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 freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

490 in 18311

Number of voters:

441 in 1831


2,933 (1821); 3,521 (1831)2


 Sir Christopher Hawkins, bt.147
10 May 1824ROBERT STANTON vice Swann, deceased153
 David Barclay147
12 June 1826DAVID BARCLAY371
 Henry Frederick John James Perceval, Visct. Perceval152
 Charles Francis Adey6
2 Aug. 1830SIR CHARLES LEMON, bt.370
 Charles Stewart151
 Thomas Weeding32
 Thomas Weeding225

Main Article

Penryn, a port and market town in the south-west of the county, was situated on the ‘declivity of a low hill, projecting ... into one of the creeks of Falmouth harbour’, where there was ample space for a quay and ‘wharves of every description’. Its principal trade was in granite, quarried from the surrounding hills and shipped in ‘vast quantities’ to London and elsewhere for public works such as the new Waterloo Bridge. There were manufactories for woollen cloth, paper, soap, paint and tobacco, along with tanneries and breweries, and ‘many corn mills’ were located in the surrounding ‘fertile’ countryside. The shops were ‘very numerous’ and there was a ‘pretty good general trade’; a new market house was opened in 1825.3

The borough was wholly contained within but formed only part of the parish of St. Gluvias. Local power was exercised by the corporation, a self-electing body consisting of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and 24 other capital burgesses, who were chosen from among persons ‘resident at the time of election’. They were mostly attorneys, clergymen, military officers or merchants and usually held their offices for life, but they were removable. Vacancies were often left unfilled for long periods, and in 1820 there were only eight capital burgesses. The franchise was a wide one, being vested in freeholders resident for 40 days before an election and in rated householders resident for six months. Penryn had earned a reputation for gross venality, which a local newspaper in 1825 attributed to the absence of a dominant patron and to the fact that the electors were ‘from their humble station in life ... peculiarly exposed to temptation’, which encouraged wealthy candidates to ‘periodically come amongst them to scatter gold and purchase their suffrages’. Francis Bassett†, 1st Baron De Dunstanville of Tehidy Park, the recorder, was the most influential property owner, but he had shown signs of wishing to sever his connection with the borough and became a remote figure in this period. The De Dunstanville-corporation interest had returned one Member since 1807, but in 1818 their candidate, the London merchant John Anderdon, was defeated. Sir Christopher Hawkins* of Trewithen, the great Cornish boroughmonger and bitter rival of De Dunstanville, had extended his activities into Penryn, and though a Commons inquiry led to his being unseated in 1807 and prosecuted for bribery, he regained his seat in 1818. A ‘notoriously profligate instrument in the corruption of Penryn’ was the attorney Henry Swann, ‘Black Swann’, Member since 1806. He had built a strong interest through bribery and treating, and his practice of supporting the ministry of the day enabled him to obtain naval appointments and other places for his friends. As chairman of the committee for erecting Waterloo Bridge, he had ensured that Penryn granite was ordered for it and ‘openly boasted of securing an expenditure of £350,000 in the county’. By exploiting the language of ‘independence’, he tapped into a tradition of local hostility towards the corporation ‘oligarchy’. However, Swann was unseated for bribery after another Commons inquiry in 1819 and subsequently committed to king’s bench prison for a year. No new writ was issued to fill the vacancy, and Sir Charles Burrell sponsored a bill to enlarge the borough by opening it to the hundreds of Kerrier and Penwith.4

