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 freemen paying scot and lot until 1796, when the House decided that it lay in resident freemen, and inhabitants paying scot and lot.1

Number of voters:

19 in 1792, 25 or more after 1796


(1801): 912


8 Jan. 1791 WILLIAM SMITH vice Hannay deceased 
19 Mar. 1796 LORD WILLIAM HENRY CAVENDISH BENTINCK vice Macpherson, deceased 
 Augustus Ludlow, Visct. Preston28
 Robert Adair28
7 July 1802ROBERT ADAIR 
1 Nov. 1806ROBERT ADAIR 
 JAMES MAITLAND, Visct. Maitland 
11 May 1807ROBERT ADAIR 
2 Feb. 1810 HENRY PETER BROUGHAM vice Petty, called to the Upper House 
 Robert Polhill 
17 June 1818MARK MILBANK13
 Thomas Hanmer10
 John Stewart II10
  Election declared void, 8 Apr. 1819 
17 Apr. 1819JOHN STEWART II12
 Ralph Milbank10
 John Bushby Maitland10
  Election declared void, 16 June 1819, and no new writ issued before the dissolution 

Main Article

‘For the space of 80 years, no such thing as a contested election has been heard of in this borough; nor can the oldest inhabitant remember to have ever seen the face of any one of its Members’.2 For the last generation Camelford had been managed, on behalf of administration whose friends they returned, by the Phillipps family. Sir Jonathan Phillipps† of Newport House, recorder of the borough since 1775, who had returned James Macpherson in 1784 and Sir Samuel Hannay in his own place soon afterwards, again returned them in 1790, despite the fact that in the Regency crisis of the previous year they had acted with the opposition. Macpherson, who evidently paid 4,000 guineas, continued his independent line with impunity, but Hannay died soon after Parliament met and Phillipps returned William Smith as a supporter of Pitt instead, though Smith, too, behaved rather independently. Lord William Bentinck was brought in to replace Macpherson on the latter’s death early in 1796, but at the ensuing general election the Phillipps interest was challenged by Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford, a prominent Whig, who had been the largest property owner in the borough for many years, but whose interest had lain dormant. The Phillipps interest was engaged to the Treasury and George Rose was alleged to have ‘received of Mr Angerstein and William Denison of the City 4,000 guineas each for their seats and they to support his measures. He paid over £8,000 of it to one family at Camelford besides giving 3 sinecure places.’3

The duke proposed to challenge the notion, never determined, that the franchise lay only in resident freemen paying scot and lot, which made Camelford an appanage of the Phillipps family as patrons of the corporation, by enlisting non-freemen paying scot and lot in his support. He was advised that the latter had never voted ‘in the recollection of any person now living’ and that he would do better to wait until the aged Sir Jonathan Phillipps died and snatch a seat elsewhere in Cornwall; but he refused to wait and put up his kinsman Robert Adair, who was sent down to try the ground, with Viscount Preston, the Earl of Ludlow’s heir.4 Despite their superiority in numbers, the mayor disallowed their votes, denying the validity of their candidature, since they were not nominated by freemen. Although the Phillipps nominees survived a petition, the House proceeded to redefine the right of election, 10 Nov. 1796, in favour of all inhabitants paying scot and lot.5 Following this decision to his advantage, the duke, after a show of quo warranto proceedings, came to terms with the managers of the Phillipps interest in the borough, the attorney Charles Carpenter and the town clerk Jago, their steward. Sir Jonathan, who had hoped to pass the borough on to his nephew John Phillipps Carpenter, resigned his recordership in favour of the duke, who in September 1797 made Charles Carpenter his deputy. Maj. William Clode, a local nabob who had thought of purchasing the borough, acquiesced. The duke had learned that his election expenses would involve paying the mayor £300, the aldermen £200 and the freemen £100.6 The death of Sir Jonathan in 1798 confirmed the situation: but that of the 5th Duke of Bedford on 2 Mar. 1802 confused it.

