Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the inhabitant householders not receiving alms
Number of voters:
|6 July 1790||SIR BENJAMIN HAMMET||291|
|27 May 1796||SIR BENJAMIN HAMMET|
|7 Aug. 1800||JOHN HAMMET vice Hammet, deceased|
|8 July 1802||WILLIAM MORLAND|
|4 Nov. 1806||JOHN HAMMET||370|
|6 May 1807||JOHN HAMMET|
|1 May 1811||HENRY POWELL COLLINS vice Hammet, deceased|
|8 Oct. 1812||ALEXANDER BARING||258|
|HENRY POWELL COLLINS||214|
|Samuel Colleton Graves||62|
|24 June 1818||ALEXANDER BARING||441|
|SIR WILLIAM BURROUGHS, Bt.||315|
|Henry Powell Collins||312|
|COLLINS vice Burroughs, on petition, 7 May 1819|
The Taunton Market House Society, initially composed chiefly of dissenting manufacturers, but increasingly patronized by local gentlemen as the town acquired ‘genteel habitations’ and the exclusive corporation fell into abeyance, had been the prevailing influence at elections since 1768.1 In 1790 its nominees, friends of Pitt’s administration, were again returned, but only ‘after a most obstinate contest’—both severe and expensive according to Hammet, a banker and native of Taunton, who headed the poll after 14 days. Only 40 votes a day survived scrutiny. The defeated candidates were both bankers; Halliday, a former Member making his last bid to regain the seat, was now a protégé of the Whigs, while Morland, the Prince of Wales’s banker, who possessed what remained of the corporation interest, found himself at the tail. They petitioned jointly against the return, as did some electors, but did not pursue the matter: the Whig election managers refused to subsidize Halliday and his relations with Morland do not appear to have been cordial.2
In 1792 the old corporation was dissolved. Hammet sought its renewal on terms favourable to him. In January 1796 his colleague Popham publicly announced his retirement at the dissolution, unless his return proved indispensable to the peace of the borough. William Morland then renewed his candidature: ‘an attached friend to Whiggism’, he set out to win the votes of Popham’s friends and notified the Duke of Portland, supposing this ‘sufficient to prevent the interference of government against me; excepting which I have reason to think I shall be almost unanimously elected’. Soon afterwards another candidate appeared (another banker) Walter Boyd*. It was reported that he and Hammet (who canvassed in February 1796) were uniting their interests; but Boyd’s situation was an awkward one as he revealed in a letter to Henry Dundas, 30 Mar. 1796:
Though it has uniformly been my wish that Sir B. Hammet should succeed at Taunton, yet it is well known to him as well as to every person at all acquainted in the politics of that borough, that the smallest symptom of union of interests, or understanding between him and me, or between any two of the three candidates would be very prejudicial to the interests of the parties so united or so understanding with each other.
On this account I must decline the renewal of the charter on the terms proposed, which I however acknowledge to be the only ones on which ministers could grant it, without failing in what they owe to Sir B’s steady support for a number of years. I the more readily adopt this resolution, because it would be laying myself under a great obligation, without the certainty of it effectually serving me, if even my requests as originally made, could have been granted.
So it was that Boyd, ‘after spending several thousand pounds’, took his leave of Taunton before the election, alleging in his farewell letter ‘that he was deceived, and that the promises made to the other two candidates gave him no chance of success’. The charter was not renewed.3
Although Hammet and Morland were returned unopposed in 1796, they were returned by two indentures: Hammet by the constables and bailiffs and Morland by the former mayor. When the same procedure was about to be adopted in 1802 to return Hammet’s son (who had succeeded to his seat quietly) and Morland, there was a contretemps. Robert Robinson attempted to go to the poll, alleging that Hammet was ineligible as bailiff of Taunton (i.e. returning officer) and that he must poll Robinson’s friends, nine of whom appeared. Hammet, who had so far polled only six (Morland only one) refused, and on the second day of the poll there was a riot, whereupon Robinson withdrew. The poll was closed, but Robinson and some electors petitioned. They failed, 5 May 1803, the House deciding that the returning officers were neither the bailiffs of the manor (such as Hammet) nor the bailiffs and constables annually appointed in court leet, but the bailiffs only.4
This decision discredited the old corporation interest. Morland, its champion, was heavily defeated in 1806, when he was ousted by Alexander Baring, a friend of the Grenville ministry urged by Lord Henry Petty to try his luck. In his petition against the return Morland alleged, as well as bribery, corruption and treating, that his opponents stood jointly; it was found ‘frivolous and vexatious’. Hammet would in fact have preferred Morland to Baring as his colleague, but the threat of the petition against them both drew him and Baring together; and when Morland proposed a postponement of the petition in March 1807, they both refused, though Hammet was rather anxious about his prospects.5
Baring was assailed in 1807 for his support of the outgoing ministry:
the town is in uproar about his voting for the Catholic question, besides 200 of his votes are cut off, owing to their having received charity money and parish money not expecting a dissolution of Parliament, which renders them incapable of voting at the ensuing election.
