Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|21 June 1790||BENJAMIN LESTER||50||491|
|HON. CHARLES STUART||49||48|
|Michael Angelo Taylor||48||49|
|Basil William Douglas, Lord Daer||—|
|George Gordon, Lord Haddo||—|
|TAYLOR vice Stuart, on petition, 25 Feb. 1791|
|12 Mar. 1791||LESTER re-elected after vacating his seat||59|
|Basil William Douglas, Lord Daer||3|
|27 May 1796||HON. CHARLES STUART|
|4 Apr. 1801||GEORGE GARLAND vice Stuart, deceased|
|12 May 1801||GARLAND re-elected after vacating his seat|
|8 July 1802||JOHN JEFFERY|
|31 Oct. 1806||JOHN JEFFERY|
|25 May 1807||JOHN JEFFERY||55|
|Sir Richard Bickerton, 2nd Bt.||53|
|Second seat declared vacant, 15 Feb. 1808|
|24 Feb. 1808||SIR RICHARD BICKERTON, 2nd Bt.|
|14 Feb. 1809||BENJAMIN LESTER LESTER vice Jeffery, appointed to office||56|
|8 Oct. 1812||BENJAMIN LESTER LESTER|
|MICHAEL ANGELO TAYLOR|
|19 June 1818||BENJAMIN LESTER LESTER||56|
The fluctuating relationships among three interests made Poole difficult to manage and there had been contests since 1765. The oligarchy of Newfoundland merchants and the local gentry who vied for influence on the corporation having had recourse to government, particularly to the Admiralty, to tip the scales, had instigated a triangle of chicanery from which there proved to be no escape. The defeat of Joseph Gulston in 1784 and his subsequent death leaving his affairs in disarray eliminated that interest. His running partner, William Morton Pitt, had decided by 1789 to give up Poole with the prospect of a county seat. The government and Admiralty nominee in 1784, Michael Angelo Taylor, recorder of the borough, whom the Whigs had intended to challenge (hoping to persuade Sir Gilbert Elliot* to stand) went over to them, and found a running partner for the next election in Capt. Robert Kingsmill†. Government therefore encouraged Alderman Benjamin Lester, a leading Newfoundland merchant on whose support they counted, to come forward. He canvassed in September 1789. The prime minister at first suggested Sir Charles Middleton†, comptroller of the navy, as Lester’s colleague. Middleton, whose wish was to retire from Parliament, hesitated, although Lester announced his candidature, 14 Oct., and declined a week later from dislike of the expense. Commodore Gordon, recommended by Lord Hood as ‘a very good naval candidate’ was government’s next choice, but nothing came of this.2 On 27 Oct., after Morton Pitt had publicly taken leave of Poole, Lester offered in his place, still alone. Then on 8 Nov., after an interview at the Treasury, he obtained Col. Stuart, Lord Bute’s son, as his colleague. Stuart was to advance £3,000 for expenses. Taylor and Kingsmill, who had canvassed on 10 Oct., were supported by John Jeffery and William Spurrier, Newfoundland merchants. To complicate matters, on 18 Feb. 1790 Lord Haddo came forward as a candidate ‘for the commonalty’, whose rights had been asserted in 1774 and 1780. Lester was reassured by George Rose at the Treasury: ‘Lord Haddo has no fortune. His father [the Earl of Aberdeen] is a man of fortune and very close but this man loves his bottle.’ On 29 Apr. Haddo was joined by Lord Daer, the Earl of Selkirk’s heir, also contesting Canterbury, who objected to the disfranchisement in Scotland of the eldest sons of Scottish peers.
