Totnes

Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 100

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
20 Apr. 1754Sir John Strange48
 Browse Trist46
 Arthur Champernowne43
 Charles Taylor36
13 Dec. 1754Sir Richard Lloyd vice Strange, deceased 
26 Nov. 1759Richard Savage Lloyd vice Sir Richard Lloyd, appointed to office 
30 Mar. 1761Browse Trist53
 Richard Savage Lloyd51
 Samuel Graves26
 John Spooner22
7 Apr. 1763Henry Seymour vice Trist, vacated his seat 
18 Mar. 1768Philip Jennings49
 Peter Burrell49
 Edward Brawn1
 John Adams1
8 May 1769Burrell re-elected after appointment to office 
10 Oct. 1774Sir Philip Jennings Clerke (formerly Jennings)64
 James Amyatt36
 Peter Burrell32
9 Sept. 1780Sir Philip Jennings Clerke 
 Lancelot Brown 
5 Apr. 1784Sir Philip Jennings Clerke 
 Henry Phipps 
8 Feb. 1788William Harry Vane, Visct. Barnard, vice Jennings, deceased 

Main Article

A great deal depended at Totnes upon control of the corporation. The Duke of Bolton, the Duke of Somerset, and a number of smaller men had influence, and they competed against each other for Government support. Government could only bring its influence to bear through alliance with a local interest, and the electoral scene was always shifting.

In 1754 Browse Trist, recorder since 1747, possessed the dominant interest. At the general election the Government candidates were Trist and Sir John Strange, master of the rolls; they were opposed by Charles Taylor, who had defeated a Government candidate at Totnes in 1747 and was reported to have ‘very great interest there’,1 and Arthur Champernowne, of an old Totnes family. Trist received £200 from the secret service account for this election, and John Southard, Newcastle’s agent at Totnes, £140.

Southard, with little interest of his own, set himself up as Trist’s rival. When Strange died on 18 May 1754, Southard suggested that Lord William Seymour, Somerset’s brother, should be adopted as Government candidate.2 But the Government’s position was too weak to admit a rival to Trist. ‘Its whole strength’, wrote Charles Frederick, a freeman of Totnes, to Newcastle on 30 Aug. 1754,

depends on one vote among the aldermen, therefore if one of our friends should die before the choosing of a new mayor or one of the aldermen in the Government interest can be bought off, it is gone out of the ministry’s hands. Lord William Seymour has canvassed the whole town and is strongly supported by Champernowne.

However, on 24 Sept. Trist reported to Newcastle ‘the advantage we have gained over our adversaries by the acquisition of the mayor and the addition of one to our number, and that it is our steady resolution to support your interest’.3 This seems to have decided Seymour to withdraw, and Sir Richard Lloyd, solicitor-general, was returned unopposed.

On 2 Apr. 1756 Trist was paid £100 for Totnes, and on 1 June wrote to Newcastle:4

The disposition of this county in general renders it not a little difficult to support an agreeable interest, but now, I think, I can with pleasure assure [you] that I have brought the borough to such a situation as to render any future opposition ineffectual; and that the procedure will be as regular as it has known to be at any preceding period.

When Lloyd was made a baron of the Exchequer in 1759, John Roberts, who under Henry Pelham seems to have had the management of Totnes, warned Newcastle that Government control over the borough was in danger: Lloyd had been making interest himself, and he and Trist should not be allowed to name Lloyd’s successor.5 But Newcastle ignored this advice and named Lloyd’s son, who was returned unopposed.

In 1761 Trist and Southard quarrelled openly; Trist chose a candidate without reference to Newcastle, while Southard again inclined to the Duke of Somerset. Newcastle wrote to Roberts on 22 Feb.:6

I send you a letter from Mr. Trist, by which I find he is a great enemy to Southard; and that the interest there seems precarious. The Duke of Somerset is to be with me on Wednesday. I wish you would send for Southard; you know what he can do at Totnes, and what dependence you can have upon him; and after you have got all the intelligence from Southard with relation to the several interests in the borough, I beg you would let me know what you would advise me to do. To adhere to Trist, or to take Southard, or to agree with the Duke of Somerset. Trist will not come in himself, but proposes to bring in Nathaniel Newnham, who is to give £1,500.

Southard, wrote Roberts to Newcastle on 24 Feb.,

declared that he had engaged himself and his friends some time ago by your Grace’s directions to support Mr. Trist and Mr. Lloyd; and that he thought they would not fail of being elected. Supposing all the voters to be collected, he makes the numbers likely to be, 56 for these gentlemen, and 38 against ... and Mr. Trist and your Grace’s friends, being a majority of the board of aldermen, can make more freemen as they shall find it necessary. But he has heard (he says) that Mr. Trist has thoughts of retiring and bringing in another gentleman: he much doubts whether such a plan, when communicated to the freemen, would be well received. He had likewise some suspicion that the Duke of Somerset and Mr. Champernowne would join their interests in an opposition. He did not believe this would succeed, though it would run hard and perhaps be defeated only by the measure of a new set of freemen; but he added that if your Grace was not engaged in honour to support Mr. Lloyd, a coalition with the Duke of Somerset, allowing his brother to be one of the Members, would go down well.

Newcastle wished Lloyd to be returned again, but Roberts suggested he should be asked whether he was ready to bear the expense of a contest. ‘If he will not’, Roberts continued, ‘the Duke of Somerset will, no doubt, readily acquiesce in Mr. Newnham’s being substituted in the place of Mr. Trist; and Mr. Trist will (at the price your Grace has mentioned) be amply rewarded for all his trouble and boroughcraft.’ And Newnham wrote to Newcastle on 1 Mar. that if only he had the Duke’s recommendation his election ‘could not fail of success’. Similarly, Somerset, on 12 Mar. pressed Newcastle for a letter to the mayor of Totnes ‘that the choice of Lord William will not be disagreeable to your Grace, and that you will not oppose his election’.

