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:

32 in 1792


(1801): 2,708


28 June 1793 HON. EDWARD JAMES ELIOT re-elected after appointment to office 
6 Nov. 1797 MURROUGH O' BRIEN, Earl of Inchiquin [I], vice Hon. Edward James Eliot, deceased 
23 Dec. 1800 GEORGE MURRAY, Lord Fincastle, vice Inchiquin, vacated his seat 
6 July 1802HON. JOHN ELIOT27
 Thomas Sheridan1
 William Ogilvie1
9 Mar. 1804 vice Hon. John Eliot, called to the Upper House 
  Double return. HUSKISSON declared elected, 16 May 1804 
 Nicholas Tomlinson6
 Alexander Nowell1
15 Apr. 1807 ELIOT re-elected after appointment to office 
 JAMES HAMILTON, Visct. Hamilton 

Main Article

Until 1802 Edward Eliot, 1st Baron Eliot of Port Eliot, maintained his family’s long-established control of Liskeard unchallenged, paying the borough expenses and selecting the few freemen not on the corporation from among his friends. He returned his sons again in 1790 and 1796 and nothing came of a report that (Sir) Christopher Hawkins* would attack him at the latter election.1 On the death of his heir apparent in 1797 he turned to Pitt for a nominee: Pitt recommended an Irish peer Lord Inchiquin. On this occasion, Eliot’s son John wrote to Pitt, 1 Oct. 1797:

My father will be very happy to propose Lord Inchiquin as a candidate for Liskeard, but as the expenses of the election will be considerable, it is thought right to hint that he cannot be brought in as a friend; however, no objection will be made to any deduction that may be thought reasonable, for the time that has elapsed [i.e. since the beginning of the Parliament].2

Eliot himself, evidently disillusioned by Pitt’s reply, wrote to him on 10 Oct.:3

From a mistake perhaps in judgment I had certainly imagined it reasonable that upon the present occasion I should be reimbursed a proportional part of what I had expended at Liskeard. I now drop that idea.

In election transactions, I have never received what in the one town or the other [St. Germans] I had not previously laid out. Such receipts were matters of necessity, I have never submitted to them without a feeling of reluctance. Often I have received nothing and not infrequently have thereby suffered very considerable personal inconvenience.

My mind would not be satisfied, Sir, if the immediate successor to my late son were not (as far as depends on me) a person recommended by you. I shall not myself think of any candidate—but shall in a few days propose Lord Inchiquin to the gentlemen of Liskeard.

Inchiquin obtained the seat ‘without application or expense’, and in 1800, in anticipation of the Act of Union, resigned and was replaced by another stranger to the borough, though a connexion of Lord Eliot’s by marriage, Lord Fincastle, again recommended by Pitt.

In 1802 Eliot put up two sons again: yet it was on this occasion that an opposition occurred. It was promoted by Joseph Childs, a local attorney, who espoused the cause of the inhabitant householders, encouraged by the fact that the right of election in the borough, understood to be in the freemen (and thus largely in the corporation of 25), had never been determined by the House. The contest was ‘sharp and unexpected’ as the opposition candidates, Thomas Sheridan, son of the Whig politician (encouraged by the Prince of Wales who restrained Robert Thomas Wilson* from standing), and William Ogilvie, another Whig married to the dowager Duchess of Leinster and on the look-out for a Cornish seat, did not materialize until the eleventh hour. They secured only their sponsor’s vote on the freeman franchise, but claimed to have had 44 out of 48 householder votes rejected by the mayor and petitioned against the return on 26 Nov., backed up four days later by 43 inhabitant householders ‘paying or liable to pay scot and lot’, who claimed to be electors. Had their votes been allowed, the result would have been Sheridan 46, Ogilvie 45, John Eliot 31, William Eliot 30 (it may be noted that they did not reject the votes of the freemen).4