This attempt to open up the franchise failed, although the commonalty took possession of the hall on election day, for the returning officer rejected their vote, and was upheld by the House when Haddo and Daer petitioned. The votes were almost evenly divided among the other four candidates: the Whigs were narrowly defeated. William Morton Pitt gave credit for the ministerial victory to Hyde, a local lottery commissioner, who had been thwarted by Jeffery (Taylor’s agent) from obtaining the patent comptrollership of Poole. Taylor blamed his defeat on Lord Hood’s casting vote and on the stratagem of arresting one of his supporters for debt ‘as he was going up the steps of the town hall, to give his vote’. Subsequently Taylor discovered that Batt, a voter on the other side, had not been sworn in, and collected evidence of bribery. His petition of 3 Dec. 1790 was evidently intended to leave Lester in possession and oblige Stuart to agree to a compromise (Taylor having found a seat elsewhere): but Stuart refused and the House unseated him. He fell back on Ayr Burghs. Lester who claimed to have spent £3,000 and to have helped Stuart by awarding him two or three votes at the risk of his own security, offered to share the Parliament with him, if Stuart paid half the expenses, as well as ‘a possible future interest in the borough’, but Stuart would not bite. Lester was himself obliged to seek re-election in March 1791, being disqualified as an Admiralty contractor from sitting except on payment of a penalty. He was opposed by Lord Daer on behalf of the commonalty, whose votes were again refused. Their petitions were negatived in 1793. Meanwhile Lester had strengthened his hold by securing his son John’s election as mayor in September 1791 against John Jeffery’s nominee.3
Although the compromise of 1791 still held in 1796, without a contest, internal intrigue led to a change of Members which pleased government most. Lester fell out with Stuart in 1794, when they were negotiating ‘a new agreement’ through George Rose. Lester claimed £520 from Stuart for past disbursements; the latter suggested that Lester should pay three quarters of his expenses and make way for him at the dissolution; Lester then suggested that, on payment of £1,000, he should retain his seat ‘as long as I live, or as long as I please, or as long as I can, and when I resign it, I will support with my interest who I think proper’. He added that he had supported Pitt from principle, not for patronage, and could not be bargained with. Yet it appears that shortly afterwards (May 1794), he came to terms, Hyde acting as his agent, whereby he made way for Stuart at the next election. Compensation was apparently involved, for Lester’s son-in-law George Garland described the terms as ‘degrading’ and warned that both Lester and Stuart would be ruined if the transaction were revealed.4
On the other side, Taylor was undermined by his own agent Jeffery. On 23 Aug. 1794 he assured his erstwhile political friend the Duke of Portland that he was confident of future success but dreaded a contest, the expense of which would be avoided if government maintained the political compromise. If they did not, he would find a running partner. The duke replied, 13 Sept., that Jeffery had been with him, also urging a compromise, but hinting that Taylor ‘would not be, under any circumstances either of contest or compromise, the person or one of the persons whom he and his friends would support’. Giving his blessing to a compromise, the duke added that he was sending a copy of the letter to Jeffery. After writing to Taylor to offer an explanation, Jeffery protested to the duke (17 Sept.), ‘nothing ... that I said on the subject of Poole politics was intended by me to convey the most distant idea of my declining to support Mr Taylor while he had a prospect of success’. Yet he was sure that many of his friends at Poole had become averse to Taylor, who should visit them and see ‘his real situation’. He found it ‘natural’ to look for a candidate ‘who has the good opinion of the party’ and asked the duke to recommend one. He declined being a party to the compromise with Lester’s interest for Taylor’s benefit. Taylor claimed to be greatly surprised at Jeffery’s attitude and cautioned the duke against him (17 Sept.), as Jeffery, like himself, was an opponent of the war the duke was engaged to support. Next day he wrote again, alleging that the only significant waverer discovered by Jeffery among his friends, William Spurrier, had in fact remained firm, and on 24 Sept. he sent the duke a copy of Jeffery’s letter promising an explanation. The duke obligingly made his excuses to both men, 27 Sept., but emphasized that there was no necessity for a compromise with Lester. The fact was that Lester had irritated the Treasury, who were thinking of dropping him. Jeffery learnt this from George Rose and on 3 Oct. wrote to the duke suggesting that, on Taylor’s giving up, Kingsmill or he himself should offer. Taylor suspected that Jeffery was playing ‘a false game’, was ‘standing for himself’. He was now prepared to wash his hands of Poole. Kingsmill offered to stand (18 Nov.), though not wishing to prejudice Taylor’s position, and this solution was particularly acceptable to William Spurrier, who assured the duke that, as Lester’s interest was given to Stuart with government concurrence, there need be no contest ‘unless Mr Jeffery chooses to make it’. Spurrier’s hostility to Jeffery thus enabled him to label him a disturber of the peace.5
