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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 350

Number of voters:

270 in 1830


2,615 (1821); 3,061 (1831)


9 Mar. 1820Hon. Edward Harbord 
 Abraham Moore 
12 Sept. 1821Ralph Leycester vice Harbord, called to the Upper House 
30 Apr. 1822Hon. Robert Grosvenor vice Moore, vacated his seat 
12 June 1826Ralph Leycester 
 Edward Davies Davenport 
6 Aug. 1830Edward Penrhyn169
 William Stratford Dugdale145
 Francis Charles Knowles121
19 Apr. 1831William Leader Maberly vice Dugdale, vacated his seat 
5 May 1831Edward Penrhyn171
 William Leader Maberly168
 Francis Charles Knowles133
 Dominick Trant123

Main Article

A borough of notorious venality and intractable politics, the hilltop town of Shaftesbury, on Dorset’s northern border with Wiltshire, was described by Thomas Hardy, who believed that it retained its old ‘natural picturesqueness and singularity’, as ‘one of the queerest and quaintest spots in England’.1 In 1831 it was reported that it ‘has no trade whatever’ and ‘exhibits no signs of prosperity’, but its population was sufficient to produce a lively body of electors, who claimed a customary payment of 20 guineas for their votes. Since 1695 the franchise had been in the inhabitants paying scot and lot, presumably provided that they were resident in the borough, which comprised the in-parishes of Holy Trinity, St. James and St. Peter. The greatest number polled in the 30 years to 1831 was 408 (probably at the general election of 1812) and, although there were over 500 inhabited houses or over 400 distinct rateable properties in the borough, the electorate was normally judged to number about 350.2 A long run of contested elections came to an end in 1812 and by the late 1810s, after the interest had come under single ownership, it was imagined that electoral disputes would subside.3 That they did not was largely owing to the guiding spirit of the nascent independent interest, the Quaker John Rutter. He was a native of Bristol, who established himself in Shaftesbury as a printer and bookseller in 1817 and published several antiquarian works, including the Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey (1822). He had multifarious concerns in the town, often acted on behalf of the poor and was gradually drawn into leading the popular movement against the patron.4 Much detail about this period can be garnered from his manuscript ‘History and Descriptive Account of the Town of Shaftesbury’, which was advertised for sale in 1827 but never appeared, his unpublished correspondence and his printed pamphlets and election ephemera.5

One of Rutter’s primary targets was the corporation, which comprised the mayor, who acted as returning officer, and 12 capital burgesses. There were no common burgesses or freemen, and residence was not normally a requirement, although the capital burgess Richard Messiter, who had previously involved himself in election intrigues, was removed in 1822 because he now lived in America. As the municipal corporations report observed in 1835, the corporation had long been in the hands of a few interrelated families, who dominated the mayoralty, and whom Rutter accused of financial corruption and inefficiency. The principal members of this clique were Edward Buckland, a corporator since 1787, whose son Charles Edward had succeeded him as town clerk in 1816; Philip Matthews Chitty, Buckland’s son-in-law, who, like his brother George, was a local attorney; and William Swyer, a half-pay army officer, who was the rent-collector.6 The Chittys’ senior partner, Charles Bowles of Barton Hill House, brother of the Rev. William Lisle Bowles, vicar of Bremhill, Wiltshire, was an honourable and respected citizen, who had served as recorder since 1804.7 Bowles was also the main agent of the patron, who, after a series of exchanges, was, from about 1819, the Whig 2nd Earl Grosvenor. A former Member for East Looe and Chester, he had his principal estates and electoral interests in Cheshire, derived a fortune from his metropolitan developments in Belgravia and Pimlico and extended his boroughmongering activities to Hindon and Stockbridge. Having purchased Shaftesbury for about £60,000 or £70,000 from the 4th earl of Rosebery just before the general election of 1820, he consolidated his influence by making further acquisitions in the 1820s, including estates at Gillingham and Motcombe, which in the early 1830s became the family residence of his eldest son, Lord Belgrave*.8 He made many improvements in the area, notably by the rebuilding of the town hall, which was used for the first time in September 1827.9 But he became unpopular because of his stranglehold on the representation, which he exercised through his agents, who controlled the leases on at least 300 houses, and the corporation, which owned about 50 properties.10 Particularly hated was the London agent, the attorney John Jones of 2 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, who was lampooned in a satirical conversation with Grosvenor in a handbill entitled Dialogue Extraordinary! Extracted from ‘Shastonia: A Tragedy’.11

