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:

in the resident freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 25


6,111 (1821); 10,097 (1831)


9 June 1826SIR WILLIAM CURTIS, bt.
15 Dec. 1826JAMES LAW LUSHINGTON vice Curtis, vacated his seat
 JOHN EVELYN DENISON vice Wetherell, appointed to office
21 Apr. 1827JOSEPH PLANTA vice Lushington, vacated his seat
30 July 1830SIR HENRY FANE
 John Ashley Warre
 Robert Otway Cave
 William Taddy

Main Article

Hastings, the premier Cinque Port, was situated in the Bourne valley on the east Sussex coast. A thriving and expanding town with a mild climate, it had ‘long been in high repute as a watering place’ and was frequented by ‘numerous and fashionable visitors’. Neighbouring St. Leonards, to the west, was founded in 1828 but not developed until after 1832. Fishing and shipbuilding were the staple industries, but the most lucrative activity was smuggling.1 Hastings continued to be regarded as a treasury borough. Elections were managed by the local government agent Edward Milward (d. 1833) who, like his father before him, owned much property in and around the town and had ‘the entire control of the corporate body’. His power as ‘the person of the greatest natural local interest’ was enhanced by his access to patronage as comptroller of excise. His widow was fond of recalling the days when he had been ‘squire of the parish and a despotic magistrate, without whose leave no dog might bark’.2 Milward and his cronies in the self-elected corporation of a mayor and 12 jurats monitored and restricted admissions to the freedom, which was open to the eldest sons of freemen and in the gift of the corporation. Before late 1831 the nominal electorate numbered only about two dozen.3 Of the men returned in 1820 James Dawkins, who had sat for Hastings since 1812, was a wealthy ministerialist, and William Scott was the son of lord chancellor Eldon. It was later alleged that Scott paid 4,000 guineas for his seat, but rapidly discovered that there was ‘no satisfying’ the freemen, who were ‘continually applying for pensions and places’.4 Agriculturists of Hastings and neighbouring parishes petitioned both Houses for relief from distress in 1820 and 1821, and gentry, clergy, freeholders and occupiers of the rape of Hastings did so in February 1822.5 Inhabitants of Hastings petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief, 17 May 1825, and both Houses for the abolition of slavery in May 1826.6 At the general election of 1826 Dawkins and Scott were replaced by two more supporters of the Liverpool ministry, Sir William Curtis, a rich London banker and alderman, and Sir Charles Wetherell, the solicitor-general. After the election Curtis embarked on his yacht and set sail for Ramsgate, where he had a residence, while Wetherell dined with the corporation.7 At the end of the year they made way for James Lushington, a general in the Indian army and younger brother of the patronage secretary to the treasury, and John Evelyn Denison, a friend and adherent of the foreign secretary Canning, who had been promised ‘an eligible seat’ in return for stepping aside for the junior minister Wilmot Horton at Newcastle-under-Lyne. Denison, whose presence was ‘insisted’ on by Milward, recorded the proceedings in his diary:

Left town at two o’clock Sunday the 10th [Dec.] with ... Col. Lushington ... Slept at Battle. Monday 11 reached Hastings at half past nine. Mr. North, Mr. Milward’s nephew, called upon us ... and described the duties of the day ... At ten the mayor, jurats and freemen meet at breakfast; two of the leading men of the corporation, Mr. Shorter and Mr. Bossum, came to our rooms, and were introduced by Mr. North, the mayor. Mr. Shorter begged to have the distinguished honour of nominating Colonel Lushington, and Mr. Bossum requested the like service in my case. This settled, they begged, by the by, to know our names accurately. We wrote out our names at full length, and followed our leaders to the public room hard by where freemen were at breakfast. We were introduced to each individually, all 30 in number, and shook hands all round the table. At eleven we walked to the town hall close by, and there we were proposed and seconded and declared by a show of hands to be fit persons to represent the town and port of Hastings in Parliament ... At the door of the town hall our party broke up, and Mr. Shorter undertook to walk us round the town. Hastings has wonderfully improved since I was there in 1826. We called on the jurats in the course of our round, I think 12 in number. At three the whole party met at dinner at the Swan Inn. At six we changed to a side table and drank tea, and half an hour after Colonel Lushington and I took leave.

