THE CAMBRIDGE ELECTIONS OF THE MID-1800s

"Much is to be done for good, much for bad;

Much in the dark, and much in the light."

The passing of the Reform Act lifted the electorate of the Borough of Cambridge from around 50 to over 1500 male householders living in properties worth at least ten pounds a year. In the 1832, 1835 and 1837 general elections the borough returned two Whig (Liberal) MPs, of whom Thomas Spring Rice served as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, and later as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In August 1839, Mr. Spring Rice applied for the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, (and was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Monteagle of Brandon) thereby precipitating a byelection.

The Whig candidate, Thomas Milner Gibson, had but recently resigned his seat in Ipswich where he had been elected in 1837 as a Liberal Conservative. He stood in the ensuing Ipswich byelection in the Reform interest, failing by 8 to be re-elected. His Tory opponent in the Cambridge by-election, the Hon. John Henry Thomas Manners Sutton, had stood for the borough unsuccessfully in 1837.

The preliminaries to the election received extensive coverage in The Times, which, at the time (as the Liberal candidate observes), was a "consistent advocate of Toryism". The Times seems to have particularly loathed the "apostate" Mr. Milner, which may account for the amount of coverage they dedicated to this election. Coverage lapsed for a while (partly because The Times switched attention to the bizarre case of the Manchester election where the Mayor and the Boroughreeve both claimed the right to act as Returning Officer, and set the poll for different days!) before picking up again on nomination day, which in those days was held on the eve of the poll.

Coverage of the 1839 election

Mr. Manners Sutton was victorious by a majority of 100. The Whigs raised an election petition alleging that Mr. Manners Sutton had been guilty (by his agents) of bribery and treating, and in April 1840 a committee of the House of Commons sat to determine the petition. Much of the proceedings hinged on the question of agency, but there is also much about bribery and treating as they were then practised in Cambridge.

Coverage of the 1840 committee

The committee found for the petitioners, and declared the election of Mr. Manners Sutton void. The borough returned to the polls in May 1840 with new candidates on each side, resulting in a victory for the new Tory candidate Sir Alexander Grant with only a slightly reduced majority. Coverage this time was confined to the hustings and the declaration.

Coverage of the 1840 election

Mr. Manners Sutton was again elected for the borough in the 1841 General Election, along with Sir Alexander Grant. The only report I can find of this election is an outraged comment of the arrest of a Whig agent suspected of bribing a voter on the sabbath (have they no shame?)

Coverage of the 1841 election

Mr. Sutton represented the seat until 1847, after which he sat for Newark. Sir Alexander, however, sat only until March 1843, then accepted the Stewardship of Her Majesty's Manor of Poynings, an obscure alternative to the Chiltern Hundreds (this variation is sometimes misreported) provoking yet another byelection.

Coverage of the 1843 election

The new Tory candidate Mr (later Sir) Fitzroy Kelly triumphed, and the Whigs again petitioned for bribery and treating.

Coverage of the 1843 petition

This time, while there were some findings of bribery, the petitioners failed to establish sufficient agency, about which there were lengthy submissions. Mr. Kelly was confirmed in his seat. He was appointed Solicitor-General (and knighted) in July 1845, and as the law stood at the time, was required to bribeface the electors again at a by-election. He very narrowly retained the seat.

Coverage of the 1845 election

At the 1847 General Election Sir Fitzroy Kelly stood down, and so, initially, did the Hon. J. H. T. Manners-Sutton. However, Manners-Sutton returned to the contest, bumping the Conservative's replacement candidate (they seemed to have determined to only have one). At the poll, Manners-Sutton performed very poorly, recording the lowest vote ever for either party under the first Reform Act, and the Whigs returned both members.

Coverage of the 1847 election

The Tories won again in 1852, but it will come as no surprise to discover that the Whigs again petitioned for bribery.

Coverage of the 1852 election

Coverage of the 1853 committee

The Committee's finding that "that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at the last election for the said borough of Cambridge" led to a Royal commission to investigate this and previous elections, which included some interesting new light on Sir Foster Kelly's election in 1843.

Follow-up to the 1853 committee

The House of Commons took some time to respond to the outcome of this commission, and similar cases in Canterbury, Barnstaple, Kingston-upon-Hull and Maldon. It considered disfranchising those named as giving or received bribes, but relented, feeling this violated the immunity granted to those who gave evidence. It also considered introducing the ballot. Finally with a new Bribery Act in place (The Corrupt Practices Prevention Act 1854, 17 & 18 Vict. c. 102) a new writ was moved in August 1854.

Coverage of the 1854 election (to follow)

Notes