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 lot1

Estimated number qualified to vote:

27 in 18312

Number of voters:

24 in 1822


585 (1821); 562 (1831)3


9 Mar. 1820MARK MILBANK 
26 June 1822SHELDON CRADOCK vice Yarmouth, called to the Upper House19
 Henry Frederick Cooke5
12 June 1826MARK MILBANK11
 (Sir) Henry Frederick Cooke8
 Wyndham Lewis8
30 July 1830MARK MILBANK 
29 Apr. 1831MARK MILBANK 

Main Article

Camelford, a small market town situated on the River Camel in the north-east of the county, was ‘a place of little trade’ and the houses were generally ‘rather poor’. Its immediate vicinity consisted of ‘good agricultural land’, but the country beyond was largely ‘bleak and dreary’ and included the ‘prolific’ Freburget lead mine, three miles away.4 The borough comprised ‘about one-tenth’ of the parish of Lanteglos-by-Camelford. Local power was nominally exercised by the corporation, which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, eight other aldermen, who were elected by the aldermen from among the inhabitants, and an indefinite number of freemen; all held their offices for life. In fact, the corporation could ‘scarcely be said to have existed’, as it had surrendered its revenues to the patron, William Harry Vane†, 3rd earl of Darlington, the Whig boroughmonger, who had spent £58,000 on property in the borough in 1815. The franchise was vested in the resident freemen, paying scot and lot, who were nominated by Darlington’s agent and elected by the grand jury at the court leet, which was appointed by the mayor; their numbers varied considerably and admissions were infrequent. Thus the corporation was ‘kept on foot for no other purpose than that of creating the electors of the borough’. Darlington maintained his interest by paying ‘gratuities’, usually of between £100 and £200 but ‘occasionally more’, to the voters after each election, and he obtained patronage for them, including positions in the East India Company and in the excise. A damning report by the municipal corporations commissioners in 1833 concluded that ‘a more complete system of corruption has not existed in any Cornish borough’. However, Darlington’s position was challenged by some of the electors, who had formed ‘The Bundle of Sticks’ Club and received outside financial support, possibly originating from the treasury, and by Lord Yarmouth, the Tory lord warden of the stannaries. Following a notoriously corrupt contest in 1818 Darlington’s nominees were unseated on petition, but the ensuing by-election in April 1819, which was won by two candidates put forward by The Bundle of Sticks, was also declared void and no new writ was issued pending further consideration by the Commons.5

The announcement of the dissolution in February 1820 put the electors in ‘high spirits’ by raising hopes of a ‘lucky escape’ from the threat of disfranchisement, but a ‘sad gloom’ descended over the place until Lord John Russell’s bill to withhold its writ failed. A ‘smart contest’ was then expected, as Yarmouth had ‘formed a connection’ with the local opposition and accepted their invitation to stand against Darlington’s nominees, his son-in-law Mark Milbank and the Scottish advocate Bushby Maitland, the Members unseated in 1819. On his arrival, Yarmouth was escorted into the town by a number of the electors on horseback, and during a personal canvass he received ‘promises of support from a large majority’; he declared that he would ‘come to the poll unconnected with any other candidate’. Darlington’s interest was apparently beginning to ‘totter’, and he complained to Lord Grey of the strain being put on his purse by the contests at Camelford and elsewhere. The parties engaged ‘four eminent counsellors’, including Stephen Lushington*, who acted for Darlington, his patron at Ilchester. On election day an offer to share the representation was made, and after ‘much discussion’ Darlington followed Lushington’s advice and accepted it, sacrificing Maitland, ‘in order to prevent a third petition’. It was observed that ‘the very delicate state in which the borough stands, and the prosecutions which hang over the heads of some of the electors for bribery, perjury and conspiracy’, were ‘powerful inducements to a compromise’. In returning thanks, Yarmouth promised to uphold the ‘constitution in church and state’ and help ‘put down radicalism’, and to ‘serve his friends and promote the welfare of the borough’. Milbank said that as an opposition Member ‘he could not do so much for his friends as his lordship promised to do’, but that he would ‘do his duty to the country’. The two parties afterwards dined at separate inns.6

On 23 Nov. 1820 the town was ‘generally and brilliantly illuminated’ to celebrate the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, with the house of John Dent, Darlington’s steward, being ‘distinguished by a ... display of variegated lamps’; there were no disturbances.7 A meeting of the corporation and inhabitants, 18 Apr., ‘unanimously adopted’ a petition for revision of the criminal law, which was presented to Parliament, 4, 5 June 1822.8 They also petitioned the Commons for repeal of the coal duties, 20 Feb. 1824.9 Following a requisition ‘most respectably signed’, the mayor summoned a public meeting, 24 Feb., when the Rev. J. Fayrer, vicar of St. Sampson Tethe, and the Methodist Rev. Truscott moved an anti-slavery petition, which was sent to both Houses, 9, 13 Mar. 1826.10

