Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|22 June 1790||CLEMENT TAYLOR||419|
|27 May 1796||OLIVER DE LANCEY||415|
|5 July 1802||JOHN HODS(D)ON DURAND||415|
|(SIR) MATTHEW BLOXAM||381|
|Hon. John Henniker Major||310|
|1 Nov. 1806||GEORGE SIMSON||391|
|(Sir) Matthew Bloxam||320|
|9 May 1807||GEORGE SIMSON||396|
|Sir William Geary, Bt.||332|
|8 Oct. 1812||GEORGE SIMSON||389|
|SAMUEL EGERTON BRYDGES||389|
|17 June 1818||ABRAHAM WILDEY ROBARTS||233|
Maidstone was an open borough with a reputation for venality. Oldfield stated that successful candidates spent between £3,000 and £5,000 per election and contests were insisted upon. Sir Matthew Bloxam had spent £15,000 by 1802, in four elections.1 Over a third of the electors were non-resident, but no poll lasted more than three days. There were two parties in the town, Red (or Purple) and Blue, the former ministerialist and the latter independent. Party feeling ‘ran so high that many of the neighbours would not traffic with those who were of opposite opinions; and ... the going into a tavern frequented by different parties might subject a man to the hazard of being turned out, or at least insulted! The Castle inn was reputed to be a house for Jacobins, and the Star coffee house was ... the rendezvous of the aristocracy!.’2 Both parties were led by local businessmen, usually brewers or paper manufacturers (most of them Blues) the town being a centre of the paper industry. Three Members in this period, Taylor, Bloxam and Longman were representatives of it; Bloxam was also a banker, as were Simson and Robarts.
In 1790, when the sitting Members retained their seats, the third man (later in command of the Maidstone volunteers) was a feeble candidate, receiving only 158 votes out of 643 cast. Supported by John Brenchley, Bloxam’s sponsor, a brewer and banker, he shared 114 of his votes with Bloxam, Taylor, the Whig, receiving 186 plumpers to Bloxam’s 102 and sharing 201 votes with him. Neither Taylor nor Bloxam relished the prospect of another contest in 1796 and it seemed certain when Samuel Scott*, son of Claude Scott*, declared his intention of standing in July 1795. Taylor believed that ‘administration threatened to put him to considerable trouble and expense’ and Bloxam’s reaction was to look for a cheaper seat elsewhere; but in the event, Taylor withdrew and neither of the Scotts stood, so Bloxam persevered. Gen. De Lancey, newly appointed barrack master general, stepped in and the Blue interest was courted by Christopher Hull of the Inner Temple, like Taylor a reformer, but unlike him a radical, who had been examined by the Privy Council in the treason investigations. Hull eschewed bribery and treating, but was alleged to have spent £3,000. He espoused peace, reform, civil liberty and religious toleration. He was defeated, but his friends (including the mayor) petitioned, alleging that De Lancey, whom they regarded as an ‘alien refugee’ from America, was disqualified by being a government contractor (the same charge was levelled at Bloxam during the election). The petition failed.3
In 1802 De Lancey declined a contest,4 leaving the field to Bloxam; Durand, a rich nabob’s son allegedly picked up by the Blue agent John Russell in a London coffee house, and John Henniker Major, a representative of the local gentry, introduced for the Reds by Flint Stacey, brewer and mayor, who was defeated. Bloxam shared 221 votes with Durand and only 114 with Henniker Major, who received 51 plumpers. In May 1804 the borough brokers reported that ‘nobody was allowed to have the two Maidstone seats who voted with the present ministers’, and although Bloxam appeared again in 1806 he was defeated, by ‘notorious bribery’, so he claimed. Simson, a London banker, topped the poll and was joined as Member by the stationer Longman, who received 86 plumpers and shared 165 votes with Simson and 113 with Bloxam. Longman’s sponsors were the Blue leaders, the Russells, Stephen Page Seager, brewer, and Thomas Atkins and James Smyth, timber merchants. Robert Waithman, the London radical, had shown an interest, but did not persevere. Bloxam’s petition, alleging bribery and treating, failed, and he disappeared from the scene.5
The sitting Members clung to their seats in 1807 against Sir William Geary, the former county Member, whom the gentry supported. The latter secured one of themselves in 1812, when Brydges enticed ‘the popular interest’ from Longman; but Longman turned the tables on him in 1818 in coalition with Robarts, a Whig banker, against a ministerialist, John Wells, who soon gave up the poll.6 The quest for another Whig had begun in 1816, when Sir Robert Thomas Wilson* was adopted as prospective candidate by a deputation led by the hop merchant Edward Russell. (Russell was also the name of the agent sought by William Windham* at the Imperial coffee house in London in 1807 when he was on the lookout for a seat.) Warned by Earl Grey that Maidstone was ‘a dangerous place’, Wilson eventually opted for Southwark, free of expense, in February 1818.7 The Whigs were unable to hold on to the two Maidstone seats in 1820.
Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Rep. Hist. iv. 76; Spencer mss, Bloxam to Spencer, 30 July 1802.
- 2. J. Gale Jones, Sketch of a Political Tour (1796), 79.
- 3. Oracle, 3 Aug. 1795; City Biog. (1800), 124-5; Gale Jones, 80; Morning Chron. 27 May, 1 Oct.; True Briton, 26 May, 7 June 1796; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 378; CJ, lii. 46, 574.
- 4. The Times, 27 Oct. 1801, 3 July 1802.
- 5. G. Festing, J. H. Frere and his Friends, 113; Fortescue mss, Bloxam to Grenville, 2 Nov.; Bury Post, 29 Nov. 1806; CJ, lxii. 22.
- 6. Add. 51644, Lady Holland to Horner, 30 Dec. 1816; The Late Elections (1818), 218.
- 7. Lambton mss, Wilson to Lambton, 28 Aug. 1816; Grey mss, Windham to Howick, 30 Apr. , Grey to Wilson, 29 Nov. 1816.