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 Prince’s tenants of the manor of Fowey capable of being portreeve, and in residents paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 120-150


(1801): 1,155


29 June 1790PHILIP RASHLEIGH7569
 RICHARD EDGCUMBE, Visct. Valletort7468
 MOLYNEUX SHULDHAM, Baron Shuldham [I]1877
  Double return. VALLETORT and RASHLEIGH declared elected, 7 Mar. 1791  
14 Feb. 1795 SYLVESTER DOUGLAS vice Valletort, called to the Upper House  
19 June 1799 EDWARD GOLDING vice Pole Carew, appointed to office  
16 Dec. 1802 ROBERT WIGRAM I vice Golding, chose to sit for Plympton Erle  
 John Teed15 
 Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane6 
23 June 1818GEORGE LUCY 78
 William Richard Edgcumbe, Visct. Valletort44 
 Alexander Glynn Campbell441 
 VALLETORT and CAMPBELL vice Lucy and Stanhope, on petition, 5 Mar. 1819  
24 Mar. 1819 MATTHIAS ATTWOOD vice Valletort, deceased152 
 Ernest Augustus Edgcumbe, Visct. Valletort114 
 VALLETORT vice Attwood, on petition, 11 May 1819  

Main Article

The principal interest at Fowey was in the Rashleigh family represented by Philip Rashleigh of Menabilly, assisted by his brother Charles; next, though not so much based on property as on goodwill, came that of the 1st Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, who built the town hall in 1792. They proposed to share the representation in 1790, as they had done for many years, but met with ‘a very powerful and expensive opposition’ ostensibly in the name of the Prince of Wales, but actually fomented by local intrigue. In July 1789, the Duke of Portland got wind of the fact that Capt. John Macbride† was agitating for intervention by opposition at Fowey, by manipulating the Prince of Wales’s patronage (his tenants had the right to vote). The duke was not in favour of this, but Thomas Dormer and Joseph Austen of Fowey, whose wives were coheirs of the Treffry family of Place which had substantial property at Fowey, encouraged Macbride by seeking the election of Peter Tonkin, alderman and attorney, as portreeve (returning officer). Afterwards they opted for Dr Thomas Mein instead and he and the local parson intrigued on behalf of opposition.2

The opposition candidates were Lord Shuldham, a former Member for the borough, and Sir Ralph Payne*. On election day each party chose its own returning officer and, after a simultaneous poll, a double return ensued. On 3 Dec. 1790 Viscount Valletort, Mount Edgcumbe’s heir, and Philip Rashleigh petitioned to the effect that their returning officer, William Stackhouse, was the legal one, while their opponents’, Dr Mein, was not; they further alleged bribery and some electors, led by John Rashleigh, alleged the same, 14 Dec. Shuldham and Payne stated, 9 Dec., that Mein was the legal returning officer and charged their opponents with bribery.

The House decided that the dispute turned on the right of electing the returning officer and that Mein was he, though (in a committee of 14 Whigs and one ministerialist) they declared Valletort and Rashleigh (who had spent £5,600 on their petition) elected. It appeared that some 51 Prince’s tenants allowed by Mein to vote were admitted to the manor at the King of Prussia inn, which was not in the manor; and that the votes of other tenants created on the Treffry estate were nullified because they were not the Prince’s tenants. The contrariety of the committee’s decision provoked a petition from John Rashleigh and others, 27 May 1791, disputing the legality of Thomas Mein. Their opponents asked to give evidence and alleged that Mein had been duly elected on 26 Nov. 1789. More light is thrown on the case, which went to King’s bench, by some letters to the Prince of Wales’s aide Capt. John Willett Payne* in February 1791. Thomas Erskine* wrote on 9 Feb.: ‘my opinion is that of the court of King’s bench ... there was no balance in the evidence ... the practice of the last twenty years is conclusive ... though from 1718 to 1770 evidence of our course of admission [to the manorial court] exists’. Fox wrote about the same time: ‘All our counsel are very much for a compromise and a way has been thought of by which the Prince may have his choice between Lord Shuldham and [Payne’s] brother’. This compromise did not take place, for when Arthur Leary Piggott*, who was counsel for Payne and Shuldham, ‘proposed one and one’, the Rashleighs stipulated that their agreement was conditional upon ‘both our Members’ being returned duly elected, ‘then Lord V[alletort] should make his election for Lostwithiel and Sir R[alph] be returned for Fowey for this Parliament’. The approbation of Carlton House was denied this compromise, and ‘the battle of Fowey in 1791’ continued.3

