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 freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

over 700 in 1722; about 280 in 1734; about 470 in 1747


1 Feb. 1715THOMAS ERLE 
18 Apr. 1715GEORGE PITT vice George Pitt, chose to sit for Hampshire 
28 Mar. 1718HENRY DRAX vice Erle, granted a pension 
 George Pitt 
 Henry Ludlow Coker 
12 Feb. 1729NATHANIEL GOULD vice Gascoigne, deceased 
26 Feb. 1729THOMAS TOWER vice Ernle, deceased 
4 May 1734HENRY DRAX208
 Nathaniel Gould75
 Sir William Wolseley68
6 May 1741HENRY DRAX 
1 Jan. 1745DRAX re-elected after appointment to office 
2 July 1747HENRY DRAX273
 John Pitt206
 Robert Banks Hodgkinson193
  PITT and HODGKINSON vice Henry Drax and Thomas Erle Drax, on petition, 26 Jan. 1748 
25 Jan. 1751HENRY DRAX vice Pitt, vacated his seat 

Main Article

The Tory interest at Wareham was headed by the Pitts of Strathfieldsaye and Shroton, who were patrons of the living and owned the site of the priory. The lord of the manor in 1715 was General Thomas Erle, Whig, whose interest passed by marriage to his son-in-law, Sir Edward Ernle, in 1720 and to the latter’s son-in-law, Henry Drax, in 1729. Both seats were usually held by members of these families but from 1722 to 1734 the Pitts were ousted by strangers, apparently returned through Walpole’s interest with the corporation.

At the beginning of the century the right to vote lay in the freeholders and all who paid scot and lot, an electorate of 160 to 170 at most. But at the 1722 election the practice began of creating a large number of additional voters through temporary conveyances of land, which were surrendered directly after the poll. According to Hutchins,1 over 700 persons voted at this election, and in George Pitt’s petition it was alleged that the mayor, who acted as returning officer, had admitted more than 300 unqualified voters for Sir Edward Ernle.2 On Ernle’s death early in 1729, Henry Drax, then seated at Lyme Regis, proved unable to assert his inherited interest against that of Walpole and the corporation. According to Stephen Fox,

the returning officer, who was put in by Sir Edward Ernle, upon his death wrote to a great man that if he would be pleased to recommend anybody the corporation would choose him, but however whether they would or not, if he might be indemnified and have some consideration, he would certainly return him at all events. Upon this Mr. Tower was sent down. The mayor gave an account of this to Drax and made the same declaration, that he was resolved to return any person that was recommended from above. Drax is prudent enough not to encourage any of his friends to throw away their money to no purpose, though he could assure them of a majority, and therefore is forced to submit to the returning officer and Tower will be chose without opposition.3

The next two elections were compromised by Drax and John Pitt, who both usually supported the Opposition. In 1747 Drax and his son stood on behalf of the Prince of Wales, while Pitt, who had by then accepted office, and Robert Banks Hodgkinson, were for the Administration. The Draxes, by their conveyances of land, created a sufficient number of new votes to win by a good majority. But on petition the House of Commons resolved that the right to vote lay only in those who had been in bona fide possession of their qualifying property for one year before the election, thus invalidating many of the Drax votes. This decision being ‘otherwise than they expected’, Drax through his counsel stated on 26 Jan. that neither he nor his son ‘would give the House any further trouble’,4 leaving their opponents to be seated. Next year Pitt, having been asked to transfer to Dorchester, wrote to Pelham:

I have ... ventured to give my friends an expectation that my present seat in Parliament will be vacant. ... There is also a project on foot, which I think will not fail, for bringing about a reconciliation between me and Mr. Drax, which, if it takes place, will secure me the constant nomination of a Member for Wareham.5

At the ensuing by-election in January 1751 Drax was returned unopposed.

Author: R. S. Lea


  • 1. Dorset, i. 84.
  • 2. CJ, xx. 22-23.
  • 3. Stephen Fox to Hen. Fox, 1 Mar. 1729, Hen. Fox mss.
  • 4. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 310; CJ, xxv. 480-1, 492.
  • 5. John Pitt to Pelham, 19 May 1750, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.