In February 1820 Penryn had a ‘lucky escape’ when the Lords rejected Lord John Russell’s bill to withhold its writ for the forthcoming general election. Hawkins, who had ‘already been amongst his constituents’ and given them a ‘public dinner’, was warned by his attorney, John Edwards of Truro, that the ‘evil’ spirit in the borough was ‘as firmly rooted ... notwithstanding the experience of ... last session, as it ever was’. Edwards urged Hawkins to ‘sift your Penryn list to the very bottom’, as ‘they live by borough contests and, to enable them to do so, there must be at least three [candidates], of whom one must go to the wall’. Swann announced his intention of offering again, despite his continued incarceration, and he told a visitor that he was ‘sure of his election ... without expending a shilling!’ Pascoe Grenfell, a banker and former Whig Member for Great Marlow, was invited to stand by De Dunstanville, who, ‘though differing with me ... upon some occasions in politics’, had ‘assured me ... of his cordial support, so far as his property ... gives him any influence’. The corporation assisted with Grenfell’s canvass, and De Dunstanville thought he was ‘as sure of success as anyone can be in that place’. In his address, Grenfell emphasized that he was a Cornishman ‘connected, in no inconsiderable degree, with the mineral concerns’ of the county, and he promised to protect the ‘rights and franchises of the borough’. Local newspapers agreed that Grenfell had ‘every prospect of success’, but a ‘sharp’ contest was expected between Hawkins and Swann, with the latter having a ‘strong party in his interest’.5 Grenfell was nominated by the corporators Edward Hodges and William Paul Williams, Hawkins by John Stona junior and Captain William Corfield, and Swann by Benjamin Heame and Captain Manderson. Polling ‘proceeded very slowly’, as much time was spent dealing with objections to voters, and at the end of the first day only 73 out of some 320 electors had tendered, giving Grenfell 41 votes to 31 each for Swann and Hawkins. By the end of the second day, another 88 votes had been cast and Grenfell led comfortably by 127 to Swann’s 88 and Hawkins’s 75; ten votes had been ‘rejected or disallowed’. That night, the ‘utmost exertions were made’ by the friends of Swann and Hawkins. At the close of the poll on the third day a total of 304 votes had been tendered and Grenfell and Swann were declared elected. Grenfell expressed satisfaction that the contest had been ‘altogether free from those tumultuory proceedings which too often prevail at our popular elections’, and he pledged to maintain his ‘principles of independence and integrity’. Heame thanked the electors on Swann’s behalf, observing that the result ‘proved ... they were alive to those feelings of gratitude for the services rendered by Mr. Swann to the borough’. Grenfell and Heame were afterwards chaired ‘amidst the acclamations of the inhabitants’. A Tory newspaper claimed that the election had ended in a manner ‘highly honourable to the independent interest’ of Penryn, which was ‘not to be ranked with [the] corrupt boroughs’.6 However, Hawkins organized a petition against Swann’s return, which was presented to the Commons in the names of three electors, 9 May. It was alleged that Swann had been ineligible to stand because he was in prison and because he lacked the requisite property qualification, and that his agents were guilty of bribery and treating. John Hearle Tremayne, the county Member, doubted that the first two charges would succeed and thought the third required proof that treating had taken place in the houses of Swann’s agents. Hawkins was warned by some of the inhabitants that to persist with the petition would be ‘so very unpopular an act as to deprive you of the least chance of success at the next election’, but Edwards’s brother Joseph was unimpressed:

At the last election you yourself witnessed their conduct towards you, and cannot doubt the means to which they resorted to secure Mr. Swann’s return. Yet, if you venture to dispute his eligibility, or to call him to account for the breach of engagements entered into by his friends not to treat, you are told that you will become unpopular, and must lose your election; and you are invited to wait till another general election, when you will be supported by Mr. Swann’s friends! Yes, supported as you have too often been already, by their second votes, bearing much more than a due proportion of the expenses ... It is high time that you should know what your influence and strength really are at Penryn. For if you cannot command as many single votes as the corporation party or Mr. Swann’s, your interest there is not worth cultivating.

Rumours circulated that the corporation intended to ‘propose a candidate of their own in case of a vacancy’. In the event, the election committee confirmed Swann in his seat, 16 June. Burrell gave notice, 14 July 1820, that he would reintroduce his Penryn bribery bill in the next session, but nothing came of this.7

