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 freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 1,600, rising to about 3,400 from 18261

Number of voters:

3,119 in 1826


3,198 (1821); 3,831 (1831)


 Quintin Dick1402
3 Dec. 1827HUGH DICK308
 Charles Savill Onley 68
 Benjamin Smith1

Main Article

Maldon was a market town and port in eastern Essex, situated at the influx of the River Chelmer into the Blackwater estuary.2 By the new charter of 1810 almost 1,500 freemen, mostly non-resident, and qualified by birth, apprenticeship, marriage, purchase or gift, had been added to the moribund and dwindling electorate of less than 70. The new council, which consisted of a mayor, seven other aldermen and 18 capital burgesses, was, as the municipal corporations commissioner put it, ‘a self-elected, irresponsible body, with an exclusive political character, originally given to it by the [1810] charter ... which conferred on one party in the town a monopoly of municipal power’. The council was firmly attached to the interest of Joseph Holden Strutt of Terling Place, Witham, an anti-Catholic Tory who had succeeded his father as Member in 1790, had somewhat dubiously claimed the credit for the new charter and by 1820 had extended his family’s unbroken occupancy of one seat to almost 46 years. Dissenters and Whigs were excluded from the ranks of the capital burgesses, and the interest was bolstered by the Maldon Pitt or True Blue Club, whose annual June gatherings featured such leading county Tories as the Bramstons of Skreens and the Tyrells of Boreham, near Chelmsford. Yet control of both seats had eluded the Strutts, whose politics had inspired opposition from Essex Whigs, led by Charles Western of Felix Hall, near Kelvedon, Member for Maldon from 1790 until 1812, when he was replaced by Benjamin Gaskell, a wealthy Yorkshire landowner of similar political views, and for the county, 1812-32. This interest was given a focus by the Maldon Independent Club, formed in 1789. Once the dust of the charter dispute had settled and Gaskell had come in unopposed with Strutt in 1812, the latter, who had at first been forbidden to stand by his father, fearful of ruinous expense, had consolidated his position by renewing the compromise of 1790 for a shared representation and mutual support.3 There was no change in 1818, but the large and scattered electorate, which had a significant London element, made the borough a potential target for wealthy strangers.

At the general election of 1820 Strutt and Gaskell were quietly returned, but only after the former had indignantly rejected a request, backed by a threat to foment an opposition, for repayment or redemption of the £2,000 which the council had borrowed to pay for the charter.4 It was in considerable financial trouble, having since 1815 borrowed £1,000 to sustain legal actions for the recovery of tolls from tradesmen and merchants. In 1820 it resolved to admit 184 freemen at £15 each: 34 were so enrolled and £340 was advanced towards the tolls fund, but the council’s right to raise money in this way was challenged in the courts by its local opponents and brought to an end.5 The council also raised cash by alienating and mortgaging some of its estates to two of its members, William Bugg, the leader of its political party, and William Lawrence, chamberlain, 1810-25. Growing dissatisfaction with the council’s financial mismanagement and corruption led a group of resident Whig freemen to demand at the annual municipal elections in January 1823 the right to inspect the accounts since 1811. Under the threat of legal action, the council conceded an investigative committee, but successfully nullified its work and fobbed off their critics with the appointment of two aldermen as auditors, who in fact never reported, and an agreement to submit the annual accounts to the scrutiny of the commonalty.6 Attempts in 1822, 1827 and 1828 to secure a bill to authorize the imposition of tolls on goods conveyed on the rivers were resisted by interested merchants and came to nothing.7 Local agriculturists petitioned the Commons for relief from distress, 30 May 1820, and against interference with the corn laws, 26 Apr. 1825.8 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons against slavery, 21 May 1823, 9 May 1824, 11 May 1826, and in protest at the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 27 May 1824; and their abolitionist petition was presented to the Lords, 17 May 1826.9 The council and inhabitants petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief, 16 May 1825.10

