Great Yarmouth


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 800 in 1790 rising to about 1,400 in 1818


(1801): 14,845


 John Thomas Sandys182
29 May 1795 STEPHENS HOWE vice Beaufoy, deceased483
 George Anson347
26 Oct. 1796 vice Howe and Townshend, deceased 
 Sir John Jervis418
 William Jacob343
 Abbot Upcher21
25 June 1808 GIFFIN WILSON vice Lushington, vacated his seat 
7 Oct. 1812Edmund Knowles Lacon607
 Giffin Wilson329
 Edmund Knowles Lacon651
 William Loftus612
11 Feb. 1819 HON. GEORGE ANSON vice Anson, called to the Upper House 

Main Article

Yarmouth was a flourishing port, with a steadily rising population and a large and venal electorate, many of them outvoters in London, Norwich and the dockyards of Chatham, Sheerness, Northfleet, Deptford and Blackwall. It was accepted that electors might claim two guineas a vote, but their price rose and in the keen contest of 1818, when 653 outvoters were fetched, douceurs of £20, £80 or even £100 were reported; though the outvote did not sway the outcome.1 The result of the election of 1784 had shown that the corporation, patronized by the Townshend and Walpole families and thereafter by the Townshends (high stewards from 1791) alone, could not be sure of controlling the returns: the independent party, which had a strong dissenting complexion and received powerful support from a leading merchant family, the Hurrys, secured the return of two strangers, Beaufoy and Sir John Jervis, who were supporters of Pitt’s administration.

It was not to be expected that at less critical elections the corporation would be as vulnerable; and in 1790 a compromise was effected whereby Charles Townshend, ousted in 1784, was returned with Beaufoy, whose colleague Sir John Jervis was absent on naval service and found a seat elsewhere. A contest was not avoided, because the self-styled ‘sons of freedom’ among the electors were determined to have a third man. Edmund Lacon, a prominent townsman, banker and brewer, refused, after a canvass, ‘being apprehensive of possibly injuring his friend Mr Townshend’, and Capt. Webb of Woodbridge declined for want of support, but a jocular Ipswich gentleman, John Sandys, agreed to be a last minute candidate and took his heavy defeat in good part.2 Beaufoy, with his dissenting background, had been acceptable to both sides, but his growing conservatism had alienated the leading dissenters by the time of his death in 1795.3 Thereupon the corporation accepted the candidature of Col. Stephens Howe, nephew of Philip Stephens, secretary to the Admiralty, and he also received the Townshend blessing (though Lord Townshend’s son, Lord Leicester, recommended Sir Robert Ainslie*).4 The dissenters supported the rival candidature of a Whig, George Anson*, whose family had acquired the Paston estate of Southtown adjoining the borough, but they were unable to carry him. Howe came in unopposed in 1796 with Lord Charles Townshend, in whose favour his uncle, who had gone over to administration, had retired with a peerage in view.

