Southwark

Borough

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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

2,000-3,000

Population:

(1801): 67,448

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
16 June 1790HENRY THORNTON  
 PAUL LE MESURIER  
28 May 1796HENRY THORNTON1584 
 GEORGE WOODFORD THELLUSSON1373 
 George Tierney976 
  Thellusson’s election declared void, 11 Nov. 1796  
22 Nov. 1796 GEORGE WOODFORD THELLUSSON1282 
 George Tierney1119 
 TIERNEY vice Thellusson, on petition, 21 Dec. 1796  
8 July 1802HENRY THORNTON1644 
 GEORGE TIERNEY1395 
 Sir Thomas Turton, Bt.1226 
   
29 June 1803 TIERNEY re-elected after appointment to office157315421
 Sir Thomas Turton, Bt.14921446
4 Nov. 1806SIR THOMAS TURNTON, Bt.1753 
 HENRY THORNTON1592 
 George Tierney1349 
8 May 1807SIR THOMAS TURTON, Bt.2152 
 HENRY THORNTON1824 
 Charles Calvert1634 
13 Oct. 1812CHARLES CALVERT2180 
 HENRY THORNTON1804 
 William Jones Burdett542 
17 Feb. 1815 CHARLES BARCLAY vice Thornton, deceased1661 
 William Jones Burdett424 
22 June 1818CHARLES CALVERT1932 
 SIR ROBERT THOMAS WILSON1377 
 Charles Barclay1090 

Main Article

‘The Borough’, with its volatile and growing electorate, was the scene of contests replete with ‘all that low scurrility which takes place at popular elections’ at every election in this period but one.2 The exception was in 1790, and even then the publicans, missionaries of the Southwark brewers, tried to foment a contest by putting up one Fassett, in his absence at Cheltenham, as a third man. The high bailiff, Sir Watkin Lewes*, was pressed to start a poll, but adjourned it, and Fassett was meanwhile withdrawn. The sitting Members, both City businessmen, were ministerialist, though Thornton paid lip-service to the electors’ ‘liberties’ and his own ‘independence’. The Southwark Whig Club, the most likely focus of opposition, was hard put to it to maintain a platform of moderate reform in the face of the fresh wave of metropolitan radicalism that followed the French revolution.3 The London Corresponding Society was well represented in Southwark. On 18 Dec. 1793 The Times observed:

There is a kind of jarring interest in the borough that will make the next election the strongest and closest contest ever known. One of the parties has already begun a canvass. The potwalloping houses are increased since the last election by at least 1,000.

On 11 and 23 Nov. 1795 the radicals carried both an amendment to a loyal address and a petition against the anti-sedition bills, with a resolution that Members were delegates of the electors, and, snubbing their own representatives, called on Lord William Russell to present them. In December a Whig, Michael Angelo Taylor*, agreed to stand for Southwark, at no cost to himself: ‘It was to be managed by a committee who conducted the whole and would easily bring him in [in] the room of Le Mesurier’. Five delegates called on him to offer him hundreds of votes in St. George’s, the most populous of the six parishes, and the committee they represented ‘were of the London Corresponding Society’.4

In the event it was not Taylor but George Tierney, a leading Friend of the People, who challenged Le Mesurier in 1796. The latter withdrew, but was replaced by the wealthy banker Thellusson, who, ironically, was connected with Tierney by marriage and had provided him with City investments, which, modest as they were, exposed Tierney to embarrassing accusations on the hustings. The show of hands was for Tierney and Thornton, but Tierney’s friends had got possession of the common hall so Thellusson persevered. Thornton, ‘a general friend of administration’, stressed his independence ‘of every party’, pointing to his votes in favour of peace and promising support for moderate reform when the time was ripe. Thellusson described himself as a friend of the constitution and of an honourable peace, and an opponent of the Wapping docks bill, which would damage Southwark’s interests. Tierney’s motto was ‘Peace and reform against war and corruption’. He labelled Thornton a Pittite and claimed that there was a coalition between his opponents, which Thornton denied; he also arraigned Thellusson for his ‘expensiveness’, as being likely to make £100,000 out of the last loan to government and as an instrument of Treasury influence and the ‘corrupt aristocracy of the City’. Tierney ceded victory after four days; of 2,329 votes cast, he received 976, 560 of them plumpers. As he pointed out, although they might not be in formal coalition, his opponents had shared most of their votes.5

