Hansard: 7 April 1853 vol 125 cc728-33

MR. VERNON SMITH, after presenting a petition from inhabitants of Cambridge in favour of the appointment of a Commission to inquire into corrupt practices in that borough, rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice. He said, that he appeared to make this Motion in his capacity of Chairman of the Committee to whom the petition complaining of an undue return for Cambridge had been referred; and the necessity for such a course, would, he thought, be obvious to the House. Such a course was the necessary consequence, in fact, in such cases as this, of the imperfect arrangements of the House itself for dealing with these matters. No doubt the Grenville Act had succeeded to a very much worse system; and the various amendments which had since been adopted, were great improvements on that Act itself; but a Committee of that House to try an election petition was still, after all, a party tribunal—that was to say, a tribunal which had to judge between two parties, the Petitioner and the sitting Member. The character of the inquiry was at the mercy of these parties; the moment the petitioner chose to abandon the case, or the sitting Members to throw up their defence, that moment the inquiry, so far as the House of Commons was concerned, was at an end. To meet the ends of public justice in such a case as this, where the inquiry had been brought to an abrupt close, there was therefore only one resource—such a Commission as he now proposed. As regarded Cambridge, he believed there could be little difficulty in proving that in that borough there had long prevailed extensive systematic electoral corruption. One circumstance would alone satisfy the House on this point. In 1840, Mr. Manners Sutton was unseated for the borough of Cambridge, and on that occasion the Committee reported much the same as what the Committee on this occasion had reported—that an extensive and corrupt system of treating had prevailed on the part of many influential members of the constituency of the borough of Cambridge. But nothing was done. The writ was issued as if nothing had happened; and in due course a new election took place. On that occasion, however, it was ascertained that bribery had been carried on by a person named Samuel Long; and that person was tried for bribery, found guilty, and imprisoned for twelve months for the offence. But Mr. Long got out again at the end of his term, returned to Cambridge, and at this very last election was found in precisely the same capacity again. In that capacity this Mr. Long was a most efficient performer. The system he pursued was this. He hired an inn, at election times, in Barnwell—the Butchers Arms[1]—and there he received all applications, and managed all his business; and in Cambridge, by a strange perversity of terms, the phrase "all right" was taken to signify an agreement in a wrongful bargain for corruption, the intimation being that if a vote was given, 10l. would be paid for it. Mr. Long was accustomed to say to his electoral customers, "If you do right, I'll do right;" that is, if a proper vote was given, he would pay for it 10l.; and it would appear that the most unlimited confidence was felt that Mr. Long would keep his word. The way he did keep his word, was by a novel machinery, probably meant to complete the fascination which it seemed to begin. The bribed party went and gave his vote; and then went home, awaiting his 10l.; and in due time a lady appeared at his house—a lady with a fall—that was to say, not in the iniquitous sense, but in the sense of a veil over her face, and presented the happy voter with money, never asking him any question, except, perhaps, his identity. This fair and frail figure having passed away, the voter looked at his 10l., and, according to the general confession such voters made, went and spent it all immediately, either in drinking or conviviality of some sort. Every witness gave the same simple account of his process: and he thought he was therefore fully justified in saying that in Cambridge the bribery was systematic. And it was a matter of great regret to find that this corruption was not confined to the lower classes of voters. Some of the people in Cambridge would have it, that the extension of the suffrage under the Reform Bill had done all the mischief, and that the admission of Barnewell voters was the cause of the corruption; but the facts did not bear out the theory, for it would appear that throughout the borough, whether as regarded the freemen or the 10l. householders, or whatever the qualification was, there was no distinction in their readiness to take bribes. This was fully evidenced in a circumstance which took place before the Committee. A witness was confessing his corruption; and the counsel said, "I suppose you were poor, and the 10l. was a temptation?" and the man said "Yes;" but he (Mr. Vernon Smith) suspecting the truth of the answer, judging by the appearance of the witness, pressed him