The sitting Members, who were Rosebery’s nominees, retired from Parliament at the dissolution in 1820. Grosvenor had already approached Edward Harbord, the brother of Lord Suffield and former Member for Great Yarmouth, in relation to one of the seats for Shaftesbury, writing to him in early February that ‘I think I can venture to offer it you ... with no expense or trouble [other] than that of presenting yourself there occasionally and making your bow to the electors’. Having reassured Harbord that he was not simply considering him as a stopgap until his youngest son Robert reached his majority, he made arrangements for him to meet the other candidate, Abraham Moore, Grosvenor’s auditor, before entering the town, and to be coached by him through the canvassing, over which Moore warned of possible opposition from ‘belligerent spirits’. Grosvenor also informed Harbord, whom he assured that the borough was ‘no rotten concern, there being a numerous body of electors and the influence derived from fair purchasable property’, that the pretence was to be kept up that the candidates came forward on Rosebery’s interest.12 The secret was already out, however, according to Rutter’s account, which noted that the candidates were received ‘with almost unprecedented coldness’ in the hope of a ‘third man’ appearing:

This feeling did not arise from any spirit of opposition to Earl Grosvenor, but from disapprobation of the unceremonious treatment experienced by the inhabitants, and from a doubt whether the earl’s name was not used deceptively or as a contingency connected with the purchase in case of success. Under these feelings, a conference was held between a few respectable inhabitants on the part of the burgesses and the chief London agent on the part of the patron. It was on that occasion once more mutually agreed that, in future, increased deference should be paid to the electors, the more respectable of whom were to be consulted on all important occasions, and that a certain sum should be paid to each poorer voter. Unfortunately, no protecting clause was inserted for shielding those of the poorer class of burgesses from the displeasure occasioned by their absence from home and withholding of promises on the previous canvass of the candidates. These unprotected men consequently became more and more alarmed and dissatisfied, and looking in vain around for influential shelter from the threatening storm, a large number of them resolved, with apparent determination of purpose, to elect a man of their own choice; and after renewed application, they induced Mr. Rutter ... to select and propose a fit man for their election.13

On the hustings, Rutter introduced John William Drage Merest† of Lyndford Hall, Norfolk, who was one of Lord Darlington’s defeated candidates at Milborne Port, across the county boundary in Somerset (which doubtless accounted for his being available at the last minute). Harbord and Moore were returned as Whigs and Grosvenor, comparing the proceedings to those at his less easily manageable borough of Chester, noted that ‘I had a quieter business at Shaftesbury, though some opposition; but I trust there will be little or none there hereafter’. Rutter later complained, in relation to Grosvenor’s agents, that ‘from that hour the unfriendly feelings towards him may be dated’.14

At a meeting of the inhabitants, 7 July 1820, an address to Queen Caroline was agreed, despite the opposition of Bowles and others, and this was presented to her by Harbord on the 12th. Petitions in her favour were prepared for both Houses following a further meeting, 19 Aug. 1820, but were rendered unnecessary by her acquittal later that year, which occasioned celebrations in the town, although a loyal address to George IV was also forthcoming.15 Petitions from the corporation and inhabitants for revision of the criminal laws were presented to the Lords (by Grosvenor), 8 May 1821, 30 May 1822, and to the Commons (by Harbord and Robert Grosvenor), 17 May 1821, 4 June 1822.16 Harbord succeeded his brother as 3rd Baron Suffield in August 1821 and, although there were some dissentient voices among the independent electors, he was sent an address thanking him for his services and received a gold snuff box the following year.17 In September he was replaced by Ralph Leycester of Toft, one of Grosvenor’s Cheshire supporters, at a by-election which cost £554 17s.18 At that time Grosvenor intended that Moore, who had absconded to America with a considerable sum of his money, should make way for the earl of Musgrave’s eldest son Lord Normanby, but he was brought in for Higham Ferrers in February 1822 and, on Moore finally resigning his seat in April, it went to the recently of age Robert Grosvenor, at a by-election costing £495 6s. 6d.19 Anti-slavery petitions from Shaftesbury were presented to the Commons by Leycester, 5 May 1823, 25 May 1824, and Robert Grosvenor, 21 Mar. 1826, and to the Lords by Grosvenor, 12 May 1823, 31 May 1824, 1 Mar. 1826. Petitions for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Acts were brought up in the Lords (by Grosvenor), 12 May, and the Commons, 14 May 1823, and against the coal duties in the Lords, 13 Feb. (by Grosvenor), and the Commons, 17 Feb. 1824, while Leycester presented the victuallers’ petition against the beer bill, 17 May 1824.20 The removal of James Shrimpton as innkeeper of the Red Lion, now renamed the Grosvenor Arms, in early 1824 led Bowles to resign his agency in protest. Following a requisition to the mayor, a town meeting on 17 Mar. agreed an address of thanks to Bowles, who was hailed by Rutter as ‘the champion of the oppressed’. Nearly 200 signatures were put to the address, and Bowles, with George Chitty, thereafter began to distance himself from the ruling clique.21 Although there was a fledgling spirit of independence, no opposition was offered at the general election of 1826, when Robert Grosvenor joined Belgrave in the representation of Chester, and Leycester was returned with another Cheshire Whig with pretensions as a political economist. This was Edward Davies Davenport, the son of the Cheshire county Member, who, needlessly fearing that Robert Grosvenor would lose his seat, informed Grosvenor on 18 June that he would ‘gratefully accept your offer for one year and shall hold myself bound (in spring twelve months) to vacate a place to which a son of yours has some superior claims’.22 Token resistance was offered by Rutter, who

as he had done in previous instances, addressed some observations to the electors; in which he expressed in temperate language, his sentiments on various subjects connected with the elective franchise; more especially on their representatives’ performance of their parliamentary duties, on the qualifications of the present candidates, on the influence of peers in choosing representatives to the lower House, on voting by ballot, moderate reform and on other topics; in doing which, he exercised a right not usually acted upon in the borough.23

