Beware the turnip! Unusual causes of death among Victorian MPs

Our MP of the Month, Sir William Payne Gallwey, died on this day in 1881 after suffering a rather unusual accident…

On 19 December 1881 the former Conservative MP for Thirsk, Sir William Payne Gallwey, died following an accident while out shooting on his estate at Thirkleby Park, near Thirsk. He was not the only MP to die while pursuing this hobby: James Platt, Liberal MP for Oldham, died after the mayor of Oldham discharged his gun accidentally while they were out with a shooting party on the moors near Saddleworth. Platt was hit in the lower leg and suffered extensive blood loss, expiring just over an hour later.


Sir Ralph Frankland Payne Gallwey, son of Sir William Payne Gallwey. Image credit: NPG

In Gallwey’s case, however, it was not a firearm which caused his demise, but a turnip. As the Northern Echo reported, he ‘was out shooting in the parish of Bagby, and in crossing a turnip field fell with his body on to a turnip, sustaining severe internal injuries’. Although ‘all that medical aid could do was done’, Gallwey, who was 73 years old, was already in failing health and did not recover. He died at his home at Thirkleby Park and was buried in the local parish church three days later.

The manner of Gallwey’s death did not deter his son Ralph, who succeeded him as baronet, from pursuing his own passion for shooting. He even wrote several books on the subject, including The book of duck decoys (1886) and High pheasants in theory and practice (1913).

Gallwey’s death occurred the year after his retirement from Parliament. He had represented Thirsk from March 1851 until he stepped down at the 1880 general election. Prior to 1832 this constituency had been firmly under the control of the Frankland family, who owned 49 of the 50 properties which qualified their occupants to vote under the ‘burgage’ franchise. As a small borough, Thirsk lost one of its two seats in 1832, but Sir Robert Frankland (later Frankland Russell), who had been one of the MPs since 1815, was re-elected for the single seat in 1832, before retiring in 1834. Two other local landowners, Samuel Crompton and John Bell, then served in turn as MP. Although a commission of lunacy declared John Bell to be ‘of unsound mind’ in 1849, he remained as MP until his death in March 1851.

Lawrence, Thomas, 1769-1830; Sir Robert Frankland Russell (1784-1849), 7th Bt

Sir Robert Frankland Russell, by Thomas Lawrence. Image credit: Chequers Court

The ensuing by-election gave Gallwey, a former army officer, an opportunity to enter Parliament. His connection to Thirsk came through his marriage in 1847 to Emily, the third daughter of Sir Robert Frankland Russell. Gallwey’s father-in-law had died in 1849, leaving no sons, and it was therefore his widow, Lady Frankland Russell, who attended to the family’s electoral interests, another example of the female political influence we have blogged about before. She secured the agreement of the Bell family, the other major local landowners who wielded electoral power, to return her nominee at the long-anticipated by-election following Bell’s death. While Sir Robert Frankland had been elected as ‘a moderate Reformer’ in 1832, his political sympathies had shifted after his retirement from the Commons, and Disraeli described him in 1836 as ‘a Whig who has become Conservative’. Gallwey shared these political views, issuing an address ‘on Protectionist, Protestant, and moderate Conservative principles’ before his unopposed return in 1851. He was returned without a contest at every subsequent election until 1868, when he saw off a Liberal challenge, and again with no poll in 1874.

Despite spending almost three decades in Parliament, Gallwey failed to impress with his speaking abilities. The Northern Echo observed scathingly that

‘although he has heard the burning words of Mr Gladstone, the polished satire of Mr Disraeli, the sustained eloquence of John Bright, and the incisive epigrams of Mr Lowe, he has never acquired the art of public speaking’.

He was, however, praised in 1865 by Punch for his efforts – thwarted by the railway interest – to improve railway safety by forcing railway companies to provide some method of communication between passengers and guards.

McGregor, Robert, 1847-1922; The Turnip Field

The Turnip Field, by Robert McGregor (1847–1922). Image credit: Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Strange though it may seem, Gallwey is not the only MP whose death involved a turnip. In November 1833 the Whig MP for Huddersfield, Lewis Fenton, elected for his native borough during a riotous contest the previous year, fell from one of the upper windows of his home at Spring Grove. He landed in the courtyard below at around 8:30 a.m., and died later that morning from his injuries. Press reports suggested that there was ‘considerable mystery’ surrounding the circumstances of his death, hinting at suicide, but the ensuing inquest returned a verdict of accidental death. As Fenton’s widow explained to the surgeon who tended him, Fenton had been in the habit of going into the attic to look at ‘a piece of ground where some turnips were growing, to see that none of his cows were trespassing in it’. He had apparently over-balanced while standing on a chair to look out of the window. Other evidence showed that Fenton had been in a cheerful mood the evening before his death, when he had drafted a speech for a forthcoming meeting regarding a testimonial to the anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce.

