Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in dispute. In either freeholders and resident leaseholders rated to the poor or inhabitants paying scot and lot. ‘These two descriptions of persons’, wrote Oldfield in 1816, ‘being nearly the same in this borough, it has not been brought to a determination.’1

Number of voters:

about 50


19 Apr. 1754Sewallis Shirley 
 John Sharpe 
11 Dec. 1756Fane William Sharpe vice John Sharpe, deceased 
31 Mar. 1761Fane William Sharpe 
 Richard Stevens 
22 Mar. 1768Fane William Sharpe33
 Thomas Worsley32
 John Albert Bentinck18
 David Hartley13
22 Nov. 1771William Skrine vice Sharpe, deceased27
 James Buller24
13 Oct. 1774William Skrine 
 John Dyke Acland 
5 Dec. 1778George Stratton vice Acland, deceased31
 John Morshead25
 Election declared void, 15 Feb. 1779 
1 Mar. 1779George Stratton35
 John Morshead21
8 Sept. 1780George Stratton 
 John Morshead 
5 Apr. 1784John Call 
 Paul Orchard 

Main Article

In 1754 Callington was controlled by Lady Orford, heiress of the Rolle family, who owned the manor and a good deal of property in the borough, and she selected the candidates: her friend John Sharpe and Sewallis Shirley, her second husband. When on a vacancy in 1756 her son George, 3rd Earl of Orford, thought of running a candidate of his own, he was warned by one of his agents that should the Orford interest be divided the borough might be lost; and that he would best support his future interest by acquiescing in his mother’s nomination.2 And although she lived in Italy, she kept a share in the management of Callington till her death in 1781—with the result that the borough was neglected and the family interest weakened.3

In 1768 the Duke of Portland attempted to capture Callington, persuaded to it by David Maitland, a naval officer stationed at Portsmouth, and John Peters, a Callington attorney.4 ‘Every man that is not entangled seems hearty’, wrote Peters on 11 Nov. 1767 and many of the others might ‘break through their chains’; but ‘not less than £2,000 should be provided’. The money would be advanced to the electors against their notes, which would be returned to them (if they voted the right way) after the election. ‘They and their predecessors’, wrote Peters on 20 Dec., ‘have always by the present interest been put off with fair promises, none of which were ever fulfilled, which naturally occasions mistrust.’

On 10 Mar. 1768 Maitland and Peters wrote to John Albert Bentinck, one of Portland’s candidates:

Your’s and Mr. Hartley’s presence is absolutely and really necessary, and for God’s sake make no delay in coming down. You must come with some éclat into the town and bring the money with you. If you bring more than the £2,000 it will be better. ... As to the fear of electioneering, you may let ... the fatiguing part of it rest with us.

Hartley commented to Portland on this letter, 14 Mar.:

To write ... pressingly, bring £2,000 down or more if you can, seems to me to be departing from the conditions, both as to the specified sum but more especially as to that circumstance that I understood to be quite definite, viz. no purchase, no pay.

Portland, deeply engaged in elections in Cumberland and Westmorland, could not spare the money; and Bentinck and Hartley went to Callington without it. Of course they were beaten. On 25 Mar. Maitland told Portland that had he had the money he could have carried the election—‘that really was the constitution of the borough’. When he arrived at Callington,

the first words my poor honest partner in affliction [Peters] said to me [were] ‘My dear Maitland, have you got the money with you?’ I answered in the negative, upon which he broke out into an exclamation ‘Then, by God, we shall do nothing.’ It shocked me, but I contented myself with the hope that the money would come with Captain Bentinck and Mr. Hartley, but that not being the case our affairs took a wrong turn, for the wretches would not take our words, and as we had nothing to let them see they flew off to the other party who had, by which means we lost several of the indisputable votes.

The object of the Duke’s friends was not merely to win the election, but to acquire a settled interest at Callington. ‘A very moderate sum ... might have carried a great majority of legal votes’, wrote Hartley on 28 Mar. Then the other side would have had to rely on faggot votes and the partiality of the returning officer, and Portland might have carried the borough on petition. ‘For though it is called Lady Orford’s borough’, Hartley concluded, ‘it is only so because her single interest is greater than any other single interest.’ On Sharpe’s death in 1771 Peters and Maitland urged Portland to put up Hartley; and James Walker, Maitland’s brother-in-law, wrote from Callington on 1 Nov.:

Such a time as the present will never again exist! You cannot think what a coolness there is in all the other side, many insulted, promises neglected, former objections removed, and old friends as steady as rocks.

