Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 250


15 Apr. 1754Lord Robert Bertie 
 Charles Amcotts 
27 Mar. 1761Lord Robert Bertie 
 John Mitchell 
22 Dec. 1766Charles Amcotts vice Mitchell, deceased 
16 Mar. 1768Lord Robert Bertie 
 Charles Amcotts 
10 Oct. 1774Lord Robert Bertie 
 Charles Amcotts 
2 May 1777Humphrey Sibthorp vice Amcotts, deceased 
12 Sept. 1780Lord Robert Bertie209
 Humphrey Sibthorp139
 Sir Christopher Whichcote87
23 Mar. 1782Sir Peter Burrell vice Bertie, deceased 
1 Apr. 1784Sir Peter Burrell 
 Dalhousie Watherston 

Main Article

Three interests struggled at Boston. The Berties, Dukes of Ancaster, were strong enough to carry one seat throughout the period; the second was disputed between the corporation interest and a third ‘independent’ group. Between 1741 and 1777 the corporation seat was held by two local men, John Michell and Charles Amcotts. On Amcotts’ death in 1777 the corporation brought in Humphrey Sibthorp of Canwick.

At the general election of 1780 the third or ‘blue’ party made a push, its candidate being Sir Christopher Whichcote of Aswarby. Lord Robert Bertie took first place comfortably, but Whichcote, though beaten, polled well. In 1782, on the death of Lord Robert, the managers of the third party begged Whichcote to come forward again to embrace ‘the finest opening you can desire’. But Whichcote may have been reluctant to pit himself against the Bertie interest, and the seat went, without a poll, to Sir Peter Burrell, the Duke’s brother-in-law.1

The 1784 election was preceded by complicated negotiations. Sibthorp was in poor health, and it was reported that he would not stand again. The leaders of the corporation party therefore applied to Sir Joseph Banks, the celebrated botanist. H. B. Pacey, one of the managers for the corporation, wrote to Banks, 31 Dec. 1783:2

The corporation are staunch and very desirous of having what they call a member of their own, and have declared themselves ready to support any person you should recommend.

Banks’s intention was to bring in Henry Phipps, the brother of Lord Mulgrave. The third party was also active: on 13 Jan. 1784 its leaders were reported to have been to London in search of a candidate, ‘but keep a profound secret who he is’. A week later, they had gone back to their previous candidate, Sir Christopher Whichcote, ‘between whom there are continual express papers, two or three in a day’. This also fell through, and the situation was greatly altered in March when a new contestant arrived, Dalhousie Watherston, a nabob of Scottish extraction and a stranger to Boston.3 The third party at once threw in its lot with the new candidate, and within two days Banks’s managers were anxious:

Since my last [wrote Pacey to Banks on 13 Mar.] plenty of liquor and fair speeches have had their full effect, and Captain Watherston has the appearance of a strong party ... It was reported yesterday with confidence, as an electioneering fetch, that you would not come. This had its effect of alarming your friends of the lower class, who are always fearful of being in the black list, which means when the candidate to whom they have engaged their votes declines the poll, whereby the usual douceur given after the election is lost.

Banks’s difficulties were now increased by a declaration from Sibthorp that he would, after all, stand. ‘His resignation’, complained Pacey to Banks, 15 Mar., ‘was voluntary and decisive, and our engagements with you absolute and irrevocable.’ Nevertheless, the situation was desperate:

A nabob was a new character here, and one I always dreaded from the knowledge of our constitution, and the prevailing, almost irresistible, arguments of pecuniary influence: his success as a stranger has been very great having got all the blues and the discontented party.

At this stage, Phipps refused to continue. Banks wrote to Pacey:

He told me that the circumstances of its being judged necessary for the person who stood on the interest proposed to him to treat was what he had not before heard of, and that he had been deceived in being informed that Mr. Sibthorp had voluntarily resigned his pretensions, as Mr. Sibthorp declared his resignation to be only conditional on account of his bad health and told his friends that his health was now restored and that he should stand ... He [Phipps] totally and absolutely declined to fulfil his engagement.

The corporation’s only hope to preserve its interest was that Sibthorp should stand, but on 22 Mar. Pacey wrote:

Mr. Cheyney has brought some letters from Mr. Sibthorp, but they are so undecisive at a time when decision is absolutely necessary, that there is no ground to proceed upon, and therefore those friends with whom I have acted on this occasion have determined to yield.

Burrell and Watherston were accordingly returned unopposed.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. S. Barnard to Whichcote, Aswarby mss; Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Merc. 28 Mar. 1782.
  • 2. This, and all subsequent quotations are from the mss of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society.
  • 3. See WATHERSTON, Dalhousie.