Denison returned to Hastings for the formalities on 15 Dec. 1826:

Breakfasted with the elective body at ten. Went to the hall at eleven. Elected. One thing did surprise me. The hall was full of tradesmen, not electors; they joined in a cheer at the conclusion of our election. Made an apology for being obliged to come up to town ... Subscribed a guinea to each of the three libraries, and I am obliged to send a paper, the Sun, to the deputy mayor ... which I think a d____d shame.8

In April 1827 Lushington vacated for Planta, his brother’s successor as patronage secretary in Canning’s administration, who, as it happened, had a house at Fairlight Place, three miles from Hastings, once the property of Mrs. Milward. Planta retained his office in the Wellington ministry, but by 1830 Denison was in opposition with Huskisson and other former Canningites. Owners and occupiers of the rape petitioned Parliament against interference with the corn laws in March 1827.9 Protestant Dissenters of Zoar chapel and the minister and churchwardens of St. Clement parish petitioned against Catholic emancipation (which both Members supported) in 1829; but inhabitants of Hastings petitioned in its favour.10 Inhabitants of the rape petitioned the Commons for repeal of the duty on malt, beer and hops, 10 Mar., and bankers of Hastings did so for mitigation of the punishment for forgery, 24 May 1830.11

The success of the independents of Rye in establishing by decision of an election committee of the Commons in May 1830 that all inhabitant ratepayers were entitled to the vote inspired some kindred spirits at Hastings to try to emulate them. John Mannington and John Townsend (who launched the Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris newspaper in October 1830) took prominent parts and were assisted by the local attorneys Thomas Baker and George Duke. They were encouraged and abetted by the leaders of the Rye campaign for independence, who wished to follow up their victory there by liberating the other oppressed Cinque Ports of Hastings, Hythe, New Romney and Winchelsea. On 28 May 1830 the town was excited by a visit from Robert Otway Cave, Member for Leicester, and the close friend of George De Lacy Evans, who had just been installed as the independent Member for Rye. Otway Cave, who had emerged in the House in 1828 as a vociferous opponent of municipal corruption, addressed a meeting which had been convened by the independents to form ‘a union for the recovery of their long lost rights’. He claimed to have come there ‘merely as a spectator’ in the first instance but, ‘being animated for the cause of the people and of independence’ and observing ‘their laudable desire to shake off the trammels by which they had hitherto been bound and deprived of their elective franchise’, he declared himself ‘the champion of their cause’.12 Subsequently the independents, who received advice from the attorney Samuel Miller, a stalwart of the Rye campaign, formed a Reform Association, though Townsend regretted the failure of ‘some influential persons’ to join it. Several attempts were made at courts of record during June and July to establish the right of some 150 inhabitant ratepayers to the freedom and so to the franchise, in accordance with the ancient charters of the Cinque Ports, but they were dismissed by the current mayor, North.13 It was rumoured that the Whig soldier and author Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin† of Caversham, Oxfordshire, would stand with Otway Cave at the next election, but in the event the Reform Association adopted as his partner John Ashley Warre, a supporter of parliamentary reform who had represented Taunton in the 1820 Parliament. He was a Somerset landowner, but also had a residence at Ramsgate. He and Otway Cave came forward at the 1830 general election, on the understanding that if they were beaten they would seek by petition to establish the right of the inhabitant ratepayers to vote. Their opponents on the treasury interest were Planta and Sir Henry Fane, surveyor-general of the ordnance, for both of whom the 17 freemen present voted. Mannington and many other claimants to the freedom then tendered votes for Otway Cave and Warre. During these proceedings a story circulated that Otway Cave had been returned elsewhere, and the independents nominated the king’s serjeant William Taddy so that he could if necessary join Warre in petitioning against the return. At the close of the poll the nominal figures were Warre 174, Otway Cave 157, Taddy 54, Fane and Planta 17 each. North discounted the ratepayers’ votes and returned Fane and Planta, leaving Otway Cave and Warre to confirm their intention of taking the issue of the right of election to law.14

