Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen and freeholders

Number of voters:



 Philip Freke1991
 Thomas Edwards, jun.1978
28 Mar. 1722JOSEPH EARLE2141
 William Hart, sen.1743
8 Sept. 1727JOHN SCROPE 
24 May 1734SIR ABRAHAM ELTON2428
 John Scrope1866
12 Dec. 1739EDWARD SOUTHWELL vice Coster, deceased2651
 Henry Combe2203
24 Nov. 1742ROBERT HOBLYN vice Elton, deceased 

Main Article

The parties at Bristol, a large open constituency, were evenly balanced, the Whigs having the support of the corporation and the wealthiest inhabitants,1 while the Tories had the better organization. In 1715, after an eight-day poll, the Whig candidates were returned by the sheriff, though they had been defeated at the poll by their Tory opponents,2 who petitioned the House of Commons three years in succession without securing a hearing. In 1722 the Whigs retained both seats by a small majority against a single Tory, William Hart, who stood again in 1727 against John Scrope, secretary of the Treasury, and Abraham Elton, a Bristol merchant. In the course of the campaign the Duke of Rutland reported to Newcastle:

The election here is likely to go for Mr. Scrope, who all agree will be chosen, and Mr. Hart, who by the ill management and obstinacy of some Whigs, who would not yield to each other, took the opportunity of engaging many votes and will certainly be elected. Had there been a good understanding and harmony among the Whigs they must infallibly have carried their point for two.3

But during the poll Hart

declined ... having received from Mr. Elton one thousand pounds to defray the charge he had been at, so Mr. Scrope and Mr. Elton are returned ... Mr. Scrope had a majority of very near double to either of the others, for both Whig and Tory voted for him. The people who sold their votes have received from one to five guineas per man, so that had Hart money and resolution to have stood it out, ’twould have proved the dearest election in England. Mr. Scrope by standing single hath avoided the trouble and expense which must have attended his standing with either of the others.4

In 1734 Elton headed the poll but Scrope, having made himself unpopular at Bristol by voting for the excise bill, contrary to the instructions of the corporation, was defeated by a Tory, Thomas Coster. On Scrope’s behalf the corporation petitioned against Coster on the ground that he had been returned ‘by polling great numbers of persons who received alms and charities and others who had no right to vote’. When the petition was heard at the bar of the House on 15 Apr. 1735, the petitioners

found so much difficulty to proceed themselves in proving what they aimed at, which was to confine the election for the future to the corporate body exclusive of the freemen, and which to others appeared so contrary to usage, that the further hearing was adjourned to the 17th and from thence to the 23rd. But on the 22nd the petition was withdrawn and the order for hearing discharged.5

Scrope was

very angry with Sir Robert for making him give up ... which he was forced to do, Sir Robert saying he would not espouse his cause. Sir Robert’s friends say that the mob are so exasperated against Mr. Scrope for having voted for the excise that they are resolved not to have him there and if he carried his petition were determined to rise and stone his friends.6

In 1737 the Tories founded the Steadfast Society, described in 1739 to the Pretender by Thomas Carte, the Jacobite historian, as

a large club of the principal persons of the city, who opposed the ministerial measures; and set up at the same time a great many lesser ones; these last taking their rules and directions from the former, which gave them instructions from time to time, and countenanced them at all times; so that their harmony in about a year’s time made them absolute masters of that city; and though the corporation is rich and very powerful, yet it has not dared ever since to set up any body to oppose the person pitched on by those societies of independent electors.7

On Coster’s death in 1739 and Elton’s in 1742 their seats were filled by Edward Southwell, an opposition Whig, and Robert Hoblyn, a Tory, who were re-elected unopposed in 1747.

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss; Short Case of the Bristol Election (1734).
  • 2. J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol in 18th Cent. 108-9.
  • 3. SP Dom. 36/3, f. 39.
  • 4. Jas. Pearce to Humphry Morice, 9 Sept. 1727, Morice mss at the Bank of England.
  • 5. Harley Diary, 15 Apr. 1735.
  • 6. Lady Cowper’s diary, 24 Apr. 1735, Cowper (Panshanger) mss, Herts. RO.
  • 7. Stuart mss 216/100.