Tierney’s petition against Thellusson’s return alleging bribery and treating succeeded in voiding his election, 12 Nov. 1796. Their contest was renewed, but after three days Tierney ceded, promising a fresh petition, for which he was his own counsel. This alleged bribery and illegal votes and was successful, 21 Dec. 1796. Thellusson, weary of the expense, had already got his brother to apply to Pitt for a peerage for their father. Charles Abbot* commented:

The Southwark election committee came this day to a most absurd determination. They first resolved that Mr Thellusson, having treated within stat. 7 W and M at his preceding election for this Parliament, was ineligible upon this second return. And secondly, that Mr Tierney, his opponent was duly elected. And thirdly, that Mr Thellusson’s defence was not frivolous and vexatious. Id est, that the statute which only vacates the very return upon which the treating took place, extends also to all subsequent elections. Second. That this ineligibility was so notorious to the electors as to make all their votes thrown away which were given to him. And thirdly, that Mr Thellusson, being notoriously ineligible, nevertheless did not know of his own treating, for else his defence to the petition must have been frivolous and vexatious.

A petition signed by 1,150 persons against the House’s decision was debated on 20 Feb. 1797, but rejected.6 The triumphant Tierney described himself, at a Southwark meeting to petition for the dismissal of ministers in March 1797, as ‘the servant of his constituents’; and at another meeting on 11 Dec., when both Members promised to oppose Pitt’s tax proposals, Thornton was shouted down. In March 1802 at a meeting against the income tax, Tierney promised ‘on all occasions, to follow their instructions’.7

By 1802, however, Tierney’s situation had changed and the opposition was aimed at him. It came at first from one of his previous sponsors, Richard Shepley of Carshalton, who denounced him as a traitor to reform and as a reputed supporter of Addington’s administration. Tierney, it was said, ‘has no more reliance on his ci-devant friends than he has on his credit and influence in the Whig Club’. Shepley withdrew, but it was on his intervention that Tierney blamed the ensuing contest, for Sir Thomas Turton, the local magistrate who stood as third man, wooed Shepley’s supporters with a plea for moderate reform, though in other respects he was regarded as anti-Jacobin. In Shepley’s view there was nothing to choose between the three candidates. Turton, who was defeated, complained of a coalition of his opponents, which they denied. Tierney boasted that he could now count on Thellusson’s former supporters. Turton attempted to muster the so-called ‘farm votes’ rigged for him by the ‘King of St. George’s Fields’, Hedger, landlord of the Dog and Duck, but they were rejected. Yet the outstanding feature of the election was the reduction of expenditure. Henry Thornton, who since 1782 had been anxious for this, applauded the saving of his purse and the absence of treating. Tierney noted that his success cost him little. His pretensions of 1796 had borne fruit.8

The contest between Tierney and Turton was renewed in June 1803, when Tierney accepted office under Addington. In 1802 he had described himself as sent to Parliament ‘avowedly unconnected with Mr Fox and the Whig Club on the one hand, and loaded with no obligation whatever to government on the other’. He had now lost the latter advantage: Turton boasted that he was no place hunter, but after nine days, he gave up, demanding a scrutiny, which proved futile and was likewise given up. He had once more failed to secure the admission of the ‘farm votes’ and had been damaged by Tierney’s claim that he was distributing half-guineas in St. George’s parish. His last resort, a petition, also failed.9

