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 corporation

Number of voters:



(1801): 2,761


16 June 1790JOHN ROBINSON I 
27 Apr. 1791 ORDE re-elected after appointment to office 
10 Apr. 1799 HON. HENRY AUGUSTUS DILLON vice Hopkins, deceased 
6 July 1802JOHN ROBINSON I15
 James Adams10
 ADAMS vice Myers, on petition, 7 Apr. 1803 
4 Jan. 1803 JOHN HILEY ADDINGTON vice Robinson, deceased 
17 Feb. 1806 ADDINGTON re-elected after appointment to office 
9 March. 1807 JAMES ADAMS vice Fremantle, chose to sit for Saltash 
22 July 1817 VANSITTART re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

A corporation borough long controlled by the Treasury through the Customs House and Post Office patronage, Harwich characteristically returned two superannuated secretaries of the Treasury in 1790: one of them, John Robinson, having represented the borough since 1774, was by now patron and although the Treasury regarded the borough as ‘open’, no difficulty was made for him. Early in 1796 Robinson, who had not found it possible to satisfy applications for patronage, was obliged to quell a ‘schism’, as he called it, at Harwich. The ringleader was evidently Francis Smythies, recorder of Colchester, who on 25 Jan. 1796 wrote to Thomas Berney Bramston* offering his son a seat for Harwich at Smythies’ expense. He enclosed a state of the borough which showed that of the eight aldermen, three were disqualified from voting (namely Robinson’s son-in-law Lord Abergavenny, Cox the Post Office agent and Pulham of the Customs), three were Robinson’s friends and two, including the mayor, were open to suggestion; of the 24 capital burgesses, six were disqualified, seven were for Robinson (including himself, his brother, his nephew and his kinsman Thomas Myers) and 11 were fancy free. The Crewe Act of 1782 had in this case somewhat hindered Treasury, or rather Robinson’s, management by disqualifying a quarter of the electorate. On 28 May 1796, J. E. Urquhart, son-in-law of a deceased corporator, wrote to Pitt complaining that Robinson ‘was taking every means he could to bring in his own relations and connections as electors in that borough’, while the corporation wished ‘firm friends to your administration’. Urquhart revealed that he had offered himself as Robinson’s successor at Harwich to the mayor Shearman and his corporation friends hostile to Robinson. Robinson had wished government to send Charles Long* to stand in conjunction with himself but, as it turned out, he and a less important office holder, Hopkins, were returned unopposed.1

In 1802 matters came to a head. Taking advantage of the lack of initiative of the Addington administration, Robinson’s kinsman Thomas Myers, who had recently married Robinson’s granddaughter, stood against Addington’s nominee James Adams, a lord of the Admiralty, and defeated him. Despite careful attempts to propagate the notion that Myers was unconnected with Robinson (who sponsored Adams, but whose vote was rejected) and that he stood against his wishes, the affront to government eclipsed speculation about Myers’s motives. He was unseated on petition and Robinson’s death in the meantime removed the chief obstacle to the restoration of Harwich to its pristine status of a Treasury borough. Addington this time put up his own brother, deeming it, so he informed the King, 29 Dec. 1802, ‘important that a person closely connected with your Majesty’s government should be proposed to succeed Mr Robinson at Harwich’. Hiley Addington was duly returned, a prospective opponent ‘Mr Garland’ declining a poll, and he was appointed high steward in Robinson’s place.2 His brother informed him, 26 Sept. 1805, when they were again in opposition:

I am strongly inclined to think that you and Adams may properly start for Harwich in the event of a dissolution. Adams’s introduction there was by Robinson, and not by government, and upon you there can be no restrictive claim.

The Addingtons seemed to be the heirs of John Robinson’s control, but when the time came, scruples arose. Hiley was informed by his brother, 13 Oct. 1806:

I am uneasy about Harwich: there is no difficulty about your seat, but Lord Grenville presses for the other. I don’t think this quite fair, and yet there are considerations of which you are aware, which will not allow us I think, to resist the claim of government to a footing in this borough on the present occasion: particularly as far as Adams is concerned. Indeed I should not think it prudent or warrantable on other accounts for any person connected with me to attempt to establish interest at Harwich, under present circumstances. Be so good as to let me know what you think of Lord Grenville’s intimation. He has been given to understand that Harwich is a government borough, and though this is not exactly the case, the interest of government there is and ought to be considerable.3

In the event Lord Grenville, while admitting that the borough would not have been recovered but for the exertions of the sitting Members, was able to persuade Sidmouth to concede Adams’s seat to an office holder, on the understanding that an opening would be found for Adams elsewhere as soon as possible. Grenville thought of naming William Wickham* and, when ‘the corporal presence of each candidate’ was deemed necessary, William Windham, but the latter’s defeat elsewhere was thought inauspicious. The attorney-general Piggott was suggested by Lord Sidmouth, but it was Fremantle who came in. In March 1807 Fremantle was switched by his political patron Lord Buckingham to the latter’s own borough of Saltash and Adams was awarded this ‘easily transferable’ seat again. At the ensuing election, Hiley Addington was obliged to welcome as a colleague a member of the new administration, Huskisson. Their joint return cost less than £250.4

Before the next election Huskisson, now a Canningite in the political wilderness, wondered what his prospects might be if he were to stand again. His Harwich friend John Hopkins informed him, 30 Aug. 1811, ‘You have several friends, but there is some of the old leaven left by the late Mr Robinson whose doctrine was "never leave the treasury"’. Hopkins nevertheless believed that the electors would not be dictated to, as formerly, and that if candidates were sent by government ‘connected with the board of Ordnance’ they would be rejected, so Huskisson must wait and see. On 18 Sept. 1812 Hopkins decided that the electors’ boast of their independence was not to be trusted: ‘of late their tone ... has not been so lofty’. The corporation had just applied to the Treasury for a lease of the lighthouses and would feel obliged to accept ‘any two gentlemen government will think proper to send’. Lest Huskisson should underestimate Hiley Addington’s strength, Hopkins reminded him that after years of neglect by Robinson, the corporators had obtained ‘several lucrative situations’ through Addington (now in office again) which had ‘endeared’ him to them. Huskisson did not offer himself when government displayed their hostility to him by sending down Vansittart, chancellor of the Exchequer: his friends on the corporation wished Huskisson well elsewhere and government obtained one seat free of expense.5 In 1818 when, on Hiley Addington’s retirement, his brother’s brother-in-law Bragge Bathurst, an office holder, succeeded to his seat, Harwich’s brief dream of independence was clearly over.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 250; Add. 38231, f. 5; Co. Dur. RO, Chaytor mss C1333, 1335; Abergavenny mss 663; SRO GD51/9/109; PRO 30/8/179, f. 213; 185, f. 27.
  • 2. The Times, 12 June, 8 July 1802; Atkinson, Worthies of Westmld. ii. 151; CJ, lviii. 32, 333. Adams had three rejected votes made good, R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1804), ii. 381; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2689; The Times, 6 Jan., 24 Apr. 1803.
  • 3. Sidmouth mss.
  • 4. Ibid. Sidmouth to J. H. Addington, 17 [21] Oct. 1806; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 1 Mar. 1807; PRO 30/70/4/270; Add. 38759, f. 179.
  • 5. Add. 38738, ff. 119, 132; 38739, ff. 5, 27, 34, 36, 42; C. D. Yonge, Lord Liverpool, i. 444.