art student at the School of Art in Exeter, and in 1906 she travelled around the world with her father and mother. She became active in the Women's Social and Political Union in November 1910.[2] She was also a member of the Church League for Women's Suffrage.

1911 to 1913[edit]

In November 1911 Wharry was arrested for taking part in a WSPU window-smashing campaign, and, after being released on bail guaranteed by Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Mrs Saul Solomon, was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. During this sentence and the others that followed she kept a scrapbook which includes the autographs of fellow Suffragettes.[3] This scrapbook was an exhibit in the British Library's Taking Liberties exhibition (2008-9).[4]

In March 1912 Wharry was arrested again after more window-smashing and was sentenced to six months imprisonment in Winson Green Prison in Birmingham. She took part in a hunger strike and was released in July 1912, before completing her sentence. In November 1912 she was arrested as "Joyce Locke" with three other Suffragettes in Aberdeen after being involved in a scuffle during a meeting at which Lloyd George was speaking. Being sentenced to five days in prison, she managed to smash her cell windows.[2][4]

Kew Gardens arson[edit]

The Tea House at Kew Gardens after the arson attack by Wharry and Lenton

On 7 March 1913, aged 27, she and Lilian Lenton were sent to Holloway Prison for setting fire to the tea pavilion at Kew Gardens, causing £900 worth of damage. The pavilion's owners had only insured it for £500. During her trial at the Old Bailey Wharry was again charged under the assumed name "Joyce Locke" and regarded the proceedings as a "good joke". She stated that she and Lenton had checked that the tea pavilion was empty before setting fire to it. She added that she had believed that the pavilion belonged to the Crown, and that she wished for the two women who actually owned it to understand that she was fighting a war, and that in a war even men combatants had to suffer. When Wharry was sentenced to eighteen months with costs, refusing to pay she cried out "I will refuse to do so. You can send me to prison, but I will never pay the costs".[5]

In prison Wharry went on hunger strike for 32 days, passing her food to other prisoners, apparently unnoticed by the warders.[1][6] Wharry said that during her time in prison her weight had plummeted from 7 st 11 lb to 5 st 9 lb (50 kg to 36 kg).

Other prison sentences[edit]

A Suffragette being force fed, in a contemporary poster

Wharry was arrested and imprisoned eight times between 1910 and 1914 for her part in various WSPU window-smashing campaigns, sometimes under the name "Phyllis North", sometimes as "Joyce Locke". Each of her prison sentences were characterised by her going on hunger strike, being force-fed and then released under what became known as the Cat and Mouse Act.[1]

In May 1914 she was sentenced to a week in prison after taking part in a deputation to King George V. It was a matter of honour to Wharry not to complete any prison sentence, and, after again going on hunger strike, she was released after three days. In June 1914 she was arrested at Carnarvon after breaking windows at Criccieth during a meeting held by Lloyd George. Being held on remand, she again went on hunger strike and was released. As "Phyllis North" she was arrested in Liverpool and was brought back to Carnarvon where she received a prison sentence of three months.[2]

Wharry was sent to Holloway Prison to complete this sentence, and where she was held, on hunger strike, in solitary confinement. Home Office reports show that some of the doctors who treated her at Holloway thought she was insane, but her scrapbook, which documents her time in this prison and in various other prisons around the country, suggests otherwise. It is full of drawings of prison life, satirical poems, autographs of other suffragettes and a photograph of herself and Lilian Lenton in the dock during their trial for the arson attack on Kew Gardens of 1913.[3]

The pages in her scrapbook, held by the British Library in London, also record her weight loss on release from prison, and contains newspaper cuttings of a policeman carrying her bags on her release from prison and a burnt down tea pavilion at Kew Gardens.[3][4][7] Wharry was released into the care of Dr. Flora Murray on 10 August 1913 under the Government's amnesty of suffrage prisoners.

Death and legacy[edit]

Wharry made fellow Suffragette Constance Bryer (1870–1952) an executor of her 1946 will, in which she requested that her body be cremated and her ashes scattered on "the high open spaces of the Moor between Exeter and Whitstone". In her will she left Bryer an annuity of £200, her hunger strike medal and some of her etchings and books. Both Wharry and Byer's hunger strike medals remain together in a private collection.[2]

Olive Wharry died at the age of 61.


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