Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 500

Number of voters:

501 in 1830


10,373 (1821); 11,240 (1831)


 William Augustus Johnson186
 WILLIAM AUGUSTUS JOHNSON vice Ellis, on petition, 16 Feb. 1821 
 John Wilks I243
31 July 1830NEILL MALCOLM337
 Charles Keightley Tunnard186
 Neill Malcom44

Main Article

Boston’s growth in the early nineteenth century was steady but undramatic. It had a prosperous agricultural market, dealing in mainly in grain and flour, and a considerable number of people were engaged in manufactures and handicrafts, but its port suffered as a consequence of the country’s general economic depression, despite improvements to the harbour.1 Dissent was a force to be reckoned with and the exclusion of wealthy Nonconformists from the self-electing Tory corporation of a mayor, appointed annually, 12 aldermen, and 18 common councilmen, was bitterly resented. The political character of the corporation, observed the municipal corporations commissioners, was visible ‘in all its operations’, and the Pink or corporation party’s monopolization of the borough’s cursus honorum perpetuated their control. Political opponents among the freemen were rarely elected to vacancies on the common council and patronage and charity were assigned by the same party bias. Yet the Blues or anti-corporation party, in alliance with the Orange or revived Ancaster interest, had held the Pinks in check since 1812. Peter Robert Drummond Burrell, one of the sitting Members, was thought to have the disposal of the Orange interest (his mother’s family’s), but by 1820 William Garfit, a Boston banker, was said to have gained the ascendancy. The venality of the freemen increasingly undermined the consolidation of personal and party loyalty, however, and an 1831 radical commentary asserted that ‘the borough has within the last few years been opened: i.e. the freemen, instead of letting the corporation dictate to them, carry their votes to the best market’.2

At the 1820 general election the Pinks (or ministerialists) canvassed for Henry Ellis, a bastard son of the 4th earl of Buckinghamshire, their unsuccessful candidate in 1818. They remained committed to him despite his absence as deputy colonial secretary at the Cape, and offered no encouragement to John Norman Macleod* of Dunvegan, who solicited their support. The independents were confident of success and both Drummond Burrell and his colleague William Alexander Madocks*, who had sat on the Blue interest in 1802, were expected to offer again. Drummond Burrell, however, shied at another contest and withdrew in favour of Gilbert John Heathcote, the eldest son of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, a Lincolnshire landowner and Whig Member for Rutland. Heathcote was too ill to canvass but his brother William Henry met with ‘extraordinary success’ as his representative. At the last minute Madocks also abandoned the field, whereupon the Blues hastily persuaded the reformer Colonel William Augustus Johnson of Witham-on-the-Hill to come forward. A snowfall at the nomination, 7 Mar., prevented much speaking: Heathcote was still indisposed and was represented by his brother; and Macleod, presumably with an eye to the future, stood in for Ellis. The Pinks demanded a poll and an adjournment took place to the west end of the parish church, the usual place for elections. Heathcote’s popularity was unassailable and, as the Rev. Thomas Kaye Bonney informed Sir Gilbert, when the ‘two other candidates’ attempted to speak so great was the uproar ‘that they were not heard at all’. After a two-day poll Heathcote and Ellis were returned.3 Heathcote, whose expenses amounted to almost £4,000, including £1,800 in bribes, secured support from 81 per cent of the 475 who polled (248 as split votes shared with Ellis, 128 shared with Johnson, and nine as plumpers). Ellis received votes from 70 per cent (52 shared with Johnson and 32 as plumpers), and Johnson from 39 (six as plumpers). More than three-quarters of the freemen who plumped for Ellis appear to have been the professionals, merchants, and leading retailers who dominated the corporation. The eclipse of the Blues was attributed partly to the treachery of Madocks and partly to the ‘disgust which the radicals have excited’. The brewer Thomas Broughton, one of Madocks’s leading supporters, for example, deserted him for the corporation. Under these circumstances Johnson’s achievement of 186 votes was no mean feat and his flattering reception at the declaration, according to two separate newspapers, left no doubt about his future success. A Boston correspondent of John Drakard, editor of the Stamford News, reckoned that his success would have been certain given an earlier canvass.4

