Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

disputed until 1821, when it was established to be in freeholders and resident leaseholders rated to the poor

Estimated number qualified to vote:

225 in 18311

Number of voters:

150 in 1826


1,321 (1821); 1,388 (1831)2


 Matthias Attwood51
 William Thompson51
 ATTWOOD and THOMPSON vice Robinson and Lygon on petition, 12 June 1820 
 Robert Badnall49

Main Article

Callington, a nondescript market town in the south-east of the county, seven miles from Liskeard, consisted of ‘one broad street’ with ‘sadly neglected’ buildings. It served as a trading centre for arable and livestock farmers from ‘a wide area’, and a Pannier market was built in 1832 as the old corn market and shambles were ‘in such a dangerous state’. By 1820 yarn production had ‘almost disappeared’ from the town, but some of the inhabitants were still occupied as wool merchants and wool combers and others were employed in the nearby tin mines.3

The borough boundaries were not clearly defined, but they reportedly covered only ‘a small part’, about 30 acres, of the parish of Southill. Local power was exercised by the portreeve, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, who was appointed annually at the court leet of the lord of the manor, Robert Trefusis, 18th Baron Clinton; in fact, Colonel William Horndon held the post throughout this period. The franchise was held to be in the freeholders, whether resident or non-resident, and in resident leaseholders rated to the poor for at least 40s. Most of the freeholders were ‘faggot voters’, manufactured to support Clinton’s interest; the electors customarily received a ‘compliment’ of £10-20. Clinton was also expected to attend to patronage requests from his friends: a wish list in April 1821 included a clerkship in a public office, an excise post, a naval promotion, and employment for a blacksmith and a shipwright’s apprentice in the Plymouth dockyard. However, his hold over the borough was precarious, as a tradition of resistance to patronal control existed amongst the inhabitants, who claimed that all householders paying scot and lot were entitled to vote. Their opposition expressed itself in the form of a robust Toryism, which contrasted with Clinton’s Grenvillite sympathies. John Coryton of nearby Crackadon owned a number of properties in the borough and was always a potential focus for the discontented. Although Clinton’s nominees in 1818, Edward Lygon, a Guards officer and brother of the 2nd Earl Beauchamp, and the king’s advocate Sir Charles Robinson, were both supporters of Lord Liverpool’s ministry, they were unsuccessfully challenged by two other Tories, the London ‘slopseller’ Richard Dixon and the barrister Longueville Clarke, who had been invited to stand by the inhabitants.4

In February 1820, following the announcement of the dissolution, the London merchant William Thompson and the banker and prominent currency reformer Matthias Attwood arrived to declare their candidatures. They were ‘received with great joy ... by the inhabitants’, who drew them into the town ‘in triumph’, and a canvass was immediately commenced. Shortly afterwards, Clarke issued an address in which he stated that he and Dixon would not stand again and expressed ‘the liveliest indignation’ that an attempt was being made to ‘impose new shackles on your ill-fated town’. This referred to a scheme by certain local Tories who, through the agency of Thomas Pough of London, had bought up £37 per annum worth of the land tax, chargeable on properties in the borough, in the names of ‘some 60 or 70 strangers’ residing mostly in London and Surrey. It was believed that they would be eligible to vote as freeholders, in respect of the fee farm rents which they were entitled to levy on the properties involved. Clarke warned the inhabitants:

Should you support the individuals who wish to establish that right of voting, they will, first of all, get themselves returned by your assistance, and poll but a few of the land tax voters, merely to establish a precedent. But when another election takes place ... they will split their little property into sixpenny votes, and, introducing 3 or 400 voters from all parts of the country, utterly destroy the franchise of the present electors ... If you cannot get two gentlemen who will represent the ‘loyal Blues’, who will seek no other support but yours ... I would seriously recommend you to join with the ‘Yellows’ and drive the land tax candidates from the town.