Having looked at some deaths of MPs involving vegetables, we conclude with a death for which an animal was responsible. The Hon. Henry Handcock, the youngest son of the Irish peer, Lord Castlemaine, had served with distinction in the Crimean War and sat in Parliament as MP for his native Athlone, 1856-7. He was subsequently posted to India as aide-de-camp to the governor of Madras. Like Gallwey, Handcock was out shooting when he suffered the accident which led to his death in December 1858, his quarry being ‘various kinds of wild animals’ in the jungle near Bandipore. When his party came across a tiger, Handcock could not resist the opportunity to shoot it, even though, as press reports observed, ‘it is not considered prudent to attack a tiger at all, unless from the back of a trained elephant, nor even then without the aid of a considerable party’. Handcock’s foolhardiness cost him his life, for when he moved closer to fire further shots at the tiger, which was lying down, apparently mortally injured, it attacked him, causing three large wounds and seven smaller ones. Despite medical assistance, he died three days later, aged just 24.

For details about how to access the biographies of Gallwey and other MPs being researched for the 1832-68 project, see here.

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Elections and electioneering, 1832-1868

As voters across the country head to the polls this month, we thought it was an ideal opportunity to look back at some of the research on 19th century elections we have featured in our blogs over the past few years. These draw on our work for the History of Parliament’s House of Commons, 1832-68 project, which is producing biographical profiles of the 2,591 MPs who sat between the first and second Reform Acts and accounts of the 401 constituencies in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales across the nine general elections which took place during this period. You can find more details about our project here.

The system under which electors cast their votes between 1832 and 1868 was very different in many ways from the modern British electoral system. As our editor, Philip Salmon, explains in this post, before the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, voters cast their votes in public rather than in private. With a limited electorate (around one-fifth of the adult male population), a key argument for open voting was that it enabled non-electors to scrutinise the votes of those entrusted with the franchise. As one candidate put it in 1841,

“The vote is public property, the elector is only a trustee, and you the non-electors have the right to scrutinise and to direct the exercise of the voter’s function”.

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The hustings at a Tynemouth election

Before the 1872 Ballot Act, the candidates for each constituency were proposed and seconded at the nomination, which usually took place on a hustings platform erected temporarily for that purpose. Electors and non-electors, both male and female, attended the hustings and other election events such as the declaration of the poll. The participation of women in elections, despite their formal exclusion from the franchise, has featured in several of our blogs. This post on elections at Peterborough – where the voters had to endure five contests in the space of seven years – looked at George Whalley’s tactic of targeting the wives, sisters and daughters of electors who, it was hoped, would persuade their male relatives to vote for him. At Lyme Regis, meanwhile, the Liberal MP, William Pinney, included the pioneering fossil hunter Mary Anning among his supporters.


‘The Election at Eatanswill’ by Phiz, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836)

Elections were often lively events, and the vivid descriptions of electioneering in the fictional borough of Eatanswill in the Pickwick Papers were inspired by Charles Dickens’s experiences of reporting on contemporary elections, including the 1835 Northamptonshire North by-election. He complained on polling day that:

“the noise and confusion here … is so great that my head is splitting … the voters … are drinking and guzzling and howling and roaring in every house of entertainment there is.”

The corruption of the 19th century electoral system has been a recurrent theme in our blogs, with over 400 election petitions alleging bribery, treating and other election misdemeanours heard by election committees in the Commons between 1832 and 1868. Our assistant editor, Kathryn Rix, considered the amount of parliamentary time and effort which this problem consumed in this post. The 1865 election at Totnes not only saw one candidate challenge the other to a duel, but also prompted an election inquiry which found that bribes of up to £200 had been offered. Another MP who spent excessively to secure his return was the shipbuilder Charles Mare, elected for Plymouth in 1852, unseated for bribery in 1853 and declared bankrupt – for the first of four times – in 1855. Totnes and Plymouth also featured in this analysis of politics in Devon and Cornwall from our research fellow Martin Spychal.

One of the aspects of the 19th century electoral system which is often overlooked is that, prior to 1885, the majority of constituencies – counties and boroughs – elected two members. With two votes each, voters could choose to support two candidates from the same party (a straight vote), share their votes between candidates from different parties (a split vote) or cast just one vote (a plump). The impact of this on voting behaviour is analysed in this blog on the mathematics of Victorian representation. Another feature of 19th century elections which has now disappeared is the existence of university seats. The rationale for the creation of the University of London seat in 1867 is explored here.