And in a P.S.: ‘Remember it must be the corks [ready money] that will carry us through.’ But Portland, very hard pressed for money, declined.

The opposition to the Orford interest in 1771 came from James Buller (son of James Buller sen.), who was defeated by a narrow margin, petitioned, but died before the case was tried. The Orford agent, in his survey of the borough, 3 Mar. 1772, admitted that of the 27 votes for Skrine five ‘would not have stood the test’ and another five ‘did not come in voluntarily’, while all Buller’s 24 were good votes—‘they were all volunteers and without any influence’. Without these doubtful votes and the support of the returning officer, the Orford interest would not have carried the election. He went on:

It is to be wished the friends of Lord Orford were more popular, but they have not the means to be liberal unless they lay out money of their own. People in neighbouring boroughs have been constantly gratified, and some of them largely, and there ’tis generally one or more persons in a borough who hold some place with an intent to be distributed among the friends of the party. But here are none—and no allowance has been made to ascertain the votes—and the family lives distant from them. This is looked upon at present to be an open borough, and the opposition will always endeavour to get a candidate of their own.

He concluded by recommending that Lord Orford should take over the patronage of the borough from his mother. But when Horace Walpole, trustee during Orford’s insanity, asked to be allowed to nominate to a seat at Callington, he received from Lady Orford a disingenuous refusal.5

Peters believed that had Buller lived to see his petition through he would have won. The gentlemen of the county had turned against the Orford interest, and John Coryton was reviving his family interest, dormant since the early eighteenth century. ‘The Orford natural interest decreases daily through the ... bad behaviour of their agents. I think they can stand no chance at the general election.’6 But for some reason there was no opposition to the Orford candidate in 1774.

In 1778 John Morshead stood with Coryton’s support against the Orford candidate, George Stratton.7 Stratton—returned, unseated, and returned once more—refers in a letter to Lord Sandwich, 27 Oct. 1779, to the ‘warm support’ Sandwich had given to the Orford interest.8 On 14 July 1780 Sandwich wrote to Orford:

As it may be necessary to take some measures shortly to secure the interest of the borough of Callington against the general election, I think it necessary to apply for your final instructions and to give you my opinion of the present state of our business there, before anything conclusive is done in that affair. Your Lordship is apprised that Mr. Morshead is engaged to acknowledge himself indebted to you for his seat, and to be hereafter a supporter of your interest. Mr. Coryton, who I have seen this day at Lord North’s, agrees to give him his assistance; and all that he asks is that Mr. Stratton and Mr. Morshead may canvass the borough as joint candidates supported by your Lordship and Mr. Coryton.

Sandwich advised Orford to allow Coryton the ‘empty satisfaction’ of thinking and saying that he had a share in the choice of the Members, deprecated ‘fighting for nothing’, and hinted that should the Treasury ‘not [be] with us, many of our friends would be exceedingly distressed’ and might not give their support. Orford eventually agreed, and Stratton and Morshead were returned unopposed.9

In December 1783 Robinson wrote about Callington:10

Lord Orford claims to have the borough, but ... Mr. Coryton ... disputes it, and probably there will be a contest, which was prevented last time, both gentlemen being friends to Government.

And after 14 Feb. 1784:

Mr. Call says he is to come in. Query, if by Coryton interest. Mr. Pitt to learn of Lord Orford whether he sets up one or two Members, and what is to be done; whether he will let Call in quietly, and who is to be second Member.

Call claimed in a letter to Shelburne, 27 Oct. 1782,11 that in 1779 Orford had promised to return him at the general election, but that Sandwich ‘forced him to adopt Mr. Morshead’. It is uncertain whether he or the other successful candidate, Paul Orchard, had Orford’s support in 1784.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 254.
  • 2. John Yeo to Orford, 30 Oct., 16 Nov. 1756, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
  • 3. ‘State of the borough of Callington’, 3 Mar. 1772, by an Orford agent, Glubb mss, Cornw. RO.
  • 4. Letters from Maitland and Peters, Portland mss.
  • 5. Walpole to Mann, 2 Feb. 1774.
  • 6. Peters to Portland, 7 July 1772.
  • 7. A. de C. Glubb, When Cornwall had 44 M.P.s, 25-35.
  • 8. Sandwich mss.
  • 9. Sandwich’s letter bk., Sandwich mss; Sandwich to Robinson, 15 July 1780, Abergavenny mss.
  • 10. Laprade, 72, 115.
  • 11. Lansdowne mss.