Tomorrow’s general election, 7 May 2015, will see Cambridge city once again hotly-contested. The University of Cambridge was given two parliamentary seats in 1603 and this constituency (of two seats) was not abolished until 1950. In 1866 the Rev. Dr William Whewell (1794-1866), Master of Trinity, bequeathed to the college a large collection of papers, mostly printed, and largely related to the Cambridge Elections of 1829-1831 (R.1.76). These elections were also keenly-contested on the major issues of Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform, and Whewell’s support was solicited by each candidate.
In June 1829 during the Duke of Wellington’s administration (1828-1830) George Bankes (1787-1856), the anti-Catholic candidate, briefly gave up his Corfe Castle seat to contest his brother’s, William John Bankes, former constituency of Cambridge University. George Bankes had been preparing for a vacancy for several months, but still lacked the requisite ministerial support. He was opposed by the young Whig William Cavendish (1808-91), later 7th Duke of Devonshire, who defeated him by around 150 votes.
After the failure of the first Reform Bill in 1831, parliament was dissolved, a general election was held and Earl Grey’s Whigs, who had been in office since the Duke of Wellington resigned in November 1830, were returned to government. In Cambridge, however, Henry Goulburn (1784-1856), a Tory and close friend of Robert Peel’s stood for the university with Peel’s brother, William. Both professed their support for ‘temperate’ or moderate reform at the end of a month-long campaign against Viscount Palmerston, the foreign secretary, who had been M.P. for Cambridge University since 1811, and William Cavendish. Both Peel and Goulburn were victorious in the only major contest to go against the Whig government.
On 16 June 1831 when Goulburn took his seat in the Commons, he ‘saw many new faces, not very good looking nor yet so bad as I expected’. Despite a landslide victory for the Whigs in the first election under a reformed parliamentary system, Goulburn was re-elected in 1832 and retained the Cambridge University seat until his death in 1856.
See George Bankes (1820-32) and Henry Temple (1820-32) by Stephen Farrell and Henry Goulburn (1820-32) by David R. Fisher
Peter Joyce, Politico’s Guide to UK general Elections 1832-2001 (2004)