Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 100 in 1701


1 Mar. 1690Joseph Herne  
 William Hayne  
 Hon. George Booth  
 Arthur Bayley  
31 Oct. 1695Sir Joseph Herne  
 William Hayne  
27 July 1698Sir Joseph Herne  
 Frederick Herne  
 John Whitrow jnr.  
16 Dec. 1699Rowland Holt   
 Nathaniel Herne vice Sir Joseph Herne, deceased  
  Double return. Election declared void, 12 Feb. 1700  
11 Jan. 1701Frederick Herne491492
 Nathaniel Herne4949
 William Balle5133
 Thomas Vernon5133
20 Nov. 1701Nathaniel Herne  
 Frederick Herne  
25 July 1702Nathaniel Herne  
 Frederick Herne  
16 May 1705Nathaniel Herne  
 Frederick Herne  
11 May 1708Nathaniel Herne  
 Frederick Herne  
13 Oct. 1710Nathaniel Herne  
 Frederick Herne  
2 Sept. 1713Sir William Drake, Bt.  
 Frederick Herne  
20 Mar. 1714John Fownes vice Frederick Herne, appointed to office  

Main Article

Dartmouth, Defoe wrote, was ‘a very large and populous town’ though but ‘meanly built’, with ‘some very flourishing merchants, who trade very prosperously and to the most considerable trading parts of Spain, Portugal, Italy and the plantations; but especially they are great traders to Newfoundland, and from thence to Spain and Italy with fish’. By 1689 Joseph Herne, a very wealthy London merchant, had established control over one and sometimes two seats in the borough.3

In 1690 Herne and William Hayne, merchants and business partners, and both Tories, were successful. Hon. George Booth*, the brother of Lord Delamer (Henry Booth†), and the other defeated candidate, Arthur Bayley, petitioned on 24 Mar., but without result. Herne and Hayne were returned unopposed in 1695. There were rumblings of discontent in the borough when local merchants and owners of ships petitioned on 4 Feb. 1698, complaining that they were ‘reduced to great straits for want of money’ as they had not been paid for contracts for transporting troops, presumably obtained through Sir Joseph Herne, one of the largest of government remittancers. Shortly before the election of July 1698 Hayne died, and in his place Herne set up his nephew Frederick Herne. They were opposed, however, by a single Whig, John Whitrow, a merchant and member of the corporation, whose father had acted against the Hernes in the 1689 election. Whitrow was defeated, however, and his petition of 12 Dec. was not reported on. An awkward train of events was soon afterwards set off by the sudden death of Sir Joseph Herne in February 1699. At the ensuing by-election held at the end of the year, Nathaniel Herne, another of the late Sir Joseph’s nephews and the younger brother of Frederick, was opposed by Rowland Holt, a Whig. On 9 Jan. 1700, after the election had taken place, the sheriff of Devon petitioned the House explaining that the mayor, the aforementioned John Whitrow, to whom he had sent the precept, had appointed the election to be held on 16 Dec. 1699, but had died the day before. Notwithstanding the demise of the returning officer, opposing sets of ‘the burgesses and freemen’ had gone ahead and by one indenture returned Nathaniel Herne, and by another, Rowland Holt. But in seeking direction from the House as to which of the returns he should convey to the clerk of the crown, the sheriff was given no guidance. After an extensive debate on 9 Jan. 1700 he was simply ordered to submit a return of the writ ‘according to his duty’. The sheriff thereupon made a non-committal double return of Herne and Holt. Accordingly, on 18 Jan. 1700 Nathaniel Herne petitioned saying he had been elected by the aldermen and ‘most of the rightful freemen’ whereas Holt had been returned by one alderman only and others not ‘duly qualified’. Holt himself petitioned on the 24th, claiming to have obtained superior electoral support from ‘the old indisputable freemen’. The elections committee considered the case on 2 Feb. and declared the election void, a verdict confirmed by the House on 12 Feb. although no order was made for a new writ.4

The efforts of one corporation man in particular, Joseph Bully, to break the traditional deference to the Hernes, produced for a while a struggle between rival mayoral factions, which though complained of separately to the House, was not resolved by the next election. At the election in January 1701 Nathaniel Herne and his brother Frederick enjoyed a majority of votes on the poll conducted by the Tory mayor, Thomas Floud, while two Whigs, Thomas Vernon* and William Balle, were returned by Bully, who continued to hold the corporation seal and maces. Returns of both sets of candidates were made, but only that in favour of the two Hernes found its way to the office of the clerk of the crown. In their petition of 13 Feb. 1701, Vernon and Balle claimed that one Thomas Granger of Lyon’s Inn, to whom the sheriff had sent the two returns for forwarding to the office of the clerk of the crown, had deliberately suppressed the indenture which bore their names. The elections committee reported on 28 May, but, as was admitted by the Whig diarist Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, the petitioners’ case appeared weak, they having ‘no very good cause, nor did they make any great friends to support them’. The Herne brothers were declared duly elected. After this, the Hernes controlled both seats at Dartmouth at the next five elections. In 1713 Nathaniel Herne, a Hanoverian Tory, was pushed out by Sir William Drake, 4th Bt., a High Tory. A by-election was required in Mar. 1714 on Frederick Herne’s appointment to office, and his death soon afterwards, on 15 Mar., made way for the unopposed election of another local High Tory, John Fownes.5

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Bully
  • 2. Flood
  • 3. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 227.
  • 4. P. Russell, Dartmouth, 139–40; Trans. Devon. Assoc. xliii. 354–5; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 601, 609; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/17, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 9 Jan. 1699–1700;
  • 5. Add. 30000 D, f. 47; Cocks Diary, 153.