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

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 10,000

Number of voters:

5,233 in 1830


22 Mar. 1820SIR THOMAS DYKE ACLAND, bt.2546
 Hugh Fortescue, Visct. Ebrington1793
15 June 1826SIR THOMAS DYKE ACLAND, bt.77
 Hugh Fortescue, Visct. Ebrington15
13 Aug. 1830HUGH FORTESCUE, Visct. Ebrington2944
 Edmund Pollexfen Bastard2174
10 May 1831HUGH FORTESCUE, Visct. Ebrington 

Main Article

Devon became increasingly dependent on agriculture, pastoral farming and fishing during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the industries for which it had previously been renowned went into terminal decline. In 1700 the manufacture of serges and other coarse woollen cloths had been widely distributed in the county and formed ‘the most important branch of England’s export trade in woollens’. However, the industry experienced structural decline after 1750 and the Napoleonic wars dealt it a ‘death blow’; largely as a result, Devon’s overseas trade fell away to ‘practically nothing by 1800’. Lace manufacturing fared rather better, and Barnstaple, Honiton and Tiverton were important centres of production in this period. Mining, the other traditional industry, had also declined during the eighteenth century, although there was residual extraction of tin, iron and lead in certain northern and western locations and the mid-nineteenth century was to see a temporary boom in copper mining. In the most fertile parts of the county, the Vale of Exeter and the South Hams district between the River Teign and Plymouth, systems of mixed farming were practised involving arable crops, livestock breeding, dairy production and fruit growing; Devon’s ‘cattle, cream and cider’ were ‘all equally famous’. On the ‘barren tract’ of Dartmoor in the south-west, and on Exmoor in the north-east, sheep and cattle rearing was prevalent. The wars brought prosperity to the farmers, but they suffered from the effects of falling prices after 1815. Fish and shellfish abounded in the Bristol and English Channels and several large fishing ports grew up to supply the London market, notably Brixham, Plymouth and Bideford, while the Rivers Exe and Dart produced ‘great quantities of salmon and trout’. The mild climate had attracted invalids and a ‘moneyed class of annuitants and retired professional people’ to coastal towns like Exmouth and Teignmouth before 1800, and during the nineteenth century the ‘holiday industry’ became the other chief mainstay of Devon’s economy, stimulating the rise of resorts such as Torquay, Dawlish, Sidmouth and Ilfracombe.1

The electorate was very large and scattered, which made contested elections so formidably expensive that few took place in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Local landowners of Tory leanings usually controlled the representation, although great importance was always attached to assertions of ‘independence’. Devon Toryism drew its strength both from the agricultural interest and from the trenchancy of popular anti-Catholic sentiment. As a local Whig observed in 1829, ‘there is no county in England where a more deep-rooted ... bigotry on the Catholic question prevails with half the violence it does here’.2 The 2nd Baron Rolle of Bicton, the county’s largest and wealthiest landowner, was the acknowledged leader of ‘church and king’ Toryism, and his allies included Sir John Leman Rogers† of Blachford and Sir William Templar Pole of Shute; varying shades of Tory opinion were represented by Sir Stafford Northcote of Pynes, Sir William Elford† of Bickham and the Canningite 1st earl of Morley of Saltram. However, the old political order was challenged at a by-election in 1816 when the Whig Lord Ebrington, son of the 1st Earl Fortescue of Castle Hill, the lord lieutenant, opposed Edmund Pollexfen Bastard of Kitley, the nephew of the recently deceased Member. Ebrington’s supporters included the 6th duke of Bedford, who owned property around Tavistock, Sir Charles Warwick Bampfylde† of Poltimore, Colonel John Palmer Chichester of Arlington Court and Newton Fellowes† of Eggesford (who became his brother-in-law in 1820). Although Ebrington was defeated his platform of economy, retrenchment and tithes reform had appealed strongly to the independent yeomanry and Bastard’s victory cost him £17,427. Shortly afterwards the Whigs formed the Devon County Club which was to be a significant force throughout this period, unlike its virtually moribund Tory counterpart, the Devon and Exeter Pitt Club.3 In 1818 Ebrington offered again and, after an epic contest lasting six days, he topped the poll ahead of Bastard, ousting the moderate Tory sitting Member, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland of Killerton. Another test of strength seemed likely at the next general election, and it was a matter of regret to some that ‘the evils of the last contest did not cease with its termination’ but had ‘engendered such party spirit and animosities as rendered those who were engaged in them unwilling or unable to co-operate upon other occasions’.4

In early February 1820, before the dissolution had been announced, the friends of Ebrington, Bastard and Acland were engaged in unofficial canvassing, and Acland received reports that Ebrington’s advanced Whiggism had alienated many of his former supporters, particularly through his ‘opposition to their agricultural interests’. Immediately after George III’s funeral Dr. Andrew Tucker of Ashburton convened a meeting of Ebrington’s supporters in Exeter to concert measures for his re-election. The central committee and network of district committees, which had worked so effectively in 1818, were reactivated, and by mid-February it was stated that they had ‘nearly completed the same arrangements for conveying the voters to the poll and for their accommodation ... as were adopted at the last contest’. Ebrington was the first formally to declare his candidature, 17 Feb.5 Acland’s and Bastard’s intentions remained unclear until late in the month and, despite their coalition in 1818, mutual suspicion was apparent in the relations between the two Tory camps. Acland was warned that some of Bastard’s partisans were ‘industriously circulating a report that you are friendly to the total and unqualified emancipation of the Catholics’, and he was advised to ‘stand independently’ and ‘not make your bow to Bastard as you did before’. It was observed that Bastard’s friends were ‘so warm and energetic that they would stir heaven and earth to get in their candidate’. Conversely, there was ‘considerable ... jealousy’ among the Bastardites of the ‘exclusive’ canvass conducted on Acland’s behalf, and it was feared that they might become ‘dupes of the Acland interest’ as many of their own voters, having split with him before, were likely to do so again.6 The election manoeuvrings were interrupted on 18 Feb. by a county meeting at Exeter Castle to vote an address of condolence to George IV. Morley moved the address and was seconded in a diplomatic speech by Ebrington, who had agreed its wording during a private visit to Saltram. However, the Rev. Richard Ellicombe, prebendary of Exeter Cathedral, proposed an amendment to add ‘in church and state’ after the word constitution, which was seconded by the Rev. Jonas Dennis. Only after pressure from several speakers including Acland was the amendment withdrawn and the address ‘carried unanimously’. Rolle nevertheless claimed that Acland’s conduct and pro-Catholic sympathies had ‘offended many’ at the meeting.7 Acland’s position was understood to be that ‘having once offered yourself to the county [and] served it faithfully ... it does not become you to offer yourself again’, but that he would accept an invitation to stand provided financial assistance was forthcoming, as he had ‘already been at a considerable expense’. On 25 Feb. Northcote chaired a meeting at the Clarence in Exeter where a requisition to Acland was organized and signed by ‘nearly 500 freeholders’. Acland replied next day agreeing to come forward, but he emphasized that his political views were unchanged and that he could not ‘relinquish opinions ... in which I have the misfortune to differ from many of my friends’. The question of relations with Bastard was also discussed at the meeting, with some taking the view that the coalition in 1818 had been ‘injurious’, but while Elford ‘disavowed any idea of a union, either covertly or openly’, he personally hoped that Acland’s decision to stand would not induce Bastard to retire.8 Bastard’s friends were meantime ‘at a loss how to act’ in the absence of any statement of intent, which raised hopes in Whig circles that Ebrington might be spared a contest. Bastard received agents’ reports confirming the strength of his support in the South Hams and claiming that in many parts of the county ‘Ebrington’s interest has declined’ and ‘he has not means of supporting a continued combat’. Nevertheless, it was frankly admitted that the outcome of a contest was doubtful:

I think that you [would] poll a very respectable numbers of voters ... but, supposing Lord E. and Sir T.A. determined, even if you look to an expenditure of £15,000, the event will remain uncertain. It is quite impossible to anticipate the effect of the divided votes of A&E, A&B and B&E. Ebrington and Acland will both, probably, attempt a plumper system. Your own plumpers were emasculated by the last coalition ... Although I am aware much may be recovered, could you inspire any ‘devil’ into your lethargic ... neighbours, I feel no confidence.

