Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:



(1801): 2,299


22 June 1790SIR JOHN MORSHEAD, Bt.10
 John Sullivan
 Sir James Laroche, Bt.
31 May 1796SIR JOHN MORSHEAD, Bt. 
17 Dec. 1802 JOHN SARGENT vice Lefevre, chose to sit for Reading 
1 Aug. 1806 JAMES TOPPING vice Sargent, vacated his seat 
1 July 1812 CHARLES BRAGGE BATHURST vice Oglander, vacated his seat 
18 June 1818DAVIES GILBERT (formerly GIDDY) 

Main Article

The active element in Bodmin elections was the competition of the local gentry to control this decaying corporation borough. The corporation had a negative capability: to quote John Wilson Croker, who canvassed them in 1820:

one third are in the rank of gentlemen, the rest trades-people. Their patron is rather their agent than their master: he has no other hold on them than good offices and goodwill ... they jealously elect their own fellow-corporators, who must be resident, so that the patron can never get his own private friends into the corporation.

In 1790 the patrons were Sir John Morshead, representative of the Treise interest in the borough for the last ten years, who returned himself; and George Hunt† of Lanhydrock, representative of the Robartes interest for ‘upwards of 40 years’, who returned members of his family: in 1790 he put up his nephew Roger Wilbraham.1

The interest of the Pitts of Boconnoc, dormant since 1762, was revived by Lord Camelford in 1790. He saw his opportunity in the abeyance of the borough charter, which was imminent: on 5 Nov. 1789 he had informed his kinsman the prime minister:

Their corporation ought to consist of 36 members out of which 19 are the smallest number required to do any act. By the death of my poor friend Mr Pennington the number is actually reduced to 20; and of them two are insane. ... There are also several very aged and infirm persons likely to make other vacancies.

Under these circumstances, as in the case of Helston, there is, and there can be, no mayor; no corporate act can be done, and there is an absolute impossibility of filling up the vacancies in case a mandamus issues, as is expected, for that purpose.

The majority of the present 18 are as you know in the interest of the warmest of your opponents; but there is a party, at the head of which is Mr [Walter Raleigh] Gilbert ... who set up a standard in opposition to them, and in case of a new charter would put them quite out of the question.

Camelford had to concede that in the Helston case, the new charter had hitherto failed to carry with it the returns to Parliament, but he could not believe that would happen again. He himself was averse to footing the cost of sponsoring and defending a new charter and he had failed to interest Lord Buckingham, their kinsman, in doing so: but it should be secured before the general election. Receiving no reply from Pitt, Camelford tackled him again, 23 Dec. 1789, pointing out that the present corporation’s inability to choose a mayor necessitated interference:

In future if the interest is kept up by little favours from government and douceurs now and then in money, it may long continue in the family; if not it will go back again to the Hunts or the Lord knows whither. The only secure boroughs are like those at Lostwithiel and Helston where by new charters the powers are thrown into the hands of a very few soi-disant inhabitants ... and these though the least constitutional representation happen to be infinitely the least scandalous and mischievous in their consequences. In the good times of Sir Robert or of Lord North these matters were better understood than under this squeamish administration.

Pitt in his reply, 30 Dec., advised caution and delay, owing to the ‘nicety’ of the corporation’s situation: the new charter was shelved. By 1 Mar. 1790 Camelford’s agent, the attorney Charles Rashleigh of St. Austell (1747-1823), son of Jonathan Rashleigh†, was pressing him for a decision whether ‘some exertion’ would be made at ‘the risk of a few hundreds’ to challenge ‘the present influence’ at Bodmin at the next election. Obtaining a short list from Pitt, Camelford selected as his candidate John Sullivan*, a nabob, who was joined, not by ‘Mr Wombwell’ as he would have preferred, but by Sir James Laroche†, a former Member on the Robartes interest, who was not financially sound.2

An unsatisfactory contest ensued. Before the election the patrons had chosen a mayor, Francis John Hext, with only 17 corporators present, as Camelford’s friends objected. On 22 June 1790 Hext polled 14 corporators, of whom 10 voted for Morshead and Wilbraham and 4 abstained. Next day, the senior alderman Robert Edyvean presided over a counter-election at which 17 corporators were present: but Morshead and Wilbraham again succeeded by 9 votes to 7 (Hext, claiming to be mayor, refused to vote). Edyvean ill-advisedly rejected the nine votes on the grounds that they had already been cast on the previous day and declared Sullivan and Laroche elected. He was unable to return the precept to the sheriff as he did not have possession of it. Morshead and Wilbraham were accordingly returned on the basis of the first election. Although neither the prime minister nor Sullivan (who fell back on Old Sarum) saw much point in it, Camelford sponsored candidates’ and electors’ petitions against the return, 14 Dec. 1790, asserting that Hext was not the lawful mayor. George Hunt of Lanhydrock likewise petitioned, but to the effect that as Hext returned the precept, the legality of the return depended on quo warranto proceedings in King’s bench as to who should exercise the office of mayor. His petition was negatived and the other, in a hostile committee, declared ‘frivolous and vexatious’, 21 Feb. 1791. Speaking in the House on the day the petitions were presented, Wilbraham had complacently remarked that both elections had favoured Morshead and himself. Beforehand, their Whig friends had had ‘no doubt’ of their success.3