While Newcastle hesitated, Trist, ‘under a pretence that he might otherwise be in danger of being defeated’,7 decided to stand himself; which led to Lord William Seymour’s withdrawal. But on 24 Mar. Arthur Holdsworth, Government manager at Dartmouth and a freeman of Totnes, informed Newcastle that there would be a contest. Samuel Graves, a naval officer, and John Spooner were joint candidates, probably supported by the Champernowne interest, while the part taken by Somerset is not clear. Here is the account of the election sent by Trist to Newcastle the next day:8

After the most bitter and virulent reflections on my character and conduct, and the falsest insinuations to my friends by Mr. Southard, the chief cause of the opposition, there were 53 votes for myself, 51 for Mr. Lloyd, 22 for Mr. Spooner, and 26 for Captain Graves; which is about 2 to 1, notwithstanding £150 bribes were tendered to a number of freemen the night before the election: but to show the virtue of a Totnes freeman, not one single person would desert my interest by accepting the offer. Such honesty!

Southard, in a letter to Newcastle of 8 Apr. (in which he asked a place for his son), claimed to have done ‘everything in my power for your Grace’s interest ... Had Lord William Seymour come he and Mr. Lloyd would have been the men. But that your Grace’s interest might remain there the old Members are chosen.’9

In March 1763 Trist left Parliament, and although he remained recorder until his death, ceased to play any part in Totnes affairs. His successor, Henry Seymour, and the Duke of Somerset, were now the chief competitors for the support of Government and the control of Totnes. Somerset, appealing to Grenville, claimed that Totnes ‘was long the borough of my family ... to which if property could give any claim, my estates in and about that place might well justify the title’.10 The family interest, ‘though always vindicated, was in some measure neglected’. Grenville refused to commit himself, and on 8 July Somerset wrote again, emphasizing the Government’s concern in the borough:

Totnes is at this time ... in some measure at market, and there are various competitors to bid for it, though none who from weight of property in and about the place have an equal title with myself ... my inclination is to connect myself with Government, and if by a constant attachment to its views I have in any degree merited the countenance of Administration I should wish to preserve my interest there in connexion with them.

Grenville’s reluctance to support Somerset was due to the importunities of Henry Seymour, who had attached himself to Grenville and was backed by his half-brother Lord Sandwich, secretary of state. On 6 Oct. 1763 Sandwich wrote to Grenville about Seymour:11

He thinks he has secured himself in that borough for hereafter; and I suppose it is of much consequence to him to show that he has the favour of the Government at his first setting out. As to the Duke of Somerset, I believe on inquiry you will find that he has nothing but the name of a family interest that has been long neglected, and that he can do nothing in the borough with regard to the recommendation of a Member.

Next, Lord Hertford, Somerset’s relative, intervened on his behalf, and gave this account of the borough:12

The competition as far as I understand from his Grace is at present pretty equal between himself, the Duke of Bolton, and Mr. Seymour: the Government has an interest there by means of the places in the gift of the Treasury which will probably determine its fate.

Grenville tried to hold the scales even but, Seymour being in possession, they were inevitably tilted in his favour.

Bolton, however, not Somerset, was the real danger. On 8 July 1766 Southard wrote from Totnes to Newcastle:13

On Thursday last afternoon his Grace came and with him Peter Burrell, Member for Launceston and Colonel Jennings. That evening and the next day most of the principal inhabitants waited on him, except five aldermen that have and seem determined to oppose his interest in this borough.

Bolton dined with the mayor, entertained the freemen, and three days later left Totnes ‘in good health and spirits’. On 23 Sept. Southard wrote again to Newcastle:14

I take the liberty to acquaint you that on Saturday last Mr. Seymour ... came here with intent to have one of his friends elected mayor. But to no purpose. For on Sunday, St. Matthew’s day, the election came on, when after much altercation Mr. Farwell (a friend of your’s and the Duke of Bolton’s) was duly elected. To the satisfaction of the town in general. Mr. Seymour had an entertainment last night for all the freemen: and although we are about ninety he was attended by nine only, which hath greatly chagrined him.

At the general election of 1768 Bolton had the support of Government: Seymour did not stand, and Burrell and Jennings were returned. A forlorn opposition came from two local men.

In 1774 Jennings Clerke (as he now was) and Burrell stood again on Bolton’s interest, but Burrell was defeated by James Amyatt. Amyatt came from a Totnes family: his father, Benjamin, was mayor in 1739, and John Amyatt (possibly his uncle) in 1724, 1727 and 1735.

In 1780 John Robinson wrote about Totnes:

Sir P. J. Clerke, it is thought will come in again on the Bolton interest, but it is thought Mr. Amyatt will not succeed. Mr. Launcelot Browne junior stands on the interest of Mr. Justice Buller, and in concert it is believed with the Bolton interest to throw out Amyatt.

There was no contest. Francis Buller, a judge of the King’s bench since 1778, son of James Buller, derived his interest at Totnes from his marriage to Susanna, daughter and heir of Francis Yarde of Churston Ferrers (about five miles from Totnes). In 1784 he and Bolton again divided the borough without a contest.

Author: John Brooke

Notes

  • 1. John Proby jun. to Bedford, 13 July 1751, Bedford ms