On 5 May 1820 Johnson petitioned against Ellis’s election, citing his ineligibility as an office-holder under the crown, though he had given no indication of doing so at the declaration. The petition was ordered for consideration, 6 June, and anticipating success, the Blues paid their freemen two-and-a-half guineas as an interim gesture of goodwill. Ellis, however, remained abroad and unrepresented by an agent. In view of the impossibility of proceeding, Johnson’s agent secured an extension, 15 May, and a further postponement was proposed by Thomas Courtenay, 25 May, on account of Ellis’s continued absence at the Cape. After considerable discussion in the adjourned debate the following day it was agreed to defer the hearing until 18 July. Another deferral was secured for 17 Aug., but the petition was then lost by the prorogation.5 Ellis had not appeared by the end of the year and, impatient for their bribes, a number of disaffected freemen began to look for a replacement, anticipating his resignation or the issue of a new writ. The petition was renewed, 31 Jan. 1821, but shortly afterwards Garfit told Heathcote that neither Johnson nor his friend Sir Robert Heron* was anxious to proceed quickly, as they now considered it a ‘lesser evil to have one useless person at the Cape than a more efficient ministerial Member in the House’. Privately Johnson indicated that he had no wish to face another contest or pay bribes and at his suggestion Richard Spooner, a Birmingham banker recently unseated on petition for Boroughbridge, began to make arrangements for a preliminary canvass. On 15 Feb., however, the House appointed a committee and the next day unexpectedly seated Johnson in Ellis’s place. Heron, Johnson’s nominee on the committee, reported that ‘ministers, not dreaming of the event, employed no counsel, the principal witness against us lost his head, the nominee chosen by the committee had neither zeal or knowledge, and a hundred circumstances combined to favour Johnson’. Ironically, Ellis’s bribery money, consisting of £6 each for eligible voters, was distributed that day. News of his unseating reached Boston, 17 Feb., much to the consternation of the cashiers and the amusement of the freemen. This turn of events scotched any hope of the re-election of a Pink. (It had been rumoured that one of Lord Sefton’s* sons would start in the event of a new writ and, according to the Gazette, Henry Porcher of Arborfield had prematurely offered his services.)6

By December 1820 an address in support of Queen Caroline had obtained 2,665 signatures. At a meeting of freemen and others, which the Gazette claimed had attracted no more than 200 people, a petition was started in support of Lambton’s parliamentary reform scheme, 15 Mar. 1821.7 Following Charles Anderson Pelham’s succession as 2nd Baron Yarborough in September 1823, Heathcote was solicited to replace him as county Member, but he refused to stand without his father’s consent and resisted all entreaties.8 Johnson, for whom Boston was no more than a stopgap, was ambitious for the county seat and figured prominently as a canvasser in the ensuing by-election. In September 1825 he accepted a requisition to come forward for the county at the next general election, following which the Stamford News urged the freemen to renounce bribery, saying that if only they would learn integrity, a coalition of independents would clinch the return of another reformer. That autumn the Whig George Agar Ellis, then Member for Seaford, expressed an interest in coming forward, apparently in the mistaken assumption that Heathcote did not intend to offer again. In February 1826 the Blues met under the chairmanship of Francis Snaith, a local surgeon, to consider whom to adopt, and after Clarke had declined to come forward himself a committee of 24 was established to decide the issue.9

