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:

assumed to be in the corporation. The right of freeholders (i.e. burgage-holders) to vote was reasserted in 1780 and accepted in 1787.

Number of voters:

below 30


18 Apr. 1754William Ponsonby, Visct. Duncannon 
 George Clinton 
14 Dec. 1756Charles Townshend vice Duncannon, appointed to office 
30 Mar. 1761John Clevland 
 George Adams 
1 Dec. 1763Augustus John Hervey vice Clevland, deceased 
19 Mar. 1768Martin Bladen Hawke 
 Thomas Bradshaw 
9 May 1772John Williams vice Bradshaw, appointed to office9
 Thomas Bradshaw8
 Bradshaw vice Williams, on petition, 8 June 1772 
11 Oct. 1774Thomas Bradshaw 
 Grey Cooper 
3 Jan. 1775Sir Charles Whitworth vice Bradshaw, deceased 
1 Oct. 1778Henry Strachey vice Whitworth, deceased 
12 July 1780Paul Wentworth vice Strachey, vacated his seat 
11 Sept. 1780Sir Grey Cooper 
 Charles Jenkinson 
 Sir William James 
 John Buller 
12 Apr. 1783Sir Grey Cooper re-elected after appointment to office 
 John Buller 
7 Apr. 1784Charles Jenkinson11
 Charles Ambler11
 George Gordon, Lord Strathavon 
 John Curtis 
30 Oct. 1786Richard Wellesley, Earl of Morinington, vice Jenkinson, called to the Upper House9
 John Lemon 
 Lemon vice Mornington, on petition, 7 May 1787 

Main Article

In 1754 Saltash was an Admiralty borough under the management of its secretary, John Clevland—he relied on his influence with the corporation and his friendship with James Buller, who had the leading local interest and whose complaisance made it unlikely that the right of the freeholders, if reasserted, would be exercised against the ministerial candidates. Although in 1751 a number of freeholders established their right to sign an election return, the Bullers, not thinking themselves empowered to make grants of freeholds in the borough, and thus to multiply burgage votes, did not assert their family interest or the freeholders’ franchise; a rumour in 1754 that Buller contemplated doing so proved unfounded. But resentment at Clevland’s influence provoked some threat of a contest: Edward Eliot suggested to Henry Pelham that he should ‘without appearing in it’ recommend two friends of Government as candidates to the other party.1 Thus whichever way the election went, supporters of the ministry would be returned; and

before another election, the law suits would be over and let them be decided either way the Government would be certain of the borough, and all things would return to their proper channel, whereas if an opposition should be carried on upon any other principles, if it succeeds the borough would be lost forever, and in case of an opposition it is more likely to succeed and would be attended with worse consequences than is imagined.

However, ministerial candidates were returned for nearly twenty years without a contest, until Thomas Bradshaw sought re-election in 1772: but this was a dispute ‘entirely between two parties of the corporation’. When Bradshaw petitioned against the return both sides assumed that the right of election lay only in the corporation, as described in the charter granted by Charles II in November 1683, and no claim was put forward on behalf of the freeholders.

In 1773, as a result of the quarrel between the two factions, elections to fill offices under the old charter became impossible, and a new charter was issued by the Crown, 7 June 1774. Following that of 1683, it vested the franchise in the mayor and corporation, and reserved for the Crown the power to dismiss them at pleasure. To secure control of elections, the corporation was suitably chosen: eight years later at least two-thirds of them held naval appointments or places under the Crown, and only 12 or 13 out of 30 were residents. William Masterman, who had drawn up the charter, became Government agent for the borough,2 and occasionally received small secret service payments in respect of it. Members also nursed the constituency by grants of Government favours; but it was regarded as giving very little trouble. On 26 Dec. 1782 Sir Grey Cooper wrote to Thomas Orde, newly appointed secretary to the Treasury: ‘I can assure you for your comfort, that there is less wear and tear and fewer repairs required in keeping this vessel in trim than any that I know of in the service of Government. A little charity is all that will be demanded of you.’3

In 1780 John Buller jun. began reasserting the voting rights of the freeholders: some 30 or 40 out of 150 freeholds were in his hands or in those of his relatives. But the mayor returned Sir Grey Cooper and Charles Jenkinson on the votes of the corporation; similarly in 1783, 1784 and 1786, ministerial nominees were returned against Buller or candidates standing on his interest and the right of the freeholders; and each time the defeated side petitioned. It was argued for the sitting Members that earlier records indicated that Saltash was a corporation by prescription, and therefore only members of the corporation had the right of election.4 The petitioners maintained that Saltash was a borough consisting of burgage tenures, and that the right to vote was restricted to ‘freeholders of such tenements consisting of houses or the sites of houses’. Evidence was produced to show that the charter of 1683, so far as it regulated parliamentary elections, had never been observed in practice, but that freeholders who were not members of the corporation had exercised the right of election in the early part of the eighteenth century and had been regarded as voters when a contest was expected in 1741.5 On the first three occasions election committees found the sitting Members duly elected—a result achieved in 1782 and 1783 only through the casting vote of the chairman. In 1787 Buller and his friends were able to produce further documentary evidence for their assertions, and it was ruled that John Lemon, the candidate supported by the freeholders, was the duly elected Member. No decision was however given regarding the franchise; consequently, although the Buller interest was established (and was unchallenged in 1790), it remained open to attack in the event of candidates coming forward to claim election by the votes of the corporation alone.

Author: I. R. Christie


A. Luders, Controverted Elections, ii. 122-233; I. R. Christie, ‘Private Patronage v. Government Influence’, EHR, lxxi.

  • 1. 12 Feb, 1754, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 2. Add. 38214, f. 172.
  • 3. Bolton mss. Hants RO.
  • 4. Add. 38214, f. 198.
  • 5. Add. 38217, f. 288.