Robert Purvis (politician)

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Purvis in 1895.

Sir Robert Purvis LL.D (1844 – 23 June 1920)[1] was an English barrister and Liberal Unionist politician. He sat in the House of Commons from 1895 to 1905 as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Peterborough.

Early life[edit]

Purvis was the son of Joseph Purvis, from Hexham.[2] He was educated at Marlborough and at Downing College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a BA in 1880, an MA and LL.M in 1875, and as a Doctor of law (LL.D) in 1881.[3]


He was called to the bar in 1873 at the Inner Temple,[4] and practised on the North Eastern Circuit.[5]

At the 1885 general election he unsuccessfully contested the Abingdon division of Berkshire as a Liberal Party candidate.[6] When the Liberals split over Home Rule for Ireland, they took the Unionist side, and at the 1886 election he stood as a Liberal Unionist in Edinburgh South, but lost to Gladstone's ally and former minister, Hugh Childers, who had been defeated in his previous district the previous December.[7]

General Election 1886: Edinburgh South
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Hugh Culling Eardley Childers 3,778
Liberal Unionist Robert Purvis 2,191
Majority 1,587

Purvis then contested the Peterborough by-election in October 1899, but lost to the Liberal candidate Alpheus Morton.[8][9] The election was fought largely on the issue of Home Rule, which Purvis asserted was opposed to the true principles of democracy, because if Ireland got Home Rule because its people wanted it, then they would also have to get separation if they demanded it.[10] (The report in The Times did not explain why Purvis considered separation to be opposed to democracy).

He contested the seat again in 1892, cutting Morton's majority to 158 votes (4% of the total), down from 251 votes (7%)in 1889.[8] Purvis won Peterborough on his third attempt,[5] when he defeated Morton at the 1895 general election.[8][11] Morton had hoped to contest the seat again in 1900, but the local Liberals declined to nominate him again,[12] and Purvis was re-elected[13] with a reduced majority over the Liberal candidate Halley Stewart.[8]

In 1903 he supported Joseph Chamberlain's policy of Imperial Preference,[14] a proposed system of reciprocally-levelled tariffs or free trade agreements between different Dominions and Colonies within the British Empire which had caused a division in Unionist ranks.

He was knighted in 1905,[15] in the King's Birthday Honours,[16] but lost his seat at the 1906 general election to the Liberal Granville Greenwood, who won by a large majority of 1,159 votes (21% of the total).[8]

Purvis continued as an active Liberal Unionist, and in December 1908 he was one of several speaker at a mass meeting on tariff reform held in Stamford.[17] He contested Peterborough again at the January 1910 general election, but even before Parliament was dissolved on 10 January,[18] The Times was pessimistic about his chances.[19] The Liberal majority in 1906 was "decisive", and Greenwood had the support of most of Peterborough's railway and engineering workers made up a large proportion of the electorate.[19] When the votes were counted, Greenwood had held the seat, although with a more modest majority of 43 votes (7%).[8]

In 1914, he supported calls by Unionist MP Jesse Collings for tenant farmers to become owner-occupiers of their lands.[20] He saw it as an alternative to encouraging he emigration of young men to take up land grants in the colonies, and as a bulwark against radical Liberal proposals to nationalise the land.


In 1874 Purvis married Elizabeth Marion Peat, eldest daughter of William Henry Peat, a merchant from London.[4]


  1. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "P" (part 1)
  2. ^ "Biographies of Candidates". The Times. London. 25 November 1885. p. 4, col B. Retrieved 17 December 2010.  (subscription required)
  3. ^ "Purvis, Robert (PRVS866R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ a b Debrett's House of Commons and the Judicial Bench 1901. London: Dean & Son. 1901. p. 125. 
  5. ^ a b "New Members of Parliament". The Times. London. 18 July 1895. p. 3. Retrieved 17 December 2010.  (subscription required)
  6. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1974]. British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 221. ISBN 0-900178-27-2. 
  7. ^ Craig, page 485
  8. ^ a b c d e f Craig, page 169
  9. ^ The Constitutional Year Book, 1904, published by Conservative Central Office, page 172 (196 in web page)
  10. ^ "Election Intelligence". The Times. London. 21 September 1889. p. 6. 
  11. ^ "No. 26651". The London Gazette. 9 August 1895. p. 4484. 
  12. ^ "News in brief: Election Intelligence". The Times. London. 10 May 1900. p. 12, col F. 
  13. ^ "No. 27244". The London Gazette. 6 November 1900. p. 6773. 
  14. ^ "Fiscal Policy. Mr. Chamberlain". The Times. London. 23 October 1903. p. 5. Retrieved 17 December 2010.  (subscription required)
  15. ^ "No. 27865". The London Gazette. 19 December 1905. p. 9083. 
  16. ^ "Birthday Honours". The Times. London. 9 November 1905. pp. 6, col A. Retrieved 17 December 2010.  (subscription required)
  17. ^ "Mr. Chamberlain and the Government". The Times. London. 12 December 1908. p. 4. Retrieved 17 December 2010.  (subscription required)
  18. ^ Rallings, Colin; Thrasher, Michael (2006). British Electoral Facts. London: Total Politics. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-907278-03-7. 
  19. ^ a b "The Political Situation. Election Prospects.-Ix.*, The Midlands". The Times. London. 30 December 1909. p. 4. 
  20. ^ "The Attractions of Ownership. ROBERT PURVIS". The Times. 29 June 1914. p. 13. Retrieved 17 December 2010.  (subscription required)

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alpheus Morton
Member of Parliament for Peterborough
Succeeded by
Granville Greenwood