At the 1826 general election the corporation was first in the field with Neill Malcolm, the son of a West India planter, who, according to the Gazette, was brought forward by Agar Ellis. He was introduced by Broughton, the renegade Blue, and conducted a successful canvass, though according to Drakard, his political opinions were opposed by the majority of the freemen. Boasting of his independence, he declared his opposition to further concessions to Catholics. Heathcote offered again and harangued ‘varied assemblies of the freemen as occasion arose’. His canvass was reported to be one of the ‘most splendid displays of Orange’ ever seen in the fens. He and Malcolm were considered safe and the diversionary tactics of the Blues were ridiculed. Drakard urged the Blues to waive their customary fee, but they refused on the principle that the Orange and Pink freemen would not follow suit. Later, attributing their lethargy to bad management and the slump in Boston’s trade, he urged Johnson to reconsider. In his published reply Johnson would have no truck with the Blues and repeated that he would not countenance treating. Charles Keightley Tunnard of Frampton House who, as a magistrate and vice-president of the local Bible Society, was expected to command widespread support, also declined to stand. Madocks, their discredited hero, had expressed an interest in the autumn of 1825, but was now intent on a canvass elsewhere. Unsuccessful applications were also sent to the Whig lawyer Thomas Denman* and Sir Thomas Phillips of Middle Hill, one of the prospective candidates for Grimsby.10 On 23 May Samuel Wells, the radical Huntingdon attorney, was invited to fill the breach at five guineas a vote. He spurned the invitation, declaring that he would rather suffer the ‘debasing torture of a tread mill’ than ‘satisfy their cupidity’, 30 May. Madocks reiterated his decision not to stand, and a negative response was received from the Norfolk Whig Sir William John Henry Browne Ffolkes* of Hillingdon Hall. In desperation the Blues applied to a number of leading radicals for assistance. Sir Francis Burdett* was the first to reply and, although a meeting to supply the necessary requisition for his prospective candidature was well supported, the corporation’s squib writers had a field day. Two days before the election Peter Tuxford, an attorney and Blue sympathizer, left Boston with the approbation of 200 freemen to persuade John Wilks, a London Dissenter and attorney, to come forward. A hasty canvass was undertaken, and Wilks arrived in the small hours on the day of the nomination. After some confusion over the election preliminaries, Heathcote demanded a poll, whereupon the corporation’s henchmen took control of the hustings and the Pinks obtained an immediate advantage, amid disputes over the administration of the bribery oath and other legal technicalities. After a chaotic two-day poll, in which Malcolm was castigated as a slave owner and Broughton branded as a turncoat, Heathcote and Malcolm were returned.11 Heathcote, who led throughout, secured the support of 75 per cent of the 498 who polled (218 as split votes shared with Malcolm, 145 shared with Wilks, and nine as plumpers). Malcolm received votes from 63 per cent (67 shared with Wilks and 28 as plumpers), and Wilks from 48 (31 as plumpers). Those who plumped for Malcolm were largely professionals, merchants and leading retailers: unmistakably the leading corporators who lived in the better houses in Bargate, High Street and the Market Place. Heathcote and Wilks had 23 and 31 votes rejected respectively, by comparison with nine for Malcolm. There was such indignation at the manner of the corporation’s victory over Wilks that the townsmen would not hear Malcolm speak, and during the chairing he was attacked. The Gazette blamed their riotous conduct on the Blues, but a correspondent of the Stamford News alleged that it was orchestrated by the Pinks in order to discredit their opponents.12

In August 1826 the Boston Blue Club was established under the auspices of Clarke, Hopkins and Tunnard to promote the cause of independence.13 In May 1828 activists initiated a meeting to discuss the heavy tolls demanded by the corporation. Meanwhile Wilks continued to nurse the constituency through his donations to charities and support for denominational societies. The corporation’s failure to co-operate with him in drilling for spring water in the market place in the aftermath of the drought of 1826, when water was brought from Lincoln by packet boats and sold for 1d. a bucketful, boosted his popularity and kept him in the public eye. He relinquished the enterprise in March 1829, having spent nearly £1,800, and the Gazette applauded his public-spirited conduct and defended him against the imputation of barefaced electioneering. Feasts in celebration of his future success were held for the freemen, but in June, much to the surprise of the rank and file Blues, he announced his intention not to seek election, having been advised by several residents that his prospects were doubtful. At about this time Tunnard, who had been repeatedly solicited to stand since 1826, but could not afford it, assured Wilks that he would not become involved. At a meeting of more than 100 Blues, 6 June 1829, 312 firm promises for Wilks were obtained, 70 of them plumpers, a number which no party, observed the Gazette, had ever received.14 Speculation over the likelihood of a contest increased as the king’s health declined during 1830, but Wilks returned evasive answers to applications from the freemen. Agents of Thomas Wilde*, the implacable opponent of the 4th duke of Newcastle at Newark, were invited to address them, 14 June 1830, when James Hitchins, a prominent Newark Blue, spoke of Boston and Newark’s oppression by autocratic corporations, urged the necessity for parliamentary reform, and reminded them of the need for self-sacrifice, promising that an anti-corporation candidate would stand in the event of Wilks’s declining.15