Lord Charles Townshend, reported as being ‘much deranged’ at his election, did not survive it a day and, in the next week, five possible contenders for the vacancy, of various complexions, were mentioned: George Tierney*, Bartlett Gurney, Thomas Hare, Brampton Gurdon Dillingham and Henry Jodrell, the recorder; Wiliam Taylor I* was also interested, Col. Bulkeley was mentioned and a week later Walter Boyd* was reported to be standing with Townshend and government support.5 The fact was that Jodrell’s candidature divided the Townshends, Charles preferring Jodrell, and Lord Leicester, who doubted Jodrell’s prospects, Boyd. Sir Edmund Lacon, as corporation spokesman, also wished for a more acceptable candidate: he approached hys kinsman by marriage, Robert John Buxton*, who had designs on the county but wrote to Pitt offering to step in. Pitt informed him that he was already engaged to Boyd, but asked Buxton to go to Yarmouth and try his ground. Buxton was made a freeman on 15 July, but found that a contest, expected to cost £5,000, was certain and feared the expense of it; at Pitt’s request, however, he delayed announcing his retirement, to pave the way for Boyd. When the death in the West Indies of the other Member Col. Howe was reported in September, Lord Rous, ignorant of the stratagem, wrote to Pitt recommending that his brother-in-law Thomas Sherlock Gooch*, who had local connexions and was ‘a firm friend of government’, should join Buxton. In the event Buxton retired in favour of Jodrell, who received an anonymous invitation from the corporation at the instigation of his friend William Fisher, and he was joined, on the Townshend interest, by Lord Townshend’s son-in-law Loftus, then in command of the East Coast troops. They were elected on 26 Oct. 1796 against opposition provoked by the dissenting anti-corporation interest in the name of Sir John Jervis, allegedly without his consent and despite what Charles Townshend called his ‘distinguished part in the war against which they are declaiming’. These ‘presbyterian democrats’, who had recently invited Thelwall the radical to lecture at Yarmouth, where a Revolution Society had been established in 1790, raised a subscription and made ‘a great uproar’ to no avail, except that Loftus complained that, being ignorant of their intentions, he was put to some expense and the Townshend family to a deal of trouble. He also found that the Anson interest was engaged to Jervis.6

Jervis, now Lord St. Vincent, was head of the Admiralty under Addington from 1801. In September 1800 he had already decided to sponsor the candidature of his nephew Thomas Jervis (who had stood proxy for him at Yarmouth in 1796) with government concurrence. He was careful to commend Jervis to Lord Townshend. Subsequently disposed to patronize a second candidate, he adopted the naval hero Sir Thomas Troubridge, and late in October 1801 both candidates canvassed Yarmouth successfully, with the support of the Hurrys. St. Vincent himself claimed that he only put up Troubridge with Jervis because Lord Bayning had refused a compromise. He had estimated that a contest would cost the parties to it £10,000. In January 1802 he described a compromise as ‘much wished for’, but it appeared that Loftus and Jodrell had not come to terms with him. By 3 Apr. he informed Addington:

The ticklish situation of Yarmouth politics, General Loftus and Mr Jodrell not having taken any step towards a compromise, has compelled Sir Thomas Troubridge to relinquish his views towards the west.

He discovered that party violence at Yarmouth made a compromise difficult; he could not halt his friend William Hurry and Loftus could not restrain Sir Edmund Lacon. After threatening Hurry that if he persevered in ‘a plan which cannot be either supported by government, or maintained by [me]’, he and his friends would lose the benefits of Admiralty patronage, St. Vincent started negotiations with the Townshends, through Loftus, early in June; it seems that he was willing to offer Loftus one of the seats free of expense (6 June). This offer was declined by the Townshends. On 7 June St. Vincent informed Addington that

all the efforts and sacrifices I have made at Yarmouth have been frustrated by the violence of party and suspicion of each other, and the town is in such confusion at this moment that everything unpleasant may be expected to fall on [me].

Next day he wrote to Loftus:

I have explained to Mr Addington the impossibility of Sir Thomas Troubridge withdrawing unless Mr Jervis makes the same sacrifice, which, however injurious to him, I shall recommend rather than expose myself to reproach, boundless expense, and eternal political warfare.

Loftus was to see Addington next day and the prime minister presumably prevented the contest, for there was none. Instead, Loftus came in on the Townshend interest for Tamworth and Jodrell was doubtless promised an opening elsewhere, for he came in for Bramber soon afterwards on a vacancy made by Addington’s brother-in-law. Jervis and Troubridge were returned, although on 22 June St. Vincent wrote apropos of Loftus’s refusal of his offer of a seat:

I have literally no person to nominate; at the same time I hold myself pledged to pay for the seat and will endeavour to find a fit person to fill it, if Mr Addington’s desire to have the nomination does not take effect.