In an address issued on 27 Feb. Bastard announced that although he believed his parliamentary record had earned the approval of his constituents, the ‘same motives which regulated my conduct’ in 1818, namely the wish to preserve his ‘personal independence’, compelled him to ‘decline the expense of the approaching contest’. This display of reticence was presumably designed to force his supporters to open their purses, and it was subsequently reported in the press that he ‘never had the remotest idea of retiring’ and would be ‘powerfully called forward’ by the ‘disinterested support of his numerous friends’. The Bastardites formed a central committee and district committees in the main towns, along Ebringtonian lines, promises were received from individuals all over the county to convey voters to the poll free of charge and ‘a very liberal subscription’ was raised. Rolle approached the prime minister Lord Liverpool and the home secretary Lord Sidmouth, a Devon landowner, to enlist government support on Bastard’s behalf, explaining that Acland was already safe. Sidmouth obliged by writing to Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, the king’s private secretary and former Member for Plymouth, who replied that he had ‘engaged three of my best friends’ there to ‘extend their exertions beyond the town’. Ebrington’s committee was said to be ‘as indefatigable as if they had ten opponents’, and it was hoped that ‘the alacrity displayed’ by his friends would work to his advantage. He embarked on a ‘strenuous’ personal canvass, the only candidate to do so, and Fellowes, Chichester and Bampfylde publicly pledged themselves to ‘discharge, in equal proportions with his lordship, whatever expenses may be incurred by him’.9 The Catholic question figured prominently throughout the campaign. Thomas Flindell, the proprietor of the High Tory Western Luminary, was convinced that ‘the most vulnerable point of Lord Ebrington’s party [lies] in the good old Protestant feeling of the farmers’, and as one clergyman noted, ‘the cry of No Popery is ... no bad opponent to No Tithes’. The revelation of the Cato Street conspiracy was a welcome gift to Bastard’s cause, and one of his supporters in Plymouth reported that ‘the diabolical plot’ was likely to be ‘a great bar’ to Ebrington’s success, given the latter’s opposition to the Six Acts. A notorious illustrated handbill was circulated reading, ‘Huzza! For Lord Ebrington and his clients, the Pope and Thistlewood - Pillars of the Ebrington cause!’; and a poster issued by ‘A Warning Voice’ urged:

Let every individual do his duty, like the immortal Nelson ... for the defence of our venerable institutions; cherish in your hearts a remembrance of the mighty and signal achievements performed by your Protestant ancestors ... let your rally cry ... be Bastard and Independence, Bastard and the Protestant Cause, Bastard and No Popery.

Acland was warned that his pro-Catholic declaration had been ‘taken advantage of by your opponents’ in Dartmouth, and that it had ‘materially shaken’ his position in the vicinity of Totnes. One poster issued to counter this effect pointed to the schools erected by Acland on his estates and to other charitable donations, which attested to his ‘zeal for the established church’ and ‘munificent bounty to the poor’, while another described him as ‘independent in mind, body and estate - the true country gentleman’. Ebrington’s posters depicted him as the proven friend of the poor man and the farmer through his votes for retrenchment and tax reductions, and as the champion of the ‘privileges of Englishmen’. They also alleged, notwithstanding repeated denials, that Acland and Bastard were secretly acting in coalition, and Ebrington’s supporters were therefore advised to give only plumpers. The contest was expected to be ‘one of the most spirited and determined that has ever taken place in this or any other county’.10

At the nomination meeting Bastard was proposed by Rogers, who attacked Ebrington’s refusal to countenance measures against ‘murderous radicals’, and by George Sydenham Fursdon of Fursdon. Ebrington was sponsored by Fellowes and Chichester, and Acland by Elford and George Templar. Bastard hoped to be returned ‘free and unshackled’. Ebrington condemned the ‘atrocious slanders’ directed against him in ‘anonymous handbills and the servile columns of a hireling newspaper’, and complained that unnamed ‘clergymen, magistrates and gentlemen’ had lent themselves to a deliberate attempt to ‘confound an honest and constitutional opposition to the measures of government with a desire to subvert the constitution and the throne’. He criticized ministers for showing ‘too great an indifference to the distresses of the country’ and indulging in ‘extravagant grants of public money’. Acland, who stood ‘alone and independent’, restated in vague terms his support for Catholic relief and asked to be taken ‘for no other than I am’. The show of hands was called in favour of Ebrington and Acland but Bastard’s friends demanded a poll, which was fixed for nine days later. Considerable excitement was aroused, the day before the election, by an address from Ebrington repeating the claims about a secret Tory coalition and adding a new accusation, that Acland’s uncle, Hugh Hoare, had ‘lately declared that he was coming into this county at [Acland’s] special request, to promote a subscription for Mr. Bastard’. On election day, a Saturday, Bastard was introduced by Sir Henry Carew of Haccombe and Colonel George Drake of Ipplepen, Ebrington by Bampfylde and Chichester, and Acland by Edmund Pusey Lyon of Exeter and Northcote. Bastard was proud to ‘observe so strong a recognition of my conduct and principles’. Ebrington tried to substantiate his coalition claims, referring to instances in South Devon where joint canvassing had reportedly taken place, and he stood by his statement concerning Hoare, which was based on a letter from an unnamed individual (Bedford) of unquestionable integrity. He added that he was ready to support ‘any proposition for a fair commutation of tithes’ and believed that while the crown must remain Protestant, Catholics should be eligible for all public offices. Acland declared that Ebrington had ‘thrown down the gauntlet’ and that his honour and public character obliged him to ‘take it up’. He raised an anonymous handbill by ‘Quintus’, containing inaccurate statements about his voting record on retrenchment and tax reductions, which he ‘tore ... in pieces and threw ... among the freeholders’. He then categorically denied the allegation about his uncle, observing that Ebrington had ‘judiciously reserved’ it for the maximum electioneering effect; Hoare spoke to confirm his statement. In the ensuing discussion, Ebrington declined to identify the author of the accusing letter but admitted that he had made use of it during his canvass before Acland had had an opportunity to reply to it. Exeter presented a scene of ‘gaiety almost unprecedented’ the following Monday, as voters streamed in from all over the county. Bastard’s friends sported white and light blue colours ‘adorned with sprigs of ivy’, Ebrington’s purple and orange with laurel, and Acland’s purple and scarlet with oak; the last were ‘by far the most numerous’. Polling was ‘kept up with much spirit the whole of the day’ and at the end Acland led by 1,194 votes to Bastard’s 900 and Ebrington’s 861, although the latter’s friends claimed that they had many unpolled voters in the city and were ‘certain of ultimate success’. On the second, polling continued ‘with much vigour on all sides and voters were constantly arriving in vehicles of every description’. Acland consolidated his advantage, ending the day with 2,436 votes to Bastard’s 1,869 and Ebrington’s 1,713. Early on the third Ebrington asked for polling to be suspended, and he proceeded to make a statement admitting that his accusation against Hoare was based on the word of a third person rather than a direct conversation, and that it ‘turns out not to be true’; as it might have influenced the course of voting he felt it ‘incumbent on me ... to decline the contest’. Acland and Bastard were declared elected and paid tribute to Ebrington’s honourable decision, after which they were ‘girt with swords and the spur put on, as customary’. In the afternoon they were chaired ‘each in a beautiful car, most splendidly decorated with flags’, and later they dined at the Clarence with ‘nearly 300 gentlemen’.11

According to an analysis in Bastard’s papers, of 3,955 who polled, 64 per cent cast a vote for Acland, 50 for Bastard and 45 for Ebrington. Ebrington relied heavily on plumpers, receiving 1,166 (65 per cent of his total), while Acland had 347 (13) and Bastard 99 (five). Despite their denials of a coalition, Acland and Bastard had 1,716 split votes (70 and 77 per cent of their respective totals), whereas Acland and Ebrington received 483 (19 and 27) and Bastard and Ebrington 144 (seven and eight).12 Opinions differed as to Ebrington’s motives for retiring. One Whig commentator thought that certain success had been ‘prevented by an unguarded letter of the duke of Bedford and a high punctilio of delicacy in Lord Ebrington’, but a jubilant Rolle was sure that had Ebrington ‘not believed he was beaten this letter would not have prevented him from persevering’. Liverpool had no doubt that ‘this is a most important triumph’. However, as Lord Clifford of Ugbrooke, Devon’s foremost Catholic peer, observed, ‘the extraordinary nature of this contest does not ... settle the question between Ebrington and Bastard’, and both parties he believed were ‘sanguine’ as to a future contest. Ebrington was subsequently returned for Tavistock on Bedford’s interest. A preliminary estimate of his expenses for the county arrived at a figure of £5,617, but this was almost certainly incomplete. It was regretted that ‘owing to an unfortunate order given to some of the innkeepers by some gentlemen of the committee to ... make the voters comfortable, beer, cider and grogs are charged out of all bounds’. Travelling expenses were the other main item, but in some cases plumpers were receiving payments of £5. The other candidates’ expenses are not known, but Rolle reported that Bastard’s ‘must have been very considerable in conveying the voters’, for which Rogers was responsible.13