Their petition, which claimed a majority of legal votes, was presented on 5 Nov. and assigned for consideration on 7 Dec. 1830.15 Meanwhile a delegation from Hastings led by Townsend, who spoke for parliamentary reform, had attended the hastily arranged Cinque Ports reform dinner at Rye on 19 Oct. Neither of the popular candidates did so (according to Evans, Otway Cave was only absent because of illness), but their health was drunk. Many of the Hastings independents signed addresses to the king and the duke of Wellington as lord warden of the Cinque Ports, calling for a restoration of their ancient chartered privileges.16 The Reform Association continued to meet regularly and its members’ hopes of success were strengthened by the issue of a Speaker’s warrant for the surrender of the corporation records, which had been kept secret for many years, and by the accession to power of the Grey ministry, pledged to reform.17 Yet they received a setback when Otway Cave and Warre decided to abandon the petition, on the advice of Miller and the eminent civilian Dr. Thomas Edwards, who was also deeply involved in the Rye campaign. The committee was duly appointed on 7 Dec. 1830 and formally confirmed the election of Fane and Planta the following day. Otway Cave, Warre and their legal advisers explained that they had expected that their petition would not be considered until after a decision had been reached on the appeal lodged by the patron of Rye against the May ruling on the right of election, but that in the event the Hastings, New Romney and Rye petitions had all been set for consideration on the same day. They had failed in their attempts to secure a postponement for the Hastings petition and concluded that there was insufficient time to prepare their ground thoroughly, especially as the same counsel had been engaged for all three cases. Moreover, ‘a decidedly hostile spirit’ towards claims similar to their own had been shown by a number of the election committees which had already reported. In consequence, as Otway Cave wrote to the local press

there has remained for us no choice but to sacrifice the past expenses, amounting to a very large sum, which we have incurred, and to look forward to the dissolution of Parliament, which is morally certain to happen next spring, as a more promising opportunity for opening the representation of Hastings.

After overcoming their initial disappointment the members of the Reform Association exonerated him and Warre from any blame, 13 Dec. 1830, and resolved to support them as candidates at the first opportunity. They also decided to petition the Commons for redress of grievances and parliamentary reform, and to continue to press their claims to the freedom on the court of record.18 On 18 Dec. 1830 the Rye appeal committee overturned the decision of May and invalidated the ratepayer franchise. In a blazing letter to Hastings, Otway Cave condemned the decision, which showed the ‘utter and glaring inutility’ of seeking redress from ‘an unreformed House of Commons’. Yet he was sure that any measure of parliamentary reform, however cautious, would emancipate the borough; and this prospect was enough to dissuade him from advocating the use of physical force or a boycott of local taxes to achieve that end.19 With the abandonment of the legal struggle the campaign at Hastings, as at Rye and the other Cinque Ports, shifted under Evans’s direction to participation in the general agitation for parliamentary reform. Townsend addressed meetings at Hythe and Rye, 28, 29 Dec. 1830, and a contingent from Hastings attended the Cinque Ports reform dinner at Rye, 27 Jan. 1831. In a letter to the Reform Association, 25 Jan. 1831, Otway Cave excused himself from attendance at forthcoming meetings on account of poor health, but exhorted them to support the reforming element in the cabinet by making common cause with local and national reform and ‘above all to form of the Cinque Ports a branch of Mr. [Thomas] Attwood’s† Political Union’.20 At a major Hastings reform dinner, 31 Jan. 1831 (‘the first’, boasted the Iris, ‘that ever was held in this high place of borough-usurpation’) the chair was taken by Sir Godfrey Webster† of nearby Battle Abbey, who reminded his audience of how, during his unsuccessful campaign to retain his county seat in 1820, he had been denounced as a revolutionary for calling for the liberation of Hastings. Evans spoke on behalf of Otway Cave who, he avowed, ‘was not at that moment solicitous about a seat in Parliament’, but was ‘deeply desirous of contributing to the great cause of emancipating the Cinque Ports’, despite his poor health. Townsend stood proxy for Warre, who had ‘urgent private business’ in London. A slightly discordant note was struck by William Fraser of Cleveland Court, Westminster, one of the unsuccessful candidates for Hythe at the last election, who criticized the independents of Hastings which, given its size, should have taken the lead in the Cinque Ports campaign, for their past supineness and lack of bite. His comments were endorsed by the Iris, which rejoiced that ‘the men of Hastings ... seem at length to have aroused themselves from their lethargy’. The meeting adopted petitions for reform from Hastings alone and from all five of the oppressed Cinque Ports, which were presented to the Commons on 26 Feb. 1831.21

