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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 450


(1801): 2,377


25 June 1790SIR GEORGE YONGE, Bt. 
 James Fraser 
15 July 1794 YONGE re-elected after appointment to office 
23 July 1802GEORGE SHUM73
 Sir George Yonge, Bt.41
13 Mar. 1805 HON. AUGUSTUS CAVENDISH BRADSHAW vice Shum, deceased240
 William Courtenay127
11 Apr. 1806 RICHARD BATEMAN ROBSON vice Honywood, deceased 
17 June 1806 CAVENDISH BRADSHAW re-elected after appointment to office259
 Thomas Cochrane, Lord Cochrane124
31 Oct. 1806THOMAS COCHRANE Lord Cochrane 
 William Slade160

Main Article

Honiton had a reputation for shameless venality and was the ruin of at least three of its Members in this period. In 1790 the strongest single interest was that of Sir George Yonge, secretary at war in Pitt’s administration, whose family’s parliamentary connexion with the borough, based on their neighbouring property but sustained by money, went back for over a century. Only one of the six general elections between 1754, when Yonge was first returned, and 1790, when he enjoyed his last success, was uncontested and he ended his days in debtor’s sanctuary, claiming that Honiton had swallowed about £24,000 of his money over the years. A subordinate interest was possessed by William, 3rd Viscount Courtenay who, as hereditary lord of the manor, appointed the portreeve, the returning officer. The key men at Honiton were the local election agents, who acted as brokers between candidates and electors and came into their own when the Yonge interest collapsed. In this period the chief protagonists were Christopher Flood, attorney and banker, who by 1811 was in partnership with Philip Mules; the Gidley family, also attorneys, who later joined forces with Isaac Cox; and James Townsend, attorney and banker, who by 1809 was in legal practice with J. B. Pearce. Third candidates were actively sought out and usually found and voters banded together in groups to obtain the best possible terms.1

Yonge’s colleague in the 1784 Parliament, Sir George Collier, who had been elected as a Pittite but voted with opposition on the Regency question, could not afford another contest. Steps to replace him with a ministerialist were taken as early as December 1788, and although the Duke of Portland was told a year later that the seat might be obtained by a Whig for £3,000, it was George Templer, a wealthy nabob who had bought property in Somerset, who came forward with Yonge in 1790. The third man was one James Fraser, who may have been the man who sat for Gatton in the previous Parliament, and who was said to be ‘equally on the ministerial side’. According to the historian of Honiton, Fraser ‘went to the poll with thirty majority’ over Templer but Yonge, ‘who promised to remain neutral, threw his balance into the scale against him’. Fraser, whose supporters were known as ‘the bundle of spars’, was beaten by three votes and his demand for a scrutiny was ignored by the portreeve, Robert Gidley. Fraser’s petition charging Templer with bribery and Gidley with partiality was unsuccessful.2

Although Yonge had been forced to sell his Devon property by 1794, he was safely re-elected on his appointment as master of the Mint, but he never resumed his seat, fearing that his commission to make coin for the Treasury was a disqualifying government contract. In July 1795 he told Pitt that he would not stand again and that, as Templer too was inclined to give up Parliament and Courtenay had no candidate in view, it would be necessary to be ready with two suitable candidates in order to frustrate ‘the republican party, which I am sorry to say there is in the town’. He mentioned the son of John Baring, Member for Exeter, as a supposedly interested party, but as he later called this man Charles, he may have been referring to John Baring’s brother Charles Baring, who had married into the Gould family of Lew Trenchard, on the Devon-Cornwall border. Just before the dissolution in 1796, Yonge told Pitt that he had discovered that Baring had never had thoughts of Honiton, but in the event Baring’s son William Baring Gould came forward, along with Sir John Honywood, Member for Canterbury in the 1790 Parliament, who was Courtenay’s brother-in-law and whose brother was rector of Honiton.3

The story of the election was related in a series of letters from Mary Anne Burges, a resident of Honiton, to her brother James Bland Burges, under-secretary at the Foreign Office. On 16 May she reported that the town was ‘all in an uproar’ and that ‘the democratic party threatens to bring forward a third’. Five days later she wrote that Honywood, ‘to the utter consternation of all his partisans’, had withdrawn to stand again for Canterbury. The leaders of his party, ‘by far the most respectable in the town’, approached her with an offer to support Bland Burges, which she declined on his behalf because the cost was put at £3,000, exclusive of knavery, and because ‘their chief motive for proposing it was at all events to get a man to oppose the democratic faction’. She thought William Adams* of Totnes, a government contractor in search of a seat, who had pledged himself against democratic principles, stood a good chance, but

just as I was writing the above, I heard the bells ring violently, and now find it was on account of the arrival of a real man from Sir John Honywood, the son of Sir William Chambers [the royal architect], who of course comes in for his whole interest, and poor Mr Adams, when he arrives, may return upon his paws.