In September 1820 eight capital burgesses were admitted to the corporation, at least two of whom, Stona (who was immediately elected mayor) and William Pender Roberts, were supporters of Hawkins.8 Following the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, Stona responded to a ‘cautiously circulated’ requisition by summoning a public meeting, 15 Dec. 1820, to consider a loyal address to the king. According to a Whig report, some 30 individuals, mostly ‘half-pay officers and persons holding places under government’, attended to hear Heame and Williams move an address which was ‘almost an exact counterpart of that presented by the court of aldermen of London’; it was ‘unanimously agreed’. One inhabitant claimed that only 21 hands had been raised in its favour and expressed regret that the opposition had ‘weakly yielded to the well meant advice not to disturb the peace ... of the town’.9 Hawkins’s return for St. Ives, where he was lord of the manor, in May 1821, prompted John Edwards to recommend that he withdraw altogether from Penryn, where he had ‘no property’. Although some financial ‘sacrifice’ would be necessary to ‘silence’ certain ‘unquiet souls’, Edwards considered this was best made at once rather than after spending ‘ten times the sum’ in another contest, which would be ‘as severe as any you have fought’ and the outcome uncertain, given the ‘hollowness’ of the electors who were always looking to ‘cook up an opposition’ for their own benefit. On the other hand, Hawkins was encouraged by reports from the veteran electioneer Joseph Sowell, in June 1822, that Swann’s friends were ‘perfectly tired of him’ and that ‘at another election he would stand no chance’.10 The corporation and inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 24 Apr. 1823, and of all coal duties, 9 Feb. 1824.11 They sent anti-slavery petitions to the Commons, 15 Mar. 1824, and both Houses, 10 Feb., 7 Mar. 1826, and the inhabitants petitioned the Commons for inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 10 June 1824.12

Swann had signified his intention of retiring shortly before his death in April 1824, the news of which ‘caused a great bustle’ in the town. Three candidates were brought forward, the London banker Robert Stanton, on Hawkins’s interest, the merchant and Bank of England director David Barclay, supported by De Dunstanville and ‘a majority of the corporation’, and Lord Perceval, son of the 4th earl of Egmont, who may have sought a parliamentary seat in order to avoid imprisonment for debt. Perceval was safely abroad and his canvass was conducted by the London attorney Charles Adey and Councillor Charles Williams. However, it became clear that they were too late and most of the voters were already pledged, and they announced that Perceval would not go to the poll. There followed ‘one of the smartest contests for a single seat that has ever been known in the borough’: all the usual ‘electioneering tactics ... were resorted to’ and Stanton emerged victorious by six votes in a poll of 300. John Edwards reported that ‘we had six more to poll’ and Barclay ‘not more than one ... he was completely run out ... so much as to shed tears’. Edwards praised the exertions made by Sowell and his son Richard on Stanton’s behalf, but mentioned that ‘Mr. Tressider was against us, with no less than ten other attornies and a barrister (Mr. Bird of Plymouth) at their head’. He estimated that the two candidates had spent £7,000, of which Stanton’s share was ‘£3,000 upwards’. Two lawyers, previously active at St. Albans (one of whom was probably Adey), were still in the town trying to gather evidence of corrupt practices. A local newspaper observed that the corporation’s attempt to monopolize the representation, rather than allowing ‘the independent electors to nominate a Member’, threatened to undermine its influence, as the two parties were unlikely to agree to share the representation in future. Significantly, a ‘great number of highly respectable individuals’ promised their ‘warm and active support of Lord Perceval on the first vacancy’, and his return was ‘looked upon as certain’. Meantime, a series of dinners given to Barclay’s friends ‘at the most respectable inns’ suggested a level of support that was likely to ‘place him at the head of the poll at the next general election’. The question that remained was what would happen if Grenfell stood again, for, as Edwards observed to Hawkins, this would ‘sadly hamper the corporation, or at least such of them as are [De Dunstanville’s] friends, and will, I think, greatly aid your interest’. He was convinced that ‘the corporation, and with them [De Dunstanville’s] friends, must go to the wall, unless their support is wholly withdrawn from one or other of these candidates’.13

