East Looe


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 50


(1801): 467


27 Mar. 1795 CHARLES ARBUTHNOT vice Wellesley Pole, vacated his seat 
31 May 1796JOHN BULLER I17
 William Waddington2
23 Apr. 1798 FREDERICK WILLIAM BULLER vice Graves, vacated his seat 
23 May 1799 JOHN SMITH I vice John Buller I, vacated his seat 
24 July 1799 SIR JOHN MITFORD vice Smith, vacated his seat 
26 Feb. 1802 JAMES BULLER I vice Mitford, called to the Upper House 
9 July 1802JOHN BULLER I 
3 Nov. 1806JOHN BULLER I22
 Hamelin Trelawny1
 Christopher Smith1
9 Oct. 1812(SIR) EDWARD BULLER, Bt. 
15 Apr. 1816 THOMAS POTTER MACQUEEN vice Vanderheyden, vacated his seat 
20 June 1818(SIR) EDWARD BULLER, Bt. 

Main Article

John Buller† of East Looe (d.1786) left a secure interest there to his eldest son John Buller I*. The latter had been in India since 1777 and in his absence made first his uncle William Buller bishop of Exeter (d.1796), then his first cousin once removed, James Buller* of Downes, his ‘confidential agent’ for East Looe. Buller, whose expenses in 1790 amounted to £350, followed the family practice of offering the seats to friends of administration, who paid him £400 expenses for the whole Parliament and £500 in addition for his pains. In 1790 Pitt recommended Wellesley Pole and Wood.1 Wellesley Pole in 1795 gave up his seat, which he had obtained ‘from the minister’, because he disagreed with Pitt’s war policy, and Charles Arbuthnot, who promised to support Pitt, replaced him, after Dr Buller had procrastinated about accepting a government nominee. In 1796, when it was expected that the patron would return from India, his uncle procured his return and that of Alderman William Graves, a respectable member of the corporation who had previously been returned by the Bullers.

Graves was evidently the burgesses’ choice, for the bishop had at first suggested Buller’s brother Edward, also in the East Indies, and ‘they came to a resolution to decline his recommendation’ as to one of them. John Edwards, who was negotiating with some of the burgesses for the intervention of the Duke of Bedford in the borough, reported this, but was not confident that he could exploit the situation. An appearance of a contest was instigated by ‘an adventurer of the name of [William] Waddington, [a London banker], brother to a democrat who first stood for St. Albans and then for Hertfordshire [Samuel Ferrand Waddington]’. Reginald Pole Carew, acting for Buller and Graves, reported to his brother Charles Morice Pole, who had had designs on their cousin’s borough, 21 June 1796:

Trout the publican seconded by [Samuel] May, were to have proposed Mr Waddington, induced by the high offers of 600 guineas per man, which he made to many of the resident electors, but which it should seem were only accepted by these two deluded men. But so awkward were they or so confounded in their new situation that they could not recollect the name of their friend whom they meant to propose, nor even read it on his card which he had given them for that purpose. So that he was obliged at last to name and propose himself, when these two men voted for him, and were followed by many inhabitants and freeholders of the town, whom he brought forward to tender to vote for him, meaning as he said to make the proceeding the ground of a petition to the House. The fact was, I believe, that he had expected by force of his gold to have got over a majority of the resident freemen and then to have tried the question of residence. But finding that he could only seduce two of the residents, he was reduced to attempt the introduction of inhabitants and free-holders, in order to make out any appearance of a cause, and I should think would hardly be advised to spend his money in trying a question by petition which can never seat him.

Graves merely kept the seat warm for the patron’s half-brother Frederick William Buller, who apart from the ‘usual’ election expenses of £200, engaged to pay half the borough’s annual expenses (another £200). When Davies Giddy*, a cousin of the town clerk, was made by Buller a freeman of the borough in September 1798, he witnessed ‘a scene disgraceful to human nature. All the principal people of the town, after gorging themselves with meat will continue drinking until they can swallow no more. This is one of the principal bribes which induces them to return venal Members.’2

On 13 Oct. 1798, John Buller wrote to Pitt from Calcutta that he was detained in India and wished to vacate his seat; he authorized his cousin to tell Pitt that he wished to be ‘guided entirely’ by him with regard to the ‘nomination of a successor to the seat’, as a proof of his ‘sincere attachment’ to Pitt’s administration, 4 May 1799. Pitt recommended John Smith. On 17 July, James Buller asked Pitt, on behalf of his cousin, to provide for one of his loyal supporters at Looe, John Soady, for the patron’s brother in the navy, Edward Buller, and for the son of an alderman of East Looe desirous of promotion in the navy. He added that, as John Smith had now vacated his seat (with an appointment in Jamaica) and the electors were being asked to return the attorney-general in his place, they would appreciate Pitt’s doing something for them. On 3 Aug. James Buller reported to Pitt that Sir John Mitford’s return was ‘peacefully approved of’ and that ‘the gentlemen of Looe’ wished

that the change of the seat shall be attended with as little expense as possible, and I therefore have only to request that you will pay three hundred pounds to the credit of John Buller esquire with Messrs Devaynes Dawes & Co. Pall Mall, instead of five hundred pounds as lately advanced, when Mr Smith was returned.