No sooner was the duke dead than John Tyeth canvassed the borough on behalf of ‘an alderman of London and a nobleman’s son’, who had offered 8,000 guineas for both seats. He got nowhere, but in order to retain control the 6th Duke was obliged to compromise his interest. It seems that he had intended to name, with Adair, Viscount Preston: but Charles Carpenter, who claimed credit for thwarting a move to make George Rose recorder of the borough in place of the late duke, insisted on naming to one of the seats. It was thought that he would name himself, but his choice was Fonblanque, counsel for the sitting Members in 1796. Carpenter had induced Charles James Fox to persuade the duke that this compromise, ‘without trouble or expense’, was reasonable. An agreement was therefore concluded by the duke’s man of business, William Adam*, but ‘without any compromise of the future rights and interests, to which Fonblanque is the witness and guarantee’. It did not work smoothly. Adair insisted on stating at the election that Fonblanque was standing on the duke’s interest, to which Carpenter objected. Within weeks Adair, who wished to see Lord Robert Spencer* as his fellow Member, was scheming to get Fonblanque to surrender his seat, claiming that Carpenter was acting dishonourably and that his aim was ‘to exact three things—the duke’s interest, the duke’s money, and his own nomination’. Carpenter refused to parley.7

The duke’s aim was to rid himself of Carpenter, so he informed Adam, 15 Nov. 1802,

and place my connection with the borough upon that permanent footing of reciprocal confidence and security, by which alone I am desirous of having any future intercourse with it, for if I am to be perpetually hampered by such unpleasant and vexatious circumstances as have attended the present business, if I am to be constantly obliged to fight or compromise the seats with such men as Mr Carpenter, if I am to place my best reliance on the honesty of a Cornish borough-agent, rather than on the decided attachment of the electors, I should prefer to abandon all connection with them, and sell the property in and about Camelford.

At all events I am not ambitious of any increase of parliamentary interest; to one who has nothing to ask or expect from any minister, it is of little consequence, except to oblige a friend who may wish to be in Parliament, and as long as the representation continues as it is, Tavistock and whatever influence arising from property I may possess in other places, will I trust always enable me to return those of my own family who may be desirous of it; I have little taste for the election contests, more especially those of the nature of which a contest in a borough like Camelford must ever be; unless therefore my future relations with the borough can now be placed upon a solid, clearly defined and satisfactory basis, I feel strongly disposed to give up the connection altogether—the desire of moneyed men to obtain parliamentary influence will make the property sell well.On 31 Dec. 1802 the duke informed Adam: I should think Fonblanque might be instrumental in getting Carpenter to quit the borough entirely. C. must now see that he can have little hopes of doing anything there in future—he certainly has it in his power to create perpetual vexation, trouble and expense to me, but even this gratification I should imagine his good sense would induce him to forego for the more solid advantage he might obtain by giving up his house and all future connection with the borough.8

Meanwhile the corporation was reduced to the legal minimum of five and lacked a recorder. Adair aspired to the office, but it was Charles Carpenter who obtained it in January 1803. His hold was resented by Jago, who saw his advantage in the duke’s having both nominations and had organized a club of loyal freemen called the Bundle of Sticks to counteract what he regarded as a conspiracy by Carpenter and his chief ally Maj. Clode to compromise the duke’s interest. By 1806 it was reported that Carpenter ‘would not presume’ to foist his own nominee on the duke and he refused to return Fonblanque again, who had ‘disgusted’ him by ‘money transactions’. Fonblanque had been willing to vacate his seat in March 1805, but only ‘on condition of being succeeded by a particular person with whom he had made an arrangement’.9