Sir John Morshead*, later auditor of the duchy, informed Capt. Payne on 20 Oct. 1791 of the holding of a court at Fowey, at which ‘we admitted eleven Prince’s tenants and elected Dr Mein portreeve and prepared leases for thirty more tenants for Monday next, and then we have a decided majority’. He added that a large number of new creations were the best security against ‘the defection of any of our present friends’, bearing in mind ‘the conduct of Captain Macbride ... the loss is entirely his own. The poll at the last election was kept open five days on the account of the Plymouth voters who cost the Prince £1,500 plus.’ He reported a rumour that Valletort was soon to have a place under government and added that he would have Sir Ralph Payne recommended to the scot and lot voters. Morshead was willing to devote the emoluments of the auditorship of the duchy, which he sought, 31 Oct. 1791, to ‘promoting the Prince’s interest in Fowey and elsewhere’. On 18 Nov. Morshead, who had previously asked a favour for Dr Mein, now asked for a place for Mr Smith of Fowey, ‘one of your principal friends and chief support in managing the scot and lot interest in that borough’. On 23 Nov. The Times reported that Mein had been ousted as portreeve in King’s bench, though the House of Commons had approved him in the election committee: Lord Kenyon found the case clear and put an end to opposition hopes at Fowey. Rashleigh’s nephew remembered later that the result ‘was universally considered a constitutional triumph inasmuch as an independent country gentleman had to fight against the influence and power of the Prince of Wales, who considered the contest as his personal cause’. By a further decision of the House, 21 Mar. 1792, on an appeal by the Rashleigh and Mount Edgcumbe interest against their resolution of 7 Mar. 1791, the Prince’s tenants were required to do ‘homage’ before they could be enfranchised. On the death of Mount Edgcumbe early in 1795, his heir’s seat was bestowed on Sylvester Douglas, a friend of Pitt’s who had also been legal counsel for the patrons of Fowey in their election battle in 1791. The Prince informed Charles Rashleigh through his agent in Cornwall that he resented the fact that a friend of his for whom he had applied for the vacant seat had been ‘slighted’, and tried to secure an agreement with the patrons whereby they would return a friend of his at the next election for £1,000 and the assurance of relinquishing the stewardship of the manor of Fowey. To Rashleigh’s disappointment, neither his brother Philip nor Lord Edgcumbe approved this plan, the latter regarding it as an attempt to exclude him at Fowey by winning over the Rashleighs and both of them doubting the Prince’s word. In 1798 the duchy manor was sold to Philip Rashleigh of Menabilly, who thereby acquired the Prince’s tenants’ votes.4

Thenceforward the Rashleigh and Mount Edgcumbe families named one Member each and even accommodated each other: Pole Carew came in by Treasury purchase on the Mount Edgcumbe interest in 1796, but vacated in favour of his friend Golding, who paid £500 expenses in 1799 and, on the retirement of Philip Rashleigh in 1802, replaced the latter until 1812, when Rashleigh’s nephew and heir wished to come in and Pole Carew regarded it as his duty to make way for him. Both patrons were, in general, supporters of administration. There was still, however, a third interest at Fowey, superior in point of property to Mount Edgcumbe’s and represented by the families of coheiresses of Thomas Treffry, particularly Joseph Austen (later Treffry) and Edward Wilcocks of Exeter. They were probably behind a feeble contest in 1806, when John Teed of Plymouth and one Rowe of Torpoint set out for Fowey ‘to raise obstacles there’, taking the Rashleighs by surprise. They were evidently introduced by a Capt. Bray of Fowey, who wished to disoblige the Rashleighs. Teed forced a poll, his colleague being the naval hero Sir Alexander Cochrane*. Philip Rashleigh reported, after their defeat, 15 Nov. 1806, ‘they still continue to solicit votes for another engagement and Mills [sic] intends to take a house and live in Fowey’. He was apprehensive of another threat from the same quarter in 1807, expecting ‘two considerable persons’ to offer at Bray’s solicitation, but was reassured by his canvassers. Edward Wilcocks had written on 24 Mar. 1807 to Lord Grenville, claiming that he and his brother-in-law could return a Member friendly to his government at Fowey, but nothing came of it.5

