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:

over 3,0001

Number of voters:

3,799 in May 1831


14 Mar. 1820SIR JOHN OWEN, bt. 
20 June 1826SIR JOHN OWEN, bt. 
9 Aug. 1830SIR JOHN OWEN, bt. 
26 May 1831SIR JOHN OWEN, bt.1949
 Robert Fulke Greville1850
  Election declared void, 23 Sept. 1831 
24 Oct. 1831SIR JOHN OWEN, bt.1531
 Robert Fulke Greville1423

Main Article

Pembrokeshire was a maritime county at the south-western extremity of Wales. Administratively it comprised the hundreds of Castlemartin, Cemaes, Cilgerran, Dewisland, Dungleddy (Daugleddau), Narberth and Roose (Rhos).2 Besides Haverfordwest (Hwlffordd), a county of itself, and the cathedral city of St. Davids (Tyddewi), the chief settlements and sources of most petitions were the boroughs of Fishguard (Abergwaun), Cilgerran, Newport (Trefdraeth), Pembroke (with its naval dockyard), Tenby (Dinbych-y-Pysgod or Pyscoed), and the rapidly growing fishing town and deepwater port of Milford (Aberdaugleddau). Rich lead ore deposits near Llanfyrnach on the Carmarthenshire border and a seam of anthracite extending westwards from Amroth and Saundersfoot to Newgale and Little Haven were mined only intermittently in the 1820s and, like the county’s slate and limestone quarries, were subject to heavy speculation, much of it unsuccessful.3 It was predominantly a county of squires’ estates, mostly under 3,000 acres, with a high proportion of resident gentry, who took their duties as enclosure commissioners, magistrates and turnpike trustees seriously. About 70 per cent of the electorate held life-leases and the remainder freeholds.4 The assizes, county and magistrates meetings and elections were held in Haverfordwest, and the representation, which had been contested four times since 1760, had been disputed between the Owens of Orielton, who adhered to the Whig Orange of their forebears in 1688 long after becoming Tory ministerialists, and the Philippses of Picton Castle. They were the county’s leading Blues (Whigs and Tory moderates) prior to the acquisition and aggrandizement of Stackpole, a consolidated estate in Stainton and 11 neighbouring parishes worth £9,000 a year (almost double the income of Picton Castle) by the Campbell family, Barons Cawdor, whose influence extended to neighbouring counties and Nairnshire. Orielton’s strength derived from their controlling interest in Pembroke and its Boroughs constituency, land in Castlemartin and the north of the county and industrial enterprises in the south. Picton Castle’s 20,000 acres and approximately 500 tenants were scattered over 38 parishes, and theirs was the largest interest in Haverfordwest. Sir Richard Philipps, 1st Baron Milford, had represented the county continuously from 1786 until 1812, when John Owen of Orielton defeated his preferred successor, Cawdor’s heir John Frederick Campbell*, to take the seat. Owen, a baronet since 1813, acceded in 1816 to an arrangement covering the next two elections, whereby he would sit unchallenged for the county, Cawdor would nominate a Member for Pembroke Boroughs, and Milford one for Haverfordwest. Such collusion was resented by the Grevilles of Castle Hall, who had inherited the Barlow estates and established the new town of Milford, and William Edwardes, 2nd Baron Kensington, of Johnston, the 1802-18 Member for Haverfordwest; but resistance was unfocussed and the agreement was not breached in 1818 and 1820. Owen remained the county Member and two influential Pembrokeshire squires, Cawdor’s political henchman John Hensleigh Allen of Cresselly and Milford’s nominee William Henry Scourfield of Robeston and New Moat, were brought in for the Boroughs and Haverfordwest.5

At a magistrates’ meeting on 17 Apr. 1820, Owen proposed petitioning against the coastwise coal duty and alteration of the corn laws, in which he had vested interests, and the nobility and Haverfordwest petitioned accordingly.6 A freeholders’ meeting on 26 May refused to be dissuaded from petitioning both Houses for remedial action to improve the Welsh courts of great sessions (especially equity proceedings and the appointment of placeman judges), and petitioned also for removal of, or a reduction in, the duties on malt, salt, candles and leather in order to relieve distress. The latter, by concentrating on particular locally unpopular taxes, secured strong Tory support.7 West Wales Whigs (Blues) and Tories (Red and Orange) were already the respective champions of abolition and reform of the Welsh judicial system, and its future was debated at county and magistrates’ meetings, in select committee, and on the floor of the House. Owen’s 1820 bill to equalize the cost of recoveries and levying fines in England and Wales, which lapsed that session, was supported by a Carmarthenshire petition, that like the measure itself was largely the work of the barrister John Jones*, Owen’s former Member for Pembroke Boroughs.8 After the 1820-1 select committee conceded to Campbell (2nd Baron Cawdor from 1 June 1821) reported, the judicature’s future was reviewed in a long and technical petition to the Commons, 6 June, and the Lords, 27 June 1822, from Pembrokeshire’s acting justices, suggesting major reforms. Cawdor and Allen’s abolition campaign now stalled and in 1824 Jones carried a useful remedial measure.9