This was alleged by James Coles, a local worthy and spokesman for a group of gentry who wished Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte to come forward as ‘a Church and King’s man’ and believed he could be returned ‘at little or no expense’. Kemeys Tynte would not be tempted. Sir John Lowther Johnstone* was, but found the going hard. An ‘Elector’ ridiculed him: ‘Not sixpence of the public money has ever gone into the pocket of "All the Barings" which is more than can be said for all the Johnstones!!’ Johnstone retired, 3 May, admitting that many of his potential supporters ‘considered themselves as scarcely released from their late engagements’. He went on to find a seat elsewhere and there was no opposition to Baring, who by 1812 considered himself ‘quite secure’.6
On the death of John Hammet in 1811 his property at Taunton was being purchased by Sir John Lethbridge*, a neighbouring country gentleman (and Market House trustee), who secured the quiet return of his son-in-law Collins. The property had been offered for sale in 1808, but Baring had no wish for it.7 Baring and Collins easily withstood the challenge of a 23-year-old opportunist radical, ensnared on his way to contest Honiton, in 1812. On 9 Dec. 1816, in anticipation of a dissolution, appeared a plea from ‘An old elector ... to the poor, but independent electors of Taunton’, urging them not to accept alms and disqualify themselves from supporting ‘a gentleman of high honour, strict integrity, and independent principles—an enemy to useless places and sinecures and a warm friend to parliamentary reform’. A candidate approximating to this description appeared in 1818—Sir William Burroughs. He had to allay suspicions: he was not a Papist, but an Anglican; he was not a government pensioner, but derived a judge’s pension from the East India Company. Said to have received much support from the dissenters, he narrowly defeated Collins for second place, only to be ousted by him on petition, the cost of which was raised by Collins’s supporters.8
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Kite and Palmer, Taunton, 21; Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 53.
- 2. Fortescue mss, Mrs Stapleton to Grenville, 6 July 1790; Public Advertiser, 9 July 1790; Ginter, Whig Organization, 107-8, 145, 152, 199, 233, 240; PRO 30/8/141, f. 72; CJ, xlvi. 16, 91.
- 3. Add. 53805, f. 531; True Briton, 1 Feb.; SRO GD 51/1/200/11; Morning Chron. 2 May 1796; Toulmin, Taunton, 340.
- 4. Toulmin, 343-7; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 430; CJ, lviii. 36, 382; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1805), 406.
- 5. Dorset RO, Anglesey mss D20/Z3, James to Sanderson, 11 Nov.; Bristol Jnl. 11 Oct., 8 Nov. 1806; CJ, lxii. 43, 239; Som. RO, DD/X/RON, Hammet to Beadon, 17 Sept. 1806-4 Mar. 1807.
- 6. Som. RO, Kemeys Tynte mss S/WH box 53, Coles to Kemeys Tynte, 28 Apr., 2 May; DD/SAS/TN 160/1, election posters for 1807; Fortescue mss, Lansdowne to Grenville, 6 Oct. 1812.
- 7. Taunton Courier, 25 Apr., 2, 9 May 1811; Som. RO, DD/X/RON, Hammet to Beadon, 2 Feb. 1808.
- 8. Som. RO, DD/SAS/TN 160/1; Taunton Courier, 8 Oct. 1812, 11 June 1818; CJ, lxxiv. 88, 242, 410; Oldfield, Key (1820), 59.