Jeffery proceeded to embarrass Kingsmill by offering to support him if he made an annual contribution ‘to keep the party united’, which he did not intend to do. Spurrier had assured Kingsmill that he had Lester’s word that he could be brought in ‘at a moderate expense and without annual payments’. The only snag was that the Duke of Portland had given no encouragement to Kingsmill; though he could not suppose the duke favoured Taylor, ‘who by the by I find no party will espouse’, or Jeffery, despite reports to that effect. He asked his friend James Adair* to sound out the duke, 14 May 1795, and receiving no reply, informed Adair on 9 July that he wished to give up in favour of Adair ‘or any friend the duke recommends’. Before the duke’s wishes were established, Kingsmill was obliged to accept Spurrier’s invitation, but he was still secretly ready to relinquish in favour of the duke’s nominee.6 He was outwitted: Spurrier, finding that Stuart and Jeffery would be ‘quietly seated’, changed his tack and called on Kingsmill to retire. The duke thought Kingsmill was best out of it: ‘I don’t believe three greater thieves exist in the world than these worthy wights of Poole’ (i.e. Lester, Spurrier and Jeffery), he informed Adair, 17 Sept. 1795, ‘and as I am not now in the Treasury I care as little for Poole as for any borough in the kingdom’. Kingsmill (who was in Ireland) was the last to learn of his exclusion: he could not in any case have attended the election in person. The arrangement for the election of 1796 was thus fixed and nothing came of a bid by the Earl of Wiltshire to interest George Rose in his and his brother’s standing on the government interest in May. Taylor subsequently reflected, ‘I lost my seat there because at the instance of the Duke of Portland, my agent Mr Jeffery supplanted me and actually used my own money to throw me out, which he effected by means of Mr Rose, who gave him all the places in the port of Poole’.7
Jeffery’s position was also strengthened by a treaty of non-aggression he had agreed with Lester’s son-in-law George Garland, the drift of which became manifest in March 1800 when Stuart proposed a visit to Poole to safeguard his future tenure. Garland warned him off, summoning Jeffery to his assistance in accordance with their agreement and undertaking not to ‘oppose him by joining any third, nor will my friends sanction such a measure’. When Stuart arrived on 21 Mar. he met with a united front against him, and next day Garland informed George Rose:
I am requested by Mr Lester to inform you that in consequence of the disinclination of some of his friends here, towards General Stuart, he has been reluctantly obliged to withdraw his support from that gentleman and has proposed me to succeed him, at any future vacancy in the representation of this borough. I have accordingly taken the sense of the resident burgesses, and the reception I have met leaves me no reason to doubt of success, if however any unforeseen opposition should arise I am desired by Mr Lester to express his hopes and beg leave to add my own that you will not sanction it against the opinion of those, who have so long and strenuously co-operated with your wishes in this place.
Despite this last phrase, Garland’s father-in-law was evidently resentful of the way he had been treated by government, for Garland informed William Morton Pitt, who disapproved the turn of events, on 11 Aug. 1800 that the family’s goodwill towards government had not been reciprocated and that he would be returned to Parliament ‘unshackled’, though not as ‘the instrument’ of Lester’s resentment.8
In 1801, on Stuart’s death, Garland duly replaced him unopposed, though he was obliged to seek reelection, because he held an Admiralty contract. ‘The contract not having been acted does not make the least difference’, he informed Jeffery, ‘its existence at the time of my election is sufficient.’ He and Jeffery were unopposed in 1802, and in 1806 he proposed maintaining their alliance. In February 1806 Michael Angelo Taylor urged the Prince of Wales to put up one of his friends at Poole, claiming that he had kept up his interest there and that the sitting Members were hostile to the Grenville ministry and ‘they were tools of Rose’. If they lost the patronage of the borough, they could be ousted. On 27 Aug. Garland complained to Earl Spencer that government had transferred the patronage ‘to a gentleman very little connected with the town or its interests’; and although he had repeatedly applied for post rank and a cruising frigate for his son in the navy, he claimed he was not to be bought: he was willing to give ministers ‘every support which was in my power, without a total surrender of character and independence’. Nor would he give up his junction with Jeffery, even at the cost of his son’s prospects of promotion. Two days before he had assured his friend William Augustus Miles:
Hitherto, I hear of no opposition here. They have hawked the patronage of the borough to any one who would volunteer against Jeffery and me, and disposed of it so as to convince the town of their aim, but if they had little interest here before, this step has lessened it; they did not know Poole, nor would they learn its character of me; they are welcome to the experience they have obtained.