In November 1820 the news of the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline prompted celebrations all over the county, at many of which the ministerial ‘green bag’ was ceremonially burned. Addresses to the queen were sent by non-parliamentary boroughs such as Appledore, Axminster, Bideford, Sidmouth, South Molton and Teignmouth, and Appledore and South Molton also addressed the king for the dismissal of ministers.14 The sheriff, Sir John Davie of Creedy, summoned a county meeting by requisition, 16 Mar. 1821, to petition Parliament against Catholic relief. It was held at short notice, owing to the desire for a pronouncement while Plunket’s relief bill was before the Commons, but the nisi prius court at Exeter Castle was ‘crowded in every part’. Letters were read from Rolle, opposing concession, and from Morley, supporting it. Arthur Howe Holdsworth*, governor of Dartmouth Castle, moved the petition and was seconded by Pole. Ebrington delivered a long historical speech, from which he concluded that emancipation posed no threat to the constitution, and he moved a pro-Catholic amendment which was seconded by Captain Calmady Hamlyn of Leawood. Their supporters included Tucker, Clifford, the Rev. John Pyke Jones of North Bovey and Isaac Cox of Honiton, who maintained that ‘his friends, the Dissenters’, favoured emancipation as repeal of the Test Acts would inevitably follow. The amendment was defeated by ‘about four to one’ and the original motion carried ‘with loud cheers’. Bastard and Rolle presented the petition, 23 Mar.15 Following a requisition signed by 151 men, Davie summoned another meeting, 5 Apr., to consider the causes of economic distress, government retrenchment and parliamentary reform. It was hoped that the agriculturists and reformers would unite, but the attendance was ‘less numerous than on former occasions’, apparently between 1,000 and 1,200, as the anti-reformers ‘purposely absented themselves’ and ‘very few’ of the ‘leaders of the county were present’. A letter was read from Rolle, advising the meeting not to allow distress to become entangled with the ‘old bugbear, parliamentary reform’. Ebrington, who moved to petition the Commons, argued that increased protection was no answer to the farmers’ problems, as consumers could not afford higher food prices, and that retrenchment and tax reductions offered the only remedy. However, the Commons had consistently failed to act and nothing could be achieved without the ‘reform of such glaring abuses’ as would render it ‘more truly the organ of the feelings and interests of the people’. Robert Newman, Member for Exeter, seconded the motion, which was supported by Fellowes, Hamlyn, Tucker, Colonel Claus Pell of Tiverton and Thomas Northmore of Cleve. Dennis moved an amendment for an anodyne petition which was greeted with ‘hisses and groans’, and on a show of hands, ‘one only was observable ... for the amendment’ whereas the original motion was ‘received with thunders of applause’. The Devon liberals had thus ‘reared for the first time the standard of constitutional reform’. Some 4,550 names were attached to the petition, which was presented on 17 Apr. 1821 by Acland, an opponent of reform, and supported by Ebrington, who claimed that over 4,000 of the signatories were freeholders.16

On 18 Jan. 1822 ‘upwards of 500 gentlemen of great respectability and landed property’ met in Exeter to petition Parliament for relief from agricultural distress. Drake proposed resolutions calling for ‘efficient’ protective duties and was seconded by the Rev. Henry Barker. Tucker and Hamlyn objected that the real solution lay in economy and retrenchment, and they advocated a county meeting in order to enhance the ‘weight and influence’ of the proposed petition. Acland favoured this mode of proceeding and Tucker’s motion was ‘carried by a large majority’. The requisition to Davie was signed by 52 prominent individuals of all parties, and it was estimated that ‘between 5 and 6,000 persons’ assembled at Exeter Castle, 1 Feb. Fortescue moved the petition and was seconded by Rolle and Newman. Fellowes moved an amendment calling for ‘a timely reform in the House of Commons’, which was deprecated by Clifford and others as introducing ‘topics foreign to the intention of the requisitionists’. Tucker seconded the amendment, which was also supported by Hamlyn and Pell. The main motion was carried ‘by acclamation, without a dissentient voice’, and after a separate vote the amendment was ‘carried by a considerable majority and embodied with the original petition’. Acland endorsed the call for retrenchment but stated, amidst ‘much noise and disapprobation’, that the amendment would ‘receive no pledge of support’ from him, as the meeting was not unanimous on reform and many of those present were not freeholders. Bastard said he considered it his duty to support the petition, while Rolle promised to present it to the Lords but would not sign it. The liberal press greeted the outcome of the meeting as ‘a signal defeat of the Tories’. Acland and Rolle duly presented the petition, 25 Feb.17 In November 1822 Ebrington wrote to Hamlyn that ‘we ought to do something before the next session’ on the subject of reform, ideally by joining ‘a simultaneous movement of several ... counties’ to emulate the example of Yorkshire, where a requisition for a county meeting had been organized. This he believed would hold out fresh hope to ‘our slow moving yeomanry and enable us to muster at a county meeting’, which might otherwise be poorly attended because of ‘the inability of the Tories to make a fight’ and Parliament’s discouraging treatment of previous petitions. He chaired a meeting of freeholders in Exeter later that month, when a committee was formed to organize a requisition, but it was decided to delay forwarding it so that the county meeting could be timed to coincide with that in Yorkshire. Lord Lansdowne, a national Whig leader, observed that the ‘particular’ circumstances in Devon, where there was ‘a great body of independent yeomanry’ and the ‘large resident proprietors’ were ‘almost without exception hostile’ to reform, would make a meeting there a valuable ‘test’ of the extent to which the issue had gained ground in the country.18 The requisition, signed by 626, was finally sent to the sheriff, Thomas Bewes of Plymouth, at the end of February 1823, only to be rejected. Consequently the reform committee arranged for a county meeting to be summoned on the authority of five magistrates, including Ebrington. He chaired the meeting on 11 Apr., but the attendance was ‘thin ... certainly not more than 800 persons being present at any period’. The petition, moved by one Budd and seconded by Tucker, lamented Parliament’s ‘perfectly nugatory’ response to previous petitions and condemned the ‘lavish waste of money’, especially on military forces which threatened popular liberties, and a foreign policy that acquiesced in the ‘spoliation and violence’ of the Holy Alliance. These evils were traceable to ‘the illegal influence in the construction of the representative body’, which rendered the Commons subservient to the will of ‘arbitrary and extravagant’ ministers; a ‘real and efficient representation of the people’ was therefore required. After speeches from Hamlyn, Jones and Northmore the petition was ‘carried unanimously’, as was a motion of censure on Bewes, and the meeting closed with ‘three hearty cheers’ for the ‘brave Spaniards’. By the time Ebrington presented the petition to the Commons, 2 June 1823, it had received 5,161 signatures, including those of 4,000 freeholders, of whom 3,370 had voted in 1820.19