There were illuminations at Fishguard, Haverfordwest and Tenby when the legal proceedings against Queen Caroline were abandoned in November 1820; and Jones’s victory at the Carmarthen by-election in July 1821 was celebrated throughout Pembrokeshire, where it was seen as a snub to Cawdor, whose seat it had been, and a triumph for Owen.10 Secrecy surrounded the king’s unexpected passage through the county in October after gales forced the royal yacht to shelter in Milford Haven, but the gentry and populace would not be denied a pretext for celebration when he landed.11 Allen, Owen and Scourfield supported the popular campaigns against the agricultural horse tax and for lower duties on salt and leather; and the three wrote jointly to the home secretary Peel, 17 Nov. 1822, backing the magistrates’ memorial against the withdrawal of the Irish packet service, an important source of local revenue which had encouraged investment in turnpike roads.12 A report that it would be transferred to Holyhead caused alarm again in 1824, shortly after the arrival of new steamers.13 Pembroke county gaol had been given to Haverfordwest and Haverfordwest gaol converted to a county lunatic asylum by an Act of 24 June 1822.14 From September 1822 newspaper advertisements urged landowners to petition for the commutation of tithes on the same principle as the land tax; and the resulting petitions (from five estate owners) were presented to the Commons, 8 May 1823, the same day as the county petition for the abolition of West Indian slavery.15 Agriculture remained depressed and the squires’ problems in finding suitable tenants were compounded by disagreements, which continued beyond 1832, over boundaries and land exchanges following the enclosure of Newport common and Narberth mountain.16 In October 1823 a contest with party and dynastic overtones was expected for the vacant post of coroner, but the Blue, Charles Richard Harries of Haverfordwest, failed to persuade William Henry Webley Parry of Noyadd Trefawr and others to finance his campaign and withdrew, making John Stokes Stokes of Cuffern’s election a formality.17

Owen’s recent applications for patronage had been rejected;18 but he was chosen to succeed Lord Milford as county lord lieutenant in December 1823 in preference to Cawdor and Richard Bulkeley Philipps Grant*, the heir to Picton Castle, ‘it being more consonant with the usual practice that this distinction should not be held by members of the same family in succession’. Ministers also hoped thereby to ensure that a Tory would replace Allen as Member for Pembroke Boroughs at the next election. Grant, who took the name Philipps, claimed that he too would support administration, and was appointed to succeed Milford as lieutenant of Haverfordwest.19 The London Missionary Society established a Pembrokeshire branch in November 1823, and Milford petitioned against slavery and for inquiry into the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith for inciting slaves to riot, 11 June 1824.20 Owen’s absence from the division that day and Pembroke’s failure to petition on the issue were later used against him.21 From 16-20 July 1824 Thomas Clarkson, who had the support of the bishop of St. Davids and of leading Blues, brought the Anti-Slavery Society’s campaign to Pembrokeshire and helped to establish one of their committees at Milford.22 The clergy of the deaneries of Castlemartin, Dewisland, Dungleddy, Narberth, North and South Rhos, West Hay and Upper and Lower Kemes petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief in 1821 and 1822; and again in 1825, when petitions were also sent to both Houses by the inhabitants of parishes in the Fishguard, Moylegrove and Narberth areas. Owen consistently opposed concessions.23

Phillips and Company, the Haverfordwest and Narberth bank, had been weakened through the death of Nathaniel Phillips of Slebech, who threw himself out of a window in Amsterdam in July 1824, and it did not recover after suspending payment during the 1825-6 banking crisis. Saer and Company, which survived, was also threatened and between December 1825 and March 1826 the gentry met regularly and established a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Mathias of Haverfordwest to monitor the situation and restore confidence in the bank.24 Kensington observed to his local agent, ‘when such opulent men as Sir John Owen, Captain Peel and Mr. Powell come forward with such large sums for the protection of the county you can never want a circulating medium’.25 Cawdor chaired and was a principal speaker with Allen, Fenton and Dr. Morgan at a county meeting in Haverfordwest, 12 Jan. 1826, to petition ‘for the annihilation of slavery’. Narberth and Milford, where the meeting at the Lord Nelson was chaired by the Rev. Thomas Brigstoke, followed suit.26 Fishguard also petitioned, but ‘several of the signatures appearing to be in the same handwriting’, the Lords ordered that it ‘be received as the petition of the persons only who have actually signed it’.27 Robert Fulke Greville, his father’s namesake and successor in 1824 to Castle Hall and the Colby interest, spent money and promoted his interests in Milford Haven;28 and manoeuvring was under way which led to Phillips replacing Scourfield and Owen’s son and heir Hugh Owen Owen being substituted for a furious Allen at the 1826 general election.29 Owen, whose only political commitment was to oppose Catholic relief, was unopposed in the county, and he and his wife and daughters were drawn into Haverfordwest for the election ‘escorted by 250 gentlemen on horseback’ and watched by a crowd of about 2,000 assembled on Merlin’s Hill. His deputy lieutenants, J.P.A. Lloyd Philipps of Dale Castle and George Bowen of Llwyngwair, sponsored him and the sheriff, Jonathan Hawarth Peel of Cotts, persuaded those present to pass a resolution for a county meeting, 20 June 1827, to defray Owen’s expenses and return him ‘free in the true sense of the word’. It did not take place.30

