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

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 2,700


10 July 1790SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt.22501
 Sir John St. Aubyn1136
6 June 1796SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt. 
15 July 1802SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt. 
12 Nov. 1806SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt. 
21 May 1807SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt. 
16 Oct. 1812SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt. 
27 June 1818SIR WILLIAM LEMON, Bt. 

Main Article

While the Cornish boroughs were largely controlled by the resident nobility, the county, to quote Oldfield, was ‘as independent as any in England, and the gentlemen appear determined to keep it so’. The contest of 1790, the only one between 1774 and 1831, arose from the fact that Sir William Lemon had been joined in hostility to Pitt’s administration, during the Regency crisis, by Sir William Molesworth, returned in 1784. In the summer of 1789 Pitt’s friends in the county sponsored the candidature of Francis Gregor of Trewarthenick, who had ‘the sinews of war’ in readiness. The Duke of Portland wrote to William Adam, 3 Sept. 1789:

I have just received a letter from Sir F[rancis] Basset* acquainting me that an opposition is to be made, at the instance and under the patronage of administration, to Sir William Molesworth at the next general election: the name of the person ... is Gregor, and he states him to be as formidable an opponent as could have been fixed upon. He desires me to write to the Dukes of Bolton, Bedford and Northumberland, and the Earl of Buckinghamshire, and wishes for an application to Lord Carteret, which I think I can procure.

This illustrates the fact that while the aristocracy may not have influenced the nomination of knights of the shire, they inevitably influenced the result by their territorial strength. According to Oldfield, the supporters of Gregor were the Duke of Leeds and Lords Mount Edgcumbe, Falmouth, Camelford and Eliot; on the Whig side he added the Prince of Wales to the magnates referred to by the Duke of Portland.2

On the very day that Portland wrote to Adam, Sir William Molesworth withdrew in a huff upon hearing of Gregor’s candidature, and Sir Francis Basset prevailed upon his brother-in-law, Sir John St. Aubyn, to stand instead. Portland applied on his behalf to the Whig magnates. Lemon was regarded as invincible (fewer than 150 voters denied him a vote) so the contest was really between Gregor and St. Aubyn. The latter’s friends described Gregor as the ‘avowed nominee of the minister’, ridiculed his modest ancestry and blamed him for canvassing before a county meeting took place at which St. Aubyn’s friends predominated. Portland wrote to Adam, 5 July 1790:

You must not be alarmed about Cornwall for Basset writes me word that we must expect, from various circumstances, too many to repeat, that Gregor will have the lead of St. Aubyn for the first two days. Gregor polled the first day 189 and St. Aubyn only 166.

Gregor’s friends predicted, on a canvass, a majority of ‘upwards of 400’; the result was much closer, but St. Aubyn, who polled 73 of the 130 plumpers and shared only 31 votes with Gregor, never overtook him. His last ditch bid to do so by polling the parish clerks, to which a gullible sheriff acceded, was frustrated when Gregor’s friends produced sextons, criers, bailiffs, scavengers and ‘the hangman himself’ to shame him.3 Gregor had the advantage over St. Aubyn in five of the nine hundreds.

Gregor regarded himself as an independent, though he was in practice a supporter of Pitt’s government. In February 1794 at a meeting of the Cornish Club in London, his and Lemon’s friends agreed to preserve the peace at the next general election.4 Gregor held the seat until 1806, when he retired, 28 Oct., allegedly from ill health, but just as probably because he anticipated opposition from the Grenville administration, to which he was not friendly. Yet John Hearle Tremayne, who now offered himself, 25 Oct., with Gregor’s prior knowledge and at Charles Rashleigh’s instigation, did not solicit the support of administration. Rashleigh, Tremayne’s uncle, had initiated his candidature, so he reported to Reginald Pole Carew, 18 June 1806, having heard that Gregor was willing to retire ‘in case any fit man will fill the seat’ and believing that Gregor ‘could not have been returned again ... for I hardly meet a freeholder in the county who does not express a wish to vote against him’. Rashleigh jumped to the conclusion that Gregor was prepared to resign at once, 3 July, but learned that he only meant to resign ‘at the next general election, when perhaps I should say resignation may not be necessary, though I am truly glad he chooses to retire quietly’, 13 July. An attempt to make Gregor change his mind failed.5