Lord Mount Edgcumbe leaned on an agreement with Philip Rashleigh by which the latter engaged to support the peer’s nomination to one seat, provided that Mount Edgcumbe undertook to discharge the expenses involved in maintaining the patronage of the borough. When William Rashleigh succeeded to the family estate in 1811, he did not renew this agreement, and in 1812, displacing Pole Carew with professions of great reluctance, returned himself and Robert Wigram ‘introduced by Mr Charles Rashleigh [his uncle, the recorder of Fowey] solely in virtue of the authority he had given him to select. Mr Wigram pleaded expense in obtaining his seat as a dispensation from his engagements to conduct the business of the borough, and from other promises.’ In other words, Mount Edgcumbe was being elbowed out, while the Rashleigh family were not disposed to exert themselves in the management of the borough. Charles Rashleigh, under pressure from his nephew, resigned the recordership in October 1813 and for a time fell out with him. Writing to Pole Carew, who had succeeded him as recorder, on 2 Nov. 1813, Rashleigh referred to the ‘unkindness’ he had been treated with by his nephew and added:

I fear Fowey will be found an open and most expensive borough. I consider the interest of Menabilly House as tottering to the foundation. What part Lord Mount Edgcumbe will take, I do not know, but I think he will at all events claim the promised patronage of the port of Fowey: whether he may wish to preserve any future patronage in the borough itself or not. If he does, I shall of course give him the best support in my power, at the same time, my opinion is, that he and Mr Rashleigh would fail, even if now united—after an expensive contest—but last election Mr R. positively refused to join him, or to ask a single vote for Mr Wigram, or a Prince’s tenant to attend for himself.

William Rashleigh subsequently (1 Feb. 1814) accused his uncle of ‘thwarting the Rashleigh interest in the borough’, but through the mediation of Thomas Rashleigh, Charles’s brother, and Pole Carew they were reconciled in 1815.6 Joseph Austen, who had in 1808 purchased Thomas Dormer’s moiety of the Treffry estate to add to his own, sought to enlist the services of the radical John Colman Rashleigh (1772-1847), a kinsman of William, as a candidate in 1812, when he made a speech at the election attacking the Rashleigh regime in the borough, but would not fight William. Austen also became the champion of the future of Fowey as a port, something which had been on the lips of candidates in a decaying port for a century, seldom with any practical results. The blow caused to the town’s pilchard fisheries by the Napoleonic wars made Austen’s investment in East India and South Seas trade, and in mining, all the more welcome and he gained further support by aligning himself in 1815 with the Friends of Freedom and Reform, a local radical club whose celebrations involved dancing ‘with great spirits until nearly 5 o’clock in the morning’. The supporters of the prevailing interests, labelled the ‘Greys’ and the ‘Blues’, attempted to discredit Austen, but this only spurred him on.

In the spring of 1816 William Rashleigh determined to sell his property (valued at £15,460), and a friend to government, the silversmith Thomas Hamlet, was found to purchase it. It was conveyed to him on 27 Dec. 1817. According to one account he paid £6,000 for it and afterwards sold it at twice the price, but these figures are surely too low, as Rashleigh wished to sell ‘for the amount of its actual value’. In fact Hamlet seems to have paid £11,470 The situation was complicated by Joseph Austen’s having embarked on a campaign, in which he was advised by (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*, to oust the existing corporation on the ground of irregularity in not keeping up the number of free burgesses, and by Hamlet’s refusal to pay the expenses incurred by the corporation in unsuccessfully defending the suit. Pole Carew, as recorder, and Henry Dalston Lowndes, an attorney acting for the Lucy family who were negotiating the purchase of the interest from Hamlet, now took on the expenses of the corporation and Lowndes advised a new borough charter as the only weapon against Austen.7

Hamlet, finding ‘a very bad reception’, sold his property in February 1818 to Rev. John Lucy of Charlecote, Warwickshire, who wished to find a ‘snug quiet borough’ for his son George. He paid £13,862 for it, though £18,000 or £20,000 and more were rumoured prices. George Lucy was to spend another £70,000 in his efforts to maintain control at Fowey until its disfranchisement in 1832. He undertook to pay for the proposed new charter and declared himself ‘fully for government, conformably to his family principles’. He also, unbeknown to Lowndes, engaged to return a nominee of Lord Lonsdale’s. Charles Rashleigh, the late recorder, was suspected of being in league with Mount Edgcumbe in an attempt to take advantage of the confusion caused by the sale of the Rashleigh property to return his nephew Philip Colman Rashleigh. Austen went to see Mount Edgcumbe and was told, 4 July 1817, that the latter ‘never meant to have anything more to do with the borough’; Charles Rashleigh made the same assurance, 13 June 1817, and William Rashleigh was reported to have ‘given up the borough ... on account of the bad conduct of the late corporation’.8 None of them kept their word.