In August 1825, when an autumn dissolution was anticipated, Gaskell, who may have run into financial difficulties, announced that he would not seek re-election.11 A month later Strutt signified his intention of handing over his seat to his only son, Major John James Strutt, a rake turned Evangelical zealot, who in his initial address declared his support for the Liverpool ministry and hostility to Catholic claims, but advocated the education of Irish Catholics and abolition of the foreign slave trade.12 In Gaskell’s room offered the rising county Whig Thomas Barrett Lennard of Belhus, Aveley, Member for Ipswich, who was supported by Western, the Catholic 11th Baron Petre of Ingatestone, the Independent Club and John May, a Maldon wine merchant, though Western warned him that if the London voters proved as ‘troublesome as the Colchester, Ipswich and Sudbury ones’, Maldon ‘would not be a place for a gentleman to repose in, still less a bed of roses’.13 The third man to declare was the distinguished soldier Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin†, an anti-Catholic ministerialist, who offered on a slogan of ‘freemen’s emancipation’ and was backed by the surveyor Thomas Bygrave and his friends in the London Freemen’s Club. The ensuing canvass, in which Barrett Lennard was hampered by illness, was terminated by the government’s decision to postpone the dissolution until the end of the 1826 session.14

In early March 1826 Major Strutt, having fallen out with his father, who had already arranged to come in for Okehampton, announced his withdrawal. The Strutt and council interest was swiftly transferred to George Allanson Winn, the younger brother of the 2nd Lord Headley, who had an inherited Essex estate at Warley. He was greatly encouraged to stand by the incumbent mayor, Christopher Comyns Parker, who had replaced Bugg as leader of the local Tories. He declared his hostility to reform and Catholic claims, but dissociated himself from ‘No Popery’ agitation.15 Almost immediately afterwards Donkin pulled out. Winn and Barrett Lennard were slow to move, even though it quickly became clear that every attempt would be made to find another third man. Winn tried to avert this by ‘the display of ... much cash ready to be expended’.16 Nothing came of a report in early May that the London banker Charles Mackinnon was to stand, but a third man duly appeared in the shape of the wealthy London-based Irish merchant Quintin Dick, who had sat in the Parliaments of 1802 and 1807 and now professed ‘independence’ and ‘decided’ hostility to Catholic claims. His chief agent was the attorney and electoral fixer Richard Wilson, a former Member for Ipswich, who was assisted by Horace Twiss, Member for Wootton Bassett and counsel to the admiralty. Notices in the press invited all men with a claim to admission to the freedom by birth, marriage or servitude to seek enrolment in order to support Dick, who was taken up by Bygrave and the London Club in a bid to thwart the threatened ‘party compromise’. On Dick’s behalf Wilson solicited support from the popular Essex radical Daniel Whittle Harvey*, candidate for Colchester and a sworn enemy of the county Whigs, who, so he later claimed, promised it on a false assurance that Dick’s politics would be congenial to him, but subsequently confined himself to merely voting for Dick (and Barrett Lennard, whom he had reluctantly endorsed) after discovering that they were not.17 Several hundred new freemen were admitted from three weeks before the election, and Parker then announced that admission courts would sit daily.

At the nomination, 7 June 1826, when the Catholic question emerged as the dominant issue, the show of hands was for Winn and Barrett Lennard and a poll was demanded for Dick, who trailed Winn in second place by almost 100 votes at the close of the day. Winn overtook Barrett Lennard on the next and forged ahead during the following 13. Barrett Lennard’s partisans alleged that a coalition between Winn and Dick operated on the second and third days, was then broken off, but was revived before the fifth, with Winn’s connivance, ‘so that ... with the exception of Mr. Winn’s personal interference, every engine was put in force to oppose Mr. Lennard: and the expenses of Mr. Winn were to be paid by Mr. Dick from ... 12 June’. Polling was accompanied by the daily admission of freemen from far and wide, to the number of 1,017, which made a total of 1,855 since 19 May. Most of the fees were paid later by the candidates. Parker was reckoned by Barrett Lennard’s agent to have acted with blatant partiality for Dick and Winn in the enrolment of freemen and his general management of proceedings. Many of the claims were extremely tenuous, and those admitted included about 50 men recently and hastily married to the daughters of freemen.18 On the fifth day Western was tempted to advise Barrett Lennard to pull out to avoid ‘enormous expense’, but as he was still almost 400 ahead of Dick concluded that it was best to persevere:

Whether the Whig gentry would come forward I doubt; if not, the only thing is to fight the remaining part of the contest upon a totally different plan as to expense, and as there are so few comparatively to poll if the false claimants are put aside and all properly examined, this surely might be done.19