The corn importation bill proved unpopular and agriculture and the quarrying industry were depressed when in January 1827 a mob assembled at Fishguard, where there had been an enclosure riot three years previously, to protest against the loading of a shipment of corn. The yeomanry were called out for the first time since the French had landed in 1797, the skirmish was contained, and those taken prisoner were treated leniently when tried at the spring sessions at Haverfordwest.31 The president of the board of trade William Huskisson* had informed Kensington, 21 Feb., that government intended ‘no accommodation’ on corn, and the Commons received a petition against the ministry’s corn bill from certain landowners, 1 Mar. 1827.32 Unlike Nairnshire, Pembrokeshire did not celebrate the news of Cawdor’s elevation to an earldom by Lord Goderich’s ministry that year, and Owen left ministers in no doubt of his dismay at the ‘intended advancement of my old and constant opponent in this county’ and reaffirmed his allegiance to Peel early in 1828, when he was appointed to the home office in the duke of Wellington ministry’s.33 Opinion was divided over the government’s proposal to station the Irish steam packets at Hobb’s Point, near Pembroke Dock, rather than at the Pill, near Milford. Pembroke naturally welcomed the decision. Haverfordwest and Milford petitioned against it, but to no avail.34 Pembrokeshire petitions for repeal of the Test Acts received by the Commons in June 1827 and both Houses in 1828 were mainly the work of Dissenters’ congregations, especially the Baptists and Particular Baptists, who had been established in the county since at least 1700.35 Localities where Owen and Philipps were the largest landowners were among the first to petition the Commons against Catholic relief in February and March 1829.36 Cawdor, backed by Allen, Kensington and Henry Leach, promoted pro-emancipation petitions, but the combined strength of Orielton and Picton Castle ensured that they were shouted down at the county meeting in Haverfordwest, 12 Mar. 1829, which carried an anti-emancipation petition. A war of words in the local press between Leach and the Rev. Samuel Fenton of Fishguard ensued. As elsewhere on the Celtic fringe, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish feelings ran high, and the pro-Catholic petition signed by Cawdor’s friends and tenants after the meeting and presented by him, 30 Mar., was more than matched by a two dozen hostile ones from congregations and parishes countywide, including the friendly societies and Wesleyan Methodists of Milford.37 Owen and his son presented only unfavourable petitions but belatedly divided with government for emancipation (30 Mar. 1829). Philipps, who had been made a baronet in 1828, opposed the measure to the last and won popular acclaim thereby.38 The Blues of Picton Castle and Stackpole Court also disagreed in 1829 and 1830 over the justice commission’s proposals to abolish the Welsh judicature and courts of great sessions and incorporate the Welsh counties into the English assize court system. As Cawdor had suggested, the report recommended adding Pembrokeshire to south Cardiganshire, part of Breconshire and Carmarthenshire, and hearing cases in Carmarthen. Not surprisingly the squires resented the threat to their assizes, causing many previously sympathetic to abolition or indifferent to the courts’ fate to rally to their defence and to campaign to save Haverfordwest’s assizes. Cawdor’s confidence that the magistrates, who had been ‘unanimous at the last quarter sessions on the subject’, would support him on the issue proved misplaced.39 Philipps, Scourfield and Greville refused to do his bidding and in September, when Greville was chairman of the grand jury, a county meeting was called to petition against the proposals.40 The report had acknowledged that the distance from St. Davids to Carmarthen was excessive, and anti-abolitionists also highlighted the proposed division and consolidation of counties, language issues, and the increased costs of transporting witnesses and felons. Sir John Owen, though pledged to support any petition adopted by the county, 6 Oct., aligned with those seeking remedial reform. John Mirehouse of Brownslade, near Angle (a common serjeant to the City of London, who had recently clashed with Cawdor over the Brownslade tithes), Thomas Lewis of Clynfiew and the barrister John Evans, who had also testified before the commission, argued strongly in favour of retaining the current system, subject to certain improvements, and a petition on these lines was adopted. Cawdor, backed as previously by Allen and Leach, could muster only seven votes for a counter-petition. Owen and his son opposed the administration of justice bill which enacted the proposals, and Castlemartin hundred, the county, the boroughs and the grand jury petitioned repeatedly against change and for retention of the Haverfordwest assizes. These were safeguarded under a late government amendment that left Wales’s assize structure almost intact when the measure became law.41 The Commons also received petitions from landowners and inhabitants of Narberth for action to combat agricultural distress, 23 Feb., and from Saer and Company for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May 1830.42 ‘Political affairs’ went off ‘very smoothly’ at the general election in August, when Owen, notwithstanding his opposition to the administration of justice bill, was considered a supporter of administration.43 In September the grand jury marked the passing of the Welsh judicature in a memorial praising their last judge, Edward Goulburn.44 Orielton’s finances were in dire straits and in late 1830 the Owens, who failed to divide when the government were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, embarked on abortive schemes to sell the Llanstinan and Cilgerran estates and to lease their foundering quarrying enterprise at Llanycefn to Mirehouse.45

Between November 1830 and March 1831, ‘almost every church of Dissenting Christians throughout the county of Pembroke’, the Calvinistic Methodists, the Independents, Wesleyan Methodists and the clergy and inhabitants of most boroughs and parishes petitioned both Houses urging the abolition of colonial slavery. Many were forwarded to Sir Gerard Noel, John Wilks (secretary of the Society for the Protection of Religious Liberty), the Owens and Lord Morpeth for presentation to the Commons and to Cawdor for presentation to the Lords.46 Certain inhabitants petitioned the Lords requesting the repeal of ‘that most impolitic and oppressive tax, the malt duty’, 10 Mar., and the Commons received a similar one from the county’s maltsters, 28 Mar.47 The campaign for parliamentary reform was well under way when the Commons received a reform petition, purporting to be a county one, from certain freeholders and inhabitants, 28 Feb.48 As in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire, the county reform meeting of 5 Apr. was a hurriedly convened affair instigated in London by Kensington after the Grey ministry’s bill had passed its second reading by the narrowest of margins, 22 Mar., when the Owens had opposed it. Kensington’s name headed the requisition, followed by Allen, Greville and Leach, most of the corporation of Haverfordwest, Thomas Lloyd of Coedmor, Thomas Lloyd of Bronwydd, and others who promoted the cause in the three West Wales counties. Owen was apparently not consulted.49 With the exception of John Lewis of Henllan’s speech, printed in full in the Carmarthen Journal, 15 Apr., the meeting was scantily reported, and the ‘two dissentient voices’ not named. The deputy sheriff, Lewis Evans of Cardigan, presided, and resolutions were moved and seconded by Kensington and Major Harries, Greville and Lewis, Allen and George Roch junior of Butter Hill, Leach and Kensington’s kinsman William Tucker Edwardes of Sealyham, Robert Innes Ackland of Boulston and J.P.A. Lloyd Philipps. The last two presided afterwards at a reform dinner at the Castle Inn, where the Orange party of Orielton customarily celebrated. In a further slight to Owen, the county petition was deliberately forwarded to Sir Richard Bulkeley Philipps, who had voted for the reform bill, for presentation to the Commons (where it remained unpresented), and to Cawdor, who presented it to the Lords, 15 Apr.50 A furious Owen had published a ‘long exculpatory address to his constituents’, 9 Apr., explaining that he would vote against the bill in future and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, which he did, 19 Apr. 1831.51