The sitting Members announced that they would offer again, although Lygon’s brother observed that ‘Clinton’s interest ... has been so much neglected that I have great fears for their success’. Clinton, according to his uncle, Lord Rolle of Bicton, was being ‘hard pressed ... by a very ungrateful set of men who have received favours heretofore’. His steward, the attorney John Smith of Devonport, reported that ‘the out-voters are generally in our interest, but by all accounts it will be a "close heat"’. Lygon told Reginald Pole Carew of Antony House that ‘our opponents have been extremely active and have secured a great majority of resident voters’, but he had noticed that ‘amongst the most active is a Mr. Peters (sadler) ... a tenant of yours’, and he wondered whether ‘anything [can] be done to shaken his exertions’. The local press agreed that Clinton’s interest stood ‘in jeopardy’ and was likely to be ‘overset’.5 Callington was ‘very full and in the utmost bustle’ on election day, when Lygon was proposed by Captain Robert Kinsman and Major Andrew Kinsman, and Robinson was sponsored by the Revs. David Horndon and John Fletcher. For the ‘independent interest’, Attwood was introduced by the surgeon Samuel Benny and the sadler John Harris, and Thompson was nominated by Captain George Haye, who ‘animadverted in strong terms on the imperfect representation of the borough’, and Lieutenant John Serjeant. Before the start of polling next day, ‘Mr. Turton, counsel for Attwood and Thompson, addressed the portreeve and the assessor appointed by him’, to remind them of their duty and ‘exhort them to act conscientiously’; the Plymouth barrister Charles Bird represented the sitting Members. At the end of the day, Attwood and Thompson had 19 votes and Lygon and Robinson 15. On the second, Lygon and Robinson took the lead with 50 votes, while Attwood and Thompson remained on 19 as 28 votes tendered for them were rejected. After three days Lygon and Robinson had 68 votes to Attwood and Thompson’s 42, and on the fourth, Lygon and Robinson were declared elected. No plumpers were given and there was no cross-party voting. Lygon and Robinson were supported by 18 leaseholders and 50 freeholders, of whom only seven were residents; a Whig newspaper claimed that the freeholders were all ‘faggots’. Attwood and Thompson’s support consisted of 47 leaseholders and four freeholders resident in the borough or parish. A total of 72 votes for the unsuccessful candidates were rejected, of which seven were from leaseholders and 65 from freeholders; the latter included 61 non-residents who were presumably the land tax voters.6 As expected, Attwood and Thompson petitioned against the return, 1 May 1820, accusing Horndon of partiality in allowing fraudulent votes and rejecting good ones, and Lygon and Robinson’s agents of bribery and corruption. A similar petition was presented in the names of three resident electors, the watchmaker William Hender, the farmer James Haye and the surgeon Robert Serjeant, and of two London electors, Frederick Clarke and John Rowe Snow. The committee required counsel for the various parties to deliver statements of what they considered the right of voting to be, but the electors’ claim that inhabitant householders paying scot and lot were eligible was rejected and the definition supplied on behalf of the sitting Members accepted. Nevertheless, Lygon and Robinson were unseated in favour of Attwood and Thompson, 12 June 1820, evidently because the accusations of partiality or of corruption had been found proven. Robinson’s expenses reputedly totalled £5,000.7