Polling was desultory after the first four days: in the following 11, Winn averaged 42 votes, Barrett Lennard 35 and Dick 46. The gap between the two last slowly narrowed, but Dick finished 53 adrift. His demand for a scrutiny was rejected after legal arguments.20 A total of 3,119 electors (a figure not far short of that of Maldon’s population) polled.21 Of these, 2,289 (73 per cent) were from the county or beyond, 587 (19) from London and only 243 (eight) from Maldon itself. The coalition between Winn and Dick was reflected in their 1,070 split votes, which made up 61 and 76 per cent of their respective totals; but 280 voters (nine per cent of those who polled) split between Barrett Lennard and Winn. Half this number split for Barrett Lennard and Dick. Barrett Lennard received 1,038 plumpers (71 per cent of his total), Winn 399 (23) and Dick 195 (14). Maldon residents were significantly more favourable to Dick than the two other categories, who supported him in about the same proportion (45 per cent) as the voters as a whole. Winn did marginally better than average among county voters, as did Barrett Lennard among London ones. In crude terms, 87 per cent of those who polled cast party votes: 53 Tory and 34 Whig.22 The costs, particularly to Winn and Dick, were considerable. A total of £50,000 was estimated to have been spent, mainly on transport, treating and admission fees. From this election dated the practice of issuing ‘refreshment tickets’, which ‘entitle the holder to receive a sum of money’. Winn was thought to have gone through at least £15,000, while Dick spent £4,000 on tavern bills alone. Barrett Lennard was evidently a little more prudent.23 The Independent Club and the True Blue Club celebrated with dinners in July 1826.24 Despite Dick’s narrow defeat, he was said to be ‘the idol of the Maldonians’. Some thought that this pointed at a future Tory monopoly, but Barrett Lennard’s agent, though admitting that their own canvass had been ‘bad’, took a different and more sanguine view:

I shall always look upon this struggle as one made upon the part of the Tory interest to try their strength through the purse of Mr. Dick. They cannot but feel disappointed at the result, having showed they are incompetent to carry into execution ... the boast that they could return two Members for the county and borough ... How ... the Tories can fancy it is in their power to return two Members I am at a loss to guess, for I firmly believe had a second Whig candidate offered himself a great many of Mr. Dick’s votes would have polled for him, while nearly all our plumpers would undoubtedly have split with the two Whigs ... The result ... has destroyed the borough as a county one, and the chances are Members from London will for the future be selected as the only individuals who can afford to contest the place ... The folly of the Tories was never surpassed. What could be greater than to encourage a stranger to prolong the contest which must under any circumstances be ruinous to their county candidate, and prevent him ever offering himself again from the fear of having to sustain another ruinous contest, with a certainty of never having a quiet seat, with two Tories returned for so populous a borough.25

Maldon agriculturists petitioned both House against interference with the corn laws in March 1827.26 When the financially ruined Winn died suddenly in early November 1827, the Suffolk peer Lord Henniker warned his eldest son John to disregard ‘the offer of a kind friend at court who would have made us believe’ that it was worth standing.27 According to Barrett Lennard’s agent, Parker, whom he blamed for Winn’s premature death, was ‘within six hours’ of it ‘running after ... [Quintin] Dick to solicit him to offer himself’.28 Dick was now sitting for Orford on Lord Hertford’s interest, and after asking for time to consider his options, he arranged with his Maldon friends and Hertford to put up his younger brother Hugh, ‘whose principles differed in nothing from his own’, with a view to replacing him at the next general election. Hugh Dick, who was in Dublin, supposedly unwell, at the time of the election, and was represented by Quintin, seemed likely to walk over; but at the last minute some of the former Strutt party secured Whig acquiescence in and support for the candidature of Charles Savill Onley (formerly Harvey) of Stisted, a Tory Member of the three previous Parliaments. He was nominated and declared his hostility to Catholic claims, but midway through the first day’s polling, in which he trailed badly, caused ‘a most extraordinary sensation’ by announcing his retirement, claiming that he had been gulled into standing by ‘representations which he had subsequently discovered to be false’. Before the numbers were declared, two Whigs nominated the eldest son of William Smith, Member for Norwich. Parker promptly proposed the prominent county Tory, Thomas Gardiner Bramston* of Skreens, but no one would second him. Smith, who was not present, received a single vote before being withdrawn.29

Protestant Dissenters of Maldon petitioned the Commons, 6 June 1827, 13 Feb. 1828, and the Lords, 6 Mar. 1828, for repeal of the Test Acts.30 In April 1828 Maldon and Denge Hundred Agricultural Association met under Parker’s chairmanship to petition the Commons against the revised corn duties.31 Hugh Dick presented the corporation’s, 4 June 1828, and the inhabitants’, 2 Mar. 1829, anti-Catholic petitions; while Barrett Lennard presented the inhabitants’ favourable one, 17 Mar. 1829, when he clashed with Dick on the issue. The council quashed an attempt to form a borough Brunswick club in February 1829. They petitioned the Lords against relief, 9 June 1828, and the inhabitants did so for emancipation, 23 Mar. 1829.32 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons against slavery, 11 July 1828, three weeks after the Dicks had confirmed, at a True Blue Club dinner, their intention that Hugh would make way for Quintin at the next general election.33 There was a petition to the Commons for mitigation of the punishment for forgery, 24 May 1830.34

