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Politicians of an Earlier Day


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Sheffield was not represented in Parliament until 1832, when it was granted two members. The number was increased to five for the election of 1885. Now it ought to have at least two more. Among its members, excluding those now sitting, several have had more than a local influence.

One of them, John Arthur Roebuck, was the grandson of a very remarkable Sheffield man who may be suitably mentioned here. dr. john roebuck, born in Sheffield in 1718, had a doctor's practice in Birmingham, but turned from medicine to chemistry, and was concerned in some notable inventions. He improved the processes of refining gold and silver, and made a fortune by introducing the modern method of manufacturing sulphuric acid. Then he went to Scotland and was practically the founder of the Scottish iron and coal trades on a large scale. He established the Carron Iron Works and attained great prosperity; but, by planning large schemes for raising coal from deep seams before there was sufficient engine-power to keep the mines free from water, ruined himself. Though he was in part unsuccessful, Dr. Roebuck was one of the most vigorous pioneers of British industry. A son of his went out to India as a Civil Servant, and there John Arthur Roebuck, the doctor's fiery grandson, was born.

For many years John Arthur Roebuck was regarded in Parliament as the member for Sheffield. He was born in 1801. By profession a barrister, he was by love of controversy a politician. He first gained a seat for Sheffield in 1849. Previously he had represented Bath in two Parliaments. At first he was an advanced Radical with no confidence in either the Whig or the Tory party. One of the first reforms he proposed (in 1835) was the abolition of the veto of the House of Lords (i.e., its power of refusing assent to measures passed by the House of Commons), a change that was not made till seventy-five years later, and then was made almost in the form he had suggested.

So fierce was Roebuck in his attacks on all Parties that he was known by the nick-name "Dog Tear 'em." But as time went on he gave up his advanced ideas, and particularly offended the working classes by his criticisms of them. He also championed the slave side in the American war, and opposed the cause of Italian freedom. The result was that he was defeated in Sheffield in 1868 by Mr. Mundella.

However, he was again elected in 1874, but had then become a Conservative. He died in London on November 30, 1879. His portrait is in the Town Hall collection, his bust in the Cutlers' Hall, and his Life has been written by Mr. Robert Eadon Leader.

Anthony John Mundella, who defeated John Arthur Roebuck in 1868, represented Sheffield in Parliament for nearly thirty years - first, the whole city, and, from 1885, the Bright-side Division. Mr. Mundella took to the House of Commons a thoroughly practical knowledge of business, and in consequence gave valuable assistance in legislation, that is the making of laws, and in administration, or bringing laws into use, also in carrying them out.

He was born at Leicester in 1825, his father being an Italian. At nine years of age young Mundella went to work; was apprenticed at eleven to a hosiery firm; was a manager at nineteen, and a partner at twenty-three. In Nottingham, where his business was chiefly carried on, he did much towards promoting a friendly feeling between employers and workmen by forming a conciliation board at which capital and labour were represented.

In Parliament his influence was used strongly in favour of factory legislation, and he also urged the need for national education as a means by which England would retain her high place among the nations. No one did more than he to promote the great Education Act of 1870, an Act that was greatly improved by his own Act of 1881, when he was Vice-President of the Committee of the Council for Education. In 1886 he became a member of the Cabinet and President of the Board of Trade, and he created the Labour Department of the Board. In 1892 he was again President of the Board of Trade. As chairman of a Committee on Poor Law Schools in 1895, he introduced the Report which showed the evils of trying to educate children in workhouses. He died in July, 1897, in London, and was buried at Nottingham.

Mr. Mundella was faithful through life to the declaration he made when, as a lad, he spoke at a Chartist meeting at Leicester, and said his party should be the Party of the working man; but he was also a business man, vigorous in duty, genial in temperament, and he served the general interests of Sheffield trade so practically that many Conservatives valued his membership of the House, and the fine portrait of him which hangs in the Lord Mayor's Parlour at the Town Hall was presented to him by his constituents, "independent of party."

Sir Howard Vincent was Conservative member for the Central Division of Sheffield from 1885 to his death in 1908. His father was the eleventh baronet of his line. A man of inexhaustible energy, Sir Howard lived a most varied life. First he was a soldier; then he studied law, and was called to the Bar. Next he carefully studied police methods abroad, where he spent much time and acquired a ready command of four or five languages. In 1878, at the age of twenty-nine, he was made director of criminal investigation at Scotland Yard, a position he resigned in 1884 to take up politics. As an imperialist and protectionist, he became one of the most popular platform speakers on the Conservative side, and was, indeed, the original inspirer of the tariff reform movement, afterwards taken over from him by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain.

