Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 500


(1801): 5,926


18 June 1790SIR PETER BURRELL, Bt.307
 Richard Smith32
30 May 1796THOMAS FYDELL I290
 THOMAS CHARLES COLYEAR, Visct. Milsington251
 Samuel Barnard95
 John Ogle165
  Fydell’s election declared void, 5 May 1803 
17 May 1803 THOMAS FYDELL II158
 John Ogle93
 John Cartwright59
8 May 1807THOMAS FYDELL I229
 Hon. Peter Robert Drummond Burrell149
 John Cartwright8
13 Apr. 1812 HON. PETER ROBERT DRUMMOND BURRELL vice Fydell, deceased133
 Sir Abraham Hume, Bt.101
 Sir Abraham Hume, Bt.206
 Henry Ellis270

Main Article

The Duke of Ancaster returned one Member, as usual, in 1790; and the corporation regained the seat they had lost to a nabob in 1784 for want of a ready candidate by putting up Thomas Fydell, a merchant banker of their number who had been three times mayor.1 The nabob Watherston did not offer again and another nabob, Gen. Richard Smith*, who appeared as a third man, fared badly at the poll. His and an electors’ petition against the return were not pursued. In 1796 Ancaster put up his son-in-law Viscount Milsington instead of Sir Peter Burrell, who became a peer; he and Fydell were again opposed. An attempt to secure the candidature of John Cartwright the reformer had failed, and at first John Palmer* of Bath offered opposition; but he withdrew and it was the dissenting banker Barnard who stood at the eleventh hour. According to an account of 1818:

The foundation of the present success of the Independent cause in Boston was laid as early as the year 1796, when the late Mr Barnard without an hour’s previous canvass or intention of appearing as a candidate, obtained 95 free and unsolicited votes: and to be able to say ‘I was one of the ninety-five’ is yet no inconsiderable or vain boast of the survivors.

On 30 May 1797, a Boston petition for parliamentary reform and peace instigated by John Cartwright and Barnard was presented to the House.2

In 1802 the Ancaster interest, which lacked male heirs, lapsed and the ‘independent cause’ triumphed in the person of an eloquent radical, William Alexander Madocks, who was encouraged by Cartwright and by like-minded friends in Boston when he canvassed in December 1801. The corporation or ‘Purple’ party put up a second string to Fydell in Col. Ogle, worth £3,000 per annum, but Madocks, leading the ‘Blues’, headed the poll, sharing 212 votes with Fydell and receiving 67 plumpers. The contest ‘recoiled upon Mr Fydell, he being unseated for bribery upon petition of Mr Ogle’. This was in May 1803; Fydell then put up his son, one of Napoleon’s détenus in France, who defeated Ogle in the fresh election. Another petition of Ogle’s dragged on until November 1803 during Fydell junior’s absence and subsequently lapsed.3

In 1806 Fydell senior resumed his candidature and was returned with Madocks after a contest in which the third man was John Cartwright. At first a local Blue, William Chapman, had offered, 25 Oct., then the London radical, Robert Waithman*, on 28 Oct., but he gave up next day on discovering that ‘so many promises had been obtained by previous solicitation’. Cartwright stepped into the breach, but in his address, 31 Oct. refused to give the customarydouceur of five guineas to voters, deploring this hallowed practice. He received 59 votes. In 1807, on the same platform, he received only eight votes: but there was then a new candidate, Drummond Burrell, who relied on his connexion with the Ancaster family and sported their colour of orange: like Fydell he emphasized his zeal for the constitution and ‘the prosperity of our holy faith’, but he was defeated by Madocks for second place.4

Early in 1811 Fydell planned to retire in the event of a dissolution, but he died before it took place. The new Purple candidate was Sir Abraham Hume*, father-in-law of Lord Brownlow, who had intended to offer simultaneously with Fydell’s notice of his retirement. This ‘private transfer and attempt at bargain and sale’ was denounced by a freeman who warned the electors of it, and Drummon Burrell, espousing the cause of ‘freedom and independence’, defeated Hume in April 1812, notwithstanding the latter had government support and secured the rejection of many votes tendered. At the general election in October, Hume offered again, but was unable to be present and was represented by Gen. Mellish, who changed his colour from Purple to Pink. Hume, who was again defeated, complained of ‘a monstrous and tyrannical coalition’ against him by the Members.5

In the Parliament of 1812 Madocks ‘raised the borough of Boston to a distinguished eminence in the scale of ministerial hatred’. Sir Joseph Banks, the recorder since 1809, wrote to Lord Liverpool, 30 July 1813, describing both Members as ‘Naughtys’ and expressing a desire to retrieve ‘in part at least the representation from its present disgrace’. He explained that he was of ‘no small political weight in the borough, where I have already so much natural influence that I am now sitting for my picture at the request of the mayor and council’. He hoped that Madocks would not stand again, because he was ‘utterly and totally ruined’, but in this he was disappointed. In September 1816 Drummond Burrell was tempted to stand for the county on a vacancy, but feared the expense and the obligation of bringing in his brother for Boston.6 When the Members canvassed the borough in December 1817, the Pinks still had no opponent ready, though they promised one. In January 1818 they formally resolved to find a candidate, with the approbation of 143 signatures, and on 4 Feb. Henry Ellis† addressed Boston as their man. Ellis, a natural son of the 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, who had accompanied the embassy to China in 1816 as third commissioner, was accused by the Blues of being a placeman willing to pay £3,000 for a seat and an opportunist whose guns were aimed first at Drummond Burrell, in an attempt ‘to creep up the Blue sleeve’; then, when that failed, at Madocks; and finally at a coalition of Drummond Burrell and Madocks, which the latter denied. Even Lord Liverpool, applied to on his behalf by Ellis’s brother-in-law Frederick John Robinson*, feared that he was a place-hunter and his candidature therefore opportunist. Drummond Burrell had previously said little enough of his politics in his addresses to the borough, but he made his opposition to government perfectly clear in 1818; and Ellis had to indicate that he was a friend of government. When Ellis was defeated, Madocks awarded the borough the borrowed glory of ‘a name dear to freedom’. Yet this radical hero did not omit to pay his voters their accustomed fee, as his opponents noted; and if after 1812 the corporation party fell into disrepute and the abeyant Ancaster interest proved more resilient, Boston was emancipated in name only.7 Madocks gave it up in 1820 because he could not afford it, and Henry Ellis, so much abused in 1818, was returned because he could, and unseated for not being able to conceal his bribes.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 160.
  • 2. Cartwright Corresp. i. 235; True Briton, 21, 25 May 1796; Hist. of the Boston Election, June 1818, (Noble, Boston 1818), in Guildhall Lib.; CJ, lii. 622; Morning Chron. 3 Apr. 1797.
  • 3. Wakes Mus., Selborne, Holt White mss 342; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 268; Hist. Boston Election; Pishey Thompson, Boston, 307, 452; CJ, lviii. 38, 382, 454; lix. 7; Oldfield, loc. cit.
  • 4. Spalding Gent. Soc. file 6, Boston election addresses; Pol. Reg. 8, 15 Nov. 1806, 9 May 1807; Cartwright Corresp. i. 343-50; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 15 May 1807.
  • 5. Hist. Boston Election; A correct state of the poll 13 Apr. 1812 (J. Hellaby, 1812) in Guildhall Lib.; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 9 Apr. 1812.
  • 6. Hist. Boston Election; Add. 38253, f. 348; Grey mss, Drummond Burrell to Grey, 1 Sept. 1816.
  • 7. Hist. Boston Election; Add. 38270, f. 321; Farington, v. 160.