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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 1,500


(1801): 13,418


 John Henniker505
 William Bentinck307
17 June 1791 PYBUS re-elected after appointment to office 
 Nicholas Bayly230
27 July 1797 PYBUS re-elected after appointment to office291
 Richard Heaton Solly110
9 July 1802JOHN TREVANION666
 William Huskisson466
6 Nov. 1806JOHN JACKSON789
 John Trevanion344
 Hon. Henry Manvers Pierrepont622
 Richard Bateman Robson256

Main Article

The Dover electorate, according to Jackson’s calculations in 1808, numbered about 1,600, some 700 of whom were non-resident, but the largest number of voters polled before 1820 was 1,241 in 1807. The size of the electorate ensured a considerable degree of independence, which expressed itself in favour of local men and of Members willing to take an interest in the town, rather than in favour of Whigs or Radicals. Government, through the customs, the packet service and the victualling and ordnance establishments, and the lord warden, whose court of lodemanage appointed the Cinque Ports pilots, held the commanding interests. In 1789 Pybus calculated that there were 120 voters upon whom the lord warden could ‘absolutely depend’: 50 pilots, seven gunners at the castle and their sons, plus those expecting to be made pilots. Jackson in 1808 estimated that the lord warden had some 500 ‘positive votes’: 90 pilots, 270 friends and relations of pilots, 30 officers employed under the lord warden and a further 100 votes from ‘the harbour leases and repairs [and] tradesmen employed’. To these he added 50 ‘new pilots [who] will have votes’ and 150 of their friends.1 When the lord warden was a member of the government, as were Pitt 1791-1801 and 1804-6 and Lord Hawkesbury (afterwards 2nd Earl of Liverpool) 1807-27, the influence of government was very strong; but a lord warden in opposition, such as Lord North in 1790 and Hawkesbury in 1806, could threaten the government interest. The government manager for most of the period was Peter Fector (1723-1814), a Dover merchant and banker, who was generally considered to possess the largest of the local interests. Liverpool worked closely with two of his Cinque Port officials, Thomas Bateman Lane, the deputy lieutenant, and Thomas Pain, the registrar. The interest of the Yorke family, which had lapsed in 1774, was not revived in this period, although Lord Hardwicke considered putting forward Joseph Sidney Yorke* in 1806.2

Two Pittite candidates had been returned in 1784, but opposition and the independent interest regained one seat at a by-election in 1789 when Charles Small Pybus, a fledgling barrister, was defeated by a former Member John Trevanion, a merchant, who had built up a strong personal interest at Dover since 1770. In 1790, Pybus replaced Robert Preston* as the ministerial candidate, and he and John Henniker*, the son of a former Member, issued their address jointly as ‘friends to the present government’. Trevanion had told the Duke of Portland in December 1789 that it might be advantageous to have a colleague, and had then appeared ‘very well inclined to join’ George Augustus North*, the son of the lord warden. Portland reported to William Adam, 22 Dec.:

he is of opinion that the election if properly and discreetly managed need not cost above £2,000 or at most £2,500—but I perceive he would be very scrupulous in advising anyone to stand, lest he should involve him in an expense to double or treble that amount ... But when he returns to town he will be ready at any time to meet and give all the information and assistance in his power to enable any friend to judge of the expediency of being a candidate at Dover.

The Mr Beckford said by Mrs Sheridan to have ‘given up at Dover’ on 14 June 1790 may have been the colleague chosen for Trevanion, who was ultimately joined on the independent interest by Portland’s second cousin, Capt. William Bentinck, a member of the Whig Club.3 Pybus and Trevanion shared the representation in 1790 and again in 1796. Pitt’s appointment to the lord wardenship on North’s death in 1792 did not adversely affect Trevanion’s position, as he normally acted with government after the outbreak of war. The opposition of Nicholas Bayly, a former Member for Anglesey, in 1796 seems to have been inspired locally; and Richard Heaton Solly, a Dover resident, withdrew from his contest with Pybus in 1797 as soon as the corporation granted him his freedom.4

