Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in inhabitant householders
Estimated number qualified to vote:
265 in 18311
Number of voters:
236 in 1831
1,035 (1821); 1,127 (1831)2
|10 Mar. 1820||HENRY VANE, Visct. Barnard||124|
|HON. JAMES O'CALLAGHAN||121|
|12 June 1826||STEPHEN LUSHINGTON||123|
|JAMES ADAM GORDON||113|
|Double return. LUSHINGTON and BROUGHAM declared elected, 29 Nov. 1826|
|2 Aug. 1830||JAMES ADAM GORDON||143|
|Sir William Scott, bt.||26|
|30 Apr. 1831||CHARLES GEORGE JAMES ARBUTHNOT||165|
|Sir William Scott, bt.||71|
|25 Feb. 1832||JAMES ADAM GORDON vice Arbuthnot, vacated his seat||99|
Tregony, a once flourishing seaport and market town, situated on the ‘main arm’ of the River Fal about seven miles south-east of Truro, had been ‘reduced ... to abject poverty’ by the eighteenth century as the river had silted up and the tide no longer reached the harbour. A large woollen cloth manufactory had ‘long since been abandoned’ and the market was ‘very small’, owing to competition from Truro and St. Austell. The population consisted ‘chiefly of the labouring poor’, who were ‘almost exclusively employed in agriculture’, and many of the houses were ‘small and wretched’.3
The borough covered only part of the parish. Local power was exercised by the corporation, an exclusively Anglican body which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, eight other aldermen and an indefinite number of freemen, from among whom aldermen were selected by the aldermen; all usually held their offices for life but were removable. The franchise was vested in the potwallers and the corporation ‘never enjoyed the political influence which it obtained in other Cornish boroughs’, as patrons and candidates dealt directly with the electors. Many voters ‘relied almost entirely’ for their subsistence on the ‘means which the exercise of their elective franchise supplied’, and Tregony had long possessed an unenviable reputation for venality. The requirement that voters had to be resident for six weeks prior to an election meant that, whenever a dissolution seemed imminent, ‘the privileged order troop thither’ to secure their eligibility, and they were often ‘crowded together’ in houses ‘built only for election purposes’. William Harry Vane†, 3rd earl of Darlington, the Whig boroughmonger, was the patron and recorder. He supplied the annual deficit in the corporation’s accounts, in order to exert influence over mayoral appointments. His position was challenged in 1812 by Lord Yarmouth*, the Tory lord warden of the Stannaries, who, assisted by Viscount Lowther* and a section of the corporation, carried both seats on the treasury interest. Darlington responded by imposing contracts on his tenants which enabled him to evict them with seven days notice. As subsequent events showed, he evidently won over Captain William Henneh, the leader of the dissident corporators. In 1818 Darlington’s nominees, his son Lord Barnard and James O’Callaghan, a Durham neighbour, were returned unopposed.4
Following the announcement of the dissolution in February 1820, a local newspaper reported that Tregony ‘abounds in revolutionary spirits, who are ever ready to rebel against their ... patron’, but it was believed that Darlington had taken ‘such precautions ... as will prevent any serious movement’ against the return of the sitting Members. However, it was known in the highest Whig circles that he was ‘rather more than uncertain’ of his position, and Yarmouth and Lowther were emboldened to introduce two ministerialist candidates, Frederick Marryat (presumably a son of the Member for Sandwich) and John Shand, under the ‘agency’ of the publican Nicholas Middlecoat, who had previously been involved on various sides in elections for the borough. In the event, Barnard and O’Callaghan were returned ‘by a considerable majority’. Marryat issued an address in which he regretted his inability to ‘emancipate your borough from the state of feudal vassalage to which it is reduced’, promised his best endeavours to ‘alleviate the misery which this struggle will be the occasion of’, and offered to come forward again as the champion of ‘liberty and independence’ against ‘undue aristocratical influence’.5 During the ensuing parliamentary session the county Member, John Hearle Tremayne, ‘saw that agitator Middlecoat in the annexes of the ... Commons’ and rightly concluded that there would be a petition, ‘which no one suspected’, against the return. The petition, which was submitted in the names of two electors, Charles Harper junior and Sampson Hall, 11 May 1820, alleged that O’Callaghan had been ineligible to stand as he lacked the requisite property qualification, that he and Barnard were guilty of corrupt practices and that the mayor, Henneh, had shown partiality in admitting or rejecting votes. Owing to lack of parliamentary time the petition had to be presented again, 29 Jan., but a committee confirmed Barnard and O’Callaghan in their seats, 15 Feb. 1821. A Whig newspaper claimed that Darlington had spent ‘some thousands’ in contesting the petition, but later withdrew this statement.6 Yarmouth and Lowther showed no further interest in the borough.
