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 freemen

Number of voters:

about 600


13 Apr. 1754Nicholas Haddock387
 John Byng313
 Charles Sackville, Earl of Middlesex91
28 Mar. 1757Isaac Townsend vice Byng, deceased 
25 Mar. 1761Thomas Parker, Visct. Parker 
 Isaac Townsend 
23 Mar. 1764Sir Charles Hardy vice Parker, called to the Upper House 
23 Dec. 1765Grey Cooper vice Townsend, deceased268
 John Calcraft235
16 Mar. 1768John Calcraft313
 William Gordon308
 Francis Geary292
9 Mar. 1771Thomas Pye vice Gordon, vacated his seat293
 Richard Smith154
18 Sept. 1772George Finch Hatton vice Calcraft, deceased329
 Nathaniel Smith253
7 Oct. 1774Robert Gregory350
 George Finch Hatton293
 Thomas Pye252
9 Sept. 1780George Finch Hatton331
 Robert Gregory319
 Nathaniel Smith270
1 Apr. 1784Sir Charles Middleton70
 Nathaniel Smith61
 George Finch Hatton44

Main Article

The ports and dockyards of Rochester and Chatham, and the Victualling Office, supplied an Admiralty interest, reinforced by the Customs and Excise; as a rule the Government could carry one seat only, which more often than not was filled by a naval officer. But there was also a local interest, especially strong if joined to that of some neighbouring country gentleman.1

From 1754 to 1765 Government candidates carried both seats. On the death of Isaac Townsend, Lord Egmont, first lord of the Admiralty, agreed to the nomination of Grey Cooper, secretary to the Treasury in the newly-appointed Rockingham Administration. ‘Sir Charles Saunders and Admiral Keppel and Sir William Meredith [members of the Admiralty Board] go down with Cooper tomorrow’, wrote Rockingham to Newcastle on 26 Nov. 1765.2 Cooper was opposed by John Calcraft, who was supported by William Gordon, a Rochester wine merchant, head of the independent interest in the borough. Saunders, Keppel, and Meredith, wrote Calcraft to Pitt, 30 Nov., ‘have been sitting three days in this city, as a board, to do any Admiralty favour that could procure a vote, as well as canvass for Mr. Cooper, my opponent. My Lord President of the Council [Lord Winchilsea] has been here also.’3 And Newcastle to Rockingham, 1 Dec.: ‘Sure it was very imprudent in our friends to hold ... an Admiralty board at Rochester. The same thing might have [been] done without the éclat; Sir Robert [Walpole] dared not do that.’4 He was obviously afraid that this might annoy Pitt; but in fact Pitt disapproved of Calcraft’s standing.

Calcraft, defeated in 1765, was in 1768 the Government candidate, together with Admiral Francis Geary. Alexander Fordyce, the banker, wrote Calcraft to Lord Loudoun, 13 Feb. 1768, was thought of as the independent candidate. ‘I can scarce believe anyone mad enough for such an undertaking.’ Fordyce was to meet the landlord of the King’s Head and an apothecary at Dartford to concert the plan.5 In the end it was Gordon, the wine merchant, who himself stood against them. Calcraft issued detailed and systematic instructions to his agents for dealing with the voters: how to lodge them in houses and keep them under control; conduct them to the polling place, delivering ‘those freemen first whom they think most doubtful, and endeavour as much as may be to keep them sober till they have polled’; how ‘to get away any drunken or straggling freemen’ of the other side, ‘and to talk with them properly, and poll them immediately, or carry them to our private houses to be conducted from thence to poll’; etc.6 Calcraft and Gordon were returned. Of Gordon’s voters 164 were plumpers, of Calcraft’s only 7, and of Geary’s 2; the official candidates had a majority among the shipwrights and other workmen in the dockyards; of 28 esquires, gentlemen, aldermen, common councillors and naval officers, 26 voted for Calcraft, 23 for Geary, and only 3 for Gordon; but among local artisans and shopkeepers Gordon had a majority.

Richard Smith in 1771, Nathaniel Smith in 1772 and 1780, and Robert Gregory in 1774 and 1780 were Opposition candidates. Thomas Pye, an admiral, and George Finch Hatton, whose family had considerable influence in the neighbourhood, had Government support. Lord Sandwich wrote to John Robinson from the Admiralty, 23 Apr. 1780:7

The intelligence I have received about Rochester was from Mr. Jackson , our deputy secretary, who had seen Mr. Best, whose language was that he thought he could put Jackson in a way of coming in for Rochester; that Mr. Hatton was not liked, and that Gregory had been making interest for himself and another person. All this makes no other impression upon me than to convince me that we ought to take our measures without delay.

And Commissioner Proby wrote to Sandwich from Chatham, 31 July 1780:8

The borough of Rochester are as averse to Government as they were at the last general election. I am of the opinion that Mr. Hatton will be excluded for Sir George Rodney, or indeed any other gentleman who will be declared a candidate. Hand bills have been already distributed through the Independents, and they have great reason to expect that Sir George Rodney will declare himself a candidate.

But Robinson in his survey of July 1780:

The interest of Government stands so favourably here that it is hoped with management and attention, and a sudden declaration at the moment, all being prepared, that Sir George Rodney might be carried with Mr. Hatton. Mr. Gregory is always against.

In the end only one Government candidate, George Finch Hatton, was put up and carried.

In 1784 both sitting Members supported the Coalition; and Robinson noted against Rochester in a paper drawn up between 14 Feb. and 25 Mar.: ‘Mr. Rose to talk to Lord Howe about naval candidates.’9 The two Government candidates, Sir Charles Middleton, to whose expenses the Treasury contributed £1,330 from secret service money,10 and Nathaniel Smith, an East India naval captain, were returned.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 32972, f. 64.
  • 2. Ibid. ff. 62-63.
  • 3. Chatham Corresp. ii. 337-8.
  • 4. Add. 32972, f. 96.
  • 5. Loudoun mss in the possession of the Marquess of Bute.
  • 6. Namier, Structure, 78-79.
  • 7. Abergavenny mss.
  • 8. Sandwich mss.
  • 9. Abergavenny mss.
  • 10. Secret service accounts, Royal archives, Windsor.