The eventual arrangement did not please Sir Edmund Lacon, who expressed public dissatisfaction, and William Baker* commented afterwards that it was

injudicious of administration to allow Lord St. Vincent to return two—giving a preponderance to the dissenting interest to the exclusion of the son-in-law of Lord Townshend, and of Mr Jodrell a respectable gentleman of that county ... General Loftus and Mr Jodrell had regularly supported the measures of government.7

Before the election of 1806, Lord Grenville engaged government support to Thomas Jervis and Edward Anson, standing on the interests of Lord St. Vincent and Lord Anson; he did not know that those members of the corporation who disliked the triumph of the ‘dissenters’ had approached the Townshends for a candidate. Lady Townshend had her son James in mind and hoped for government support, but finding that it was not forthcoming, gave it up. She blamed William Windham*, whom she had expected to obtain it for her, and, in revenge, refused to support him for the county. The corporation party, through Sir Edmund Lacon, who had at first thought of Jodrell again, now approached Lord Suffield’s son Edward, who offered to stand with his friend Lushington; Suffield agreed to spend up to £6,000 if necessary and hoped that he was establishing a family interest, with the concurrence of the Townshends. He was so far successful that neither Jervis, who feared an expense he estimated at £8,000, nor Anson went to the poll; they complained bitterly of the treachery of the mayor William Fisher and other government dependants who deserted them to please the Townshends. Anson petitioned against the return on grounds of bribery and treating and, as Jervis demurred, hoped to come in by compromise. Lord Grenville, anxious to make up for the loss of two seats, concurred and Windham saw an opportunity for redeeming his standing with the Townshends by promoting Lord James Townshend as the other beneficiary of the compromise. The Harbords, however, insisted on defending their stake, at the cost of £1,100; in case both Members were unseated, they offered their interest at ‘much below the market price’ to Lord Palmerston, who wished to take advantage of the vacancy and successfully canvassed the dockyards; and they had Henry Lushington ready to replace his brother Stephen. The petition failed.8

The Townshends were not content to see the Harbords eclipse them and in the election of 1807 countenanced the candidature of the London merchant William Jacob*, who also had the approval of the new government. Nothing came of the rumoured candidature of a naval officer with local connexions, Capt. Thomas Manby, on the same interest. The Harbords’ situation was prejudiced by Stephen Lushington’s independent line in politics: he sympathized with the Grenville ministry even when they went out, and was obliged to deny in his election address that he favoured Catholic relief. An irregularity prompted an opportunist candidate, Abbot Upcher of Sudbury, to offer, ‘as a pleasantry’, on the second day of the poll. Jacob, who was heavily defeated, petitioned. The rivalry between the Harbords and the Townshends now came out into the open. On the death of Lord Townshend in September 1807 Suffield, who had spent £6,000 on the election, made an unsuccessful bid against Lord Bayning (formerly Charles Townshend) for the high stewardship of the borough. He decided that his only security for ‘any ambitious views’ was to return two Members friendly to government: Lushington had to be dropped. In February 1808 Lushington agreed to vacate and the seat was subsequently sold to Giffin Wilson for £3,500. In exchange, Suffield got the lord lieutenancy for his heir, although the Duke of Portland and Perceval would have preferred Bayning; government also agreed to prevent Jacob from pursuing his petition. Suffield had already been assured by Sir Edmund Lacon, for the corporation, in January 1808 that they would support any two nominees of his friendly to government. As an additional douceur, Suffield’s brother-in-law Petre became receiver general for the county.9

The Harbord regime did not survive another election. In 1810 Suffield died and Edward Harbord informed his elder brother that he disliked the constraint he was under to support government and wished to resign his seat; the latter in reply accused him of abandoning the family interest to the Townshends, but Edward maintained that the family had already done as well as they might expect from their investment in Yarmouth elections. Accordingly Harbord retired in 1812, leaving Giffin Wilson in the lurch. The vacuum was filled by Sir Edmund Lacon’s son, the first townsman candidate for a century; with all the support that the family interest, the corporation and Suffield could give him he headed the poll with ease, and his would-be colleague Wilson was defeated for second place by Gen. Loftus, who came forward again on the Townshend interest, as a substitute for Lord Charles Vere Ferrars Townshend*, who preferred to stand at Tamworth.10 Lacon was accused by his enemies of buying a lease of the borough,11 but the Harbord interest lapsed after 1812.

