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): 2,245


 Thomas Creevey14
 CREEVEY vice Mingay, on petition, 4 Feb. 1807 

Main Article

The 3rd Duke of Grafton, seated four miles away at Euston, was recorder of this corporation borough and his family had controlled it unopposed throughout the century. Since 1784, however, he had been politically less active and had no member of his immediate family whom he wished to return. In 1790, when one of his nominees died on the eve of dissolution and the other retired, his nomination to both seats was successfully challenged by the Catholic peer, Robert Edward, 9th Baron Petre. Of Petre, who by his two marriages into the family of the Duke of Norfolk acquired property in the neighbourhood, it was asserted in October 1787: ‘Lord Petre recommends a candidate at Thetford, as likely to turn out one of the Duke of Grafton’s nominees’. He was inflamed into active opposition by what he called Pitt’s ‘duplicity and insincerity’ over Catholic claims for relief. An acrimonious conflict between Grafton and Petre ensued which involved them in lawsuits until they agreed to a compromise. Of the returns in 1790, it was reported: ‘the borough of Thetford have proved traitors to his Grace and turned him out, they have however admitted Squire Buxton in his interest, but brought in Birch [sic] in spite of his teeth’. James Mingay, a successful Whig barrister, with strong family connexions on the corporation, had already stated to his Whig friends in the autumn of 1789 that ‘if the Duke of Grafton keeps his engagements, Birch [sic] and Buxton are to come in quietly, if not he means to stand himself’. Although in June 1790 Mingay was reported to be standing ‘with great hopes of success’, he did not pursue it.1

In 1793 Grafton went into decided opposition to government, and at the election of 1796 his nominee Buxton, who was an admirer of Pitt, declined to sit again on his interest, making way for a displaced Whig, John Harrison. Burch retained his seat: Mingay ‘despairing of success ... wisely declined’.2 In 1802 Mingay was still interested, but according to a report in The Times.

The Duke of Grafton and Lord Petre have amicably arranged the next representation of Thetford: Mr Birch [sic] retires, and Mr Creasey [sic] is now canvassing the borough on the interest of Lord Petre.

In fact Petre died in 1801 and, during the minority of his heir, the Duke of Norfolk was his agent. Thomas Creevey, a Whig barrister, had been introduced to the late Lord Petre by Charles Callis Western*, both being clients of his.3 His return irked Mingay who, through his brother the mayor, built up a commanding interest in the corporation in the years 1801-3 and in 1806 challenged Creevey on the strength of it. Grafton was secure and reinsured himself henceforward by returning members of his family; but the fight between the two Whig barristers was keen. Mingay had Grafton’s approval, as well as that of members of government, and he defeated Creevey; but Creevey, who afterwards claimed that he had spent £2,000 of his own money to save the Petre interest, petitioned on grounds of invalid votes, bribery and treating. As quo warranto proceedings were necessary to disqualify the voters on Mingay’s interest, Mingay attempted to press the hearing of the petition, while Creevey’s friend Whitbread unsuccessfully moved postponement, 5, 6 Jan. 1807. On 4 Feb. 1807 Mingay was unseated and he did not challenge Creevey at the ensuing general election.4

In 1812 Creevey somewhat reluctantly joined Henry Brougham as a candidate at Liverpool, but he was well content with his security at Thetford and insisted on being returned there first: he made arrangements with Lady Petre for a replacement on the family interest, if he succeeded at Liverpool, but he did not. The Duke of Norfolk was prepared to intervene.5 When Creevey subsequently went abroad to live, he offered his seat to young Petre, who would not hear of his vacating it, though Creevey wondered, in February 1814, whether his patron might not be induced to replace him by his friend Brougham, who was without a seat, if only for a session. Although he was repaying the expenses of the last election to Petre by instalment, he remained hard up, and was obliged to stay abroad. By 1816, too, Petre was prepared to sell his Norfolk estate. The consequence was that the 12th Duke of Norfolk, who had in 1815 succeeded as Petre’s agent, sacrificed Creevey in 1818. He wrote from Cambrai to remonstrate, in view of his efforts for the Petre interest over the years, alleging that he was being set aside to oblige a creditor of the duke’s, George Philips*. The irony of the situation lay in the fact that while Creevey was confident that the Petre family had hated the late duke and considered him ‘as a swindler that would kidnap a borough ... if it lay in his way’, he had expected better treatment from his old acquaintance, the new duke.6 It would appear that in 1818 ‘an opposition was at one time threatened by a Mr Webster’, but nothing came of it. This Webster (? the James Webster who contested St. Ives soon afterwards) was proposed by ‘the famous Captain Benjafield’ in the ministerial interest, but ‘without the least probability of success’.7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, 1, 408; Rep. Hist. iv. 257; Corresp. of the Rt. Hon. John Beresford, i. 331; Maud Petre, The Ninth Lord Petre, 133; PRO 30/11/270, Rev. Palgrave to Cornwallis, 20 May 1791; Ginter, Whig Organization, 101; Public Advertiser, 14 June 1790.
  • 2. W. Suff. RO, Grafton mss 423/807; True Briton, 23 May 1796.
  • 3. St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lv), 375; The Times, 29 May 1802; Creevey’s Life and Times, 10.
  • 4. Parl. Deb. viii. 302-5, 418-21; HMC Fortescue, viii. 394; Fortescue mss, Mingay to Windham, 23, 25 Oct. 1806; CJ, lxii. 17, 82, 101; Creevey’s Life and Times, 114; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 601.
  • 5. Brougham mss 10344, 10345; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 170; Creevey’s Life and Times, 59; Creevey mss, Brougham to Creevey, Fri., Mon. [Sept. 1812]; Liverpool RO, Roscoe mss 1058, 1068.
  • 6. Brougham mss 10345; Whitbread mss W1/400; Creevey mss, Brougham to Creevey, Thurs. [1815]; Add. 51658, Whishaw to Lady Holland, n.d. [1816]; Creevey’s Life and Times, 112-14.
  • 7. The Late Elections (1818), 350; Oldfield, Key (1820), 153-4. On John Benjafield, former proprietor of the Morning Post, see A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press 1783-1850, pp. 71-72, 274-80.