Tierney’s political career continued to cause resentment and it was Turton who once more confronted him in 1806, when reports of his taking office again promised a vacancy. His appointment followed the dissolution. He was then election manager for the Whigs in the Grenville ministry but failed to carry his own election, for which he had little time to spare. He had lost credibility and was shouted down. Thornton, the late starter courted by the other two, was well disposed to the ministry, but insisted on his independence and pretended that his election was not at stake, though he was criticized for his hostility to Burdett in the Middlesex elections. Turton claimed that his opponents were coalesced, which they denied, and insisted that Thornton’s claim to independence was not superior to his own. As Tierney trailed in the poll he admitted that he had wished for plumpers, but that he had many friends in common with Thornton. A Whig agent reported that Tierney’s friends ruined him by trying to bring in Thornton, who already had Turton’s second votes. Turton, who headed the poll, paid tribute to the efforts of his sponsor since 1802, Capt. Christopher Dunkin.10

Tierney did not return to Southwark in 1807 and nothing came of a report that he would be replaced by William Smith*. Richard Shepley again came forward, but made way, on the refusal of Thomas Holt White to replace him, for a wealthy brewer of Whig sympathies, Charles Calvert, who appeared late and was assured by Turton that he stood no chance against ‘two staunch old trained hacks’. The candidates agreed to forego ribbons and music, but Thornton alleged that Shepley, for all his insistence on the purity of elections, treated Calvert’s friends on his behalf and that ribbons had appeared for him despite the veto. Nothing daunted, when Calvert gave up the poll after five days, Shepley accused him of reintroducing treating in the borough. Calvert obtained 477 plumpers, as against 119 for Thornton and 117 for Turton. Turton, who had opposed the Grenville ministry, again headed the poll; Thornton, who had mixed feelings about them, upheld their dismissal and thus benefited from the ‘No Popery’ cry.11

After 1807 Southwark politics were overshadowed by more interesting events in the other metropolitan constituencies of Westminster and Middlesex. In 1809 the Members attended a meeting to justify their conduct on the charges against the Duke of York. In 1812 Turton was swamped and the radicals sponsored an absentee candidate, Sir Francis Burdett’s brother, adopted on 22 Nov. 1811. He was feted by the ‘electresses’, but fared badly, despite an attempt by his sponsor Kemmish to get him the second votes of Calvert, who espoused parliamentary reform (as did Thornton, once he was elected.) The poll was kept open so that Burdett’s friends could try to obtain the ‘farm votes’ for him, but they were rejected. In eight days 2,740 votes were cast and it was necessary to open two booths on St. Margaret’s Hill to accommodate the voters.12 On Thornton’s death in 1815 he was replaced by a wealthy brewer, Charles Barclay, who promised opposition to the tax burden. Henry Brougham* refused to be his opponent and Burdett was once more put up in absentia. The six-day poll was a farce. The ‘farm votes’ were again rejected, but Burdett’s supporters vented their spleen by attacking Barclay as a ‘foreigner’ and a representative of the brewing interest, and by assaulting his friends, when they feted his success at Kennington, with cries of ‘no Corn Laws, no Barclay’.13

In 1818 the Southwark reformers induced Sir Robert Thomas Wilson to be their champion. A A friend of Lord Grey, he was at first reluctant to disturb Calvert, a reliable Whig; but he was encouraged by the Westminster committee, who could dispense with his pretensions in their constituency. The only sceptic was George Tierney. Wilson was adopted, 20 Apr. 1818, at no expense to himself, and, supported by Henry Grey Bennet*, John George Lambton* and Robert Waithman*, declared that his opposition was to Barclay. At the nomination meeting on 18 June Barclay was shouted down, and not until he was on the eve of conceding victory was he given a hearing.14

Author: R. G. Thorne

Notes

  • 1. Second vote: on scrutiny
  • 2. The Times, 7 June 1803.
  • 3. Public Advertiser, 12, 15, 16, 17 June 1790; Morning Chron. 4 June 1791.
  • 4. Oracle, 12, 25 Nov. 9 Dec.; PRO 30/9/31, Abbot diary, 10 Dec. 1795.
  • 5. True Briton, 20-30 May; Morning Chron. 23-31 May 1796.