Only a month after the by-election, Penryn was ‘thrown into the utmost consternation’ by the news that Stanton was in serious financial difficulties and therefore ‘likely to have his seat free of expense’. Edwards denounced the ‘imposture’ practiced by Stanton, whom Hawkins had introduced to the borough as ‘a £100,000 man’ only to be ‘obliged to borrow money ... to pay his current expenses’; Stanton, it turned out, had ‘scarcely £10’ of his own. Hawkins was warned that his opponents in the borough were seeking to take advantage of the situation. At the end of June 1824 a correspondent to a local newspaper reported that ‘numerous parties, agents and sub-agents’ were ‘actively engaged in promoting the views of different candidates’, and it seemed likely that ‘flagrant acts of bribery said to have been committed at the last election’ would be ‘repeated by some of the parties’.14 Grenfell issued an address that autumn announcing his intention of standing again and affirming his strict adherence to the ‘system’ on which he had hitherto acted, of refusing to be ‘party to any illegal practices’, regardless of what ‘others may do’. It was rumoured, however, that many of the electors were ‘looking for a more profitable customer’, and in November 1824 Thomas Weeding, a London merchant, accepted an invitation to stand. Meantime, the ‘strength of the independent party’ appeared to justify the optimism of Perceval’s friends.15 By the summer of 1825, when a dissolution seemed imminent, it was known that Stanton would retire and a ‘very severe’ contest was expected between Grenfell, Barclay, Perceval and Weeding. A new candidate appeared that August on Hawkins’s interest, the eminent London attorney James Freshfield, who pledged to ‘zealously ... uphold our glorious constitution in church and state’. He told the home secretary, Peel, that ‘my interest at Penryn is quite safe and even growing, so that nothing can prevent my return’. Weeding, who was forced to issue a second address emphasising his ‘decided’ hostility to Catholic relief, canvassed at the end of the month and claimed to have the support of a ‘large number of the independent electors’. Next month Grenfell announced that, on the advice of friends, he had resolved not to stand, as success was clearly impossible without ‘recourse to practices to which ... I will never submit’. Subsequent correspondence in the local press suggested that the real reasons for Grenfell’s decision were the unpopularity of his pro-Catholic opinions, which had ‘induced many conscientious persons to withdraw ... their future support’, and the fact that the ‘old corporation party’, which had sponsored him free of expense in 1820, now regarded Barclay as their ‘first choice’.16 Shortly before the dissolution in May 1826 Freshfield withdrew because of a scandal involving his law partner, but he promised to come forward on a future occasion. Barclay, Perceval and Weeding confirmed their candidatures and the Bank of England director William Manning, formerly Member for Lymington, offered ‘in lieu’ of Freshfield. Manning was the first to canvass, accompanied by Anderdon, his son-in-law, and later by Freshfield. Weeding appeared on a Saturday evening and immediately ‘addressed the electors ... chiefly ... to convince them that he was not a Catholic’. Barclay arrived on Monday morning and after completing his canvass his friends were ‘in high spirits and ... confident of his return’. Perceval entered the town that evening escorted by a ‘splendid procession’ consisting of ‘an open carriage with banners bearing the arms of the Egmont family, two trumpets ... a band of music ... several gentlemen on horseback’ and ‘at least 20 flags, new and splendidly decorated ... borne by as many individuals’. After Perceval had addressed the electors his agent, Adey, ‘delivered a speech much noticed for liberality of sentiment’. A ‘storm’ was raised by some ‘manoeuvre’ to have Perceval arrested for debt and excluded from the contest, but this failed. Perceval and Barclay were considered to be the front-runners, but predictions were hazardous as many of the electors had ‘not yet declared whom they will support’. No contemporary accounts of the election proceedings have been found, but Weeding withdrew before the poll and Adey offered during it. Barclay and Manning were declared elected and the former boasted that his triumph had been ‘accomplished ... without the commission of one illegal act’, thus furnishing an ‘irresistible answer to those calumnies which have been so industriously directed against [the] ... borough’. Hawkins afterwards provided a dinner for his friends, but instructed that it be ‘ordered by some person who will give me credit that he will not be called on to pay’, so that Manning could not be ‘implicated’ in it.17