From Haverfordwest, the absent squire of Trecoon Joseph Foster Barham* was informed by his agent John Harvey that ‘the feeling is really strong against ... [Owen] and the greatest difficulty appears to be only the selection of a proper person to oppose him’.52 By 26 Apr. Greville, who had chaired reform meetings at Milford and Halkin before leaving for London, had secured the support of Cawdor, Kensington and Philipps of Picton Castle, and declared himself as the Blue or reform candidate. Letters were dispatched to squires and farmers whose votes were sought, handbills were issued and advertisements placed in the newspapers.53 Owen’s friends had already alerted him to the futility of standing as an anti-reformer, and he defended his seat as a supporter of ‘real reform’ who had strong reservations about the ‘particulars of the present bill’. His election address and handbills extolled this as a virtue.54 Hurrying home, Owen opened his campaign in north Pembrokeshire, where he had been successful in 1812. Estates and parishes were smaller there, and there were proportionately more voters worthy of the title Mr. or Esquire.55 In nearby Cardigan, Kensington warned Greville that the contest would be costly, but he said that he was prepared to spend £20,000 and did not back down. It was rumoured that he had already deposited £30,000 with Morris’s, the Blue bank at Carmarthen.56 Kensington’s eldest surviving son, Capt. William Edwardes, was chosen to chair Greville’s committee, and Philipps ensured that he enjoyed a tumultuous reception at Haverfordwest. Apart from William Evans and some loyal Blues in Haverfordwest, the attorneys were quick to accept Owen’s retainers and Greville had to hire lawyers from as far afield as Aberystwyth and Llandeilo. Cardigan attorneys served both parties and the Blues gained extra assistance from Carmarthen after the election there (the only other contest in West Wales) was abandoned because of rioting.57 By 9 May Harvey felt he could report that Greville’s friends were ‘very sanguine of success’, and Owen’s ‘attempts to show he’s a true reformer ... [have] lost him some powerful friends, whilst others are as easily satisfied with the explanations’. Lord Althorp* was similarly informed that ‘Sir John Owen will go to the wall, it seems pretty certain’.58 Polling was arranged by hundred and the election held in Cartlett Field (Perjury Park) on the outskirts of Haverfordwest: convenient for its facilities, but outside its jurisdiction. Owen was proposed by Bowen of Llwyngwair, who had interrupted a visit to Bath, and seconded by John Hill Harries of Priskilly, but it was Greville, nominated in Cawdor’s absence by Philipps and Allen, who won the show of hands.59 Lampooning, treating and the search for votes and transport continued on both sides.60 The Times favoured Greville and dismissed Owen as ‘a true disciple of the Peel school’, a ‘turnaround’ who had ‘hoisted the colours of reform’ and would ‘strain every nerve to lessen the number of condemned boroughs and vote against diminishing the number of English Members’. It also pointed out that the county reform resolutions had been signed by many who had gone over to Owen. Pollbook evidence shows that at least 14 of the 37 signatories voted for him, and most of them had strong interests in all three West Wales counties.61 On the 19th The Times reported:

A more ardent contest ... never before occurred in South Wales ... The subsheriffs in the various booths were retained in the first instance for Sir John Owen, and afterwards substituted by the sheriffs in the present vocations; and they by their partialities put considerable impediments in the way of the efforts of the popular party; but victory is certain.

Owen was consistently ahead but his majority fluctuated. Haverfordwest was ‘in a state of uproar and tumult’ and the lawyers were busy, but polling was not interrupted.62 Greville retained John Evans as his counsel and Owen, Mirehouse, who was replaced by John Jones* when fatigue set in. The decisions of the assessor, the Carmarthen barrister James Evans, ‘respecting the Milford tenants of Mr. Greville’, newly created Castlemartin voters, Brownslade voters enfranchised on the life of one ‘John White’, and ‘mushroom cottage voters who spring up in the course of a night, and who are allowed to poll on a mere verbal promise of a lease’, were crucial.63 Freeholders whose cases were considered included Greville’s supporter Uriah Bunker of Deadman’s Lake, who was objected to as an unnaturalized alien but later admitted, and William Butler of Haverfordwest, whose vote for Owen was rejected because he had gambled on the result.64 On the 24th, Owen’s friends were invited to dine at the Castle, and Greville sent out urgent appeals for support on the last day.65 Delaying tactics were commonplace: 1,573 (45 per cent) were required to swear the long oaths, which caused particular annoyance at the booths for Dewisland, where Greville was strongest, and Narberth, where the officials’ inability to speak Welsh posed problems. Greville promised to demand a scrutiny and reformers were criticized for deserting Greville for Owen, who had ‘jumped from ultra-Toryism’, and for prolonging the contest unnecessarily. The Orange party were accused of securing victory ‘by management and a partial sheriff’.66 The election ended violently on the 15th day with the arrival of Sir John’s colliers from Hook to counter the persuasive tactics of Greville’s ‘Milford Gang’, and Owen had to be chaired and dined in Pembroke instead of Haverfordwest. Four-thousand-five-hundred-and-seventy-nine tendered their votes, 3,799 polled (nearly a thousand more than in 1812), and there were about 300 cases unresolved when polling ceased. The Cambrian and The Times suggested that ‘a county with upwards of 70,000 souls, comprising at least 3,700 freeholders surely deserves two Members’.67 As in 1807 and 1812, the Orange party took the hundreds of Castlemartin (386-159), Cilgerran (130-88), Cemaes (443-388), and Narberth (358-324). The Blues carried Dewisland (311-248) and Dungleddy (229-140), and by controlling Milford they also triumphed in Rhos (351-244), which Cawdor had lost in 1812. Greville, backed by 19 prominent freeholders, had sent a letter of complaint to the sheriff protesting at the delaying tactics deployed and the number of his cases the assessor had rejected and he announced when polling ceased that he would petition.68