Within days of the king’s death in June 1830 Heathcote, Malcolm and Wilks announced their intention of standing. Malcolm arrived, 28 June, and was later attacked for the indecent haste of his canvass, as well as being stigmatized as a government cypher. Heathcote came the following day, but his appearance did not excite much interest. At a meeting of about 200 freemen William Wedd Tuxford and other Blues cautioned them against promising their votes in the absence of Wilks, while Heathcote was criticized for his lax attendance, which he sought to defend.16 Even before Wilks’s triumphant arrival, Heathcote’s agents were having difficulty in obtaining promises. Worse still, as Garfit explained, the corporation’s agents were trying to persuade the single Blue voters to split with them, though the Pinks themselves would not split. James Creasey, an experienced election agent, predicted that many quondam Orange supporters would defect to their opponents. After much deliberation Hopkins and Garfit could see no prospect of success and, while keeping up appearances, privately advised Heathcote to look elsewhere.17 Nearly 3,000 people were said to have greeted Rowland Wilks, 1 July, and his father’s arrival, 8 July, occasioned an even more elaborate procession involving 7,000. On the hustings Wilks declared himself an enemy of corporations and urged the freemen not to be deterred by coercion: ‘I am here to maintain the grand principles of liberty, and those who desert our cause deserve to be treated with contempt and indignation’. He condemned the misappropriation of Boston’s charities, the injustice of the town tolls, and the corporators’ lack of commercial enterprise. The announcement of Heathcote’s resignation, 13 July, took everyone by surprise, especially in view of his triumph at the last election. A requisition calling on him to rescind his decision failed, and Hopkins attributed the collapse of the Orange interest to an ‘infatuated zeal’ for Wilks, which at present could not be controlled. The Gazette reported that the Orange interest appeared to be ‘gradually dying away’ and, although talk of a third man persisted, predicted that the election would ‘subside into a very dreary termination’. At the instigation of three freemen, however, Tunnard was persuaded to stand at the last moment. Wilks arrived on the eve of the election, 20 July, and made the most of his consummate timing. The nomination of Tunnard forced Malcolm to demand a poll and the adjournment to the church was marked by great disorder. ‘Blows were received and given’, part of the hustings collapsed, and Wilks only managed to restore order after repeated appeals. The arrival of Tunnard later in the afternoon caused such a crush that the back part of the hustings also gave way, and both candidates and officials ‘took refuge on a table’. After it became impossible to proceed the poll was adjourned with Wilks ahead with 201 votes, three in front of Malcolm. Tunnard trailed with 97 votes. He did not appear again and left for Lincoln to assist his brother-in-law John Fardell*, one of the prospective candidates there. In a handbill he explained that he had been nominated against his wishes, but had acquiesced as a mark of respect to the freemen and the ‘liberty of the people’. Polling continued, 31 July 1830, but not before Wilks had pressed for a declaration, which Tunnard’s supporters opposed. At the end of that day Malcolm and Wilks were returned.18

