Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|19 June 1790||HON. JOHN CHARLES VILLIERS|
|28 May 1796||HON. JOHN CHARLES VILLIERS|
|7 July 1802||EDMUND BASTARD|
|ARTHUR HOWE HOLDSWORTH|
|3 Nov. 1806||EDMUND BASTARD|
|ARTHUR HOWE HOLDSWORTH|
|8 May 1807||EDMUND BASTARD|
|ARTHUR HOWE HOLDSWORTH|
|9 Oct. 1812||ARTHUR HOWE HOLDSWORTH|
|EDMUND POLLEXFEN BASTARD|
|9 May 1816||JOHN BASTARD vice Bastard, vacated his seat|
|19 June 1818||ARTHUR HOWE HOLDSWORTH|
|4 Jan. 1820||CHARLES MILNER RICKETTS vice Holdsworth, vacated his seat|
Rose’s comment on Dartmouth in 1810, that ‘the interest of the borough is exclusively in the Holdsworth family’,1 would have been applicable at any time between 1722 and 1832. Although their influence, based on control of the corporation and thereby of the election of freemen, had generally been exercised in the 18th century on behalf of successive governments, with the right of recommendation to local customs posts and offices connected with the castle as the quid pro quo, the choice of Members rested with them and not with the Treasury. Arthur Holdsworth, governor of the castle from 1777 in succession to his father and the first member of his family to sit for the borough, had emphasized this by returning himself as an opponent of North’s ministry in 1780, but in 1784 he came in as a supporter of Pitt and gave the other seat to a government placeholder, Richard Hopkins*. By 1787 Holdsworth, though only 30, was mortally ill and the prospect of his death evidently provoked a struggle for the caretakership of the family interest during the minority of his eldest son, Arthur Howe Holdsworth, who was six years old.
In his will, dated 30 Mar. 1787, Holdsworth appointed as his trustees and executors his wife, his father-in-law, who was also a Holdsworth and a local merchant, his ‘kinsman’ Pierre Joseph Taylor and his friends John Pollexfen Bastard, Member for Devon, and his younger brother Edmund Bastard, whose property at Sharpham lay about eight miles from Dartmouth. Edmund Bastard was his designated successor as Member and caretaker manager, but Taylor evidently made a bid for power, with the encouragement of government, who had found the elder Bastard a troublesome and independent Member. On 26 Aug. 1787, five days after Holdsworth’s death, George Rose told Pitt that Taylor had
failed entirely in his attempt to defeat the Bastards, and was himself struck out of Holdsworth’s will [by a codicil of 4 July 1787]. He bungled the business I believe grossly, for I understand ... that the suggestion of the possibility of a pension to Mrs H. ... was considered by some of the corporation as an attempt to bribe them, who ought never to have known the King was ever mentioned. I am sure my letters to Mr Taylor were guarded, and that nothing can happen from that, but as Holdsworth is now dead some determination must be taken about the patronage of the borough and the line you will follow with respect to the Bastards.
Acknowledging that Bastard’s election was certain, Rose recommended driving him and his brother into open opposition by depriving them of borough patronage as preferable to humouring them in return for lukewarm support.2 In the event his advice was not followed, although his note in the ministerial election survey of 1788 that ‘some communication should be had with the Holdsworths to ensure their going right’ suggests that he was still inclined to by-pass Bastard in favour of the late Member’s numerous kinsmen, one of whom, another Arthur Holdsworth, had succeeded him as governor. Bastard in fact proved a far more docile Member than his brother and voted with government on the Regency question when John opposed them. He and his sons sat in unbroken succession for Dartmouth until 1832.
The token contest of 1790, when Bastard returned himself and Villiers, a government sinecurist and devoted Pittite, was a purely local affair provoked by the ambition of John Seale of Mount Boone, whose father had prospered in the Newfoundland trade and who himself established a shipyard in the face of opposition from the corporation, extended his property to make himself the largest landowner in the immediate vicinity of Dartmouth and owned many houses in the borough. He was urging his claims to government support in September 1789, but it is unlikely that they interfered and far from clear what occurred at the poll in 1790. Seale petitioned on 9 Dec. 1790, alleging bribery by his opponents and partiality by the returning officer, another Holdsworth. His case rested on his contention that the franchise lay not in the freemen but in the inhabitants, including those of Southtown, his own property. When it was eventually heard in 1793 it was dismissed and his petition deemed ‘frivolous and vexatious’.3
Arthur Howe Holdsworth came of age in 1801, returned himself at the first opportunity and procured the governorship of the castle on the death of his relative in 1807. When he vacated to bring in Lord Liverpool’s cousin in December 1819, a local observer predicted that ‘those who are desirous of dispossessing our friend of the whole interest of his borough, or rather aim at least to get one half from him, would construe this step to his disadvantage’.4 He was presumably alluding to the Seales, still the Holdsworths’ chief civic rivals, but they remained electorally impotent until the passage of the 1832 Reform Act.