Petitions against Manning’s return, alleging bribery and corruption, were sent to the Commons by Adey and by seven electors, 27 Nov. 1826. The resulting committee reported to the House, 9 Mar. 1827, that ‘gross bribery and treating’ had prevailed during the election, but it found that Manning had not been involved and declared him duly elected. It also reported that John Stanbury, a notorious borough agent, had disobeyed the Speaker’s warrant to give evidence and absconded; he later surrendered himself and was committed to Newgate. George Legh Keck, the committee chairman, introduced a Penryn bribery bill, 8 May, to restrict the borough’s franchise to the freeholders (of whom there were 85) and extend its boundaries to incorporate the hundreds of Kerrier and Penwith. Barclay and Manning spoke in their constituents’ defence, maintaining that the scale of corruption had been greatly exaggerated, but the prime minister, Canning, supported the bill in principle and its first reading was granted. Following an unopposed second reading, 18 May, a committee of the whole House heard evidence from witnesses at the bar, including Stanbury, Weeding and Adey. On 28 May Russell, who objected to opening the borough to the hundreds as this would merely put it in the hands of ‘a few large proprietors’, carried an amendment by 124 votes to 69 to disfranchise Penryn with a view to transferring its seats to Manchester. This division exposed the weakness of Canning’s coalition government, as many Ultra Tories stayed away and the premier, who opposed the amendment, was ‘beaten by his Whig adherents’. The bill comfortably passed its third reading by 145-31, 7 June, when Canning and other ministers stayed away, but it did not proceed beyond its first reading in the Lords.18 Russell responded by introducing a bill to transfer the seats to Manchester, 20 Feb. 1828. Manning presented a hostile petition from 337 electors, 7 Mar., in which it was asserted that the character of the borough had improved, that its growing population made bribery more difficult and that the bill treated Penryn unfairly by arousing expectations amongst the people of Manchester. The bill received an unopposed second reading, 14 Mar., despite claims by Manning that the election petition had been the result of a conspiracy to extort money from him. An amendment by Charles Pallmer, a member of the election committee, to open the borough to the hundreds, was defeated by 213-34, 24 Mar. By this point, the duke of Wellington’s cabinet had decided to allow the bill to pass as part of a compromise arrangement whereby another relating to East Retford would open its franchise to the neighbouring hundred. In this way, the government hoped to preserve a balance between the competing claims of land and industry and to avoid setting any firm precedent. Russell’s bill went to the Lords, which conducted its own inquiry and called witnesses, who were examined on oath but given indemnity from prosecution. After gathering voluminous evidence, the peers unexpectedly concluded that the case against Penryn was not strong enough to justify disfranchisement and, encouraged by a powerful speech from lord chancellor Lyndhurst, they rejected the bill without a division, 20 June 1828. Manning published a triumphant address in which he declared that the ‘conspiracy’ against himself and his constituents had ‘recoiled’ on its originators and that Penryn’s chartered rights were ‘placed on a more secure foundation than ever’. Characteristically, the Penryn witnesses did well from the allowances available to them, and Wellington was informed that the public purse had been ‘robbed’ to the tune of £4-6,000.19