In August 1826, at the ceremony of laying the first stone of the new town hall, Grosvenor provided expensive entertainments, separating the more and less prosperous inhabitants between two inns. Rutter’s conduct on receiving a bogus invitation from Grosvenor laid him open to a sarcastic invective at the hands of Swyer’s brother Walter. More significantly, he published a handbill from the attorney Thomas James Bardouleau complaining of his being placed with the lower orders. However, he neglected to put his name on this document as its printer, and a malicious prosecution was brought against him by William Swyer, the incumbent mayor, who acted as both prosecutor and magistrate. Not only did Rutter face costs of over £300, but a rival printer was installed in an attempt to drive him out of the town. He sought his revenge by writing an account of the legal proceedings against him and supporting an occasional periodical, which only lasted four issues, hostile to the ruling interest.24 In October 1827 Bowles resigned from the recordership, apparently in protest at the corporation’s again electing Buckland to serve as mayor, but it was not until January 1828 that Grosvenor was appointed to replace him. The inhabitants met on 7 Jan. to condemn these developments, but Philip Chitty, who now led the Grosvenor party, and the Rev. William Patteson, rector of Holy Trinity and St. Peter, defeated the address of thanks to Bowles in order to substitute a less inimical one. Rutter, who was again in the thick of the squabble, published two accounts of the proceedings, and Bowles, who soon dissolved his law partnership, two or three years later wrote Shaston, otherwise Shaftesbury, also known by its alternative title of Shaftesbury Corporation and Charities, which provided a detailed analysis of how the town’s revenues and responsibilities should have been managed.25 In October 1829 the attempt to invalidate the re-election of Swyer as mayor on the ground that he had served in the same office within the previous three years was defeated in the court leet.26 Petitions were presented by Leycester from the Protestant Dissenters against the Test Acts, 6 June 1827 and 21 Feb., and by John Calcraft, Member for Wareham, from the landowners against alteration of the corn laws, 22 Apr. 1828. Other landowners’ petitions against the reimposition of the duty on foreign wool were brought up in the Lords, 26 May, and against the withdrawal of small notes in the Commons (by Davenport), 3 June 1829.27 Davenport presented the inhabitants’ petitions complaining of distress, 18 Mar., and against the death penalty for forgery, 6 May, on which another petition was brought up in the Commons (again by Davenport), 20 May, and in the Lords (by Lord Shaftesbury, the borough’s lord steward), 15 June 1830.

The most serious challenge to the Grosvenor interest occurred during the hard- fought contest at the general election of 1830 and its aftermath.28 Grosvenor had both seats to dispose of since Leycester, who recommended his kinsman Edward Penrhyn as his successor, retired on account of ill health, and Davenport, who was soon to quarrel with the Grosvenors over Cheshire politics, had thoughts of taking over his father’s county seat (but in fact never sat again). Among those jockeying for a place were the earl of Carnarvon’s elder son Lord Porchester* and Joseph Phillimore, former Member for St. Mawes and Yarmouth, Isle of Wight.29 But in addition to Penrhyn, who seems to have been partly acceptable to the independent interest, Grosvenor brought forward William Stratford Dugdale, son of the Warwickshire county Member and brother-in-law of the Dorset county Member Edward Portman. Although Bowles remained impartial, the decision to make a concerted attempt to break the prevailing interest was taken by Rutter and his friends, who included George Chitty, the attorney Charles Hannen and the banker Robert Storey. As Grosvenor, who was criticized for his lack of sympathy with freedom of election in his own boroughs, was ostensibly a reformer and usually nominated Whigs, the opposition was not launched on party grounds, but was intended to open the representation. For this purpose they rapidly settled on a trainee barrister who was introduced by George Grove, a son of the local country gentleman, Thomas Grove of Ferne, Wiltshire. This was Francis Charles Knowles of Elm Cottage, Old Windsor, Berkshire, son of Admiral Sir Charles Henry Knowles, whose father Sir Charles Knowles had been Member for Gatton, 1749-52. He issued his first address, 17 July, spoke for repeal of the corn laws, economies, religious toleration, law reform, the abolition of slavery and parliamentary reform, 20 July, and assured Rutter by letter, 22 July 1830, that he stood as ‘the pure unspotted advocate of purity’ of election. Fear of eviction, which was a major theme of canvassing speeches and handbills, led Knowles to offer financial support to any dislodged tenants, and on the 20th Rutter cheekily requested the duke of Wellington, the prime minister, to act as guarantor of this arrangement.30 During the unruly proceedings on the hustings, Penrhyn (proposed by Bowles and James Lush Buckland, a surgeon) and Dugdale (by Philip Chitty and Edward Buckland), attempted to claim that they were unfettered and to assert their own suitability. Knowles (nominated by Storey and Hannen), George Chitty and Rutter objected to the Grosvenor interest’s control of the parish books, which established an elector’s eligibility, and complained about the returning officer Swyer’s rejection of votes tendered for Knowles. Intimidation continued: for instance, one supporter of the popular party, the Quaker linendraper Beaven Rake, refused to take the oath of affirmation, ‘saying if he gave his vote to Penrhyn and Dugdale, he should do so under the influence of fear’. Partly provoked by the antics of the dominant clique, whose headquarters at the Grosvenor Arms were attacked, disturbances became more and more violent, and the military had to be called in to restore order.31 This only increased the sense of indignation, and Jones, who was denounced as ‘the rod’, had to be escorted out of the town under armed guard. Trailing third after nearly all the voters had been polled, Knowles retired on the fourth day, when his supporters claimed for him a moral victory. Surprisingly, Planta, the patronage secretary, noted the result as two seats gained for government.32

