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 burgage holders (except in 1807)

Number of voters:

fluctuating over 40


(1801): 1,1,50


 GEORGE STEWART, Visct. Garlies  
21 Feb. 1795 HON. WILLIAM STEWART vice Garlies, vacated his seat  
28 May 1796ALEXANDER WENTWORTH MACDONALD, Baron Macdonald [I]  
10 Dec. 1796 CHARLES SMITH vice Bearcroft, deceased  
8 Nov. 1806MATTHEW RUSSELL771122
 Hon. Richard Neville4117
 William Henry Fremantle4115
 NEVILLE and FREMANTLE vice Russell and Champernowne, on petition, 19 Feb. 1807  
  Double return. RUSSELL and PEDLEY declared elected 26 Feb. 1808  
19 Apr. 1809 MICHAEL GEORGE PRENDERGAST vice Pedley, vacated his seat  

Main Article

In 1787, after a struggle lasting seven years, private patronage prevailed over government influence in the electoral control of Saltash: John Buller, of nearby Morval, and William Beckford*, who had been acting in electoral partnership since 1783, were the victors and they had drawn up a written agreement (which has not been found) whereby each nominated one Member. Their coalition was by no means directed against government: both had supported Pitt, and Buller was rewarded early in 1790 with the post of commissioner of excise. They sought merely to exclude direct government intervention, as exercised through the corporation in the past, by asserting that the franchise, which had never been defined, lay in the burgage holders and not in the freemen, thus ensuring themselves, as the leading proprietors, the management of Saltash.3

This arrangement was not opposed until 1806. In 1790 Buller returned Viscount Garlies and Beckford Bearcroft, the election arrangements being carried out by Buller. On Buller’s death in 1793, while his other property went to the heir John Buller II*, his electoral interest at Saltash went to his third son James Buller II*, who was a member of the corporation and resided there. The Bullers, who returned themselves for the Looes and not for Saltash, continued to nominate friends of government, and in 1795, when Viscount Garlies developed conscientious objections to Pitt’s measures, he vacated his seat and was replaced by his brother, which suggests that the seat had been purchased for the duration. Sylvester Douglas* had hoped to benefit from the vacancy and Pitt seems to have toyed with the idea of reasserting government influence, for he wrote to George Rose, 10 Sept. 1795, ‘It is suggested to me that on the new right the Buller interest is far from decisive, and that government might with proper management do a great deal’.4 In 1802 William Russell of Brancepeth, the coal magnate, bought a life interest in the Buller seat at Saltash for his son Matthew, who was duly returned, together with the Beckford nominee, Deverell.

The seat was not as secure as Russell had anticipated; in 1806 he and his patron’s brother-in-law Champernowne (Beckford having apparently waived his right to nominate), were confronted with government intervention, despite Buller’s attempt to conciliate the Grenville ministry. It was encouraged by disgruntled members of the corporation, including Plymouth placemen, who resented the prevailing pact, and was managed by the Marquess of Buckingham, who thought Buller should confine his influence to East Looe and confidently put up two candidates as champions of the freemen’s franchise, while the Buller nominees stood by the burgage holders. The confusion was thus described (9 Nov. 1806) by Lord Braybrooke, father of Richard Neville, one of the Grenvillite candidates, who had been preferred to another candidate, Benjamin Tucker of the Admiralty, at the last minute:

I have just heard from Dick ... They were in the second day’s poll, he says the mayor seems determined to return Mr Russell and Mr Champernowne by a great majority. Dick seemed to predict a third day owing to the incessant harangues of four lawyers. He adds that the heat of the smallest court in England during seven hours each day has nearly overpowered him. The lawyers on Dick’s side say they shall succeed on a petition.

The mayor (James Buller himself) rejected 35 out of 76 ‘burgage tenants’ proposing to vote for Neville and Fremantle and only three out of 80 who supported his friends. He rejected freemen voters as such, though his opponents alleged that he had previously canvassed them on behalf of his friends.5 It is clear that burgage tenements were multiplied by conveyance on the eve of election.6 William Fitzgerald, a barrister who had been so rash in April 1806 as to espouse the cause of the 40 ‘legal’ burgage tenants as opposed to the 125 ‘foreigners’ and ‘faggots’, as he described them, soon found himself in prison at Exeter

through the machinations of a borough jobber, and in consequence of my having on the pressing solicitation of the burgesses of Saltash declared my intention to support them against one who was practising to delude and sell the borough ... This man being an attorney, and having complete power over Mr St. Aubyn a magistrate resident at Plymouth Dock, prevailed with him to have me apprehended on a charge of assault happening at Saltash.