At the dissolution in June 1826 Acland and Bastard offered again, but it was reported that whereas Ebrington’s friends wished to nominate him and ‘go to a poll, without expense or personal inconvenience to him’, he had ‘declined all pretensions’ and disapproved of such a ‘vexatious, harassing and fruitless opposition’. A High Tory in Exeter wrote to the home secretary, Peel, in an attempt to find a supporter of the ‘old establishment’ willing to challenge Acland, but nothing came of this.20 Nevertheless, ‘the probability of a contest, even to the last hour, was a matter of speculation and anxiety’. There was a fairly large attendance at the nomination meeting, but most were ‘inhabitants of Exeter’. Bastard was proposed by Sir Lawrence Palk* of Ashburton and Baldwin Fulford junior of Great Fulford. Acland was sponsored by James Wentworth Buller* of Downes and Lyon, who commended him for being ‘entirely free from party spirit’ and emphasized his indefatigable services to the county, mentioning his efforts to secure the repeal of the license duty on cider retailers. Jones declared that many of those present were determined not to ‘suffer their representative to be returned by a junta of magistrates’ and argued that Bastard’s voting record showed him to be ‘wholly unfit’ to represent the freeholders, but he said he would be ‘happy’ to see Acland returned as an advocate of Catholic relief, slave emancipation and the education of the poor, although they differed on the reform question. He regretted that there was no one ‘of more weight than himself to demand a poll’ and hoped that ‘whenever the proper time did arrive ... they would not be led aside by the senseless cry of No Popery’. Bastard and Acland spoke briefly, then Fellowes explained that he would always support the freeholders ‘if a proper opportunity offered’ but would engage in no ‘vexatious’ opposition. However, on election day the proceedings ‘very suddenly changed [their] passive features into the full bustle and activity of a contest’. Bastard was introduced, amidst ‘deafening’ shouts, confusion and disorder, by Pole and Holdsworth, whereas Acland’s sponsors, Northcote and John Kennaway of Exeter, were loudly cheered. Jones announced that he considered it his duty to nominate Ebrington and bemoaned the fact that his supporters had been ‘betrayed’ by ‘false friends’. He repeated his attack on Bastard, challenged him to state his views on reform and the commutation of tithes and promised to continue the contest ‘as long as a single vote can be brought to the poll’; he was seconded by Yolland of Crediton. Bastard would ‘give no pledge to any man living on any point’, and Acland deprecated a contest on behalf of an absentee. On a show of hats, the sheriff decided in favour of Acland, but a second showing was necessary before he decided for Ebrington over Bastard. At this point the Rev. William Carwithen of Manaton arrived with authority to state that Ebrington was ‘neither directly nor indirectly ... privy to this opposition’. Bastard’s friends demanded a poll, which lasted from two o’clock until six, when Jones was persuaded to withdraw. Acland and Bastard were declared elected, ‘girt according to ancient custom with sword and spurs’ and rode on horseback through the main streets, ‘attended by trumpeters and a man in a blue dress, bearing the golden fleece’ (representing the squire originally attendant on the knights and the traditional source of Devon’s prosperity). They later dined with ‘a large company of their friends’ at the Subscription Rooms and visited several inns where ‘upwards of 900 gentlemen and freeholders’ were being entertained.21

In late 1828 anti-Catholic meetings were held in several Devon towns, including Newton Abbot (where a Brunswick Club was formed), Bideford and Kingsbridge, and the instigators, principally John Yarde Buller of Lupton House and the Rev. Henry Lyte of Brixham, subsequently organized a requisition for a county meeting. Rolle, who was unable to draw an opinion from the prime minister, the duke of Wellington, as to the desirability of such a proceeding, refused to sign the requisition, as did Bastard, Northcote and other leading anti-Catholics, but it was observed that ‘the undercurrent sits so strong here that the little squires’ were determined to go ahead. The sheriff, William Langmead of Elfordleigh, fixed the meeting for 16 Jan. 1829, and the attendance was expected to be ‘the largest ever witnessed in Devon’.22 John Carew, Acland’s attorney, reported ‘the general impression’ that ‘the meeting is a run at you, and I am disposed to believe it as far as concerns Colonel Drake and some others of the more violent ... movers’. Carew thought the Protestants were bound to carry the day and warned that ‘there are three or four master workmen in Exeter such as Cornish the builder, Wills the plasterer, etc., who will ... fill the [Castle] Yard with their men and superintendents before the real freeholders can be assembled’.23 The day before the meeting Exeter was already ‘very full of country gentlemen’, and the ‘Liberals’ gathered at the New London inn to discuss their tactics. Early next morning ‘large masses of freeholders, yeomanry and others poured in’ to the city and the atmosphere was similar to that of an ‘election excitement’, with ‘declamatory squibs, handbills and even pamphlets’ being circulated, ‘some ... couched in the most reprehensible language, calculated to inflame the mind’. One Whig newspaper complained that the ‘Brunswickers’ had spent lavishly on their campaign and that ‘in the South Hams in particular, every means has been used to bring up the lower orders against the Catholics’. The Castle Yard was filled by a ‘dense and closely-wedged mass’, consisting of ‘10 to 12,000 persons’, and ‘the majority of rank, influence and talent’ were present. Fursdon moved a petition to Parliament expressing Devon’s ‘unalterable attachment’ to the Protestant constitution of 1688. Fulford, the seconder, raised the spectre of 50 or 60 Irish Catholics in the Commons returned by the priests. Morley warned that ‘the church and state ... are in imminent hazard of destruction by continuing those ruinous and oppressive laws’, and he feared that ‘a serious national calamity will ensue’ if the petition was carried by ‘a triumphant majority’. He proposed an amendment leaving the subject to Parliament, which was seconded by William Courtenay*, former Tory Member for Exeter. Holdsworth spoke in favour of the petition, as did Sir Thomas Lethbridge, Member for Somerset. Ebrington supported the amendment and also advocated a reform of tithes. Several other speakers, including Acland, were unable to obtain a hearing as the proceedings became increasingly disorderly. Ignoring requests from Lord John Russell* and others to adjourn, Langmead called for a show of hands and declared that the amendment was ‘negatived by a large majority’. The original motion was ‘carried with tremendous shoutings and applause’ by a majority estimated to be ‘about 15 to one’. Acland, amidst the ‘utmost confusion’, said he could not support the petition. The meeting ‘excited a very considerable degree of interest throughout the kingdom’ and the petition, signed by 25,800 people, was presented to the Lords by Rolle, 23 Feb., and the Commons by Bastard, 24 Feb., when Acland presented a counter-petition from 2,200 freeholders and leaseholders, including 50 magistrates, 20 clergymen and the majority of the aristocracy.24 Acland duly voted for emancipation, while Bastard continued to oppose it. Notwithstanding their defeat the Whigs professed to be encouraged by the outcome of the meeting, and Ebrington’s brother maintained that ‘we cut ... a far better figure than we expected’. Russell reported that Ebrington had spoken ‘admirably’ and that ‘many of the Dissenters were very ardent and useful; one or two turned in consequence of my writing to them’. James Wentworth Buller, a supporter of Acland, believed the meeting had demonstrated the existence of a large body of ‘rank, property, respectability and talent’ favourable to the cause of emancipation, which had ‘gained immensely’ owing to the extremism of the requisitionists, who had alienated ‘the more influential and moderate of their own side’. He claimed that the real majority for the anti-Catholic petition had only been ‘three to one’. The most important legacy of the meeting was Ebrington’s speech at a subsequent dinner, in which he declared that the Catholic question was so paramount that he and his friends were ‘bound to give [Acland] unqualified support on a future occasion’, regardless of their differences on other issues. As Ebrington’s brother noted, ‘the set that was made at Acland was ... disgraceful. I only trust that the union of his party and ours ... will secure him his seat if [the anti-Catholics] carry into effect their threat ... of opposing him at the next election’.25 On 20 Feb. 1829 ‘about 100 gentlemen of high respectability’ attended a Protestant meeting in Exeter chaired by Fursdon, where Fulford’s motion for an address to the king requesting a dissolution was carried with ‘only three dissentients’; between ‘30 and 40,000’ signatures were obtained before it was presented by Rolle.26

At the end of 1829 Rolle warned Wellington that the peace of the county was likely to be disturbed by another county meeting, on tithes reform. Fellowes and Hamlyn instigated the requisition to Davie, which was carefully organized as ‘we do not know who are friends or foes’; it finally received ‘about 1,150’ signatures. The ‘severe’ weather on 15 Jan. 1830 presumably affected the attendance, which was variously estimated at between 600 and 2,000; Bastard was absent owing to his wife’s confinement. The petition stated that the tithes system was injurious to the interests both of religion and agriculture and called for ‘a better mode of payment’, without making any specific recommendation. It was moved by Fellowes, who detected an opportune moment for Parliament to act now that the Catholic question had been settled, and seconded by Hamlyn. Charles Bird of Plymouth launched an ‘unexpected attack’ on the Members, complaining of their disdainful attitude towards previous petitions. However, the petition was ‘carried unanimously’ and Acland received ‘the loudest plaudits’ when he promised to present it, although he ‘did not feel himself called upon to declare what course he should adopt’. Nearly 7,000 names were obtained for the petition, which was presented by Acland with a cursory speech, 11 May, and by Fortescue, 14 May 1830. It appeared to one newspaper that ‘a mountain in labour has brought forward a mouse’.27

