Old Sarum


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 burgage holders

Number of voters:

less than 11


[of Stratford under the Castle parish] (1801): 352


30 May 1796RICHARD COLLEY WELLESLEY, Earl of Mornington [I]
29 July 1797 CHARLES WATKIN WILLIAMS WYNN vice Mornington, vacated his seat
20 Mar. 1799 SIR GEORGE YONGE, Bt., vice Williams Wynn, vacated his seat
14 Feb. 1801 JOHN HORNE TOOKE vice Yonge, vacated his seat
1 Apr. 1805 VANSITTART re-elected after appointment to office
1 Nov. 1806THOMAS ANDREW BLAYNEY, Baron Blayney [I]
30 May 1812 JAMES ALEXANDER vice Vansittart, appointed to office

Main Article

Old Sarum, a depopulated pocket borough, was the property of Thomas Pitt, 1st Lord Camelford, in whose family it had been since 1692. He returned supporters of his kinsman Pitt’s administration. On his death in 1793 his heir was a minor and subsequently abroad for several years, so his widow and other trustees had the nomination of the Members. Before the election of 1796 Lady Camelford quarrelled with Pitt over the family’s other borough interest at Bodmin and, having agreed to retain George Hardinge in his seat, referred the other nomination to her son-in-law Lord Grenville, embarrassing him considerably, as a member of Pitt’s cabinet, by stipulating that any candidate returned should consider it an obligation to him rather than to Pitt. Grenville, who had in mind the return of Pitt’s protégé Lord Mornington, prevailed on the latter not to refuse nomination in the face of her stipulation and he was in fact returned ‘with an entire reserve of his political opinions and of his private friendships’.1 Williams Wynn, returned in 1797, when there was a rumour, perhaps not serious, of a contest,2 was Grenville’s nephew; and in 1799 Sir George Yonge was brought in by young Lord Camelford out of compassion for his financial plight, though Camelford’s politics were by now those of opposition.

On the next vacancy, in 1801, the eccentric if not demented peer insisted on returning his boon companion John Horne Tooke, of radical fame. He was subsequently declared ineligible by the House because he had in his youth taken holy orders: ‘Lord Camelford, it is said, told Lord Grenville that if the black coat was rejected, he would send a black man, referring to a negro servant of his, born in England, whom he would qualify to take a seat’. As Horne Tooke was enabled to retain his seat until the dissolution, the problem was not permitted to arise. In March 1801 Camelford had also, to his mother’s indignation, attempted to turn George Hardinge out of his seat, with a view to bringing in an oppositionist. Hardinge, who needed parliamentary immunity to escape his creditors, insisted that he held the seat without reference to Camelford and his politics and submitted the matter to arbitration. Lady Camelford thought he stated his case too strongly, but when Hardinge, seeing that the decision was unlikely to go his way, agreed to give up his seat as soon as he was secure from arrest, she prevailed on her son to let him continue, which he did until the dissolution.3

In June 1802 Camelford sold the borough to Du Pré Alexander, 2nd Earl of Caledon, for £43,000.4 Caledon, who before he succeeded to the title had been interested in a seat in the Imperial Parliament, bought it, he later claimed, ‘to advance my own character’5 He returned his cousin Henry Alexander and offered the other seat to the minister (Addington), whose recommendation of Vansittart he accepted.6 Once their return was secured, Caledon paid the balance of the purchase to Camelford and proceeded to consolidate his position. In 1801 Camelford had returned Horne Tooke by the time-honoured method of conveying seven of the 11 burgages to his friends James Burrough, recorder of Salisbury, Rev. Thomas Burrough of Blandford, Lt.-Gen. Cowper, Henry Portman, B.C. Collins, Henry Penruddocke Wyndham and William Dean of Salisbury, ‘esquires’, as lessees for life. In May 1803 Caledon granted new leases for all 11 burgages to his own relatives and connexions. At the same time he was advised by his local agent to ‘purchase the estate adjoining the burgages’ from Camelford, who had previously refused to sell it. Josias Du Pré Porcher, Caledon’s cousin, then sitting for Bodmin as Camelford’s creditor, negotiated it, and when Camelford was killed in a duel during the negotiation, closed with his executor Lord Grenville for £24,000 in April 1804.7