Lord Camelford now resumed the campaign for a new charter. On 23 Nov. 1791 Rashleigh wrote: ‘I think I have secured Bodmin to Boconnoc House, one of the corporators is lately dead, and thereby ended, as I hope and am told, the legal existence of that charter’. He wished, in a new charter, to reduce the electorate. Camelford died in January 1793 before Rashleigh, who had just succeeded in his legal proceedings to make the charter void, had been able to procure his object of a new one. Sir John Morshead was determined to frustrate him, with the assistance of his friends the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Portland. Since the failure of a proposed marriage of his heiress to Lord Lansdowne’s heir in 1792, George Hunt had given Morshead carte blanche to act for him. The lord chancellor’s illness was the pretext for a delay in deciding whose petition for a new charter should be acceded to, which on the prospect of Portland’s junction with the ministry became a delicate question. On 3 June 1794 Morshead, also a convert to the ministry, appealed to Henry Dundas to influence the Camelfords’ oracle Lord Grenville, who would not parley for a compromise, whereby they divided the borough interest, at the expense of the amenable Hunt. Such an outcome was unwelcome to Rashleigh, who wrote, 13 July 1794: ‘I am tired of all election matters, for I doubt almost if they will give me Bodmin, after I have under their sanction, beat my opponents quite out of the field’. But Grenville, approached by Portland, admitted that ‘he had no authority to spend money for Lord Camelford, and seemed satisfied that every thing should remain quiet till young Lord C. came home’.4

No compromise then took place and in November 1794 Morshead was negotiating with Portland, with George Hunt’s express consent, to procure the latter’s relative, George Harry, Lord Grey*, as his colleague in the next Parliament, his terms being £1,500. Portland was embarrassed to receive a letter from Hunt’s nephew Wilbraham, the sitting Member, disavowing Hunt’s consent, in so far as it prejudiced his own family, and pointing out that in Morshead’s scheme for a new charter, Hunt was to have equal weight with him in controlling the new corporation. The duke was saved embarrassment by Grey’s backing out and by Hunt’s renewed deference to Morshead, and was in receipt of Morshead’s petition for a new charter in January 1795. By April Portland, hearing that a new charter in Camelford’s interest was being prepared by the attorney-general, suggested ‘an understanding and division between Morshead and Lord C[amelford]’. Lord Grenville refused, informing Portland on 4 June that he had declined to negotiate with Morshead over the names of the new corporation, and that while Camelford remained in India and a minor, his friends could not be expected to compromise his interest. He concluded: ‘the proposed selection is made with judgment and propriety. Lord Camelford possesses much more property in the neighbourhood of the borough.’ On hearing this, Morshead, who had meanwhile threatened to withdraw his support from the government candidate at Launceston on account of Rashleigh’s activities at Bodmin, protested that Camelford’s property was ‘trifling’ compared with Hunt’s and his and that they were ready to prove it. The duke employed John Anstruther* to adjudicate and his conclusion was that ‘within a circle of five miles round the borough Sir John Morshead has a better property than any other person’, and that ‘it is hardly possible for the inhabitants of Bodmin to move any way out of the borough but on the property of Sir John Morshead or Mr Hunt’: Camelford’s property was ‘not equal in value or consequence’ and Grenville had been deceived. Portland had already informed Grenville, 10 July 1795, that he did not see why the ‘present possessors’ should be undermined:

They now only incur the risk of losing it by a degree of indolence and neglect, which, blameable as I admit it to be, I am not prepared to say is so culpable as to deserve to work a total forfeiture, for so I conceive a new charter with respect to their influence.5

Lord Grenville and Pitt were sufficiently impressed with this argument to procrastinate when importuned by Charles Rashleigh and the dowager Lady Camelford to expedite the new charter towards the end of 1795. By March 1796 Rashleigh, after four fruitless journeys to London, informed the dowager that it was too late, as a dissolution seemed near and ‘Sir J. M. Bart. will have a decided majority against Boconnoc’.6 In May Lady Camelford was informed that Pitt had decided to postpone the new charter until after the ensuing election. Meanwhile Sir John Morshead was canvassing for himself and a friend (no connexion of Hunt’s). She thereupon wrote to her son-in-law Grenville:

May I my dear lord be indulged in knowing when the decision was made by Mr Pitt and why that decision was concealed from me and my friends, and the adverse party informed of it; that they were informed there is sufficient proof.