Adair, who replaced Carpenter as recorder, went abroad in 1806 and there was speculation about his seat: but the duke would not sacrifice him to a nominee of the Grenville ministry, though he was prepared to accommodate the bright young hopes of the Whig party, free of expense, in the other seat. When on 2 June 1808 Adair offered to vacate, the duke refused, 5 June, since he disliked the risk of frequent elections at Camelford and believed the electors would be ‘very reluctant’ to replace Adair. A few months before, urged to buy more property in the borough, the duke had not objected, but looked forward to ‘the ultimate disposal’ of it. In 1809 there was a vexatious delay when a hitch occurred in Lord Henry Petty’s succession to the peerage, and the duke, harassed to bring in Henry Brougham in Petty’s place rather than Lord Robert Spencer or William Plunket*, was further alarmed by reports of opposition at Camelford; so on 3 Dec. 1809 he empowered Adam to open secret negotiations for sale with John Phillipps Carpenter of Mount Tavy through Davies Giddy*. He wanted 45 years’ purchase on the land and 35 on the houses, which would ‘cover a reasonable consideration for the political value of the property’. The expense of maintaining the interest was said to amount to £1,500 a year. In September 1811 Carpenter made difficulties about a price of £22,000, but the duke would not take less and at length Carpenter agreed to pay in instalments in March and October 1812, Davies Giddy, as broker, retaining £4,000 as security for the electoral consequences of the sale. The duke discouraged his Members from vacating their seats but Carpenter, who already had misgivings about his purchase, became recorder in time for the election of 1812 and appointed the electioneering attorney Charles Rashleigh as his deputy.10

Carpenter’s nominees in 1812 were two London merchants suggested to him by Lord de Dunstanville. Apart from a threat of future opposition from Charles Carpenter, his own kinsman, the new patron had also to contend with Lord Yarmouth, lord warden of the stannaries, whose emissaries were first Maj.-Gen. Turner of the Prince’s household and then Robert Polhill of York Place, Portman Square. Polhill got nowhere, but he petitioned against the return alleging intimidation by the patron of his tenants. In short, Carpenter, though safe ‘for both seats’ was ‘meant to be jockied of both’.11 There were rumours that Carpenter’s nominees, who retained their seats, ‘were only to hold them till Mr Carpenter could find a bargain to his mind’. Carpenter’s death in July 1813 prevented any such arrangement. In May 1815, Davies Giddy, as trustee, sold the property to the Earl of Darlington, who had outbid Lord de Dunstanville and Lord Falmouth, for £51,000. Darlington subsequently spent another £7,000 on five houses to reinforce his control.12

Darlington was not left in peaceful possession. In 1818 an array of candidates friendly to administration appeared to challenge his Whig nominees, Milbank his son-in-law and Bushby Maitland, a Scots advocate: they were John Stewart and Lewis Allsopp, put up by William Hallett ‘the chemist of St. Mary Axe’, who was said to be prepared to spend £6,000; Col. Thomas Hanmer of Hardwick, Shropshire; and Richard Polhill again put up by Lord Yarmouth, acting through Charles Carpenter. Allsopp and Polhill withdrew on the day of the election, having been balloted out after the four ministerialists had cast lots ‘out of a teapot’ as to which two of them should oppose the patron. Darlington’s nominees succeeded, but Stewart (whose fellow candidate Hanmer was accidentally killed in October 1818) presented a petition against the return, 22 Jan. 1819, backed by his supporters in the borough, alleging bribery, corruption, and intimidation by the mayor in using the name of a peer and rejecting votes. In a second petition, Stewart alleged that the elected Members were ‘openly recommended’ by a peer, 4 Feb. After the committee of the House had sent two witnesses to Newgate for giving false evidence, they decided that the election was void, as corrupt practices existed in the borough. The allegations made involved the purchasing of votes at double the usual price, which was described as £300 a vote. An attempt to prevent a new writ being issued was foiled by 103 votes to 15, 8 Apr., as was a motion to have the committee’s proceedings laid before the House.13

