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North Devon in 100 Objects: 82. Ernest Soares’ Election Card

An election card from 1906. It features two images one of Mr E.J. Soares and one of Mrs E.J. Soares, both wearing smart clothes.

This card was produced as part of the 1906 election campaign of Ernest Joseph Soares, probably Barnstaple’s first ethnic minority MP.  He was knighted in 1911.

Ernest was born in Liverpool in 1864, the son of Jose Luis Xavier Soares, and his wife Hannah Hollingsworth. Hannah was born in Lancashire, but Jose’s family was from Goa, India. They were Hindu Brahmins who changed their name from Gaitonde when they converted to Christianity under Portuguese influence in Goa. Jose Soares described himself in the 1881 census as an East India Merchant, suggesting the family maintained its international connections through trade.

Regardless of his family origins, Ernest led a conventional upper class English life, reading law at St John’s College, Cambridge, and becoming a partner in Allen, Prestagne and Soares, solicitors of Manchester. He married Kate Lord, the daughter of a wealthy neighbour in Manchester, and they had one daughter.

In 1900, Ernest rented Upcott House, a large Georgian manor house between Ashford and Pilton, and stood on behalf of the Liberal party against the sitting Liberal Unionist MP, who he beat by 347 votes. He held some additional roles in Parliament, including as Assistant Comptroller of the Reduction of the National Debt and Life Annuity Office. He was re-elected in 1906, and twice in 1910, but he resigned due to ill health in 1911, remaining in post as Assistant Comptroller until 1916. He died in 1926, and the flag of the Liberal Club in Barnstaple and Bideford flew at half-mast to mark his passing.

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