Apart from his organizing work on behalf of Conservatism, Sir Howard was very busy in public life on what are called Private Bills. He agitated successfully for probationary treatment for first offenders against the law; and he lived to see the fulfilment of one of his pet schemes, the appointment of a Public Trustee to carry out the provisions of private people's wills, if those who make the wills desire it. The Public Trustee's Department, long asked for by Vincent, has proved an enormous success. Sir Howard was knighted in 1896. He died suddenly abroad in 1908.

As a member of Parliament, Sir Howard was very popular because of his frankness, geniality, and high spirits. No one made more friends among opponents. He thoroughly relished the bustle of conflict, and gave and accepted hearty blows in a spirit free from offence.

Among other politicians associated with Sheffield, omitting those living at the time of writing this book, may be mentioned Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, who represented the Ecclesall Division from its formation in 1885 until his death in 1902. By birth he was an American, but was educated in England from boyhood. At Oxford he was President of the Union in 1873. After serving as an Inspector of Schools and an Examiner in the Education Office from 1874 to 1880, he entered Parliament for the little borough of Eye. For some time he was Chairman of the National Union of Conservative Associations, and he started a newspaper called England, which involved him in financial troubles. Twice he served as a Civil Lord of the Admiralty under Lord Salisbury. In 1892 he was knighted. Sir Ellis was regarded by his party as one of their most effective platform orators, and expended much energy in recommending Conservative views to popular audiences.

It may be noted that Lord Coleridge, judge in the High Court of Justice, was, as the Hon. Bernard Coleridge, member for the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield from 1885 to 1894. He had a great local reputation for eloquence and commanded enormous majorities at parliamentary elections.

A man of powerful personality, who had much influence on the public life of Sheffield during the last four decades of the nineteenth century was Sir William Christopher Leng, the maker of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. He was born in Hull in 1825, and while a young man established a business there as a chemist, but was drawn into the newspaper world by his interest in public affairs and his pleasure in writing about them. He therefore removed to Dundee, to act as leader-writer for his brother John, who had become a proprietor of the Dundee Advertiser.

In 1864 W. C. Leng came to Sheffield as one of the proprietors, and editor, of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, the first penny provincial newspaper. He attracted wide-spread attention by the boldness and persistence with which he denounced those who planned the trade outrages that are associated with the name of William Broadhead. When the Government inquiry respecting the outrages was over, Mr. Leng was presented by his admirers with a purse of six hundred guineas, and the portrait that now hangs in the first floor corridor of the Town Hall. He appears in Charles Reade's story, Put Yourself in His Place, under the name of Mr. Holdfast.

Sir William Leng received his knighthood at Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887. For many years before his death, in February, 1902, he was the inspirer and leader of Sheffield Conservatism. Every Saturday an article by him on the topics of the day, signed "Arcturus," appeared in his newspaper. His idea of warfare in print was to be the attacking party, always; and a pen in his hand became a broadsword; but when the skirmish was over he had much of the natural courtesy of the old-time warrior.

Samuel Plimsoll, the reformer whose agitations led to a safety load-line being adopted by law for ships, was associated with Sheffield in several ways. Born in Bristol in 1824, he was educated in Sheffield. He unsuccessfully contested Central Sheffield against Sir Howard Vincent in 1885, and he lived for a time in the city at Whiteley Wood Hall.

Plimsoll, who at one period of his life was very poor, existing indeed on 7s. 9½d. a week, spent his later years in crusading on behalf of good causes. From 1868 to 1880 he was member of Parliament for Derby. By his denunciation of the recklessness with which seamen were exposed unnecessarily to dangers, he at last compelled the Government to bring in a Merchant Shipping Bill; but towards the close of the summer session of 1875, the Premier, Mr. Disraeli, announced that the Bill would be dropped. Thereupon Plimsoll created a scene in the House of Commons that remains without a parallel. Completely losing control of himself, he described the ship-owning members as murderers and villains, and shook his fist in the Speaker's face. The public effect was that the Government was compelled next year to pass a Bill safeguarding sailors' lives, and excluding unseaworthy "coffin ships" from using the English Hag. Sir William Leng used to claim that it was he who, in his Radical days, suggested to Plimsoll his crusade as the sailors' friend. Samuel Plimsoll did not re-enter Parliament after 1880. He died in 1898.


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Pictures for Politicians of an Earlier Day

JOHN ARTHUR ROEBUCK
JOHN ARTHUR ROEBUCK >>>>
A. J. MUNDELLA
A. J. MUNDELLA >>>>
SAMUEL PLIMSOLL
SAMUEL PLIMSOLL >>>>

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