Great Grimsby


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen

Number of voters:

over 300


(1801): 1,524


19 June 1790JOHN HARRISON140 
 Hon. William Wellesley Pole135 
 Robert Wood135 
  Election declared void, 11 Apr. 1793  
17 Apr. 1793JOHN HARRISON  
 John Henry Loft130 
 Robert Home Gordon128 
9 July 1802JOHN HENRY LOFT1461371
 William Mellish143146
 Robert Sewell143134
 MELLISH vice Loft, on petition, 18 Mar. 1803  
18 July 1803 HON. CHARLES ANDERSON PELHAM vice Boucherett, vacated his seat  
8 May 1807WILLIAM ELLICE142 
 John Henry Loft137 
 Hon. George Anderson Pelham122 
 LOFT vice Anderson Pelham, on petition, 26 Feb. 1808  
6 Oct. 1812JOHN PETER GRANT210 
 John Henry Loft97 
 Ebenezer John Collett12 
 John Peter Grant195 

Main Article

Since 1774, Charles Anderson Pelham*, the future Lord Yarborough, who was the leading property owner at Grimsby and recorder of the borough, had returned both Members. His friends, the Blues, dominated the corporation. The rival faction, the Reds, of which the Clayton family were leaders, were eclipsed, and even in 1784 the best terms they could get were to accept one of Anderson Pelham’s nominees as their own, at their expense. In 1789 Alderman Samuel Parker, one of the four Red aldermen, after seeing Pitt, reported that ‘he has taken the borough into his management’. A promoter of the scheme to construct a dock at Grimsby,2 Parker tried to make the prospective candidates on the Red interest, William Wellesley Pole* and Robert Wood*, take it up as part of their electoral campaign, but they relied on the more traditional expedients of bribery and treating. On 15 Nov. 1788 Lord Mornington, informing Lord Buckingham that his brother Pole had found an opening at Grimsby, reported that ‘Pitt would thus have two seats at that place for about £5,000’. Over £1,800 was disbursed from the secret service fund on the ministerial interest.3 The Blues relied on the creation of new freemen and on the manipulation of non-resident voters to secure their majority, which was only five in 1790. Early in 1791, on the death of Alderman Parker, the champion of the anti-corporation Reds, the management of their interest reverted to its natural leaders Christopher Clayton and, on his death soon afterwards, his nephew and heir George Tennyson*, a local attorney. They promoted a petition against the return of the Anderson Pelham nominees, which after repeated postponement by the House, was successful, 11 Apr. 1793.4 There was sufficient evidence of corruption on both sides, but Wellesley Pole was found guilty of bribery and the right of election confirmed so as to exclude non-resident voters, whose claims the petitioners had championed. The election was declared void, but the Reds were too discouraged to oppose the re-election of the sitting Members.

In 1794 Anderson Pelham, having received a peerage, was disposed to come to terms with George Tennyson, and a mutual friend Ayscoghe Boucherett was accordingly chosen high steward of the borough. Tennyson reported ‘While my uncle Clayton was alive, I was obliged in compliance with his best wishes to oppose Lord Yarborough, but when he died we came to an explanation and I dare [say] we shall never be at variance more’.5 Tennyson wrote to Yarborough, 19 Mar. 1796, proposing to join with him in bringing in two Members:6 he regarded the coalition as a means of expressing his indignation at the neglect he had met with from government, as well as a way of promoting the plan for the Grimsby haven company, which was sanctioned by Act of Parliament in May 1796 and in which he and Yarborough were major shareholders. Opposition came from John Henry Loft, a local man who, although he was one of the minor shareholders, came out in opposition to the dock scheme. Being an army officer, he resorted to a ‘new and gross mode of electioneering’ by enlisting freemen in his regiment to receive the volunteers’ bounty, with a promise of discharge once they had voted for him. Loft not only recruited friends among other small landowners opposed to a haven company dominated by Tennyson and Yarborough, but secured Pitt’s approval for his candidature, which was the reason for Tennyson’s complaint to his ally of being ‘neglected and contemptuously treated’ by administration.