Grenville had learned of Pitt’s decision from a letter of 12 May 1796, which assured him ‘that there will be no difficulty from any quarter afterwards in the way of an arrangement which is thought most for Lord Camelford’s interests’. He now assured his mother-in-law that ‘the present sacrifice’ would secure her son’s ‘permanent interest’, adding that he believed it would have been ‘inexpedient’ for Pitt’s connexions to take control of Bodmin at this juncture. Lady Camelford informed Rashleigh that as her son’s ‘pretensions’ were ‘totally neglected by Mr Pitt’, she authorized him to try any expedient he wished to ‘prevent Sir John Morshead from commanding the seats’. (She also considered sabotaging Lord Mornington’s return for Old Sarum on the Camelford interest, which she regarded as a quid pro quo for the new charter at Bodmin, but yielded to Lord Grenville’s entreaties.) Rashleigh toyed with the idea of springing a surprise on Morshead by putting up the Camelford nominees for Old Sarum, whose success would enable him to nominate his friends for the latter borough: but Morshead’s election was not challenged.7 This outcome had been anticipated by Lady Camelford herself when she wrote to Grenville in May 1796:

We think that both seats at the ensuing election would be so desirable an object to the baronet for reasons which you will guess, that he would prefer it to one seat which might and probably would be lost to him in the event of Mr H[un]t’s death, if he would allow the names to be filled up by our friends upon our making the sacrifice of the two first seats.8

After the election of 1796 Rashleigh renewed the petition for a new charter, and although Morshead’s friends attempted to get him to settle for a division of the borough interest, the new charter issued on 27 Aug. 1798 named him as common clerk (‘King of Bodmin’) and a corporation amenable to Lord Camelford. The death of George Hunt, 8 Nov. 1798, reinforced him. Grenville did not think much of Camelford’s prospects as patron: on 23 Oct. 1801, now in opposition and with little patronage to offer himself, he informed his brother Thomas:

My prevailing inclination is to throw it back on Lord C.’s hands to manage as he can, declaring him free as to all obligation to me, and leaving him to act as he thinks best with respect to Pitt. I should think Lord C. might perhaps return (if he chose it) two Members now, but certainly never again.

Camelford’s irresponsibility and neglect of patronage for the leading corporators prejudiced his control at the election of 1802. It is true that he was able to bring in one of his creditors, Porcher, who had made a seat in Parliament the condition for a loan of £25,000: but amid rumours that an offer by John Tyeth, an election agent, of £10,000 and seven church livings would be used to undermine him as patron, he ceded the other seat to Lord de Dunstanville (formerly Sir Francis Basset*) who had some property at Bodmin and was a friend of Addington, the prime minister. In December 1802 Camelford was reported to be treating with the Duke of Northumberland for the sale of his Cornish estate. On 10 Mar. 1804 he died. Lord Grenville was his executor and inherited his interest at Bodmin, but not his agent, who declared, ‘Bodmin shall not go to Lord Grenville by my consent’. As Croker explained in 1820:

On Lord Camelford’s death, Lord Grenville wished to be patron, but some kind of demur took place and Mr C. Rashleigh who was ... chief manager in the borough, advised them to write Lord de Dunstanville, which they did: he does them favours, and I believe may lend money occasionally to some of the inferior corporators.

De Dunstanville replaced Rashleigh as common clerk and informed Addington just after his election, 16 Nov. 1804, that all but ‘three or four’ of the 33 corporators supported him.9 Lord Grenville was preparing in the autumn of 1805 to interfere again at Bodmin, acting through Richard Wilson II,* a former agent of Lord Camelford; in 1806 he came to power and brought in his protégé Topping in place of de Dunstanville’s nominee Sargent, who was appeased with a place.10

At the ensuing dissolution, Grenville moved too slowly. He found another seat for Porcher and sent William Henry Fremantle* with Topping to canvass Bodmin. They were opposed on de Dunstanville’s interest by Davies Giddy, a local gentleman, and William Wingfield. On 29 Oct. Grenville was informed from Bodmin:

Lord Dunstanville, Mr Giddy and Mr Charles Rashleigh have for some time been constantly on the watch and have obtained, as we found, promises of support from a great majority of the electors; several of whom have however expressed their concern at the hasty engagement into which they have entered, and the inclination to support the Boconnoc interest on a future occasion.