Late in 1820 the inhabitants were ‘allowed to testify their joy’ at the rejection of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, which Clinton had opposed, and they made ‘full use’ of this privilege by organizing ‘a brilliant illumination, etc.’8 Snow and two other London electors, Richard Young and James Bull, petitioned the Commons to challenge the committee’s decision regarding the right of voting, 5 Feb. 1821. A poster addressed to the ‘independent Blues of Callington’ urged them to sign a petition ‘in favour of the land tax voters’, observing that once their rights were established ‘the Blues will always have a sufficient number to oppose the infamous Yellow faggots’. Horndon was informed that the most active canvassers for the ‘land tax men’ were the Rev. John Serjeant, Lieutenant John Serjeant, Tom Blackler and John Haye. The Commons appointed another committee which reported, 16 Apr. 1821, that it had rejected all the proffered definitions of the voting right and produced one of its own, which was close to that contended for by the Clinton interest. As Horndon noted, the effect was that ‘the land tax men [are] thrown out’. Clinton’s legal bill amounted to £1,211, including payments to witnesses.9 At a public meeting, 24 Oct. 1822, the inhabitants agreed to petition the treasury against the withdrawal of the packet service from Falmouth.10 They sent up petitions to both Houses against Catholic claims, 28 Apr., 6 May 1825, and the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 3 Mar. 1826.11 Clinton had been anxious for some years to extricate himself from Callington, and in May 1824 he sold his entire estate to Alexander Baring, the wealthy financier and moderate Whig Member for Taunton. Baring paid £30,000 for 65 properties, consisting mainly of houses and fields, and the rectory.12 It soon became apparent, however, that he faced a challenge to his authority from an opposition perhaps more diverse than before. That August the foreign secretary Canning was offered a seat for his son in conjunction with Lord Bridport, who had been solicited to stand by an unidentified ‘party’ claiming to be ‘able to bring in both Members’; Canning was not tempted. In July 1825 he was approached directly by Robert Kinsman, who invited the government to recommend two candidates and requested an overseas appointment, preferably in Ceylon, for himself. He explained that in 1818 and 1820 his family had been instrumental in securing the return of Lygon and Robinson, ‘the then nominal patron [having] neither influence nor popularity’, but the situation had since changed as Baring’s ‘line of politics is opposed to ours’. He was confident that ‘we hold the balance at present, and the scale we favour must preponderate’; Canning was still not interested. However, in late August, when it was learned that Thompson intended to stand for London at the general election, which seemed imminent, Charles Mackinnon* accepted an invitation to canvass the borough. He described himself as being ‘sincerely attached to our king and government’ and promised to ‘act with strict independence, for you justly expect that your representatives should be as independent as yourselves’. Around the time of the dissolution in May 1826 the Blues were dismayed to learn that two of their erstwhile supporters, the brothers George and John Haye, had agreed to sell their property, consisting of five houses, three fields and a garden, to Baring for £6,000. One of the brothers admitted that the transaction had been ‘not a question of ... actual value but [of] the number of votes and the influence’. John Haye was savagely attacked in a poster, ‘Jan Dry Grass’, as was another defector:

          O! son of wicked Satan! with a soul
          hot as his hell, and blacker than his coal;
          thou false, thou foul mouth’d slanderer of the Blues,
          Thou’st turn’d thy coat, and joined a set of Jews.13

Baring had evidently come to an arrangement with Attwood, the details of which are unknown, and they offered together. It was reported that they would be opposed by Mackinnon and one Dundas, but in early June Mackinnon privately declared his intention to ‘stand the poll ... in opposition to Mr. Attwood, provided the Blue interest does not bring forward a second candidate’. In the event, Mackinnnon withdrew and Robert Badnall, a Staffordshire landowner, came forward on ‘the ministerial and independent interest’. On election day, a Saturday, Baring was nominated by the Revs. Horndon and Fletcher, Attwood by the Rev. Serjeant and Richard Doidge, and Badnall by the conveyancer Hugh Snell and John Hamlyn. At the close of the poll that evening, Baring led by 64 votes to Attwood’s 56 and Badnall’s 27. The proceedings were adjourned until Monday, when Baring and Attwood maintained their advantage and were declared elected. Of the 150 who polled (another three were rejected), 99 were leaseholders and 51 freeholders, of whom 45 were non-resident. Badnall received 28 plumpers (57 per cent of his total), all of whom were leaseholders, Baring had three and Attwood one. Baring and Attwood were given 97 split votes (80 and 99 per cent of their respective totals), of whom 51 were leaseholders and 46 freeholders, while Baring and Badnall shared 21 (18 and 43 per cent), of whom 20 were leaseholders. Thus, only one freeholder gave a vote to Badnall. In a subsequent poster, the Blues protested against ‘the system of splitting tenements and making occasional votes’, which had been declared ‘fraudulent’ by the election committee in 1820, and they claimed that the correct result should have been 60 votes to Baring, 49 to Badnall and 37 to Attwood. However, the threatened petition was not forthcoming. At least, in the opinion of The Times, it was ‘to the honour of the borough’ that the ‘shadow of bribery does not appear’. The Members’ joint expenditure for the election dinner came to £318.14

