Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 100


18 Apr. 1754Sir William Rowley 
 Sir Edward Hawke 
25 Apr. 1757Rowley re-elected after appointment to office 
31 Mar. 1761Sir Edward Hawke 
 Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh 
10 Dec. 1766Hawke re-elected after appointment to office 
22 Mar. 1768Sir Edward Hawke 
 Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh 
29 Mar. 1774Peter Taylor vice Fetherstonhaugh, deceased39
 Joshua Iremonger24
10 Oct. 1774Sir Edward Hawke65
 Peter Taylor37
 Joshua Iremonger34
18 May 1776Maurice Suckling vice Hawke, called to the Upper House 
26 Nov. 1777Sir William Gordon vice Taylor, deceased23
 Sir Henry Fetherstonhaugh12
10 Aug. 1778Robert Monckton vice Suckling, deceased 
9 Sept. 1780Robert Monckton34
 Sir William Gordon20
 Sir Henry Fetherstonhaugh11
5 June 1782Sir Henry Fetherstonhaugh vice Monckton, deceased 
28 July 1783Thomas Erskine vice Gordon, granted a pension 
1 Apr. 1784Sir Henry Fetherstonhaugh 
 William Cornwallis 

Main Article

Portsmouth was an Admiralty borough in which at least one Member was usually an admiral, but the other frequently a neighbouring country gentleman. In the distribution of patronage due regard was paid to the corporation. On 22 Dec. 1764 George Grenville writing to George Brydges Rodney named Sir Edward Hawke, M.P. for Portsmouth, and the corporation as ‘the usual channel of recommendation’ to vacant posts in the borough.1 And Sir Charles Saunders wrote on 11 Oct. 1766, in reply to a recommendation from Newcastle, that the Government interest in the borough could not be maintained if favours were bestowed on applications that did not come from the corporation or the principal people in it.2

In 1754 Admirals Rowley and Hawke had the support of the Admiralty; and so had Hawke and Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1761. But in 1768 Fetherstonhaugh was re-elected although he adhered to the Rockinghams. There was a strong independent element in the corporation, largely composed of Dissenters and led by John Carter, a Unitarian.3 The electoral control of the Admiralty was tightened up when Lord Sandwich became first lord. During Fetherstonhaugh’s long illness he kept an eye on the borough,4 and on his death took the initiative in backing Taylor’s candidature.5 The contest was followed by a struggle inside the corporation, each side moving informations in the King’s bench against opponents and obtaining judgments of ouster.6 At one stage Sandwich tried to reach an agreement with the opposition, and on 8 Mar. 1775 offered to treat with Carter and two of his friends ‘under the seal of secrecy’ so that

if nothing comes of our negotiation, neither party will suffer among their friends from any explanations that may have been made between us ... I well know the state of our case on both sides, and the advantages and difficulties we reciprocally labour under: various accidents may decide the point in favour of either party; but I do not mean to avail myself of the present favourable moment, if I can find security in adopting a plan that will be for the mutual interest of both parties.7

But the struggle went on, and when the time came for electing a mayor, Sandwich wrote to Robinson, 4 Sept.:8

This matter of Portsmouth seems to me an affair of great consequence, as I have no doubt but that if it is properly attended to the borough will be entirely recovered and be permanent with Government, but it will require management and attention.

Among letters from Thomas Binstead, an agent of Sandwich,9 one of 6 Nov. 1775 deals with the question of an address from the corporation to the King on America: the leaders of the Government party were against it; they were 28 strong, but only 18 resident; the opposition were 17, ‘16 of whom would certainly attend’.

We have nobody that can speak at all, and the two Whites and Mr. Missing, the late recorder (who is a violent Presbyterian) would harangue our friends out of their senses. There are also two or three of our friends who would on such a question scarce support us, that is old Mr. Lowe, who is half a Dissenter, and Abraham Monasher, a whole one. Captain Hood [Samuel Hood], too is so connected as not to think of coming from Bath to forward such a measure....

In respect to the Town’s addressing, we should meet with great opposition if not a defeat. We are beset with Presbyterians and Dissenters of every kind. A man of Mr. Pike’s great fortune, and with the influence of Mr. Carter and White and their numerous connexions and dependants, would produce a most formidable opposition, and if the address were to be made to the Deity and originate from our side, Mr. Carter and his party would oppose it.

Moreover ‘some of our burgesses if they were to propose the address would do it in so lukewarm a manner that it would be more like a petition for conciliatory measures than an address for coercive ones’.