The committee of the House examined borough records and aged witnesses and found in favour of the sitting Members, 9 Mar. Despite this determination, Sheridan’s father presented two petitions against it on 20 Dec. 1803, one from Joseph Childs and the other from the inhabitant householders: although this procedure was contrary to the Grenville Act, a decision having been made, they were allowed a hearing. Meanwhile Lord Eliot died, 17 Feb. 1804, and his son John, who succeeded him, put up William Huskisson, a Pittite without a seat, in his own place. Eliot also arranged a counter-petition against Sheridan’s. The latter improved his position, thanks to the Prince of Wales, who had always resented the late Lord Eliot’s tenure of the office, by succeeding him as receiver-general of Cornwall. Although the Eliots faced opposition from the Whigs, the fact that the family were unfriendly to Addington’s administration and that Addington was making overtures to the Whigs to support his collapsing government also played into Sheridan’s hands. He opposed Huskisson in the by-election and was again defeated, amid ‘crowd and tumult at the town hall’ and at the cost to Huskisson of £258.5 He again tried to poll the inhabitant householders and his friend Joseph Childs managed to persuade the under-sheriff John Dayman to make a double return (without the mayor’s knowledge). The returns were actually delivered in London by Sheridan’s agent, Henry Burgess of Curzon Street, Mayfair.6

On 21 Mar. Huskisson, frustrated of his seat, petitioned the House through William Dundas, who clashed with Sheridan senior in debate on the subject. Next day Burgess presented petitions on behalf of Dayman, Childs and himself, to the effect that the mayor had refused to sign their return of Thomas Sheridan. On the following day the House examined the returns and Pitt argued, in defence of his friend Huskisson, that there was no ground for a double return, but Fox countered this by alleging that the House knew of no returning officer but the sheriff and it was Dayman the under-sheriff who had authorized the double return in this case. Fox’s view prevailed and a committee was appointed to decide the election. On 29 Mar. Tom Sheridan petitioned for the seat, but next day, as a matter of tactics presumably, renounced it—too late, so the Speaker ruled. By this move, the Sheridans reduced their costs. As there were now three petitions from Liskeard to be decided, there was a debate as to which should be settled first: Richard Sheridan won the day by securing a hearing for his petition against the determination of 1803. The committee, however, upheld this determination, 10 May 1804, and went on to declare Huskisson elected, 16 May, Tom Sheridan offering no evidence. Under-sheriff Dayman was duly reprimanded for his part in the double return.7 It may be argued that the Sheridans’ pursuit of their petitions had more to do with their involvement in political manoeuvres at Westminster than with their prospects of obtaining a seat at Liskeard. They abandoned Joseph Childs with debts of £2,000 on his hands, so he complained to the Prince of Wales, who was himself said to have spent £8,000 on behalf of Sheridan between 1802 and 1806.8

Despite this setback, Childs continued his opposition to the Eliot interest and looked elsewhere for coadjutors. In February 1806 the Duke of Northumberland ‘received an offer of the borough of Liskeard, which carried with it some appearance of probability of success’. On 9 Oct. 1806 Lord Eliot wrote indignantly to Huskisson, whom he was supporting at the forthcoming election with his own brother William again:

The mayor of Liskeard Mr Pedlar has left Liskeard in company with Mr Glubb. They are gone to town where they are to see the Duke of Northumberland. Offers have certainly been made to him. He said himself from Lord Buckingham and Lord Howick, but my intelligence is that it came from the Duke of Northumberland and the fact confirms it. His wife, Mr Hoblyn his father-in-law and the rest of the family are in great distress on the occasion—the former has written to him in town stating her feelings and requesting him to adhere to her father’s wishes and friendships ... The point is to get hold of him, if possible, and to endeavour to persuade him to retract before it is too late.

On 16 Oct., however, Eliot was able to report:

Mr Pedlar returned from town ... without having made any arrangements with the duke’s agent and having written me a letter professing his friendship to me. I called upon him yesterday and matters were re-established on the old footing. My supposed neglect of his interests during Mr Pitt’s last administration is given out as forming in some measure an apology for his conduct.

Eliot asked Huskisson to explain to the mayor how unjust the latter allegation was. He added that, though he wished Pitt’s friends in power, he was more disposed to accept Lord Grenville’s administration now than before Fox’s death, though he deplored their decision to attack ‘old established interests’ at the general election.9