In 1818, after a protracted and expensive contest,12 Lacon and Loftus were spectacularly defeated by Lord Anson’s son and his colleague Rumbold on the Whig anti-corporation interest. Unlike their defeat in 1784 it was a setback from which the Townshends never recovered: when Anson succeeded to the title in 1819, he was replaced unopposed by his brother, despite reports of Loftus’s candidature and Lacon’s efforts to ‘rally the defeated troops of the Treasury’.13 There was no change until 1834.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. C. J. Palmer, Hist. Gt. Yarmouth (1856), 224-35; B. D. Hayes, ‘Pols. in Norf. 1750-1832’ (Camb. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1957), 99, 415.
  • 2. C. J. Palmer, Perlustration of Gt. Yarmouth, i. 259-60. Sandys subsequently wrote to Pitt as an admirer in quest of a seat, PRO 30/8/175, f. 155.
  • 3. C. J. Palmer, Mems. Hurry Fam. 15.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/151, f. 107.
  • 5. True Briton, 30 May, 4, 6, 8, 13 June 1796; PRO 30/8/182, f. 89.
  • 6. Perlustration, i. 321; ii. 9; PRO 30/8/118, ff. 239-45; 148, f. 164; 151, f. 109; 174, f. 113; 184, ff. 42-48, 60, 63; W. Suff. RO, Grafton mss 423/807; Yarmouth borough recs. Assembly files C19/39.16, Buxton to Spurgeon, 22 July; NLW mss 12433 (Wigfair mss 33), f. 52; Add. 33103, f. 410; Onslow mss, Coke to Loftus, 15 Oct. 1796.
  • 7. NMM, JER/24, St. Vincent to Nepean, 29 Sept. 1800; JER/25, same to same, 29 Jan., 22 June 1802; The Times, 28 Oct. 1801, 30 Apr., 23 June; Sidmouth mss, St. Vincent to Addington, 3 Apr. 1802; St Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc.), lv, 374-6; lxi. 93-96; Fortescue mss, Jervis to Grenville, 5 Nov. 1806; Perlustration, i. 322; Herts. RO, Baker mss, D/E Bk. f. 653.
  • 8. HMC Fortescue, viii. 393-421; Fortescue mss, Leicester to Grenville, 11 Sept.; Lady Townshend to same, 17 Oct., reply 18 Oct., Jervis to Grenville, 5 Nov., Anson to same, 18 Dec., reply 22 Dec. 1806; Stirling, Coke of Norfolk (1912), 23; Hist. Gt. Yarmouth, 220n, 231n; Malmesbury mss, Palmerston to Malmesbury, 5, 26 Feb. 1807; Add. 37847, ff. 146-8; 37885, ff. 1, 19; 37908, f. 62; R. M. Bacon, Mem. Baron Suffield, 27; CJ, lxii. 36.
  • 9. Ipswich Jnl. 2, 16 May; Sun, 2 May 1807; Bacon, 33, 45; Perlustration, i. 259-60; CJ, lxii. 591; lxiii. 136; Norf. RO, Suffield mss, Harbord to Suffield, 15 Apr., 13 Oct. 1807, 27 Feb., 4 Mar., 13, 28 June 1808, Lushington to Suffield, 24 May, Suffield to Lushington, 29 June (draft), n.d. [1807], cited by Hayes, 114.
  • 10. Bacon, 45-46; Norf. Chron. 17 Oct. 1812.
  • 11. Yarmouth Pub. Lib. Handbills 1784-1818, ‘Copy of the New Lease’, 14 Sept. 1812.
  • 12. The poll was open for 3 days. An election acct. in the Rumbold mss amounts to £11,000.
  • 13. The Late Elections (1818), 419; Oldfield, Key (1820), 257.