Christmas at Newgate: Edward Glover MP and the abolition of the property qualification

Less than nine months after he had been elected as MP for Beverley at the 1857 general election, Edward Auchmuty Glover found himself spending Christmas Day in Newgate prison, having been arrested two days earlier. This energetic Irish barrister had made quite an impression when he first took his seat in the Commons, with one observer recollecting that he was ‘rather tall, stoutly made, and, on the whole, of passable appearance. He affected rather the swell – wore a hat with a curled brim, and a rather ponderous watch-chain’. Yet having finally secured a seat at Westminster after several failed candidatures, Glover’s enjoyment of his position was short-lived. He was unseated on petition in August 1857 on the grounds that he did not meet the property qualification then required of MPs. Since the 1711 Property Qualifications Act membership of the Commons had been restricted to those receiving an income of £600 a year from land for county MPs, and £300 a year for borough MPs. The rules had been amended in 1838 to include income from personal as well as landed property. (The 1838 Act (1 & 2 Vict., c. 48) did not apply to Scotland, university seats or the eldest sons of peers.)

View of Newgate prison

View of Newgate prison

Glover had first been a candidate for Beverley in 1852. His subsequent attempts to win a seat ‘at several places… professing any political creed that might happen to favour his success’, created the unfavourable impression that he was an inconsistent political adventurer. By the time he stood again at Beverley in 1857 he had lost the support of many local Conservatives. His campaigning was overshadowed by claims that he lacked the necessary property qualification, and when he went out riding the day before the nomination, it was rumoured that he had stolen the horse and fled. He did, however, appear as a candidate, but was served with a demand to state his qualification, which he duly did in front of a magistrate.

It was this declaration which saw Glover end up in prison after his unseating. The committee which examined the election petition against him found that neither the English nor the Irish properties on which he based his property qualification were valid for that purpose. As Glover had – after languishing for over nine months in an Irish debtors’ prison – been declared insolvent by the Irish courts in 1850, his Irish property was no longer under his control. Some relatives had nominally conveyed properties in Kent to him – a not uncommon way for MPs to acquire their qualification – but these were found to be so heavily mortgaged that they too were ineligible. As Glover had apparently been aware of these facts, the committee recommended that the Attorney-General should pursue the matter of his false declaration, which led to his arrest.

Bailed shortly after Christmas, Glover was tried at the Central Criminal Court in April 1858. He was found guilty of making a false declaration, but the jury recommended mercy, noting that this was the first prosecution of its kind and that Glover was by no means the only MP whose qualification rested on shaky foundations. Swayed to leniency, the judge sentenced Glover to four months in Newgate. He was later transferred to the Queen’s Bench prison. Emerging doubts about whether the Kent properties might in fact qualify Glover prompted an appeal from several of the jurors in his case to release him, but this fell on deaf ears. When he secured an early release on health grounds in July 1858, he was ‘loudly cheered’ by fellow inmates upon his departure.

The law regarding property qualifications had, meanwhile, been repealed the previous month, making the unfortunate Glover the last MP to be unseated on this score. One of the Chartist movement’s ‘six points’, the question of abolishing this rule had been discussed by the Commons on several previous occasions. In February 1837 Sir William Molesworth had claimed that half of MPs had ‘fictitious qualifications’, and were not the true owners of the properties which formed the basis of their right to sit. Abolition had been included in Lord John Russell’s parliamentary reform proposals in 1852, and had been the subject of several backbench bills in the 1850s. However, it was the furore around Glover’s case which provided ‘the death-blow’. His imprisonment provoked ‘a strong feeling of sympathy’, not least because of the sense that he was an unfortunate scapegoat in a system which had become ‘a mere sham’. Repeal came too late for Glover, whose subsequent attempts to re-enter Parliament floundered. He died in 1862. Yet while his parliamentary service was fleeting, his role as the catalyst for the abolition of the property qualification meant that he had a major impact on the nineteenth-century Commons.

For details on how to access a full biography of Glover through our preview site, see here.

Suggested reading

W.L. Burn, ‘Property qualifications in the House of Commons’, Parliamentary Affairs (1948-9), ii. 274-83.

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1 Response to Christmas at Newgate: Edward Glover MP and the abolition of the property qualification

  1. Pingback: MP of the Month: Andrew Carew O’Dwyer (1801-1877) | The Victorian Commons

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