Fitzgerald appealed to Earl Fitzwilliam, asking him to regard Saltash as ‘an object of honourable pursuit’.7

After Buller had returned his friends, Neville and Fremantle and their friends petitioned on behalf of the free burgess franchise, 5 Nov. 1806; William Beckford’s self-styled friend and agent John Pedley, who was looking for a seat, wrote to Beckford, 11 Dec. 1806:

The Marquess of Buckingham is very anxious to have your assistance in the Saltash contest; if you give it to him, and he proves successful, you should have an engagement for a seat for life at all events. But suppose in addition to this, and by way of proving his sincerity, he were to offer to bring me into Parliament immediately upon the payment of a reasonable sum of money, say £3,000, do you think it should be afforded to him upon these terms? Mr White [Beckford’s lawyer] swallows the idea most greedily. With your assistance (and a little parliamentary packing) I think they might make the worse appear the better cause. These are not times for half friendships—ministers must have the jobs done through thick and thin—and they certainly hope to pack a sufficient number to do this for them—your aid might cloak it with a sort of justice.

Meanwhile Buckingham reported to Lord Grenville, 2 Dec.:

I have had a very satisfactory consultation upon Saltash. I hope and believe we are safe ... for the variety of new evidence which we are now masters of, will, I have no doubt, overthrow the collective practices to which the last committee—upon an agreement made for Mr Pitt by George Rose—were parties. The court of King’s bench has given us our mandamus for a new mayor and we shall of course admit about 30 new freemen. Most of my Cornish connexions are too far distant to be useful at elections as freemen: but as Boconnoc is only 19 miles from Saltash, I wish you to give me the names of your steward and your parson, and any two respectable connexions or tenants to be named freemen. I have of course put in the name of Mr Gilbert but your voters would for so many reasons be most eligible to me, and I will beg you to let me have them by the return of post, that they may be forwarded to Saltash.8

After ‘a little parliamentary packing’, the Grenvillite candidates were seated on petition, 19 Feb. 1807, and the right of election was declared to be in the free burgesses. Evidence going back to 1381 was produced. At the general election a few months later, however, the Grenvillites were unable to press their advantage: again they changed their candidates, Neville being replaced by Thomas Francis Fremantle. Thomas Grenville found that his brother the marquess expressed doubt about Saltash (26 Apr.) and four days later wrote to him, ‘it is a great drawback on the chance of Saltash to vary the candidates to whom direct promises had been given’. More significantly, perhaps, Francis Horner reported, 8 May, ‘The electors of Saltash are much alarmed about the protestant interest, and will not consent to return such a Papist as Fremantle, when he is no longer secretary of the Treasury. The canvass goes on in the dockyards, in the name of ... ministers.’9 Lord Buckingham informed William Henry Fremantle, 5 Apr., ‘One of the strongest symptoms of dissolution is the bestowing on Buller a seat at the Admiralty for the purpose of fighting Saltash; I think I shall keep it if the dissolution comes on soon. Otherwise he will work me out.’ Fremantle’s brother Thomas had informed the marquess, 4 Apr., ‘Buller is, I conclude, to counteract us at Saltash by secret influence’.10 Buller’s candidates were his guest Russell and ‘Beckford’s friend’ Pedley.

The election of 1807 resulted in a tie, as William Henry Fremantle reported to Lord Grenville, 18 May:

The result of our contest ... has been a double return, the numbers were 12 each, they objected to none of ours, we objected to two of theirs, one for being a superannuated custom house officer receiving the superannuated allowance, the other for not having been sworn a freeman at the time he was admitted, which the charter expressly directs. I am very doubtful of the validity of either of these objections, and if it goes to a new election we shall have no chance; as the Bullers have a brother hourly expected home from abroad who has a vote and we shall lose one immediately by the departure of a Captain Hawkins of the navy who voted for us and whose ship was on the point of sailing at the time he gave us his vote ... Under these circumstances, I very much doubt the event of this contest and have no very great hope of our being seated, but the person who has conducted the whole of this business, Mr Carpenter, thinks differently from me upon it.11

Benjamin Tucker, who had acted for the Grenvilles at Saltash in 1806, also had ‘very good hopes’ and encouraged the Grenvilles to prepare for a new election. In stating the case to William Adam*, whose services he enlisted, William Henry Fremantle explained, 13 Oct. 1807:

In the first place we had a double return of 12 votes each, to the legality of which there is no objection on either side, and polled a thirteenth who was a commissioner of appeal and whose vote was refused, since which that question has been tried at the assizes at Bodmin by action against the said commissioner for the penalty of having tendered his vote. This action was brought before Judge Laurence who ... stated that if the vote of a commissioner of appeal was illegal, the same illegality would exist against the vote of every magistrate in the kingdom, as a trier of revenue matters, and upon these grounds he dismissed the cause by non suiting the plaintiff. Upon this question therefore we have undoubtedly a majority of votes.