Before the election of 1806, Caledon was hoping to convey burgages to gentlemen ‘living nearer the borough’, but found that this was not necessary, as four of his burgesses were able to attend the election. This time he returned, with Vansittart, his brother-in-law Lord Blayney. Having obtained from Lord Grenville the government of the Cape, with Henry Alexander as his secretary, Caledon gave instructions to Porcher, as manager in his absence, that if there was a dissolution under the Grenville ministry he was to return Vansittart and himself, or if Porcher demurred, Robert Alexander (another cousin) or, failing him, the eldest son of the bishop of Down (Nathaniel Alexander). If Blayney resigned his seat on obtaining advancement from the ministry, Porcher was to adopt Grenville’s recommendation or select one from a list provided by him. (‘This was done by Lord Sidmouth, who named Mr Golding previous to Mr Vansittart’s appointment.’) Porcher was to remind Grenville that Caledon ‘was anxious upon this as well as upon the former occasion, if possible to unite a personal or family connexion with my political one’ and was told not to accept any nominee not named personally by Grenville or Vansittart. On 20 Apr. 1807, Henry Alexander informed Grenville that Caledon would return his nominee in place of Blayney, absent on public service: but Grenville’s nominee, John Smyth* was not accepted.8 At the election of 1807 four electors returned Vansittart and Porcher.

On 14 Mar. 1812 Vansittart informed Caledon that as a result of an understanding between his chief Lord Sidmouth and the minister Perceval, he expected to obtain office. Caledon, having recently returned from the Cape, wished to give the present state of public affairs ‘mature consideration’ before committing himself, and hinted that Vansittart should come in for a government seat as ‘such a return effected by my influence would neutralize if not wholly annihilate my parliamentary consequence’ and would be construed as ‘a declaration of my sentiments’, 16 Mar. Vansittart replied next day that his appointment would be suspended for the present. On 14 May 1812, after Perceval’s death, Vansittart wrote to say that he was being offered the chancellorship of the Exchequer and that he felt obliged to accept it. He required Caledon’s assent to his election, promising that it should not be seen as ‘a declaration in favour of government’ and that, if desired, he would relinquish the seat at the end of the session. Caledon, who was travelling in Ireland, could not be reached in time to give his decision, due to what Porcher characterized as Vansittart’s hasty acceptance of office. Lady Caledon advised Porcher not to return Vansittart but Caledon’s cousin, James Alexander, knowing as they both did of ‘his wish to keep entirely aloof at this moment’: if he returned Vansittart without question, it would be seen as a commitment to Sidmouth; if conditionally, as ‘decided hostility’. The best security for Caledon’s independence at that confused juncture, she explained in justifying her advice to her husband, was the return of James Alexander. Porcher acted on her advice; Vansittart was disappointed and refused to regard Caledon’s letter of 16 Mar. as sufficient warning, but was obliged to accept the situation when Caledon concurred with the decision.9

At the general election of 1812, Caledon instructed Porcher to return himself and James Alexander again, ‘for I have not been able to bring myself to a decision for the sale of the borough, and if in the course of the ensuing session I should choose to part with it I am sure they would cheerfully resign’. So he informed his father-in-law Lord Hardwicke. Government were still rather uncertain of Caledon in view of his conduct over Vansittart, but confident that his friendship could be secured. On the other hand, Blayney, disappointed of his hope of an Irish representative peerage, informed Caledon in January 1815 that by returning Members who were only interested in taking advantage of the franking privilege, he was courting neglect by government. In reply, Caledon admitted that his Members were no orators, but considering that he was pledged to no administration and regarded borough ownership merely as a means of advancing his own character, his Members were ‘very much what I desire in their connection with me’. In 1818, when he returned another kinsman with James Alexander, Caledon applied to Lord Liverpool unsuccessfully for a British peerage.10 Members of his family continued to be returned until 1832, but after an exchange of estates between them, James Alexander took over the nominations from Caledon.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Fortescue mss, May 1796, passim; Camelford mss, corresp. on Old Sarum 1795-6, passim; Add. 37308, f. 28.
  • 2. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Camelford, 29 July; Oracle, 12 June; Morning Chron. 27 July 1797; Camelford mss, Lady Camelford to Cockburn [Mar. 1801].
  • 3. H. C. Robinson, Reminiscences, i. 53; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 170; Minto, iii. 201; Hunt, Mems. iii. 538; Camelford mss, Hardinge to Lady Camelford, 16, 18, [22] Mar., reply 17 Mar., Lady Camelford to Cockburn [Mar. 1801].
  • 4. PRO NI, Caledon mss D2433/C/7/2-20.
  • 5. Ibid. C/3/25; C/9/30.
  • 6. Ibid. C/8/11.
  • 7. A. Stephens, Mems. of J. Horne Tooke, ii. 238; Caledon mss TD2282/7, burgage list May 1803; C/7/22, 42.
  • 8. Caledon mss C/8/8, 10, 11; Fortescue mss, Vansittart to Grenville, 19 July 1806, H. Alexander to same, 20 Apr., reply 21 Apr. 1807.
  • 9. Caledon mss C/11/4, 5, 7-20; NLI, Richmond mss, 74/1909; Add. 35395, f. 61.
  • 10. Add. 35650, f. 367; 40283, f. 93; Caledon mss C/9/30; C/11/35, 37, 38.