Milborne Port


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 inhabitants until 1702; in inhabitants paying scot and lot after 1702

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 80 until 1702; 48 in 1702

Number of voters:

about 80 until 1702; at least 52 in 1710


26 Nov. 1701HON. HENRY THYNNE 
 John Henley 
5 Feb. 1702JOHN HUNT vice Thynne, chose to sit for Tamworth 
 John Henley 
  Double return. TRAVELL and HUNT declared duly elected, 8 Dec. 1702 
 Sir Richard Newman, Bt.31
 Henry Devenish 
 William Bellamy 
 Giles Hayne 
7 May 1709THOMAS SMITH vice Medlycott, chose to sit for Westminster 
 William Mallet42

Main Article

Milborne Port’s parliamentary seats came more firmly under the control of the owners of the town’s nine burgages or bailiwicks during this period, and as such took on the classic characteristics of a ‘pocket borough’. The right of election lay in the burgage holders, known as the chief bailiffs or capital burgesses, plus nine stewards and the inhabitants paying scot and lot. The inhabitants at large had first been permitted to vote during the Interregnum and had been suffered to retain the privilege ever since, ‘in order’, as the elections committee was told in 1705, ‘to prevent any disturbance by the meaner people’. Although this was sometimes challenged, there had never been any determination in their favour. Each year two chief bailiffs took turns to nominate two deputy or ‘under’ bailiffs, who as the town magistrates officiated as returning officers during elections. The majority of the nine burgages during this period were in fact never held by more than two persons, and through this mechanism these majority burgage holders for most of the time controlled the parliamentary seats.

In 1690 the chief interest was held by Sir Thomas Travell, a Whig, who in December 1689 had bought a large amount of property in and around the borough from the then Member, Thomas Saunders†, including five of the capital bailiwicks. Travell was able to procure his own election in this and in every subsequent election until he stood down in 1715. The second seat at the 1690 election was taken by Sir Charles Carteret, an army officer and a zealous Tory with pronounced Jacobite leanings, who, in possession of the local manor of Toomer, had been described in 1688 as having ‘the best interest of anyone’. Travell and Carteret stood again in 1695 and for a while were threatened with the possibility of a challenge. John Hunt, a Tory whose seat at Compton Pauncefoot was some three miles from Milborne Port and who had represented the borough from 1677 to 1689, was proposing to stand with one John Herbert. Robert Harley’s* electoral informant John Freke was under the distinct, if mistaken, impression that ‘if they join, [they] may throw out Sir Charles Carteret and Sir Thomas Travell, if not, Herbert must lose it’. However, Hunt’s and Herbert’s prospects of overawing the strong proprietary interests which had taken root in the borough since 1689 were faint. There is no record of a poll, Hunt probably withdrawing his candidacy on being offered a safe seat at Ilchester.3

A new interest was established in the borough in 1696 when James Medlycott, a London barrister, bought up Carteret’s estates, but he appears not to have intervened in elections until Anne’s reign. In 1698 Travell and Carteret were once again returned unopposed. Hunt conducted a canvass but it is not known if he went to a poll, being also a candidate for the county. The January 1701 election was the first of a series of elections up to 1705 in which the second seat was successfully claimed by outsiders with no direct connexions with the borough. On this first occasion Travell was returned with Sir Richard Newman, 1st Bt., a probable Tory, whose estate at Evercreech was some 15 miles away. Even so, the election appears to have gone uncontested. In November 1701 Travell was opposed by another Whig, John Henley† of Wootton Abbots, Dorset, a younger son of Sir Robert Henley*. The third candidate was Hon. Henry Thynne, son of Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†). Travell and Thynne were returned, Henley petitioning against Travell on the grounds that, as one of the capital bailiffs to whom the precept had been directed, Travell had wrongfully procured his own return through two deputy bailiffs, officiating as returning officers, of his own choosing. The petition was not heard, but another electoral opportunity offered shortly afterwards when Thynne declared his preference to sit for Tamworth. At this election in February 1702 Hunt was opposed by Henley, but Travell’s bailiffs operated in support of Hunt and he was duly returned. Several townsmen petitioned, alleging bribery, intimidation and partiality on the part of the returning officers, but there was no report.4

In 1702 Travell and Hunt stood for re-election, with Hunt being opposed once again by Henley. The two deputy bailiffs made separate returns. Not surprisingly, since they were Travell’s nominees, he featured in both, with Hunt in one and Henley in the other. Both men petitioned, each claiming a majority of ‘legal votes’. A third petition was presented by Thomas Medlycott, brother of James Medlycott, who had witnessed the election proceedings on his brother’s behalf and had not been impressed by Travell’s machinations. Medlycott’s petition, which was aimed at Travell rather than Hunt or Henley, carefully recited that the under-bailiffs had responsibility for

the forming of the lists of the voters, management of the election and return of the precept; that this year Sir Thomas Travell had the naming of both the under-bailiffs, whereby in effect Sir Thomas Travell is returned by himself; that soon after the late King’s death Travell, by his agent, Edward Feltram, distributed great doles of corn to many of the electors and also another dole just before the last election.