In November 1820 an illumination was organized to celebrate the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, and ‘a large party of the most respectable inhabitants’ planned to dine together.7 Sir Christopher Hawkins* of Trewithen, a former patron, received an address from 90 ‘poor men’ of the borough, 17 Jan. 1821, inviting him to renew his connection, but he had no intention of intervening again. He was warned that John Parkin, Jacob Barnicoat and Charles Chalwell, ‘three of the most despicable characters in this place’, were using his name to encourage an ‘opposition to the present interest’.8 A meeting of the corporation and inhabitants, 25 Oct. 1822, forwarded a memorial to the treasury for the continuance of the Falmouth packet service, as its loss was ‘likely to involve the greater part of the [Cornish] people in utter ruin’.9 On 30 Sept. 1823 a mayoral contest took place in which, to the ‘astonishment and petrification’ of many of those present, Richard Trenemen, a labourer, was elected by three votes to two over Henneh; Aldermen Jewel (the outgoing mayor), Gurney (the justice) and Symons supported Trenemen, while Perryman and Moorman were for Henneh. The proceedings were ‘interrupted by some very violent, intemperate and "irreverential" language ... on the bench, which nearly ended in a breach of the peace’. Trenemen held over in 1824 and, according to one newspaper, he did so again in 1825, although there had been moves to force a contest. Henneh was by some means installed as mayor, however, as his position was ‘legally established’ in king’s bench, May 1826, by the discharge of a quo warranto information against him.10 It was reported in September 1825 that a party had been formed to oppose Darlington’s interest and that ‘a certain borough agent’ had been asked to bring forward ‘two gentlemen ... of sterling qualifications’. Predictably, the agent turned out to be John Stanbury, the notorious ‘election general’, who announced on 24 Oct. that he had found suitable candidates and would introduce them in due course. He assured the ‘independent’ electors that they would ‘soon have faithful and determined friends, who will protect the poor freeman, who has a wish to exercise his elective franchise’. Around the same time, Richard Gurney of Gurney House (son of the former justice), having previously declined an invitation from the independent party to stand, announced that he would offer after all and was ‘joined by many electors’. His intervention was apparently motivated by resentment of Darlington, whom he believed had been instrumental in blocking his election to the corporation.11 With O’Callaghan retiring and Barnard transferring to Totnes, Darlington offered his seats to James Brougham, brother of Henry, and another Whig lawyer, Stephen Lushington. When they canvassed the borough, 25 Mar. 1826, a Tory newspaper asserted that they were only ‘attended by a few half-pay naval characters’ and one of Darlington’s sons, that the town was ‘in a state of uproar throughout the day’ and that they left ‘chagrined and disappointed’, as the electors wanted representatives ‘decidedly opposed to Catholic emancipation’. Its Whig counterpart, on the other hand, maintained that the canvass had been ‘very satisfactory and left no doubt’ of Brougham and Lushington’s success.12
At the dissolution in May 1826, Darlington’s agents were making ‘vigorous exertions ... to defeat the projects of their opponents’, but the outcome was impossible to predict as the electors were ‘wonderfully given to change their views, especially on the very eve of going to the poll’. Stanbury had spared ‘neither pains nor expense’ to build ‘an effective opposition’, and he had reputedly gained ‘a hold on the majority of the electors, which they will find it difficult to shake off without exposing the borough to the fate of Grampound’. His candidates proved to be James Adam Gordon, a wealthy landowner, and the East India merchant James Mackillop. Darlington confessed to Thomas Creevey* that ‘his success was most doubtful’, and he summoned Henry Brougham to assist in the campaign.13 On 6 June Gurney received an address from over 120 electors, committed to the independent party, urging him to withdraw so as to avoid splitting the anti-Darlington forces. In return, they pledged ‘zealously and honourably’ to vote for Gurney at the next election. He acceded to their request and one Langmead, who had intended to offer with him, also retired, leaving ‘two parties in the field, "the Old" and "the New"’. Polling lasted for three days, but the proceedings were farcical as there were ‘two mayors ... each claiming the right of presiding at the hustings’. Henneh, the ‘returning officer in the interest of Lord Darlington’, declared