Peterborough by-election: The first Peterborough by-election - MP thrown out for bribery

Fifteen candidates are standing for this year’s Peterborough by-election after ex-MP Fiona Onasanya was thrown out of parliament for perverting the course of justice - but she is not the first Peterborough MP to be kicked out of the seat.

Friday, 10th May 2019, 3:20 pm
This year's will be the 7th by-election in Peterborough history

The first Peterborough by-election following the Reform Act took place in December 1852 following the death of Whig Richard Watson.

The election was contested by George Hammond Whalley - representing the Radical party, and George Cornewall Lewis, representing the Whigs.

Mr Whalley triumphed, with 233 votes to Mr Lewis’ 218 - but shortly after the vote, Mr Whalley was unseated.

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This year's will be the 7th by-election in Peterborough history

According to Martin Spychal’s article on, Mr Whalley was thrown out of parliament for bribery.

Mr Spychal said: “Whalley agreed to run on the condition that the borough’s independent Liberals and Conservatives united behind him. He pleased the independent Liberals by offering to support universal suffrage, the ballot, a direct property tax and the abolition of church rates. He courted the Conservative vote by emphasising his anti-Catholicism and his opposition to the Maynooth Grant, and by expressing a willingness to support the Conservative government on an independent basis.

“In an innovative move, Whalley also targeted the constituency’s females in the hope they would convince their voting husbands, brothers, fathers and friends to vote for him. He did so by hosting a tea party in the city, which attracted 700 attendees, and where he promised to reduce soap, tea and sugar duties and end ‘Milton domination’. Whalley’s tactics proved successful, leading to his victory in the December 1852 by-election by 21 votes over the Fitzwilliam candidate.

“The Fitzwilliams, incensed at losing control, quickly petitioned parliament against the result, accusing Whalley of ‘bribery, intimidation, corruption and treating’, as well as the impersonation of voters. The ensuing parliamentary committee, which was most outraged at Whalley’s tactic of targeting the constituency’s females, decided to unseat him after arriving at the conclusion that a single elector had been bribed £5 for his vote. An outraged Whalley accused Fitzwilliam of using electoral procedure to enforce a system of ‘persecution, tyranny and falsehood’ and vowed to stand at the ensuing by-election, even though his ability to do so was legally unclear.”

The by-election following the 1852 vote took place in June 1853, with Whalley again winning, beating the Whig candidate Thomson Hankey 236-213.

However, Dr Spychal said: “Both election inquiries found that the activities of the Fitzwilliam interest and Whalley during the elections of 1852-3 had been highly dubious. Nevertheless, Whalley was unseated, as the election committee declared that candidates were unable to stand at by-elections prompted by their own unseating.”

Mr Hankey was duly elected as MP for Peterborough, a seat he held until 1868 - before regaining the post in 1874. He was defeated for the final time six years later, when George Whalley’s son, Hampden, took over.

This year’s by-election will be the seventh in Peterborough since the Reform Act in 1832, but the first since 1943. Other by-elections took place in 1852, 1853, 1878, 1883, 1889 and 1943. A number of by-elections took place before 1852, with the first ever election in the city recorded in 1547.