On 17 Apr. 1819 a fresh election was held and this time John Stewart and Lewis Allsopp defeated Darlington’s candidates. There were again recriminations. Charles Pitt of Adam Street, Adelphi, petitioned, 3 May, to the effect that he had been refused the right to nominate another gentleman, or stand himself; Samuel Leveridge of Battersea and William Curtis of Portland Place were also, so they claimed, refused nomination by the mayor with threats of imprisonment. These petitions were discharged, but another from two electors alleging bribery and corruption by Stewart and Allsopp was heard and led to the election again being voided, 16 June, and the candidates incapacitated from sitting during that session; the corruption of five of the electors and two agents, who were named, was exposed. The proceedings of the committee were laid before the House and while they were under scrutiny no new writ was issued. Meanwhile John Carpenter of Mount Tavy and a Mr Steer had canvassed on the Darlington interest. Just before the election was voided, Lord Yarmouth had received a letter from 14 electors (the majority) ‘promising to take me and friend—provided of the two proposed I personally am one’. He found the offer tempting, but did not act on it at the time. A poster of October 1819 satirized the electors of Camelford as animals for sale, ‘£6,000 wanted for 17 lots’. Lord John Russell II* attempted on 18 Feb. following to prevent the issue of a writ for the borough at the election of 1820, but he was frustrated. Lord Darlington resumed control.14

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 106; Rep. Hist. iii. 232; CJ, lii. 109.
  • 2. Morning Chron. 2 June 1796.
  • 3. India Office Lib. mss. Eur. C. 307/4, f. 73; Whitbread mss W1/1897.
  • 4. Devon RO, Bedford mss L1258, bdle. 10, Edwards to Adair, 24 May, Pearse to Gotobed, 27 July 1796, Bedford to Gotobed, n.d.; memo of election of 1796; CJ, lii. 14, 109.
  • 5. Devon RO, Bedford mss L1258, bdle. 10, Edwards to Adair, 24 May, Pearse to Gotobed, 27 July 1796, Bedford to Gotobed, n.d.; memo of election of 1796; CJ, lii. 14, 109.
  • 6. Bedford mss, bdle. 10, Pearse to Gotobed, 13 Feb., Clode to Macnamara, 25 Apr. 1795, Tyeth to ?, Thurs. evening; bdle. 13, Gotobed to Jago, 21 Jan., 19 July; The Times, 11 Feb. 1797.
  • 7. The Times, 27 Apr., 2, 13, 19 July, 3 Aug.; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Bedford, 28 June, Adair to Adam, Sat. [July], Wed. [July], [22], [23 July], Carpenter to Adam, Fri. [July]; Bedford mss, bdle. 17, Pearse to Gotobed, 14, 17 Mar., Cawke to same, 11 July, Adair to same [12 July 1802].
  • 8. Blair Adam mss.
  • 9. Bedford mss, bdle. 17, Jago to Gotobed, 10 Oct., 12 Dec. 1802; bdle. 18, Lawrence to Brown, 22 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Bedford to Adam, 19 Oct. 1806; Fitzwilliam mss, X516/31, Fox to Fitzwilliam, [c. Mar. 1805].
  • 10. Ld. Albemarle, Fifty Years of My Life, i. 231-3; Blair Adam mss, Bedford to Adam, 12 Mar. 1807, 25 Jan. 1808, 26, 29 Nov., 3, 10 Dec. 1809, 10, 21, 24 Nov. 1811, 8 May 1812; West Briton, 27 Sept., 11 Oct. 1811; Bedford mss, bdle. 20, passim; Cornw. RO, Gilbert mss, Davies Giddy diary, 21 Mar. 1812; The Late Elections (1818), 55.
  • 11. West Briton, 2 Oct. 1812; Blair Adam mss, Loch to Adam, 12 Oct. 1812; CJ, lxviii. 64, 108; Pole Carew mss CC/L/45, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 8 Apr. 1812.
  • 12. Blair Adam mss, Russell to Adam, 2 Dec. [1812]; Gilbert mss, Davies Giddy diary, 28 May 1815; Key to Both Houses (1832), 307.
  • 13. Brougham mss 16395; Taunton Courier, 25 June 1818; Oldfield, Key (1820), 144; CJ, lxxiv. 74, 85, 111, 268, 292, 324, 405; Parl. Deb. xxxix. 1448.
  • 14. CJ, lxxiv, 392, 400, 405, 454, 463; lxxv. 19; R. Cornw. Gazette, 26 June 1819; Add. 60286, ff. 82, 85; Cornw. RO DDX276/16.