Lushington and Brougham to be duly elected, after 233 had polled, although it was claimed that 12 votes cast for Lushington had been ‘most improperly included’ and 12 for Gordon and Mackillop ‘unwarrantably disallowed’, as a result of ‘very gross partiality’. Trenemen’s deputy, Lieutenant William Wooldridge, also took the poll, and he declared Gordon and Mackillop to be elected by a majority of 12. A double return was therefore recorded, and Gordon and Mackillop pledged to release the electors from ‘the thraldom in which they have been so long held’ by Darlington and his agents.14 The case came before the Commons, 24 Nov. 1826, when the Whig lawyer James Abercromby contended that there had been no double return, as only the indenture naming Lushington and Brougham was annexed to the writ, and that in any case a deputy mayor had no authority to act as Wooldridge had. Charles Williams Wynn believed that a committee should consider the matter, as the House would be setting a dangerous precedent by acting on its own authority, but Henry Brougham maintained that all the evidence was available for a decision to be made. Canning, the leader of the Commons, admitted that he was unsure of the proper course of action and moved an adjournment. After consulting with the Speaker, ministers announced on 29 Nov. that they were satisfied there had been no double return, and the indenture naming Gordon and Mackillop was taken off the file. Darlington expressed his gratitude to Henry Brougham for being ‘principally concerned’ in bringing the matter to a favourable conclusion. Curiously, the decision ignored the fact that Trenemen had recently been imprisoned for disobeying a writ of mandamus ordering him to attend the election of a successor as mayor.15 Gordon and Mackillop petitioned against the return, 4 Dec. 1826, accusing Henneh of usurping the office of mayor and the Members and their agents of ‘open bribery and corrupt practices’, but the committee found in favour of Lushington and Brougham, 23 Mar. 1827. According to a local newspaper, Gordon and Mackillop had in fact ‘resigned the contest’, to the ‘no small disappointment’ of a group of electors who, ‘decked out with favours’, had been ready to start for London to give evidence.16
The Dissenters sent petitions for repeal of the Test Acts to the Commons, 16 June 1827, and both Houses, 21, 26 Feb. 1828.17 Tregony was silent on the Catholic question in 1829, but the Members supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill. While giving evidence to the Commons committee on the Penryn election bill, 18 May 1827, Stanbury mentioned that he had spent ‘about £2,000’ on building houses at Tregony, for which he received no rent, but he declined to say where the money had come from. He also admitted that money for the treating of electors had passed through his hands, although he could not remember how much. He received a letter purportedly signed by a majority of the electors, November 1828, inviting him to introduce two candidates at the next election.18 That April, Darlington’s entire Tregony estate, consisting of 163 messuages or tenements, ‘nearly the whole of the borough’, and 105 acres in the vicinity, had been put up for sale. Possession of the property, it was noted in the advertisement, would give ‘a preponderating influence in the borough’. A Devonport attorney wrote to the Whig Alexander Baring* that, having received no communication on the matter, ‘I presume you have no friend desirous of acquiring a close borough, which I am assured it might be easily made’. It eventually emerged that the new owner was Gordon, but the deal took several months to complete and during that time Darlington expressed anxiety about the ‘probability of great loss, as I feel the vast daily detriment to the interest by delay’. There is no way of verifying the claim later made by Gurney’s supporters that Gordon and Mackillop had been induced to withdraw their election petition in return for ‘a valuable consideration’, namely the sale of Darlington’s estate to Gordon ‘for a much less price than its real value’, and Mackillop’s return ‘free of expense’ at the next election. Gordon was duly installed as the new recorder, 8 Apr. 1830.19 Gurney issued an address that month in which he recalled how Gordon had offered to purchase his property, two years before, with a view to establishing ‘an exclusive political influence’ and ‘crushing forever the independent or opposition interest’. Gurney had heeded a plea from the electors not to sell, and he assured them of his willingness to come forward as their champion, provided they did not repeat the ‘grand error’ of inviting a ‘third party madly to intrude itself’, in which case he would use his ‘discretion as to what I shall