While the petition was prepared, Greville was wined and dined at Haverfordwest, Narberth and Carmarthen, and The Times printed a series of letters, which many attributed to Allen, scornful of Owen’s nepotism, simony, poor parliamentary attendance, subservience to Peel and votes. Mirehouse responded in kind when it was reported that he intended satisfying his quest for a parliamentary seat by coming in for the Boroughs in Hugh Owen’s place, for a financial consideration.69 Committees were established, subscriptions raised, and evidence of unqualified voters collected countywide in Greville’s interest.70 Cawdor’s Carmarthenshire agent R.B. Williams of Llandeilo proffered advice on petitioning and cautioned against spending on a Commons scrutiny as ‘Parliament would hardly sit long enough for the committee to come to any decision’. However, he suggested a scrutiny at Pembroke by John Williams of Carmarthen, who ‘was employed in the Pembroke quo warranto causes in 1818 and 1814 and must therefore be acquainted with the old partisans at that place - it could not take you many days and the thing would be satisfactorily done’. He added:

Some of Mirehouse’s mushroom voters have made admissions to other persons and this, according to Sir James Scarlett*, is the best of all evidence. Two of his principal tenants in Angle declined to accept the leases or arrangements that had been prepared for them for political purposes. Would not the evidence of these persons be material?71

Greville hoped to unseat Owen without invalidating the election and, failing this, to have a new writ issued. It was decided, apparently by Allen, Cawdor, Kensington and Philipps in London,72 that Greville should petition with Philipps and others alleging that Owen’s booth managers had connived with partisan subsheriffs and an incompetent assessor to give him a majority; and that the sheriff, Morgan Jones of Cilwendeg, who had succumbed to gout and left his deputy in charge, had been guilty of misconduct.73 Lists drawn up in preparation for a scrutiny were held in reserve for future use.74 Owen, having taken his seat, had voted consistently for the reform bill and prolonged his time in Parliament to do so by successfully postponing consideration of Greville’s petition, claiming, for example on 8 July, that he had 500 cases to prepare.75 When Welsh schedule F boroughs were considered, 10 Aug., he made much of the redesignation of Milford as a contributory of Pembroke instead of Haverfordwest - a decision which many thought had been taken after the election in order to weaken Owen and improve Greville’s future prospects. Both parties campaigned for a second county Member and Owen moved an amendment, which was rejected outright, to try to secure one, 14 Sept. 1831. Althorp mistakenly thought the county had already gained a borough constituency and had to be corrected by Lord Granville Somerset, who pointed out that the bill only increased the number of contributory boroughs in Pembrokeshire.

On 16 Sept. 1831 the clerk of the peace Henry Rees presented depositions and copies of the pollbooks and land tax assessments to the election committee chaired by the Whig Member for Herefordshire, Sir Robert Price, and packed with reformers.76 Greville was represented by W.H. Maule† and Owen by Serjeant Robert Spankie.† Each attorney employed in the booths testified, at a cost to Greville alone of over £600. Mirehouse was questioned closely by Maule about his leases and the undersheriffs’ known ties with Owen. Spankie made much of the professional and kinship ties between Lewis Evans and Greville’s principal manager William Evans, and less of the fact that the assessor was William Evans’s brother and a supporter of Owen. William Edwardes was forced to admit that he had not seen the sheriff receive Greville’s letters of complaint, and Owen explained that Morgan Jones had been appointed sheriff despite his gout, because he had enough money and an election seemed unlikely.77 It was established that the leaseholder vote, which Greville had carried, had risen to 77 per cent, and that the freeholders had voted predominantly for Owen.78 While the petition was heard, Owen voted for the passage of the reintroduced reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. 1831. Price reported that day that the committee found the charges of partiality and incompetence proven and the sheriff’s conduct ‘strongly marked by a culpable neglect’. Owen’s defence and allegations were also upheld, for there had been malpractice by officials on both sides, and the election was declared void. A new writ was ordered, 26 Sept. 1831, after motions to postpone it and cause further delay until the sheriff could be replaced had failed.79

Greville’s new canvassing address poured scorn on Owen’s commitment to reform and warned that he would revert to his old colours when the bill encountered problems in the Lords, who received petitions urging its passage from the freeholders and inhabitants, 3 Oct., and from Fishguard, 10 Oct. 1831.80 Owen’s readiness to bow to pressure on reform and Catholic emancipation and to ‘sacrifice a part of his honest opinion in favour of that of his constituents’ were used against him and, with slavery, became major campaign issues.81 The district committees met and, as during petitioning, expected daily reports. Attorneys were hired and put to work seeking means, such as pressure from mortgagees, to influence wayward freeholders. Subscriptions were raised, partly to defray petitioning costs, some £6,000 being collected for Owen following a meeting of his friends at Eglwyswrw chaired by Bowen of Llwyngwair, and over £1,000 following a similar meeting of Greville’s Milford and Halkin supporters.82 Owen was proposed and seconded as previously, 13 Oct., when, in Philipps’s absence, Allen proposed and Scourfield seconded Greville. The May election bills remained unpaid and the contest, though still exhaustive, was fought over only nine days and ‘with the strictest economy’ and fewer voters and cases on both sides.83 The assessor, Serjeant W.O. Russell, had ruled, 19 Oct.:

