Weymouth and Melcombe Regis
Available from Boydell and Brewer
The two boroughs were united by Act of Parliament in 1571, and returned four Members
Right of Election:
in the freeholders
Number of voters:
|3 Feb. 1715||DANIEL HARVEY|
|2 Mar. 1717||EDWARD HARRISON vice Baker, deceased|
|24 Mar. 1722||WILLIAM BETTS|
|SIR JAMES THORNHILL|
|9 June 1726||JOHN WILLES vice Ward, expelled the House|
|30 Jan. 1727||EDWARD TUCKER vice Pearse, appointed to office|
|26 Aug. 1727||WILLIAM BETTS||195|
|SIR JAMES THORNHILL||110|
|20 May 1730||GEORGE DODINGTON vice Betts, whose election was declared void||152|
|2 May 1734||GEORGE BUBB DODINGTON|
|28 Feb. 1735||JOHN TUCKER vice George Bubb Dodington, chose to sit for Bridgwater||157|
|10 Mar. 1737||JOHN OLMIUS vice Tucker, appointed to office|
|11 May 1741||JOSEPH DAMER|
|4 July 1747||WELBORE ELLIS|
|EDMUND HUNGATE BEAGHAN|
|28 Jan. 1751||LORD GEORGE AUGUSTUS CAVENDISH vice Plumer, deceased|
The Government had a major interest at Weymouth and Melcombe Regis from the local customs service and the quarries at Portland. Under Walpole, George Bubb Dodington made use of his official position at the Treasury to strengthen his private interest in the borough.1 Another important interest was that of the Tuckers, a Weymouth family, who for many years held the post of supervisor of the Portland quarries, carrying considerable electoral influence. These interests acted in unison till 1740, when Dodington broke with Walpole, setting up four opposition candidates, including John Tucker, claiming to represent ‘the independent country interest’ against ‘ministerial nomination and interest’.2 Their expectation of success, Walpole told the attorney-general,
was only from splitting votes by the help of some of the corporation lands, which they have lately conveyed by treaty, in order to split, for without them Sir Robert’s friends, Olmius and Pearse, have clearly the majority. Sir Robert wanted to know whether an action in the name of the attorney general would not lie in behalf of the inhabitants, to prevent that alienation of a corporation estate. I told him I thought not, as that was only a private property and not for any charity.3
To meet this move Walpole authorized Pearse to offer the outgoing mayor the local collectorship of customs for himself and a living for his brother-in-law if he would pack the corporation, on which Dodington and the Tuckers had a majority, so as to secure the election of a pro-government successor, who as returning officer at the general election would be able to disallow the new votes. When the mayor proved uncooperative he was dismissed from his post in the customs service, together with other recalcitrant local officials; and on the election of John Tucker’s brother, Richard, to be the next mayor quo warranto proceedings were instituted against him, on the ground that, being an alderman, he was ineligible under the charter of the borough.4
In December 1740 the government agent at Weymouth sent Olmius an estimate of the votes influenced by the Portland place still held by Richard Tucker. He reported that about 20 ships belonging to the port were entirely dependent on the stone trade:
The masters of such vessels must vote so as to oblige the gentlemen that have the direction of the stone work. ... No doubt but there may be 20 sailors employed in those vessels that are votes and likely to be influenced by their masters, and perhaps these masters and sailors may have relations and friends, about 20 more, that they may influence, which in all may make 60 votes, besides what ... the Tuckers have out of the labourers in the quarries, not one man of them can or will appear to vote against you, provided your friends have the direction of the stone works. ... You need only to alter this thing and make good my being the returning officer, on which one may venture to say that you can’t fail of carrying the elections by a very great majority of good votes.5
On 10 Apr., a month before the election, Richard Tucker was turned out of this post and forbidden to work the quarries which he had leased from the Crown, a step which produced immediate representations from the contractors for Westminster bridge, pointing out that it would bring work on the bridge to a total stop ‘at the finest season of the year, and thereby disappoint the impatience and great expectations of the whole town, and cause a great clamour among the bridge commissioners’.
Ten days before the election Walpole sent a message through Olmius to John Tucker offering to reinstate all his friends and to give him anything he asked for himself if he would join Pearse, Olmius and another unnamed government candidate. Tucker refused, though warned that the consequence would be the ruin of himself and his brother and the overthrow of the charter.6
Four days before the election the King’s bench delivered judgment against Richard Tucker on the mayoral issue, ordering his removal from the office of mayor. Notwithstanding this judgment he presided at the poll, returning all four opposition candidates against Pearse, the only government candidate standing, whose supporters refrained from voting as a protest against the illegality of the proceedings. A petition was prepared on these grounds but was not presented, presumably because the matter was sub judice pending the appeal which Tucker had lodged against the decision of the King’s bench.7
In 1744 the House of Lords dismissed Tucker’s appeal,8 thus opening the way for the Government to suspend the existing corporation for violating their charter and to set up a new body. In the event Dodington and John Tucker came to an agreement with Pelham leaving them in control of the borough, on condition that he should nominate two Members for it in 1747, when a new charter was issued, enabling aldermen to hold municipal offices.9
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. Sir Dudley Ryder’s diary, 9 Aug. 1740, Harrowby mss.
- 2. J. Damer to Duke of Bedford, 7 Oct. 1740, Bedford mss.
- 3. Sir Dudley Ryder’s diary.
- 4. CJ, xxiv. 293-5.
- 5. Thos. Bryer to John Olmius, 10 Dec. 1740, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1739-41, pp. 456, 621; CJ, loc. cit.
- 7. Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1739-41, pp. 514-15.
- 8. Gent. Mag. 1744, pp. 125-37, 175-86.
- 9. Dodington Diary, 84-85, 315; Bedford Corresp. i. 216; H. J. Moule, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, 11.