The battle for the ‘abominable charter’, as Austen called it, now ensued; both Lowndes and Austen lobbied members of government. Lowndes warned government that Austen represented a radical group; the latter professed surprise that his politics should be considered to have anything to do with his opposition to the charter, but it was at length granted, 13 Mar. 1819, not before Austen and his friends had come to ‘the extraordinary resolution of offering to the government the whole weight of their influence in the borough if they would consent to refuse to grant the renewal of the charter’. Thus the recorder Pole Carew, writing to Lord Sidmouth on 3 Feb. 1818, and he added that he hoped that ‘government will not suffer itself to be deluded by the proposition’, made ‘because they are driven to the wall and are forced into the sacrifice in order to obtain their ultimate object, the possession of the borough’. Austen, who in April 1817 had petitioned against the grant of the new charter, with a large number of signatures, not the most respectable ones, attempted to replace Charles Rashleigh as portreeve and was reported in February 1818 as being assisted in this by Rashleigh’s legal partner Coode and by Sir Christopher Hawkins, but he failed.9

An indecisive contest took place in 1818: George Lucy and Lord Lonsdale’s nominee, Colonel Stanhope, both friends of government, offered themselves. Stanhope, a relative of the Pitts of Boconnoc who had formerly had an interest at Fowey, had earned this opening, while sitting in Parliament for Buckingham in the preceding session, by helping to promote the renewal of the charter. They were confronted by Mount Edgcumbe’s heir Viscount Valletort and Alexander Glynn Campbell, who were proposed by Joseph Austen ‘in a long and violent speech’. Austen was displeased by the fact that he could not put up more radical candidates and his friend John Colman Rashleigh ridiculed for canvassing on behalf of Castlereagh’s nephew, but the latter, Valletort, while denying that he was a committed supporter of administration, proclaimed himself ‘unshackled’. Ministers were embarrassed by Valletort’s equivocal position and tried to fob Stanhope off with another seat, but he held himself engaged to Lucy and preferred his independence. Thomas Grenville informed his brother Lord Grenville, 4 June 1818: ‘The pretence of Lord Liverpool is that Lord Valletort is put up by the Jacobins at Fowey; but it is being a great alarmist indeed to look at Mount Edgcumbe with these fears’.10

Lucy and Stanhope were successful, with the help of 50 or so temporary conveyances to the burgage tenements recruited ‘from different parts of the country’, but the defeated candidates petitioned to the effect that the corporation’s delay in issuing a new rate list had prevented 77 of their supporters from voting—they also alleged bribery and corruption. Campbell had to pursue this petition alone, as his colleague Valletort died in October 1818, but he was successful, 5 Mar. 1819. Lucy’s burgage voters were rejected on an informality of conveyance. Joseph Austen, who had put up Campbell and paid for the petition, refused an agreement with the latter to seat him for five years for £4,000—probably because the expenses were mounting. George Lucy was ‘very much depressed’ at his setback in view of his expense and threatened to ‘abandon the concern, altogether’. He refused to stand again, would not accept a loan or allow Stanhope to stand (the latter refused to do so in any case) but offered his interest to any other ministerialist willing to foot the bill. Viscount Lowther, who felt that government should support Lucy and offered to stand surety for half his expenses at the next election, suggested to him Attwood the banker: Lucy preferred ‘a man of family or a naval or military man’. Adm. Gower was approached, but would not take the risk. In the end it was Attwood who became Lucy’s candidate: he engaged to pay the expenses himself, if he received some support in case of a petition. This time the 53 burgage conveyances were more carefully executed (the tenants being chosen from Appleby), and although Attwood’s election was contested by the new Viscount Valletort on Austen’s interest and Lowndes the attorney proved obstructive, he was expected to succeed. At the commencement of the election Adam, counsel for the opposition, unsuccessfully challenged the burgage votes, so a long wrangle about the definition of scot and lot voters to be admitted was of no avail.11

The advent of the new charter that week seemed to secure Lucy’s position for the future: but he was again frustrated. Valletort was confident of unseating Attwood on petition and so he did, 11 May 1819, though the legality of scot and lot votes and not that of the burgage tenants was the issue on which the committee decided the matter. Lord Lowther, who was hoping to secure a seat from Lucy in future in exchange for his support, was disappointed when Lucy came to a formal agreement with Joseph Austen, who had continued to contest the new charter, in July 1819, by which they pledged themselves to share the control of Fowey: this was endorsed by Mount Edgcumbe and his heir, whose union with the reformers had not been expected to last, to the effect that they would not interfere, and the compromise operated as from 1820, not without further recriminations. On 3 Nov. 1819 Austen had written to George Lucy on the subject of attempts afoot to break up their union that if they maintained it,