further, and elicited that he was a master plasterer, well to do in the world. With other witnesses it was admitted that they took money because others did—because, at that time, every one was making money out of the election. Such was the reckless and lavish waste at Cambridge, that those men who came to the poll at three o'clock, or half-past three o'clock, when their candidates were 100 or more ahead, got exactly the same money, 10l., as the bolder rascals, who gave their votes at a crisis. In fact, one man held out for a bargain so long that when he did come up four o'clock had struck, and then they would not pay him; but though he had not his bribe he had his revenge by turning witness against the whole system. The effrontery of the witnesses generally would show that the state of things at Cambridge vied with anything that had ever existed in any of those places which had been already disfranchised and disgraced. The corruption was systematic, extensive, and continuous. All this the Commission, he was confident, would fully demonstrate; but he could not make this Motion without expressing his opinion, that however useful these Commissions might be, they still failed to meet the whole of the necessity of the case. He could not now say what he believed was the machinery required, but it was obvious that there were defects in a Commission. As regarded the bribery itself, it was seldom that the bribery oath was administered; it was never administered in Cambridge. It was also very seldom that guilty persons were prosecuted for bribery; and thus justice was allowed to wink, and the offenders did not believe in the sincerity of the Legislature to eradicate the crime. The Committee of which he had been Chairman had in this case reported against the bribers as well as against the bribed, and the only reason why they had not come to the House to ask that the Attorney General should prosecute was, that they had not been able to continue the inquiry so far as to come at capital offenders. In the first instance they would have been very glad to have obtained sufficient evidence against parties of much greater property and standing than the secondary agents; and he would especially mention one party—the editor of the Cambridge Chronicle newspaper—and he should have been the more pleased to obtain evidence against that individual, inasmuch as he had had the assurance, after the Committee had reported, to write an article in his paper in which he spoke of the Committee as a partial and predetermined tribunal. Such a charge was of a most insolent character. The Committee had been chosen like any other Election Committee; and they had performed their duty in the most absolutely fair and judicial manner. But even if they had been able to reach these persons, there would be something more to do. If the decisions of the various Committees were examined, it would be seen how deficient was the law of agency. He believed that the law of agency, as laid down by that House, was laughed at in Westminster Hall. When the sitting Members for Cambridge threw up their defence, the Committee had hardly gone at all into the inquiry; and yet the agency traced to them and detected in bribery was said by their own counsel to be sufficient, namely, the agency of a runner of a committee. He put it to any hon. Member of that House who had stood a contested election, whether, if this was to be the law, they could feel quite safe in their seats? He could hardly see how they were to remedy all this evil. He could not quite see how that proposition of which the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Buncombe) had given notice with respect to an extension of electoral districts, would touch the mischief. The hon. Member's beau ideal of an English constituent body was one of 20,000 voters; but even in such a constituency parties might be so nearly balanced that fifty or one hundred would turn the scale: and so long as there were people willing to be corrupted, there would be no want of money to corrupt them. He was afraid that the evil lay deeper than the restricted franchise and small constituencies. He feared that among the voting body generally there was very little correct feeling on the question of purity of election. It was evident that the acceptance of a bribe was not made matter of reproach among themselves; and that being so, the country would have to wait some time to see a better state of things—until the moral tone of the people was elevated. He would not enter further into the question; but he had made these remarks in order that it might not be supposed that in making this proposal he was trusting to a Commission, as a completely curative process. With regard to the names of the Commissioners, he had to say that it was a task of great delicacy and difficulty which had been thrown on him, as Chairman, of selecting the proper Gentlemen; but he had taken the highest advice, and made a selection which he believed would prove satisfactory.