Of the 501 who polled, Malcolm secured support from 67 per cent (135 as split votes shared with Wilks, 93 shared with Tunnard, and 109 as plumpers). Wilks received votes from 59 per cent (84 shared with Tunnard and 75 as plumpers), and Tunnard from 37 (five as plumpers). As far as Garfit could ascertain, not one single ‘corporation man’ voted for either Tunnard or Wilks.19 After the declaration Wilks again denounced the corporation for their corruption and self-aggrandizement at the expense of the port’s commercial development. George Hardy, a stalwart Pink, rushed to their defence, but the townsmen would hear neither him nor Malcolm, who was chaired under sufferance after an appeal from Wilks. He later scoffed at the strength of anti-corporation feeling, and boasted of his 43-vote lead over the ‘man of the people’. At a celebratory dinner Wilks regretted not having Heathcote as a colleague, but condemned the Orange interest as one tainted by aristocratic influence and opposed to the real interests of the people.20 Garfit and Hopkins, however, were largely optimistic about the future: a number of influential Orange voters had abstained, and expressions of regret at Heathcote’s resignation were widespread. Added to this, Wilks’s attempt to stop the poll when only two-thirds of the freemen had voted was a godsend to those who wished to discredit him, particularly as he was unlikely to pay bribes.21 Not to be outdone by a dinner to the ‘independent 186’ who had voted for Tunnard, the Blues paraded with a tricolour flag. To add to the confusion of loyalties Tunnard, in the absence of Wilks and Johnson, presided at the dinner to celebrate the triumph of liberal principles in France, 27 Aug. In October a correspondent of the Gazette urged Boston to follow the example of Lincoln and instigate a petition in support of reform. A requisition signed by 82 tradesmen and a number of prominent inhabitants, including the attorney William Bowles, culminated in a meeting, 22 Nov., to petition for reform, reduced taxation and the ballot. The petition was agreed without opposition and received 1,200 signatures. A meeting of diehards to block its adoption was abandoned for fear of violence. Reckitt, the prominent Blue and president of the anti-toll association, presided at a celebratory dinner to mark the collapse of the corporation’s suit to recover tolls, 23 Dec. The freemen who had voted for Malcolm at the last election were treated with coals, 27 Dec. 1830, when those who had given plumpers received half a chaldron each. Wilks distributed charity tickets to the freemen of ‘all parties’.22

Enthusiasm for parliamentary reform, including the ballot, gained ground in the aftermath of the meetings in Boston and Lincoln, and over 100 townsmen, among them prominent Blues, tradesmen and professionals, signed a requisition for a meeting in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which was held, 11 Mar. 1831. It was attended by about 500 people and chaired by Reckitt, who denounced the factious opposition to reform in the House. An address in support of ministers was unanimously carried and the subsequent petition attracted almost 1,500 signatures, including those of 110 freemen and tradesmen and a number of clergy and professionals.23 It was presented and endorsed by Wilks, 19 Mar. The Members took opposite sides on the bill, Malcolm refusing his support on the ground that reform would jeopardize the freemen’s chartered rights. On 21 Mar. about 70 householders, including between 30 and 40 freemen, attended a meeting to promote the return of reformers, at which the steering committee of the Boston Reform Association, led by Snaith, was established. The corporation agreed a counter-petition, 22 Mar. The Dissenters declared their support for reform, 9 Apr., and enthusiasm for it was reported to be universal among the non-freeman merchants and tradesmen. The freemen, however, remained divided and, according to Hopkins, who looked to Heathcote’s reinstatement, it would be difficult for any candidate to satisfy both pro and anti-reformers. Anticipating support for the latter at a freemen’s meeting, 28 Mar. 1831, the pro-reformers, mostly Blues, declared that the freemen had no exclusive right to the franchise under any of the borough’s charters and that Members were originally returned by the inhabitants. The diehard Pinks failed to carry their resolutions, though they claimed 113 supporters, and had to satisfy themselves with a requisition to Malcolm. In the meantime Garfit, who was testing the ground for a revival of the Orange interest, told Heathcote that many of the freemen were disgruntled, as they had not yet received their bribes from either Member. Heathcote was above reproach in this respect and, although many freemen were still ‘misled by Wilks’s nonsense and bombast’, Garfit was convinced that the Orange interest would triumph at a future election. As proof of this, a spontaneous and well-attended meeting of freemen agreed to secure Heathcote’s return at the next vacancy. Malcolm voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, which Wilks opposed.24