Yarmouth’s succession as 3rd marquess of Hertford in June 1822 ‘created a considerable sensation amongst the electors’, who it was supposed would wish to maintain the ‘equilibrium’ by filling the vacancy with a Hertford nominee, thereby securing ‘the full benefit of a competition for their suffrages’ in future. However, Darlington’s agents had taken unspecified measures to ‘frustrate this project’, and at the ensuing by-election Sheldon Cradock, a Yorkshire landowner and neighbour of Darlington, was comfortably returned ahead of Hertford’s friend Henry Cooke, an aide-de-camp to the duke of York. Whereas Cradock declared himself to be ‘a decided Whig and a friend to agriculture’, Cooke, who ‘hoped to be more successful on a future day’, said it would ‘then be sufficient time for him to declare his politics’. Cradock dined afterwards with a ‘numerous party’ at the King’s Arms. Several months later, Darlington’s voters each received ‘a letter, neatly folded’, with ‘an enclosure of some value, but not to the amount that was expected’.11 In October 1822 it was reported that Darlington had paid £2,000 for a house with half an acre of land, which let for £20 per annum. There remained only ‘three or four freeholders in the place’, and as ‘all the freemen and inhabitants’ were ‘tenants-at-will’, it was feared that opposition to the patron was being ‘extinguished’.12 However, Hertford was simultaneously building an interest by purchasing ‘almost all the houses and lands’ not belonging to Darlington. An extraordinary dispute arose concerning a tenement with six acres of land, called Culloden, in which Hertford, Darlington and a third person held moieties. Hertford’s aim was to secure a division of the property so that he might ‘erect houses for the accommodation of his friends and the increase of the ... electors’. In December 1822, for reasons that were never explained, the tenant surrendered Culloden to Darlington’s agents, which prompted Hertford’s men to ‘muster in considerable’ numbers ‘to oust the intruders by force of arms’. During the so-called ‘Battle of Culloden’, the Hertfordians attacked the outer gate ‘with hatchets etc. in order to force an entrance’, whereupon Darlington’s men ‘flew to arms, made a sortie, and a famous conflict ensued’; it only ended when the mayor arrived and read the Riot Act. At the Lent assizes John Farnham Cock, Hertford’s agent, and 11 others pleaded guilty to riot on the understanding that they would not be called for judgement. Cock did obtain an ejection order for Culloden against Dent, but subsequent attempts at arbitration came to nothing and Hertford’s building plans were frustrated.13 The ‘violent party feeling’ in the borough manifested itself again in the autumn of 1825, when one of Hertford’s ‘partisans’ assigned to him a lease on a tenement with a small amount of land, held from Darlington. Hertford converted the property into four tenements and erected three cottages on the site of a bullock shed, in order to accommodate some friendly electors facing eviction by Darlington. However, the lease reserved to Darlington the right to dig for minerals, and his ‘electioneering miners’ sank a shaft near to the cottages and drove an adit underneath them, where ‘a few explosions of gunpowder’ were enough to reduce the buildings to ‘a heap of ruins’. Hertford was awarded £100 damages by the nisi prius court, but Darlington obtained a king’s bench verdict granting him the right of re-entry, on the ground that waste had been committed on the property.14

It was reported in September 1825 that ‘a certain party amongst the electors’ had resolved to support a candidate nominated by Hertford at the next general election. In April 1826 Milbank and Cradock canvassed the borough, but their reception was in ‘no way flattering’, as ‘11 out of the 22 electors ... refused their assent’ and the 11 supporters included ‘several shakers, who have frequently during the last few months declared that the lord warden must have his share of the patronage’. A proposed compromise to divide the representation was rejected by Darlington, and it was said that ‘every effort will be made to wrest from him the borough’. Darlington’s son told Thomas Creevey* that his father feared the loss of one of his seats.15 At the dissolution in June the parties were still ‘equally balanced’ and a double return was expected. Cooke stood again on Hertford’s interest, but he initially lacked a partner. The London barrister John Macarthur was encouraged by Lord Liverpool’s ministry to offer, on the understanding that he would be ‘indemnified against all expenses or risk, on payment of £3,000’, but he wanted a seat where a smaller annual payment was required. Wyndham Lewis, who had previously sat for Cardiff Boroughs, finally agreed to stand, and Cooke canvassed for him before his arrival, with the help of a local ‘wet nurse’ named Mason. Cooke reported to Hertford that ‘the whole of my party have solemnly declared to support [Lewis] unless the other party will compromise’, which seemed unlikely as Darlington’s agents were ‘determined to go all lengths and reject two or three of our voters’, on the ground of non-residence, ‘although they have voters similarly situated’. On election day 11 votes were duly tendered for each of the candidates, but the mayor, Dent, disallowed three of those for Cooke and Lewis, ‘their residences not being deemed bona fide residences, they living principally in London and Salisbury’. Milbank and Cradock were declared elected and later gave a dinner and ball at the King’s Arms. Cooke pledged to petition, and it was believed that ‘discoveries tending to involve Camelford in the fate of Grampound’ were likely to be made.16 Hertford wrote in November that he was sending a man to collect evidence, but he hoped that this would enable him to ‘make a good compromise and retire from the place’. A petition was presented, 5 Dec. 1826, which complained of Dent’s rejection of legal votes and admission of illegal ones, and accused Milbank, Cradock and their agents of ‘bribery and corruption’. The appointment of a committee was deferred until 3 May 1827, and shortly beforehand Lushington and Davies Gilbert, Member for Bodmin, negotiated a settlement between the two peers which left Darlington in ‘full possession of the place’. According to Gilbert, Hertford ‘asked nothing for his property ... beyond its real value, but stipulated as a sine qua non that his friends and supporters should be received by Lord Darlington on the same footing as his own friends’. A messenger was sent to stop witnesses from giving evidence in support of the petition, and the return was confirmed, 4 May 1827.17 It is possible that the nine freemen created between 1827 and 1830 included some of Hertford’s old allies.18