The second question turns upon the old right of the corporation and freemen against the burgage tenants. It was tried by a committee in the last Parliament and was decided in our favour ... The case has since been published by Carpenter ... who is employed by us ... The decision of this question must now determine the fate of the borough forever.

The House, having considered the petitions, decided for Russell and Pedley, and, reversing its previous ruling, declared that the right of election lay ‘in every person seized of an estate for life, or some greater estate, in an entire ancient burgage tenement situate in the borough whereon an ancient dwelling house now stands’. In any case Lord Buckingham had realized that ‘we can have no chance, if sent to a new election’ and that ‘even if my mind were made up to a compromise [with Buller] ... I fear that any such idea must be out of the question’. Meanwhile James Buller, who had already solicited the Admiralty to remove a hostile naval officer from Saltash before the election, was harassing Lord Mulgrave for ‘some appointment on shore or afloat’ for the crucial Capt. Hawkins.12

This decision ended the Grenvillite intervention at Saltash, but the expense of the dispute (in all about £30,000 in 1806-7, after the expenditure of £100,000 in the period from 1782 to 1787), induced William Beckford, who had probably footed most of the bill on the Buller side, to sell his property at Saltash. John Pedley, who would lose his seat in Parliament thereby, wrote to Beckford in dismay, 8 Jan. 1808:

You seem to wish to part with this jewel so ardently, I myself shall consider it by far the greatest loss and fall you have met with ... you have fought for it, and won it, and certainly ought to wear it, [but] the die is cast, and I will be instrumental to you if I can in getting rid of it.13

In April 1809 James Buller bought Beckford’s property for £8,500; Pedley had to give up his seat and Buller obtained undisputed control over both seats, honouring his agreement with Matthew Russell’s father by returning Russell for one and probably selling the other one as well. Michael George Prendergast, who held this other seat, may also have purchased the disposal of it for he wrote to James Daly, 13 Apr. 1818:

I am offered by a most unexceptionable man 12,000 guineas and by another of equal respectability I am offered whatever I can in reason demand. But unless to make room for Peel’s nominee I have no intention to vacate. If I received the large sum of money which I have so long expected from India I could easily procure another seat, and it is my intention to do so.14

So he did, and James Blair was returned in 1818 by some arrangement with him, for Prendergast was again elected at Saltash in 1820, though he chose to sit elsewhere.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. First vote: burgage holders
  • 2. Second vote: freemen
  • 3. I. R. Christie, ‘Private patronage versus govt. influence: John Buller and the contest for control of parl. elections at Saltash 1780-90’, EHR, lxxi. 249.
  • 4. NLS mss 15, f. 33; Rose Diaries, i. 200.
  • 5. Fremantle mss, box 46, Buckingham to Fremantle, 8 Aug. 1806; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 32; HMC Fortescue, viii. 385, 386, 387; Pole Carew mss CC/L/39, 40, C. Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 3 July, P. Rashleigh to same, July 27; R. Cornw. Gazette, 20 Sept.; Fortescue mss, T. to Ld. Grenville, 17 Oct., Braybrooke to same, 9 Nov. 1806; C. Carpenter [agent to Ld. Buckingham], Saltash Election (1808), 1-4.
  • 6. This appears in a document entitled ‘Charges and disbursements for the Saltash election in 1806 ...’ among the Macnamara Pprs., in the possession of Cdr. Scrase Dickens. The bill for legal expenses on the petition amounted to £5,904.
  • 7. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F127, Fitzgerald to Fitzwilliam, 1 May 1806.
  • 8. CJ, lx. 11; Beckford mss; HMC Fortescue, viii. 455.
  • 9. CJ, lxii. 141; Carpenter, Saltash Election (1808), for a full account of the evidence; Buckingham, iv. 171, 175; Fremantle mss, box 46, Buckingham to Fremantle [May 1807]; Horner mss 3, f. 160.
  • 10. Fremantle mss, box 46; Buckingham, iv. 158.
  • 11. Fortescue mss. (Carpenter was the author of the account of the Saltash election cited above.)
  • 12. Ibid. T. to Ld. Grenville, 28 May, Gloucester to same, 30 May 1807; Blair Adam mss; CJ, lxiii. 9, 14, 28, 31, 117; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to T. F. Fremantle [31 May 1807]; Perceval (Holland) mss 22, f. 78.
  • 13. Boyd Alexander, England’s Wealthiest Son, 218; Beckford mss.
  • 14. Beckford mss, White to Beckford mss, White to Beckford, 11 Apr.; Pole Carew mss CC/L/42, Buller to Pole Carew, 30 Aug. 1809; Add. 40217, f. 386.