Yarborough was likewise disgruntled at Loft’s candidature. On 26 Sept. 1795 his friend the Duke of Portland had warned him that Pitt had received letters from both a Grimsby alderman and Col. Loft, the first offering the minister a certain seat, ‘if not both’, at the general election and the latter claiming (22 Sept.) that he had ‘secured a majority’ of the voters. The duke hoped that Yarborough’s ‘very natural partiality for Harrison and D. Long’, the sitting Members, who were Whigs, would not prevent him from coming to terms with Pitt. In reply, 29 Sept., Yarborough eschewed all knowledge of the alderman ‘Parkinson or Pattington’ at Grimsby and contradicted Loft’s claim of a majority; he also complained of being ‘attacked’ at Grimsby and at Beverley. The duke replied, 2 Oct., that he felt obliged

to say distinctly that if Harrison and Dudley North are necessarily to be the candidates recommended by you to the borough of Grimsby, that you cannot be surprised at any countenance being given to any persons who may think it worth while to oppose them, but that it is the wish of administration, and must particularly be mine, that your selection of persons to represent that borough may be such as to justify the inclinations of those with whom I am officially connected, not only to support, but as far as lays in their power, to prevent any attack being made upon, your interest at that as indeed at any other place.

He went on to warn Yarborough that the parliamentary conduct of his Members held out a temptation ‘not only to adventurers but to men of principle and fortune who feel this to be a crisis which calls upon them to support the cause of general good order and civic society’. Yarborough subsequently went so far as to induce Harrison to retire, 29 Dec. 1795, and put up Boucherett in his place, ‘a friend and neighbour of mine ... whom I can with certainty assure you is really a friend to the present administration’. He added, ‘The state of the borough is such as to make me unable to nominate any other person’. Boucherett was a substantial shareholder in the haven company and its first chairman. Dudley Long also retired: both he and Harrison found seats elsewhere. On 10 Apr. 1796 Portland informed Pitt:

Ld. Yarborough tells me positively that he will not and indeed can not suffer Mr Loft to come in for Grimsby. He will, in addition to Mr Boucherett, who has explicitly declared himself to me, take any person of our recommendation wishing rather that he should be of the country or at least a name known there than a stranger and he inclines much to one of the Mellishes whom I also should prefer and for whom you perhaps can answer as well as I can but I am sure Ld. Y. can’t do better and the best thing that can be done is to make Loft withdraw, which he must do if half I hear of him is true.

William Mellish, kinsman of a former Member and also interested in the haven company, was accordingly adopted as the other candidate on the Yarborough-Tennyson interest.7

Loft did not withdraw, but in the ensuing contest Boucherett and Mellish narrowly defeated him and an ‘entire stranger’, Gordon, a West India proprietor, introduced two days before the poll as Loft’s colleague by agency of John Monckton Hale, an electioneering attorney. Yarborough answered for £9,470 in election expenses, while Loft also spent lavishly: in 1802 he was reported to owe government £25,000. He was determined to try again and Hale endeavoured to secure a suitable colleague for him, seeking in December 1800 to interest Walter Spencer Stanhope* in joining Loft: the outlay would be less than £1,000 before the election and the joint return would cost about £7,100. Stanhope demurred, and in November 1801 Hale approached William Windham* with the same offer, the expense being 4,000 guineas, of which only £1,000 was to be speculated. In the event, it was Robert Sewell* who joined Loft in the election of 1802. Loft made a point of offering to pay his debts at Grimsby on the eve of election.8

Loft headed the poll and his colleague was defeated. Boucherett, who was weary of the expense of Grimsby elections, was rumoured in November 1801 to have lost Yarborough’s confidence, but was reassured and consented to stand again, coming in second by one vote. Mellish, Yarborough and Tennyson’s other nominee, was therefore defeated. This frustration of their alliance may not have disconcerted Tennyson, who said ‘he did not care a damn for Lord Yarborough, that his object in joining him was to get an enclosure at Scartho and the haven at Grimsby, but that his heart was as much Red as ever’. The fact was that after a secret meeting at Brocklesby in April 1802 Tennyson, who had an eye to a seat for his son Charles in future, had emerged dissatisfied with his alliance with Yarborough. Boucherett upbraided him for ‘puzzling the cause in the minds of your friends showing there is something wrong in the cabinet to no good purpose to yourself and to a very bad one to those you act with’. Tennyson was punished by a rumour that Yarborough had made overtures to Loft. On petition, however, Mellish unseated Loft, whose boast it had been that ‘independence and integrity are more frequently found in the huts of the peasant than in the mansions of opulence’. The grounds were invalid votes and the partisan conduct of the mayor, who was taken into the custody of the House and reprimanded. Sewell’s petition against Boucherett failed.9