Sir JOHN SHELLEY seconded the Motion.

Resolved—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to cause inquiry to be made by a Commission into corrupt practices reported to have extensively prevailed at the last Election for the Borough of Cambridge.

Resolved—That the said Address be communicated to the Lords, at a Conference, and their concurrence desired thereto.

Ordered—That a Conference be desired with the Lords upon the subject matter of an Address to be presented to Her Majesty under the provisions of the Act of the 15 & 16 of Her present Majesty, cap. 57.

Ordered—That Mr. Vernon Smith do go to the Lords, and desire the said Conference.

Subsequently, Mr. VERNON SMITH reported, That having been with the Lords to desire a Conference upon the subject matter of an Address to be presented to Her Majesty, under the provisions of the Act of the 15 & 16 of Her present Majesty, cap. 57, the Lords agree to a Conference, and appoint the same immediately in Committee Room A.

Only the final day of the Commission's proceedings seem to have been covered—Ed.

The Times, Monday, Aug. 8, 1853.


The Cambridge Election Commission terminated their proceedings (in Cambridge) on Saturday with the examination of Sir Fitzroy Kelly as to his connexion with the borough. It may be remembered that after Sir F. Kelly's election in 1843 an unsuccessful petition was presented against his return. The Rev. Dr. Bartlett (now of Hereford) stated that at that election the late Mr. Fisher sent him to the Golden Cross, Charing-cross, and that he there saw a stranger, whom he had never seen before or since; and the stranger gave him a packet "to contribute to Mr. Kelly's success." That packet was found to contain 1,000 sovereigns, and they were spent by Bartlett and Fisher in bribery and treating. Mr. Coppock, at his examination before the commission, handed in a brief used for Mr. Kelly's defence in committee, and which showed that it was intended to be shown that the expenses of the election were covered by 500l., which had been paid by Mr. Kelly into Mortlock's bank, but which was spent in addition to the 1000l., together with 300l., which Mr. Kelly was called on for afterwards. How Mr. Coppock came into possession of this brief is a mystery.

Sir F. Kelly being called, and examined by the President (Mr. Willmore, Q.C.), detailed the circumstances of his introduction to the borough in 1843, and then proceeded:—I did inquire of a number of persons the probable amount of the expense, and was told various sums, varying from 500l. to 1,500l. The most specific information I received was from Mr. Alderman Deighton, bookseller, but he did not enter into minute details as to its application. The sum Mr. Deighton named I said was too large, and refused to give it, saying I did not believe it could be legitimately expended. He said there were expenses for publichouses, for night watching, and bringing voters to the poll, but his statements were of such a vague and general character that I was not satisfied. I forget the exact sum he mentioned, but I said I should require an assurance from the committee that the sum should not exceed 1,000l., and I told every gentleman of the committee, both in 1843 and 1845, that I should hold him to be my worst enemy who did anything of an illegal character. I had no communication with Sir Alexander Grant as to the expenditure of money, but only as to committeemen. I had had experience of these in the House of Commons, and was anxious to get those to act who could be relied on, and Sir Alexander was kind enough to mention five or six names to me.

President.—Sir Alexander Grant has stated that his experience taught him that it was the wisest course to abstain from all knowledge of what went on there. Did he give you any advice of that character?—No; nor should I have acted upon it if he had. I expended between 800l. and 900l. in 1843, independent of some small personal hotel expenses.

Were any vouchers with regard to the expenditure submitted to you?—Yes; I had a complete and detailed account of that, and I think I sent it to Mr. Adcock.

Did that account for all the money you advances?—Yes, and more; and I handed over the balance. I paid no sum of money without a knowledge of what it applied to.

Had you reason to believe that the money was not applied as stated?—I had not the least reason to believe that a shilling of the money was paid otherwise than as stated.

Had you any knowledge of the advance of any other moneys in 1843?—I had not, and have not now, notwithstanding what I have read in the newspapers. I was appointed Solicitor-General early in 1845; my appointment took place on Friday, and I issued my address on the Saturday. I was thrown into communication with Bartlett in 1843, but I never authorized him to act as my agent. He was represented to me as a member of the university, and was I believed, and still believe, in every way a gentleman, and I solicited his support and assistance as I did that of other gentleman, but never appointed him my agent. It is only within these last few hours that I have learned he came into possession of 1,000l. in 1843, and that this sum was spent in securing my election by improper means.

Are you anxious to hear exactly what he said?—I have no objection to hear it; but I cannot say that I have any wish on the subject.

The President having recited Dr. Bartlett's account of his interview with the stranger at the Golden Cross, asked,—Were you at all privy to any transaction of that kind?—I never heard any such statement, or knew of any such matter until these last 24 hours; and I assure you it was as much a mystery to me as it must have been to you when it was first stated.

Have you any knowledge of the quarter whence that sum came?—Not the slightest, and if it had not been reported by a gentleman, and now a clergyman, I should have looked upon the statement as an entire fabrication.

It did not come from funds over which you has any control?—I repeat most positively that it did not proceed from funds over which I had any control, or even knowledge of.

The same impression exists upon our minds as upon yours as to the character of Dr. Bartlett; and, he having made the statement, there can be no doubt of the fact. Did you observe anything in the progress of the voting which led you to believe that improper influences were at work?—I thought I should have had a larger majority.

Did you observe anything in 1845 to lead you to the conclusion I have stated?—My answer is as before; I expected I should have had a larger majority.

