Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

154 in 18311


1,548 (1821); 1,637 (1831)


14 June 1820JOHN FLEMING I vice Prendergast, chose to sit for Galway
22 May 1822WILLIAM RUSSELL vice Russell, deceased
19 Dec. 1826COLIN CAMPBELL MACAULAY vice Monteith, vacated his seat
31 July 1830HENRY VANE, earl of Darlington
26 Feb. 1831PHILIP CECIL CRAMPTON vice Gregson, vacated his seat

Main Article

Saltash, a small port and market town on the south-eastern border of the county, about five miles from Plymouth, was situated on a ‘bold and commanding headland’ at the junction of the Rivers Lynher and Tamar. It consisted of three ‘narrow’ streets and the houses, though many bore ‘marks of great antiquity’, were ‘indifferently built’. Most of the inhabitants were fishermen or employees of the Devonport dockyard. The corporation was ‘enriched’ by the revenues derived from its exclusive rights to the local oyster fishery, the dues levied for anchorage and salvage, and the rent charged on the ferry service across the Tamar. About 1829 a ‘steam floating bridge’ was introduced, but it ‘failed to answer ... expectations’ and the ferry was reinstated.2

The borough boundaries were reportedly ‘well known’ and encompassed about ten acres of the parish of St. Stephen’s-by-Saltash. The franchise was vested in the freeholders of ancient houses or their sites, held by burgage tenure. Archive material has come to light which helps to correct and clarify the details given in an earlier account of this borough’s patrons. In 1801 the interest of John Buller* of Morval, the joint patron who had inherited his father’s property in 1793, comprised ’50 burgage tenures’ and an ‘equitable stake in fee simple in 35 burgage tenures’ owned by the other patron, William Beckford†, for which £5,000 was to be paid. He also exercised ‘considerable family influence over the persons possessing the remaining burgage tenures’. It was agreed at this time that Buller would sell ‘one undivided moiety of all the 85 burgage tenures’, with the right to nominate one Member, to the Durham coal magnate William Russell of Brancepeth Castle, for £11,000. Russell apparently also advanced £4,000 to help Buller discharge his obligation to Beckford, and he assumed half of the corporation debt. At the same time, Buller ‘vested’ the ‘other undivided moiety of the property’ in his brother James Buller†. Thereafter, ‘all the patronage, power and privileges of the borough property’ were to be exercised ‘for the joint benefit’ of James Buller and Russell, who undertook to support each other’s nominees for the seats and ‘sustain all expenses jointly’; neither could part with his interest ‘except to his own family or by mutual consent’. Subsequent property purchases were made for their ‘joint benefit’. From 1802 Russell returned his son Matthew, a Tory, who succeeded to his father’s estates in 1817, while the Buller-Beckford interest continued to nominate friends of government. In 1809 Buller bought out Beckford for £8,500 and sold ‘the right of being returned for his life or of nominating another’ to the retired East India merchant and Irish landowner, Michael Prendergast, for a sum believed to be £10,000. Prendergast, a Tory, returned himself until 1818, when he nominated the West India planter James Blair*. Buller, who became clerk to the privy council in 1812, was described by a local radical in 1826 as ‘a tool of ministerial patronage’. According to this source, there were 18 resident and 40 non-resident ‘dummys’, or burgage voters, and another 71 qualifying properties were ‘held in hand’ by Buller ‘to shuffle with as the game requires’. After a final unsuccessful attempt in 1807-8 to establish that the true right of voting lay in the freemen, the corporation was run with ‘one chief object ... to perpetuate the influence of the patron or patrons’. Buller or one of his relatives usually held the office of mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and they filled some of the other six aldermanic positions, which gave them control of the election of freemen, who were mostly ‘gentlemen ... unconnected with the town, but attached to the interests of the patron’. In 1833 only 10 of the 30 freemen were residents.3