His informant advised the withdrawal of Topping who fell back on a consolation seat, ‘not without prospects of a future re-establishment’.11 He discovered, at the election of 1807, that there were no such prospects; de Dunstanville’s nominees were unopposed, though they had to open their purses. Davies Giddy complained of a demand for £2,000 in 1807 and lent the corporation £2,500 to repair the church in 1816, believing that his seat was at risk if he did not comply. De Dunstanville, who secured his nominee for mayor against Grenville’s in September 1808 and was secure thereafter, had ‘serious thoughts of giving up’ in 1817:

though I never stood better with the inhabitants of that place than I do now: the annual expense to me is about £500 besides other occasional expenses; these latter have been much increased by the difficulty I find in obtaining anything for my friends from government ... Into what hands Bodmin would go if I gave it up I do not know, nor is it to me of much consequence.12

The situation in 1820 was thus summed up by Croker:

The patronage of Bodmin is quite personal and I suspect from his superabundant caution and punctilious manoeuvres that Mr Davies Gilbert [formerly Giddy] has a mind to succeed Lord de Dunstanville. He took care to assure me that Lord Dunstanville left the whole management to him, and indeed he acted the manager all through with some degree of ostentation, which perhaps occasioned Lord Dunstanville to hint ... that though he was a Cornishman and had sat two or three times for Bodmin, he was no more connected with the borough and no more on his own ground than myself.13

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. W. T. Lawrence, Parl. Hist. Cornw. 147-60; Croker Pprs. ed Jennings, i. 165; HMC Fortescue, iii. 89; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 539.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/120, ff. 9, 11, 14, 16; HMC Fortescue, i. 558, 567; Camelford mss, Gilbert to Camelford, 14 Mar., [June], Laroche to Rashleigh, 27 Apr., 7 June 1790, to Lady Camelford, 23 Apr. 1798, Sullivan to Camelford, Sat. 5 o’clock, Sat. night [1790].
  • 3. HMC Fortescue, i. 591-2; CJ, lxvi. 61-3, 195-6; Camelford mss, Laroche to Rashleigh, 5 Dec. 1790, Rashleigh to Camelford, 16, 18 Feb. 1791; Debrett (ser.2), xxviii. 89; Ginter, Whig Organization, 175, 188.
  • 4. Pole Carew mss CC/K/21, 24; Camelford mss, Rashleigh to Cowper, 29 Nov. 1791, 26 Dec. 1792, 5 Jan. 1793; to Camelford, 12 July 1792; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 734; SRO GD51/6/982.
  • 5. Portland mss, PwF121, 122, 6957-9, 6960, 9334, 9335, 10018; PwV108; Add. 41855, f. 68; HMC Fortescue, iii. 76, 89; SRO GD51/1/200/5.
  • 6. Camelford mss, Rashleigh to Lady Camelford, 1 July, 6 Oct., 2 Dec. 1795, 28 Jan., 11, 22 Mar. 1796; Grenville to same, 30 Nov., 2 Dec. 1795.
  • 7. Fortescue mss and Camelford mss, Lady Camelford to Grenville, 12-19 May 1796, replies.
  • 8. Fortescue mss, Lady Camelford to Grenville, Fri. morning [May 1796].
  • 9. Camelford mss, Rashleigh to Lady Camelford, 22 Jan. 1797, and n.d. [1797-8]; Bucks. RO, Grenville mss D56/1; Fortescue mss, Bragge to Grenville, 9 Dec., and reply, Grenville to Lady Camelford, 9 Dec., reply 13 Dec. 1801, Pole Carew mss CC/L/34, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 2 July; CC/G3/3, Pole Carew to his cousin, 15 Dec. 1802; CC/L/37, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 11 Mar. 1804; Croker Pprs. i. 165; Sidmouth mss.
  • 10. Sidmouth mss, De Dunstanville to Sidmouth, 17 Sept. 1805, Sidmouth to Bragge Bathurst, 17 July 1806.
  • 11. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Rev. Gilbert, 25 Oct., reply 29 Oct., W. R. Gilbert to Grenville, 29 Oct. 1806.
  • 12. Farington, vi. 144; Sidmouth mss, De Dunstanville to Sidmouth, Sept. 1808, 20 Aug. 1817; A. C. Todd, ‘The Life of Davies Gilbert’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1957), 554.
  • 13. Croker Pprs. i. 167.