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 freemen

Number of voters:

reducing from about 150, 1790-1810; about 1,500 after 1810


(1801): 2,358


 William Stackpole 0
 Peter William Baker16
 John Blair7
 Charles Callis Western29
 WESTERN vice Gaskell, on petition, 4 Feb. 1807 
 Benjamin Gaskell27

Main Article

The majority of the corporation of Maldon had been ousted by quo warranto in the 1760s and the charter of the borough thereby undermined; the electorate diminished steadily from about 800 in 1768 to about 150 in 1790. The sheriff of Essex acted as returning officer, a symbol of the success of the neighbouring country gentlemen in their endeavours, since 1754, to make Maldon ‘a county, not a borough interest’.1 The leadership of this cause had gradually fallen to the Strutt family of Terling. John Strutt sat for Maldon from 1774 to 1790 and his son from 1790 until 1826, but the family were unable to control both seats and the pursuit of an arrangement about the other seat which would prevent Maldon from being thrown open proved a nightmare. John Strutt informed his son, 27 Mar. 1803, ‘Whenever I hear the name of Maldon it makes me shudder and it takes away the little reason I have left’.

The difficulty arose partly from the capricious interventions of government at Maldon, where until 1754, strengthened by the patronage of the port, they had been in full control; and partly from political opposition to the Strutts as friends of government, on a platform for the restoration of the Maldon charter, which the Strutts opposed as a mere electioneering device. In the by-election of 1787 Sir Peter Parker, a government nominee supported by the Strutts, easily defeated the Whig candidate John Barker Church*. Church was the last survivor of an army of opportunist candidates whom the Strutts were warned to expect, most of whom were never heard of at Maldon again, such as Sir John Day with ‘Irish impudence in abundance’; Mr Penn; Mr Lennox, nephew of the Duke of Richmond, on the interest of Capt. James Luttrell, brother-in-law of the deceased Member Lord Waltham; Peter Du Cane junior of Braxted; Sir Thomas Hanmer of Bettisfield, Flint, and Alderman William Curtis* and William Baker* of Bayfordbury, then without a seat. Of these only Curtis actually canvassed and he was duly discouraged. Church, a friend of the Henniker family and a connection of the Honywoods, did not expect to succeed: his allies rested their hopes on ‘future prospects’. They included a party within Maldon, led by Edward Bright, which agitated for a new charter and, more significantly, a Whig landowner, Charles Callis Western of Felix Hall, who was prepared to make the Maldon contest a ‘party matter in the county’. Whatever satisfaction the Strutts might have derived from Parker’s easy victory was nullified by his change of sides in politics during the Regency crisis, followed by the news, circulated in the borough in February 1789, that ‘Sir P. Parker was for selling them to Mr Western’, and the formation under Western’s aegis soon afterwards of an Independent Club at Maldon. Western’s intention was to force a compromise, rather than a surrender by the Strutts, who were not anxious for either course, but compromise was in the air: it had long operated in the county and was being attempted at Colchester. After months of unsatisfactory and desultory negotiation, the compromise was reached, through the media of Henry Bate Dudley acting for the Strutts, and Filmer Honywood and William Baker and his uncle Thomas Western acting for Western, with the blessing of the Whig county Member Bullock.

The terms of the Maldon compromise of 1790 were as follows: that the agreement was in the interests of preserving ‘peace and good neighbourhood’ and saving expense; that Strutt senior wishing to retire in favour of his son, the latter and Western would stand, ‘for the present, on their separate interest’, but ‘if another candidate should offer, in that case they should join interest and expense with good faith’; that they should share election day expenses by arbitration of mutual friends; that if there was no contest, they should not make ‘any particular parade’; that neither candidate should treat or make gifts to the freemen without mutual consent and that the Independent Club should be discouraged. Of these terms, it was the last that exercised the Strutts most; they were prepared to come to terms with Western, if they must, but not with the aspirations of dissidents in Maldon for a new charter. An attempt by government to promote the candidature of John Henniker*, encouraged probably by the supposition that the Strutts could carry both seats, despite Western, came too late to be considered seriously in February 1790; though it was endorsed by a group of London freemen who on 4 Feb. informed John Strutt that they would not be ‘sold like sheep’ and were willing to support ‘any worthy gentleman that will oppose [Western] but remain the hearty well wishers of yourself and family’. The compromise operated smoothly, though the Strutts disliked Western’s canvassing methods, and it survived until 1806.

The same two-fold embarrassment to the Strutts recurred in 1796 and 1802. In 1796 they found that ‘Mr Thellusson’ had thoughts of offering, ‘countenanced by administration’. In a frantic letter to Pitt, Strutt junior wrote, 18 May:

Had it been the intention of government to gain two friendly representatives for that borough I should have hoped to have been consulted, and had that been done some time ago I might have been of service in the attempt but the case is now materially altered for I yesterday finished my canvass, and at the instance of some gentlemen, I suffered my friends (there being no third candidate declared) to engage their second votes to Mr Western.