From the testimony given to the various parliamentary inquiries, it is possible to construct a more detailed account of recent events in Penryn. It was generally admitted that extensive bribery and treating had taken place during the 1824 by-election, with Joseph and Richard Sowell being named as the main culprits, acting on Stanton’s behalf. Some witnesses accounted for this by reference to the recent rapid expansion of quarrying and stonemasonry, which had given the ‘lower classes’ a clear preponderance within the electorate. Towards the end of the by-election contest Stanbury began operating in the town, and it was he who organized the subsequent invitation to Weeding to stand. Between November 1824 and May 1826 Stanbury spent £3,000 on the systematic treating of electors and received sums totalling £1,850 from Weeding, who insisted they were ‘loans’. By Stanbury’s own reckoning, about 300 electors partook of food and drink at his dining table. Additionally, he employed agents to befriend electors and make them ‘comfortable’ at public houses, distributed tea, coal tickets and shawls, provided oxen for slaughter at Christmas, made extravagant payments for goods received (details of which were recorded by his clerk) and promised payments for votes. In this way, he built up a personal party of around 80 electors. Perceval drew his support from the ‘Swann party’, to which ‘many of the lower orders’ were still attached, but when Adey canvassed for him in the autumn of 1825 he found a ‘general disinclination towards us’, as many of the voters were ‘used to receive money’. Two members of Perceval’s committee, doubting his financial means, later visited Adey in London to discuss whether money should be given to voters, as the Sowells were already doing this for Hawkins’s party. At the general election the ‘corporation party’ was divided between the supporters of Barclay and Manning, but the former’s return was considered certain. Two days before the poll, Stanbury abandoned Weeding because he ‘would not bleed’ sufficiently to allow him to fulfil his promises to the electors, some of whom were withholding their support; he immediately left to concentrate on his interest at Tregony. An attempt by the other candidates to refrain from treating during the election was thwarted when some 200 electors assembled on the green and threatened to invite the unsuccessful candidates from Tregony to offer. Consequently, ‘an open system of treating commenced’, in which all the parties participated. In accordance with the ‘usual practice’, the candidates also deposited money in a fund which was used to cover the unpaid rates of their voters; it was stated that 195 received such help. Polling was initially slow, with about 40 votes being cast on each of the first two days, as the voters held out for money; Perceval and Barclay were said to be ahead of Manning at this stage. On the second day Stanbury returned, and members of Perceval’s committee tried to recruit him by offering to honour Weeding’s bills. Stanbury declined, but later in the day he was approached by Freshfield, who allegedly promised him £1,300 to exert his influence over the electors in Manning’s favour (Stanbury maintained that ‘no terms were mentioned’). During the afternoon of the third day Manning polled more of the votes and Perceval lost ground, and on the morning of the fourth, the ‘great bulk’ of votes were for Manning. Convinced that this turnaround had been achieved through bribery, Adey stood as a candidate and insisted that the bribery oath be administered to voters, but this was too late to alter the outcome. Adey, who told the parliamentary inquiries that he had previously been involved in elections at St. Albans and knew of Stanbury’s activities there, claimed that ‘more than half’ of the Penryn voters had taken bribes. Several witnesses identified Stanbury and the Sowells as the main instruments of corruption, and Freshfield and Anderdon were said to have supplied the money. The price of votes was ‘not running high’ at the time, and £10 seems to have been the standard rate, but dinner tickets and sovereigns were also distributed liberally. According to Adey, whereas 172 plumpers had been pledged for Perceval before the poll, and others had promised support once Barclay was safe, many of the 152 votes he did receive were split with Barclay.20

Following the publication of the Commons committee report in 1827, Freshfield wrote to Canning to deny that he had offered ‘one shilling’ for ‘any purpose connected with the election’, and he attributed the ‘attack’ on Penryn to the fact that Stanbury, ‘a notorious jobber’, had been ‘operating upon the poor for three years on behalf of Weeding’, and to the attempt by Perceval’s agents to ‘raise an artificial interest’. In March 1828 he told Peel that he would ‘probably represent [Penryn] at the next election’, provided it was not disfranchised. His claim to have ‘made a strong personal interest’ there cannot be verified, but doubtless he filled the political vacuum created by Hawkins’s death in April 1829.21 The corporation and inhabitants sent an anti-slavery petition to the Commons, 30 May 1828.22 On 9 Mar. 1829 some 200 inhabitants were ‘summoned by the bellman’ to a meeting at the town hall, where an ‘elderly personage named Tregoning’ took the chair and warned that if they ‘let the Roman Catholics come into power they would come over and murder [our] children’. A ‘person who occasionally acts as a religious instructor’ condemned the ‘defection’ of Barclay and Manning, who had supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, but in fact Barclay had consistently supported concession. The resulting petition was signed by many corporators and ‘all the electors except about 20’, and forwarded to both Houses, 16, 24 Mar. 1829.23