Criticism of the Dicks was voiced by some members of the London Independent Club in 1829 and by disgruntled True Blue extremists in the spring of 1830, when there was speculation that the death of Bugg would take the sting out of party conflict.35 As the 1830 general election approached rumours persisted that Parker was trying to find a third man to run against Quintin Dick, while at a meeting of London True Blue voters, 12 July, William Wells called for a challenge to ‘the Dickite monopoly’ and claimed that the Whigs had offered to support any ‘liberal and independent’ Blue candidate.36 Dick’s supporter John Tyssen Tyrelb of Boreham apparently sounded Barrett Lennard’s agent on a formal coalition, but he was discouraged:

I fear mischief would be done if the burgesses had the least idea that the signatures of both parties were affixed to any document in favour of either Mr. L. or Mr. D. The idea of coalition is at all times so unpopular to violent men that I have no doubt it would be the means of inducing some speculator to try his political fortune here. I consider both Mr. L. and Mr. D. have voted independently; that the borough is represented to the satisfaction of their respective parties; and ... I do not think there is a desire to disturb either ... It is natural some of the London voters ... who are actuated by no other wish than to be paid, should endeavour to excite disturbance. I am confident they will not receive any countenance here, and ... no one is more anxious than myself that the independent conduct of both the present candidates should be repaid by a quiet election.37

Barrett Lennard and Dick were returned unopposed, at a cost to the former of £585.38