In May 1830, with an early dissolution seeming increasingly likely, Bastard was warned that Fellowes, Hamlyn and others had ‘for some time’ been ‘canvassing ... for electioneering purposes’, under the cover of ‘county business’. He was advised to consult with ‘a few confidential friends’ and he duly notified Rolle that, contrary to the impression created by his infrequent public appearances, he had no intention of retiring. The following month Fellowes told Hamlyn that he had received a letter from Ebrington, ‘in unison with our wishes that we might put him in nomination yet not involve him in a contested election’, and he proposed that they should sound out the freeholders ‘before other candidates come to the post’.28 Acland and Bastard issued their formal addresses on 7 July, but Ebrington’s position remained unclear and it was speculated that the sitting Members might be unopposed. Fellowes chaired a meeting in Exeter of the ‘Friends of Independence’, 16 July, which agreed to requisition Ebrington. He was privately advised the same day that ‘the stumbling block will be the means for carrying on a contest to a successful issue’, as ‘there is not the power to raise a sufficient fund unless a great personal sacrifice is made by yourself and Mr. Fellowes’. Ebrington’s hesitation in accepting the invitation ostensibly stemmed from feelings of delicacy towards Acland, to whom he had pledged his support in January 1829, but letters from his mother suggest that he was ‘not at all sanguine about his prospects’ and doubted the wisdom of coming forward. One of the requisitionists, Pell, bluntly told him that ‘some of us are determined to enter the lists by ourselves’ and might well ‘propose ... and carry you through the contest, even without your sanction’. Ebrington finally agreed to be nominated, but stipulated that he would take ‘no personal or pecuniary part’ in the contest and emphasized that it would be a ‘matter of the deepest regret’ if his return was ‘procured by [Acland’s] exclusion’. A second meeting of his friends, 23 July, expressed satisfaction with this reply, and he was assured of a ‘general disposition’ among them ‘to support Acland’.29 Following an inquiry from his agent, Bastard made clear his ‘determination ... not to spend any money in a contest’, as he had previously ‘applied nearly £20,000 to the common cause and more I cannot expend’. He publicly announced his unwillingness to authorize any expenditure that might compromise his ‘independence’ and ability to serve the county ‘with unsullied honour’, and said he would incur only ‘necessary legal expenses’. Acland too informed the freeholders that he would no longer participate in ‘so wasteful and ruinous a system’ of electioneering. None of the candidates canvassed in person, but the friends of all three established networks of district committees throughout the county, to canvass and raise local subscriptions. The ‘good old constitutional and honourable practice’ of wealthy freeholders offering to convey voters to the poll at their own expense was ‘very generally adopted’, and Ebrington in particular benefited from the gratuitous services of lawyers, including James Tyrrell of Exeter, James Partridge of Tiverton and Cox of Honiton, men who were at the forefront of the challenge to established Tory interests in their respective boroughs.30 Tyrrell reported that the canvassing returns were so favourable as to amount ‘almost ... to unanimity’, and even in Bastard’s South Hams stronghold there was ‘powerful hostility against [him] and the more influential yeomanry have in very large numbers declared themselves in our favour’. A Whig newspaper claimed that ‘the farmers remember their friend in Parliament and at the sessions, in the reduction of the taxes and county rates’, adding that most were also ‘well inclined to assist’ Acland because of his support for the tithes petition. From the far south west of the county, Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s steward assured Bastard of his employer’s ‘undivided support’ in the event of an Acland-Ebrington coalition, adding that those tenants who had pledged for Ebrington without consulting Mount Edgcumbe’s wishes had been told that their conduct would only be overlooked if they abstained. Bastard was advised by one activist in Kingsbridge that if he declared his support for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty for forgery, ‘these points with the Dissenters, of which unhappily we have a tolerable share ... will insure many votes’; but Bastard would give no pledges. His supporters tried to raise the ‘No Popery’ cry against Ebrington, dwelling on his £20 subscription to the Catholic Association. They were also accused of profligacy in their expenditure, and Ebrington later received a report that whereas the ‘poorer freeholders’ in his interest had accepted £2 for their expenses, Bastard’s ‘ungentlemanly’ agents had offered them three guineas.31 As in 1820, the election proceedings were interrupted by a county meeting, 30 July 1830, to agree an address of condolence to William IV. Clifford and Northcote were the mover and seconder, but Northmore proposed an amendment asking the king to ‘take into consideration the privations and distresses the county is now suffering’, which arose from ‘the want of influence which the people have in the Commons’; Pell seconded him. Ebrington advised that it was inappropriate to ‘mix up these matters’ and Northmore withdrew after the sheriff, John Beaumont Swete of Oxton, promised to summon another meeting if it was desired; the address was then ‘unanimously adopted’.32

On nomination day, a Saturday, the ‘excitement of the contest was fully manifested’ in Exeter, as some ‘8 to 10,000 persons’ gathered in Castle Yard, including ‘many well-dressed females’; sprigs of laurel, oak and ivy were everywhere in evidence. Bastard arrived ‘accompanied by a great number of clerical gentlemen’. He was introduced by Yarde Buller, who commended his vote for repeal of the coal duty, and by Fulford. Acland was sponsored by Courtenay and Henry Northcote, and Ebrington by Fellowes and Sir George Bampfylde (who had succeeded his father in 1823). Bastard declared that his principles were ‘unaltered’, and Acland declined to offer any pledges because ‘if they were required after ... 17 years’ service, the service itself could not be worth the having’. Ebrington condemned the ‘calumnies by which I have been attacked by the degraded part of the press’, which had accused him of breaking his pledge to Acland. He explained that he would personally support Acland, for his ‘defence of religious liberty’ and assiduous attention to county business, but had never said ‘one word about not opposing Mr. Bastard’. He then retired and took no active part in the subsequent proceedings. On a show of hands, ‘about a sixth’ supported Bastard, ‘about four-fifths’, including Ebrington’s friends but not Bastard’s, favoured Acland, and ‘about two-thirds’ were for Ebrington; Bastard demanded a poll. The election began the following Tuesday, when ‘the most immense concourse of spectators’ that one newspaper could recall gathered within the Castle walls. Bastard was nominated by Palk and Drake, who amidst considerable uproar attacked Ebrington for supporting the Catholic Association and the removal of agricultural protection. Acland was again sponsored by Lyon, who emphasized his support for ‘all sound retrenchment’ and his vote ‘in favour of humanity on the forgery question’, and by Templar, while Ebrington was proposed by Sir Bourchier Wrey of Tawstock and Hamlyn. Bastard and Acland spoke briefly and George Fortescue*, representing his brother, denied the rumours of a coalition with Acland. Polling commenced immediately and at the end of the day Ebrington led by 694 votes to Bastard’s 556 and Acland’s 516. It was ‘evident’ that Bastard’s friends were ‘in direct opposition’ to Acland, who complained that placards alleging a coalition had lost him many split votes and therefore ‘threw himself upon the independent sense of the county’. Long before polling resumed on the second day, ‘every quarter of the city was roused by the sound of drums, horns and trumpets, heading parties of freeholders from the country’, a ‘very large of number’ of whom ‘wore a leaf of laurel and oak in their hats’. There seemed to be a ‘determination’ among the Ebringtonians to ‘split, and give Sir Thomas a lift’, and the Bastard camp suspected an agreement between the other party agents. Several handbills were circulated during the day, one of which argued that ‘the state of the poll renders it ... advisable for those who wish to annihilate slavery ... and abolish punishment of death for forgery to vote for [Ebrington and Acland] in preference to giving plumpers to either’, while another recommended split voting as the surest way of obtaining action on ‘tithes, taxes and corruption’. Voters were urged to ‘save your country by reform and retrenchment, by abolishing the tithes system and lessening taxation. Do not run the risk of producing a revolution in the country like that in France, which the conduct of such men [as Bastard] tends to produce’. At the end of the day, Ebrington still led with 1,830 votes, but Acland with 1,656 had overtaken Bastard on 1,391. On the third, the ‘arrivals of oak and laurel were immense’ and polling continued with ‘increased and desperate energy’, but it was clear that Bastard was ‘fighting an uphill game’ and by the end of the day Ebrington and Acland had increased their advantage. Bastard declared that he was ready to keep the poll open till the last, but threw himself upon the advice of his committee; Rogers, the chairman, recommended that he should retire. That night Exeter was ‘most unusually animated’. Next morning the poll was formally opened and closed, Ebrington and Acland were declared elected, ‘girt with swords and spurs according to prescriptive usage’ and rode through the streets accompanied by a band and ‘the blue man’. Ebrington dined that evening with ‘about 200’ supporters at the New London inn, where he gave credit to Wellington’s government for settling the Catholic question and for not issuing the usual ‘treasury mandate’ in such places as Plymouth, but he observed that the recent ‘glorious events’ in France showed the need for immediate action on reform. Acland, dining with his friends at the Subscriptions Rooms, praised his committee for ‘preventing the enormous expense which was generally incurred’.33