At the dissolution in the summer of 1830 Barclay and Manning retired, but the electors were said to be ‘in high spirits’ as there was ‘no lack of candidates’. Freshfield and Weeding announced their intention of standing, as did the novelist Edward Lytton Bulwer*. The Whig Sir Charles Lemon of Carclew, a former Member who possessed ‘considerable property in the town and neighbourhood’, also declared, and his friends were first in the field to canvass on his behalf. Privately, he claimed to be ‘pretty sure at Penryn without treating or bribery’, and he presumably had the backing of the De Dunstanville-corporation interest, as in 1807. William Thomas Hope appeared briefly to ‘offer ... in the interest of Lord Perceval’, who had fled the country, but he departed after promising to stand on a future occasion. Freshfield was drawn into the town by his supporters, who distributed ‘several barrels of beer’ amongst the populace, and Weeding arrived the same evening. Preparations were meantime being made to welcome Charles Stewart, the son of an Irish army officer, who had been invited to stand by ‘the electors unconnected with the corporation’, through the agency of ‘Mr. Symons of Falmouth’. On entering the town he was met by a large procession bearing ‘silk banners’, and as they marched through the streets ‘every window’ was ‘crowded with females [waving] their handkerchiefs’ at ‘the gentleman whom they designated "the commoners’ choice"’. He described himself as ‘perfectly independent of party’ and his canvass was apparently ‘so satisfactory that not a doubt is entertained of his standing at the head of the poll’. Lytton Bulwer was the last to arrive, ‘amidst a great concourse of people led by his friend Mr. Stanbury’. He said that he had been advised by friends in London not to come but was ‘determined to try’; he evidently withdrew before the poll. A ‘Grecian band of about 60 electors’ was reportedly formed, which aimed to ‘dictate terms to the candidates’ by ‘throwing their weight into either scale’. From the commencement of polling Lemon had a clear majority, but for three days there was a ‘very smart’ contest for the second seat. However, on the fourth morning Stewart and Weeding ‘declined to come again to the hustings’, and after a few hours Lemon and Freshfield were declared elected; 429 had polled, and ‘about 25 ... did not exercise their franchise’. The Members were afterwards driven through the town in ‘two carriages decorated with laurels and flowers’.24

Anti-slavery petitions were sent to Parliament by the corporation and inhabitants, and by the Methodists and Independents, in November 1830 and February 1831.25 The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed to reduce Penryn’s representation to one seat. Freshfield presented a petition from the electors against any interference with their privileges, 21 Mar.26 A memorial from the mayor and inhabitants of Falmouth to the home secretary Lord Melbourne, 16 Apr., requested that the ‘comparative rank and station of their very important town’ be recognized by the granting of parliamentary representation.27 Lemon supported the bill but Freshfield opposed it. At the ensuing dissolution Freshfield and Stewart had commenced canvassing before Lemon arrived to announce that he would be offering for the county. The electors were ‘therefore on the lookout’ for another candidate, and ‘the friends of Mr. Weeding ... put him in nomination and ... started an active canvass on his behalf’. No mention was made of the corporation’s role, but it seems likely that they supported Freshfield. Polling lasted for four days, after which Freshfield and Stewart were declared elected, with the latter only narrowly ahead of Weeding; 441 votes had been tendered.28 The reintroduced reform bill of June 1831 proposed to unite Penryn with Falmouth and give the new constituency two Members. However, Freshfield moved that Penryn should retain its Members and ancient voting rights, 9 August, on the grounds that it was ‘a flourishing town ... not a nomination but a free and open borough’, and that the parish in which it was situated had a population of over 4,000. He favoured separate representation for Falmouth, but objected to its union with Penryn because of the prevalence of government influence; he did not force a division. Whereas the mayor and principal inhabitants of Falmouth forwarded a petition to the Lords for the bill’s speedy passage, 30 Sept., the news of its rejection brought ‘joy’ to the electors of Penryn, where ‘the bells were rung’ and ‘flags ... paraded through the streets’. A Whig newspaper considered this response to be natural, as the union with Falmouth would ‘cut up by the roots the borough traffic’ at Penryn.29 The revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Penryn and Falmouth’s position in schedule E, which was agreed by the Commons, 23 Jan. 1832, despite further warnings from Freshfield that the traditional ‘animosity’ and ‘spirit of fierce rivalry’ between the towns might ‘risk the peace’ at elections.

The boundary commissioners recommended that in order to create an ‘adequate and respectable constituency’, Penryn should be enlarged to incorporate those parts of the parishes of St. Gluvias and Budock into which the town had grown, or was likely soon to grow, and to add the whole parish of Falmouth. There were 875 registered electors in 1832, of whom 400 were £10 householders and 475 were scot and lot voters resident within the old borough limits.30 At the general election in December, Freshfield and Stewart were defeated by Liberal and Conservative candidates, but Freshfield later represented the borough as a Conservative. The ‘venal voters’ of Penryn ‘soon passed on the tricks of their trade’ to their counterparts in Falmouth, and electoral politics in the borough was ‘not for the scrupulous, at least until the end of the 1850s’.31