The election of 1802 demonstrated the fragility of the government interest when it was not carefully managed and did not operate through popular local channels. Addington and his brother John Hiley at the Treasury were compelled to tread carefully because of their desire to maintain good relations with Pitt as lord warden, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Treasury inefficiency brought about the defeat of the government candidate. Pybus later claimed that he had informed the Treasury of his decision to withdraw from Dover as early as February 1802 and had confirmed this decision in May; yet on 11 June Hiley Addington was still writing to him to ask whether it was his ‘fixed determination to withdraw’ and on 12 June visited him with a message from his brother ‘by whom, he said, he had been authorized to promise that if I would go down to Dover, government would contribute something towards the expenses of the election’. Pybus rejected the offer, believing that, as Pitt would not have opposed his re-election, Addington was making use of him to render Pitt’s interest ‘nugatory without the appearance of counteracting it’. On 7 June Pitt had written to Addington from Walmer: ‘If it could be once understood that Pybus has determined to decline, I should have no difficulty in ascertaining the disposition of the place, and I think things might in that case easily be brought to a useful issue’. On 15 June, Pitt, on his way to London, received a letter from Addington recommending Horatio Churchill* in Pybus’s place, to which he replied:

No man can personally be more agreeable to me than Churchill, but I mentioned to your brother before I left town that if there was an opening at Dover I thought it possible that Huskisson might be a good candidate and that as far as I had any wish I was much more anxious for him than for any other person. I certainly retain very strongly the same wish now, and understanding as I did, that your brother would entirely approve of Huskisson, I have been restrained from trying the ground only by delicacy towards Pybus ... I believe there is a very good chance that either Huskisson or Churchill might without much difficulty succeed, by the support of government, and such aid as I could give. What I should like best would be to have the opportunity of consulting Mr Fector (who I believe has the most leading interest) whether there would be any decided preference for one or the other. This is all I can say at present. I shall be in town tomorrow and will endeavour to see you and your brother.

After the meeting Pitt, now back at Walmer, told Addington on 20 June: ‘I have seen both Fector and Churchill. Everything at Dover promises well and this mission seems to have the great prospect of a successful and quiet election.’ Huskisson issued his address on 27 June and was supported by both Pitt and Addington.5 His candidature proved unacceptable to the independent electors, who, having unsuccessfully approached the war hero Sir William Sidney Smith*, the son of an eccentric local resident, at the last moment secured his younger brother John Spencer Smith on his return from diplomatic service. After Huskisson’s defeat by Smith, Lord Guilford wrote to Adam, 19 July: ‘Fector and Billy [Pitt] have been f—d at Dover. You have no idea of the joy and the triumph of the Independents as the Smithites style themselves.’ George Rose attributed Huskisson’s defeat to his involvement in Walter Boyd’s speculations in government stock five years previously, which was ‘not unlikely to be known at Dover, for that place was partly the scene of it’, and was ‘very much inclined to think if Churchill had been put forward he would have succeeded’. Sir William Sidney Smith, who indignantly denied to Addington that his family were in opposition to government, boastfully attributed his brother’s success to the superiority of ‘our ancient family interest’ over ‘that of the mercantile house recently established in our town which has pretended to have the power of bringing in Members for the place merely because we did not choose to exert ourselves in elections at a time when our other duties required our whole attention’.6

Despite his defeat, Huskisson continued to cultivate Dover, and wrote to Pitt, 21 Sept. 1804:

I am satisfied from some communications I have lately received from all the leading interests that were opposed to me at the last election, that in case of a vacancy and of its being thought worth my while to come forward, I should have no difficulty in securing my return for Dover.

