Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 5,000


 Sir Gerard William Vanneck, Bt.2080
20 Feb. 1806 THOMAS SHERLOCK GOOCH vice Brome, called to the Upper House 

Main Article

In the contest of 1784 Sir Charles Bunbury, after 23 years’ service as county Member, became one of Fox’s martyrs. The county was thrown open again by the decision of Joshua Grigby to retire. At this juncture, 4 Jan. 1790, Sir Gerard William Vanneck, Member for Dunwich, a county landowner with his London bank at his back, publicly announced his candidature. As a Whig who wooed the significant dissenting element among the yeomen freeholders, he stirred up the resentment of the conservative gentry. On 7 Jan. Sir John Rous, the other sitting Member, having renewed his candidature as a ‘well wisher’ to Pitt’s administration, issued a manifesto against the immoderate ambitions of the dissenters which, he claimed, had alienated him from them. This was addressed to the clergy and not to the freeholders. Rev. Thomas Pemberton, who thought Rous’s private character ‘odious’, commented:

I think he would have stood immovable in his seat, even by the united efforts of Sir Charles and Sir Gerard had he not inserted in last week’s provincial papers [this] advertisement ... It has united the dissenters against him to a man.

But Bunbury, who disdained to canvass without the decision of a county meeting in his favour, and Vanneck did not unite, much as the latter might have hoped for an alliance; and on 23 Feb. 1790, at a meeting at Stowmarket, the gentry resolved to vote only for candidates attached to church and state and appealed to Bunbury and Rous to ‘lay aside all party prejudices’ and coalesce to avert an expensive contest. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of Philip Bowes Broke of Nacton to canvass for both, though Bunbury refused an avowed coalition. By this stance, he could expect to gain second votes from the other two candidates and to turn the tables on the party politics that had cost him his seat in 1784.1

Sir John Rous was the most nervous of the candidates. On 9 May 1790 he complained to Pitt that

Lord Bristol’s tenants will not declare, the Duke of Grafton’s are directed to vote for Sir Charles Bunbury singly and some of the duke’s friends ... support Sir Gerard Vanneck, also Lord Cornwallis’s have not had directions positive enough to get even all their second votes, the first being promised to Sir Charles.

He had already warned Pitt on 13 Apr. that, Vanneck being ‘supported by a sort of family purse’, it was ‘impossible to keep pace with him in expense’. On establishing, however, that Pitt was prepared to encourage his hopes of a peerage, he persevered, at least until his wife became mortally ill. In any case, Vanneck trailed from the start of the poll and was doomed on the second day when Sir Charles Davers, Sir Robert Harland and others of the ‘church and state’ pact showed their strength. The Public Advertiser claimed:

The Tory interest, which was on the decline, has just gained considerable strength in Suffolk, Sir Charles Bunbury and Sir Charles Davers having, in opposition to the Whig party, joined the True Blues to bring in Sir John Rous.

(Davers, incidentally, had approved the coalition, but not as a crusade against the dissenters.) A week before, the same newspaper had admitted that Rous was expected to be the loser, ‘as Sir Gerard has all the yeomanry and all the dissenters’. The actual state of affairs was doubtless more complex. The number of freeholders polling was 4,849, of whom 1,228 plumped for Vanneck, compared with 302 for Rous and 281 for Bunbury. Vanneck’s plumpers would have included many of his dissenting supporters, for his Sudbury voters gave their second votes to Bunbury and he shared nearly 600 out of 852 split votes with Bunbury.2 William Windham commented on the result:

Sir Gerard Vanneck who, upon the strength of an overpowering estate, and through the medium of a dissenting interest, thought to force his way in, in opposition to the sense of all the gentry, and at the expense probably of a candidate in the same politics, and one of the martyrs of ’84 has been thrown out by a decisive majority, and is left with a load of expense, which one cannot wish to be borne even by a person whose perverseness and folly, might seem so much to have merited it.

It was believed that Vanneck’s outlay did not fall far short of £30,000. He died on 23 May 1791. Meanwhile, it emerged that nearly half of the successful candidates’ costs having been covered ‘by different gentlemen at their private expense’, their committee could claim that innkeepers’ bills of £3,500 were excessive. Before this matter was settled, there were premature reports of Rous’s peerage, which was then expected to cause a ‘warm contest’.3

Rous’s peerage at the next dissolution was anticipated in the autumn of 1795. Among the aspirants for his seat were Sir William Rowley and Alexander Adair of Flixton, or at least his wife putting out feelers on his behalf. Rous received his title and the committee of 1790 turned first to Philip Bowes Broke, who refused to stand. The Marquess Cornwallis then offered his only son, not yet of age, thinking that he would be ‘agreeable to that particular description of gentlemen who by acting together have maintained the great country interest against any attempt which money or influence could make to subvert it’.4 The ‘great country interest’ was in the habit of choosing one of its own number and not a stripling peer’s son. Sir William Rowley was prepared to take advantage of such feelings; but he was a Whig and the junto made him agree not to oppose Viscount Brome, who was returned unopposed. The freeholders could make little use of a lecture from the local reformer, Capel Lofft, on their responsibilities. All was quiet in 1802, Rowley biding his time.5

When the news reached England of Cornwallis’s death in India, Rowley’s prospects of filling the vacancy seemed good. His friends were in power and he had Fox’s blessing; but his claims were once more set aside in favour of a less partisan candidate. Lord Rous sponsored his brother-in-law Gooch, heir to a substantial estate, and against them Rowley did not risk a contest. This outcome was considered a blow to the government by its Pittite critics. The arrangement satisfied Rous’s hypothesis that Suffolk ‘in respect of public politics and local residence of Member has generally been one of each to preserve peace’. At the general election that year the peace was preserved, though Sir William Middleton*, in between seats, made a show of withdrawing his pretensions for the present; as, more quietly, did Alexander Adair.6

Rowley’s patience was not rewarded until 1812, when he came in unopposed on Bunbury’s retirement. A committed Whig, he inspired hopes in a radical coterie of carrying a second man, Sir William Parker, in 1818, but despite a noisy nomination meeting there was no contest and the political compromise was maintained.7

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. W. Suff. RO 586/32, 34, 50; E. Suff. RO, Betts Doughty mss HF 79/AF/6, 1790 election scrapbook; Ipswich Jnl. 2 Jan., 27 Feb., 13 Mar. 12 June 1790; Add. 19186, f. 209; 19215, f. 63; 19216, 19218, passim; 35654, f. 274; W. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, ‘Case 15 Feb. 1792’.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/174, ff. 66, 70, 74, 98; Ipswich Jnl. 19 June, 3 July; Public Advertiser, 2, 9 July 1790; Add. 19215, f. 72; The Poll for Knights of the Shire (1790); Frere mss, Frere to his wife, 20 July 1790.
  • 3. NLS mss 11140, f. 141; Public Advertiser, 14 July 1790; Tomline mss. ‘Case 15 Feb. 1792’; Morning Chron. 12 Jan. 1792.
  • 4. Add. 53805, ff. 43, 44; Cornwallis Corresp. ii. 305.
  • 5. Morning Chron. 27 May 1796; Bury Post, 30 June 1802; Add. 35735, f. 190.
  • 6. Sidmouth mss, Rous to Sidmouth, 6 July; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 20 Feb.; Ipswich Jnl. 8 Nov.; Som. RO, Kemeys Tynte mss DD/S/WH box 53, Adair to Kemeys Tynte, 26 Oct. 1806.
  • 7. The Late Elections (1818), 328-35.