Before voters even got as far as the poll, a show of hands would be taken at the hustings to gauge the level of support for the rival candidates. Non-electors as well electors took part in this ritual, and it was therefore not unusual for the outcome of the poll to differ significantly from the result of the show of hands. More unusual, however, were cases where popular candidates at the show of hands subsequently polled no votes at all, a paradox discussed by our research fellow Stephen Ball. Among the other quirky election cases we have uncovered in our research are the Wakefield election where the victorious MP was unseated because he was technically still the returning officer at the time of his election, and the Huntingdonshire election where two candidates polled exactly the same number of votes. Both were declared elected, but after a scrutiny of the poll, one of them had his name expunged from the parliamentary record.

For more on the theme of 19th century elections, see

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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.

Albyns, Essex

Born into a naval family – his father was a captain who had married an admiral’s daughter – Abdy initially trained for the bar before inheriting vast family estates in Essex, including the Jacobean manor of Albyns in 1840. His ‘extensive landed means’ were put to ample use at the 1841 election, when he stood for the Essex borough of Maldon. Here the number of freemen voters had been greatly reduced by the 1832 Reform Act, enabling money to become ‘the best patron’ as bribery became much easier to manage. Abdy described himself as a ‘warm friend’ to the Liberals, but his obfuscation on some key issues, including the protectionist corn laws that he wished to ‘adjust’ but not ‘entirely repeal’, was eagerly seized on by his Tory opponents. They accused him of making statements ‘suited to all parties’ in order to ‘catch every fish that floats in the political ocean’.

Fake and misleading hand-bills were circulated by both sides purporting to have been produced by their political opponents. At one point Abdy was even threatened with being horse-whipped. Although he lost his election by 33 votes, he secured 290 ‘plumps’ or single votes. It was only the split voting of some electors, who cast one of their votes for Abdy but gave their second vote to one of his rivals, that cost him the seat.

“Falsehoods circulated by the Blues”, election hand-bill, 1847

Following his 1841 defeat, Adby set up the South Essex Reform Registration Association and became a leading figure in promoting and funding Liberal registration activity. This aimed to both recruit new Liberal supporters on to the electoral rolls and remove as many Tories as possible, by lodging legal challenges against their qualifications in the annual registration courts, even if these were just speculative or ‘vexatious’. ‘Watch the registration’, Abdy implored the Maldon branch of the new association. ‘Success depends not on the day of election, but … the registration courts’. The strategy worked. At the 1847 general election a Liberal candidate ousted Tory MPs in South Essex and in Maldon, despite more ‘falsehoods’ and fake hand-bills allegedly being distributed by the Tory ‘Blues’ .

Abdy, meanwhile, opted to stand for Lyme Regis in Dorset, where there was local interest in the railway schemes in which he was involved as a railway director. He was backed by the borough’s former MP William Pinney, who had been unseated for bribing electors with cheap loans in 1842. Abdy’s promises to employ voters on railways and his lavish ‘treating’ with beer, food and entertainment secured his return by just three votes. His Tory opponent, however, immediately lodged a petition against the result, alleging foul play.

What happened next exposed details of ‘borough-mongering’ that surprised even some of the most battle-hardened Victorian electioneers. The inquiry into the petition discovered that it had been sponsored and bankrolled by John Attwood, the newly elected Tory MP for Harwich. A ‘self-made’ Birmingham ironmaster, Attwood had purchased the splendid Hylands House estate in South Essex in 1839 and become a staunch rival of Abdy in local Essex politics. It also emerged that Attwood had been buying up properties in Lyme Regis in order to create a ‘pocket borough’ for government use, with a view to securing himself a peerage.

Abdy’s lawyers immediately set about arguing that the petition from Abdy’s Tory opponent, in these circumstances, ‘was not bona fide’. Before the inquiry could rule, however, Attwood got the petition withdrawn, leaving the committee with no choice but to declare Abdy duly elected, despite his own electoral misdemeanours. Abdy’s subsequent campaign for an investigation of Attwood’s misconduct in Lyme Regis, for which he brought up a petition to the Commons, 4 Apr. 1848, came to nothing, but much to his glee Attwood was unseated for ‘corrupt practices’ in his own constituency of Harwich later that year.

