The height of the abstentionist movement in England was in the late 19th century. In 1882 the Blue Ribbon Army was established, who proclaimed their abhorrence of alcohol by wearing a bright blue ribbon on their left buttonhole. Supporters called them Blue Ribbonites but those who were convinced that their proclamation of abstinence was all front called them Blue Ribbon Fakers. Either way, by 1886 the practice of wearing a blue ribbon had gone out of fashion.
Perhaps the goal of ridding the country of the demon drink was the equivalent of looking for Blue Roses. This rather poetic turn of phrase was used to describe something which was unattainable. Other variants used included blue dahlias or a tortoiseshell tom cat.
Bobby is still used as a slang term for a policeman, an abbreviation of Robert Peel’s name, the man who organized the guardians of the law on a more professional footing. In Scottish slang it meant a faithful person, after Greyfriars Bobby. This Bobby was a devoted little dog, a terrier, who faithfully kept watch over the grave of his unknown master in the strangers’ corner of Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh for a dozen years or so. So moved was Lady Burdett Coutts by the dog’s devotion that she erected a little monument in his memory.
Trouble with the Irish Fenians has a long pedigree. In 1868 in a period of especial alarm volunteers or special constables were recruited to augment the police. They were known as Bobby’s labourers as the did the work of the bobbies, the regular policemen.
And before we leave Bob and its variants behind, Bob, Harry and Dick was a bit of rhyming slang dating from 1868, used to describe being sick, usually as a result of over imbibing. Seek out Blue Roses in vain!