Category Archives: Biographies

‘A strenuous and able Reformer’: Dr Stephen Lushington (1782-1873)

This month we take a look at Dr Stephen Lushington (1782-1873). One of six anti-slavery campaigners whose names are inscribed on the Buxton Memorial Fountain in London, Lushington famously served as Queen Caroline’s legal counsel in 1820. As MP for … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Thomas Barrett Lennard (1788-1856)

Thomas Barrett Lennard‘s career neatly captures some of the oddities and contradictions of early Victorian politics, especially the survival of older attitudes and beliefs alongside the emergence of more ‘modern’ progressive ideas. Lennard’s campaign to abolish the death penalty for … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Nicholas Aylward Vigors (1785-1840), soldier, scientist and politician

Like many of our MPs, Nicholas Vigors had a varied career, as a soldier, landowner, politician and eminent zoologist. Although best known as a founder and secretary of the Zoological Society of London, Vigors also enjoyed a lively career as … Continue reading

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The MP who founded a town: Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood (1801-66)

Over the past few years, we have highlighted several MPs who, quite apart from their involvement in parliamentary debates and legislation, had a significant personal role in the development of the infrastructure of Victorian Britain. Previous MPs of the Month … Continue reading

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Floods, Plagues and the Second Coming: Charles Augustus Tulk MP

Apocalyptic end days, doomsday scenarios and final judgements were prominent features of many people’s religious beliefs in the 19th century, but a few went further, maintaining that the Second Coming had already taken place. Among them was our MP of … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: William Nugent Macnamara (1776-1856)

By the time he retired from the House of Commons in 1852 William Nugent Macnamara, the long-serving MP for County Clare, was in his late seventies and had taken no practical part in parliamentary business for the previous three years. … Continue reading

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From celebrity to outcast: William Bankes MP (1786-1855)

Originally posted on The History of Parliament:
Today’s blog is the second of three posts to celebrate LGBT+ History Month. In this blog we hear from Dr Philip Salmon, Editor of the House of Commons 1832-1868 project, about William Bankes…

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Lord Ronald Gower (1845-1916): the life of a queer MP at the time of the Second Reform Act

Dr Martin Spychal introduces his new series of blogs for the Victorian Commons on Lord Ronald Gower (1845-1916), who was elected as MP for Sutherland in 1867. Born into ‘the inner circle of English aristocratic life’, Lord Ronald Gower (1845-1916) … Continue reading

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Sir Robert Peel and the modern Conservative party

Today (5 Feb) marks the birthday of Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), the 19th century prime minister traditionally credited with founding the modern Conservative party. Peel is also subject of a new BBC ‘Prime Properties’ episode – click here to view … Continue reading

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From parliamentary reporter to Member of Parliament: Robert Spankie (1774-1842)

January’s MP of the Month takes a look at the unusual pre-parliamentary career of Robert Spankie, who was returned for Finsbury in 1832. A ground-breaking parliamentary reporter during the 1790s, Spankie ascended to the editorship of the Morning Chronicle before re-training as a barrister and serving as a controversial advocate-general of Bengal. Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Thomas Neville Abdy (1810-1877) and electoral misconduct

Thomas Abdy’s political career provides a useful reminder of the chicanery, lies and corruption sometimes associated with 19th century English electioneering – venal traditions that became increasingly unacceptable during the Victorian era. Born into a naval family – his father … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Charles Stanley Monck (1819-94) and Canadian Confederation

Today we mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stanley Monck (1819-94), MP for Portsmouth, 1852-7, who in 1861 found himself at the head of Britain’s North American colonies at a turbulent time in their history. With a … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Sidney Herbert – still dancing to Nightingale’s tune

September’s MP of the Month is Sidney Herbert, who was born on this day (16 September) in 1810 and widely expected to become a Victorian prime minister. Fate, however, cruelly intervened, as Dr Ruscombe Foster, the author of an important … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: William Tooke and the royal charters of the University of London

Following our blogs on the creation of the University of London constituency in 1868 and its first MP, Robert Lowe, August’s MP of the Month is William Tooke. As MP for Truro from 1832, Tooke worked tirelessly to secure a royal charter for the London University (later University College London) in order that it could grant degrees to its students. Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Edward Wyndham Harrington Schenley (1799-1878), Waterloo veteran and millionaire

Today we mark the anniversary of the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo by recalling the eventful life of the Dartmouth MP, Edward Schenley (1799-1878), who as a boy was severely wounded in that campaign, yet through his … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: John Fenton (1791-1863)

In 1832 John Fenton, a Nonconformist Whig from a local banking and textile manufacturing family, was elected as the first MP for his native Rochdale, which had been given a parliamentary seat by the 1832 Reform Act. He lost to … Continue reading

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The representation of Devon and Cornwall after reform, 1832-68

Last week the History of Parliament and the Devon and Cornwall Record Society hosted a conference at Exeter on ‘The South West and Parliament’. Dr Martin Spychal of the Victorian Commons spoke at the event, and today provides an overview of … Continue reading