He went on to repeat his request for places for ‘Mr J. Buller’s friends at Looe’, ‘naturally’ expected by them for their ‘attachment’ and by the patron for the support which he and his father had ‘invariably’ given Pitt’s administration, as a means of strengthening and perpetuating his influence in the borough.3

Shortly before the dissolution in 1802, Mitford received a peerage and his place was taken by James Buller himself until the dissolution. Meanwhile the patron came home from India and he returned himself and his brother Edward in 1802. In 1806 the brothers met with opposition from the Trelawny family, who had controlled the borough in the first half of the 18th century and had made spasmodic efforts in the second half to recover their standing from their kinsmen the Bullers. Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny, the 7th Baronet, was persuaded by his third son Capt. Hamelin Trelawny of the Royal Artillery, ‘desirous of restoring the connection that had formerly subsisted between that borough and this family’, to authorize his standing there jointly with Christopher Smith* of Hyde House, Middlesex. This opposition alarmed the Buller brothers, who both wrote to Lord Grenville (Edward Buller, having received no reply to his first letter, wrote again on 27 Oct. 1806), assuring him of their support for his administration: John Buller, who applied for a place on the lottery commission for one of their friends at Looe, claimed that they had ‘invariably’ supported Grenville from the outset: his brother promised support ‘in the next Parliament’. They made no reference to the opposition. Grenville’s brother, the Marquess of Buckingham, was in fact encouraging Trelawny’s opposition, in an attempt to stop James Buller from undermining his interest at Saltash.4

Trelawny claimed that the right of election lay in residents paying scot and lot, not in the freemen; his 29 supporters’ votes were, however, with one exception, rejected by the mayor who admitted only freemen to the poll (in effect, the corporation). Trelawny proposed to apply to King’s bench ‘in consequence of a supposed deviation from the charter’: finding, however, that this would mean ‘considerable expense’, he got his father to approach Lord Grenville, 19 Dec. 1806, for an assurance that if a new charter were obtained, it would be granted to the friends of his family resident in East Looe. He stated the family’s claim to this, only to be informed in reply that Grenville had received a pledge of support from the sitting Members and was evidently satisfied with that. Hamelin Trelawny, whose petition was presented on 2 Jan. 1807, wrote to Grenville, 9 Apr., claiming that the Bullers’ pledge ‘did not come from the heart’ (which was true if personal loyalty was expected, for the Bullers’ policy was to support ministers, whoever they were). Trelawny added that if his petition succeeded, he would be proud to give his interest to Lord Grenville. It did not succeed, 16 Apr.5

Shortly before the election of 1807, John Buller died; he had entrusted Davies Giddy with the management of his interest and had intended to return himself and his East India friend Vanderheyden. Giddy substituted Buller’s brother Edward, although the majority of the corporation preferred to return Giddy (who was sure of a seat) until Edward Buller’s wishes were known. The latter henceforward returned himself and friends of the family and of administration without opposition, though in 1812 he annoyed government by promising that Vanderheyden would vacate for Vansittart, the new chancellor of the Exchequer, in May, and then retaining him in the seat on the grounds that Perceval’s death ended the bargain. He flirted with Lord Wellesley and at the subsequent general election again returned Vanderheyden, a friend of Wellesley, instead of Lyndon Evelyn*, the ministerial choice.6 In 1818, in accepting Lord Liverpool’s recommendation of Thomas Potter MacQueen again for the next election, he claimed that MacQueen was the eleventh instance of his brother and himself having acceded to ‘the request of the present government’. For this service he expected to be better served by them than he had been in his desire for naval employment and in his ‘trifling applications’ on behalf of his ‘western friends’.7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Fortescue mss, Lady Carysfort to Grenville, 1 Jan. 1790; PRO 30/8/117, f. 220; 229, ff. 318, 327; Buller mss BC 28/71, election bill 1790; Pole Carew mss CC/K/20, bp. of Exeter to Pole Carew, by which it appears that 6 aldermen received £63, and 35 freemen £142 16s.
  • 2. Bristol Jnl. 17 Jan. 1795; NLS mss 15, f. 35; Devon RO, Bedford mss L1258, bdle. 10, Edwards to Adair, 24, 28 May; PRO 30/8/140, f. 81; NMM, WYN/107; A. L. Browne, Corporation Chrons. 173; Pole Carew mss CC/K/26, Pole to Pole Carew, 15 Sept. 1796; CC/L/30, Buller to same, 9 Apr. 1799; CC/G3/1, f. 518; Gilbert mss, Giddy to Dennis, 29 Sept. 1798.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/117, ff. 218, 220, 223, 226; Pole Carew mss CC/L/30, Buller to Pole Carew, 12 Mar., 3 Apr., 9 May 1799; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss T108/44.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Trelawny to Grenville, 19 Dec., E. Buller to same, 27 Oct., J. Buller to same, 16 Nov.; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle [Oct.], 24 Oct. [1806].
  • 5. R. Cornw. Gazette, 8 Nov. 1806; Fortescue mss; CJ, lxii. 46, 332. Trelawny intervened in Flint Boroughs instead.
  • 6. NMM, WYN/107, Pole Carew to Pole, 7 May 1807; Sidmouth mss, Pole to Sidmouth, 22 May 1812; Add. 40222, f. 62; Broughton, Recollections, i. 39.
  • 7. Add. 38264, f. 157; 38458, f. 238.