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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 450


24 Jan. 1715THOMAS LEWIS229 
 Adam Cardonnel163 
22 Mar. 1722THOMAS LEWIS  
19 Aug. 1727ROBERT EYRE291 
 Thomas Missing165 
29 May 1729WILLIAM HEATHCOTE vice Eyre, appointed to office  
27 Apr. 1734SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE28312782
  Double return, Conduitt and Henley. CONDUITT declared elected, 3 Apr. 1735  
10 June 1737THOMAS LEE DUMMER vice Conduitt, deceased204 
 Richard Taunton183 
8 May 1741PETER DELMÉ315 
 Thomas Lee Dummer156 
 Robert Henley104 
3 July 1747PETER DELMÉ  
 Hans Stanley  

Main Article

The chief interest in Southampton was that of the corporation, consisting of the mayor, recorder, sheriff, two bailiffs, and all who had served in those offices. The corporation had the power of creating unlimited new freemen and the returning officers were the mayor and bailiffs. Members returned were usually neighbouring landowners or persons with strong local connexions.

In 1715 the previous Members, two Tory landowners, Thomas Lewis and Richard Fleming, were re-elected against a single Whig candidate, Cardonnel, Marlborough’s former secretary. In 1722 Lewis and Thomas Missing, a Portsmouth merchant, were returned unopposed, Lewis presenting the corporation with £200 before the election. Missing, a Whig, who was unpopular with the majority of the corporation, lost his seat in 1727, when the successful candidates were two Whigs, Robert Eyre, the recorder, and Anthony Henley, a local landowner. Eyre’s successor in May 1729, Sir William Heathcote, a retired merchant with an estate near the town, presented the corporation with 700 guineas for the public good - £200 for repairing the sea banks, £105 towards an organ for Holy Rood church, £230 towards the fire-engines and waterworks debt and £200 for the use of the chamber. In August 1732 he proposed to bring water into the town, leave being given him to open ground for the purpose, with thanks for his liberality.3

In 1734 there were three candidates, Heathcote and Henley, both of whom had gone over to the Opposition, and John Conduitt, a placeman. The majority of the corporation were opposed to Conduitt, on account of his support of Walpole’s excise bill, against which they had petitioned, as well as writing to their Members to oppose it. It was expected that Conduitt, having voted for the bill, would not dare to show himself in Southampton,4 but in fact he stood. To ensure his defeat the corporation created an unprecedented number of new freemen - 19 in 1733 and 44 between January and 27 Apr. 1734, polling day.5 Conduitt threatened that ‘if he lost his election here the town should never be free of soldiers’.6 At the election there was a double return, the mayor and the junior bailiff returning Heathcote and Henley by a majority of one vote, while the senior bailiff returned Heathcote and Conduitt, both returns being attached to the writ. All the new freemen voted for Henley. When the returns came before the Commons, Conduitt’s supporters claimed that oppressive measures had been taken by the mayor ‘and the governing part of the corporation’ ‘to overpower and render ineffectual the votes of the inhabitants’.7 The House awarded the seat to Conduitt. The dispute caused a split in the corporation between those who had supported Henley, and a Whig minority, led by the senior bailiff and Robert Eyre, who had voted for Conduitt. On 20 May 1736 Eyre wrote to Godfrey, the town clerk:

I believe that the opposition the corporation have met with ... was occasioned by their own conduct, for election disputes, which used to be forgot, when the election was over, have been remembered and their power and authority have been made use of to oppress such as would not do as they would have them ... a worm will turn, when it is trod upon and though gentlemen may be unwilling to be the aggressors, yet when their friends are sinking under repeated provocations and oppressions and are oppressed merely for being their friends, they may be wearied with being always upon the defensive and think of retaliation, and if it should go further than it was at first intended or thought of the corporation must thank themselves.8

On Conduitt’s death in 1737 the majority of the corporation backed Richard Taunton, mayor in 1735 and one of Henley’s most active supporters. But they neglected to summon many of the freemen who lived at a distance, with the result that Thomas Lee Dummer, a government supporter, was returned.9 In 1741 the corporation’s candidates, Peter Delmé, a wealthy merchant, who had bought a neighbouring estate, and Edward Gibbon, a Tory, opposed two Whigs, Dummer and Anthony Henley’s younger brother, Robert, afterwards Lord Chancellor Northington. Gibbon’s son, the historian, has described the election:

The Whig candidates had a majority of the resident voters, but the corporation was firm in the Tory interest: a sudden creation of 170 [actually 117] new freemen turned the scale: and a supply was readily obtained of respectable volunteers who flocked from all parts of England to support the cause of their political friends.

Gibbon and Delmé were returned, Delmé subsequently presenting the corporation with £500 in May 1742.10 In 1747 Delmé and Swymmer, a Tory, defeated a government Whig, Hans Stanley, of Paultons Park, about five miles from Southampton. Describing the electorate in 1747 the town clerk wrote:

The number of electors are at present above 300 inhabitants, including the resident burgesses, which are about 32 and above 150 out burgesses, total above 450.11

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Senior bailiff's poll
  • 2. Mayor's poll
  • 3. J. S. Davis, Hist. Southampton, 205, 206.
  • 4. Nichol Smith, Letters of Jonathan Swift to Charles Ford, 152.
  • 5. Burgess bk., Southampton RO.
  • 6. Vernon to Godfrey, 27 Feb. 1734, Southampton RO.
  • 7. Poll bk. 1734, Southampton RO; CJ, xxii. 339, 343-4.
  • 8. Southampton RO.
  • 9. Burgess bk., Southampton RO.
  • 10. Edw. Gibbon, Autobiog. (1896 ed.), 30; J. S. Davis, 206.
  • 11. Add. 5841, f. 142.