At the ensuing general election Malcolm and Wilks offered again and Heathcote declared his intention to stand. Rowland Wilks was first to canvass, and it was soon reported that the respectable tradesmen supported his father. Heathcote’s canvassers also enjoyed considerable success, but there was little evidence of activity from the corporation. As soon as Malcolm arrived he was taunted for his votes against reform, and a number of windows were smashed at his inn. On 27 Apr. the Pink standard bearers were attacked in the High Street and, according to the Gazette, the extent of ‘popular indignation’ became more evident every hour. The Blues paraded with an effigy of a clergyman and a coffin said to be for Malcolm. When they reached Broughton’s house, where Malcolm was dining with a number of aldermen, stones were thrown. The colourmen walked on but their followers, estimated at more than 3,000, laid siege to the house and began a ‘most violent’ attack. Alderman Francis Thirkill, clerk of the peace for the parts of Holland, who was present, described the scene in a letter to the lord lieutenant Lord Brownlow, recorder of Boston since 1820:

We cleared the room as fast as possible and with the servants stood prepared ... with loaded pistols, sabres, pitchforks and what weapons we could get, expecting the mob every moment would burst into the house ... The windows and frames are totally demolished. The mob calling out for Malcolm. This scene lasted a full hour. As soon as practicable we sent for the mayor but could not raise any force as the constables dare not and the specials would not act, neither was there sufficient force if they had attempted.

He added that the attack was premeditated and that the ‘mob was regularly organized’.25 With threats of further violence, many of the corporation’s ‘staunch friends’ abandoned them, forcing Malcolm to announce his retirement. Early on 28 Apr. he left the borough at great speed, and though some persons ‘seized the leaders’ of his carriage, he got away. Nearly every house displayed a Blue ribbon when Wilks arrived in triumph later that day. To an immense crowd, he inveighed against the corporation and defended the reform bill. Commenting on Malcolm’s resignation, the Gazette claimed that his opposition to reform had ‘incensed the people most violently against him’. There were no further disturbances and, as the editor declared, it would be irresponsible to put any Pink in nomination. The Blues appeared in force at the nomination, 29 Apr., and, fortified with ale, according to Thirkill’s account to Brownlow, displayed placards bearing the words ‘Wilks or death’. Heathcote and Wilks declared their unequivocal support for reform and were well received. The unexpected nomination of Malcolm by his supporters infuriated the townsmen and provoked a scene of great disorder. Smith and King, respectively his proposer and seconder, were pulled from the balcony and pursued into Wormgate, where they were assaulted and lucky to escape with their lives. Meanwhile hundreds of bystanders ran into the church exclaiming ‘no poll’ and began to demolish the hustings. Heathcote and Wilks were acclaimed as elected, but James Guy, an attorney’s clerk, demanded a poll for Malcolm, though more prominent members of the Pink party held aloof. The mayor and election officials went to the church but returned to say that the populace were destroying the hustings. Wilks repeatedly appealed for order, but no effort could ‘stem the tide of popular feeling’ against the recalcitrant Pinks. When at last the poll began, the Blues immediately took the lead. Corporation supporters were forced to run a gauntlet and faced considerable risks: the landlord of the Nag’s Head had his shoulder dislocated. The assessor repeatedly threatened to adjourn the poll but, according to the Gazette, he might as well have attempted to ‘stop a whirlwind’. Heathcote and Wilks appealed for tolerance and were forced to take action in order to allow safe passage for the Pinks. At the close of the first day’s poll Guy was captured by the mob and had his face ‘very much disfigured’. Heathcote and Wilks were safe, but rivalry over their respective positions on the poll ended in acrimonious exchanges between their agents. In the evening a large procession of Blues turned to vandalism and when one of the perpetrators was taken into custody, the rioters proceeded with ‘bludgeons and iron pokers’ to the gaol and secured his release. Polling continued slowly on the second day, when there was no let up in the violence, despite appeals from Wilks. Alderman Dr. John Brown was one of the last Pinks to poll, and was fortunate to escape with the loss of his coat. The return of Heathcote and Wilks by a large majority was hailed as a popular triumph by the Gazette.26 Writing to the recorder, Thirkill asserted:

