Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

between 31 and 72


31 Mar. 1660JOHN HALE  
27 Apr. 1664THOMAS KENDALL vice Southcote, deceased  
22 Jan. 1667WALTER YONGE vice Kendall, deceased 37
 Sir John Colleton  
 Joseph Williamson  
22 Dec. 1670WILLIAM GOULD vice Yonge, deceased  
1 Feb. 1673JOSIAH CHILD vice Gould, deceased 44
 Nathaniel Herne 28
  Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673  
15 Feb. 1673JOSIAH CHILD 43
 Nathaniel Herne 29
 William Harbord 1  
22 Aug. 1679JOHN UPTON  
19 Feb. 1681EDWARD YARDE  
9 Apr. 1685ROGER POMEROY  
 Charles Boone  
14 Jan. 1689CHARLES BOONE  
19 Sept. 1689HON. GEORGE BOOTH vice Boone, deceased4723
 Joseph Herne  
 JOSEPH HERNE vice Booth, on petition 28 Nov. 1689  

Main Article

As a port, Dartmouth was vitally interested in the Mediterranean, West Indies and Newfoundland trades; of the 17 Members elected during this period, six were merchants. There was a strong inclination to religious dissent; four Members seem to have been nonconformists, seven more showed dissenting sympathies, and none, with the possible exception of the Herne brothers, could be described as strong churchmen. It would have been a difficult constituency for court candidates to fight but for the urgent need of the merchants, especially in wartime, for government favours. There is some evidence of venality in the by-elections of 1667 and 1673, but more of refusal by the electors to be bribed or threatened. The most irregular election was in September 1689 when 25 freemen were nominated on the eve of the poll.

Little is recorded of the general elections of 1660 and 1661; the return of Alderman Frederick of London with a local gentleman, John Hale, was reported to the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck) without comment. Two of Frederick’s sons-in-law and another partner in the firm were later to sit for the borough. In 1661 William Harbord, son of the surveyor-general, was returned on the crown interest, accompanied by another local gentleman, Thomas Southcote. The corporation was purged in 1662; the mayor and four others refused to take the oaths, and four more were removed as disaffected. Thomas Kendall, a London merchant of west-country origin, was recommended by the Duke of York in 1664, and may have enjoyed the support of his kinsman Albemarle against an unknown opponent put up by John Fowell. By contrast a large amount of correspondence was preserved by Joseph Williamson concerning his unsuccessful candidature in 1667. Williamson relied on the interests of Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet) and of Thomas Clifford, who sat for the neighbouring constituency of Totnes. Characteristically, Arlington allowed himself to be outpaced by events, on political no less than naval messages, and there were two other candidates in the field before Williamson, Sir John Colleton, a London merchant of Devon origin, and another who was put forward by Frederick. Colleton, a prominent figure in the Council of Plantations, obtained letters of recommendation from Albemarle and the Duke of York. His appeal to the electorate was simple and direct:

I have had the honour by the Duke of York’s favour to procure more passes this year than any man in England ... I made my application to His Royal Highness the Duke of York concerning a protection for your ship and told him it was for a friend of mine of Dartmouth who had good interest in the town to promote my election. ... The King upon the Duke of York’s motion referred the matter to the General, saying ‘My Lord, I am sure you will do what may be in this matter, for Sir John Colleton appears in it’. ... I am sure I can serve the town in these affairs as well as any man in England.

Williamson’s position improved when Frederick withdrew his own candidate, and agreed to write ‘very pressingly’ to his local agent in Williamson’s favour. But with two court candidates already in the field, Secretary Morice (William Morice I) now introduced a third in the person of Walter Yonge, ‘a very sober gentleman, though alas he cannot do the town a pennyworth of service out of Parliament’. Yonge’s independent status was not altogether a handicap, for he could not be smeared by association with the hearth-tax or the Canary Company, and he was warmly backed by the gentry. Meanwhile Albemarle, seconded rather strangely by the Duchess of York, had turned the heat on Williamson’s supporters. ‘For my personal appearance to solicit I hope you will excuse it’, wrote Fowell, and shortly afterwards he seized the occasion of a brother-in-law’s funeral as an excuse for absenting himself from the neighbourhood for a week. As secretary to the postmaster general, Williamson was sometimes better informed than his local agents: ‘though you judge men by their tongues, yet we can guess pretty well by their pens, which many times differ’. The candidature of Yonge, with his Presbyterian record, probably provoked the appearance of a local Church candidate, the father of William Stawell; but he soon withdrew. There appears to have been a poll, from which Yonge (who had from the start enjoyed the support of the returning officer) emerged the victor, many of Williamson’s leading supporters deserting him, it was alleged, when money was sent to the town.2

