“Poll Book”, 1847
This treasure is a Poll Book, gifted to the trustees of The Rothschild Archive by N M Rothschild & Sons Limited.
Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) was elected to serve as MP for the City of London in 1847. He would not be able to take his seat for another eleven years until the discriminatory legislation against Jews was removed. This volume is entitled ‘City Electors list’ 1847 and is a record of votes cast in the 1847 election. The volume records the names of the nine candidates who stood at the election, and the name and address of each individual who placed a vote. This volume appears to have been made privately and was retained for many years in the Partners’ Room at New Court.
When Lionel de Rothschild eventually took up his seat in 1858 he became the first practising Jew to sit as a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. Jews had been MPs since Sampson Gideon in 1770, but had been required to convert to Christianity before entering Parliament. Prime Minister William Gladstone had initially proposed that Lionel be made a peer and sit in the House of Lords but Queen Victoria had refused, saying that to title a Jew would cause antagonism, and that it would be unseemly to ennoble someone whose success was based on what she called “a species of gambling” rather than legitimate trade. However, in 1885 the Queen did allow Lionel’s son Nathan to become the first Jewish member of the House of Lords.
We are fascinated by this treasure for the insight it gives into the position of Jews in nineteenth century England. Despite his British political activities and philanthropy (for example: organising funding for the Crimean War, organising the relief effort for the Irish and Scottish Highland Potato Famine, organising the purchase of the Suez Canal) Lionel faced great obstacles taking up his seat.
Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain