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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 200


18 Apr. 1754Richard Edgcumbe70
 George Boscawen70
 James Hamilton51
 George Hamilton40
30 Dec. 1755Edgcumbe re-elected after appointment to office 
9 Dec. 1756Edgcumbe re-elected after appointment to office 
2 Dec. 1758John Plumptre vice Edgcumbe, called to the Upper House 
4 Apr. 1761Sir Edward Turner68
 George Brydges Rodney68
 George Clive63
 Edmund Maskelyne61
19 Nov. 1766Francis Basset vice Turner, deceased 
21 Mar. 1768Francis Basset 
 Hugh Pigot 
17 Jan. 1770William Lemon vice Basset, deceased 
28 Dec. 1772Lemon re-elected after appointment to office 
12 Oct. 1774Sir George Osborn139
 William Chaytor90
 John Rogers81
11 Sept. 1780Sir Francis Basset118
 John Rogers101
 William Chaytor82
 Paul Wentworth44
13 Dec. 1782Reginald Pole Carew vice Rogers, vacated his seat 
3 Apr. 1784Sir John St. Aubyn86
 Sir Francis Basset86
 Joshua Smith83
 George Jackson73

Main Article

In Newcastle’s paper of 18 Mar. 1754 Penryn was included among the Boscawen boroughs; while the list of 15 Mar. noted after the names of the two candidates, Richard Edgcumbe and George Boscawen: ‘Here is a little difference to be adjusted by the Duke of Newcastle between Lord Edgcumbe and Lord Falmouth.’1 Falmouth had written to Henry Pelham on 18 Dec. 1753:2

Lord Edgcumbe lately proposed to me that one of his sons should be recommended jointly with Colonel George Boscawen to represent the borough of Penryn in the ensuing Parliament ... You must remember, Sir, we were promised we should have the assistance of the Administration to promote his Majesty’s service. All the interest Lord Edgcumbe has in Penryn or ever had arose originally and entirely from the power of the Administration in the distribution of offices etc. which ... we thought to have the benefit of. ... We think we ought not to be molested or disturbed but assisted, and that harmony ought to be preserved among his Majesty’s servants. ... We have never desired to interfere in other places where Lord Edgcumbe is concerned, though in some my late father had to do with. ... We have ... acted openly, generously, and friendly by Lord Edgcumbe, and think we have a right to expect some from him, and hope for your friendly assistance herein. A letter I received last night from Penryn ... acquaints me [that] Mr. James Hamilton, who was page to the late Prince of Wales, is now in that neighbourhood, and has applied to some of the corrupt part of the borough by means of a young woman he is courting whose fortune and house is near Penryn.

This is the only information found about the opposition at Penryn in 1754, which is nowhere mentioned in the very full notes on that general election in the Newcastle papers. George Hamilton was probably the brother of the 7th Earl of Abercorn who had sat for Wells 1747-54, and James his son. Their only known connexion with Cornwall was through John Hamilton, younger son of the 7th Earl, who married in 1749 the widow of Richard Eliot of Port Eliot and mother of Edward Eliot.

Thomas Jones, Edgcumbe’s agent, wrote about Penryn in June 1760:

Mr. Basset, a neighbouring gentleman and a considerable landowner in the town, has been talked of for a candidate, but at present there is not much probability that he will meddle—and this is a borough where a foreign adventurer would meet with very little encouragement or success.

Basset did ‘meddle’, and after the return at Penryn had been made against his candidates, gave James Buller the following account of the respective interests in the borough:3 Falmouth ‘has not a foot of land in or near the borough’; Edgcumbe ‘one house only in it’; they are supported ‘by their influence in the Admiralty, Post Office, Customs, Excise, etc.’; ‘myself ... am possessed of 82 tenements in the borough and 36 more in the parish, and about 60 of my tenants are electors’; and of the smaller interests in the borough only one adhered to Edgcumbe.

G. B. Rodney was the Edgcumbe candidate, while Edward Turner was put up by Falmouth at Bute’s request; George Clive was a cousin, and Edmund Maskelyne, a brother-in-law, of Robert Clive. Hardwicke, after a talk with Clive, reported to Bute, 4 Mar. 1761:4

They stand merely upon the interest of Mr. Basset, a gentleman of a very great estate in that county, and ... the sum which each of them has deposited is £2,000, the current price of the times. He read me part of a letter from Mr. Basset, wherein he says that he is ready to accept Sir Edward Turner in the room of one of those gentlemen; provided he will stand upon his, Mr. Basset’s interest, and agree to the same terms.

And the next morning: ‘From your Lordship’s letter, I apprehend the difficulty will be in Sir Edward’s quitting Lord Falmouth’s interest to stand upon Mr. Basset’s; which, according to their proposition, I presume he must do.’ The struggle continued; and Falmouth having informed Bute of the result, added: ‘This place has been very expensive.’5 No Falmouth candidate can be traced at any later election, nor is the interest ever mentioned again in electoral surveys, although Falmouth remained recorder of Penryn till his death in 1782. The Edgcumbe interest continued, sizable but not dominant, till it was sold to the Duke of Leeds a short time before 1790.

Judging by Basset’s letter to James Buller, 14 Apr. 1761, and the analysis of the poll which showed that his candidates should have been returned, he intended to petition; but no such petition appears in the Commons’ journals; and on a vacancy in November 1766 Basset was returned unopposed. In 1768 he was re-selected together with Hugh Pigot—on what interest Pigot stood is not clear, possibly on Edgcumbe’s. When Basset died, 17 Nov. 1769, his son was only twelve, and it is not clear how the interest was run during the minority, and on what interest Basset’s successor, William Lemon, was returned. In 1774 Robinson, expecting two vacancies, noted against Penryn: ‘Lord Edgcumbe, see on this, who has an interest; Mr. Basset, Mrs. Hearne, and friends; independent; Baker, Tredwen etc’.6 Two staunch Government supporters were returned; the defeated candidate, John Rogers, two years later married a sister of young Francis Basset—whether there was any connexion between them in 1774 is uncertain.

In July 1780 Robinson, having stated that neither of the sitting Members for Penryn would come in again, added:

Sir Francis Basset is to come in for one Member but he is not content with that, he wants to bring in the other, and that Government should surrender up their interest to him there, desert their friends, and put the borough into [his] hands. It is likely therefore it will end in a contest, and perhaps in that case it may be necessary to fight for both Members.

Next, Lord North sent to Penryn Dr. Richard Williams, whom he used on electoral business in Cornwall, charged, as Williams wrote, 25 Aug. 1780, to John Penwarne on his arrival at Penryn, ‘to use every honourable means to prevent a contest between Sir Francis Basset and the ministry in the expected election’.

His Lordship and Mr. Robinson have repeatedly declared that they knew nothing which would give them more concern than to be at all times on friendly terms with Sir F. Basset, and they flatter themselves that Sir F. will not show himself more disposed to break in on their ministerial right to one member than they do to break in on his admitted natural right to the other, as they would be really sorry to wrest from him, or any other man, what they have no claim to, which may be the consequence of a severe contest.

The contest was fought out; the defeated Government candidates petitioned, but the petition was not pressed; and Basset and Rogers supported North to the very end, Basset following him even into opposition, which gave a different character to the contest in 1784.

This time Basset stood together with his brother-in-law, Sir John St. Aubyn, while the Government candidates were Joshua Smith, an East Indian, and George Jackson, lately connected with the Admiralty. Robinson wrote about Penryn in December 1783: ‘Sir Francis Basset supposes himself secure, but yet there is an interest here who will most probably oppose him.’7 And in a paper drawn up between 14 Feb. and 25 Mar. 1784:

Mr. Rose to concert with Mr. Masterman [ Edgcumbe’s agent,] what can be done and by whom. Supposed one seat may be fought for. Mrs. Herle, Heame, and Colonel Rodd have interest.

On 23 Feb., at a meeting at Penryn, an address to the King was voted, bearing 209 signatures and asserting the King’s right of appointing ‘to all the great offices of executive government’, and to continue in his service ‘men the most deserving’ of confidence, and hoping he would continue to exert his legal prerogative of dissolving Parliament. But Basset retained electoral control of Penryn.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


Poll sheets, Tremayne coll. Cornw. RO.

  • 1. Add. 32995, ff. 63, 98.
  • 2. Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 3. Buller mss.
  • 4. Bute mss.
  • 5. Namier, Structure, 305-315.
  • 6. Laprade, 23.
  • 7. Ibid. 71, 114.