Thus ended one of the most outrageous elections ever witnessed in the town carried solely on the part of the Blues by club and mob law ... All the trade and population being in favour of reform our party was branded as traitors to our king and enemies of the people. The mail had Orange and Blue colours and the soldiers recruiting here appeared in plain clothes with Blue ribbons. Numbers of persons came from the country all in favour of the bill and there is scarcely a farmer’s wagon that comes into Boston but the horses have the Blue ribbon. The tricoloured flag was carried. The election is doubtless void, which the Members know, but trust to the feelings of the people there will be no petition.27

In the aftermath of the election the corporation made every effort to reassert their authority and bring the rioters to book. Clinton James Fynes Clinton*, deputy recorder since 1826, appealed to the home office for military assistance, but his request was refused and the actions of the corporation were discredited in a memorial signed by 278 householders, 14 May.28 Indignant at complaints of their neglect, the corporation continued to submit alarming reports to Brownlow, who agreed to issue warrants for the apprehension of rioters. A vestry meeting, however, laid the blame for the damage to property on the neglect of the magistrates, 26 May. The arrival of a detachment of soldiers in mid-July on the pretext of some disturbances among the labourers employed to maintain the dykes in the fens was condemned by the Gazette as inflammatory. An attempt to prosecute Snaith as one of the principal agitators collapsed at the winter assizes, but not before August 1832 did the corporation seek remissions for those already convicted which, as Thirkill, then mayor, told the recorder, might help to quell the hostility towards them. He and Brownlow continued to press for the retention of troops, which were not finally withdrawn until 1836.29

In September 1831 the churchwardens and overseers headed a requisition for a meeting in support of the reform bill, which was held under the auspices of Staniland and other prominent Blues, 17 Sept. The resulting petition was signed by 917 inhabitants, including almost all the professional men, merchants and tradesmen, as well as several members of the corporation. Following the bill’s rejection by the Lords, a public meeting, supported by 70 of the most respectable householders and attended by an estimated 1,800 people, was held, 13 Oct. The dragoons were ordered on parade but there were no disturbances. The main speakers were almost entirely leading Blues, such as Noble, Snaith, and Perrey, who condemned the treachery of the peers and declared reform to be a ‘palladium of our liberties’ and the safeguard of the constitution. The pro-reform addresses to the king and Lord Grey secured more than 1,389 signatures and were entrusted to Wilks. In December 1831 the freemen who had voted for Heathcote received three guineas for a split vote and six for a plumper. Nevertheless, he was insufficiently industrious in the eyes of many and sat uneasily.30 By May 1832 the Boston Political Union, under the provisional chairmanship of Staniland, was reported to have 250 members. On 28 May the agents of Heathcote’s prospective replacement Benjamin Handley, younger brother of William Handley*, whose uncle and namesake had been deputy recorder, 1817-26, addressed their first meeting.31 The boundary commissioners recommended a small extension of the eastern and southern boundaries, to the South Forty-Foot and Bargate drains respectively, thereby increasing the estimated number of qualified £10 houses from 910 to 937.32 There were only 869 (rather than the widely cited 1,257)33 electors, including 372 freemen, registered at the 1832 general election, when the Liberals Wilks and Handley defeated a Conservative after a contest in which 788 polled.34