At the general election of 1820 Russell and Prendergast were returned unopposed, but the latter was also elected for Galway and chose to sit for that borough; he nominated the former East India Company surgeon John Fleming, a supporter of Lord Liverpool’s ministry, to fill the vacancy. In May 1822 Russell died and was succeeded by his reputedly dissolute son William, who was returned at the resulting by-election. William Russell relied heavily on the advice of his uncle Charles Tennyson*, who continued to manage the family’s borough interests. By 1824 Russell’s Canningite sympathies had waned and he was gravitating towards the Whigs.4 In July 1823 Tennyson informed Lord Titchfield*, son of the 4th duke of Portland, that there was ‘a question of buying and selling’ between the patrons. Russell had no wish to ‘sell his half’ and was disinclined to purchase Buller’s, but he was nevertheless ‘anxious to dissolve his connection’. Tennyson detected signs that Buller might dispose of his share at a ‘very moderate’ price, and there was ‘every ground for supposing that Mr. Prendergast would now sell his interest’. If the duke bought out Buller and Prendergast, this would ‘put the borough into a very desirable position’, from Russell’s point of view. Portland seems to have been tempted but, as Titchfield observed, ‘the only difficulty about the matter ... is Mr. Prendergast’s tenure’. In the event, nothing came of Tennyson’s scheme.5 The inhabitants sent anti-slavery petitions to Parliament, 30 Apr., 6 May 1824, 10, 13 Mar. 1826.6 Shortly before the dissolution in May 1826 Tennyson expressed concern that Buller was being ‘very awkward’ about the Saltash seats, but a ‘settlement’ was eventually reached and ‘everything [was] satisfactory’. Prendergast was no longer mentioned, and it is possible that he had sold his interest. The details of the ‘settlement’ are unknown, apart from a payment by Russell of £700, ‘half the sum recently laid out’ for an unspecified purpose, but the result was that he was allowed to nominate both Members. These were Andrew Spottiswoode, a London printer, and the Glasgow cotton manufacturer Henry Monteith, both of whom were ministerialists. Thomas Boser, a local radical, invited John Cam Hobhouse* to ‘name a gentleman to stand with one of great respectability in this neighbourhood’, but there was no such opposition to the patron’s candidates.7 Monteith vacated soon afterwards and was replaced by the Whig Colin Macaulay, an Indian army general. A petition from corn growers in the parish of St. Stephen’s against any alteration in the corn laws was presented to the Commons, 8 Mar. 1827.8 The inhabitants forwarded anti-slavery petitions to both Houses, 13, 23 June 1828,9 and ones against Catholic emancipation were similarly presented, 17, 24 Mar. 1829.10 Spottiswoode, an anti-Catholic, abstained from the divisions on the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, while the pro-Catholic Macaulay was absent owing to ill health. At the dissolution in the summer of 1830 Macaulay retired and Spottiswoode transferred to Colchester. Russell evidently had the disposal of both seats again and he offered one, ‘gratuitously of course’, to Tennyson, who anticipated no ‘extraordinary expense ... except the journey in case I should have to go down, which probably will not be deemed necessary’. In fact, he was returned again for Russell’s seat at Bletchingley. Russell therefore nominated Lord Darlington, son of the 1st marquess of Cleveland, who had followed his father in recently switching allegiance from the Whigs to Wellington’s government. In return, Cleveland gave his support to Russell’s successful candidature for county Durham. The ‘spare seat’ was filled by Russell’s attorney John Gregson, ‘merely as a temporary arrangement’. Lord Durham learned that Russell and Tennyson were resolved to wait until after the meeting of Parliament before making any decision as to the disposal of this seat.11

In November 1830 Buller died and left all his estates in trust to his wife and eldest son John. His will made no specific mention of the Saltash property and the status thereafter of his interest in the borough is unclear.12 Russell signified his intention in December 1830 of giving his ‘best support’ to Lord Grey’s ministry and offered to ‘attend to any recommendations they may make’ for the disposal of Gregson’s seat. Grey complained that it was offered ‘at a Jew’s price ... £1,500 for the first year and £1,000 afterwards’. Ministers originally proposed to bring in the Irish lawyer Richard Sheil but, as the chief secretary Smith Stanley reported, ‘the Saltashites make some difficulty about returning a Papist’, and the Irish solicitor-general Philip Crampton was consequently elected in February 1831 while Sheil was accommodated elsewhere.13 Anti-slavery petitions were sent to the Lords by the inhabitants, 2 Dec. 1830, and both Houses by the Wesleyan Methodists, 18 Mar., 13 Apr. 1831.14 The inhabitants petitioned Parliament for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 7, 11 Feb.15 A petition in favour of ‘speedy measures for effecting a constitutional reform in the representation of the people’ was forwarded to Parliament by the burgage tenants and inhabitants, 26 Feb., 11 Mar. However, the Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed to disfranchise Saltash, and the burgage tenants and inhabitants petitioned the Commons to retain one Member, 18 Apr. 1831, on the ground that the population of St. Stephen’s parish exceeded 2,000. It was explained that since the borough had its own overseers of the poor, the census return recorded its population separately from that of the parish. The petitioners argued that it would be ‘exceeding unjust’ for them to be ‘deprived of the franchise’ when a smaller borough such as St. Germans was spared because it did not have overseers distinct from the parish.16 Crampton of course supported the bill but Darlington, in defiance of his father who had reverted to the Whigs, opposed it. At the ensuing dissolution Crampton was found another seat and Darlington withdrew, as he was unwilling to interfere in the borough given his ‘delicate situation with Mr. Russell who assisted him in his last election’. Charles George Arbuthnot*, son of the former Tory official, considered standing with James Mackillop, formerly Member for Tregony, to exploit the ‘decidedly ... anti-reform feeling’ among the inhabitants; but nothing came of this. It was reported in the press that ‘two reformers will be returned’, Thomas Hyde Villiers* and one Raphael, whom an Essex newspaper referred to as the Buller nominee. For reasons that are unclear, the electors objected to Raphael, and Bethell Walrond, a Devon landowner and former Member for Sudbury, was invited to replace him. Meantime, Villiers had declined to stand and the result, as the government’s patronage secretary Ellice reported, was the loss of the seat to

any other friend, as Russell, or his agent, having announced [Villiers’s] name ... took the opportunity of substituting another Mr. Villiers, a barrister and friend of his own, on the plea that he was already on indifferent terms with his voters, from the intended disfranchisement of the borough, and that he dared not substitute the name of any other declared reformer.