By now it was clear that Abdy’s tenure as MP for Lyme Regis would be brief. His promises of railway employment had not been forthcoming, thanks in part to the collapse of the railway investment bubble, prompting local complaints about his ‘treachery’ and ‘lies’. As well as having to cover his own railway losses, Abdy was liable for the very substantial costs of defending his election on petition. In 1849 he was also sued by agents for unpaid election debts at Maldon totalling over £5,000. By the time of the next general election, in 1852, he was in no position to defend his seat at Lyme Regis, which Pinney took over, and he retired to his estates.

Abdy made no attempt to re-enter the Commons until 1868, when, shortly after coming into yet another ‘highly profitable’ family inheritance, he stood for the newly created constituency of Essex East. He was defeated in fourth place. Two years later he came forward for a vacancy at Colchester, only to withdraw.

The constituency of Lyme Regis was abolished for electoral corruption in 1868, when both Harwich and Maldon were partially disfranchised for similar reasons. John Attwood never sat again after 1849 or obtained his peerage. In December 1849, however, the Whig-Liberal government of Lord John Russell gave Abdy a baronetcy, which still exists today.

Further reading:

K. Rix, ‘The Second Reform Act and the problem of electoral corruption’, Parliamentary History, 36:1 (2017), 64-81

K. Rix, ‘“The elimination of corrupt practices in British elections”? Reassessing the impact of the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act’, English Historical Review, CXXIII (2008), 65-97

‘Electoral reform and the political modernization of England’, Parliaments, Estates, and Representation, xxiii (2003), 49-67 VIEW

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Parliament versus the People: the Newport rising of 1839

The History of Parliament

Today marks the 180th anniversary of the Newport rising when government forces and Welsh Chartists clashed in the town of Newport. Here’s Dr Philip Salmon, editor of our House of Commons 1832-68 project, with more…

The Newport rising ranks alongside the Peterloo massacre as an iconic episode in the struggle for popular political rights in pre-democratic Britain. In November 1839 around 10,000 disaffected and poorly paid workers, mainly Monmouthshire miners and ironworkers, marched on Newport hoping to free local Chartist leaders from arrest and, according to some, take over the town as a prelude to ‘revolution’. Their actions followed Parliament’s refusal to consider a Chartist petition signed by 1.3 million people demanding workers’ political rights – the so-called ‘People’s Charter’.

Unlike those who had marched at Peterloo twenty years earlier, however, many of the Newport protesters were armed – most with pikes and makeshift weapons, but some…

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

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Charles Stanley Monck (image credit: Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec)

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 combination of shrewdness and practical common sense he guided them towards confederation as the new dominion of Canada.

Monck was the eldest son of the Hon. Charles Joseph Kelly Monck, of Belleville, county Tipperary, who in September 1848 succeeded his elder brother as 3rd Viscount Monck of Charleville. The Moncks were Wicklow landowners, but Monck himself did not expect to succeed to the family titles and estates when he began his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1836. A ‘hail-fellow’ and unconventional dresser, whose ideas were considered ‘too democratic’ by his peers, he trained for the law and was called to the Irish bar in 1841. He does not appear to have practised, however.

Imbued with a strong sense of public duty, the young Monck associated with reform-minded politicians and during the Irish famine joined them in attempting to persuade the British government to redress Irish grievances. He became involved in an abortive attempt to form an ‘Irish Party’ to unite the country’s parliamentary representatives in a common effort to secure measures to deal with the famine. He was also secretary of the Irish Reproductive Works Committee, a cross-party body formed in December 1846 to promote public works and other schemes to regenerate the Irish economy.

Monck’s zealous devotion to Irish interests did not go unnoticed and in April 1848 he stood at a by-election in County Wicklow. An able and popular landlord who was allied to no party, he called on the electors to abandon ‘senseless disputes about political theories’ and apply themselves instead to the ‘physical improvement’ of Ireland, arguing that Irish tenants should be compensated for improving their holdings and criticising absentee landlords. He was, however, opposed by the county’s leading landowners and was narrowly defeated by the former Liberal MP, Sir Ralph Howard.

A year later Monck succeeded as 4th Viscount Monck and inherited a heavily indebted estate of 16,000 acres in the province of Leinster. He remained active in public affairs, and after becoming a commissioner of charitable donations and bequests was responsible for administering funds raised for famine relief in Ireland. This work brought him into contact with high-ranking politicians such as William Gladstone.

As an Irish peer he was not allowed to represent an Irish constituency but he could sit for an English one, so at the 1852 general election he offered for the naval borough of Portsmouth as a free-trader and Peelite critic of Lord Derby’s Conservative government. He was returned unopposed. Once in the Commons he proved an eager parliamentarian, sitting on a number of select committees and closely following the Liberal party line. In April 1853 he spoke in defence of the Irish national education system, and in March 1855 was appointed a lord of the treasury and keeper of the privy seal to the Prince of Wales, overcoming a Liberal challenger at the ensuing by-election. For the next two years he acted as the party’s ‘Irish whip’ but narrowly lost his Portsmouth seat at the 1857 general election. Now without any prospect of returning to the Commons, he resigned from his official positions in February 1858.