Are you not aware that at the close of the poll in 1843 there was a sudden change in your favour?—Yes, within the last hour; almost within the last quarter of an hour; and it was explained to me as the cause of it, that a number of voters who had been kept in confinement had been rescued by a body of undergraduates and brought up to the poll. That was told me by a number of people at the time. I found, much to my disappointment, that I was in a minority all through, till past 3 o'clock, and such a one, too, as made me despair of the election, and then I suddenly heard that a large number of voters had been brought up, and that I had been placed in a majority. It was stated to me that the voters had been rescued from confinement in Barnwell. Since the election of 1845 I have been applied to for payment of considerable sums of money, represented to have been spent in my election, but I was not informed how, I have no reason to suppose there was any illegal expenditure, but if those demands were well founded there must have been.

What were the sums you paid in all?—In 1843 between 800l. and 900l.; in 1845 between 700l. and 800l. A considerable portion of the expense in 1843 was for chairing, which I considered very objectionable. There was none in 1845, and this would account for the difference between the two sums.

Who applied to you for money after the election of 1845?—I hope you will not press that question. It was a gentleman who has been dead many years. I replied, that I had paid all legal expenses, and a sense of duty would prevent my paying any more. The application simply stated that the money had been expended at my election, and it was hoped, now that I was returned, that I would repay it. No such demand was made on me in 1843.

Had you any other application in 1845 than that from the party you allege to be dead?—Yes; but it was for a much smaller sum, but I declined to pay that to; it was for one, two, or three hundred pounds. That was subsequent to the demand for the larger sum.

Is that party still living?—Do you require me to state who it was?

Yes?—Well, it was Mr. Brown, a gentleman formerly connected with the Cambridge Chronicle.

Was his made as part of the former demand of 800l., or as a distinct sum?—As a distinct sum; and there was not the slightest attempt at explanation as to what it was for. I have not the least knowledge that the money has since been paid. I have no sort of recollection of Newbery.

[The President here read to Sir F. Kelly Newbery's statement that he (Sir F. Kelly) sent him 20l. after the election of 1845, to repay that sum laid out by Newbery to induce voters to poll for Sir F. Kelly.]

Sir F. Kelly continued.—It may be true that I sent Newbery 20l.; but I do not recollect any circumstance of the kind. I did see Wagstaff at one election. I knew him because I had been concerned for him in a cause which excited some attention at the time.

Did you obtain the 20 votes said to be under Wagstaff's influence>—I don't know that I did; but that, too, may well be.

Mr. Wagstaff had said that for his sake he should be glad if you could state what passed between you?—I have no recollection.

Are we to understand you that you held out no promises or other inducements to obtain votes?—None whatever.

Do you recollect Newbery's application?—I had so many applications for money from Cambridge that I cannot recollect them all. They contained various tales of distress. I have no recollection of Scott (who stated he wrote to Sir Fitzroy in Newbery's behalf), and have no recollection of sending money to Newbery, but cannot undertake to say it did not take place.

(The President here read Scott's evidence, to the effect that Scott wrote to Sir Fitzroy to say Newbery had bribed three voters, and that unless the money was repaid Newbery would be compelled to go through the Insolvent Court, and "all would come out."]

Sir F. Kelly continued.—It is very possible I may have been told Newbery was likely to go through the Insolvent Court, but that any threat of the disclosures mentioned was held out I mose positively deny. I will swear no such idea was communicated to my mind.

Scott had stated that he told you Newbery had borrowed 40l. to pay voters, and that he gave you to understand that the money must be repaid to avert Newbery's insolvency?—Certainly not; and I would not have given Newbery any money in connexion with an election claim.

Were the two sums you have mentioned all you were applied to for after the election of 1845?—Yes; except a small one by Mr. Mitchell, of "The Eagle;" and though I held him to be an honourable and respectable man, I was so determined to pay nothing, except through the committee, that I left that unpaid for years; but, being at last well assured there was nothing illegal in it, I paid it. It was about 30l. The 800l. was applied for immediately after the election, and Brown's application was made about two months after that.

I believe there was a petition after the election of 1843?—There was.

Have you any recollection of the amount of the expenses stated before the committee to have been incurred in your behalf?—Not precisely.

Mr. Coppock has handed in papers to show that your counsel were prepared to show that your expenses in 1843 were something under 500l. Do you know how they came to be so instructed?—If my solicitor (Mr. Adcock, of Cambridge) so instructed them it may be accounted for in this way:—That was the sum I first proposed to pay, and to which I proposed to limit my contribution, but afterwards I advanced 300l. more. It is possible that, as the petition followed so immediately on the election, 500l. was the sum which had then been expended up to that time.

But there was a prepared and detailed statement showing that the whole expenses did not exceed the sum mentioned. How do you account for that?—No; I only gave my solicitor 500l., as the sum I originally undertook to contribute, but that, as I have said, was afterwards increased by a most extravagant demand for the chairing.

I fear we must call upon you for the name of the person who wrote to you for the 800l.?—I shall be very sorry if you do. It would be very painful to me to be obliged to give it. It was a gentleman of the highest honour and integrity, and who has now been some years in his grave. It was never intended it should be mentioned, and, but that I am under the obligation of an oath, never would have been. I trust you will not think the name essential to the purposes of justice.

I will mention a name to you already mentioned, and which is that of a gentleman now dead?—If you were to mention his name that would weaken my objection.

Mr. George Fisher?—No.

Mr. Alderman Deighton?—No.

I must have the name?—You require me to tell it?

Yes; but I will mention one more—Mr. Christopher Pemberton?—It was Mr. Christopher Pemberton. (Sensation.)

Had you any knowledge that he was actively employed in your behalf?—Never.

At neither of your elections?—Never.

Have you any statement you desire to make?—No; but I understand from a paper or papers have been placed in your hand by Mr. Coppock, and I think it due to myself, and Mr, Coppock also, that the way in which Mr. Coppock go possession of those papers should be explained. I believe the paper to be a brief drawn in my behalf in 1843, at the time of the petition, and placed in the hands of Mr. Cockburn, now Sir Alexander Cockburn and Attorney-General, and which was lost from the committee-room table on the third day of the sitting. How it came into the possession of Mr. Coppock, the solicitor employed against me—how a solicitor could come into possession of his opponent's brief and not immediately return it to its proper owner, must be explained hereafter; but, as the brief is undoubtedly my property, I trust you will not think it unbecoming in me to ask that you will deliver it into no other hands but mine, when the objects of the commission shall be accomplished. I trust you will deliver it over to me, or, at all events, that you will not deliver it to any other person.

President.—I am afraid we cannot comply. I do not think we need detain you, Sir Fitzroy.—I do no more than publicly, and most respectfully, ask you to return that brief to its proper owner.

I repeat, I fear we can only return it to those who deposited it with us.—As it has been referred to in the questions put to me, have you any objection to produce and allow me to see it.

None whatever. Mr. Coppock has stated it was the brief belonging to the other side, but the endorsement has been removed.—I can only say it is a most strange proceeding, that a person pretending to the character of a gentleman, and a professional man, should be in possession of such a document, without instantly returning it to its proper owner.

The brief was sent for and identified by Sir F. Kelly and Mr. Adcock, his solicitor, and Sir Fitzroy then took his leave. There is no doubt of the institution of ulterior proceedings.

The Times, Monday, Aug. 15, 1853.


Sir,—In the course of Sir Fitzroy Kelly's examination before the Cambridge Election Commission, reported in The Time of Monday last, in allusion to a brief which I had given to the commissioners, stated, "that he believed it to be a brief drawn in his behalf in 1843, at the time of the petition, and placed in the hands of Mr. Cockburn, now Sir Alexander Cockburn and Attorney-General, and which was lost from the committee-room on the third day of its sitting."

Whatever Sir Fitzroy Kelly might intend by this language, the inference clearly is, either that Sir Alexander Cockburn betrayed his trust by negligence of his papers, or that I surreptitiously obtained possession of the brief. You report says, "there is no doubt of the institution of ulterior proceedings" to recover the brief.

In justice to Sir Alexander Cockburn and myself, allow me to state, through your columns, how and when that brief came into my possession. Some months after the petition had been decided, a person, who had been actively mixed up with Sir Fitzroy Kelly in the election and in the petition, gave me the brief and other papers to prove his ability to furnish information affecting parties who had been concerned in the Cambridge election. He offered me much more, but I declined to accede to the terms demanded. The brief remained in my possession until I produced it before the Commission. The other papers shall be made public if Sir Fitzroy Kelly wishes them to be.

I am anxious to put Sir Alexander Cockburn right in this matter, and to negative fully any inference to his prejudice. As to myself, threats of ulterior proceedings, even by Sir Fitzroy Kelly, will never give me a moment's uneasiness. I can defend myself, and give further explanation, when the occasion requires it.

I am, Sir, your very obedient servant,
3, Cleveland-row, August 13. JAMES COPPOCK.

{The Commission reported to Parliament in October 1853, but details were not reported. There were attempts to pass specific acts to restrict bribery in Cambridge and four other boroughs, but these were overtaken by the passage of The Corrupt Practices Prevention Act 1854, which received the Royal Assent on August 10, 1854.}


Hansard: 11 August 1854 vol 135 cc1539-43

SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE[2] said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to move that new writs be issued for Canterbury, Cambridge, Maldon, Barnstaple, and Kingston-upon-Hull. The wording of the Amendment which the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had put upon the paper would appear rather to indicate a wish on his part that the House should delay indefinitely the issue of those writs than that they should adopt the ballot. There were a great many Members in that House who had great faith in secret voting. He confessed he (Sir W. Jolliffe) was not one of those gentlemen, for, on the contrary, he had the greatest faith in publicity. He was not there in any way to defend those delinquent boroughs; he regretted their delinquency extremely—it was most lamentable; and he thought it was the province of that House to apply itself to remedy the evil, and if possible to remedy it effectually. He might, however, remind the House that the issue of the writs in question had been delayed of late in order to enable the House to pass the Bribery Bill; and that Bill having now become law, it would come into operation immediately in the boroughs for which he now moved the issue of new writs. That being the case, it appeared to him the House had no other course left but to issue the writs. Besides, a constitutional question arose in the matter. It had always been held that that House should consist of 658 Members. Now, the effect of the course which had been taken with regard to these boroughs had been to deprive the House during the whole of the present, and part of the last Session, of ten English Members, and this, in addition to the four Members whose seats were not filled up, in the case of the disfranchised boroughs of St. Albans and Sudbury. That made altogether fourteen English Members of whose services the country was deprived, in addition to those who were absent from England in consequence of the war[3]. Now, a limit should be put by the House to proceedings of this kind, and he hoped, therefore, the Motion of which he had given notice would be adopted. In conclusion, he would ask what would be said if the House were to attempt to keep vacant for any considerable period a large number of Irish seats or seats for the metropolitan boroughs?

Motion made, and Question proposed—"That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to make out a new Writ for the electing of two Citizens to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Canterbury, in the room of Henry Plumptre Gipps, esquire, and of the Honourable Henry Butler Johnstone, whose Election has been determined to be void."

MR. T. DUNCOMBE[4] said, his hon. Friend (Sir W. Jolliffe) had exercised a wise discretion in not saying much in reference to these boroughs; for the least said respecting them was soonest mended. He would, however, endeavour shortly to supply the omissions of his hon. Friend. He had been asked by his hon. Friend if he would make such a Motion in the case of the metropolitan boroughs. He would tell his hon. Friend that should the occasion arise he would deal with them in the same way as the five delinquent boroughs. He wanted to have the experiment of the ballot tried upon these five cases, and he was certain it could never be better tested than by them, He would not go over the able arguments which had been used by his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. Berkeley), and his right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Sir W. Molesworth), in favour of the ballot. The House knew perfectly well how the question stood. Two Cabinet Ministers had spoken on the question of the ballot when it was last under discussion in the House. The one of them, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), said the ballot was a nasty, dirty, mean, and un-English proceeding—and declared it was all nonsense. The other said it was the only cure for the evils of which they had to complain. His hon. Friend (Sir W. Jolliffe) might have added to the list of Members of whose services the House was now deprived the name of one of the Members for the City of London (Baron Rothschild), who, owing to the bigotry and intolerance of hon. Gentlemen on the other side and the House of Lords, was obliged to take his seat under the gallery[5]. He was like a person sitting in the porter's hall till my Lords and hon. Gentlemen opposite asked him to come in. This was an insult to the citizens of London—it was degrading to the individual, and humiliating to the House of Commons, The Commissions for conducting the inquiry into these delinquent boroughs cost the country 30,000l., and all they were to have for the money was a trumpery Bribery Bill. The issue of the writ for Canterbury was the Motion now before the House. Canterbury was an archiepiscopal borough. The sooner the Archbishop changed the name the better. He would recommend to him the name of one of the metropolitan boroughs—Finsbury, for instance. Cambridge was an ancient seat of learning, and bribery "systematically prevailed" there for a long period. The same was the case with Hull. The ballot might be the means of recalling to the electors of Hull the times when they elected Andrew Marvel[6]. It was the electors who paid his expenses. They "treated" him, and not he them—for they made him a present of a large barrel of ale, "of a quantity and quality enough to make a sober man neglect his duty in the House." It was a perfect farce to send these writs to these boroughs under the Bribery Bill. He had received a letter from the town clerk of Barnstaple, who said that the "issuing of the writ would infallibly disfranchise the borough, the representation of it being in the hands of those who did not appreciate it except as a saleable commodity." One of the hon. Members for Devonshire presented what he called "a respectable petition" from 600 or 700 persons in favour of the issuing of the writ to Barnstaple. Now he was informed that of these only 317 were electors, and that 215 out of the 317 were in the Commissioners' schedule. Even though he should not carry his Amendment, he would oppose the issuing of the writs till they had an amended Controverted Elections Bill. He regretted that Her Majesty's Ministers were not present. He understood that the ballot was an open question with them. But there was a strong feeling growing up that this open-question system was but an ingenious device for screening what were called placemen. He supposed they left the question to be fought by his hon. Friend and himself. He should conclude by moving the Amendment of which he had given notice.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words—"Whereas Her Majesty, in pursuance of the provisions of an Act passed in the 15th and 16th of Her Majesty, c. 57, intituled, 'An Act to provide for more effectual inquiry into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for Members to serve in Parliament,' and in compliance with the prayer of the joint Addresses of both Houses of Parliament, did appoint, under Her Royal Sign Manual, certain persons to be Commissioners, the the purpose of making such 'more effectual inquiry' into the corrupt practices alleged to have existed in the Election of Members for Canterbury, Cambridge, Kingston upon Hull, Maldon, and Barnstaple. And whereas the said Commissioners have reported to Her Majesty—That corrupt practices extensively prevailed at the last Election for the City of Canterbury, and at previous Elections: That Bribery, Treating, and other corrupt practices have for a long period systematically prevailed at Elections for the Borough of Cambridge: That systematic corruption has uniformly prevailed at all the Elections in Kingston upon Hull to which their notice had been called. That corrupt practices in various forms had long prevailed at Elections for Maldon, and that open and direct Bribery was practised, at the last Election, to a greater extent than at any which preceded it; that the Bribery Oath was tendered to each voter as he came to the poll, and that it was freely taken by all, however recent, open, and unquestionable the bribe to them may have been, and this shamelessness was in some cases increased by their becoming witnesses before the Commission of the double fact of their own bribery and perjury; that a large portion of the Electors, consisting chiefly of the poorer class of freemen, had, in giving their votes, been influenced by considerations of money and other benefits to themselves, and that such influences had been habitually employed to corrupt them, hut that the blame of such corruption did not rest so much with them as with their superiors, by whom the temptation to it was held out: That corrupt practices extensively prevailed at the last Election for Barnstaple; that, of the 696 voters who polled, 255 received bribes; that, in the majority of cases, those who received bribes came forward and admitted their delinquency, but in some instances the efforts of the Commission to elicit the truth were met with gross evasion, prevarication, and even perjury, but these instances were not confined to the lowest class of voters—men whose position in life ought to have placed them beyond the reach of corrupt influences attempted to screen their venality by denying it upon oath; and apparently decent and respectable tradesmen were induced to commit the crime of perjury, in order to preserve their position in the eyes of their fellow townsmen, and thus to hide the shame of their electoral corruption: It is expedient that, previous to the issue of any New Writ to either of the aforesaid places, provision be made to enable the Electors thereof to give their votes by way of Ballot, instead thereof.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 33: Majority 7.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 45; Noes 32: Majority 13.

SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE said, he would now move the issue of the writ for Cambridge.

Motion made, and Question proposed—"That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, to make out a New Writ for the electing of two Burgesses to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Cambridge, in the room of Kenneth Macaulay, esquire, and John Harvey Astell, esquire, whose Election has been determined to be void."

