Following the decision by a select committee of the House of Commons to void Cambridge borough’s election of Mr Manners Sutton in May 1840, things came to a head at the Guildhall in 1841. The Scotsman below from the British Newspaper Archive summarises the scene in the Commons.
…and things spilled out locally at the annual meeting of the town council on New Year’s Day 1841. The Conservative supporting Cambridge Chronicle followed up their extensive report with this transcript the following week.
THE LATE DISGRACEFUL SCENE IN THE COUNCIL CHAMBER.
“We concluded our report of the proceedings at the Town Council, on the first of January, with the dissolution of the assembly by the Mayor, at the conclusion of the business as usual, and the retirement of a majority of the Council from the Hall, merely adding the protest entered by Messrs. Bartlett and Balls against the assumption of power as Council by a knot of Liberals who chose to remain behind, and not having room for a detail of proceedings quite foreign to the public business which the Council had to transact. The following, scene, however, worth preserving:
Mr. Humfrey (after the meeting was dissolved) attempted to produce his speech, the work of much anxious study, and ready for the press ; but the interruption which followed shewed [sic] that the feelings of those outside the bar were anything but in unison with those of the speaker.
Amidst this confusion, Mr. Bartlett re-entered the room, simply as a spectator, and having ascertained what was going on, he seemed inclined to address the meeting, when the following dialogue ensued :
Mr. Bartlett : I should like to be informed who is in the chair of this meeting, in order that I may address myself to him.
Mr. Ebenezer Foster Mr. Alderman Richard Foster is in the chair.
Mr. Bartlett: Are you, Mr. Alderman Richard Foster, in the chair or not?
Mr. Richard Foster : Certainly I am not [After this some confusion ensued, and Mr. Bartlett, amidst great cheering, again asked who was in the chair
Mr. Ebenezer Foster then said ; a magistrate of this town, I have a right to preside at this meeting, and I in the chair.”
Mr. Humfrey then commenced his address, but from the interruptions he received he was totally inaudible, except after a few minutes, when he shouted out, in allusion to some remark made by a person outside the bar, Turn out that blackguard there
Mr. Ebenezer Foster added: If you interrupt, I will commit you. A few more sharp speeches were bandied between the crowd and the orators ; which were closed by Mr. Humfrey in reply to one of the individuals with—“ Get out, you blackguard !”
Mr. Humfrey then proceeded, but was interrupted in such a manner that only portions of his address were audible. began by quoting from De Foe, to the effect that if a man be content to suffer martyrdom from both friends and foes of a particular course, he may proceed fearlessly. He said he would have no dealings in the dark, like thief in the night —be would not disgrace himself by making any base or cowardly attacks, but what he said he would say before the face of the man he would arraign. lie then said he would not set aught down in malice ; and proceeded to give bis defination [sic] of bribery, stating it to be, in his opinion, a great moral, and a greater political evil, and then described the way in which the crime was committed with astonishing minuteness. He then proceeded to say that Mr. W. Swann was a man who endeavoured to undermine honest men by bribery ; and on many persons, one in particular, expressing their disgust at this accusation,
Mr. Humfrey exclaimed “Turn that vagabond out.”
Mr. H. then said, he had asserted that Mr. W. Swann was guilty of bribery, and he could prove it—(loud expressions disgust and disapprobation.)
A Man in the crowd : What did Gibson do?
Mr. Humfrey; Hold your jaw, you blackguard ; I will not answer a vagabond like you.
[Here some person was turned out by force, but we could net see who the party was, nor the parties who turned him out.]
Mr. Humfrey then preceeded talk about the proceedings before the Committee of the House of Commons relative to the Cambridge Petition, [against the election of the borough MP – accused of winning through bribery] but was only to he heard by bits and scraps, in which he seemed to contend that the Committee having come to the conclusion that Mr. Swann was agent of Mr. Sutton, and that as he was connected with a person said to have committed bribery, he must, by the Grenville Act, be said to have been found guilty of bribery, and was, therefore, disqualified from sitting in the Council (cries of “Three cheers for Mr Swann.”)
Mr. Humfrey then entered into the question as to whether the conviction of the House of Commons was equal to a conviction in a court of law ; and concluded by moving-
1st, “That as Mr. Swann, jun., has been clearly proved guilty of bribery and corruption, before a Committee of the House of Commons, sitting on the and 28th days of April last; and that as such conduct is most mischievous and disgraceful, the Council, this day assembled, put upon record their reprobation of Mr. Swann ; and that they are of opinion he ought, in consequence thereof, if possible, to be deprived of his seat as a member of this Corporation.”
2ndly, “That as there may be some doubts to the legality or illegality of his assumed right, it is expedient to take the opinion of Sir Wm. Follett upon the point, as a guide for our future conduct, and that a case be laid before him for that purpose.”
Great confusion ensued, and we believe the motion of Mr. Humfrey was never seconded. Mr. Livett then essayed to address the meeting, amidst the ridicule of the spectators; and when Mr. Foster and the others seemed disposed to leave the meeting, Mr. Partlett and Mr. Balls put in the protest we inserted in our paper of came the conclusion of this strange business in which nothing was concluded.”