Walrond and Frederick Villiers were apparently ‘put to the test on the reform question’ and obliged to pledge support for ‘king, ministers and reform’, through the ‘indefatigable exertions’ of Captain Saunders and the physician John Risk.17

On the motion that Saltash stand in schedule A of the reintroduced reform bill, 26 July 1831, Croker argued that it should be transferred to B since it formed ‘a very large proportion’ of the parish, which had a population of 2,873. Lord Althorp, the leader of the Commons, admitted that the case was ‘one of great doubt and difficulty’ which the House must decide, and Lord John Russell conceded that the borough and parish appeared to be ‘intimately connected’, as there was ‘not a separate chapelry’. With the reformers in disarray, having been surprised by their leaders’ irresolute stance, the motion was defeated by 231-150. Four days later it was agreed that Saltash should stand in schedule B. A Devonport attorney observed that ‘the saving of Saltash ... has astonished the inhabitants and the neighbourhood’ and expressed his suspicion that ‘ministers are under obligations to Mr. Russell in respect to this borough!’18 Following the Lords’ rejection of the bill, the mayor, John Evans, summoned a public meeting by requisition at the guildhall, 18 Oct., when the deputy recorder Nicholas Bennett presided. An address to William IV requesting the use of his ‘undoubted prerogative’ to facilitate the bill’s passage was carried ‘by a great majority’ and the meeting ended with ‘three cheers for our patriot king’.19 However, by the new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 Saltash, which contained 244 houses and paid £126 in assessed taxes, was placed 31st in the list of the smallest English boroughs and was therefore consigned to schedule A. Villiers noted that his constituents were ‘very much discontented’, but ministers had been relieved of an awkward problem arising from the recent boundary commissioners’ finding that in reality the borough had little connection with the rest of the parish.20 Saltash was duly disfranchised and absorbed into the Eastern division of Cornwall. It was said in 1872 that the town had been ‘considerably and judiciously improved’ since the Reform Act, with the erection of ‘many neat and tasteful villas and cottages’.21

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 46-47.
  • 2. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), i. 640-1; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 163-4; Parochial Hist. Cornw. iv. 136-7; PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 257-8; (1835), xxiii. 607-8.
  • 3. PP (1831), xvi. 264; (1831-2), xxxvi. 46-47, 583; (1835), xxiii. 603-10; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 81-84; W.T. Lawrance, Parl. Rep. Cornw. 236-7; Durham CRO, Brancepeth mss D/BR/F 281, 283, 351 (and F 133-293 generally); Add. 36462, f. 141.
  • 4. Lincs. AO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss T d’E/H1/87.
  • 5. Brancepeth mss F 351-4.
  • 6. CJ, lxxix. 331; lxxxi. 152; LJ, lvi. 185; lviii. 103.
  • 7. Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss T d’E/H98/21, 24, 28, 30; Add. 36462, f. 141.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxii. 293.
  • 9. Ibid. lxxxiii. 462; LJ, lx. 540.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxiv. 146; LJ, lxi. 267.
  • 11. Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2 T d’E/H88/18, 22; H89/8; Brougham mss, Durham to Brougham, 7 Sept. 1830.
  • 12. PROB 11/1777/639.
  • 13. NLS, Ellice mss, Ellice to Russell, 25 Dec., reply, 27 Dec. 1830; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28A-B/36; 31D/13, 19, 23-25; West Briton, 4 Mar. 1831.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 405; LJ, lxiii. 145, 413.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 237; LJ, lxiii. 209.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxvi. 309, 503; LJ, lxiii. 313; PP (1830-1), x. 140-1.
  • 17. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss, Arbuthnot to fa. 1 May; Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham, 2 May; West Briton, 6 May; Plymouth Herald, 7 May; Western Times, 7 May; Colchester Gazette, 14 May 1831.
  • 18. M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 220-1; Devon RO 3720M/E1, J. Smith to A. Baring, 1 Aug. 1831.
  • 19. West Briton, 21 Oct. 1831.
  • 20. Brougham mss, Villiers to Brougham [Jan. 1832]; PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 257-8.
  • 21. Parochial Hist. Cornw. iv. 136-7.