It was ‘conjectured that one half of the freeholders only’ had voted. According to a newspaper analysis, 5,233 polled, of whom 56 per cent cast a vote for Ebrington, 53 for Acland and 42 for Bastard. Bastard had 1,489 plumpers (70 per cent of his total), Ebrington 745 (25) and Acland 350 (13). Ebrington and Acland received 1,964 split votes (67 and 70 per cent of their respective totals), Acland and Bastard 450 (16 and 21) and Ebrington and Bastard 235 (eight and 11).34 To an outside observer, it was a ‘great sign of the times’ that Bastard had been rejected in ‘the most Tory county in England’. Rolle believed that Bastard had been the victim of a ‘most unfair and unjust coalition’, and Ebrington’s agents maintained that they had carried Acland’s election for him. In wider Tory circles, the conclusion was that the ‘cry for economy and retrenchment’ had been fatal, but that Bastard was a ‘feeble candidate’. He received a disturbing report that his own steward had ‘by his oppressive conduct to your tenantry materially injured your cause and lost you at least 500 votes out of the South Hams’.35 Ebrington, whose election cost him nothing, offered to contribute £1,000 to his committee’s ‘general fund’, but it was hoped this would not be needed. His and Acland’s committees were expected to agree on joint expenses of between £1,000 and £1,200. There is no way of verifying a newspaper claim that Bastard’s vote had been ‘procured at an expense hitherto unequalled in a county election’, but his personal outlay was £2,000.36 Ebringtonian dinners were held all over the county well into the autumn.37 In September and October a series of dinners for the ‘friends of the good old constitutional cause’ also took place. Privately, Bastard learned that there was ‘not ... the least hope of our being able to return you again’, and as an early declaration of his intentions was required he made it known that he would not stand at any future election. His brother John, Member for Dartmouth, chaired a meeting in Exeter, 21 Oct. 1830, when Holdsworth, Fursdon, Fulford, Lyte and others agreed to form a Devon Constitutional Society, in emulation of the Whig County Club, so that they might ‘fill the hiatus in the representation of the Tory politics of this county’. By January 1831 it was reported that Yarde Buller was likely to be their new champion.38

In September 1830 Fellowes and Hamlyn sought to organize a requisition for a county meeting on reform, but Ebrington doubted the utility of early action since Parliament was unlikely to debate the subject in the short session before Christmas and it would be difficult to ‘get any great body of people to assemble again ... so soon after the election’. He recommended delay in the hope that they might later ‘act in concert with some other counties in calling simultaneous meetings’. The requisition, signed by ‘upwards of 1,750 freeholders’, was eventually sent to Swete in November and a meeting summoned for the 26th. By then the movement had ‘lost a great portion of its zest’, because of the formation of Lord Grey’s ministry, and the attendance was ‘altogether the smallest of a county meeting for purposes of this kind’ that one newspaper could remember, perhaps only 600. The Rev. John Fortescue apologized for his brother’s absence owing to ‘indisposition’. Fellowes, in moving the petition, said he was ready to leave the remedy to Parliament, though he personally regarded the abolition of rotten boroughs and the secret ballot as essential; he ‘abhorred’ universal suffrage and annual parliaments. Thomas Buller of Whimple seconded and the other speakers included Northmore and Hamlyn. The petition was ‘carried unanimously’ and Acland received ‘great applause’ when he observed that he would not look abroad for examples of how to act but hoped to see ‘a wise ... national ... safe improvement in the ... Commons’. Ebrington and Fortescue presented the petition, signed by 6-7,000 people, 16, 28 Feb. 1831.39 Rolle had previously advised Wellington that he could not answer for the possible effects of the meeting on public order, which was also threatened in his opinion by the injurious moral consequences of the Sale of Beer Act and the proliferation of cider houses. However, there were only a handful of violent outbreaks in November and December 1830, mostly incendiary attacks on threshing machines, with a tithes riot at Swinbridge. On 3 Dec. 1830 the county magistrates met in Exeter to hear the official advice from the home office, and special constables were consequently sworn in in Exeter and the other main towns as a precautionary measure.40 Following a requisition signed by ‘about 90’ men the sheriff, Wrey, convened a county meeting to petition the Commons in favour of the ministry’s reform bill, 16 Mar. 1831. The numbers present were ‘very limited’, probably never exceeding 1,200 to 1,400, and Acland’s agent dismissed it as ‘a failure’. Fellowes, again the mover, urged the people to show that ‘we are satisfied with the principle of the bill and would have it adopted’, even though it did not ‘make our hair stand upon our heads’; Newman seconded him. Tucker welcomed the measure, which gave the people ‘the chance of throwing off their bonds ... and being free’, and he hoped to see a rejuvenated constitution, ‘like the majestic oak’; he ended with four words, ‘reduce, revive, retrench, reform’. James Rodd of Dunchideock reflected that ‘we are in ... happier times’ with ‘a sovereign who is not a conqueror, but the father of his people’. The petition was ‘carried unanimously’ and presented by Ebrington, 19 Mar. Two days later the Devon Constitutional Society held its ‘first official dinner’, attended by ‘upwards of 100 members’, who ‘adopted a petition to Parliament embodying their opinions’ on reform; it was not presented.41 Both Members supported the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar. A meeting of the ‘Friends of Reform’ at the Globe, 6 Apr., resolved that in the event of a dissolution they would support only candidates who promised to give ‘a decided adherence to the general principles’ of the bill. Acland was informed that some had wanted to press him for an explicit statement of his views, but ‘this was not carried’. Ebrington voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., but Acland supported it. Three days later Fellowes chaired another meeting, which pledged to work for Ebrington’s return at the impending general election and agreed that since Acland had forfeited their confidence Russell (Bedford’s son and author of the bill) should be invited to stand. Acland published an address next day in which he announced that given the ‘ample testimony ... from very opposite quarters’ of a determination to remove him, he had decided to retire but would attend the nomination meeting to explain his position. Russell’s letter accepting the invitation to stand was read at a third meeting at the Globe, 27 Apr.42 Handbills were meantime circulated urging the freeholders not to pledge themselves as arrangements were being made to bring forward ‘two gentlemen of independent and constitutional principles’; the names of Yarde Buller and Alexander Baring* were mentioned. A meeting of the ‘Friends of the Constitution’ chaired by Fursdon, 29 Apr. 1831, concluded that opposition to the government at that time ‘might be so perverted as to have the character assigned to it of ... fighting against their king’, but they resolved to uphold their principles ‘whenever [a] fitting opportunity should present itself’ and provide financial assistance to their chosen candidate. Rumours nevertheless persisted that they might after all nominate Acland. There appeared to be almost ‘universal’ enthusiasm in the county for reform and the Dissenters were said to be undertaking ‘extraordinary exertions’ on behalf of the Whig candidates. Canvassers in the vicinity of Tiverton reported that out of over 200 freeholders visited they had ‘met with but two hesitations’.43

