The constituency was created by the Great Reform Act for the 1832 general election as a parliamentary borough, Whitby being at that point one of the most prosperous towns in England which had not previously been represented. (Whitby had been summoned to send members to the Protectorate Parliaments during the Civil War period, but never at any other time.) It consisted of Whitby itself and the adjoining townships of Ruswarp, Hawsker and Stainsacre, and had a population of just over 10,000.
Whitby's shipbuilding industry had been in decline even before the new borough was established, and by 1885 a separate MP for the town could no longer be justified. However, when the borough was abolished the county constituency which absorbed it was also named Whitby (strictly, the Whitby Division of the North Riding of Yorkshire): it contained all the easternmost part of the Riding apart from Scarborough (which remained a separate borough), stretching south-west to Pickering which was the only other town in the constituency.
Another General Election was required to take place before the end of 1915. The political parties had been making preparations for an election to take place and by July 1914, the following candidates had been selected;