Loft was disappointed of an opening in July 1803 when Boucherett resigned to make way for Yarborough’s heir. The latter was elected before Loft arrived on the scene: Loft’s petition to this effect was not pursued. Having thus regained both seats, Yarborough pressed his advantage by returning both his sons in 1806 when Loft appeared but gave up. Tennyson, despite his ambitions for his son Charles, acquiesced. Loft was at this time encouraging him to assert himself, but Tennyson assisted Yarborough in 1806 and 1807. On the latter occasion his son Charles, noting that the Yarborough interest was now in opposition to government (and ignorant of the terms of his father’s pact with Yarborough), wished Tennyson to take advantage of this situation and show his resentment of Yarborough’s neglect by coming to terms with government; as Loft’s credit was shaky, they ‘I think would jump at you’. He suggested that his brother-in-law Matthew Russell* should stand at Russell’s father’s expense, or that ministers should be induced to ‘send down two [candidates] and make me one [of them]’, in decided opposition to Yarborough. When Charles Tennyson learnt from Boucherett that this plan was a violation of the coalition between his father and Yarborough (brought about by Boucherett), he suggested instead that he should stand in conjunction with Yarborough’s son, but with no conditions as to his politics, as he expected government support. If Yarborough resisted this, he would be prepared to oppose him; otherwise, government might be persuaded to favour Yarborough, rather than Loft. In the end, Charles Tennyson was ruled by his father.10

As it was, one of Yarborough’s sons was defeated in 1807. Loft was furnished by government with a wealthy merchant, William Ellice, as colleague. It was Ellice, not Loft, who ousted the younger Anderson Pelham. Loft, defeated by the mayor’s casting vote, managed to unseat the elder (who had the county seat, in any case) on grounds of bribery. Yarborough contemplated a petition against Ellice, using Charles Tennyson to plead for him, but found that it was precluded by an agreement he had made with Ellice before the election. Ellice had behaved honourably towards him by refusing to present Loft’s petition. Loft was indignant, and finding that Ellice was likely to have ‘the patronage of the new places at Grimsby’, was thought to be attempting to come to a compromise with Yarborough for the next election. He was insecure: even before he took his seat a new aspirant, who doubtless wished to take advantage of the petitions, canvassed the borough. This was John Peter Grant*, who was introduced by three freemen conspirators, began buying up local property and secured the election of an ally, William Frazer, as town clerk. It is possible that Grant was soon afterwards offering the two seats to his Whig friends at £5,500 each. Loft hit back by securing Frazer’s dismissal (August 1809), but he was reinstated (February 1810). In the recriminations that ensued, Loft cut a bad figure. His attempt to make electoral capital out of a bill for improving the borough also misfired, for he alienated Tennyson and the haven company thereby.11

Yarborough’s hold on the corporation was still strong and in March 1811 they resolved that he, as recorder, rather than the Members, in view of their ‘known subserviency ... to the minister’, should present an address to the Regent. What decided Loft’s fate was his inability to pay off the freemen or find a friend prepared to do so. An attempt was made to persuade Ellice to stand by Loft, but he was warned that the freemen claimed £1,600 arrears for some of their number. He might get away with £10 each, but ‘it is the tune of all here that without the payment of arrears omitted, Mr Ellice need not come’. Meanwhile, Yarborough chose Sir Robert Heron as his prospective candidate, with the concurrence of George Tennyson, and Heron informally coalesced with Grant, 27 Aug. 1811. This Whig combination proved too much for Loft, who boasted of his opposition to Catholic relief and parliamentary reform and was trounced, while Ebenezer John Collett*, probably sent down as a ministerialist to join him, got nowhere. Loft and his friends petitioned in vain. Heron remarked: ‘it cost Loft nothing, because he had nothing to pay’. The fact was that Loft abandoned his witnesses on Westminster bridge and they had to obtain compensation from the House for their trouble.12