I would engage that you should sit for Fowey without any obligation to the minister. You are aware that the greater part of the capital employed in trade at Fowey belongs to myself and friends, but if that proposition were adopted, I would engage at my own risk to embark at least £20,000 more in trade which would not only enable the people generally through the town to pay much higher rents but place them in such a situation as no longer to regard the borough interest as the sine qua non of their hopes or have any interest in making any other use of it than by supporting their benefactors.12

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. The committee decided that the correct result was Valletort 66, Campbell 66, Lucy 56, Stanhope 55; U. Corbett and E.R. Daniell, Controverted Elections (1821), 166.
  • 2. Pole Carew mss CC/K/20, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 10 July, 5 Nov. 1790; Ginter, Whig Organization, 62.
  • 3. CJ, xlvi. 25, 44, 61, 274, 649; Cornw. RO, Rashleigh mss DDR5503, 5506; Coode mss CF 4534-5; NLS mss 11205, ff. 4, 52; Morning Chron. 14 Feb., 8 Mar. 1791.
  • 4. Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 570, 572, 631, 633, 637, 641; CJ, xlvii. 574; Rashleigh mss 5495, P. to J. Rashleigh, 18 Apr. 1791, ? to C. Rashleigh, 4 Apr., C. Rashleigh, 4 Apr., C. Rashleigh to Mount Edgcumbe, 8, 15 May, reply 12 May 1795; Coode mss 4538; Cornw. RO, Mems. of John Colman Rashleigh (T/S), i. 18; Pole Carew mss CC/K/21, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 24 Nov. 1791.
  • 5. John Keast, ‘Fowey Elections’, mss draft at the H. of P. based on Treffry mss; NMM, WYN/107, Pole Carew to Pole, 3 Nov. 1806, 11 May 1807; Pole Carew mss CC/L/39, Pole to Pole Carew, 31 Oct., Rashleigh to same, 15 Nov.; Rashleigh mss 5499 (poll); R. Cornw. Gazette, 1, 8 Nov. 1806; Fortescue mss.
  • 6. Add. 38367, ff. 43-7; Pole Carew mss CC/L/45, W. Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 17 Apr., 26 Sept. 1812; 46, same to same, 14, 23 Oct., C. Rashleigh to same, 2 Nov. 1813; 47, 48, passim.
  • 7. West Briton, 16 Oct. 1812; Add. 38367, ff. 43-7; HMC Fortescue, x. 437; Mems. of John Colman Rashleigh, iii. 7; Cornw. RO DDX/5a, poster of 3 Oct. 1812; Johnstone mss DDJ 2104, Austen to Hawkins, n.d.; Coode mss 4538; Pole Carew mss CC/L/50, Pole Carew to Hamond, 14 Sept. 1817; Corbett and Daniell, 152; Key to Both Houses (1832), 328.
  • 8. A. Fairfax-Lucy, Charlecote and the Lucys, 251; Add. 38367, ff. 43-7; Treffry mss, 13 June, 4 July 1817, 3 Dec. 1818.
  • 9. Sidmouth mss; Pole Carew mss CC/L/51, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 2 Feb. 1818.
  • 10. The Late Elections (1818), 120; Fremantle mss, box 55, Buckingham to Fremantle, 8 June 1818; Treffry mss, 28 Apr. 1819; HMC Fortescue, x. 437; Tremayne mss, J. H. Tremayne to his father [2 June]; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 329/6, J. H. to Ld. Stanhope, Fri. [May 1818].
  • 11. Stanhope mss 329/6, J. H. to Ld. Stanhope, Thurs. [June], 11 June 1818; CJ, lxxiv. 14, 188; Coode mss 4538; Treffry mss, draft agreement of May 1819; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 6, 11, 12, 19, 20 [21] Mar. replies 7, 19 Mar. 1819.
  • 12. Pole Carew mss CC/L/52, Hallett to Pole Carew, 24 Mar., Rashleigh to same, 26 Mar. 1819; HMC Fortescue, x. 439; CJ, lxxiv. 299, 431; Corbett and Daniell, 259; Rashleigh mss 5496; Treffry mss, 20 July, 3 Nov. 1819.