A voter upon proving a verbal contract for a lease for life or lives on the condition of an outlay in building further proving the performance of such contract on his part and a substantial outlay to the amount of at least thirty pounds, and that such performance and outlay were complete 12 months before the first day of the election has been admitted to vote upon an equitable title. But note that such contract must have been made with the owner of the estate or with the agent of such owner; and if with the agent only, must have been either authorized beforehand or subsequently recognized by the owner. Further note, that according to the terms agreed upon by both parties and acted upon from the beginning of the 2nd day’s poll, the voter alone is to be examined upon this matter. Upon the credit due to the voter’s account, the deputy sheriffs are requested to decide. And the deputy sheriffs are requested not to send any more cases to the assessor similar to that above mentioned as decided by him.84

The Morning Chronicle and The Times thought this would work to Owen’s advantage, and deplored his subsequent victory as a ‘triumph of fraud, chicanery, trickery and grossest political dishonesty’. They denounced the partisan conduct of the clergy and squirearchy who, according to pollbook evidence, had supported Owen in preference to Greville in a ratio of approximately 60 to 40 at both elections. The reduced turnout in October, when 2,954 polled, was spread evenly across the hundreds and partly attributable to poor weather, the attendance of fewer distant voters and the reluctance of party agents to push dubiously qualified voters. Switching was rare, with about 1,295 voters for Owen and 1,224 for Greville voting the same way at both elections; but David Saunders Davies of Pentre, chairman of Cardiganshire quarter sessions, gave his interest to Greville in May and to Owen in October, the attorneys William Amlot and Thomas Herbert refused to serve Owen in October and James Hughes decided against accepting Greville’s retainer.85 Local papers made much of Owen’s promise to support reform, and the insults and the subsequent apology made by Greville to Lewis of Clynfiew; and duels between William Tucker Edwardes and Gilbert Harries of Llanwnwas, and Greville and John Jones. Jones, who fired in the air to avoid wounding Greville, had already taken legal action against the Carmarthen reformer George Thomas following an incident at the Narberth booth in May. From 322 ‘new’ electors in October Owen gained 147 and Greville 134 votes and another 41 tendered but were rejected. The assessors ruled on the qualification in 495 cases, 285 fewer than in May. The pro-reform Cambrian thought the October election was less violent because music was dispensed with, and criticized Greville for ‘resorting to the language of the Globe’.86

The candidates had accumulated debts of at least £22,000: the Blue inn, The Mariners, and Greville’s lawyers alone were owed £1,878 and £2,500; and the sheriff over £2,300 for the booths, staff and stationery. Owen, whose finances never recovered, raised £11,000 through property sales and loans from his son. Greville, who received innkeepers’ bills for £15,000, sought refuge on the continent and did not return to Milford for 20 years. Actions for debt brought against him and his committee blighted the fortunes of the Blues for a generation.87 Owen withdrew a motion seeking to clear the sheriff’s name, 12 Dec. 1831, and his votes for reform proved sufficient to dissuade ministers from intervening to support Allen against him in 1832.88 On 8 Sept. 1832 the first lord of the admiralty Sir James Graham* wrote to the patronage secretary Charles Wood* of the government’s dilemma:

Sir John Owen and his son have given to the government in the last Parliament a reluctant but uncompromising support. They are renegade Tories and in olden times fought many hard and expensive battles in Pembrokeshire against the Whig interest of which Lord Cawdor was the champion. The hatred of ancient feuds survives the recent change, and terriers desire not more to worry [a] rat, than Lord Cawdor to diminish the political power of Sir John Owen. At the last election [Edward] Ellice* supported Mr. Greville against Sir John; the battle was hard fought; the interest of government failed, and Sir John won the day. Notwithstanding this provocation, Sir John and his son thought it prudent to pocket the affront, and they voted with us. The question now is shall we repeat the experiment at the instigation of Lord Cawdor with a second defeat; and in the event of Sir J. Owen’s success give just cause for offence both to father and son; or shall we be neuter, and displease both Owen and Lord Cawdor, or shall we support Sir John, on the grounds that the votes which he gave in the last Parliament now entitle him to our assistance? The last course will be wormwood to Lord Cawdor; but is, I rather think, both political and just.89

Three-thousand-six-hundred-and-sixty-four electors were registered at the new polling towns of Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Mathry, Narberth, Newport, Pembroke and Tenby in November 1832, when counsel upheld only 85 of the 911 objections raised by Allen’s agent, but 386 of 615 cases raised by Owen’s. Allen afterwards withdrew his candidature despite continued support from the Welshman and a group of influential middle rank squires.90 Owen, described as a Liberal Conservative, represented the county unopposed until he made way for Cawdor’s heir Viscount Emlyn in 1841. The constituency remained unpolled until Emlyn succeed to the peerage in 1861 and was contested again twice before 1885. A Conservative defeated Owen’s son Hugh Owen Owen* in 1861, and they retained the seat until 1880.91