Heron, who took the view that Yarborough had ‘lost the borough by bad management, though he possessed an overruling property in it, and even a considerable popularity amongst its inhabitants’, and that he had rescued the interest on the advice of ‘a common friend’, boasted that he told his constituents ‘the whole truth as to my principles, political or religious’, and that his ‘simplicity of manner and conversation’ were ‘perfectly approved’ at Grimsby. His colleague Grant likewise, after the election, admitted his support for Catholic relief: but Heron found the Grimbarians ‘totally indifferent to politics’. He also found himself abetting the collapse of an uneasy revival of the Yarborough-Tennyson coalition in 1813, when the parties fell out over the promotion of a new haven bill, the bill to be presented favouring Tennyson’s rather than his patron’s views: Heron objected to the bill as a Tennyson ‘job’ and it was dropped in committee in September 1813.13 Heron aspired to a county seat and as soon as this became clear in December 1817, Charles Tennyson, son of George, confirmed his candidature, which he had pledged at the close of the previous election.

In the summer of 1817 Tennyson had secured an assurance from the Treasury that one William Byrne, said to be canvassing Grimsby with their encouragement, was disavowed by them. On 2 Dec. he informed Charles Arbuthnot that his brother-in-law Matthew Russell had decided to back the revival of the Tennyson interest at Grimsby, ‘which has lain too long dormant, in order to support a candidate or candidates well disposed to his Majesty’s government’. He announced himself as the first choice and asked the Treasury to discourage adventurers. Arbuthnot replied, 17 Dec., ‘it will give me great pleasure if you should be able to get rid of the two present Members’. Tennyson was indeed anxious to have a colleague to show at Grimsby and thereby prevent the inconvenience of facing any new single opponent or pair of opponents. A first attempt by Russell, who had likewise informed the Treasury of the scheme, to procure the military hero Sir Gordon Drummond for this purpose in December 1817 failed. Tennyson resolved to make no promises at Grimsby until he could name his second string. He rejected the idea of a compromise with Yarborough, at least for the present, fearing it would provoke opposition, but thought that ‘unless he would undertake to support me, we should have another candidate’. His efforts to secure ‘Mr Gray’ or Charles Duncombe* as his running partner also failed; nor did he secure Yarborough’s support. In January 1818 he asked for a Treasury nominee, ‘well known if possible’ and ‘preferably of mercantile importance’. A Mr Smyth was spoken of; and in February a negotiation on behalf of John Mitchell* was undertaken by Alexander Cray Grant*. In March, Henry Usborne of Manchester Square, London; Charles Duncombe for his son William, and a London banker were mentioned as interested parties. Alexander Cray Grant had warned Tennyson that he could not expect to find a client ‘when you do not feel strong enough to ensure for £4,000 occupancy for the term of such a Parliament as the ensuing one is likely to be’. At the eleventh hour, Tennyson saw no point in taking Sir Charles Philip Belson as colleague: he was disillusioned with the Treasury, who had disappointed all his hopes, and he saw no necessity for pledging himself to government, beyond ‘general intentions’.14