Lord Grenville, presupposing Eliot’s hostility, gave his support on 30 Oct. to the candidature of Capt. Tomlinson of Essex who was ‘more used to fighting at sea than in a contest of this kind’, as he confessed and as his every move betrayed. Tomlinson had canvassed Liskeard by 27 Oct., helped by Joseph Childs and accompanied by Alexander Nowell. He then obtained a recommendation from St. Vincent to Thomas Grenville, the prime minister’s brother, and from Lord Braybrooke, lord lieutenant of Essex, to Lord Grenville. Tomlinson indiscreetly waved the Grenvilles’ letters of recommendation in front of the Liskeard electors and was said to have threatened government employees with dismissal if they did not support him. He also, at Childs’s instigation, espoused the cause of the inhabitant householders. Huskisson had taken the precaution of consulting Serjeant Lens and Henry Hobhouse as to the possibility of the mayor admitting these votes at the poll, and had been assured that the last decision of the House would prevent it. A correspondent informed him that ‘the mayor ... could not do any real injury’, as he could not admit burgesses without the support of the major part of the capital burgesses. He added that the mayor since his return seemed to have abandoned his ‘plan’, which he had ‘neither the brains nor nerve to prosecute’ and which he had kept secret from his relations, for when ‘a great many inhabitants waited on him for their freedom ... his answer was that he could do nothing for them, but he is very shy with his former friends’, 17 Oct. 1806.10

The mayor went on to reject 54 householder voters who presented themselves at the instigation of Joseph Childs and refused the latter’s request that he reject the votes of non-resident freemen. So Lord Eliot carried the day: he wrote to Lord Grenville on 7 Nov. complaining of his interference and the latter replied, 10 Nov., denying that he had authorized the use of threats, but admitting that he had been willing to see Huskisson unseated (he did not mention Eliot’s brother), as an opponent of his administration. Eliot, writing to Huskisson on 6 Dec., described Lord Grenville’s letter of recommendation to Tomlinson as ‘unconstitutional’: it represented ‘an undue interference in favour of adventurers’ and ‘an attempt to overthrow old and established rights of corporations as well as old and established family interests’. His cause was also espoused by George Rose and Spencer Perceval, who were collecting evidence of ‘undue interference’ everywhere, but they did not carry out their plans for raising this case in Parliament. Eliot himself thought that ‘self defence’ might necessitate his doing so.11 The defeated candidates petitioned unsuccessfully against the return and Joseph Childs was said to have been interested in procuring a seat at Liskeard for Thomas Plumer*, but nothing came of it.12 In 1807 Huskisson was found a seat elsewhere. Eliot, whose friends had returned to power, continued to nominate members of his family and supporters of administration without opposition. Subsequently, to his great indignation, Lord Yarmouth endeavoured to get a foothold in the borough on the basis of the duchy of Cornwall influence, but the attempt was disavowed by government. There was also a bid by four ‘of the reforming cast’ to obtain the freedom of the borough before the election of 1818, but they were thwarted.13

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 117; St. Germans mss, Hon. E. J. to Ld. Eliot, 15 Feb. 1796.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/132, f. 265.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 215; Farington, i. 219.
  • 4. G. S. Veitch, ‘William Huskisson and the controverted elections at Liskeard in 1802 and 1804’, R. Hist. Soc. Trans. (ser. 4), xiii. 205; J. Allen, Liskeard (1856), 513; CJ, lviii. 25, 35; The Times, 10 July; R. Cornw. Gazette, 17 July 1802.
  • 5. Parl. Deb. i. 374; CJ, lviii. 243; lix. 57, 132; Geo. III Corresp. i. 606; Allen, 315; Add. 38737. ff. 32, 33. In 1806 Huskisson paid £300, ibid. f. 173.
  • 6. CJ, lix. 172; The Times, 23 Mar. 1804.
  • 7. CJ, lix. 168, 188, 281; The Times, 30 Mar. 1804; Parl. Deb. i. 1061; ii. 8, 24, 361, 409, 414.
  • 8. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 1873; vi. 2679.
  • 9. Add. 38737, ff. 154, 156; Alnwick mss, Northumberland to Wilson, 7 Feb., 24 Oct. 1806.
  • 10. Fortescue mss, Tomlinson to Grenville, 28 Oct., Braybrooke to same, 2 Nov.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 15 Nov. 1806; Add. 38737, f. 158, 160; Addressed to the Independent Electors of Liskeard (wrongly dated 1804 in BL copy).
  • 11. Courier, 19 Nov.; Add. 38737, ff. 162, 165; Fortescue mss; Lonsdale mss, Rose to Lowther, 16 Nov.; Malmesbury mss, Rose to Malmesbury, 17 Nov.; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 18 Nov. 1806; Walpole, Perceval, i. 222; HMC Fortescue, viii. 473; Add. 35646, f. 95.
  • 12. CJ, lxii. 27, 140; Add. 38737, ff. 173, 179, 181, 187.
  • 13. Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 16 Sept. 1814; R. Cornw. Gazette, 23 May 1818.