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 the freemen

Number of voters:

between 1754 and 1768 about 800; steadily deceasing after 1768


16 Apr. 1754John Bullock400
 Robert Colebrooke398
 Richard Savage Lloyd323
27 Mar. 1761Bamber Gascoyne400
 John Bullock381
 Robert Colebrooke342
26 Apr. 1763John Huske vice Gascoyne, appointed to office438
 Bamber Gascoyne254
17 Mar. 1768John Huske455
 John Bullock441
 John Henniker328
15 Dec. 1773Charles Rainsford vice Huske, deceased272
 Mr. Wallinger121
8 Oct. 1774John Strutt396
 Richard Savage Nassau333
 Drigue Billers Olmius, Baron Waltham284
27 May 1780Eliab Harvey vice Nassau, deceased 
6 Sept. 1780John Strutt 
 Eliab Harvey 
30 Mar. 1784John Strutt 
 Drigue Billers Olmius, Baron Waltham 
19 Feb. 1787Sir Peter Parker vice Waltham, deceased211
 John Barker Church13

Main Article

In 1754 the Government interest at Maldon seemed firmly established. Maldon being a port, there were places in the customs to be given to members of the corporation; strangers picked by the Government were introduced into the corporation; and honorary freemen were made at election time, connected with the candidates or the Government, but not necessarily with the borough or county. Still, a freeman borough could never be reduced to absolute dependence upon the Treasury; and nothing could be done without money. In 1754 John Bullock, a neighbouring country gentleman, supported by the Essex Tories and by John Strutt and his friends, defeated one of the Government candidates. By July 1755 Bullock was courting Newcastle;1 and in 1761 he joined Robert Colebrooke as a Government candidate.

Bamber Gascoyne, a close friend of Strutt, now came forward as an independent candidate and defeated Colebrooke. Yet in 1763, when Gascoyne was about to take office, he felt none too certain of being re-elected, although he had assurances of Government support. About a week before the election John Huske declared himself a candidate, and after a brazen and skilful campaign defeated Gascoyne.2 The corporation had sided with him and used their powers of creating freemen in his interest. Actions for bribery were brought by both sides, but were eventually dropped.

Next Gascoyne started a much more serious action. He filed a writ of quo warranto against the corporation, obtained a judgment of ouster against a majority of its members, and virtually annihilated the charter. References to the subject appear in Gascoyne’s long and frequent letters to Strutt,3 and it is clear that it only achieved its ultimate aim after the general election of 1768. After the corporation had been dissolved the electorate steadily decreased, as no new freemen could be created.

At the election of 1768 the Strutt-Gascoyne party had as yet little chance of success, but went in search of a candidate ‘full of money and no fears’ and found one in John Henniker. Henniker was defeated and, to Gascoyne’s disappointment, refused to petition. In when Huske died, a new situation had arisen. Lord Rochford wished to reserve a seat at Maldon for his nephew, the son of Richard Savage Nassau, who would be of age by 1775 when the next general election was expected; and Gascoyne favoured an arrangement whereby Rochford and the Gascoyne-Strutt group would in future share the representation of the borough. It was dangerous to introduce a rich candidate who might set up an interest of his own, and not easy to find one until a new charter had been granted. In the event Gascoyne persuaded Strutt and his friends to come into an arrangement whereby Charles Rainsford, a stop-gap candidate chosen by Rochford, with no claims for the future, was put up with the support of Government. But Lord Waltham, in need of a seat at the forthcoming general election, and directed by his relatives by marriage, John Coe, a leading Maldon Dissenter, and John Luttrell, also put up a stop-gap candidate, Wallinger, supported by a good deal of money and by Opposition propaganda. When he was defeated, Luttrell ‘made a truly patriotic speech, which met with great applause, though attended with no other effect’.4

One factor in the election was the belief that Rochford would be able to procure a new charter for Maldon. When in 1774 Strutt and Nassau stood on a joint interest against Waltham, some of their former supporters now turned against them. ‘They say Lord Rochford’s friends last time solemnly promised them their charter before the general election, and ... they have been deceived’, wrote J. M. Leake to Strutt, 5 Oct. 1774. And Gascoyne advised Strutt on 6 Sept.:

I think it would be right to hand about a petition for a charter, to have a meeting in the next month at Maldon, make the declaration and go from house to house for a petition to the King, and assure them we will obtain their charter free of all costs.

But a new charter was not obtained until 1810, when, according to an historian of Essex, ‘the youngest freeman remaining in Maldon was above seventy years of age’.5

By 1780, as Gascoyne had foretold, the Nassau interest was extinguished, and Strutt’s was the best in the borough. With the corporation destroyed and the number of voters dwindling, Maldon elections lost their previous turbulence: those of 1780 and 1784 were uncontested, and that of 1787 was almost a walkover for the Government candidate.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 32921, f. 242.
  • 2. Namier, Structure, 109-13.
  • 3. Strutt mss in the possession of Lord Rayleigh.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. 1773, p. 618.
  • 5. Wright, Essex, ii. 643.