An independent bid to secure another candidate by Sir Thomas Robinson, who went to London at the behest of ‘180 electors of Grimsby’ and approached John Campbell IV* and Thomas Potter Macqueen*, came to nothing. So Tennyson stood alone in 1818. On his interest 95 new freemen had been admitted by the corporation. On the Yarborough interest, Heron was replaced by Fazakerley. Grant came forward again. His Whig politics had come as a surprise to his erstwhile supporters, one of whom assured Lord Liverpool that he was an apostate, who had been expected to support government. He coalesced with Fazakerley, but Tennyson ousted him, spending about £5,500 and claiming to be ‘instrumental in placing Fazakerley so high’. In his address, he spoke of a ‘new era’ for Grimsby, after having changed his election colours from red to pink. Grant’s friends petitioned against Tennyson’s return and the latter’s friends organized a counter-petition against Fazakerley’s, but found it difficult to collect evidence of bribery by him, owing to ‘Grant’s party having bribed for both’. The petitions were discharged, Fazakerley having acted as a mediator to discourage the Grant party.15 Grant’s influence among the ‘Old Reds’ was still strong enough to worry Tennyson’s friends, who urged him to conciliate Grant, but Tennyson commanded sufficient patronage to take risks: he did not pay his supporters, who expected £10 each for their votes, until the next election and did nothing to dispel their fears that he would come to a compromise with Yarborough who, they were obliged to admit, had ‘a more permanent interest’. Tennyson seems to have been in two minds as to whether to underpin his control by an alliance with his financier and brother-in-law, Matthew Russell, or to insist on purity at elections, but being made to realize that the borough could not ‘instantly be reformed’, he paid up and thus in 1820 secured both seats. Nevertheless he still had to reckon with ‘the great fear of the burgesses ... lest they should have a quiet election’.16

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Second vote: on scutiny
  • 2. E. Gillett, Grimsby, 163; G. Jackson, ‘The Claytons of Grimsby’, Lincs. Hist. and Arch. ix. 43, and ‘Grimsby and the Haven Company 1796-1846’, Lincs. Historian, i. 359.
  • 3. W. M. Torrens, Mq. Wellesley, 71; PRO 30/8/229, ff. 168, 273, 333, 344, 350.
  • 4. CJ, xlvi. 52; xlviii. 16, 629, 657.
  • 5. Scunthorpe mss, diary of Rev. Parkinson, 7 Sept. 1798.
  • 6. Grimsby Pub. Lib. Tennyson mss.
  • 7. Ibid. Babb to Tennyson, 13 Oct. 1795, Tennyson to Yarborough, 10 Feb., 19 Mar. 1796; Portland mss PwF7407-12; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 730/13.
  • 8. Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss, Hale to Spencer Stanhope, 15, 25 Dec. [1800]; Lincs. AO, Yarborough mss, ‘Money paid to G. Babb, chiefly on the election acct.’; Parkinson diary, 20 Apr. 1802; Add. 37880, f. 197; Lincs. AO, Tennyson d’ Eyncourt mss H61/13.
  • 9. Tennyson d’ Eyncourt mss H61/9, 19; 2 T d’ E H1/28; Parkinson diary, 8 Sept.; Blair Adam mss, Mellish to Adam, 9 July 1802; CJ, lviii. 13, 56, 269, 384, 424; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1804), i. 59.
  • 10. CJ, lviii. 661; lix. 5; Fortescue mss, Yarborough to Grenville, 1 Nov.; Tennyson mss, Loft to Tennyson, 31 Oct. 1806; Tennyson d’ Eyncourt mss H64/14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22; 2 T d’ E H1/31, 32, 33.
  • 11. Tennyson d’ Eyncourt mss H64/5, 6; CJ, lxii. 579; lxiii. 91, 117; E. Gillett, ‘A town clerk in a parlty, borough 1807-14’, Lincs. Historian, 2, pt. vi; Add. 51691, Lauderdale to Holland, 3 Oct. 1807; Hants RO, Tierney mss 33c.
  • 12. West Briton, 22 Mar.; NLS, Ellice mss E50, ff. 66, 68, 70; Fortescue mss, Lauderdale to Grenville, 2 Sept. 1811; Notts. RO, Tallents mss T33/5, 6; CJ, lxviii. 24, 54, 194, 242; Heron, Notes (1851), 10.
  • 13. Heron, 3, 46; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 9 Oct. 1812.
  • 14. Tennyson d’ Eyncourt mss H76/42-4, 46; H78/26, 27; 4 T d’ E H12, passim, H17, Tennyson to Arbuthnot, 5 May 1818.
  • 15. Add. 38458, f. 225; Tennyson d’ Eyncourt mss H78/36; 2 T d’ E H8/26, 43; CJ, lxxiv. 74, 84, 85, 140, 145.
  • 16. Tennyson mss, Daubney to Tennyson, 16, 21 Feb., 23 May 1819, 12, 23 Feb., Lusby to same, 13 Feb. 1820.