Meanwhile successful actions of ouster left the corporation without a mayor or recorder, with only four aldermen, and a few burgesses.10 Robinson wrote in his survey for the general election of 1780 that the return of the same Members could be expected ‘for this time, but not again without a compromise’—which made him suggest that candidates should be picked not likely to die or ‘vacate for office soon’. ‘Nothing can be done but by negotiation’, wrote Sandwich to Robinson, 7 Sept. 1781, ‘and ... this is the proper moment to pursue that plan.’11 He proposed to write to John Missing (long associated with the Portsmouth opposition)‘—and unless he is much altered since I saw him last, I am persuaded that I can bring him and his party to agree that provided we will let Sir H. Fetherstone in upon the first vacancy, they will consent for the future to choose one and one’. But Missing wrote to Sandwich, 19 Nov.:12 ‘I have laid Mr. Robinson’s proposals before the aldermen of Portsmouth ... they cannot accede to them.’ However, in a private letter written the same day he deprecated further litigation which by burdening the corporation, already heavily in debt, might force them to accept help from men who ‘assisting with their purses from mere dislike to the present ministry, will not be content without such arrangements as must put it out of our power afterwards either to offer or accept any terms from any other quarter’; while they in all these disputes had never lost sight ‘of that connexion which so long subsisted to mutual advantage’ between the Admiralty and their corporation.

On 25 Nov. 1781 Sandwich wrote to Robinson:13

I hope Lord North will, when his first hurry of opening the session is over, appoint an early day to meet the attorney-general and bring the Portsmouth business to a final conclusion ... I ... will write to Missing to desire he would prevent his friends from engaging themselves in any new connexions, till he hears from me again.

Missing replied that there was no ‘intention so to do unless further hostilities should be commenced by Administration’.14

Neither Member returned in 1780 was a sailor; and on the vacancy caused in June 1782 by the death of Robert Monckton, Keppel, now first lord of the Admiralty, accepted Sir Henry Fetherstonhaugh—‘he will not on any account wish to occasion any difficulty’, wrote Rockingham, 23 May.15 Even so there seems to have been some agitation in favour of a naval officer. ‘Admiral Keppel’, wrote Rockingham to Fetherstonhaugh on the 26th, ‘will not like that a sea officer should be chose at Portsmouth, when he waives his own wishes for a great officer in the navy.’ But even on the next vacancy, in July 1783, Keppel agreed to another non-naval candidate, Thomas Erskine. The Duke of Portland wrote to Fetherstonhaugh on 15 July:

I ... flatter myself that the present constitution of the Admiralty will dispose you to give that preference with zeal which I have understood even under unfavourable circumstances your friends have thought consistent with prudence and the real interests of the borough, and that if any attempt should be made by any person upon a different ground and from an hope which an eventual connexion may have given rise to, that it will be resisted in the first moment, and Lord Keppel’s friend be approved of by you and your friends.

And on the next day Portland informed him that ‘directions had been given to supply all the employments which may become vacant there [at Portsmouth] by such names as you or Sir John Carter may wish to have appointed’.

Robinson wrote about Portsmouth in his electoral forecast compiled in the second week of December 1783, the last days of the Coalition:16

This borough is now in the family of the Carters. The electors will again, it is apprehended, choose Sir H. Fetherstonhaugh. They chose Mr. Erskine on the recommendation of the present Government to whom they are inclined in general to give one, and it is apprehended, with civility and proper application at the moment preceding, they might be prevailed on to elect a steady friend of the Administration, which Mr. Erskine can’t be classed.

Fetherstonhaugh was returned but Erskine, who had no previous connexion with Portsmouth, was replaced by Captain William Cornwallis, a Pittite. Peter Taylor (no connexion of the late Member of that name but of a family prominent in the corporation) wrote to Erskine17 to vindicate ‘the conduct of our family and nearest friends in the borough of Portsmouth’.

You are perhaps but slightly acquainted with the struggles the Whigs have had against Lord Sandwich to render it independent of Administration; you must however easily perceive the peculiar difficulties of such an attempt in a seaport town, where so many good things are distributed or expected from the Admiralty. Our family have hitherto taken a part in this arduous undertaking connected with the worthy family of the Carters. ... Great have been the expense and fatigue to them and not little has been the odium it has brought upon us. Notwithstanding which we went on in what we think a good cause and were in hopes we had brought affairs to a happy and final issue, and determined to have fixed on you, Sir (whose principles and conduct in Parliament we approved) to prove our independence. But alas, the madness of the day had seized on the corporation, a madness which you must be conscious has operated with considerable violence on minds better qualified to judge than those commonly found in corporate bodies.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Grenville letter bk.
  • 2. Add. 32977, ff. 232-3.
  • 3. Lake Allen, Hist. Portsmouth; P. A. Taylor, Some Account of Taylor Fam.; Gent. Mag. 1808, p. 559, ii. 848.
  • 4. Sandwich to John Robinson, 26 Nov. 1772, Abergavenny mss.
  • 5. Corresp. betw. Wm. Jolliffe and John Carter, March 1774, Jolliffe mss.
  • 6. R. East, Extracts from Portsmouth Recs. 234-55.
  • 7. Sandwich mss.
  • 8. Abergavenny mss.
  • 9. Sandwich mss.
  • 10. Lake Allen, Hist. Portsmouth, 108.
  • 11. Abergavenny mss.
  • 12. Sandwich mss.
  • 13. Abergavenny mss.
  • 14. 28 Nov., Sandwich mss.
  • 15. Fetherstonhaugh mss.
  • 16. Laprade, 88-89.
  • 17. P. A. Taylor, Some Account of Taylor Fam. 523.