Live long and prosper: longevity among nineteenth-century MPs

As we continue our research on the 2,589 MPs who were elected to Parliament between 1832 and 1868, we are assembling a fascinating range of statistics. Some of the most interesting we have come across recently relate to the longevity of nineteenth-century parliamentarians.

Earliest date of birth:

Among the MPs we have researched to date, the earliest date of birth is 18 February 1755. Sir Charles Cockerell (1755-1837) had first been returned as an MP in 1802 for the rotten borough of Tregony in Cornwall. He was re-elected for Evesham (where he had sat since 1831) at the 1832 general election, and continued to represent this constituency – albeit as a silent member – until his death on 6 January 1837.

Latest date of death:

The last survivor of our 1832-68 MPs did not die until 3 July 1931, meaning that the lives of our MPs span well over a century and a half. The leading Conservative politician William Hart Dyke (1837-1931) first entered Parliament for West Kent in 1865 and spent over 40 years in the Commons until his defeat at Dartford (which he had represented since 1885) at the 1906 general election.

Earliest parliamentary service:

Although Sir Charles Cockerell appears to have been the oldest MP to re-enter Parliament in 1832, several of his fellow MPs had first served in Parliament long before him. The earliest of these were returned at the 1784 general election: Michael Angelo Taylor (1757-1834), who was elected in 1832 for the venal borough of Sudbury, had first been returned almost half a century earlier for Poole. Also first elected in 1784, for Maidstone, was Sir Gerard Noel Noel (1759-1838), who was re-elected in 1832 for Rutland, the county he had represented since 1788 (with a gap in service from 1808-14).

Notable gaps in service:

Interestingly, there are around a dozen MPs to be researched for our 1832-68 project who feature in the History of Parliament’s 1790-1820 volumes, but who did not sit between 1820 and 1832. Of these, the first to enter Parliament was John Angerstein (?1774-1858), who represented Camelford from 1796 until 1802, but was not re-elected until 1835, when he became MP for Greenwich.

Also notable in this respect is Sir William Scott (1803-1871), who served as MP for Carlisle from February 1829 until 1830, but then remained out of Parliament until 1859 when he was elected for Roxburghshire, which he represented until forced to retire on health grounds in 1870.

Longest survivor after his first election:

Lord Elcho (1818-1914)

Francis Richard Charteris (1818-1914), better known as the leading Adullamite, Lord Elcho, was first elected for Gloucestershire East in 1841, and subsequently sat for Haddingtonshire from 1847 until 1883. He died on 30 June 1914 (when he held the title of Earl of Wemyss and March), just short of the 73rd anniversary of his election in 1841, a record which remains unsurpassed.

Long-serving MPs:

Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot (1803-1890)

Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot (1803-1890)

We have previously blogged about the veteran Welsh MP, Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot (1803-1890), who represented Glamorgan as a Whig/Liberal from 1830 until 1885, and then sat for Mid Glamorgan (latterly as a Liberal Unionist) until his death in 1890. His unbroken sixty year service was outstripped by his successor as Father of the House, Charles Pelham Villiers (1802-1898), who represented Wolverhampton from 1835 until his death in 1898, when he was the last remaining MP to have served under William IV. Another notable parliamentarian in terms of monarchical reigns was William Spencer Thomas Wentworth Fitzwilliam (1815-1902). Like Villiers, he sat in the Commons under William IV (having been elected in January 1837 for his family’s pocket borough of Malton) and Queen Victoria, but, by this time sitting in the Lords as Earl Fitzwilliam, he survived to see the first Parliament of Edward VII’s reign.

Survivors of the pre-Reform Commons:

We have recently completed the biographies of the last three survivors of the pre-Reform Commons, two of whom were members of the House of Lords at the time of their death. William David Murray, Earl of Mansfield (1806-1898), who died in August 1898, had sat for Aldborough, 1830-1, Woodstock, 1831-2, Norwich, 1832-7, and Perthshire, 1837-40. His fellow Conservative, Algernon George Percy, Duke of Northumberland (1810-1899), died on 2 January 1899. As Lord Lovaine, he had sat in the pre-Reform Commons for Bere Alston, 1831-2, and then represented Northumberland North between 1852 and 1865.

The last survivor of the pre-Reform Commons was John George Savile, Earl of Mexborough (1810-99), who as an Irish peer did not sit in the Lords. Mexborough died on 17 August 1899. As Viscount Pollington he had been elected for the borough of Gatton at the 1831 general election, despite having not yet reached his 21st birthday. When that borough was disfranchised in 1832, he did not immediately seek a return to Parliament. Instead he embarked on extensive travels in Europe and Asia, but re-entered the Commons as Conservative MP for Pontefract, 1835-7 and 1841-7, before retiring due to his father’s serious financial problems. Two fellow Conservative MPs immortalised the scholarly and well-travelled Pollington in their novels: Alexander Kinglake featured him, thinly disguised as Lord Methley, in his 1844 work Eothen; or Traces of travel brought home from the East, and Pollington and his wife provided inspiration for the characters of Lord and Lady Gaverstock in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby, published the same year.

For details on how to access draft biographies of the MPs already completed for our 1832-68 project, see here. Thanks are due to Stephen Lees for his assistance with some of the statistics featured in this blog.

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