Garland denied ‘systematic opposition’ to the ministry. Neither he nor Jeffery was overthrown, the latter claiming that it was not for want of Taylor’s trying, but no candidate could be found to stand.9
In 1807 a threat to Garland and Jeffery arose from William Spurrier’s wish to bring his son Christopher into Parliament. On 28 Mar. Garland informed his brother Joseph, ‘if I refuse to support Mr Spurrier, Mr Jeffery will of course join him’, and added as a postscript, ‘Mr Jeffery arrived here last night, and of course intends a fourth person to join him— against me and Spurrier’. On 13 Apr. he wrote to William Morton Pitt: ‘The politics of Poole have embarrassed us all; and the growing interest of Mr Spurrier seems to threaten the safety of mine or Mr Jeffery’s seat sooner or later’.10 The Times reported on 30 Apr. that Jeffery was expected to be thrown out, ‘as a gentleman of character in the county proposes to offer himself’. The outcome was different: Garland made way for health reasons, leaving Spurrier’s way clear, but Spurrier declined a poll when confronted with a coalition of Jeffery with an Admiralty nominee, Sir Richard Bickerton. It would appear that Bickerton was to have been joined by Sir Home Popham*, but a compromise took place with Jeffery, who had applied to the new ministry for a place. That Spurrier had meant to stand is clear from his father’s having obtained the writ before Jeffery could do so and delayed delivering it to the sheriff (his brother-in-law) until he could be sure of two more votes for his son. George Garland’s brother Joseph was substituted for Spurrier and tied for second place with Bickerton. The sheriff made one return only; Garland petitioned (9 July 1807) against both his competitors. Then he and Bickerton petitioned, 26 Jan. 1808. The House voided the return for second place, 15 Feb. 1808, and Bickerton was successful on the new election. Meanwhile Jeffery had exposed the irregularity of the delayed writ in the House, 16 July 1807, the clerk who refused to disclose to whom he had delivered it being sent to Newgate for contempt. William Spurrier, who was ‘very deaf’, and when instructed to address the Speaker said that he could not see him, amused the House further by a disingenuous account of his efforts on his son’s behalf (28 July). He said he had paid 30 guineas for the writ, three times the customary fee, and saw no reason why it should be delivered to the sheriff before it had to be executed any more than ‘a bill of change at forty days’ sight’. He was discharged with a reprimand next day.11
The Garlands and the Spurriers, left without a seat, tried to preserve an alliance in corporation politics, into which they admitted Parr, champion of the unfranchised commonalty. Their opportunity came late in 1808, when it became known that Jeffery was going to Lisbon as consul. George Garland resolved to offer, with Spurrier support, ‘rather than see a complete transfer of the town to a different interest’. Jeffery, who at first saw no necessity to vacate his seat and intended his son to be his successor, was unable to achieve this object and evidently gave his interest to John Blackburn*. The latter, assisted by John Dent*, Canning’s friend, who was acquainted with Jeffery and had a villa not far from Poole, was defeated by George Garland’s son, Benjamin Lester Lester, whom his father put up secretively for fear of the disapprobation of his brother Joseph.12
In 1812 Bickerton retired and a new compromise operated: Lester stood again with the ‘full support of government’, his father having decided not to attempt a second candidate, and asking for plumpers; and Michael Angelo Taylor, who had been applying in vain for Poole patronage to Perceval early in 1811, returned to Poole, ‘having promised the Prince to support government’. In the hope that Lester’s and Taylor’s friends would quarrel, John Dent was ‘very busy’ and promised himself ‘certain success there’. On 25 and 29 Sept. he urged William Huskisson*, who was in quest of a seat, to join him, as he had 30 plumpers out of 92 voters. As late as 4 Oct. he wrote ‘my friends are most confident’: but he withdrew before the election, calling the Prince ‘all the names he can think of for having beaten him’.13
The Lester-Taylor coalition did not survive another election: Taylor looked for a seat elsewhere and Lester came to terms with Dent. In May 1817 a joint interest was proposed, sharing expenses. George Garland demurred. An avowed treaty would injure both parties in their friends’ eyes: better to combine if and when a third man challenged. But in July a union was agreed on.14 A third man had emerged under the most painful circumstances, namely Garland’s son-in-law, Christopher Spurrier, who had in 1811 been among the Friends of Constitutional Reform meeting in London. In a statement of 12 Sept. 1817 for his sons, Garland asserted that it was
a well-known fact that at the election in 1812 Mr Taylor was elected avowedly to hold the seat till some future opportunity for Mr Spurrier. It is not perhaps quite so well known, that that election cost me £3,000 every shilling of which Spurrier left me to pay, in addition to many hundreds I had expended for his interest before, and avowedly for his future if not immediate support, and at a time when I had no more idea of his marriage with my daughter, than I had of any other man becoming my son-in-law. It is equally well known to nearly all the town that Mr Taylor when seated, instead of promoting Mr Spurrier’s interest, cultivated his own ... but when Taylor’s friends found me determined, as they had deserted Mr Spurrier, to advise Mr Lester to unite his interest with Mr Dent’s, and to give Mr Spurrier the £2,000 to help him to a seat elsewhere, then Mr Taylor, like another Brutus became ‘an honourable man’ and finding he could do nothing for himself, left the field to his friend Spurrier, and had I been the dupe of this shallow artifice, and joined the latter, I believe, and am convinced every honest man in Poole, believes that Taylor would have joined Mr Dent, who was quite prepared to receive his support, and thereby have thrown out Mr Spurrier, and not very unlikely Mr Lester also.
