Researching Victorian MPs online: dictionaries of national biography

In the past five years or so there has been an explosion in the number of historical resources available online, whose content can be searched with just one click of a mouse. In researching MPs who sat in the Commons between 1832 and 1868, we have benefited greatly from this profound change in the online availability of not only digitised nineteenth-century sources, but also the very latest biographical studies of prominent Victorians. The wealth of information that can be gleaned from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is well known, but what is perhaps less well known is the rich seam of knowledge concerning Victorian politicians that can be mined from other countries’ online dictionaries of national biography.

Many Victorian MPs had business interests across the British empire or went on to pursue careers in colonial administration. We therefore regularly make use of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (, and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography ( For example, while researching the career of Henry Barkly, MP for Leominster from 1845 to 1848, the Australian Dictionary of Biography provided a wealth of information about his governorship of Victoria, as well as giving a telling insight into his personal character (

Happily, these excellent, fully searchable online resources are entirely free to use; no subscription or university affiliation is required. They therefore provide a useful companion to our biographies, which focus mainly on parliamentary careers.

For more information about our project and how to access our preview site, please see here.

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