Russell’s presence in Exeter ‘roused the spirit of curiosity to an extraordinary extent’, and some 6 to 8,000 people assembled for the nomination meeting. Fellowes and John Quicke of Newton St. Cyres proposed Ebrington, while Russell was introduced by Bampfylde and Davie. Ebrington rejoiced at the opportunity afforded by Acland’s prudent retirement to ‘still more identify yourselves with the reform bill’, and Russell stated that the king required them to ‘pronounce distinctly aye or no’ on a measure which aimed to restore the constitution ‘to its original condition’ and ‘more truly associate the House of Commons with the other institutions of the state’. Acland delivered a lengthy account of his relationship with the county, claiming that the ‘system of distrust’ towards him had originated in the Catholic emancipation crisis of 1829, which caused many friends to ‘part from my side’. Support from other sources had saved him in 1830, but he had then suffered a ‘double defection’ as Fellowes ‘blew his hunting horn and called his pack together’ in order to drive him out, while the unrelenting hostility of the Protestant Tories meant they had sacrificed ‘an old friend ... not to elevate anyone whose opinions more accorded with their own but to throw the whole weight of county representation the other way’. He provoked ‘great uproar’ by asserting that before March ‘the minds of men were not at all prepared for anything like the [reform] measure that was then produced’. On election day, many of the principal shops and houses were ‘profusely decorated with laurel’ and an ‘enormous cavalcade’ escorted Ebrington and Russell to the hustings. Ebrington was sponsored by Thomas Buller, who declared that in him the freeholders possessed ‘a champion [who] would lay open the dark course of corruption’, and by the veteran reformer Pell, who claimed that without the bill ‘there would have been a revolution in the country’. Russell was proposed by Edward Divett, the unsuccessful candidate for Exeter, and Jasper Parrott of Dundridge, who argued that ‘beneficial results would flow’ from ‘this preliminary measure of reform’, including the reduction of taxation, abolition of pensions and sinecures, a ‘fair consideration of the tithes question’, and removal of the East India Company’s monopoly of the China trade, which would lead to an ‘extension of commerce’. Ebrington and Russell were duly declared elected, and the former made a triumphal speech recalling his past contests. Russell declared that the result was ‘virtually a direction’ to present the reform bill again and said he had no fear of ‘asking a renewal of [their] trust’ at the next election, although the Tories were already canvassing against him. He issued a separate address to the United Committee of Protestant Dissenting Deputies thanking them for their generous financial support, which had ‘helped to prevent the struggle’ intended by the Tories. The usual procession of the Members followed, and that evening ‘about 200’ supporters gathered at the New London inn for an ‘ordinary and dessert’, paid for by themselves, so that ‘the Members incurred no expense’; there was, ‘in contradistinction to elections of former times, no feasting, no carousing’. Ebrington’s election expenses were just £459. He and Bampfylde left that night to assist in the campaign against the Tory Member for Cornwall, Sir Richard Vyvyan.44

On 12 Aug. 1831 Fellowes and Hamlyn convened a meeting of tithe owners and payers at the Globe, where it was ‘resolved unanimously’ that the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill to facilitate composition offered ‘no substantial relief’ to the farmers, that a ‘permanent commutation’ was the only remedy and that a committee should be formed to organize a requisition for a county meeting; ‘upwards of 2,000’ signatures were subsequently gathered. Ebrington attended a second meeting, 2 Sept., when he explained that he favoured the archbishop’s bill and stressed the ‘impolicy’ of a county meeting, which might encourage the anti-reformers to raise the ‘church in danger’ cry. There followed a ‘lengthened debate’ before Divett and Davie’s resolution to delay forwarding the requisition until the bill reached the Commons was ‘carried unanimously’. Afterwards, Ebrington inquired as to the state of feeling in Devon on the reform bill, which he was assured was ‘more earnest than ever’, and suggested petitioning the Lords for its speedy passage.45 A requisition with over 300 signatures was forwarded to the sheriff and a meeting summoned for 30 Sept. Despite ‘the shortest notice ever known in this ... county’, an estimated 2 to 3,000 people attended; Russell was absent owing to the pressure of public business. Fellowes, in moving the petition, was confident that ‘constitutional means would prove strong enough to carry the bill’. Edward Elton of Greenway seconded, and other speakers included Northmore, who trusted that the peers would not ‘raise the question of hereditary wisdom’, Divett and Parrott. The petition was ‘carried unanimously’ and forwarded for presentation, 3 Oct. Ebrington congratulated the meeting and advised that ‘temper and perseverance must conquer’.46 Following the Lords’ rejection of the bill, Fellowes chaired another freeholders’ meeting at the Globe, 12 Oct. 1831, which agreed that in the ‘present excited state of the public mind’ another county meeting was ‘inexpedient’, but forwarded an address to the king requesting the use of ‘the means which the constitution has wisely placed in your hands’ to resolve the crisis. Devon was said by one Whig to be ‘perfectly quiet’, though ‘all [were] eager as ever for reform’, but the Tory bishop of Exeter, Henry Phillpotts, claimed that ‘the farmers in several quarters have given strong indications of a return to common sense and a dread of the reform bill’.47 In January 1832 a ‘Devonshire Declaration’ was published in the press, signed by nine peers including Rolle, 40 magistrates and ‘about 4,000 ... clergy, freeholders and leaseholders’. It praised the ‘manly and independent’ conduct of the Lords and sought to expose the ‘gross fallacy’ that the ‘bulk of property and respectability’ supported the reform bill, although the signatories were ‘not opposed to such reform of abuses as may be consistent with the ... preservation of all the rights and privileges of ... our glorious monarchical constitution’. On 23 Mar. Sir Trayton Drake of Nutwell Court chaired a ‘highly respectable meeting of gentlemen’ at the Clarence hotel, where Northcote and Sir John Duckworth of Topsham moved to petition against the proposed system of national education in Ireland, which compromised the ‘vital principles of Protestantism’. Letters of support were received from Rolle and Bastard and ‘nearly 9,000’ signatures were obtained for the petition, including 70 magistrates, 200 Anglican clergy and ‘many Dissenting ministers’; it was presented to the Lords by Phillpotts, 16 Apr., and the Commons by Ebrington, 11 May. Ebrington’s brother denied that there was any general political reaction in Devon, but he detected ‘a good deal of apprehension among the yeomanry ... on the subject of the corn laws’, as ‘they think the agricultural interest in danger and ... wish to see it strengthened’.48 At a meeting of the ‘Friends of Reform’ chaired by Fellowes, 4 May, a committee was formed to monitor the reform bill’s progress in the Lords and ‘judge of the propriety of calling a county meeting’. When Grey’s ministry resigned, another meeting was convened on the 15th at which Fellowes argued that a prompt expression of public opinion was required in order to avoid ‘shipwreck’; 359 signed a requisition to the sheriff. The ‘warmest approbation’ was also given to Ebrington’s Commons motion for the appointment only of ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired bill and, ‘anticipating an early dissolution’, an ‘immediate canvass’ was undertaken to secure Ebrington’s and Russell’s return, as the Tories were said to be ‘already in the field’. The attendance at the county meeting on 25 May was ‘doubtless considerably lessened’ by the reinstatement of Grey’s government, but it nevertheless ‘amounted to nearly 3,000’, including ‘the principal reformers of the county’. Fellowes explained that he had originally intended to move for an address to the king for the immediate creation of peers and a petition to the Commons to withhold supplies until the bill was carried. Instead, he moved for an address to the king recommending the use of his constitutional powers if necessary. He was seconded by Hamlyn and supported by Parrott, who looked forward to an era of honest government ‘combining all the utility of a well regulated monarchy with a near approach of the cheapness of a republican form of government’, and by Jones, who ‘looked on the reformers as the true conservators of England’. The address was carried unanimously, as was a petition to the Commons urging resistance to any amendments to the bill, three cheers were then given to the Members and ‘three groans for the bishop’, and a band struck up ‘God Save the King’ as the meeting dispersed. Ebrington presented the petition, 13 June 1832, and the address at a royal levee.49

By the Reform Act, Devon was divided into North and South. Barnstaple, Exeter, Honiton, Plymouth, Tavistock, Tiverton and Totnes retained their representation and two seats were given to Devonport, but Bere Alston, Okehampton and Plympton Erle were disfranchised and Ashburton and Dartmouth each lost one Member. The county’s representation was therefore reduced from 26 to 22. At the general election of 1832 Ebrington and Fellowes were returned unopposed for North Devon while Russell and a moderate Whig defeated Yarde Buller in the Southern division. Fellowes sat until his retirement in 1837 and Ebrington until his elevation to the peerage in 1839. Acland was returned as a Conservative for North Devon in 1837 and sat until his retirement in 1857, after which the representation was usually shared between the parties. Yarde Buller was returned for South Devon in 1835 and Russell was defeated at a by-election later that year; thereafter the constituency was monopolized by the Conservatives.