do with my own property’.20 At the dissolution that summer James Brougham and Lushington were obliged to seek other seats. Gordon offered with Mackillop, and Stanbury introduced Sir William Scott, formerly Member for Carlisle, and Robert Badnall, presumably the Staffordshire landowner who had unsuccessfully contested Callington in 1826. The only known account of the election proceedings comes from a letter subsequently published in the press by Gurney’s friends. From this, it appears that he and one Charles King were ‘unanimously elected’ at a poll conducted by Trenemen. However, Lieutenant Nicholas Wakem, claiming to be the legal mayor, held a separate poll two days later, when ‘many of the electors who had acquiesced in the return of Gurney and King’ tendered votes for the other candidates and Gordon and Mackillop were declared elected. It was therefore argued that the second poll was ‘altogether extraneous’ and the return of Gordon and Mackillop ‘illegal’. It was also alleged that ‘bribes were offered in many quarters’ to detach voters from Gurney, with ‘a large box filled with crowns and halfcrowns’ being brought into the town by ‘Mr. Nobody’ and given to Middlecoat, an agent for Gordon and Mackillop, to distribute. A local newspaper meantime observed that the contest had terminated more to the satisfaction of Stanbury than of his clients, who had been induced to spend ‘some thousands’. The minister Charles Ross* counted Gordon and Mackillop’s return as two gains for the government.21 Gurney and King petitioned the Commons, 16 Nov. 1830, alleging that Wakem had ‘illegally possessed himself of the [sheriff’s] precept as pretended mayor’, an office for which he was ineligible as he was not even an alderman, that the sheriff had ‘wilfully’ omitted to report the legal indenture and that bribery had been practised by the Members’ agents. The committee found in favour of Gordon and Mackillop, 15 Mar. 1831, and deemed the petition ‘frivolous and vexatious’, awarding legal costs against Gurney and King. Gurney petitioned again to complain of the committee’s handling of the case, 30 Aug., pointing out that owing to a legal technicality no evidence on the bribery charge had been heard, and that no conclusion had been reached regarding the disputed mayoralty; but he withdrew, 14 Sept. 1831.22
The inhabitants of Roseland, including the parish of Tregony, forwarded an anti-slavery petition to the Commons, 5 Nov., and the Wesleyan Methodists sent similar petitions to both Houses, 12, 16 Nov. 1830.23 The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed the disfranchisement of Tregony; Gordon and Mackillop opposed it. At the ensuing general election Mackillop and Charles Arbuthnot, son of the former Tory minister, were returned on Gordon’s interest, ahead of Scott and Gurney; 236 were polled. No account of the proceedings has been found, but in a subsequent address Gurney attributed his defeat to the suddenness of the dissolution and the ‘gross deception’ practised by Gordon’s agents, who had misled him as to the date of the poll, causing him to miss the commencement. Having ‘deeply reflected on the heavy increase of rates, decrease of wages, and other ills likely to result from our threatened disfranchisement’, he promised to do what he could to find a ‘remedy against the impending evil’.24 The corporation and electors petitioned the Commons against the borough’s disfranchisement, 21 July.25 Gurney and some 70 electors forwarded an address to William IV, 11 Oct., offering to resign their ‘ancient rights and privileges ... in favour of any large city or populous district’. This was condemned at a public meeting chaired by the mayor, Samuel Jewel, 24 Nov. 1831, and a counter-address was sent for the maintenance of the borough’s representation.26 In February 1832 Arbuthnot was obliged to vacate by Gordon, who was returned at the resulting by-election ahead of Gurney. Another petition followed, in which Gurney accused Gordon and his agents of ‘open, gross and extensive bribery’ and of using ‘threats and intimidation’ against voters, but he failed to enter into recognizances.27
The new criteria adopted by the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Tregony’s fate, as it contained 234 houses and paid £103 in assessed taxes, placing it 29th in the list of the smallest English boroughs; it was absorbed into the Western division of Cornwall. The town subsequently ‘exhibited increased symptoms of depopulation and decay’, many of the houses were left in ‘ruins’ and ‘great distress ... prevailed amongst the poor’, who had lost their main source of income. In 1833 the poor rate amounted to ‘almost the full yearly value of the land’.28
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 44-45.