Proclamation of Canadian Confederation (1867)

Monck contested the 1859 general election for Dudley, where his opposition to the ballot saw him lose out to another Liberal. In dire need of income, he let it be known that he was willing to take up a colonial appointment and accepted the post of governor-general of British North America from the prime minister Lord Palmerston in August 1861. Although inexperienced and relatively unknown, he arrived at Quebec when war with the United States appeared imminent and it was thought that he would need to exercise his authority with ‘a strong and vigorous hand’. However, with patience and impartiality he built the coalition in Canadian politics which paved the way for the confederation of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At the same time he emphasised the need for strongly centralised government for the new dominion. He resigned as governor-general in November 1868 and was thanked for his services by the queen. He was created a knight grand cross of St. Michael and St. George in June 1869 and appointed to the privy council that August.

Reading-Proclamation-of-Confederation Queen's University Archives

Reading the Proclamation of Confederation, Kingston, Ontario, 1 July 1867. Image credit: Queen’s University Archives

Monck had been awarded a UK peerage in July 1866 and continued his political and administrative career in the House of Lords, serving on commissions on Irish Church property and the national education system in Ireland. In 1874 he was appointed lord lieutenant of county Dublin. His practical interest in agriculture fitted him for the difficult task of implementing Gladstone’s 1881 Irish Land Act and he served on the Irish land and arrears commissions. Debilitated by arthritis, he left public office in 1884 and subsequently broke with the Liberals over Gladstone’s plan for Irish home rule. He died at Charleville in November 1894.

Further reading:

  • T. B. Browning, rev. J. Monet, ‘Monck, Charles Stanley, fourth Viscount Monck of Ballytrammon’, Oxf. DNB:
  • A. Pole, ‘Monck, Charles Stanley’, Dictionary of Irish Biography, vi. 575-6.
  • J. Monet, ‘Monck, Charles Stanley, 4th Viscount Monck’, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, xii:
  • E. Batt, The Moncks and Charleville House (1979).
  • E. Batt, Monck: Governor General, 1861-1868 (1976).
  • W. L. Morton, ‘Lord Monck and nationality in Ireland and Canada’, Studia Hibernia, xiii (1973), 77-99.
  • W. L. Morton, Monck’s Letters and Journals, 1863-1868. Canada from Government House at Federation (1970).
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A female politician? Lady Derby and mid-Victorian political life

The significance of female participation in 19th century elections and politics, despite women’s exclusion from the parliamentary franchise, has been an important theme in several of our blogs. In this guest post, originally published on the main History of Parliament blog, Dr. Jennifer Davey looks at the influence of Mary, Countess of Derby, in mid-Victorian political life.

The History of Parliament

Continuing our series on Women and Parliament, Dr. Jennifer Davey of the University of East Anglia looks at the influence of Mary, Countess of Derby (1824-1900) within the worlds of high politics and diplomacy. Lady Derby is the subject of her recent book, Mary, Countess of Derby, and the politics of Victorian Britain(OUP, 2019).

In May 1893, The Spectator printed a long article reflecting on the role and function aristocratic women had played in the social and political life of Victorian Britain. Sometimes referred to as ‘great ladies’, ‘female politicians’ or ‘political ladies’, these were women who held ‘definite influence over society, politics, and the general life of the exclusive’. As The Spectator emphasised, such influence was as ‘impalpable and in-definable as that of the weather, but never really denied by those who really understand how the world is governed’. One such woman was Mary, Countess of Derby (1824-1900)…

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Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Open University: The Black and Mixed Ethnicity Presence in British Politics, 1750-1850

We are pleased to announce that the History of Parliament Trust is participating in a doctoral studentship project in partnership with the Open University. Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award, for entry in 2020-21. The deadline for application to the Open University is 8 January 2020.

The proposed PhD research will examine ‘The Black and Mixed Ethnicity Presence in British Politics, 1750-1850’. It will be supervised by Dr. Amanda Goodrich (Open University) and Dr. Robin Eagles (History of Parliament Trust). For further details on the project, see

Details of how to apply to the Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme can be found here:


Jan or Dyani Tzatzoe (Tshatshu), Andries Stoffles, James Read Sr, James Read Jr and John Philip giving evidence to a Commons committee (by Richard Woodman, 1844) (C) NPG

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