Baring proceeded to consolidate his hold over the borough through further property purchases. His agent, Smith, and John Haye, who represented Attwood, compiled a target list of acquisitions, and Attwood was to ‘bear a part’ of the cost ‘with respect to ... purchases of leaseholds at high prices’.15 Early in January 1827 Smith reported to Baring that he held the title deeds of nine properties, including a freehold bought from one of the Kinsmans for £1,000. Two months later, Hamlyn offered to sell all his leaseholds, on ten houses, for which Smith proposed to pay £800, and leaseholds held by three other ‘opponents’, Bake, Warrick and the linen draper James Jope, were secured before the end of the year.16 A number of ‘discontented youths’ had tried to draw the attention of Lord Althorp* and Joseph Hume* to the opposition cause, using ‘epithets respecting [Baring] and Mr. Attwood most unwarrantable’, but by April 1827 Smith was confident that many ‘enemies’ were ‘coming round’, adding that ‘with me "conciliation" is the watchword’. He was encouraged by the attendance at the court leet dinner that autumn of ‘old Hancock, Keener, Mason and young Wenmouth, all your opponents at the last election’.17 Smith asked Baring for the names of ‘a few more of your friends who may be disposed to purchase freeholds’, as he wished to remove certain individuals holding such property from the old Haye estate, who ‘are I fear necessitous, such as commanders and lieutenants in the navy [and] ... might be hereafter importunate’.18 Hender, who was ‘considered ... the leader of the opposition’, sold his leasehold in March 1828, declaring that he would ‘never again vote against you’, and the next month Charles Treise, Prout and Skinner, ‘all incorrigibles and avowed enemies of your interest’, sold their houses and Jacobs offered his for £180. As Smith observed, ‘the game is now evidently up’.19 In April 1829 one Baylay agreed to sell his nine houses, all of which had been used against Baring’s interest at the previous election by ‘a set of vagabonds’, who had been assigned deeds by Snell ‘without any legal authority’; £1,000 was paid.20 From the outset, Smith had advised Baring to secure the property of James Wentworth Buller* of Downes, whose family had traditionally been allies of the Corytons. Although John Coryton was ‘at present ... not your enemy’, the ‘jealous feeling of his ... steward’, Peter Glubb, meant that ‘it would be well if you could have the means of neutralizing his freeholds and check his freeholds’ as ‘he and Mr. Buller hold most of their houses in undivided moieties’. A price of £939, including legal fees, was negotiated in 1829 and Smith expressed his ‘delight’: ‘it consummates my wishes as it places you in a posture of defiance with respect to opposition, and Mr. Glubb’s rancour ... must subside’. The news of this purchase ‘created a great sensation’ in Callington, where it was regarded as ‘a death blow’.21