The poll list named 315 voters, although 45 of these had their votes rejected (or withdrew them), and 58 of the remaining 270 had their votes challenged but upheld.33 All Dugdale’s 145 votes were splits with Penrhyn (accounting for 54 per cent of the vote), Penrhyn received a further five plumpers and 19 splits with Knowles (63 per cent) and Knowles had 102 plumpers (45 per cent). Two of the 45 disallowed votes were indeterminate, but of the other 43, Dugdale would have received another 17 splits with Penrhyn, who would have gained two plumpers and one split with Knowles, for whom 23 more plumpers were tendered. These figures illustrate the clear separation between the two sides. As expected, most of the corporators split for the patron’s candidates and even Buckland and Swyer were allowed to vote this way, although Bowles, Charles Buckland and Philip Chitty all withdrew their votes when objections were raised that they were acting as agents. Yet Rutter, adding the accepted and rejected votes for Knowles and Penrhyn to give a total of over 150 ‘votes friendly to Knowles’, was thus able to boast that the borough had been ‘thrown open as regards one Member at least’.34 Grosvenor judged this state of affairs to be intolerable and insisted that his agents make exemplary punishments, so 23 tenants were served with eviction notices up to the middle of October 1830 and another ten thereafter.35 Of these 33, 17 had plumped for Knowles, nine had split for him and Penrhyn, five had plumped for Penrhyn and two had not voted but had made their opinions plain.36 One of the ejected plumpers, the common carrier Benjamin Hill Norton, subsequently prospered as landlord of a new public house, the Knowles Arms. The mistreatment of the electors, which weakened Grosvenor’s interest for the future, received prominent coverage in the election reports in the Weekly Free Press, on which Rutter based his History of the Shaftesbury Election, and in correspondence in The Times in mid-August 1830.37 Popular agitation was also kept up in the borough, where a dinner was held on 17 Aug. in Knowles’s honour. In a series of letters to Rutter, he undertook to continue the struggle, including by publicizing the list of his courageous voters and assisting the evicted tenants, although in the end it was felt that nothing would be gained by petitioning against the return. He agreed to pay his election expenses, which amounted to £1,115 (having been reduced by his committee from £1,461), but was slow to do so, blaming the delay on the financial difficulties of his great-aunt Anna Charlotte Christina Winder of Vaynor Park, Montgomeryshire.38 He also contributed money for the relief of the imprisoned rioters, who were greeted as heroes on their release on bail from Dorchester gaol, 1 Sept. The following day there were more disturbances during the postponed chairing of the Members, of whom Knowles commented that ‘they seem with their noble patron determined to drink to the dregs the cup of unpopularity’. This led to further legal proceedings, which were not settled until the Lent assizes the following year, when the charge (relating to the original election riot) against Rutter, who refused to plead guilty even when offered a token fine of 1s., was allowed to drop.39 Knowles temporarily took his leave of the borough with an address, 17 Sept., in which he claimed to have been defeated ‘through a mass of corrupt influence’; this provoked a private quarrel with Patteson40 and further public correspondence with Swyer over the latter’s handling of the election.41 He was the ‘Student of Lincoln’s Inn’ who wrote the Rejoinder to ‘An Elector’ on his ‘Plain Observations’ on Mr. Knowles’s Address to the Electors of Shaftesbury (18 Oct. 1830).