Inhabitants and Wesleyan Methodists of Hastings petitioned Parliament for the abolition of slavery in November 1830.22 On 3 Mar. 1831 a town meeting was held to address the king in support of the reform bill, by which Hastings was scheduled to retain both seats. Evans, speaking for Otway Cave, who had had a riding accident, Mannington, Townsend and Webster welcomed it, and petitions in its favour were opened for signature. They were presented to the Commons, 19 Mar., and the Lords, 12 Apr. Another one reached the Lords on 20 Apr.23 Soon afterwards William Camac, a prominent resident, canvassed the borough on the prospect of the bill becoming law, and Warre followed suit later in the month. On 15 Mar. a public requisition was sent to North by about 50 respectable inhabitants, including a number of Milward’s friends but no members of the corporation, inviting him to stand as ‘a resident gentleman of independent views’ at the first election under the reformed system. His acceptance prompted the independents to send a deputation to Otway Cave’s Leicestershire home to ask him to stand with Warre, which he agreed to do, 22 Mar., when both Members voted against the reform bill. Two days later Warre arrived in Hastings but, after consulting the Reform Association committee, he decided not to canvass until Otway Cave or his substitutes appeared. That evening Baker chaired a meeting at which Warre warned that a snap dissolution was very likely and Evans confirmed Otway Cave’s intention to stand. He then condemned North’s volte face on reform as a blatant manoeuvre designed by the Milward faction to retain control under a reformed system. Warre and Otway Cave’s proxies began a canvass, but doubts grew as to the likelihood of the latter’s standing if there was an early dissolution. Evans admitted, 25 Mar., that his ‘health was at present in such a delicate state as not to render him very anxious for a seat in Parliament’, but suggested that he would persevere. A requisition from Leicester to Otway Cave and his non-committal reply, 4 Apr., added to the uncertainty. At a meeting on 2 Apr. Fraser, as well as attacking North, who had been ‘for years one of the principal agents’ in sustaining his uncle’s hegemony, severely criticized his audience for showing ‘so little enthusiasm’. At about this time both the Northites and the reformers began to demonstrate an unprecedented solicitude for the welfare of local fishermen.24 On 15 Apr. 1831, four days before the division on the reform bill which precipitated the dissolution, another candidate emerged in the person of Howard Elphinstone†, the eldest son of Sir Howard Elphinstone of neighbouring Ore Place and brother-in-law of Edward Curteis, one of the county Members. He responded to an invitation from some Hastings residents with an extreme programme of radical reform, including the ballot and free trade. Warre twice failed to secure an answer from Otway Cave as to his intentions, but on 24 Apr., the day after the dissolution, Baker received information which seemed to put it beyond doubt that he did not mean to stand. (He made an unsuccessful attempt on Leicestershire.) When Warre arrived at Hastings the following day he found that Milward and the corporation had offered to return him if the independents would accept the election of North as a reformer. The leaders of the independents snatched at this concession as the best bargain they were likely to get under the unreformed system. A few dissentients, who feared that the struggle for municipal rights was being abandoned, were ignored. Camac and Elphinstone stood aside, North and Warre were unanimously returned by the 24 freemen who attended the election and the ‘complete restoration of peace and good humour’ was celebrated with a dinner, ‘at which an amnesty for past boroughmongering offences was entered into’.25