Although Pitt’s death deprived him of patronage, it was reported shortly before the election of 1806 that ‘independent of the lower class of freemen who have formed themselves into associations to support him, he has almost got every respectable inhabitant in the place to promise him’. In the event, Huskisson preferred to contest Liskeard, where he had found a seat in 1804. He delayed publicizing his withdrawal until the last moment to allow a Pittite candidate to come forward, but Lord Haddington would not allow his son Lord Binning* to stand and Thomas Wallace* arrived too late to offer himself.7 Pybus sought a cheap re-election for Dover by appealing to ‘the decided partiality to myself’ which he claimed to detect ‘in the minds of a great body of freemen’, and ‘told the electors that I should neither build my expectations upon the professed support of the lord warden on the one hand, nor of government on the other’. He entertained the notion that if government ‘had permitted those persons, who might be immediately under their command, to have acted upon this occasion for themselves’, he ‘could have relied almost universally upon their second votes’; but the appearance of John Jackson, a London merchant, ‘with the expressed and absolute support of government’ and the backing of Fector, raised the prospect of an expensive contest and forced him to withdraw. Jackson, in whose favour Smith had declined by arrangement with his cousin Lord Grenville, and Charles Jenkinson, the cousin of the new lord warden Lord Hawkesbury, were thus left with the leading interests. Trevanion, now in financial difficulties, was unable to fight them both, even though their ‘mutual understanding that mutual assistance would be afforded’ broke down in a ‘vehement contest to head the poll’. Jenkinson later complained in the House that government had prevented their employees from giving him their second votes.8

In 1807 Jackson, having supported Brand’s motion, was forced to swear an affidavit to refute rumours that he was a Catholic and to declare his opposition to Catholic relief. Jenkinson, who now had the support of both government and the lord warden, stood with Henry Manvers Pierrepont, son of the 1st Earl Manvers and brother-in-law of William Bentinck. All but 40 of Pierrepont’s votes were shared with Jenkinson, while Jackson had 330 plumpers, about 100 of whom came from London. The support of 222 of the 392 outdwellers who voted enabled Jackson to deny the lord warden control over both seats. Jackson’s notion that an increase in the number of pilots required by statute (48 Geo. III, c.104) in 1808 would bring 200 extra votes to the lord warden’s interest was never put to the test, as by the time of the general election of 1812 he had gone over to government and was not opposed.9

In March 1818, the freemen resident in London passed a vote of censure on both Members and invited two new candidates to offer. Jenkinson’s failure to pay some bills incurred in 1812 was said by his principal creditor, Pain the registrar, who sought reparation from Liverpool, to be ‘a tower of strength to those who will support the independent interest’, and a possible source of damage to Liverpool’s own reputation. Liverpool refused to accept responsibility for the bills, but transferred the support of government to Edward Bootle Wilbraham, who had married into a Kentish family, and instructed his agent that he had ‘no desire whatever that any opposition should be made’ to Jackson’s re-election. Nothing came of a report that the reformer Matthew Wood, Member for London, planned to stand, and a large group of resident freemen failed to persuade Peter Fector’s son, John Minet Fector, to leave France to contest the seat. The independent interest could only bring forward Richard Bateman Robson*, who did not attend the nomination. His agent John Scudamore, a solicitor of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, described him as ‘a friend of the people, and a warm advocate for the freedom of election, and possessing strong principles of independence’, but withdrew his candidature on the second day.10

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Whitbread mss W1/1910; NLS mss 3795, f. 21.
  • 2. Add. 35706, f. 353.
  • 3. Kentish Chron. 8, 15, 29 June 1790; Ginter, Whig Organization, 141; T. Moore, Sheridan, ii. 116.
  • 4. True Briton, 27, 30 May 1796; J. B. Jones, Annals Dover, 393.
  • 5. Sidmouth mss, Pybus’s narrative pp. 56-64, enc. in Pybus to Addington, 19 Dec. 1803; Pitt to Addington, 7, 15, 20 June; Kentish Chron. 29 June 1802.
  • 6. Sidmouth mss, Sir W. S. Smith to Addington, 2, 9 July; Blair Adam mss; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 11 July 1802.
  • 7. PRO 30/8/147, f. 134; Blair Adam mss, Walsh to Adam, 24 Oct. 1806; SRO GD51/1/107.
  • 8. Fortescue mss, J. S. Smith to Grenville [18, 25 Oct.], Pybus to Grenville, 24 Oct. 1806; Add. 38458, f. 180; Parl. Deb. viii. 765.
  • 9. Dublin Jnl. 5 May 1807; Whitbread mss W1/1910.
  • 10. Add. 38271, f. 51; 38272, ff. 83, 93; 38458, ff. 234, 235, 246, 248, 252, 256, 257, 259; 38578, ff. 72, 74; The Late Elections (1818), 110-13.