The town was at the centre of a wave of disturbances during the ‘Swing’ riots at the end of November 1830.42 Petitions from the Protestant Dissenters for the abolition of slavery and Jewish emancipation were presented to the Commons, 10, 11 Nov., and to the Lords, 16, 18 Nov. The inhabitants’ anti-slavery petitions were brought up in the Lords, 11 Nov. 1830, and the Commons, 28 Mar. 1831.43 Writing on 2 Jan. Knowles, who complained that the agents were even using charitable disbursements for ‘the purpose of concealing political bribery’, advised Rutter that ‘I think as to the [eviction] notices, the best mode would be to hold up in terrorem to the earl, a petition to the House of Commons’ complaining of electoral corruption and demanding parliamentary reform. In further letters of 17 and 28 Jan. he compared the case to the success achieved against the marquess of Exeter in relation to Stamford, where the threat of publication of such notices in the Morning Chronicle had forced the patron to capitulate.44 A town meeting on 2 Feb. approved an address to Grosvenor, which Knowles agreed to present, and petitions for reform and the ballot, which were brought up in the Commons by Henry Warburton, 26 Feb., and in the Lords by Lord King, 3 Mar.45 Presumably a further Commons petition alleging electoral interference by a peer was held back by Joseph Hume, who, as Jones later related to Grosvenor, became the

advocate of the supposed oppressed inhabitants of Shaftesbury and gave notice [on 17 Feb.] of a motion upon the subject in terms personally affecting your lordship. This motion was adjourned from time to time, but was kept pending for a considerable period.46

With a population of between 2,000 and 4,000, Shaftesbury was scheduled to lose one of its seats under the Grey ministry’s reform proposals. Grosvenor declared himself in favour of the reform bill at the Cheshire county meeting, 17 Mar. 1831, and was said in private to be ‘very good-natured about his own losses’.47

Dugdale, who was rumoured to have resigned his seat late the previous year and was reported as having said that ‘I had bought my seat in a very quiet independent manner and never expected to meet with such an opposition’, was soon turned out by Grosvenor.48 This was because, unlike Penrhyn, he had apparently voted against the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831, and Grosvenor offered the seat to government for a reformer. He was duly replaced, at an uncontested by-election, by the surveyor-general of the ordnance William Leader Maberly, the son of the Member for Abingdon.49 The decision to risk a by-election with a dissolution imminently expected was opposed by Penrhyn and Grosvenor’s agents. Not only were the independent party on the alert and Knowles, who now cleared his outstanding debts, preparing to stand at the dissolution, but a letter was received from Hume stating that he had agreed with Robert Grosvenor that all the evictions would be abandoned. Jones later wrote to his patron:

I will not attempt to describe the difficulties, in which your lordship’s friends found themselves thus placed; not from any anxiety for Colonel Maberly’s return, but for the safety of your lordship’s interest at the approaching general election. This difficulty was particularly felt with reference to your tenants (upon whose fidelity everything depended) a great number of whom were encouraged by Mr. Hume’s letter to consider themselves released from any further obligation to your lordship, and to believe that they might vote in any manner they pleased, with perfect impunity.

Maberly, who, as he had the prospect of a seat elsewhere, ‘professed no other object than his own immediate election’ and therefore opposed Jones’s conciliatory attitude towards the electors, was returned on 19 Apr. 1831, the day that ministers’ defeat on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment led to their insisting that the king dissolve Parliament.50

More in expectation of this dissolution than of the by-election, the popular party had already decided on 25 Mar. 1831 to secure candidates who would consolidate the independent interest in the borough, not so much against the patron, whose influence would be reduced by the reform bill, but in relation to the ‘Ultra Tories’ who, ironically, were his main supporters in the town.51 Among those who declined to stand were Wynne Ellis, who came in for Leicester that year, Frederick Gye*, former Member for Chippenham, and an unidentified Irishman. The committee therefore settled for Knowles, who sold some property to meet his financial obligations, asserted that his family would support him and provided the ‘fourth man’. He, who was described by Rutter as Knowles’s ‘intimate friend’ and a ‘man of very high feeling and principle’, was Dominick Trant of Malvern Wells, Worcestershire, one of the several Irishmen of that name who had estates in Montserrat; he was also a kinsman of William Henry Trant, Member for Okehampton and Dover.52 Together Knowles and Trant deposited £500 at Storeys’ bank to be used, if necessary, to assist any displaced tenants. Knowles was ‘pretty certain of success’ in the ‘sharp contest’ that ensued, but the popular candidates, who probably received most of their votes in splits, were defeated by about 30 or 40 votes out of the roughly 300 electors who polled. The sitting Members, who no doubt also shared most of their votes, were thus re-elected after a peaceful contest.53 Knowles admitted to Rutter, 28 May, that he was ‘surprised by the increased disinterestedness of the poorer voters and their generally strong sense and love of independence’. But this was perhaps less true than it might have been if the punitive system of management had been continued by the patron. As Jones argued in a statement prepared for Grosvenor, the election ‘would have terminated unfavourably to your lordship’s interest if the electors, who were previously disposed to be friendly, had been treated in the manner suggested by Colonel Maberly’.54 Both Trant, who soon embarked on a voyage to Montserrat and later relinquished his aspirations, and Knowles, who agonized for the next year about whether he would dare to come forward at another election at Shaftesbury, were proceeded against for payment of several hundred pounds of expenses by George Chitty, who Rutter thought had acted vindictively.55