On 27 May Miss Burges wrote that Chambers had arrived penniless, ‘having been led to suppose by Lord Courtenay and Sir George Yonge that their interest was sufficient to bring him in free of all charges’, but that, discovering this to be far from the case, he had gone to London and returned to Honiton ‘with £3,000 in his pocket, and which I believe the Treasury has supplied him’. She went on:

it is much feared that the other loyal candidate will be thrown out, who stands on a totally different interest; the dissenters who form the third party in the town having produced a Mr Shum, said to have been sent them by one of the Jacobin clubs, and furnished with more money than either of his competitors.

Shum, a London brewer and member of the Whig Club, was returned with Chambers after Baring Gould had fled the scene the day before the election, as Miss Burges reported on 10 June:

Citizen Shum would probably have been thrown out, both his rivals having been more successful in their canvass; but Mr Baring Gould unluckily found he had laid himself open to the charge of bribery, and therefore feared to stand the poll; on this he suddenly fled, leaving his friends to discharge the whole of the expense they had imprudently been at on his account. To indemnify themselves, they sent for another candidate, a banker of Chard, but his opponents by some ingenious manoeuvres frightened him away; a Mr Rae then arrived from London and offered himself to them; but they found he was a democrat, and they chose rather to submit to their loss, than have anything to do with him.

Chambers subsequently sought reimbursement from government, claiming to have incurred ‘a debt of £1,800 exclusive of the £2,000 given’, and that had he ‘abandoned when my fund received was exhausted two men of different principles to myself instead of one would have been returned’.4

Shum stood again in 1802, but Chambers was a ruined man and Honywood came forward in his place. Yonge, recently recalled in disgrace from the Cape after a brief but scandalously corrupt period as governor, reappeared at Honiton in search of the seat which he needed to provide immunity from his creditors, but he finished bottom of a low poll. He was said to have made himself so unpopular by trying to administer the bribery oath that he was spat on and had his wig set on fire. He spent the rest of his life skulking in grace and favour apartments at Hampton Court. Petitions were lodged in the name of various electors, accusing both Honywood and Shum of bribery, but they were rejected.5

On Shum’s death in 1805 both Yonge and Chambers were mentioned as potential candidates, but in the event Augustus Cavendish Bradshaw, a friend of the Prince of Wales, was introduced by Flood and defeated William Courtenay*, Lord Courtenay’s cousin, whose agent was Courtney Gidley. Cavendish Bradshaw was said to have begun the practice of paying six guineas for each vote.6

Shortly after Honywood’s death, 29 Mar. 1806, William Courtenay informed William Dacres Adams, formerly private secretary to Pitt, who was related by marriage to his brother Thomas Peregrine Courtenay*:

I have received ... a pressing invitation to come to Honiton, but I had in a previous correspondence expressed my resolutions not to go there ... they desire me to introduce some person. Do speak to your father [William Adams*] and write if possible to Thomas ... a very small expense would now do but then it must be repeated at a general election.

Either William or Thomas Courtenay seems to have gone to Honiton, for on 8 Apr. Cavendish Bradshaw wrote to Lord Holland:

I lament extremely I had not your lordship’s communication sooner, as any recommendation of yours would have been sure of success ... at little expense now and at a general election. But for want of a candidate of Whig principles from me, they have sent for and taken up Mr Robson, who ... will I have no doubt be returned ... Mr Wrottesley [probably Henry Wrottesley*] who went down on Lord Courtenay’s interest has declined and there is no opposition but Mr Courtenay’s, which is diametrically opposite to the present government.7