Lord Grenville wrote about Tremayne, 28 Oct. 1806:

in many respects I should think he might be a proper candidate, but I am totally ignorant of his political attachments, and by having received no communication ... from him (which as a Cornish freeholder I might perhaps have expected), I am inclined to fear that they must be adverse to the present government.

Grenville’s correspondent, W. R. Gilbert of Truro Priory, reported, 31 Oct.: he is a young man highly spoken of, but of his political opinions we know nothing; but from the character of his father, I should suppose they are right, and am therefore much surprised that your lordship has received no intimation of his sentiments.

Gilbert wrote again, 16 Nov.:

The day of nomination passed without any opposition to Mr John Tremayne, who was proposed by Mr Carew of Antony: as no question of a political nature arose, I could not discover his sentiments upon that subject; but as Mr Carew, in conversation after the meeting, expressed himself warmly in favour of the present government, there is every reason to hope that Mr Tremayne may be of the same opinion. I am quite surprised that your lordship should have no sort of intimation from Mr Tremayne of his intentions—a duty incumbent on him in my opinion.6

His silence at least had the virtue of discouraging intervention from any other quarter, but Tremayne’s conduct in Parliament was more unpredictable, certainly, than that of Lemon, who became his father-in-law. They shared the representation unopposed until Lemon’s death in 1824. The desirability of avoiding a contest, which must have weighed heavily with Tremayne in 1806, when his father, though a most respectable figure in the county, had not yet inherited the estate that made him a man of property, still exercised him in 1826, for in that year he withdrew rather than face a contest, in which he did not expect to do well. Reformist opinion in Cornwall, led since 1805 by John Colman Rashleigh of Prideaux, a warm radical supported by a cohesive group of like-minded neighbours, had, by means of a series of county meetings and petitions, steadily grown in momentum and become increasingly critical of Tremayne. This led to a lively pamphlet warfare and debate in the rival county newspapers, the Tory Royal Cornwall Gazette and the Whig West Briton, with the reformers steadily gaining the upper hand. Yet Sir John St. Aubyn refused an invitation to contest the county in 1812 on their behalf and they lacked a candidate who would risk a contest.7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. A ms copy of the poll penes Mr M.J. Thompson awards Lemon 2,253 votes, Gregor 1,271 and St. Aubyn 1,138, but Gregor's total should have stood at 1,269. Of 2,569 votes tendered, 2,397 were accepted.
  • 2. Rep. Hist. iii. 126; NMM, WYN/106, Pole Carew to Pole, 7 Sept. 1789; Ginter, Whig Organization, 86; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, ii. 165; Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 68; Cornwall RO, Rashleigh mss DDR5552, address by ‘Brutus’.
  • 3. Sheffield City Lib. Wharncliffe mss, Elford to Lady Bute, 5 Sept. 1789; Ginter, 96, 199; Alnwick mss 57, f. 27; Cornw. RO, Rashleigh mss 5507, 5552; Pole Carew mss CC/K/20, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 10 July; NMM, WYN/106, Pole Carew to Pole, 15 July 1790.
  • 4. Pole Carew mss CC/K/24, Gregor to Pole Carew, 23 Feb., 5, 6 Mar. 1794.
  • 5. Ibid. CC/L/39, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 18 June, 3, 13 July; Fortescue mss, Gilbert to Grenville, 26 Oct.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 1 Nov. 1806.
  • 6. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Gilbert, 28 Oct. 1806.
  • 7. W. B. Elvins, ‘The Reform Movement and County Pols. in Cornw. 1809-52’ (Birmingham Univ. M.A. thesis, 1959).