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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 200


(1801): 937


12 May 1794 HON. ROBERT STEWART vice Stephenson, deceased 
30 May 1796SIR LIONEL COPLEY, Bt.94
 Sir John Hadley D'Oyley, Bt.77
 Philip Metcalfe77
8 July 1802GEORGE SPENCER, Mq. of Blandford 
 Saville Hallifax 
 James Ramsay Cuthbert 
20 Aug. 1804 GEORGE WOODFORD THELLUSSON vice Blandford, appointed to office 
 John Nicholls88
 Jonathan Miles88
30 Jan. 1808 WILLIAM GORE LANGTON vice Wentworth, vacated his seat 
 Thomas Thornhill56
 James O'Callaghan55
19 June 1818HENRY VANE, Visct. Barnard 

Main Article

Tregony, ‘an inconsiderable village, without trade’, had a turbulent electoral history in this period. In 1788 Lord Falmouth, who had the principal interest, disposed of his property there to Sir Francis Basset*, who had challenged him in 1784 and had also bought up property in other hands. It was he who in June returned Hugh Seymour Conway*. Before the election of 1790 Basset sold out to the nabob Richard Barwell*, who sought to strengthen his position by buying property owned by Christopher Hawkins*. The latter, who had been prepared to oppose Basset’s pretensions, agreed to sell, with an ‘implied engagement’ that he would not interfere at Tregony as long as Barwell looked after the interests of Hawkins’s friends as well as his own. Barwell appointed as his agent Charles Rashleigh, attorney of St. Austell, who advised him that he must expect to pay £20 each to 160 voters (Falmouth had paid only 12 guineas each) and opined that Barwell should buy up more property (which he did) and try to reduce the number of voters.1

The Barwell interest survived a test in 1790, when Sir John Morshead,* knowing Barwell to be a friend of Pitt’s administration, attempted to oppose his nominees by putting up Sir John Frederick* and John Purling, who were to pay £3,250 each. This plan, which depended upon the local property of George Hunt, was frustrated when he was unable to ‘conciliate and unite the discordant and jealous interests’. Morshead alleged afterwards that one Turner, ‘a man of some influence in the borough ... [who] was engaged to assist in an opposition to Mr Barwell’s interest ... betrayed us to Charles Rashleigh’. Charles Carpenter, a local attorney, informed the Whig election managers:

Nothing less than a positive assurance from us to about 120 persons of their having at all events £20 apiece would ... have carried the election. Nine tenths at least of the electors are among the most wretched of mankind.2

He added that Barwell had evicted 12 tenants for promising their votes to opposition; subsequently Barwell went on to eject more tenants who were friends of Christopher Hawkins. This gave the latter a pretext for interfering, in alliance with Nicholas Middlecoat of the Queen’s Head inn, and the clergymen cousins Thomas Peter Gurney and Richard Gurney, who had grudges against Barwell. Middlecoat, whom Barwell had inherited as an on the spot agent from Sir Francis Basset,3 fell out with his sponsor Charles Rashleigh in 1792 over £450 which the latter claimed was due on Barwell’s account, and Rashleigh, who now regarded Middlecoat as a rascal, secured his dismissal and procured his arrest.4 Thereupon Middlecoat turned to Hawkins, whom he had clandestinely cultivated, and on the latter’s advice started an action against Barwell alleging bribery at the last election. This enabled Hawkins to step in as mediator: he paid Middlecoat’s debt and got him to drop the action, but, not wishing to arouse Barwell’s suspicions, he advised Middlecoat to overcome his temperamental dislike of ‘the chief of Dacca’, or ‘one of Hastings’s gang’, as Middlecoat labelled Barwell, and assured Rashleigh of his goodwill towards Barwell’s interest, which he further illustrated by not pressing the case of his ejected friends who had been distrained for rent arrears. Rashleigh became aware that Middlecoat was in league with Hawkins and in November 1793 resigned his agency, whereupon Barwell engaged Middlecoat, ‘under previous licence’ from Hawkins, who had taken Middlecoat into his employ, in Rashleigh’s place. The latter promised to give what help he could to Middlecoat, though he warned Barwell, who had already toyed with the idea of selling Tregony, of his fears that Middlecoat was a double agent.5