Medlycott’s complaint was at first ordered to be considered by the elections committee along with the double return, but on learning that Travell had only lately returned from his command in Ireland and required more time to prepare his defence, it was decided to hear it separately. In fact it was never considered. The committee hearing on the double return bore mainly on the right of election, Henley’s counsel maintaining that it lay in the inhabitants at large, and Hunt’s that it was restricted to inhabitants paying scot and lot. It was conceded on Hunt’s side that for 40 years past, inhabitants in general, not in receipt of alms, had been allowed to poll in order to avoid ‘disturbances’, a practice which until then had never been formally challenged. The committee resolved in favour of the limited electorate and after the disqualification of votes on either side, Hunt emerged as the elected Member.

In consequence the number of properly qualified voters at Milborne Port shrank from around 80 to 48. Over the next few years James Medlycott bought up the remaining four bailiwicks not already owned by Travell, and in 1705 the two men seem to have come to an agreement to share the borough. Travell stood as usual and Medlycott put up his Tory brother, Thomas. This did not deter two other candidates from coming forward: Newman, briefly MP for the borough in 1701, and Henry Devenish. Flushed with the prospect of success, Thomas Medlycott was able to inform his patron the Duke of Ormond, a fortnight before the election, that of the 48 voters 40 had promised him their support. In the event he received 37 votes to Travell’s 40, but with Newman scoring only three votes there was no question of the influence now exerted by the town’s two chief proprietors. Most voters, moreover, had been perfectly willing to cast their votes for a Whig and a Tory, and Medlycott had reported to Ormond that he had not compromised his Tory principles and had been robustly opposed by the town’s Presbyterian minister. Newman and Devenish petitioned, alleging partiality by the returning officers, and resurrecting the claim of the inhabitants in general to enjoy the right of election, but no report was made. In 1708 Travell and Medlycott easily fended off a challenge from two local men, Giles Hayne and William Bellamy†, who were also contesting at Ilchester. Hayne, a senior alderman of Ilchester, petitioned, but upon the House being informed that he was dead, the matter was set aside. A second petition, from a number of the inhabitants complaining that the returning officers had refused their votes, was withdrawn. One week later Medlycott opted to sit for Westminster, an election which had been confirmed in December 1708. In the interim both he and his brother had been pressed to allow his seat at Milborne Port to be filled by Henry St. John II*. According to (Sir) Simon Harcourt I*, Medlycott had scotched a proposal to allow the seat to Charles Caesar* on the grounds that ‘he could never engage his brother [a Chancery master] for a man who is a professed enemy of the Chancellor’s [William Cowper*]’. Although Medlycott was inclined to believe his brother James would consent to St. John, he apprehended strong opposition on this score from the Whiggish Travell, who had declared an intention to set up his own son. Medlycott warned Travell that he would never consent to such an arrangement, but was hopeful of securing the seat for St. John, especially if some gratuity could be provided for Travell. A few days later St. John himself wrote to Harley, saying that he had been assured that there would be no trouble at Milborne Port since ‘£200 given to Travell would unite the whole interest and put the matter out of dispute’. Harcourt, however, continued to have doubts, fearing the validity of the election would be challenged. St. John possibly shared these doubts and was perhaps in any case not anxious to be indebted to Medlycott’s Whig brother. By the time Medlycott had opted for Westminster it had been agreed that the seat at Milborne Port should go to the Whig Thomas Smith, son of John Smith I*, an arrangement which was clearly more palatable to Travell. In 1710 James Medlycott himself sought election for one of the seats, and though a challenge of sorts was mounted by a local man, William Mallet, both he and Travell were returned almost unanimously. Mallet lodged a petition against the return, presumably claiming election by the generality of inhabitants, but before it could be read he received permission to withdraw it. At the 1713 election Travell and Medlycott were returned unopposed.5

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. HMC Ormonde, viii. 156–7.
  • 2. Post Boy, 14–17 Oct. 1710.
  • 3. Som. RO, Travell mss DD/BR/fc 33; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95.
  • 4. Procs. Som. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. xvi. 45; Add. 28883, f. 70.
  • 5. CJ, xviii. 620; HMC Ormonde, 154, 156–7; HMC Portland, iv. 515.