Rutter assisted the Whigs during the Dorset county contest (as again in the autumn),56 when of the 33 Shaftesbury freeholders whose votes were allowed, 28 split for Calcraft and Portman, two split for Portman and the anti-reformer Henry Bankes* and three plumped for Bankes.57 The borough, which was one of the places mentioned by Lord John Russell in the House, 24 June 1831, as having an insufficient number of houses worth at least £10 according to the tax returns, but an adequate number as ascertained by personal inquiry,58 was agreed to be in schedule B without debate or division, 30 July 1831 (and again, 23 Feb. 1832). Following Calcraft’s suicide in September 1831, the inhabitants displayed much enthusiasm for his replacement by the reformer William Ponsonby, Member for Poole. Knowles, who was considered, like Rutter, a possible candidate at the subsequent vacancy for Poole, where he had tried to cultivate an interest, briefly entered the contest, but felt himself deserted by the Shaftesbury reformers who had urged him to come forward there.59 Rutter led a large group of Shaftesbury reformers to the Dorset by-election, 3 Oct., when he declared in relation to the marquess of Westminster (as Grosvenor had recently become) that ‘I have bearded a noble boroughmonger in his own borough, and sacrificed, in the advocacy of those principles and in the opposition to the noble lord’s ... then system some thousands of pounds’. Of the 58 Shaftesbury freeholders whose votes were accepted, 45 voted for Ponsonby and 13 for his anti-reform opponent Lord Ashley*.60 An anti-reform petition was apparently defeated, and following a meeting of the inhabitants on 26 Sept., one in favour of the reform bill was presented to the Lords by Westminster, 4 Oct. 1831.61 Petitions from the inhabitants against the plan of national education in Ireland were brought up in the Lords by Lord Roden, 29 Mar., and in the Commons by James Edward Gordon, Member for Dundalk, 23 May 1832.62 At a town meeting, 22 May, the reformers secured the adoption of a petition for withholding supplies until the reform bill was passed, and this was presented to the Commons by Thomas Spring Rice, 1 June.63 Placed 72nd on the final list of condemned boroughs, Shaftesbury, with 635 houses, of which 155 were valued at £10 or over, and assessed taxes of £645, was deprived of one Member by the Reform Act. The boundaries were extended to include the three out-parishes and ten other parishes, so that its size rose from under one third to about 35 square miles.64 In a sign that the independent party would continue to keep up the pressure, Hume presented a petition, 16 Aug. 1832, from the parish of St. Peter complaining of the shortage of magistrates, especially because of the non-residence of the recorder, a matter which was alluded to in the municipal corporations report.65

It was reported that Westminster would cease to interfere in parliamentary elections, so that Penrhyn would have to stand on his own interest (while Maberly transferred to Chatham) at the next election, but the popular party was, rightly, disinclined to believe it. This was one of the reasons which Knowles, who had succeeded his father as 3rd baronet at the end of the previous year, gave for finally resigning his pretensions.66 Although the main avowed ground of withdrawing was the fear of expense, having failed to reach a compromise with Westminster in order to keep out a possible Tory challenger, he confided to Rutter that it was really because of the strong opposition of his aunt and his father-in-law Sir George Pocock†, former Member for Bridgwater. He had hopes of standing for Christchurch or Wenlock in 1832, but in fact never sat in Parliament.67 In a pamphlet published in 1864 he recalled:

I was a reformer and a free trader in 1830, when yet a very young man; when, to be either, above all the latter, was not quite so fashionable as it is at present; when, indeed, it was something like a personal sacrifice for a gentleman to make such a political profession. But I look back with a clear conscience and perhaps some pride upon the struggles and agitations in which I then engaged for the promotion of the two great objects of reform and free trade now happily consummated, and working safely and beneficially for all.68

Instead of Knowles, who would have been the reformers’ first choice, and as the candidacy of Lord Holland’s illegitimate son Charles Fox* fell through, the challenger at the general election of 1832, when there was a registered electorate of 634, was the London barrister John Sayer Poulter. He defeated Penrhyn by 108 in a contest which displayed many of the usual symptoms of landlord intimidation and popular disturbance, and sat as a Liberal until 1838.69 With Bowles’s retirement, Swyer’s death in 1831 and Philip Chitty’s loss of Westminster’s agency the following year, the old corporation clique had already been eclipsed by the time the Municipal Corporations Act introduced much needed reforms. Rutter, who was elected to the new corporation in 1836, set himself up in practice as an attorney in Shaftesbury in the 1830s and continued to be active there until his death in 1851.70

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. J. Cannon, ‘Study in Corruption: Shaftesbury Politics’, Procs. Dorset Natural Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxxiv (1962), 154-7; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 291; J. Hutchins, Dorset, iii (1868), 2-3; T. Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895), pt. iv, ch. i.
  • 2. PP (1830-1), x. 101; (1831), xvi. 173; (1831-2), xxxvi. 64-65; xxxviii. 147, 149.
  • 3. Late Elections (1818), 273.
  • 4. Oxford DNB; B. Innes, Shaftesbury, An Illustrated Hist. 7-8.
  • 5. The ms ‘Hist. Shaftesbury’ is at Dorset RO, Rutter mss D50/1; ‘corresp. re. Shaftesbury elections, 1830-3’ is in ibid. D50/3 (microfilmed as MIC/R/766), and other correspondence and ephemera are held at Shaftesbury and District Hist. Soc. [hereafter SDHS], esp. in box 40 (various acc. nos.); there are copies of the rare pamphlets from SDHS in Shaftesbury and Dorchester Public Libs.
  • 6. PP (1835), xxiv. 692-3; F. C. Hopton, Corruption and Reform: Municipal Government in Borough of Shaftesbury (SDHS vol. v), 2-6, 7-20, 22-25, 28-29, 37-38.
  • 7. Hopton, 26; Innes, 65.
  • 8. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 405-8; idem. Key (1820), 53; Rutter’s ms ‘Hist. Shaftesbury’, chs. 3, 4 (Rutter mss D50/1); HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 139-41; G. Huxley, Lady Elizabeth and the Grosvenors, 8, 52; M. J. Hazelton-Swales, ‘Urban Aristocrats’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1981), 132.
  • 9. Salisbury Jnl. 25 July 1825, 28 May; Dorset Co. Chron. 27 Sept. 1827; Dorset RO, Shaftesbury borough recs. DC/SYB corporation mins. 1817-35, pp. 22, 42.
  • 10. Swyer versus Rutter. A Plain Narration of Shastonian Occurrences, Without Comment (1826-7), 8 (SDHS acc. 3396); PP (1835), xxiv. 694; Innes, 58.
  • 11. SDHS acc. 3396.
  • 12. Norf. RO, Gunton mss GTN/1/3, Grosvenor to Harbord, 7, 9, 10 Feb.; 1/7, Moore to same, 5 Mar.; 1/9, Suffield to Harbord, 20 Feb. 1820; R. M. Bacon, Mem. of Bar. Suffield, 110-11.
  • 13. Swyer versus Rutter, 7 (SDHS acc. 3396). A similar description of the election is given in Rutter’s ms ‘Hist. Shaftesbury’, ch. 4 (Rutter mss D50/1). A copy of the abortive ‘compromise’ is in Gunton mss 1/7, ‘proposition from Messrs. Thomas and Storey to Bowles’, 18 Feb. 1820.
  • 14. Swyer versus Rutter, 7 (SDHS acc. 3396); Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/17; WCA, Grosvenor estate mss 1049/15/2/9, Grosvenor to Hailstone, 16 Mar. 1820.
  • 15. Salisbury Jnl. 10, 17 July, 21 Aug., 27 Nov., 4 Dec. 1820.
  • 16. LJ, liv. 392; lv. 203; CJ, lxxvi. 350; lxxvii. 316; The Times, 9, 18 May 1821, 31 May, 5 June 1822.
  • 17. Gunton mss 1/11, Ogden to Harbord, 30 Nov., reply, 9 Dec. 1820; 1/13, Suffield to Shaftesbury inhabitants, 9 May 1822; 1/14, Jones to Suffield, 8 Sept., Bowles to same, 8 Sept., reply, 9 Sept. 1821 (NRA 4650); Gent. Mag. (1835), ii. 318.
  • 18. Grosvenor mss 9/11/48.
  • 19. Ibid.; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 196-7. According to Grosvenor’s personal account book, the by-election cost £575 9s. 6d. (Huxley, 81).
  • 20. CJ, lxxviii. 285, 310; lxxix. 44, 374, 412; lxxxi. 193; LJ, lv. 678; lvi. 29, 292; lviii. 67; The Times, 6, 13 May 1823, 14 Feb., 18, 26 May 1824, 2, 22 Mar. 1826.
  • 21. Salisbury Jnl. 22, 29 Mar. 1824; Hopton, 26, 29.
  • 22. Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 15 June 1826; JRL, Bromley Davenport mss; Grosvenor mss 9/10/4.
  • 23. Swyer versus Rutter, 8 (SDHS acc. 3396).
  • 24. Ibid. 9-90; Defence of John Rutter (1826), 7-20; Shastonian, 2, 10 Oct., 1 Nov., 1 Dec. 1826 (SDHS acc. 3396); Hopton, 30-33; Innes, 66-69.
  • 25. Dorset Co. Chron. 11 Oct. 1827; The Times, 17 Jan. 1828; Account of Procs. at Shaftesbury (1828); Borough of Shaftesbury. A Letter from ‘Shastoniensis’ (1828) (SDHS acc. 3396); Hopton, 1, 34-36, 44; Innes, 70.
  • 26. Dorset Co. Chron. 8 Oct. 1829.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxii. 521; lxxxiii. 91, 259; lxxxiv. 369; lxxxv. 193, 381, 450; LJ, lxi. 514; lxii. 721; The Times, 7 June 1827.
  • 28. The following four paragraphs are based on Rutter’s Hist. Shaftesbury Election 1830 and F.C. Hopton, ‘1830 Parliamentary Election in Shaftesbury’, Procs. Dorset Natural Hist. and Arch. Soc. cx (1988), 23-28. Knowles’s letters to Rutter are from Rutter mss D50/3.
  • 29. Add. 51578, Carlisle to Holland, 10 July; 51813, Phillimore to same, 14 July 1830.
  • 30. Rutter mss D50/3.
  • 31. Corresp. of Joseph Jekyll ed. A Bourke, 246; K. P. Bawn, ‘Social protest, popular disturbances and public order in Dorset’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1984), 54-55, 62, 66.
  • 32. Add. 40401, f. 132.
  • 33. The poll list is given in Hist. Shaftesbury Election 1830, 85-90. A ms list is in SDHS acc. 3023.
  • 34. Hist. Shaftesbury Election 1830, pp. iv, 103.
  • 35. Grosvenor mss 9/11/48.
  • 36. Key to Both Houses (1832), 397.
  • 37. J. Cannon, Parliamentary Reform, 198; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 91, 200-1.
  • 38. The accounts are in Rutter mss D50/3 and SDHS acc. 3023.
  • 39. Dorset County Chron. 17 Mar. 1831; E. V. Bugden, ‘Election Riot at Shaftesbury 1830!’, Dorset Fam. Hist. Soc. Jnl. x (1996), 14-16.
  • 40. Rutter mss D50/3, Patteson to Knowles [18], 21 Sept., replies, [20], 29 Sept. 1830.
  • 41. Salisbury Jnl. 20, 27 Sept., 4, 11, 25 Oct., 1, 8 Nov. 1830.
  • 42. E.J. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 99-100, 217.
  • 43. CJ, lxxxvi. 53, 57, 175, 445; LJ, lxiii. 40, 84, 107.
  • 44. Rutter mss D50/3.
  • 45. Salisbury Jnl. 24 Jan., 14 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 310; LJ, lxiii. 286.
  • 46. Grosvenor mss 9/11/48. Jones erroneously stated that Hume had presented a petition, but Knowles, who arranged this, implied that it was kept back (Rutter mss D50/3, Knowles to Rutter, 12 Feb. [n.d.] 1831).
  • 47. Chester Chron. 18 Mar. 1831; Huxley, 98.
  • 48. Rutter mss D50/3, Rutter to Knowles, 8 Sept. 1830, reply, 4 Mar. 1831.
  • 49. Grey mss, Durham to Grey, 8 Apr.; Chester Courant, 19 Apr.; Dorset Co. Chron. 21 Apr. 1831.
  • 50. Grosvenor mss 9/11/47, 48.
  • 51. This paragraph is based on corresp. in Rutter mss D50/3.
  • 52. S.T. McCarthy, Trant Fam. 32-35.
  • 53. Western Flying Post, 2, 9 May; Dorset Co. Chron. 5 May 1831; PP (1831), xvi. 173; (1831-2), xxxvi. 586; Thomas Rackett Pprs. (Dorset Rec. Soc. vol. 3), 66.
  • 54. Grosvenor mss 9/11/48.
  • 55. Accounts and corresp. about expenses are in Rutter mss D50/3 and SDHS acc. 3023.
  • 56. His corresp. as Shaftesbury agent for Calcraft and Ponsonby is in SDHS acc. 3397.
  • 57. Dorset Pollbook (1831), 44-45.
  • 58. PP (1831), xvi. 91.
  • 59. Rutter mss D50/3, Knowles to Rutter, 20 July, 29 Aug., 26 Sept., 1 Oct.; Dorset Co. Chron. 22, 29 Sept.; Salisbury Jnl. 26 Sept. 1831.
  • 60. The Times, 5 Oct. 1831; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 63-65.
  • 61. Three Diaries, 136; Sherborne Jnl. 29 Sept. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1048.
  • 62. LJ, lxiv. 133; CJ, lxxxvii. 333.
  • 63. Salisbury Jnl. 28 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 364.
  • 64. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 170-1; xxxviii. 148-9; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 70, 432.
  • 65. CJ, lxxxvii. 590; PP (1835), xxiv. 693.
  • 66. Rutter mss D50/3, Knowles to Rutter, 14 May; The Times, 28 June, 2 July; Dorset Co. Chron. 11, 18 Oct. 1832; Gash, 439.
  • 67. Rutter mss D50/3, Knowles to Rutter, 10 May [n.d.] 8, 13, 17, 19, 24 June, 25 Oct., 13 Nov., replies, 11 May, 12, 14, 17, 20 June 1832.
  • 68. Sir F.C. Knowles, Supplement to Reform Act of 1832, 4.
  • 69. Grosvenor mss 9/12/48, 49; Add. 51786, Holland to Fox [n.d.]; Western Flying Post, 16 July; Sherborne Jnl. 19 July, 13, 27 Dec. 1832.
  • 70. Hopton, Corruption and Reform, 38; Innes, 70-71.