The Gurney cousins wanted church livings, and, when Barwell would not provide them, made a pact with Hawkins whereby he promised to secure their wishes. After an interview with Hawkins and Middlecoat, Richard Gurney reported, 26 Sept. 1793: ‘Middlecoat and I mean to lead on Mr Barwell in a state of security till just before the next general election, then turn cat in the pan, kick him out, and bring in Sir Christopher Hawkins’.6 Nothing was attempted at the by-election of 1794, when Middlecoat, the Gurneys and Hawkins sought credit for themselves by supporting the return of Barwell’s nominee, despite a canvass by one Clark who was sponsored by a Truro attorney.7 As Barwell had only one living, that of Tregony, to provide for the Gurneys and Richard obtained it, his disgruntled cousin Thomas Gurney refused to act with Middlecoat any longer and promised £50 a man to 40 or more voters who were prepared to desert to Clark at the next election. This sub-plot was discovered by Middlecoat, who caused Hawkins to drop Thomas Gurney; the latter turned to Lord Eliot, whose harassment by Hawkins at Grampound secured his sympathy, and to Francis Gregor, the county Member. This led in turn to collusion between Barwell and Eliot to exclude Hawkins from their respective boroughs and to Barwell’s suspecting Middlecoat’s duplicity. In February 1795 Barwell made his brother-in-law, Jonathan Perrie Coffin, recorder of the borough (Rashleigh having resigned) and began to employ other agents, unknown to Middlecoat, who was endeavouring to allay his suspicions with reassuring letters, while writing collusively to Hawkins.8 By November 1795, Barwell also discovered Rev. Richard Gurney’s treacherous intentions; the upshot was an exchange of angry letters with Hawkins, followed by an attempt by the latter to force a compromise on Barwell. Barwell refused this and was treated to a public display of the power of Hawkins when on 17 Nov., at a meeting of the electors to submit a loyal address to the King, there was a unanimous call for Hawkins, rather than Barwell, to be patron of the borough: the corporation alone stood out for a compromise. In reply to the resolutions of this meeting, Hawkins accepted the patronage, 7 Dec. 1795, while Barwell turned on Middlecoat, ‘unhinged’, when the latter had the effrontery to offer to secure him one seat. He discharged him in favour of G. Scholey and publicly denounced his erstwhile agent for treachery, refusing at the same time to give up Tregony. An attempt at mediation failed.9

In March 1796 Hawkins adopted Copley and Nicholls, two candidates with Cornish connexions, as his guest nominees. Barwell’s brother-in-law Coffin did his best to secure Lord Eliot’s influence for their candidates, one of whom, Sir John D’Oyley, was to pay £4,000 if returned, but the Eliot party made no impact when they visited Tregony and on 20 May Hawkins was formally elected recorder of the borough. Both Middlecoat and Richard Gurney were subjected to public exposure in a pamphlet issued in Barwell’s name, but they carried the day, as a careful canvass had predicted.10 Barwell prepared a petition alleging bribery and partiality against Richard Gurney, the returning officer, whose conduct has been commemorated in the margin of a copy of Camden’s Britannia:

Although there have been many rascally transactions in regard to the numerous venal boroughs in the county yet none have exceeded what happened at Tregony. The great nabob Richard Barwell of Stansted having purchased this borough in 17 . ., Sir Christopher Hawkins received a considerable sum for his property in it and the living becoming afterwards vacant, Sir Christopher interceded with Mr Barwell for the presentation to it in favour of a friend of his, assigning as a reason that he had a great interest in it, and assuring Mr B. that this friend of his would by his residence on the spot and his great activity in the borough, prevent a possibility of any opposition to Mr B’s interest. Mr B. gave it in consequence of this representation to Sir Christopher’s recommendation who showed a proper sense of gratitude to his patron, by returning two Members against him at the very next election.11