- 2. Ibid. (1835), xxiii. 651. Figures for the united parishes of Tregony and Cuby.
- 3. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), ii. 194-202; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 168; Parochial Hist. Cornw. i. 277-86; PP (1835), xxiii. 651.
- 4. Drew, i. 650-1; W.T. Lawrance, Parl. Rep. Cornw., 205-6; PP (1835), xxiii. 647-52; Cornw. RO, Coode mss DD/CF/4760 (contract).
- 5. West Briton, 11, 25 Feb.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 4, 11 Mar.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 4 Mar.; Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DD/J2/107, Edwards to Hawkins, 9 Mar. 1820.
- 6. Cornw. RO, Tremayne mss DD/T/2551; CJ, lxxv. 196-7, 389; lxxvi. 17-18, 66-68, 73; West Briton, 23 Feb., 23 Mar. 1821.
- 7. West Briton, 24 Nov. 1820.
- 8. R. Instit. Cornw. Henderson mss HH/13/294-5.
- 9. West Briton, 8 Nov. 1822.
- 10. Ibid. 3 Oct. 1823, 8 Oct. 1824, 2 June 1826; R. Cornw. Gazette, 4 Oct. 1823, 8 Oct. 1825, 3 June 1826.
- 11. West Briton, 23 Sept., 28 Oct. 1825; R. Cornw. Gazette, 17 June 1826.
- 12. R. Cornw. Gazette, 1 Apr.; West Briton, 7 Apr. 1826.
- 13. West Briton, 26 May, 2, 9 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 27 May, 3 June; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 11 June 1826; NLS mss 24748, f. 1.
- 14. R. Cornw. Gazette, 10, 17 June; West Briton, 16, 30 June 1826; PP (1830-1), x. 105.
- 15. CJ, lxxxii. 31-32, 45; Add. 40311, ff. 203-5; The Times, 28 Nov.; Brougham mss, Darlington to Brougham, 3 Dec. 1826.
- 16. CJ, lxxxii. 68-69, 343-4, 350; West Briton, 23 Mar. 1827.
- 17. CJ, lxxxii. 571; lxxxiii. 105; LJ, lx. 53.
- 18. PP (1826-7), iv. 481-94; West Briton, 26 Dec. 1828.
- 19. West Briton, 4, 11 Apr. 1828, 9 Oct. 1829; R. Cornw. Gazette, 8 May, 14 Aug. 1830; Devon RO 3720M/E1, Smith to Baring, 4 May 1828; Brougham mss, Darlington to Brougham, 19 Jan. .
- 20. West Briton, 30 Apr. 1830.
- 21. Ibid. 2 July, 6 Aug.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 14 Aug. 1830; Add. 40401, f. 132.
- 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 92-93, 357-9, 377, 795-6, 841; West Briton, 3 Dec. 1830, 18 Mar. 1831.
- 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 39, 60; LJ, lxiii. 85.
- 24. West Briton, 6 May 1831; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 593.
- 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 683.
- 26. R. Cornw. Gazette, 10 Dec. 1831, 14 Jan. 1832.
- 27. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss, Arbuthnot to son, 16 Feb.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 3 Mar. 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 186, 230.
- 28. PP (1835), xxiii. 651; Parochial Hist. Cornw. i. 284.