Yonge’s successor was another country gentleman, William Gould, who owed his seat to a family connexion with the merchant families of Boone and Upton which had dominated the town from 1625 to 1660. He too was short-lived, and on his death Nathaniel Herne, who as Frederick’s son-in-law had loyally supported Williamson in 1667, came forward on his own account. With Albemarle dead and Morice in retirement, he may well have hoped for the undivided support of the Court. Instead, at the last moment a new candidate was found, the great merchant Josiah Child, and Williamson was falsely accused of threatening customs officials who voted for Herne with dismissal and disfranchisement. Child was elected by a majority of 16, but the election was declared void, the writ having been issued by Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury during a recess. At the second election, held a fortnight later, Herne managed to detach only one of Child’s votes, but he immediately petitioned, alleging that eight of Child’s supporters had received money, eight more had received interest-free loans or payment in advance for their goods and two more promised customs clearance for their ship, to say nothing of £500 offered to the corporation. The petition was referred to the committee of elections, whence it never emerged.3

For the three Exclusion Parliaments, Dartmouth returned one country candidate, John Upton, and one court supporter on separate indentures. In February 1679 Herne defeated Harbord, who seems to have done nothing for his constituency in the 18 years he sat for it. He died before the next election, and the Whigs hoped to win the second seat with the recorder, Martin Ryder, but there is no evidence that he went to the poll, and Edward Yarde, a local landowner, was returned. The parties were so evenly divided that in 1680 a Whig mayor was elected by a majority of one. There was no contest in 1681, when in Yarde’s absence Upton delivered a strongly exclusionist speech. But in June an address approving the dissolution was presented, and another, abhorring the Rye House Plot, was procured by Sir Edward Seymour in 1683. These loyal demonstrations could not save Dartmouth’s charter which was replaced in 1684; the usual provision was made for the removal of officials by order-in-council. John Beare, the new recorder, in the borough’s name, promptly undertook never to elect again ‘any of those concerned in any of the mutinous votes of the late House of Commons, particularly that of the exclusion’. The 2nd Duke of Albemarle (Christopher Monck) was still not satisfied, and on 6 Feb. 1685 proposed the remodelling of the corporation. It was considered sufficient to displace the mayor and one of the burgesses, and at the general election Albemarle’s dependant Arthur Farwell was returned with a local Tory, Roger Pomeroy, defeating the Whig Charles Boone, whose petition was never reported.4

In November 1687 the mayor and five others of the corporation were ordered to be removed, but apparently government control was still inadequate for electoral purposes, for in April their agents recommended a renewal of the charter. The corporation, they reported, were ready to choose Ryder and John Eyles, or anybody else proposed by Eyles or the King, except Beare and Pomeroy. Two months later the borough was reported to be in ‘great disorder and distraction about the new regulations’, and by September its management had been committed willy-nilly to Beare.5

The general election of 1689 was held ‘according to the ancient usage and common custom’ by the mayor and 38 freemen who ‘their several and respective names have written’, on the indenture. Again Whig and Tory seem to have divided the representation, though only one indenture was sent up. At the by-election later that year, Herne’s brother Joseph sought to gain the second seat for the Tories. The ‘pretended mayor’ (no doubt elected under James II’s charter) was son-in-law to Thomas Reynell and entirely in the Whig interest. After the writ had actually been received, he created 25 new freemen, 24 of whom voted for the Whig candidate, Booth. Unfortunately for the mayor, his majority on the corporation depended on the vote of a magistrate who had not qualified himself by taking the oaths; and to the incredulous delight of the Tories, Booth, though brother to the great Whig peer Lord Delamer and himself a commis sioner of customs, was unseated. So began 30 years’ domination of Dartmouth by the Herne family.6

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. His name appears on Shaftesbury's list (IHR Bull. xxx. 237).
  • 2. Exeter City Lib. DD 63122, 63162; CSP Dom. 1659-60, p. 406; 1666-7, pp. 374, 378-9, 440, 446, 497; SP 29/188, ff. 22, 28, 30, 48, 87, 88, 98; SP 29/266, f. 129C;Adm. 1745, ff. 103, 151v.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1672-3, pp. 488-9, 511, 559, 577; CJ, ix. 254.
  • 4. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 19; Exeter City Lib. 63533; PC2/69/86; Luttrell, i. 100, 279; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, p. 85; HMC Buccleuch, i. 341; CJ, ix. 721; Prot. Intell. 28 Feb. 1681; SP 44/335/154; PC2/71/29.
  • 5. Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 233, 241.
  • 6. PC2/72/542; CJ, x. 273, 297; HMC Kenyon, 227; Portledge Pprs. 65.