Thanks for a very interesting question which I enjoyed working on.
English medieval petty criminals who had been sentenced to a few hours
in the stocks were often pelted with rotten eggs, fruit and vegetables
by their fellow villagers or citizens. It was a well-established form
of insult or humiliation.
It continued to be an extra punishment for people in the stocks or the
pillory as the habit of protesting by throwing eggs etc. developed.
People in, say, the eighteenth century who protested against different
beliefs in this way would undoubtedly have been aware of the custom of
pelting offenders with a variety of rotten food, mud and worse.
The habit seems to have been strongly entrenched in Britain, although
of course throwing things at people you don't like is an ancient
custom! Before he became Roman emperor nearly two thousand years ago,
Vespasian had turnips hurled at him. But in Mediterranean countries
egg and tomato throwing often had a more festive tone, belonging to
carnival and harvest time. It seems to be the British tradition which
was exported to other parts of the English-speaking world, both as
punishment and protest. Rotten eggs were a very popular weapon;
tomatoes would have come into the picture more in parts of the world
where they grow plentifully and easily.
The earliest references I've found to throwing eggs at people to
protest against their views hinge on arguments about religion, but
politics and religion were of course intertwined in some cases.
Throwing eggs as a protest against bad acting is a special case. It's
often said this happened in the Elizabethan theatre, though I found
conflicting evidence on this. However, it certainly happened in
nineteenth century America.
I've gathered a list of examples from the net which I think give an
overall picture of the history of throwing eggs and other food at
people as a protest action. There really doesn't seem to be any
particular name for the people doing the throwing. Perhaps they
England - 17th century
" the then Bishop of Durham, Doctor Cosin, [...] was pelted with eggs
by the Puritan people of Berwick"
Massachusetts - late 18th century
"Murray had to sue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to win the right
to be legally ordained and installed in Gloucester. He had eggs thrown
at him in one city, and in Gloucester, a large rock crashed through
the meetinghouse window, narrowly missing his head!"
Isle of Man - late 18th century
"Mud, rotten eggs, stones, &c., were thrown at them without the least
mercy or regard"
Indiana - 1840s?
"Guerin wrote [...] of the rotten eggs thrown at her and her
companions by some anti-Catholic thugs in Madison, Ind."
London - 1870?
"Mission volunteers were often harassed and sometimes physically
assaulted as they marched through the streets with their signs and
musical instruments calling everyone to their outdoor tent meetings.
William would return home late each night with his clothes soaked from
the liquor, mud and rotten eggs thrown at him during his crusade.
During a strategy meeting in 1878, held at Catherines bedside, the
name of the Mission was officially changed to The Salvation Army."
Poor William Booth again:
"At Hastings, the town's leading grocer offered rotten eggs to all
comers as anti-Salvation ammunition."
Roman Empire - AD 63?
Vespasian "pelted with turnips"
England - 1830s?
George Eliot was obviously familiar with eggs being thrown at people
making election speeches. She describes this happening in chapter 51
of her novel "Middlemarch" which is set in the 1830s though written
"here an unpleasant egg broke on Mr. Brooke's shoulder [...] then came
a hail of eggs"
New Hampshire - 1830s
"Soon, after an anti-slavery lecture in Plymouth, NH, [Whittier] and
English abolitionist George Thompson, were attacked by a mob in
Concord, pelted with rotten [...] eggs and Whittier was wounded in the
leg by a flying stone."
Canada - 1836
" Mackenzie's meetings were often broken up by loyalists armed with
whatever weapons proved handy. After a speech in Brampton he had to be
taken away by a Doctor Patullo, hurried on by a shower of rotten
Massachusetts - 1839
"[A hall with] windows broken by stones and bad eggs, thrown to break
up antislavery meetings.."
Seattle - 1903
"There was not a sign of riot in town until Humes appointed 18 scabs
as special policemen and armed them with guns and a little brief
authority. Every demonstration was wholly good natured. Nothing worse
than a few eggs thrown."
Ireland - 1906
"Mr. Stephen Gwynn was standing as a member of Parliament for Galway,
and fighting, in the face of rotten eggs and decayed fish"
South Africa - 1919
"...the crowd threw rotten eggs and sang 'God Save The King'" (at
people leading the movement for South Africa's independence from
PUBLIC PUNISHMENT IN ENGLAND
"Market Hill was the medieval centre of Cambridge. Here was the old
guildhall and the prison with stocks and pillory outside. Rotten fruit
and vegetables would be thrown at those being punished. "
"The priest at the time was said to have sold his wife to a butcher,
for which he was pelted with rotten eggs."
"To deter stealing at the fair, the stocks were placed in a prominent
place. Anyone caught stealing was locked in the stocks day and night
without food or water. They became the targets of jeers and rotten
"The pillory turned so that crowds on all sides could get a good view,
and the crowd expressed their disapproval of the offence by pelting
the offender with rotten eggs and vegetables, blood and guts from
slaughterhouses, dead cats, mud and excrement, and even bricks and
stones. Some died from the abuse, despite increasing efforts by
constables to protect the convict, by forming a ring around the
PUNISHMENT IN NORTH AMERICA
"· Pillory - this framework had holes for the criminal's head and
hands to stick through while they stood up. Once locked in they might
get rotten fruit or other items thrown at them. The wrongdoer was
condemned to carry out his punishment in rain or shine or freezing
Canada - 1800
Both pillory and stocks "carried the threat of your fellow citizens
throwing things at you."
19th CENTURY AMERICAN THEATRES
"When Macready toured the colonies, American audiences greeted him
with jeers and rotten eggs."
"When they were displeased, they yelled and hissed and pelted actors
with rotten eggs, stones, and even chairs."
I found thinking about this very interesting and was tempted down
various side alleys like the difference between rotten eggs and eggs
used to celebrate marriage or Easter as symbols of growth and
fertility. I was also interested in the Italian and Spanish festivals
which have a "crowd on the rampage" flavor possibly echoed in some
modern political protests. However, I believe that the main tradition
of hurling eggs, fruit etc. as ideological protest grew up alongside
the well-established "extra punishment" habits in Britain.
Hope this answers your question, but feel free to ask for
clarification if you have a query about what I've written.
Regards - Leli
answer based on prior knowledge plus searches with: