Corrupt voting – great uncle accused


Another interesting new history search engine, going beyond the usual sources but creating new frustrations! It has passed the ‘Cutlock test’ though, sort of.

Connected Histories is a joint project of a number of universities and currently includes 11 major digital resources for Britain in the years 1500 to 1900 – see the Resources list. Some are academic in origin, others require access via a university or other institution, but there is some freely available material indexed. For example, there is the Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835 and the Charles Booth Archive of images/maps.

I did the usual – insert “Cutlock” and see what appears. After a couple of false starts (ticking query type as ‘person’ didn’t give anything) up comes  a string of references to ‘Report of the commissioners appointed to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices at the last election for members to serve in Parliament for the city of Norwich, 1870’. Also an obviously connected 1868 petition.

Most 19th century Cutlocks found so far can be connected to the family tree somewhere, so the Francis mentioned here was plausible. And while no dates of birth are given in what is visible in the search results, it does say he is a bricklayer, which matches 4x great uncle Francis Cutlock, born July 1814 Norwich. Oh dear, looks like he was taking bribes on who to vote for at the parliamentary election, but as access to the Report is via an institution it also looks like I’m not going to find out anything more precise. At least I know he owned property – the Representation of the People Act (second Reform Act) of 1867 extended voting to urban working men meeting the property qualification. And apparently (from UK parliament website) the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act 1883 effectively ends serious corruption in British elections.

Has anyone reading got access to the ‘House of Commons Parliamentary Papers’, which is where the search results take you?

But I have done a little more digging and have discovered in the online Hansard archives for 5th July 1870:

MR. C. S. READ , who apologized for addressing the House at so late an hour (1 o’clock), said, that the conduct of the Norwich Commissioners had excited the gravest discontent in that city. It was rather extraordinary, in the first place, that the Commissioners, instead of beginning where Baron Martin had left off—that learned Judge having discovered all the bribery, though not the sources from which it had proceeded—should have begun de novo, should have examined 1,500 witnesses, have sat for 33 days, asked nearly 45,000 questions, and put the the city to enormous expense. And what was the whole foundation of the Commission? Why, the story of a small boy that £1,000 had been sent down by the Carlton Club to bribe the electors of Norwich; and as soon as the origin of the story was discovered the inquiry collapsed. It was a mistake to suppose that every one who voted after 2 o’clock was of necessity bribed, or that every one who was a zealous partizan was employed in corrupting others.

So that bribery accusation is now somewhat less certain.

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