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The Disruption, Parliament and Conservative division: Alexander Campbell (1811-1869)

In May 1843 a schism in the Church of Scotland, better known as the Disruption, led to the creation of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland. It was the culmination of a decade-long conflict over the ability of parishioners to appoint their minister, and wider concerns over state interference with the Scottish Church. April’s MP of the Month is the Conservative MP for Argyllshire, Alexander Campbell, who was one of the founding elders of the Free Church. His ruthless electioneering in Argyllshire from 1836, eventual election in 1841, and failed legislative attempts to prevent the breakup of the Church placed the looming controversy at the centre of parliamentary politics. It also revealed irreconcilable differences between the Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel and one of his few Scottish backbenchers. Continue reading

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Ethnic minorities in Parliament: a new addition to the Victorian Commons

In our research on the membership of the House of Commons between 1832 and 1868, we previously identified two non-white MPs: John Stewart, MP for Lymington, 1832-47, the illegitimate son of a West Indian plantation owner, who was probably of … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Sir Charles Tilston Bright (1832-1888), pioneering telegraph engineer

An important aspect of our study of the reformed Commons is the degree to which representatives of science and industry were incorporated into the legislature during a period of great economic expansion. Our MP of the Month was among those … Continue reading

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Electoral malpractice and uncivil political speech: the case of Alfred Seymour MP

Our ‘MP of the Month’ blog highlights some themes still fresh in our minds after attending a conference on corruption at Oxford Brookes University. Alfred Seymour (1824-1888) was the younger brother of the better known archaeologist and explorer Henry Danby … Continue reading

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Innovation, corruption and bankruptcy: Charles John Mare (1814-1898)

Charles John Mare (1814-1898) was an innovative East End shipbuilder. Thought to be a millionaire when he was returned for Plymouth in 1852, his election proved the apex of his career. He was unseated for bribery in 1853, and declared bankrupt, for the first of four times, in 1855. Continue reading

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Lord Derby, ‘centre’ parties and minority government

150 years ago the Conservative prime minister Lord Derby retired from office, having managed to pass one of the most significant constitutional reform packages of the 19th century – despite leading a minority government. This post examines the career of … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: George Williams (1765-1850) and Ashton-under-Lyne

In December 1832 the voters of Ashton-under-Lyne elected George Williams, ‘a Radical Reformer’, as the first MP for their newly enfranchised constituency. Born in Newfoundland, Williams had joined the British army in North America in 1777, aged just 12. After … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Peter Rolt (1798-1882), the man who built HMS Warrior

A successful Deptford timber merchant, Peter Rolt rose to eminence as a dockyard contractor and became one of the greatest of London’s shipbuilders. He was elected as Conservative MP for Greenwich in 1852. An ebullient character who was known for … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Josiah Wedgwood (1769-1843)

Our MP of the Month has a special significance for the History of Parliament Trust, being the great-grandfather (and namesake) of our founder, Josiah Wedgwood MP. This year the History of Parliament is marking the 75th anniversary of the death … Continue reading

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‘So much for the behaviour of the first assemblage of gentlemen’: views from parliament by a Devonshire Tory

Our Victorian MP of the Month is the Conservative MP for Devonshire South, Montagu Parker. His correspondence with his mother between 1835 and 1841 provides a fascinating perspective on life at Westminster. Montagu Edmund Newcombe Parker (1807-1858) is best known … Continue reading

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Imagery and props: the Wellington boot, Disraeli’s novels and Gladstone’s axe

Our research fellow Dr. Martin Spychal shares some insights from his work on the BBC Radio 4 series, Prime Ministers’ Props… I’ve recently been working with our former editorial board member, Professor Sir David Cannadine on the second series of … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Henry Fawcett (1833-84)

Continuing our recent focus on the personalities and campaigns associated with ‘votes for women’, our MP of the Month highlights the remarkable career of Henry Fawcett, husband of the leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), whose statue was unveiled in Parliament … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: The ‘strange career’ of John Townsend (1819-1892)

Once a successful auctioneer and undertaker, Townsend’s short and controversial parliamentary career as MP for Greenwich ended in 1859 after a protracted struggle to escape bankruptcy. His ‘strange career’ was, however, far from over and he subsequently found fame in … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: John Barton Willis Fleming (1781-1844)

With modern electioneering tactics currently attracting so much scrutiny at home and abroad, our Victorian MP of the Month focuses on a notorious election fixer or ‘boroughmonger’, whose activities increasingly pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. His refusal to answer … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Andrew Carew O’Dwyer (1801-1877)

Many of our recent posts have focused on the way barriers to the franchise were gradually removed in the 19th century, but it is worth noting that there were also many barriers to becoming a Victorian MP. One of these … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, Earl Grosvenor (1825-1899)

Continuing our celebration of the 150th anniversary of the 1867 Reform Act, November’s MP of the Month focuses on one of the most enigmatic figures in the reform crisis of 1866-67, the property-owning magnate and multi-millionaire Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, later … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: John Tomlinson Hibbert (1824-1908)

