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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 200


15 Apr. 1754Bisse Richards 
 James Dawkins 
19 Jan. 1756William Mabbott vice Richards, deceased 
21 Jan. 1758James Calthorpe vice Dawkins, deceased 
27 Mar. 1761William Blackstone 
 Edward Morant 
16 Mar. 1768John St. Leger Douglas152
 William Hussey151
 Edward Morant73
10 Oct. 1774Richard Smith169
 Thomas Brand Hollis161
 James Calthorpe63
 Richard Beckford32
 Election declared void, 14 Feb. 1775 
16 May 1776Henry Dawkins140
 Richard Smith120
 Richard Beckford46
 Joseph Smith46
 John Strode7
 Smith's election declared void, 29 Jan. 1777 
5 Feb. 1777Archibald Macdonald117
 Henry Shirley64
 David Browne Dignan11
9 Sept. 1780Lloyd Kenyon187
 Nathaniel William Wraxall173
 John Saunders23
 Samuel Peach16
22 Apr. 1782Lloyd Kenyon vice Kenyon, appointed to office169
 John Lade7
31 Dec. 1783Lloyd Kenyon vice Kenyon, appointed to office121
 Edward Cotsford55
 John MacnamaraO
2 Apr. 1784William Egerton114
 Edward Bearcroft104
 Edward Cotsford68
 A. Perhouse5
12 July 1788Bearcroft re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Most of the adult male inhabitants of Hindon had the right to vote; and the size of the electorate made effective control difficult, yet was sufficiently small to encourage the attempt. In the early part of the 18th century the chief interest was in the Calthorpe family, lessees of the manor of Hindon, who first sat for the borough in 1698. In 1745 William Beckford, a Jamaica planter and London alderman of enormous wealth, purchased the estate of Fonthill, two miles from Hindon, and began to cultivate an interest in the borough.

The situation in 1754 was complicated. Bisse Richards, first returned for Hindon in 1747, stood again, but on what interest is not known. The other candidates were: James Calthorpe; James Dawkins, standing on the Beckford interest; and Thomas Barrett, who seems to have had the support of Administration. Calthorpe withdrew, and possibly Barrett also: it is not certain whether there was a poll. The election was followed by an agreement between Calthorpe and Beckford henceforth to share the borough. But even when united they were not strong enough to prevent outsiders from interfering. There was never any lack of candidates at Hindon.

Three came forward on Richards’s death in 1755: Barrett, Calthorpe, and Mabbott; and Beckford was rumoured to have a candidate ready. Mabbott was strongly backed by Fox, who pressed Newcastle to assist him financially. Mabbott was prepared to go to £1,000, if the Treasury would provide the rest. There was no poll; but the election cost the Treasury £313, which presumably was additional to the £1,000 promised by Mabbott.1

Calthorpe was returned unopposed at the by-election following Dawkins’s death in 1758. At the general election of 1761 Calthorpe and Beckford divided the borough without opposition. Beckford recommended Edward Morant, a West Indian; and Calthorpe offered his seat to Fox, then working closely with Bute, who named William Blackstone. In 1768 John St. Leger Douglas stood on the Calthorpe interest, and Beckford again put forward Morant. But the ‘worthy and independent electors’, fearful of seeing the borough become closed, invited William Hussey to stand. At the last moment Beckford’s agents deserted him, and Douglas and Hussey were returned.

In 1770 Beckford died, leaving his heir under age. His estates were administered in Chancery, and what remained of the Beckford interest was divided: his widow, who continued to live at Fonthill, is said to have had influence in the borough; and Richard, one of the alderman’s illegitimate sons, aspired to his father’s electoral inheritance. To add to the confusion, Calthorpe seems to have neglected his interest, and by 1774 it was very weak indeed.

A number of mushroom interests now sprang up. The Rev. John Nairne, a neighbouring parson, began campaigning in 1773 on behalf of ‘a very valuable man, of great extent of fortune’, on whose behalf an advance distribution of five guineas a head was made and who was introduced as ‘General Gold’. This was Richard Smith, a Wiltshire man who had made a fortune in the military service of the East India Company, was anxious to get into Parliament, and was prepared to pay high for the privilege. A second mushroom interest was promoted by John Stevens, a butcher, who had long dabbled in local politics, and now promised ‘to make Hell roar and the Devil dance at Hindon’. His candidate was Thomas Brand Hollis, a well-meaning radical of almost unbelievable simplicity. Against these stood James Calthorpe and Richard Beckford, representing the older-established interests.2

Little attempt was made to hide the bribery. Fifteen guineas a man were paid by Smith, Brand Hollis, and Calthorpe (no doubt there had been an interim dividend earlier). Beckford gave promises only, and came bottom of the poll.

Beckford and Calthorpe petitioned. The committee declared the election void, and called the attention of the House to the gross bribery which had been practised. A bill was introduced, on the lines of that reforming New Shoreham in 1771, to disfranchise 190 voters and merge the borough into the neighbouring hundred. Great opposition was offered from various quarters, and in 1776 the bill was dropped.

The election committee also recommended the prosecution of all four candidates for bribery. At the Salisbury assizes in 1776 Calthorpe and Beckford were acquitted, Smith and Brand Hollis found guilty. Sentence was postponed, and before it could be pronounced a new writ was issued for Hindon.

Of the many would-be candidates (over a dozen are mentioned in the press between February 1775 and May 1776) five stood the poll: Richard Smith; his friend (but not his relation) Joseph Smith, put up to poll the second votes of Richard Smith’s supporters; Henry Dawkins, a wealthy West Indian who had settled in Wiltshire; John Strode, a Somerset country gentleman who owned property near Hindon; and Beckford. Dawkins and Richard Smith won with ease.

A month after this second election Smith and Brand Hollis were brought before the King’s bench for sentence: each was fined a thousand marks, and sent to prison for six months. When in January 1777 Smith was unseated there came the third contest at Hindon within three years.

At this election Archibald Macdonald stood on the Calthorpe interest, with the support of Stevens the butcher and possibly of the Beckford interest. The second candidate is difficult to identify, but the fact that he was supported by Lord Weymouth and Sir William Gordon suggests that he was Henry Shirley, the diplomat. The third candidate, David Browne Dignan, was an Irish adventurer and professional swindler. He declined half an hour after the poll began, and Macdonald won easily.

Hindon was now in a most unsettled state, a prey to any adventurer, with or without money. It was saved from further degradation by Thurlow, who became lord chancellor in 1778 and took the Beckford interest in hand. Close collaboration with Calthorpe was resumed, and at the general elections of 1780 and 1784 each interest returned one Member. Outsiders could not be kept out, but their chances of success were small; and bribery was considerably reduced. Under patronage Hindon led a more respectable existence.

Author: J. A. Cannon


J. A. Cannon, 'Parlty. Rep. six Wilts. Boroughs, 1754-90' (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis).

  • 1. Namier, Structure, 440.
  • 2. On the Hindon election of 1774, see Rep. Sel. Cttee. House of Commons on Hindon Election.