When the Tory county Member, Sir Richard Vyvyan, tried to organize opposition to the small bank notes bill in 1828, he was informed that Camelford corporation did not dare to act without instructions from Darlington (now 1st marquess of Cleveland).19 The anti-Catholic movement in the Cornish boroughs in 1829 similarly passed Camelford by; Milbank and Cradock supported emancipation, as previously. A petition from the inhabitants for repeal of the coastwise coal duty was presented to the Commons, 16 Mar. 1830.20 The general election that summer ‘produced ... little excitement’, and Milbank and Cradock were returned unopposed.21 Anti-slavery petitions from the Methodists were forwarded to both Houses, 10, 16 Nov. 1830.22 The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed the complete disfranchisement of Camelford, but Cleveland, who coveted a dukedom, instructed the Members to vote for it; they again enjoyed an uncontested return at the general election in May 1831, despite being ‘opposed to their few constituents on that point’.23 Milbank informed the Commons, 20 July, that on his last visit to the borough the electors had ‘unanimously determined to give up their privileges ... for the benefit of their country’. The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Camelford’s fate, as it contained 110 houses and paid £111 in assessed taxes, placing it 16th on the list of the smallest English boroughs; it was absorbed into the new Eastern division of Cornwall. In June 1832 the bill’s passage was marked by a day of festivities, including ‘the erection of triumphal arches’ and a ‘parade of the youth ... accompanied by bands of music’. Five months later Cleveland sold all his property in the borough.24

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. The Commons’ decision of 1796 did not enfranchise all ratepaying inhabitants, as was stated in HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 49-53 (ex. inf. Mr. Paul Buttle).
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 38.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), ii. 402-3; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 139; Parochial Hist. Cornw. i. 191-3.
  • 5. PP (1830-1), x. 63; (1835), xxxiii. 469-74; West Briton, 19 June 1818, 25 June, 9 July 1819; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 49-53.
  • 6. West Briton, 11, 25 Feb., 3, 10, 17 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 26 Feb., 4, 11 Mar.; Grey mss, Darlington to Grey [Mar. 1820].
  • 7. West Briton, 1 Dec. 1820.
  • 8. Ibid. 26 Apr. 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 316; LJ, lv. 221.
  • 9. CJ, lxxix. 76.
  • 10. West Briton, 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 145; LJ, lviii. 102.
  • 11. West Briton, 21, 28 June 1822, 21 Mar. 1823; R. Cornw. Gazette, 29 June 1822.
  • 12. West Briton, 25 Oct. 1822.
  • 13. Ibid. 3 Jan., 28 Mar. 1823, 21 May, 4 June 1824.
  • 14. Ibid. 7 Oct., 11 Nov. 1825, 20 Jan., 31 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 29 Apr. 1826.
  • 15. West Briton, 23 Sept. 1825, 28 Apr.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 29 Apr.; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 3 May 1826.
  • 16. West Briton, 2, 9, 16, 30 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 10, 17 June; Add. 60287, f. 205; Mitchell Lib. Sydney, Macarthur mss ML/A/2911, Macarthur to fa. 18 July 1826.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxii. 83-84, 121, 427, 429, 431; Add. 60287, f. 241; Cornw. RO, Gilbert mss DD/DG/22, Gilbert diary, 29 Apr. with additional note; West Briton, 5 Jan., 11 May 1827.
  • 18. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 508; West Briton, 9 Oct. 1829.
  • 19. Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss DD/V/BO/47, Braddon to Vyvyan, 2 June 1828.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxv. 183.
  • 21. West Briton, 23, 30 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 53; LJ, lxiii. 84.
  • 23. West Briton, 29 Apr., 6 May 1831.
  • 24. Ibid. 8, 15 June; Cornw. RO DD/X276/16, notice of sale, 7 Nov. 1832.