Inhabitants of Hastings petitioned the Lords to pass the reform bill, 4 Oct. 1831.26 Its enactment in July 1832 was celebrated with a monster banquet for the residents.27 In an attempt to strengthen their position the corporation in December 1831 had admitted some 160 new freemen, but most of them became entitled to vote as £10 householders under the Act, which increased the electorate to 574. The boundaries were unchanged.28 At the 1832 general election the Liberals North and Warre defeated Elphinstone, standing as a radical reformer, who secured second place behind North at the expense of two Conservatives in 1835.29 Hastings continued to be widely regarded as being subject to government influence, but this was largely a misconception, for local and temporary factors proved to be more significant.30

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir (1823-4), 511; VCH Suss. ix. 4, 5, 13.
  • 2. Oldfield, Key (1820), 243-6; W. G. Moss, Hist. Hastings, 137, 142-3; J. M. Baines, Historic Hastings (1968), 36, 271, 333-4; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D593/ K/1/5/10, J. Loch to Lord J. Russell, 16 Oct. 1821; Marianne North, Some Further Recollections, 71.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxiv. 997-9.
  • 4. Hastings Iris, 5 Feb. 1831.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 251; lxxvi. 100; lxxvii. 34; LJ, liv. 135; lv. 27.
  • 6. LJ, lvii. 829; lviii. 331; CJ, lxxxi. 337.
  • 7. Brighton Gazette, 15 June; Brighton Herald, 17 June 1826.
  • 8. Nottingham Univ. Lib. acc. 636, Denison diary, 10, 15 Dec. 1826.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxii. 333; LJ, lix. 192, 209.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxiv. 115, 145; LJ, xi. 129. 214, 341.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxv. 158, 463.
  • 12. Brighton Guardian, 19, 26 May, 2 June; Brighton Herald, 29 May, 5 June 1830.
  • 13. Brighton Guardian, 16, 23 June, 7, 14, 21, 28 July 1830; Baines, 50; W. D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 39-40.
  • 14. Brighton Guardian, 28 July, 4 Aug.; The Times, 2 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 40.
  • 16. Hastings Iris, 23 Oct.; Brighton Guardian, 27 Oct. 1830.
  • 17. Hastings Iris, 6, 13, 20, 27 Nov. 1830.
  • 18. W. Holloway, Hist. Rye, 261, 263; Cooper, 40; CJ, lxxxvi. 151-2, 157; Hastings Iris, 4, 11, 18 Dec. 1830.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxvi. 190; Hastings Iris, 25 Dec. 1830.
  • 20. Hastings Iris, 1, 29 Jan. 1831.
  • 21. Ibid. 5, 12 Feb., 5 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 309-10.
  • 22. LJ, lxiii. 24, 101; CJ, lxxxvi. 309-10.
  • 23. Hastings Iris, 5 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 407; LJ, lxiii. 493.
  • 24. Hastings Iris, 12, 26 Mar., 2, 9 Apr. 1831.
  • 25. Ibid. 16, 23, 30 Apr., 7 May; The Times, 28 Apr., 3 May 1831; Cooper, 40; Baines, 51.
  • 26. LJ, lxiii. 1046.
  • 27. Baines, 52.
  • 28. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 326; (1835), xxiv. 997-8; Baines, 51.
  • 29. Baines, 52-53; Cooper, 40.
  • 30. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 337-9, 455-7.