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. D.A. Wager,‘Welsh Politics and Parl. Reform, 1780-1832’ (Univ. of Wales Ph.D. thesis, 1972), 367; R.G. Thorne, ‘Pemb. and National Politics, 1815-1974’, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv, ed. D. Howell, 232.
  • 2. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iii. 611-12.
  • 3. R. Lewis, ‘Towns of Pemb. 1815-74’, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 39-76; M.R. Connop Price, ‘Pemb. Coal Industry’, ibid. 111-16; D. Roberts, ‘Pemb. Slate Industry’, ibid. 138-5.
  • 4. D. Howell, Land and People in 19th Cent. Wales, 21-23.
  • 5. R.G. Thorne, ‘Pemb. Elections of 1807 and 1812’, Pemb. Hist. vi (1979), 5-24; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 503-10; iii. 669-70; iv. 791-2; NLW ms 6106 D, f. 129; D. Williams, ‘Pemb. Elections of 1831’, WHR, i (1960-3), 37-41; Carm. RO, Cawdor mss 1/225; 2/206; NLW, Picton Castle mss 655; Carmarthen Jnl. 3, 10, 17 Mar., 7 Apr. 1820.
  • 6. Carmarthen Jnl. 7, 14, 21 Apr. 1820; CJ, lxxv.241, 279; LJ, liii. 102,140.
  • 7. Carmarthen Jnl. 12, 19 May, 2, 9 June; Cambrian, 20, 27 May, 3 June 1820; CJ, lxxv. 294; LJ, liii. 140.
  • 8. Carmarthen Jnl. 28 Apr. 1820, 6 Aug. 1830; The Times, 26 May, 5 July; Cambrian, 10, 17 June 1820; CJ, lxxv. 237, 269, 445-7; lxxvii. 96.
  • 9. PP (1821), iv. 3-10; CJ, lxxvii. 363; LJ, liv. 275. See M. Escott, ‘How Wales lost its Judicature: the making of the 1830 Act for the Abolition of the Courts of Great Sessions’, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (2006), 135-59.
  • 10. Carmarthen Jnl. 17 Nov. 1820, 6, 13 July 1821; Cambrian, 18 Nov. 1820.
  • 11. Carm. RO, Dynevor mss 159/4; Carmarthen Jnl. 12 Oct 1821.
  • 12. Seren Gomer, v (1822), 124; Carmarthen Jnl. 10 May, 20 Sept. 1822; Add. 40352, f. 74.
  • 13. Cambrian, 17, 24 Apr., 22 May, 12 June 1824.
  • 14. PP (1835), xxv. 375-9; CJ, lxxvii. 367; LJ lv. 261.
  • 15. Carmarthen Jnl. 20 Sept. 1822; CJ, lvxxiii. 296; The Times, 9 May 1823.
  • 16. NLW, Llwyngwair mss 15274, 15324, 15333; NLW, Lucas mss 99, 414-18, 3086, 3087.
  • 17. Carmarthen Jnl. 10, 24 Oct. 16 Dec. 1823; NLW, Noyadd Trefawr mss 1351.
  • 18. Add. 38323, f. 105; 38576, f. 10.
  • 19. Add. 38297, f. 357; 38298, f. 10; 40359, ff. 100, 145, 184-6, 205.
  • 20. Carmarthen Jnl. 7 Nov. 1823; Cambrian, 10 Apr. 1824; CJ, lxxix. 430, 482.
  • 21. Welshman, 14 Sept. 1832.
  • 22. NLW ms 14984 A.
  • 23. The Times, 5, 11 May 1825; LJ, liv. 179, 342; lv. 249, 245; lvii. 786, 793.
  • 24. Bodl. Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 2, Harvey to Foster Barham, 26, 29, 30, 31 Dec. 1825, 2, 11, 21, 26 Jan., 11 Mar. 1826; Lucas mss 1186, 1229-31; Cambrian, 31 Dec. 1825, 7 Jan. 1826.
  • 25. Lucas mss 1232.
  • 26. Carmarthen Jnl. 27 Jan., 5 May; Cambrian, 4 Feb., 1 Mar. 1826; Thorne, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 231; CJ, lxxxi. 124, 193, 271, 290; LJ, lviii. 58.
  • 27. LJ, lviii. 58.
  • 28. Carmarthen Jnl. 8 Oct. 1825, 18 Feb. 1826.
  • 29. Cawdor mss 2/209; Carmarthen Jnl. 25 Nov. 1825, 3, 10 Feb., 26 May, 2, 9, 16, 23 June 1826; Cambrian, 7 Dec. 1825, 14 Jan., 4, 11 Feb., 27 May, 10, 17, 24 June 1826.
  • 30. The Times, 28 June 1826.
  • 31. Carmarthen Jnl. 19, 25 Jan., 20 Apr.; Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 2, Harvey to Foster Barham, c. 20 Jan. 1827; A. Philpin, ‘Crime and Protest, 1815-74’, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 318.
  • 32. Add. 38749, f. 105; CJ, lxxxii. 245.
  • 33. Carmarthen Jnl. 14 Sept., 19 Oct 1827; Add. 40394, f. 225; 40395, ff. 92-94.
  • 34. Carmarthen Jnl. 6 Apr., 23 May, 26 Dec. 1828.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxii. 527, 560, 594; lxxxiii.79, 83, 87, 91, 96, 104-5; LJ, lx. 55, 56, 64, 66, 71, 72; R. Brinkley, ‘Religion, 1815-1974’, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 374-80.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxiv. 84, 105, 115, 132, 140-1.
  • 37. Carmarthen Jnl. 6, 13, 20, 27 Mar.; Cambrian, 7, 21 Mar., 11, 25 Apr. 1829; G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 142-5; Pemb. RO D/CT/456; CJ, lxxxiv. 127, 160; LJ, lxi. 55, 68, 91, 105, 118, 130, 143, 144, 186, 200-2, 234, 235, 253, 267, 289, 307, 308, 320, 334, 335, 337, 354.
  • 38. Seren Gomer, xii (1829), 155; Carmarthen Jnl. 20 Apr. 1829.
  • 39. PP (1829), ix, passim; Carmarthen Jnl. 24 Apr. 1829; Cawdor, Letter to Lyndhurst; UCNW, Plas Newydd mss i. 740.
  • 40. Carmarthen Jnl. 11, 18, 25 Sept; Cambrian, 26 Sept. 1829.
  • 41. Cambrian, 10, 17 Oct., 6 Dec. 1829; Carmarthen Jnl. 12 Mar., 12 June 1829, 30 Apr., 7 May; The Times, 22 June 1830; Cawdor mss 2/214; NLW, Bute mss L72/102 CJ, lxxxv. 152, 153, 336, 380, 423; LJ, lxii. 714, 905.