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the passing of the 1867 Reform Act. Introduced by Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Derby’s Conservative government, it added around a million voters to the register, primarily in borough constituencies. This greatly exceeded the … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Sir Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton (1806-81)

Many of our recent ‘MP of the Month’ posts have focused on self-made men from non-élite backgrounds. Their numbers on the back benches and contribution to the practical business of Parliament (especially in committee) grew dramatically during the Victorian era. … Continue reading

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‘The son of one of the best men who ever adorned the country’: William Wilberforce (1798-1879)

Trading heavily on his family name, William Wilberforce (1798-1879), eldest son and namesake of the noted anti-slave trade campaigner, was elected in 1837 as Conservative MP for Kingston-upon-Hull, which his father had represented from 1780 until 1784. During one election … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: From pot boy to parliamentarian – John Lloyd Davies (1801-60)

Of all the ‘self-made’ men who made the mid-nineteenth century House of Commons distinct from earlier periods, few can have begun life in such humble circumstances as John Lloyd Davies, MP for Cardigan Boroughs from 1855-7. The son of a … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Charles Capper (1822-1869)

Continuing with our recent theme of unlikely parliamentarians, our MP of the Month is Charles Capper, the son of a Manchester weaver. Capper made his fortune in the shipping industry, and wrote a notable history of the port of London, … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: John Gully (1783-1863)

Following on from the History of Parliament’s blog series on ‘Unlikely parliamentarians’ to mark Parliament Week 2016, our MP of the Month is another unlikely parliamentarian. John Gully, ‘an advanced reformer’, served as MP for Pontefract for five years from … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: James Lamont (1828-1913), Arctic explorer and scientist

Our MP of the Month blog for October comes from Dr Matthew McDowell, of the University of Edinburgh, who has contributed to our 1832-68 project with articles on Buteshire and its MPs. In this guest blog, he explores the career … Continue reading

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MP of the month: James Barlow Hoy (1794-1843)

As biographies of long-forgotten politicians go, this month’s MP ticks all the boxes, offering an extraordinary rags-to-riches tale, the beginnings of a brilliant political career accompanied by fraud and bankruptcy, and even an allegation of murder. Hoy, or Barlow as … Continue reading

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‘The sagacity of the elephant, as well as the form’: MP of the Month, George Ward Hunt (1825-77)

The recent rise of a certain parson’s daughter to the premiership provides a fitting opportunity to consider the unexpected ascent of a parson’s son to one of the great offices of state during the 1860s – George Ward Hunt, Conservative … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Daniel Gaskell (1782-1875)

Our Victorian Commons project is shedding new light on the increasingly important role played in the behind-the-scenes business of the post-1832 House of Commons, particularly in the committee-rooms, by MPs who came from non-elite backgrounds. While a family inheritance enabled … Continue reading

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An ‘upstart from the ranks’: MP of the Month, John Thomas Norris (1808-70)

Norris’s political career illustrates a number of the striking developments being explored in our work on the Victorian Commons, including the ever-expanding number of ‘non-elite’ MPs; the role of town council elections as a stepping stone to Parliament; and the … Continue reading

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A family affair: the Knightleys and Northamptonshire South, 1832-1868

The double-member county division of Northamptonshire South is often associated with the Spencer family, most notably Viscount Althorp (later the third Earl Spencer and older brother of Princess Diana’s great-great-grandfather), who played a key role in the reforming ministry of … Continue reading

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From ‘true blue’ Tory to Reformer: Samuel Adlam Bayntun (1804-1833)

While our MP of the Month sat only briefly in the Commons after 1832, his parliamentary career provides valuable insights into two important aspects of nineteenth-century politics: the fluidity of party labels and the influence which money had in the … Continue reading

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MP of the month: Rowland Alston (1782-1865)

Rowland Alston’s career provides a useful illustration of just how diverse (and to a modern eye incongruous) the political outlook of MPs in the same party could be before the development of more formal modern political allegiances. It also serves … Continue reading

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‘A kindhearted savage of a man’: Arthur Wills Blundell Sandys Trumbull Windsor Hill, Earl of Hillsborough (1812-68)

While the Reformed Commons undoubtedly contained men who had broken the sixth commandment, most had done so while licensed by military service. The Earl of Hillsborough, however, appears to have been responsible for the death of at least one man … Continue reading

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MP of the month: William Pinney and another kind of ‘slavery election’

William Pinney’s career as an MP serves as an important reminder of the legacy of slave ownership in British public life and the very different attitudes to electoral corruption that existed in the nineteenth century, even among radically-inclined Liberals. In Pinney’s … Continue reading

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MP of the Month: Benjamin Rotch (1793-1854)

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Rotch, Whig MP for Knaresborough from 1832 until 1835. This quirky character, described by one contemporary as a man who ‘would resort to any wily expedient to attain his own ends’, … Continue reading

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