Strutt warned that an unsuccessful contest would ‘eventually strengthen Mr Western’s interest’ and expose the Strutts to vexation for a fruitless object. In reply, Pitt disclaimed all knowledge of the intervention, promising to prevent it, and whichever of the three Thellusson brothers was involved duly desisted; this reply was shown by Strutt to Western.2 A contest there was, fomented by the dissident chartists: in February 1796 Capt. Douglas was rumoured to be their candidate; in the event it was William Stackpole, a friend of John Horne Tooke*, who stood, wishing that ‘his God might forsake him, if he forsook the borough of Maldon’. This ‘Mr Scratch-pole or Catch Fool’, whose friend and agent was ‘Mr Crimping Serjeant Phillips’, got nowhere, lacking the necessary qualifications, though he unwittingly shook the uneasy compromise between his opponents. The younger Strutt was not satisfied that Western was keeping to the terms of their agreement and was particularly annoyed to find the expenses creeping up, the canvassing ostentatious on Western’s part, and that it was for plumpers, ‘to the exclusion of Mr Strutt’s name’. It was necessary to ‘discourage any sort of opposition’ and ‘more effectually to accomplish this the voters on both sides should be engaged to them and the leaders of parties should declare they were satisfied with the old Members’. That part of the agreement which related to sharing election expenses was now dropped and the Independent Club continued to meet as a focus for dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Shortly before the election of 1802 the friends of a new charter were spurted into action by two electioneering attorneys, Thomas Sermon and John Loveridge, who promoted a petition to the Privy Council for the renewal of the charter. Strutt warned the prime minister Addington that ‘no gentleman of the county or borough’ supported it, and as ‘a commanding majority of the voters’ were already ‘personally pledged’ to him he hoped the stratagem would be ignored. He was at first unable to get a satisfactory assurance from Addington and discovered that, if not Addington himself, his brother Hiley and friend Nathaniel Bond were privy to, though not necessarily partial to, a scheme of Lord Kinnaird’s to put up two candidates, his friend Lt.-Col. John Blair of Portman Square and the latter’s neighbour, Peter William Baker*, who was also a friend of Bond’s. Both were reported to be friends of the ministry. Strutt and his father were puzzled: if it was wished to oust Western, who was ‘obnoxious at the Treasury’, it was curious that two candidates were to be put up instead of one to join forces with Strutt, and this after previous consultation with him. Whatever the scheme was, it misfired. Although on 28 June Blair and Baker arrived at Maldon and, attended by a ‘rabble’ and a few freemen, promised a new charter, they realized they had ‘not much chance of succeeding’ and did not stay for the election. Baker proceeded to Wootton Bassett, thereby revealing to Strutt ‘how soon Mr B. got another ministerial offer’, and Blair to his deathbed. Their supporters went to the poll, but most were disqualified from voting. Strutt informed the electors that they had been ‘deceived and imposed upon’ and that the petition for a new charter was ill-judged. Western’s friends endorsed this view. Strutt also wrote to Addington to prove, from an analysis of the poll, that of the legal votes he had all the respectable ones and that Maldon was a county and not a borough interest, supported by gentlemen friendly to the government. He also hinted that any attempt by them to encourage a new charter would be an undesirable exertion of crown influence. The friends of a new charter, who were trying to separate Western from Strutt in its support, petitioned against the return, but after considerable delay this petition was rejected as frivolous, 17 Feb. 1804.3

In 1806 Benjamin Gaskell, a young man of fortune invited ‘expressly to procure the charter’, offered himself and £1,000 towards the charter. He disappointed his opponents’ hopes that he would give up. Strutt and Western’s political differences had come to the surface and they stood unconnected. Knowing that Strutt was secure, Western was obliged to promise the charter too and there was a close fight between him and Gaskell for second place. Gaskell’s return was challenged by Western, who alleged bad votes and the admission of votes for his opponent after the poll was closed by agreement; and on 4 Feb. 1807 the House unseated Gaskell, but only, as Simeon, Gaskell’s nominee on the committee, protested unavailingly on 9 Feb., because the chairman Sir Gilbert Heathcote had voted twice, once for an absent member and once to give his casting vote for Western.4 At the ensuing general election, Gaskell was narrowly defeated by Western. Daniel Whittle Harvey* also canvassed on behalf of the unenfranchised, but did not go to the poll. Gaskell petitioned unsuccessfully.5 An analysis of the poll shows that 47 voters who gave one vote to Strutt divided their other vote more or less evenly between Western and Gaskell; only half a dozen gave no vote to Strutt.