Courtenay did not go to the poll and Bateman Robson, brother of Henry Holland the architect, was returned unopposed. As Member for Okehampton in the 1796 Parliament he had drawn attention to himself with his frequent attacks on excessive public expenditure and he was now preparing to expose abuses in the barracks system. His coach and abettor William Cobbett, the radical journalist, publicly praised the electors of Honiton for their choice of an avowed enemy of waste and corruption, and when Cavendish Bradshaw had to seek re-election after his appointment as Irish teller of the exchequer in June 1806, announced his intention of standing on ‘purity’ principles, to give the electors an opportunity to assert their independence. Seventeen years later he claimed that when he went to Honiton and denounced bribery ‘most of the corrupt villains laughed in my face, but some of the women actually cried out against me as I went along the streets, as a man that had come to rob them of their blessing’. On the eve of the election there arrived at Honiton Lord Cochrane, a popular naval war hero, with grievances against the authorities, who had just returned from a series of profitable cruises. On the hustings the following day he pledged himself never to accept a place or pension, whereupon Cobbett stood aside for him. On 16 June Cochrane’s uncle, Andrew Cochrane Johnstone, told William Wickham that

he will poll above 150 out of 400. He is certain of carrying it unanimously I believe the next vacancy. All regret that he did not arrive three days sooner, as they had promised Mr Bradshaw. Lord Courtenay’s family have resolved to support Lord Cochrane as long as he may be desirous of representing this borough.8

Although Cochrane was easily beaten, Honiton was taking its toll of Cavendish Bradshaw’s purse. In August 1806 he was confident of success at the next general election, but admitted to having already spent £7,700 of largely borrowed money on the borough. Meanwhile Cobbett had instructed his factotum John Wright to tell Robson that if he stood for Honiton at the next election ‘he shall have my aid in preference to all other men upon earth’. On 3 Aug. 1806 he asked Wright to ascertain Robson’s intentions, as another person, possibly Cochrane Johnstone, had solicited his support at Honiton; and three weeks later he wrote:

for ... [Robson] to be safely returned is an object of the very first consequence ... But proportioned to my anxiety for his election is my hope, that what I have heard suggested is not true, namely that he has an understanding with Bradshaw. That were disgrace indeed! ... Surely Lord Cochrane and he could carry it for Honiton, but, then, Mr Robson must, and without loss of time, make his declaration both to the borough and to Lord Cochrane; or else he may depend, that the whole force of the Cochranes will be brought to bear against him. If there be an election, I think I shall go down at any rate; and whatever I can do shall be done against Bradshaw ... [Tell Robson] ... that, if he means to stand for Honiton, he has not an hour to lose in making his declaration to Lord Cochrane; or else ... he will fail at that place. Mr Johnstone would, I am sure, resign his pretensions to him upon a declaration against Bradshaw; but upon no other account.

In the event Robson returned himself for Okehampton on the family interest at the general election, when Bradshaw and Cochrane came in for Honiton. No evidence of a contest has been found, but petitions were subsequently lodged in the names of various electors, accusing both Members of bribery and seeking to void the election. They lapsed when the petitioners failed to enter into recognizances.9

In the House, 29 Jan. and 5 Feb. 1817, Cochrane, arguing the case for parliamentary reform, admitted that by paying 10 guineas a vote he had bribed his way into Parliament for Honiton, ‘where votes were openly, avowedly, and unblushingly sold’. In his autobiography, written many years later, he claimed that after his defeat at the by-election he had instructed his agent, Townsend, to pay each of his voters 10 guineas (twice what Cavendish Bradshaw had given) as ‘a reward for having withstood the influence of bribery’. At the general election nothing was said about money until after his return, but when his supporters then claimed their ‘reward’, he refused to pay anything. He did agree to provide a public supper for them, but this was converted into a treat for the whole town and produced a bill for £1,200, which he refused to meet. In 1817 Townsend and others entered executions against him for recovery of debts contracted at Honiton for treats to voters after the election, and his house was seized. One report put the sum in dispute at £3,295, while Cochrane himself claimed in the House that it was £5,700.10

In 1807 Cochrane stood for Westminster and Cavendish Bradshaw, despite his increasing financial problems, was returned for Honiton, apparently without opposition, along with Sir Charles Hamilton, a sailor and supporter of the Portland ministry. In 1811 Lord Courtenay had to flee the country to avoid prosecution for homosexual practices. According to Oldfield, the manor of Honiton was sold to Townsend and his banking partner, who subsequently disposed of it to Ebenezer Fuller Maitland*, who in turn sold it to Arthur Champernowne*, the possessor in 1816.11 It does not seem to have carried any significant electoral interest in these new hands.