Maldon Independents petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 20 Dec. 1830.39 By the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which Barrett Lennard supported and Dick opposed, the borough was scheduled to lose one seat. On 20 Apr. 1831 Barrett Lennard presented a petition from a London meeting of non-resident freemen expressing their willingness to sacrifice their franchises for the sake of general reform; it was presented to the Lords next day.40 There was no disturbance and little excitement at the 1831 general election.41 On the motion for Maldon’s partial disfranchisement by the reintroduced reform bill, 29 July 1831, Dick tried to make out a case for its reprieve and challenged the worth and authenticity of the out-voters’ petition, which Barrett Lennard upheld. Western suggested that combining Maldon with Heybridge on the opposite bank of the river would create a viable two Member constituency, but, reflecting on the enormous cost of the 1826 contest, concluded that it would be no bad thing to have a single Member borough with a resident electorate. Both Whittle Harvey and Barrett Lennard attributed high election costs to the mobilization of the large and scattered electorate rather than to blatant venality. The London freemen petitioned the Lords in support of the bill, 5 Oct.42 The county Whigs rallied under Barrett Lennard’s chairmanship at the Independent Club’s anniversary dinner, 21 Nov. 1831.43 By the new criteria devised to determine disfranchisement for the final bill Maldon qualified to retain both seats.44 The Boundary Act added Heybridge to the old borough to create a constituency with a population of 4,895 and a vastly reduced electorate of 716.45 At the general election of 1832 Barrett Lennard and Dick were returned ahead of a second Liberal.46 Ironically, the effect of the Reform Act was to increase corruption by creating a manageable and venal resident electorate. Every election between 1832 and the second Reform Act was contested, with the Conservatives taking the lion’s share of the spoils.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 550.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 297-8.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxvi. 2431, 2433-7, 2440, 2453; Oldfield, Key (1820), 121-2; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 161-4; v. 303; Colchester Gazette, 23 June 1821, 21 June 1823, 3 Jan., 26 June 1824.
  • 4. Suff. Chron. 11 Mar. 1820; PP (1835), xxvi. 2432-3.
  • 5. Essex RO, Maldon borough recs. D/B 3/1/32/193, 197-8; PP (1835), xxvi. 2440.
  • 6. PP (1835), xxvi. 2439-40, 244; Maldon borough recs. 3/1/32/245, 250; Colchester Gazette, 18 Jan. 1823.
  • 7. CJ, lxxvii. 50-51; lxxxii. 210-11; lxxxiii. 49, 109, 174, 262, 282; Maldon borough recs. 3/1/32/230-6, 278-82; Colchester Gazette, 10 Mar. 1827.
  • 8. CJ, lxxv. 251; lxxx. 343.
  • 9. Ibid. lxxviii. 326; lxxix. 136, 422; lxxxi. 344; LJ, lviii. 339; Kent and Essex Mercury, 21 May 1826.
  • 10. LJ, lvii. 807, 813; Maldon borough recs. 3/1/32/251-2.
  • 11. Colchester Gazette, 3 Sept. 1825.
  • 12. Add. 38576, f. 63; Colchester Gazette, 24 Sept. 1825.
  • 13. Colchester Gazette, 24 Sept.; Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss D/DL C58/101-3; C60, Western to Barrett Lennard, 4 Nov. 1825.
  • 14. Colchester Gazette, 1, 8, 22 Oct., 5 Nov. 1825; Kent and Essex Mercury, 25 Apr. 1826.
  • 15. C.R. Strutt, Strutt Fam. 70-74; Kent and Essex Mercury, 21 Mar. 1826; Barrett Lennard mss O42/3, minutes of Maldon election, 1826.
  • 16. Kent and Essex Mercury, 28 Mar., 4, 11, 18, 25 Apr.; Barrett Lennard mss C60, Winn to Clarke and Nares, 16 Apr. 1826.
  • 17. Kent and Essex Mercury, 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 May; The Times, 17, 23, 27 May; Colchester Gazette, 20 May, 2 June 1826; Speech of D.W. Harvey ... Nov. 27, 1832, pp. 4-6.
  • 18. Barrett Lennard mss O42/3, election minutes; P.J. Jupp, British and Irish Elections 1784-1831,pp. 114-22; The Times, 8, 9, 13-17, 27 June; Kent and Essex Mercury, 13, 20 June; Colchester Gazette, 3, 10, 17 June 1826; PP (1835), xxvi. 2442-3.
  • 19. Barrett Lennard mss C60, Western to Barrett Lennard, 12 June 1826.
  • 20. The Times, 20, 22, 27 June; Kent and Essex Mercury, 27 June 1826; Barrett Lennard mss C58/103.
  • 21. According to Maldon Pollbook (1826); but PP (1831-2), xxxviii, 260 gives 3,113.
  • 22. Maldon Pollbook (1826); Barrett Lennard mss O42/3, election minutes.
  • 23. PP (1835), xxvi. 2443-4; Barrett Lennard mss C60, May to Barrett Lennard, 7 Mar.; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Henniker mss 51/2/502, Henniker to son, 8 Nov. 1827.
  • 24. Kent and Essex Mercury, 11, 25 July 1826.
  • 25. Barrett Lennard O42/3, election minutes; Jupp, 120-1.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxii. 245; LJ, lix. 154.
  • 27. Henniker mss 51/2/502, Henniker to son, 8 Nov. 1827
  • 28. Barrett Lennard mss O42/3, minute, 10 Nov. 1827.
  • 29. Colchester Gazette, 10, 17, 24 Nov., 1, 8 Dec.; The Times, 13, 16, 28 Nov., 3, 4 Dec.; Suff. Chron. 8 Dec. 1827; Maldon borough recs. 3/1/32/286.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 45; LJ, lx. 97.
  • 31. Colchester Gazette, 12 Apr. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 259.
  • 32. Colchester Gazette, 7 June 1828; Kent and Essex Mercury, 3 Feb., 31 Mar. 1829; Maldon borough recs. 3/1/32/294-6; CJ, lxxxiii. 397; lxxxiv. 94, 145; LJ, lx. 520; lxi. 259.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxiii. 522; Colchester Gazette, 28 June 1828.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxv. 463.
  • 35. Kent and Essex Mercury, 20 Jan., 21 Apr. 1829, 13 Apr., 25 May 1830; Maldon borough recs. 3/1/32/308.
  • 36. Kent and Essex Mercury, 15, 22 June, 6 13, 20 July 1830.
  • 37. Barrett Lennard mss O42/3, Payne to Tyrell, 7 July 1830.
  • 38. Kent and Essex Mercury, 27 July, 3 Aug. 1830; Barrett Lennard mss O42/4.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxvi. 191.
  • 40. Colchester Gazette, 16, 23 Apr. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 510; LJ, lxiii. 498.
  • 41. The Times, 21 Apr.; Colchester Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 42. LJ, lxiii. 1061.
  • 43. Colchester Gazette, 26 Nov. 1831.
  • 44. Kent and Essex Mercury, 17 Jan. 1832.
  • 45. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 181-4.
  • 46. The Times, 11 Dec. 1832.