Authors: Simon Harratt / Philip Salmon


  • 1. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, ii. 640; W. White, Lincs. (1842), 153.
  • 2. N.R. Wright, Bk. of Boston, 29, 48, 79; Heron, Notes, 97; PP (1835), xxvi. 74-75, 83-84, 86; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 323.
  • 3. Boston Gazette, 29 Feb., 7, 14 Mar.; Drakard’s Stamford News, 10, 24 Mar. 1820; Macleod of Macleod mss 1055/2; Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss XIII/B/10q, r; 3ANC 9/7/52.
  • 4. Boston Gazette, 14 Mar.; Drakard’s Stamford News, 24 Mar. 1820; Ancaster mss 3ANC 9/14/5, 6; Boston Pollbook (Kelsey, 1820), 20.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 155, 213, 238, 245, 389; Drakard’s Stamford News, 2 June 1820.
  • 6. Boston Gazette, 20 Feb. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 18, 75-77, 84; Ancaster mss XIII/B/10b, c, cc, d, e, l, k; Heron, 132-3.
  • 7. Boston Gazette, 3 Dec. 1820, 20 Mar. 1821.
  • 8. Ancaster mss XIII/B/4b-e, 10a, bb, dd, m, x; 3ANC 9/10/7.
  • 9. Fitzwilliam mss 114/5/1-4; Boston Gazette, 20 Sept. 1825, 7 Feb. 1826; Drakard’s Stamford News, 14, 28 Oct., 4 Nov. 1825, 10 Feb. 1826.
  • 10. Boston Gazette, 9, 16 May; Drakard’s Stamford News, 12, 19 May 1826; Ancaster mss 3ANC 9/14/129-31.
  • 11. The Times, 27 May, 5 June; Boston Gazette, 30 May, 6, 13, 20 June; Drakard’s Stamford News, 26 May, 2, 9, 16 June 1826.
  • 12. Boston Pollbooks (Kelsey, 1826), 20; (W. Bontoft, 1826), passim; Boston Gazette, 20 June, 11, 18 July; Drakard’s Stamford News, 23 June, 7 July 1826.
  • 13. Drakard’s Stamford News, 25 Aug. 1826.
  • 14. Wright, 105; Rural Rides, ii. 639; Drakard’s Stamford News, 23, 30 May 1828; Boston Gazette, 24 Mar., 26 May, 2, 9, 16 June 1829.
  • 15. Boston Gazette, 30 Mar., 18 May, 8, 15 June 1830.
  • 16. Ibid. 22, 29 June 1830.
  • 17. Ancaster mss 3ANC 9/14/167, 168, 170-2.
  • 18. Sketch of Boston Election (1830); Boston Gazette, 6, 13, 20, 27 July; Drakard’s Stamford News, 9, 16, 30 July 1830.
  • 19. Boston Pollbook (Kelsey, 1830); Ancaster mss 3ANC 9/14/167.
  • 20. Boston Gazette, 3, 10, 17 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. Ancaster mss 3ANC 9/14/167.
  • 22. Boston Gazette, 31 Aug., 7 Sept., 5, 19 Oct., 23, 30 Nov., 7, 28 Dec. 1830.
  • 23. Boston Gazette, 25 Jan., 8, 15 Mar. 1831.
  • 24. Ibid. 22, 29 Mar., 5, 12, 19, 26 Apr. 1831; Ancaster mss XIII/B/6a, b.
  • 25. Boston Gazette, 26 Apr. 1831; Lincs. AO, Brownlow mss 4 BNL box 3, f. 7.
  • 26. Boston Gazette, 3, 10 May 1831.
  • 27. Brownlow mss box 3, ff. 8-9.
  • 28. Boston Gazette, 24, 31 May 1831.
  • 29. Ibid. 19 July 1831; Brownlow mss box 3, ff.10-13; bdle. 1832-5 corresp. Thirkill to Brownlow, 9 Mar., 1 Aug. 1832, 27 June 1836.
  • 30. Boston Gazette, 20, 27 Sept. 4, 11 Oct., 27 Dec. 1831.
  • 31. Ibid. 29 May 1832.
  • 32. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 324.
  • 33. See, for example, Dod, Electoral Facts ed. H. Hanham, 29; McCalmont’s Parl. Pollbook ed. J. Vincent and M. Stenton, 27.
  • 34. PP (1833) xxvii. 102; P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 257.