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 279-81; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 173-4; White’s Devon Dir. (1850), 25-26, 34-37; W. Hoskins, Devon, 66-68, 98, 128-30, 138-42, 210-14.
  • 2. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC10/87.
  • 3. W. Devon RO, Bastard mss 74/283, election acct. 15 Oct. 1816; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 340-1; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 24 Feb. 1820; The Times, 2 June 1823, 28 Sept. 1824.
  • 4. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C199/2, Stanhope to Rolle, 21 Feb. 1820.
  • 5. Devon RO, Acland mss 1148M add/12/6, letters from Riddell, 5 Feb., Gribble, 7 Feb., Heathfield, 7 Feb., H. Clifford, 11 Feb.; Alfred, 8, 15 Feb.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 10, 17 Feb. 1820.
  • 6. Acland mss add/12/6, letters from Riccard, 13 Feb., Hoare, 14 Feb., Eaton, 7 Mar.; Bastard mss 74/283, Kendall to Bastard, 24 Feb. 1820.
  • 7. Carew Pole mss CC/M/53, Morley to Pole Carew, 10 Feb.; Alfred, 22 Feb.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 24 Feb. 1820; Add. 38458, f. 310.
  • 8. Acland mss add/12/6, letters from Elford, 22 Feb., H. Clifford [c. 26 Feb.]; Alfred, 29 Feb.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 2 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Bastard mss 74/283, letters from Ford, 20 Feb., Kendall, 24, 26 Feb., Bastard’s address, 27 Feb.; Add. 38458, ff. 310-14; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to Bloomfield, 14 Mar., reply, 15 Mar.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 26 Feb.-18 Mar.; Alfred, 29 Feb.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 2 Mar. 1820.
  • 10. Wilts. RO, Simpson mss 130/75, Rev. Radford to Flindell, 22 Feb., Flindell to Morley, 25 Feb.; Bastard mss 74/283, Ford to Bastard, 27 Feb.; Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss 1262M/Elections 19, undated handbill; Acland mss add/12/6, letters from Eaton and Seale, 7 Mar.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 9, 16 Mar. 1820.
  • 11. Alfred, 14-28 Mar.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 23, 30 Mar.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 25 Mar. 1820; H. Whitfeld, Plymouth and Devonport, 455-7.
  • 12. Bastard mss 74/283, poll analysis; Devon RO QS 51/4, ms pollbook.
  • 13. Add. 38458, f. 326; 52444, f. 104; Arbuthnot Corresp. 14; Acland mss add/12/6, Lord Clifford to Acland, 23 Mar.; Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 19, Ballments to Ebrington, 2 Apr. 1820.
  • 14. Alfred, 21 Nov.-26 Dec. 1820, 2, 23, 30 Jan., 6 Feb. 1821.
  • 15. Ibid. 13, 20 Mar.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 Mar.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 22 Mar. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 196; LJ, liv. 125.
  • 16. Alfred, 27 Mar.-24 Apr.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 31 Mar., 7 Apr.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 12 Apr. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 275.
  • 17. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 19 Jan., 2 Feb. 2 Mar.; Alfred, 22 Jan., 5 Feb., 5 Mar.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 24 Jan., 7 Feb. 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 59; LJ, lv. 38.
  • 18. Devon RO, Hamlyn mss 1292M/Corresp. Ebrington to Hamlyn, 12 Nov.; Add. 51687, Lansdowne to Holland, 29 Dec.; Alfred, 24 Dec. 1822, 7 Jan. 1823.
  • 19. Alfred, 11, 18 Mar., 15 Apr.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 17 Apr. 1823; CJ, lxxviii. 357.
  • 20. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 27 May, 10 June; Alfred, 6 June; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 22 June 1826; Add. 40387, f. 94.
  • 21. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 15, 22 June; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 June; Alfred, 20 June 1826.
  • 22. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 8 Nov.-27 Dec. 1828, 3, 10 Jan. 1829; Wellington mss WP1/965/19; 968/25; Sneyd mss SC10/87; 17/42; Add. 51604, Granville to Holland, 8 Jan. 1829.
  • 23. Acland mss add/36/392.
  • 24. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 14, 22 Jan.; Western Times, 17 Jan.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17, 24 Jan., 21 Feb. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 81; LJ, lxi. 65; G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 142-3.
  • 25. Sneyd mss SC10/88; Add. 51677, Russell to Holland, 19 Jan; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/10/9; Western Times, 17 Jan. 1829.
  • 26. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 21, 28 Feb., 28 Mar.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 26 Feb., 5, 26 Mar. 1829.
  • 27. Wellington mss WP1/1061/18; Hamlyn mss, Fellowes to Hamlyn, 24 Jan.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 9, 16 Jan.; Western Times, 16 Jan., 22 May; Alfred, 19 Jan.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 21 Jan. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 406; LJ, lxii. 400.
  • 28. Bastard mss 74/281, Drake to Bastard, 5 May, Bastard to Rolle, 7 May; Hamlyn mss, Fellowes to Hamlyn, 19 June 1830.
  • 29. Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 20, letters from Ford, 16, 23 July, Pell, 18 July, Ebrington’s reply to requisition, 19 July; Add. 69362, Lady Fortescue to G. Fortescue, ‘Monday’, 20 July; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 10-24 July; Alfred, 13-27 July 1830.
  • 30. Bastard mss 74/281, letters to Rolle, 15 July, Kendall, 16 July; Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 20, Ford to Ebrington, 23 July; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 31 July, 7 Aug.; Western Times, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 31. Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 20, letters from Tyrrell, 27 July, Mauholy, 12 Aug.; Bastard mss 74/281, letters from Clarke, 30 July, reply, 31 July, Boger, 7, 10 Aug.; Western Times, 31 July 1830.
  • 32. Alfred, 3 Aug. 1830.
  • 33. Western Times, 7-21 Aug.; Alfred, 10, 17 Aug.; N. Devon Jnl. 12, 19 Aug.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 12-26 Aug.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 14 Aug. 1830; Whitfeld, 457-8.
  • 34. Alfred, 17, 24 Aug.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 21 Aug. 1830; Devon RO QS 51/6, ms pollbook.
  • 35. Bastard mss 74/281, letters from Rolle, 14 Aug., Bayley, 18 Aug; 74/282, from Hamilton, 24 Aug.; Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 20, Ford to Ebrington, 12 Aug.; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 36. Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 20, Tyrrell to Ebrington, 14 Aug.; Acland mss add/36/429; Bastard mss 74/281, election expenses; Western Times, 14, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 37. Western Times, 28 Aug.-25 Sept.; 9, 30 Oct.; Alfred, 26 Oct. 1830.
  • 38. Bastard mss 74/281, Pellew to Bastard, 5 Sept., Bastard to Rolle, 15 Oct.; Alfred, 7 Sept.-26 Oct.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 16, 23 Oct., 6 Nov. 1830; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 20 Jan. 1831.
  • 39. Hamlyn mss, Ebrington to Hamlyn, 23 Sept.; Western Times, 25 Sept., 27 Nov.; Alfred, 16, 30 Nov.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 27 Nov.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 2 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 255; LJ, lxiii. 266.
  • 40. Wellington mss WP1/1151/31; E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 102; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 9 Dec. 1830.
  • 41. Alfred, 15, 22 Mar.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 19 Mar. 1831; Acland mss add/36/448; CJ, lxxxvi. 406.
  • 42. Acland mss add/36/454; Alfred, 12 Apr.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 14, 28 Apr.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 43. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 28 Apr., 10 May; Plymouth Jnl. 28 Apr.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 30 Apr.; Plymouth Herald, 7 May; Add. 51663, Russell to Bedford, 29 Apr. 1831; Devon RO, Harrowby-Tiverton mss (xerox copy), xvii. 97.
  • 44. Besley’s Devon Chron. 7 May; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 7, 14 May; Alfred, 10, 17 May; Plymouth Weekly Jnl. 12 May; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 12 May 1831; Earl Fortescue mss, Elections 22, statement of expenses.
  • 45. N. Devon Jnl. 18, 25 Aug., 14 Sept.; Besley’s Devon Chron. 27 Aug., 3 Sept. 1831.
  • 46. Add. 61937, f. 125; Besley’s Devon Chron. 24 Sept., 1, 8 Oct.; Exeter Independent, 27 Sept., 4 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1039.
  • 47. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 20 Oct.; N. Devon Jnl. 20 Oct. 1831; Sneyd mss SC10/102; Wellington mss WP1/1201/13.
  • 48. Flindell’s Western Luminary, 17 Jan.; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 26 Jan.; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 Mar., 14 Apr.; Besley’s Devon Chron. 1 Apr. 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 307; LJ, lxiv. 170-1; Sneyd mss SC10/103.
  • 49. Besley’s Devon Chron. 6-27 May, 10 June; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 26 May; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 31 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 396.