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 83.
  • 2. Ibid. xxxvi. 565.
  • 3. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), ii. 290-3; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 153; Parochial Hist. Cornw. ii. 89-93; R. Roddis, Hist. Penryn, 61-71, 161-3; PP (1835), xxiii. 566.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 81-83; (1835), xxiii. 561-7; Cornw. RO B/Penr/358, Penryn election bk. 1792-1824; West Briton, 16 Sept. 1825; Farington Diary, xi. 3927; W.T. Lawrance, Parl. Rep. Cornw. 75, 222-4; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 75-77.
  • 5. West Briton, 11, 25 Feb., 3 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 19, 26 Feb., 4, 11 Mar.; Add. 58977, f. 169; NLI, Vesey Fitzgerald mss 7858, A. Grant to Vesey Fitzgerald, 9 Feb.; Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DD/J/2144, Edwards to Hawkins, 13 Feb.; J2/107, same, 2 Mar.; Carew Pole mss CC/M/53, De Dunstanville to Pole Carew, 8 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. West Briton, 10, 17 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 11, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Johnstone mss DD/J2/107, Joseph Edwards to Hawkins, 24 Apr., 16, 19 May; Cornw. RO, Tremayne mss DD/T/2549; CJ, lxxv. 168-9, 263, 305-6, 315; The Times, 15 July 1820.
  • 8. Cornw. RO B/Penr/358; Johnstone mss DD/J/2154, Roberts to Hawkins, 2 May 1825.
  • 9. West Briton, 15, 22 Dec.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 16 Dec. 1820, 20 Jan. 1821.
  • 10. Johnstone mss J2/108, John Edwards to Hawkins, 29 May, 5 Dec. 1821; J/2104, Sowell to Hawkins, 14 June 1822.
  • 11. CJ, lxxviii. 244; lxxix. 14.
  • 12. Ibid. lxxix. 161, 473; lxxxi. 30; LJ, lviii. 85.
  • 13. West Briton, 30 Apr., 7, 14 May, 11 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 1, 8, 15 May; Cornw. RO AD 207/2, Edwards to Roberts, 15 May; Johnstone mss DD/J2/111, Edwards to Hawkins, 26 May 1824.
  • 14. West Briton, 18 June, 2 July; Johnstone mss DD/J/2128, Roberts to Hawkins, 28 June; AD 207/2, Edwards to Roberts, 7 Sept. 1824.
  • 15. West Briton, 1 Oct., 5 Nov. 1824; 29 July 1825.
  • 16. Ibid. 29 July, 12 Aug., 16, 23 Sept.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 20 Aug., 3 Sept., 8 Oct. 1825, 22 Apr. 1826; Add. 40606, f. 79.
  • 17. West Briton, 19, 26 May, 2, 9 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 20, 27 May, 3-24 June; Cornw. RO AD 207/1, Hawkins to Roberts, 28 June 1826.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxii. 35-36, 238, 297, 345, 351; Canning’s Ministry, 317, 327; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 123; Hobhouse Diary, 137.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxiii. 144-5; Ellenborough Diary, i. 64, 67, 148, 150; P. Jupp, British Politics on Eve of Reform, 79, 89, 151; West Briton, 4 July 1828; Wellington mss WP1/933/3.
  • 20. PP (1826-7), iv. 371-526; LJ, lx. 185-205, 215-35, 261-89, 291-305, 310-19, 328-42, 345-60, 369-96, 402-25; Cornw. RO B/Penr/447.
  • 21. Canning Official Corresp. 380-1; Add. 40396, f. 28.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiii. 383.
  • 23. West Briton, 13 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 14, 21 Mar. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 165; LJ, lxi. 203.
  • 24. West Briton, 2-30 July, 6 Aug.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 3-31 July, 7 Aug. 1830; Add. 51687, f. 192; PP (1830-1), x. 92.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 53, 55; LJ, lxiii. 69, 110, 215.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxvi. 416.
  • 27. PP (1830-1), x. 137.
  • 28. West Briton, 29 Apr., 6 May; R. Cornw. Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 565.
  • 29. West Briton, 30 Sept., 14 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1025.
  • 30. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 81-83; (1835), xxiii. 566.
  • 31. E. Jaggard, Cornw. Politics in Age of Reform, 129-30.