MR. H. BERKELEY[7] said, he had never, as had been asserted by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Sir W. Jolliffe), on more than one occasion, put forward the ballot as a panacea for bribery and corruption. What he had said was, that the ballot was a perfect remedy for intimidation, but he had never said it was as regarded bribery. On the contrary, he thought that so long as one man was willing to purchase a vote and another man pleased to sell his vote, and so long as they could come to an arrangement between themselves, and could trust each other, there would be no possibility of getting rid of bribery by any known means, He had always said so; but then he had likewise stated that the ballot would destroy the confidence between the buyer and the seller, which was one way of putting down bribery and corruption. As regarded Maldon and Barnstaple, the Government had distinctly pledged themselves to increase the constituencies in those boroughs; and he hoped they were not so far lost to all sense of propriety as not in some way or other to redeem that pledge. With an increase of the constituencies he thought that the ballot would prove the best means of repressing bribery which could be adopted. In regard to the borough of Cambridge, he had only to say that wherever there was a University there was intimidation[8]. The intimidation carried on by the University of Oxford was a palpable, notorious, and crying evil. The same observation applied equally to Cambridge, which was as corrupt a place as any in the kingdom. He should have been delighted to have seen the ballot tried upon Cambridge; but, as it seemed to be the determination of the House that that should not be, it was with the greatest possible pleasure that he should oppose the issuing of the writ for the borough of Cambridge.

MR. HUME[9] said, he must express his deep regret that the Government had not thought fit to make an experiment of the ballot on this occasion, and he likewise thought they were highly to blame for not coining down to the House to state their reasons for refusing their assent to the proposal of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Buncombe). It was true that the House had heard from the Treasury bench one good speech in favour of the ballot, and one bad speech against it; but the opinion of the Government ought to have been stated upon the present occasion, and he hoped the country would not forget the small majority against the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury. For his own part, if the Government did not fulfil the pledges they had given with respect to measures of reform, he did not know how far he would be able to support them in their present position.

MR. MALINS[10] said, that hon. Gentlemen opposite might depend upon it that, so long as the franchise was in the hands of men who were in such distressed circumstances that they could not resist a bribe when it was offered to them, it would be impossible by the ballot, or any other means, to put a stop to corrupt practices at elections. The Cambridge Commissioners stated, in their Report, that of the 111 persons who received bribes at the last election, no fewer than 108 were householders who voted upon very low rentals. It appeared that the number of freemen who had been bribed in that borough was 1 in 7; of householders rated at not more than 10l., 1 in 8; at above 10l. and under 15l., 1 in 11; at above 15l. and under 20l., 1 in 16; above 20l. and under 30l., 1 in 30; above 30l. and under 40l., 1 in 55; and above 40l. none. One of the witnesses declared that if the franchise were limited to rentals of 20l., instead of descending to rentals of 10l., it would be entirely useless to attempt to buy the votes of the electors. In these circumstances, he would suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether it would not be better, instead of trying the ballot, to devise some scheme by which the elective franchise might be elevated, or, if kept at its present level, by which there might be something like a graduated scale of voting.

MR. T. DUNCOMBE said, he would also refer to the Report of the Commissioners, who said that the price generally paid for a vote in the borough was 10l., although some of the electors were so dishonest as not to vote at all, notwithstanding they had received the money beforehand.

SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE said, he begged to explain that he had not stated what had been attributed to him by the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. H. Berkeley), that secret voting would not protect persons against oppression.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 46; Noes 31: Majority 15.

{The House then proceeded to approve the writs for Maldon, Barnstaple, and Kingston-upon-Hull.}

Transcribed by Keith Edkins 2009-2018. Original reports believed to be in the public domain due to their antiquity.

Return to: The Cambridge elections of the mid-1800s.



On Newmarket Road—the site of the Corner House.


Con., Petersfield.


Presumably the Crimea.


Lib., Finsbury.


Rothschild, a Jew, was elected as a Liberal MP by the City of London in 1847 but could not take his seat as this would require him to take a Christian oath. After several abortive attempts at change, the form of oath was relaxed and Rothschild became the first sitting Jewish MP in 1858.


In 1659, during the Commonwealth.


Lib., Bristol.


An extravagant allegation, given there were only four universities in England at the time, and only two really count.


Rad., Montrose.


Con., Wallingford.