The petition against the return was intended to force a compromise, but Hawkins and his allies stood firm and it was abandoned in November 1796, after negotiations for mediation had failed. At first Barwell, through his agent Coffin, allowed many of his houses to decay and alienated many of his tenants by seeking to make them tenants at will (1797); but in 1799 Coffin rebuilt the houses and there were rumours that Barwell intended to sell Tregony. Middlecoat, who reproached Hawkins for his unwillingness to spend freely in the borough, assured him, on the basis of a canvass in May 1800, that he had a safe majority of the electors on his side, but by February 1802 it had been reduced to a few votes after lavish expenditure by Barwell, who sent Coffin down with £2,000 and again secured the assistance of Francis Gregor. Hawkins now began to urge a compromise and, having failed to secure the assurance of government support against Barwell, proposed an arrangement through the prime minister, Addington, whereby he offered Barwell one seat (though considering himself the stronger), either absolutely or for the present.12 Nothing came of this, and after disorderly scenes at Tregony, Hawkins’s nominees, to whom he was proposing hospitality for £4,000 a seat, were defeated by Barwell’s at the election, which lasted two days.13 Hawkins instigated a petition the better to treat with Barwell, and to the horror of Middlecoat sold out to Barwell for £9,000 in November 1802. Hawkins was strongly urged to this step by evidence of a stratagem of Middlecoat’s to secure one seat for the Prince of Wales, after an intrigue with Richard Wilson II* and the former Member John Nicholls, who had fallen out with Hawkins before the election of 1802. Hawkins was reproached for not pressing Barwell for compensatory seats at the latter’s other borough of Winchelsea, but was assured of Barwell’s non-intervention at Grampound.14

In August 1804, a fortnight before Barwell’s death, the Marquess of Blandford failed to secure his re-election after appointment to office: Thellusson, who was returned, was connected with Lord Eliot and evidently took advantage of the disarray of Barwell’s management. By his will, Barwell directed that Tregony should be sold and the trustees began negotiations with Lord Darlington. The conveyance of the property was not completed until 1807 and it appears that Barwell’s widow sold Darlington the nominations at the election of 1806 for £10,000. There was a contest. Middlecoat, who since Hawkins had discharged him in September 1802 had been pressing him for the settlement of accounts between them and at the same time hinting that he could procure him one seat for £5,000 (3 Aug. 1805) or both for £6,000 (18 July 1806), alleged that he had received many offers from gentlemen willing to oppose Darlington. Hawkins would not rise to the bait and Middlecoat formed an alliance with John Nicholls, the former Member who, with a friend of his, Miles, sheriff of London, contested the borough, allegedly to preserve it from the ‘pocket’ of Darlington. They were unsuccessful and, by one account, Miles paid Middlecoat 4,000 guineas to secure his return, but failed to back up the petition designed to unseat Darlington’s nominees on the grounds that 25 valid votes had been disallowed.15 Middlecoat, who had professed himself willing to support Darlington in his own way, seems subsequently to have done so, and opposition to the patron, when it next arose in 1812, came from another quarter. Darlington had been warned of it in February 1810, when the disaffection of ‘a Mr Bennett, a secondary agent of his lordship in the borough, who fancies himself neglected’ was reported to him. Darlington opined, 10 Mar. 1810:

from the measures I have there adopted and from the total alteration that has taken place in the management of that borough since it has been in my possession, I shall feel little difficulty hereafter in resisting any opposition to my wishes.16

Yet in 1812 Lord Yarmouth, warden of the stannaries, by a ‘coup de main’ put up two candidates on the Treasury interest against the patron and defeated his nominees. A petition revealed bribery on both sides, Darlington having allegedly distributed £5,000. The petition failed, but Thomas Croggon, a currier of Truro, was sentenced to Newgate for corruption (13 Apr. 1813), whence he was discharged on the motion of Lord Archibald Hamilton, 22 June, still protesting his innocence. In the debate, William Holmes stated that ‘the majority of his supporters were evicted [by Darlington] the day after the election, being unable to pay the rent’.17