The question of a new charter had now come to a head; there were only 65 voters in 1807, compared with 77 in 1806 and 115 in 1802; the youngest voter was little short of 70 years of age. Only eight voters in 1807 were resident in Maldon, though 45 others lived in Essex. Strutt agreed to a petition of 45 of his supporters in September 1807 asking him to promote a new charter; it was, he claimed, the first time of asking. Gaskell, however, continued to campaign for a new charter, and when it was at length conceded at the expense of some £2,500 in January 1810, the credit for it was disputed. On 6 Sept. 1810 Strutt wrote to Perceval that he believed Gaskell would ‘not again concern himself for a seat’ for Maldon and that the Charter Club would take his (Strutt’s) advice. He thought Perceval might name a ‘political friend’ now, ‘for if anyone should start for Maldon after the Charter is received he would lose the advantage of that popular cry. For my part I have long since declined this offer, made to me at the last election. I stood independent of any interest but that of my general politics and personal strength.’ Strutt wondered if Charles Smith* or Sir William Abdy* would come forward. When the charter was brought to Maldon on 9 Oct., ‘neither of the Members ... attended the procession ... nor did a single county gentleman’. Strutt pointed out that the Charter Club, though Gaskell’s friends, had thanked him for his services. He certainly was able to gain the ear of government, but his sincerity was doubted. He had in the past regarded agitation for the charter as ‘a contrivance of borough-mongers’ and he was careful to frustrate Western’s attempt to put friends of his into the new corporation.6 Moreover, to Strutt’s dismay, his aged father, doubtless aghast at the admission of nearly 1,500 voters under the new charter, would not allow him to stand at the next election. He was obliged to offer his seat to his neighbours Bramston, Sir William Smyth, Tyrrel, Sir William Abdy, Conyers, Charles Smith, Lord Henniker and Mr Newton in turn; but they all refused the poisoned chalice and, at the last minute, Strutt’s father changed his mind. By then, in any case, there was little risk of expense, as Western had decided to fight the county and Gaskell came in instead of him without any contest. By Strutt’s own account, he had driven Western from Maldon, been let down by a friend of Lord Liverpool’s who was to have replaced himself, and, seeing that Gaskell, ‘a stranger’, was unable to conduct a contest, saved the situation which opposition might have taken advantage of:

the result of my exertions ... were [sic] that Mr Fox, nephew to the late Mr Fox and other Whig candidates on Mr Western’s interest, were by my canvass induced to withdraw their names, and I accomplished Mr Gaskell’s, who pledged himself to my politics, except as to the Catholic question, and my own return, without opposition.7

Strutt reinforced his position through a public manifesto of his efforts to secure the charter, in which he courted the approval of Gaskell’s friends and had the satisfaction of renewing the compromise of the pre-charter period in the face of an enlarged electorate. He informed Liverpool, 10 Oct. 1815: ‘There are now about 180 voters in the town, 1,200 dispersed over the county and 300 elsewhere’. When in 1814 Sir Robert Thomas Wilson* thought of trying his luck at Maldon, John Goodwin, a Whig agent, reported that he advised him against it, ‘though I could have carried Mr Henry Fox at the moment for very little, owing to a disgust which had been taken by the electors at Strutt’. Western had been reported in the previous year to be ‘keeping up his interest’ and to be willing to offer it to Thomas Barrett Lennard junior (who won a seat in 1826).8

In 1818 there were other Whigs willing to offer. Peter Du Cane of Braxted informed Lord Holland, 23 Feb. 1818, of his intention to stand, ‘in consequence of a third person (Mr Toner) whose politics I consider as much more doubtful having offered himself. Mr Gaskell the Whig Member has uniformly voted so well since his return that I should have felt great diffidence in risking his return for the sake of my own, but as another has come forward, the case is altered.’9 Strutt, who preferred the devil he knew, did everything possible, by his own account, to discourage such risks to Gaskell’s security. There was no contest until 1826, although ‘a gentleman named Ellis’ from London appeared and withdrew in 1818, when a local invitation to John Sympson Jessopp, a barrister of local origin, also came to nothing. To Strutt’s great annoyance, an attempt was made in 1820 to make him pay the cost of the charter of 1810, with the threat of opposition if he did not.10

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO 30/8/181, f. 112; Add. 38739, f. 171; Essex RO, Strutt mss micro. T/B 251, Strutt to Addington, 27 July 1802. Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the Strutt mss.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/181, f. 97.
  • 3. The Times, 31 July 1802; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 524; PRO 30/8/181, f. 120; CJ, lviii. 54; lix. 14, 88.
  • 4. Rep. of Comm. on Munic. Corp. v. 2432; The Times, 28 Oct. 1806; Wentworth Woodhouse mun F64/59-62; CJ, lxii. 13, 101; Parl. Deb. viii. 695.
  • 5. CJ, lxii. 597; lxiii. 26, 185.
  • 6. Add. 37295, f. 384; Essex RO, Maldon corpn. mss D/B 3/12/7.
  • 7. Add. 38379, f. 171; C. R. Strutt, Strutt Fam. of Terling 1650-1873, p. 35; Blair Adam mss, North to Adam, 24 Nov. 1811.
  • 8. J. H. Strutt, To the free burgesses of Maldon (1812); Add. 38379, f. 171; Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 27 Sept. 1814; Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss C59, Sir T. B. to T. B. Lennard, 17 Jan. 1813.
  • 9. Add. 51829.
  • 10. R. Cornw. Gazette, 6 June; The Times, 18 June 1818; Rep. of Comm. on Munic, Corp. v. 2432.