Long before the general election of 1812 Cavendish Bradshaw, who went over to government on the establishment of the Regency, had decided that he could not afford another election for Honiton. Just after the dissolution Canning, who was staying with his friend Lord Boringdon at Saltram in Devon, received an overture from Honiton, probably through Flood, and was asked to nominate a friend who, he was assured, ‘might be returned for an expense of between £3,000 and £4,000’. He recommended George Abercrombie Robinson, a director of the East India Company, who came in unopposed for ‘not more than £1,500’— so Canning heard— along with Howard Vyse, a ministerialist, whose father was in the confidence of the Duke of Cumberland. The young radical Samuel Colleton Graves, invited to contest Honiton, had allowed himself to be waylaid at Taunton.12

The following letter about Honiton from one Samuel Weston to Charles Philip Yorke* is merely dated 11 Dec., but it was almost certainly written in 1813. The writer wished Yorke to intercede with Arbuthnot, secretary to the Treasury, on behalf of one Mules— whether Philip Mules, Townsend’s partner, or a relative of his is not clear— who had found the minister ‘cold and reserved’ and inclined to stipulate his right to name the candidate, when he stated his own pretensions to represent Honiton.

Honiton ... is, he tells me completely changed in its character, that scarcely any money was spent there at the last election, and that the management of it was almost entirely in the hands of one of his nearest relations. I answered that ... this was difficult to conceive, while the pot-walling system continued, under which, with the help of a hundred of bricks, ragamuffins from all quarters qualified at the rate of four or five separate fireplaces in one chimney ... The influence, of late years, he states to have been in Lord Boringdon and Mr Canning, who would be instantly in movement on the prospect of a vacancy, so that his business would require both secrecy and dispatch ... Robinson is become indifferent to the seat ... and would resign ... immediately, on being reimbursed the expenses of his election, which are said to be very small, and his relation would engage to substitute him in his place. (What is to be Mr Mules’s qualification, I cannot guess.) He also thinks there is almost a certainty that, whenever the other seat shall become vacant ... he shall be able to secure it, and put the borough into the hands of government.

Mules’s ambitions to represent Honiton came to nothing, but in 1816 Oldfield described Flood and Townsend as its patrons, with ‘entire control of the borough’, and wrote that candidates were sometimes ‘recommended by the Treasury’.13

Robinson and Vyse both retired in 1818 and in their places came forward Samuel Crawley, a Bedfordshire landowner whose agents were Flood and Mules, and Peregrine Francis Cust, son of Lord Brownlow, whose election was handled by Townsend. It was announced that a third man, devoted to the encouragement of local industry and the reduction of taxation, was on his way from London and he appeared in the shape of William Slade, a proctor in Doctors’ Commons, who declared his support for religious toleration and moderate parliamentary reform. His agents were Gidley and Cox. Cust was directed to Honiton by government, and Denis Browne* complained to Peel that his son Peter was to have been returned there ‘reserve only an appeal to the Treasury’, but that ‘the result of that appeal was taking the seat from me and giving it to a favourite’. Crawley’s partisans alleged that Cust and Slade joined forces towards the end of the four-day poll, but, if they did, the manoeuvre did nothing to lift Slade from the distant third position which he occupied throughout.14

Authors: P. A. Symonds / David R. Fisher


  • 1. A. Farquharson, Honiton, 45-53; Oldfield, Hist. Boroughs, i. 251-4.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/124, f. 167; 182, ff. 101, 103; Ginter, Whig Organization, 130; Bland Burges mss, Mary Anne to James Bland Burges, 13 June 1790; Farquharson, 48, 51.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/193, ff. 92, 98, 102.
  • 4. Bland Burges mss; PRO 30/8/122, f. 23.
  • 5. Farquharson, 45; CJ, lviii. 55; lix. 15, 90-91.
  • 6. Salopian Jnl. 13 Mar. 1805; Farquharson, 40, 49.
  • 7. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 11/30; Add. 51844.
  • 8. Pol. Reg. 24 May, 7, 14 June 1806, 22 Nov. 1823; Wickham mss 49/5/57.
  • 9. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2209; Add. 22906, ff. 175, 179, 183; CJ, lxii. 45, 70.
  • 10. Parl Deb. xxxv. 92, 221; xxxvi. 600; Dundonald, Autobiog. (1860), i. 179-81, 202-4; The Times, 13, 20 May 1817.
  • 11. Rep. Hist. iii. 311.
  • 12. Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2814; Add. 38739, ff. 37, 68; Bagot mss, Canning to Bagot, 9 Nov. 1812; see TAUNTON.
  • 13. Add. 45038, f. 188; Rep. Hist. iii. 311.
  • 14. Collection of Honiton Election Placards; The Late Elections (1818), 145; Add. 40217, ff. 184, 185, 187.