Darlington was thought by Viscount Lowther to have ‘irrecoverably lost Tregony’. It appears that Darlington suspected Lowther of promoting the Treasury coup against him, though Lowther’s father Lord Lonsdale hoped that he had shunned ‘interference in matters in which you had no concern’. There was a party on the corporation friendly to administration and led by Capt. William Hennah, who had assisted Yarmouth’s coup in the hope of an Admiralty appointment. In May 1816 a young candidate named Tulk, of Marble Hall, Twickenham, was recommended to them by Thomas Parker, a friend of the ministerialist James Brogden*, who promised to name a second candidate later. Parker was told by Hennah that they wished only for candidates who, if not friends of government, ‘should not be violent opposition men’; and that it would be advisable to distribute about £5 each among 100 poor electors. Darlington, who meanwhile set about reconstituting his influence, reported, 3 Dec. 1817, ‘If I can succeed in defeating the measures of the Tregony corporation, or of the majority who are hostile to me, I am convinced that the borough is quite secure’.18 He procured the returns unopposed in 1818, when Richard Wellesley* canvassed unsuccessfully. It appears that Nicholas Middlecoat, who had gone bankrupt in 1814, was up to his tricks again and had ‘sold’ the borough at the Bell and Crown inn, Holborn, to a London banker Sir Peter Pole*, and General John Michel*, for £7,000 and 6,000 guineas respectively, but that the scheme fell through owing to the mutual distrust of the bargainers, the prospective buyers being unwilling to part with a shilling in advance.19 Darlington continued to find Tregony difficult to manage and ultimately sold it.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 92; R. Inst. Cornw. Henderson mss HH/13/87; Cornw. RO, Pennington mss, DD BRA 1076; Johnstone mss DDJ 2101; Coode mss CF 4752, memo by Rashleigh.
  • 2. Ginter, Whig Organization, 106, 183, 185, 190; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 598.
  • 3. Johnstone mss 2093.
  • 4. The story is told in correspondence published by J. P. Coffin in his pamphlet of 25 May 1796, To the worthy electors of Tregony (copy, Cornw. RO, DDFC 4748).
  • 5. Johnstone mss 2100 (4), Barwell to Hawkins, 20 Nov. 1795; 2098, f. 4; Coffin, op. cit.
  • 6. Johnstone mss 2099, f. 22; Coffin, op. cit.
  • 7. Johnstone mss 2100 (2), Rev. T. Gurney to Barwell, 12 May; Coode mss 4750, Middlecoat to Maberly, 25 May 1794, to Barwell, 21 Nov. 1795.
  • 8. Johnstone mss 2099, f. 14; 2100 (2), Rev. T. Gurney to Hawkins, 27 June, 4 July; Coffin op. cit., Rev. T. Gurney to Ld. Eliot, 24 Nov. 1794; Cornw. RO, ‘Mem. of Loveday Sarah Gregor’, 94; Coode mss 4750, N. Middlecoat, Answer to an address dated 16 Mar. 1796 and signed R. Barwell .
  • 9. Johnstone mss 2099, ff. 8-16, 40; 2100 (4); 2100 (16), Dundas to Hawkins, 6 Apr. 1796; Coffin, op. cit.
  • 10. Johnstone mss 2088-9; 2098, ff. 26-28; 2099, f. 17; True Briton, 24 May; R. Barwell, Address, 16 Mar. 1796; Coffin, op. cit.; Cornw. RO, DD/X/55/56.
  • 11. In Baron Gurney’s copy of Gough’s edition at the Law Society Lib. p. 15.
  • 12. CJ, lii. 44, 97; Johnstone mss 2082-7, 2096-7, 2098, ff. 20, 22, 31, 35, 40, 42, 47, 53; 2099, ff. 21-24, 36; 2100 (16); 2102; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 10 Dec. 1801; Buller mss BO/23/70, memo by Hawkins, 6 Apr. 1802.
  • 13. Johnstone mss 2098, f. 60; 2100 (8), Sandys to Hawkins, 17, 23 June 1802. Saville Hallifax was son of Sir Thomas Hallifax† and nephew of Christopher Atkinson*.
  • 14. CJ, lviii. 66; Johnstone mss 2098, ff. 63-64, 88, 89; 2100 (6), Coode to Hawkins, 17, 30 Nov., 4 Dec.; (7), Coffin to Sandys, 18, 29 Nov.; (8), Sandys to Hawkins, 18 Nov. 1802 (endorsement by Hawkins).
  • 15. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 538; Western Antiquary, vi. 31; PCC 669 Heseltine; Sidmouth mss, De Dunstanville to Sidmouth, 17 Sept. 1805; Pennington mss, BRA 1076 N; Johnstone mss 2098, ff. 66, 68, 71; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 194; Farley’s Bristol Jnl. 15 Nov.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 8 Nov. 1806; CJ, lxii. 12, 68.
  • 16. Johnstone mss 2098, f. 71; Fortescue mss, Flindell to Grenville (who endorsed it ‘not replied to’), 25 Feb., Darlington to same, 10 Mar. 1810.
  • 17. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 11 Feb. 1813; CJ, lxviii. 38, 52, 289, 408, 414, 592, 594.
  • 18. Lonsdale mss, Visct. Lowther to Lonsdale, 25 Sept., 23 Oct. 1812; Lonsdale to Lowther, 18 Jan. 1818; Add. 60286, ff. 4, 8, 9, 14; Essex RO, Sperling mss D/DSE/13, Parker to Brogden, 22 May 1816; Brougham mss 31424.
  • 19. London Gazette (1814), 1307; Key to the House of Commons (1832), 409.