Double Member County

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

Number of voters:

about 3,000


24 Apr. 1754George Pitt
 Humphry Sturt
15 Apr. 1761George Pitt
 Humphry Sturt
6 Apr. 1768George Pitt
 Humphry Sturt
12 Oct. 1774Humphry Sturt
 George Pitt jun.
18 Sept. 1780Humphry Sturt
 George Pitt
14 Apr. 1784George Pitt
 Francis John Browne

Main Article

There was no contest for the county of Dorset during this period, and Members were sure of a long tenure. At the dissolution of 1754 the Members were George Pitt and George Chaffin. Pitt, first returned in 1747, succeeded in establishing his family’s claim to one seat, and it was held in turn by his son and cousin until 1826. Chaffin, the other Member, was 65 years of age, and there was doubt whether he would stand again. Two other candidates came forward. Humphry Sturt, Chaffin’s nephew, a Tory country gentleman, owned a large property at Crichel; Lord Digby, Henry Fox’s nephew, stood on the Whig interest. Fox exerted himself considerably on Digby’s behalf, advising him whom to approach: in August 1753 he considered that ‘if you don’t decline, you’ll certainly carry it, but whether at an expense at all worth while God knows’.1 Dodington’s estimate was that the Whigs owned two-thirds of the property in the county, and would succeed if they were resolved.2 But there was little stomach for the fight in their camp. Digby himself was debilitated by illness, and his uncle, Lord Ilchester, considered the whole affair a waste of time. Three days before the county meeting at Dorchester, Fox warned Digby that he had left it late to approach certain freeholders for their interest,3 and on the day itself Dodington complained of Digby that ‘neither he nor his uncle Ilchester had consulted, or concerted any thing with any body’. At Dorchester, the Whigs found themselves outnumbered by more than two to one. Chaffin declined as anticipated. Then, wrote Dodington,

Sir Robert Long proposed Mr. Sturt to join with Mr. Pitt. Mr. Trenchard proposed Lord Digby—nobody said a word. Then Mr. Francis Seymour spoke a few words in support of Pitt and Sturt, in order to keep the county out of ministerial dependence—to this nothing was offered on our side till people began to move, when I thought it necessary to take some notice of the expressions ... Thus it ended, with very little spirit of their side, and with none at all of ours.

Digby abandoned his candidature, and the Tories were returned unopposed.

The same Members were re-elected in 1761 and 1768. At the election of 1774 George Pitt jun. replaced his father, created Lord Rivers two years later. Pitt supported Lord North’s Administration, while Sturt was in opposition. Robinson was told in 1780 that both were under fire for their conduct, but surmised correctly that ‘as it is not easy to get gentlemen to stand forwards in a county contest against persons of large property and weight in possession of a county, probably it may remain as at present’. Pitt was, however, subjected to hostile questioning at the county meeting from the supporters of the campaign for economical reform.4

In 1784 it was Sturt’s turn to face opposition from freeholders who disapproved of the support he had given the Coalition. He admitted that he would have voted for the India bill had ill-health not prevented his attendance. Pitt was then put in nomination with a young man, Francis John Browne, and the show of hands was so overwhelming that Sturt declined on the spot.5

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Fox to Digby, 4 Aug. 1753, Digby mss.
  • 2. Diary, 245-7.
  • 3. 4 Aug. 1753, Digby mss.
  • 4. Sherborne Merc. 25 Sept. 1780.
  • 5. Ibid. 12 Apr. 1784.