  • 42. CJ, lxxxv. 410, 463.
  • 43. Carmarthen Jnl. 9, 16, 23, 30 July; Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 5, Harvey to Foster Barham, 10 July 1830.
  • 44. Carmarthen Jnl. 3 Sept. 1830.
  • 45. F. Jones, ‘Owen of Orielton’, Pemb. Hist. v (1974), 32; Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 5, Harvey to Foster Barham, 26, 28 Aug., 21 Sept., 8 Nov. 1830.
  • 46. Carmarthen Jnl. 26 Nov. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 86, 117, 126, 143, 157, 444; LJ, lxiii. 19, 23, 38, 40, 107, 115, 136, 243, 486-8.
  • 47. LJ, lxii. 306.
  • 48. CJ, lxxxvi. 324.
  • 49. Carmarthen Jnl. 1 Apr. 1831.
  • 50. Ibid. 8 Apr.; Cambrian, 9 Apr. 1831; LJ, lxii. 439.
  • 51. Carmarthen Jnl. 15 Apr., Morning Chron. 26 Apr. 1831; Pemb. RO D/CT/457.
  • 52. Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 6, Harvey to Foster Barham, 23 Apr. 1831.
  • 53. Carmarthen Jnl. 29 Apr.; Cambrian, 30 Apr. 1831; Pemb. RO D/CT/458; D. Williams, WHR, i. 42.
  • 54. Carmarthen Jnl. 6 May; Cambrian, 7 May 1831.
  • 55. Cambrian, 30 Apr. 1831; NLW ms 6099 E; NLW, Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4551-88, 5466-76.
  • 56. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 5459; NLW, Williams and Williams Haverfordwest mss 19481.
  • 57. D. Williams, Rebecca Riots (1971), 27; NLW, Glansevin mss 3025; Eaton Evans and Williams mss 5002.
  • 58. Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 6, Harvey to Foster Barham, 9 May; Add. 76382, Poulett Thomson to Althorp, 9 May 1831.
  • 59. Carmarthen Jnl. 13 May 1831; Llwyngwair mss 32.
  • 60. Pemb. RO D/CT/459-61; Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 6, Harvey to Foster Barham, 9 May 1831; Williams and Williams Haverfordwest mss 19479-86; Eaton Evans and Williams mss 5459.
  • 61. Carmarthen Jnl. 1 Apr.; The Times, 14 May 1831; Pemb. RO PQ/RP/P/8-14 (unpublished pollbooks, May 1831).
  • 62. The Times, 19 May; Carmarthen Jnl. 20 May 1831.
  • 63. Cambrian, 21 May 1831; NLW ms 6099 E.
  • 64. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4551, 4567.
  • 65. NLW ms 6099 E.
  • 66. The Times, 26, 28 May; Carmarthen Jnl. 27 May 1831.
  • 67. Cambrian, 28 May, The Times, 31 May 1831.
  • 68. Carmarthen Jnl. 3, 17 June 1831.
  • 69. The Times, 3, 10, 14 June; Carmarthen Jnl. 10, 17 June; Cambrian, 11, 18 June 1831.
  • 70. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4593, 5044-5106, 5172, 5173, 5175-89, 5458, 11990.
  • 71. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 5174; Cambrian, 30 July, 13 Aug. 1831.
  • 72. Clarendon dep. 372, bdle. 6, Harvey to Foster Barham, 11 June 1831.
  • 73. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4593, 5387-91, 12475; D. Williams, WHR, i. 53; CJ, lxxxvi. 608-9.
  • 74. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 12991-13001.
  • 75. CJ, lxxxvi. 633, 688, 744. For details of cases see Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4579-96. Carmarthen Jnl. 29 July 1831 reported that Owen was preparing 800 cases.
  • 76. CJ, lxxxvi. 843-4; The Times, 17 Sept. 1831; D. Williams, WHR, i. 54.
  • 77. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 5064; PP (1831), iv. 535-651; The Times, 19 Sept.; Carmarthen Jnl. 23 Sept. 1831.
  • 78. PP (1831), iv. 623.
  • 79. CJ, lxxxvi. 863-6. The Times, 24 Sept. 1831.
  • 80. Carmarthen Jnl. 30 Sept. 1831; LJ, lxii. 1040, 1075.
  • 81. Carmarthen Jnl. 7 Oct.; The Times, 17 Oct 1831; NLW ms 6099 E; Pemb. RO D/CT/462.
  • 82. Carmarthen Jnl. 30 Sept., 7, 14 Oct.; Cambrian, 8, 15 Oct. 1831; Pemb. RO D/CT/463; Llwyngwair mss 15256; Eaton Evans and Williams mss 5053, 5088, 5133-5.
  • 83. The Times, 15, 18, 20-22, 24, 25 Oct. 1831.
  • 84. Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4569.
  • 85. The Times, 18, 25 Oct.; Morning Chron. 26 Oct. 1831; Eaton Evans and Williams mss 4551-70, 5136, 5137, 5141, 5146.
  • 86. Cambrian, 22, 29 Oct.; Carmarthen Jnl. 28 Oct. 1831.
  • 87. Pemb. RO D/CT/464, 465; Lucas mss 3; D. Williams, WHR, i. 56-64.
  • 88. Add. 51724, Althorp to Holland, 9 Sept. 1832.
  • 89. Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR 80) 2, bdle. 14, Graham to C. Wood, 8 Sept. 1832.
  • 90. Welshman, 17, 24 Aug., 14 Sept.; Carmarthen Jnl. 16 Nov., 21 Dec. 1832; Lucas mss 1; NLW, Highmead mss 3153, 3154; NLW, Bronwydd mss 525, 566.
  • 91. Thorne, Pemb. Co. Hist. iv. 236-50; I. Matthews, ‘Pemb. Co. Politics 1860-80’, Pemb. Hist. Soc. Jnl. xii (1989), 39-55; M. Cragoe, Culture, Politics and National Identity in Wales, 1832-86, p. 234.