Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 3,000


6 May 1791 PITT re-elected after vacating his seat 
 Henry Bankes827
 Henry Bankes1130

Main Article

No Dorset county seat had been contested since 1727. ‘The gentlemen of the county being numerous and opulent’, no family could claim a controlling influence. Lord Rivers came nearest to being ‘the leading aristocratical interest’, to quote Oldfield.1 His son George Pitt gave up his seat for health reasons in 1790 in favour of his cousin William Morton Pitt of Encombe, and Francis Browne stood again. Lord Uxbridge thought of putting up his heir Lord Paget, but, so he informed Pitt (9 Sept. 1790):

after having attentively considered the matter together with a common friend of ours, I find that I could not declare Paget a candidate consistently with a just attention to the peace of the county and to the interests of the common cause in supporting your government to which I trust the other candidates are perfectly attached.

He added that he was ‘surprised at how easily ... the object would have been attained had I had the means of coming to a decision upon it ... a short time ago’, but that if Pitt supported them, he would declare in favour of the present candidates.2 So there was no contest. Morton Pitt vacated his seat, some supposed in the hope of a peerage, but actually because he had a government contract to supply cordage which penalized him. He was re-elected unopposed in 1791 after a county meeting had unanimously approved his conduct, and resolved that no expense should be incurred in the election, since ‘the expenses incurred at the late election for the county were in the highest degree subversive of those principles on which every election ought to be conducted’.3

The representation remained unchanged until 1806, when on 20 Oct. Browne announced his retirement. The same day Edward Berkeley Portman, the ‘calf of gold’ of Bryanston, who had been sitting for Boroughbridge, announced his candidature. Lord FitzHarris alleged that Browne had retired in Portman’s favour. Next day handbills were issued on behalf of Henry Bankes, Member for Corfe Castle, who communicated his intention to stand to his friends. On 22 Oct. he sought the prime minister Lord Grenville’s support: the latter opted for Morton Pitt and Bankes. FitzHarris, who had jumped to the conclusion that Portman was ‘a government candidate’, 24 Oct., next reported Bankes as going ‘hand in hand with Morton Pitt’, 27 Oct. Morton Pitt wished to stand unconnected with the contenders, among them Sir William Oglander*, who soon dropped out.4

At the nomination meeting, on the motion of Nathaniel Bond*, Bankes’s proposer, Morton Pitt’s election was unanimously approved. Bankes had more supporters present, but Portman demanded a poll. He had been twitted by Bond for neglect of his parliamentary duties, but retaliated by revealing that it was Bond who had found a borough seat for him at the previous election. On 3 Nov. Morton Pitt issued an address denying his junction with either of the contestants. Bankes was admitted to be at a disadvantage ‘owing to his not having declared himself sooner’, and as for the charge of disturbing the peace of the county which was made against Portman on his behalf, it could more effectively be made against him. He was also accused of standing on ‘the great landed interest of the county’, while Portman espoused the independent yeomanry. Nathaniel Bond’s view was that Portman had been ‘very active and early in his canvass in the most populous parts of the county, but almost all the great families have declared in favour of Bankes since the nomination’, though he was not popular with the ‘lower orders’. Even so, Bankes did not receive the support of Lord Uxbridge’s tenants, as the agent did not have his instructions in time. Portman, who was reported to have spent £10,000 to Bankes’s £7,000, was successful.5 An analysis of the poll shows that Morton Pitt had the lead from the start and in all parts of the county, that only on the third of four full days’ polling did Bankes obtain more votes than Portman and in only one of the five divisions (Dorchester) was he superior to Portman. Only one in 11 voters did not give a vote to Pitt, most of them plumpers for Portman, and split votes were to the advantage of Portman in the proportion of nine to eight.

When Bankes returned to the fray in the election of 1807, he was at once accused of breaking the peace: Portman’s ‘only crime’ had been that he had been supported by the ‘good honest yeomanry ... contrary to the wishes of many great men’ and he had given ‘entire satisfaction’. Bankes insisted that he meant no harm to Morton Pitt. Wishing to get all possible second votes, he was prepared to give his to Pitt, if reciprocally supported. The latter noted that it was to the advantage of the two contenders (Sir William Oglander had again dropped out) to solicit votes for him: some of Portman’s canvassers did so. During the poll, however, he felt obliged to address his friends (4 May) asking them to reserve a vote for him.6 In the event Portman received 729 plumpers, over five times as many as in 1806, when many of them had awarded a vote to Pitt. Pitt held the lead in every division except Dorchester and Blandford. Over twice as many freeholders split their votes between Pitt and Bankes as between Pitt and Portman. Bankes was again defeated in a seven-day poll; about 2,300 freeholders had voted, compared with fewer than 1,900 in 1806.

Bankes was expected to try again in 1812, was daunted by Morton Pitt’s refusal to budge from strict neutrality when he suggested an agreement to share expenses, and nothing came of a rumour that Pitt, whose daughter died shortly before the election, would stand down in Bankes’s favour. In Pitt’s view he had lost too many votes in the past by not making his neutrality perfectly clear. On 1 Oct. 1812 Bankes declined, and there were no dinners or even ribbons. In 1812 he informed Lord Colchester, ‘I left our county to itself, having twice burned my fingers in meddling with it’.7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Boroughs, i. 174.
  • 2. Spencer mss, Pitt to Spencer, 30 Sept. 1789; PRO 30/8/185, f. 47.
  • 3. Bristol Jnl. 14 May 1791; Lord Eldon’s Anecdote Bk. 154.
  • 4. Dorset RO, Bond mss D413, election broadsheets and Bankes to Bond, 21 Oct.; Anglesey mss, D20/Z3, Bankes to Uxbridge, 24 Oct. Pitt to same, 25 Oct. Fortescue mss, Bankes to Grenville, 22 Oct., Brine to same, 25 Oct.; Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 24, 27 Oct. 1806.
  • 5. Sidmouth mss, Bond to Sidmouth, 31 Oct. [1806], wrongly endorsed 1804; Farington, iv. 112; Morning Post, 28 Oct., 10 Nov.;Dorset RO, KS21; KY79/1-57, 86/1-11; L33 (election addresses); Bond mss D367, Templeman to Bond, 22 Nov. 1806.
  • 6. Bankes mss, ‘A brother freeholder’, Address to the freeholders (1807); Anglesey mss D20/Z3, Bankes to Uxbridge, 30 Apr., Sanderson to James, 8 May; Dorset RO, KY73/6, 44, 51; Bristol Jnl. 23 May; Salisbury Jnl. 4, 25 May 1807.
  • 7. Bankes mss, Pitt to Bankes, 15 Jan., Pitt’s address, 28 Sept. 1812; Life of Wilberforce (1838), iv. 62; Salisbury Jnl. 5 Oct. 1812; Dorset RO, KY86/4; Colchester, iii. 52.