The Victorian Commons would like to wish the Old Bailey Online a happy tenth anniversary! We’re joining fellow bloggers by contributing this post to this weekend’s celebratory blogging event. Our History of Parliament colleague, Ruth Paley, has also written a post which will be appearing here later this weekend.
The proceedings of the Old Bailey might not seem the most obvious research tool for parliamentary historians, but the Old Bailey Online has provided some fascinating insights into some of the 19th century MPs whose biographies we have researched.
We have blogged before about one unfortunate former MP who spent Christmas Day 1857 in Newgate prison and subsequently found himself in the dock at the Old Bailey. Elected MP for Beverley at the 1857 general election, Edward Auchmuty Glover (1815-1862) was unseated by an election petition later that year on the grounds that he did not possess the property qualification then required of MPs. The election petition was heard in the usual way by a committee of the House of Commons. However, Glover was then tried at the Old Bailey for having made a false declaration regarding his qualification, and in April 1858 was sentenced to four months in Newgate prison, although he swiftly secured a transfer to the Queen’s Bench prison. The Old Bailey proceedings shed valuable light on Glover’s financial circumstances and the complex arrangements he made to transfer property from his relatives in an attempt to obtain the necessary qualification. They also, rather more unexpectedly, provide useful details of Commons procedure with regard to the swearing in of new members: the second witness called in the case was Thomas Erskine May, the Clerk Assistant to the Commons, whose name will be familiar to many as the author of the standard handbook on parliamentary practice.
Glover was not the only MP whose name we have uncovered as a defendant at the Old Bailey. William Roupell (1831-1909), Liberal MP for Lambeth, 1857-62, was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 1862 for forging his father’s will. Reported to have been a model prisoner, he was released in 1876, and spent the rest of his life living in suburban Surrey, where he was a keen gardener.
In another intriguing case in the Old Bailey’s records, an MP appears not as a defendant, but as a witness. In October 1846 Edward Davis Protheroe (1798-1852), one of the sitting Liberal MPs for Halifax, brought a case against his former valet, James Newbery, who had tried to blackmail Protheroe by accusing him of ‘an unnatural offence’, threatening to inform his parents of his alleged homosexuality and to expose him at his clubs. Protheroe robustly denied Newbery’s claims ‘respecting different acts of familiarity and indecency having taken place between them’. Newbery was found guilty and sentenced to be transported for 20 years. While this case was reported in the press, the ability to search the Old Bailey Online also turned up evidence of further claims regarding Protheroe’s alleged homosexuality in an otherwise unrelated extortion case in 1850.
The free availability and the ease of searching the Old Bailey Online has been a valuable resource in researching the biographies of these particularly colourful MPs, making a refreshing change from our customary fare in Hansard and the Parliamentary Papers. As we continue our work on the 2,589 MPs elected to Parliament between 1832 and 1868, we look forward to having further opportunities to make use of it.