In May 1828, when the Tory county Member Sir Richard Vyvyan sought to mobilize opinion against the small notes bill, he was informed by Horndon that the ground was ‘preoccupied’ at Callington by Attwood’s speeches on the subject.22 On 13 June 1828 petitions were presented to Parliament from the gentlemen, clergy and inhabitants against Catholic relief, and from the owners and occupiers of neighbouring land for a protective duty against imported wool.23 Following a requisition signed by 33 freeholders and inhabitants of the middle division of the Hundred of East, including Glubb and Snell, the Rev. Henry Woollcombe of Pillaton chaired a meeting of ‘about 500’ people on the Catholic question at Callington’s guildhall, 7 Jan. 1829. Doidge and the Rev. William Hockin moved to petition in defence of ‘the Protestant constitution of this empire’, which was a ‘gift of God ... to exalt this nation to a pre-eminence of knowledge, morality and prosperity above all others’. They were supported by Fletcher, Hender and the Methodist minister Joshua Wade, who invoked the authority of John Wesley. Owen Trelawny, son of W.S. Trelawny of Callstock, and John Gill junior of Tavistock proposed a pro-Catholic amendment, which was supported by John Rundle of Tavistock. There was a ‘show of hands by hundreds’ for the original motion and ‘not a dozen’ for the amendment. A Whig newspaper complained that the petition, which was presented to Parliament by Vyvyan and Lord Falmouth, 24 Feb. 1829, had been signed by many outsiders.24 Baring supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, true to his previous opinions, and Attwood continued to oppose the measure. At a meeting of ‘yeomen’ attending Callington market, 10 Feb. 1830, 77 signatures were obtained for a requisition for a meeting of owners and occupiers of land in the hundred of East to consider measures to ‘prevent the utter ruin of the agricultural interest’. S. Archer of Trelask chaired the ‘numerous and highly respectable meeting’ at the guildhall, 24 Feb., when N. Foott moved to petition the Commons for unspecified measures to alleviate the ‘awful and generally distressed state of this country’; Horndon seconded him. Glubb argued that the language used in the petition was ‘not sufficiently strong’ and that ‘some allusion should be made to the excessive taxation, the finances and representation of the country’, and Thomas Pearse agreed, blaming ‘free trade and the currency’ for the distress. Snell was sympathetic but he advised against dividing the meeting by raising ‘different opinions’, and the petition was accordingly ‘carried unanimously’; Vyvyan presented it, 14 May 1830.25 At the general election that summer Attwood transferred to Boroughbridge and Baring offered with his son William. Baring, whose virtues were extolled by his nominators, the Revs. Horndon and Fletcher, promised to ‘support the excellent constitution ... and narrowly watch the national expenditure’. William Horndon junior and Robert Jope proposed William Baring, who ‘pledged himself to pursue the line of conduct adopted by his father’ and ‘act independently of party’. There was ‘no opposition’ and the Barings were declared elected.26

An anti-slavery petition was forwarded to the Commons by the Wesleyan Methodists, 18 Mar. 1831.27 The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed to disfranchise Callington. Baring opposed the bill but his son supported it and was given notice to quit his seat. At the ensuing general election Baring, who returned himself for Thetford, nominated his nephew Henry Baring and Edward Herbert, son of the 2nd earl of Carnarvon; they were elected unopposed. Herbert appears to have paid £1,000 for his seat, which was ‘not ... the full amount’.28 In the Commons, 20 July, Baring accepted that by the principles of the reintroduced reform bill Callington ‘must be disfranchised’, but he insisted that it was ‘one of the purest boroughs that ever existed’. During his connection with it he had ‘never paid a single shilling to any individual on account of elections’, the expenses were ‘trivial’ and no man had ever ‘for his vote ... obtained a place of emolument either in the customs or excise’. In a rare case of Cornish incendiarism that September, ‘a valuable stack of oats and great part of a rick of hay were destroyed’ on land farmed by John Sambells, an assistant overseer of the poor. Horndon summoned a meeting of inhabitants and organized a committee ‘for the protection of property’, to which £300 was subscribed.29 In October the ‘bells were rung’ to celebrate the news of the Lords’ rejection of the reform bill.30 However, the new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 confirmed Callington’s fate, as it contained 233 houses and paid £197 in assessed taxes, placing it 33rd in the list of the smallest English boroughs. It was duly disfranchised and absorbed into the Eastern division of Cornwall.

