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James Dickson: The second youngest MP since the Great Reform Act

Updated Monday, 11th May 2015

The story of the youngest MP elected between The Great Reform Act and 2015 is a twisty one of parental wrongdoing and self-sacrifice.

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Dungannon skyline at sunset Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Susanaaraujo | Dungannon, constituency of Dickson father and son The election of Mhairi Black as SNP member for Paisley & Renfrewshire South makes her the youngest MP elected since the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832. The record had been held by James Dickson since he entered parliament at a by-election in 1880. His story is somewhat eyecatching...

James Dickson's father had been MP for Dungannon since 1874 and was narrowly re-elected in 1880...

Yesterday's Returns Of Polling:
Thos. A Dickson, L - 128 Col. Stuart Knox, C - 126
- The Blackburn Standard: Darwen Observer, and North-East Lancashire Advertiser, 03-04-1880

... but his victory was short-lived...

A petition has been lodged against the return of Mr Thomas Alexander Dickson, MP for Dungannon, on the ground of bribery and treating.
- The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, 27-04-1880

Thomas fought the charges…

In the Common Pleas Division, yesterday, a motion was made on the affadavit of Mr Dickson, MP, for an order compelling the petitioners in the case to furnish particulars of treating, bribery & c as alegged. Mr Dickson declared in his affadavit that the election was on his part fairly conducted. He denies all knowledge of unfair means being pracised.
-The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, 11-05-1880

In court, it appeared Thomas' boastfulness had brought about his own downfall...

Mr Dickson triumphed by the narrow margin of two votes, and possibly if he had been satisfied with that, and had not exhibited his triumph in language that was, to say the least iof it, a little intermperate , probably the victory would have been left to him. But insomuch as Mr Dickson thought it proper so soon as the election was over to characterise in language of a somewhat extraordinary nature the efforts that had been made by Colonel Knox's friends to carry the election [...] that, in fact, "on one side were virtue and Dickson; on the other the Colonel and guilt…" - if speeches of that nature had not been made, probably Mr Dickson might have been still member without the necessity for this investigation.
- The Belfast News-Letter, 08-06-1880

The court found that, Donovan, a supporter of Knox had been paid £10 to not vote...

Mr Justice Barry said [...] during the process of the case he had struggled in every way he could to avoid coming to the conclusion that the case of Robert Donovan was one of bribery; but having turned it over in his mind he was unable to come to any other conclusion, that they must consider it as illegal and corrupt.
He had come to the conclusions that they had no alternative but to declare the election void.
- The Belfast News-Letter, 11-06-1880

The shame of the father, though, was an opportunity for his son...

Mr James Dickson, eldest son of Mr Thomas A Dickson, the member for Dungannon, who on Thursday was unseated on petition, has been waited on by a deputation representing all sections of the Liberal electors, and at their urgent request has consented to become a candidate for the representation of Dungannon.
- The Standard, 12-06-1880

... who went nose-to-nose with the man his father had cheated ...

The Sheriff has fixed Thursday, the 24th inst., for the Dungannon nomination, and Friday, the 25th, for the polling. The candidates are Mr James Dickson (Liberal) and Colonel Knox (Conservative).
- The Standard, 23-06-1880

James won the day, increasing his father's dubious majority...

The Dungannon election took place yesterday week, and the poll was declared as follows:
James Dickson (L) - 132
Colonel Knox (C) - 123
Majority - 4
Mr. Dickson is a nephew of the Rev. W McCaw of Manchester. Mr Dickson, who is the youngest member of the present House Of Commons, resided for some time in Manchester, having been educated at the Brooughton High School. His election in the place of his father, in spite of the powerful territorial influence of the Conservative candidate Colonel Knox, has given great satisfaction to the Liberals in the north of Ireland.
- Manchester Times, 03-07-1880

The media was as interested by James' age in 1880 as the press are with Mhairi's in 2015...

THE YOUNGEST MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS - Mr. James Dickson, who took his seat in the House of Commons on Thursday [...] was born in April, 1859, and consequently came of age since the general election.
- The Bristol Mercury And Daily Post - 10-07-1880

The passing of the 1884 Third Reform Act increased the size of the electorate, and required a redistribution of seats - not least between rural and urban constituencies. As a consequence, James' seat was scheduled to be abolished…

Mr Seagrove, solicitor, said he represented one of the members for Tyrone and the member for Dungannon. At first they held the opinion that the scheme as proposed by the Commissioners was possibly the best scheme that could be suggested both as regards the equalisation of the population and having regard to the fact it followed the baronies more closely than any other scheme that had been suggested. They found, however, that the opinion in the county was general and strong the the scheme proposed by the commissioners had many defects; at least one or two very serious defects.
- The Belfast News-Letter, 09-01-1885

By 1885, James' father was back in the Commons as MP for Tyrone; and argued strongly against his son's constituency being abolished...

He and certain other Ulster members were determined that the small boroughs of Ireland should not be enfranchised at the expense of the counties. [...]
If the smaller boroughs were to be retained, he could plead for another borough in Ireland, the borough of Dungannon in which he had some interest (a laugh) a borough whose voice was heard in the House with very considerable effect at a great crisis in the history of Ireland.
- The Belfast News-Letter, 12-03-1885

There was talk of a Liberal-Conservative coalition in Ulster, so that the new seats would not be contested. But nothing came of it…

Mr Thomas A Dickson, MP, who is stopping with Mr James Dickson MP, at Dungannon on Saturday, received congratulations from the various political centres in England and Ireland. he had some consultations with a number of the leading Liberal in the South Tyrone Division. It has been decided there will be no coalition between the Liberals and Conservatives in Ulster, the ULster Liberals having decided that they will contest the new constituencies upon the broad Radical basis of Mr Dickson's manifesto.
- The Morning Post - 25-05-1885

... and James helped seal his own fate ...

On Tuesday 9th June 1885, the government lost a vote on the Crimes Act in Ireland, and resigned. One of those who helped bring about the defeat was James Dickson, so effectively his last act as an MP was to bring about the abolition of his own seat.

After his spell as an MP came to its premature end - and at only 25, way too young to retire, James Dickson entered the family textile business. He died in 1941.





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