Garland, to prevent this ‘political chicanery’, had written a letter to Spurrier, of which the latter had made ‘so foul a use’, claiming it to be a promise of support, whereas it was in fact ‘a bargain made by himself in the presence of his wife, then Amy Garland, to receive £2,000, as an indemnity for resigning to Mr Lester, if in the opinion of our mutual friends ... the attempt to bring in both was not likely to succeed’. Spurrier had shown his true colours; failing to induce Lester to make way for him at Poole, he had, after his marriage with Amy Garland was fixed, absented himself from her and her family and claimed, when cornered, that ‘his marriage ... would lessen his political influence in Poole’. When Garland conceded that Poole was unlikely to swallow both his son and his son-in-law as Members and saw no reason why his son should make way for Spurrier, the latter retorted that he would break off the marriage. ‘On such terms’ Amy Garland refused Spurrier, but when the latter proposed that Garland supply him with the means to buy a seat elsewhere Garland agreed, after some bargaining, to give him £2,000 towards it. In Garland’s view, it was not he who had marred Spurrier’s prospects at Poole, but Taylor, who had forced Garland into alliance with Dent. Spurrier persisted in standing in 1818 and much was made of his alleged ‘desertion’ by Garland, but he was unsuccessful and looked elsewhere for a seat at the next election.15
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Second vote: on scrutiny
- 2. Dorset RO, D365, diaries of Benjamin Lester (1786-96 vol.); Add. 42772, f. 12; PRO 30/8/111, f. 141; W. L. Clements Lib. Pitt letters, Pitt to Rose, 22 Oct. 1789.
- 3. CJ, xlvi. 26, 222, 355; xlvii. 426; xlviii. 397; PRO 30/8/167, f. 193; 197, f. 89; Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 217-38; Blair Adam mss, Taylor to Adam, Sat. noon and n.d. [Dec. 1790]; Dorset RO, D365, George Garland letter bk. A, f. 2,
- 4. Garland letter bk. A, ff. 1-2.
- 5. Portland mss PwF5801, 6139, 8542, 8670, 8671, 8672; PwV107, 108; Blair Adam mss, Taylor to Adam, 9 Oct. 1794.
- 6. Add. 53803, ff. 101, 103, 105; Portland mss PwF29, 30.
- 7. Portland mss PwF5804; Add. 50829, Portland to Adair, 17 Sept. 1795; 53803, ff. 108, 110; PRO 30/8/190, f. 216; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2145.
- 8. Garland letter bk. A, ff. 35-44.
- 9. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2145; Garland letter bk. A, passim (most of the letters in this book are applications for his son in the navy) and ff. 46, 90, 106, 109, 110, 174.
- 10. Garland letter bk. A, ff. 123-5.
- 11. CJ, lxiii. 25, 67; Parl. Deb. ix. 830-1, 838-43, 971-7, 1005, 1016.
- 12. Garland letter bk. A, f. 126, 135-6; Colchester, ii. 162-3; The Times, 16 Feb. 1809; Add. 38739, f. 29.
- 13. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 407; Brougham mss 2028; Add. 38739, ff. 1, 23, 29, 40, 54, 70; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 3 Oct. 1812, Goodwin to same, 5 Feb. 1813.
- 14. Garland letter bk. B. Garland to Lester, 14 May 1817; undated memo at end of book.
- 15. Ibid. G. to J. B. Garland, 12 Sept. 1817; undated memo; The Late Elections (1818), 257.