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 46-47.
  • 2. Ibid. Figures for the parish of Southill. The borough population in 1831 was put at 1,082.
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 137; Parochial Hist. Cornw. iv. 156; S. Lightbody, Callington, 23, 37-38, 47-50.
  • 4. PP (1830-1), x. 62-63; (1831-2), xxxvi. 46-47; Devon RO, Rolle mss 96M/88/16, 1807 election accts.; R. Inst. Cornw. Callington pprs. CGA/47, patronage memo. 11 Apr. 1821; Oldfield, Key (1820), 63-64; A. de C. Glubb, When Cornwall had 44 MPs, 35-38; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 47-49.
  • 5. Callington pprs. CGA/39-40, election addresses; Carew Pole mss CC/M/53, letters to Pole Carew from Beauchamp, 24 Feb., Smith, 26 Feb., Rolle, 27 Feb., Lygon, 3 Mar.; Add. 38458, ff. 303, 310; R. Cornw. Gazette, 19 Feb., 4 Mar.; West Briton, 25 Feb., 3, 10 Mar. 1820; Glubb, 35-36.
  • 6. Callington pprs. CGA/38, election memo.; 43, ms pollbook; Rolle mss 96M/88/16, election memo.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 11 Mar.; West Briton, 24 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. CJ, lxxv. 125-6, 250, 300-1, 305; Ann. Biog. and Obit. xviii. (1834), 327.
  • 8. West Briton, 8 Dec. 1820.
  • 9. CJ, lxxvi. 34, 126, 250, 266; Callington pprs. CGA/38, Horndon’s memo., 11-16 Apr.; 45, T. Elliott to Horndon, 20 Feb. 1821 with enclosed poster; Rolle mss 96M/88/16, legal bill; Glubb, 36-37.
  • 10. R. Cornw. Gazette, 26 Oct. 1822.
  • 11. CJ, lxxx. 384; lxxxi. 124; LJ, lvii. 659.
  • 12. Cornw. RO, Northampton mss DD/N/10-13.
  • 13. Canning Official Corresp. i. 221-2, 373-5; R. Cornw. Gazette, 3 Sept. 1825; Lightbody, 60-61; Glubb, 40-41.
  • 14. Callington pprs. CGA/42, election memo.; 48, ms pollbook.; 49, Mackinnon to Horndon, 3 June; The Times, 27 May, 3, 21 June 1826; Devon RO 3720M/E1, Smith to Baring, 4 Mar. 1827.
  • 15. Devon RO 3720M/E1, Smith to Baring, 4 Jan. 1827, 13 Apr. 1828.
  • 16. Ibid. 4, 8 Jan., 10 Mar., 12 Apr., 11 Aug., 22 Sept., 6 Oct. 1827.
  • 17. Ibid. 20 Jan., 12 Apr., 6 Oct. 1827.
  • 18. Ibid. 23 Jan. 1827.
  • 19. Ibid. 12 Apr. 1827, 13 Mar., 13 Apr.; Northampton mss DD/N/439, map of Baring’s property, 1828.
  • 20. Devon RO 3720M/E1, Smith to Baring, 22 Apr., 6 June, 20 Aug. 1829.
  • 21. Ibid. 8 Jan. 1827, 8 Mar., 19 July, 27 Dec. 1829.
  • 22. Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss DD/V/BO/47, Horndon to Vyvyan, 29 May 1828.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxiii. 431; LJ, lx. 542-3.
  • 24. R. Cornw. Gazette, 3, 10 Jan.; West Briton, 9 Jan. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 81; LJ, lxi. 75.
  • 25. R. Cornw. Gazette, 20, 27 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 422.
  • 26. R. Cornw. Gazette, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 405.
  • 28. Baring Jnls. 87; Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91/L12/7, Porchester to Henrietta Stapleton, 24 May 1831.
  • 29. The Times, 21 Sept. 1831.
  • 30. West Briton, 14 Oct. 1831.