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 freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 1,200 rising to about 2,300

Number of voters:

1,988 in 1830


10,663 (1821); 12,190 (1831)


 EDWARD BLIGH, Lord Clifton566
 Robert Foote86
 EDWARD BLIGH, Lord Clifton435
 Hon. Richard Watson107
31 July 1830HON. RICHARD WATSON1334
 Henry Bingham Baring 731
 Samuel Elias Sawbridge8
 Hon. George John Milles8
29 Apr. 1831Hon.Richard Watson 

Main Article

The largest town in east Kent, the county borough of Canterbury, on the road from Dover to London, was a semi-urban community, in which hop farming had long since replaced silk weaving as the principal form of enterprise. As the city was the ecclesiastical centre of England, the Anglican establishment had an influence in local affairs, but the Dissenting interest was also strong, with the existence of several well- established chapels. The heads of a number of local landed families, notably the 3rd Baron Sondes of Lees Court, Faversham, and the 4th earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall, near Gravesend, enjoyed significant electoral influence in the borough.1 The franchise was in the freemen, whose qualification was obtainable by birth, marriage, apprenticeship, gift or purchase, on payment of the requisite fees. An average of about £620 in fines for the admission of freemen was taken every year between 1819 and 1828, with higher than average amounts in the election years: £700 in 1820-21 and £800 in 1825-6. In the ten years to 1835, 904 freemen were created.2 Some indication of the need to restrain the undue expansion of numbers is given by the burghmote ruling of 15 Dec. 1829 that no person was entitled to freedom by apprenticeship unless he was honestly and faithfully serving the master to whom he was bound.3 Only the resident freemen could vote in elections for the corporation (composed of the mayor, 12 aldermen and 24 common councilmen), which in this period produced a court of burghmote dominated by a narrow clique of Whigs. Non-resident freemen, almost all of them from London, were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, and they comprised 1,278 (or 55 per cent) of the supposed total of 2,335 freemen in 1830.4

Canterbury, which was labelled ‘corrupt’ in radical sources, was one of the large, open freeman boroughs which had a high level of popular partisan involvement, and contests were frequent and expensive. By means of a tacit, allegedly at times explicit, compromise, the seats were divided between a supporter of Lord Liverpool’s ministry and an opposition Whig. However, the Whig interest was increasingly split between the sitting Member, Darnley’s eldest son Lord Clifton, who had won the seat in 1818, and a group of young and overzealous supporters. Yet, as in previous elections, whatever the party divisions, the main battle cry was usually over the independence of the borough, a slogan which was used, especially by the Whigs, as a cover for party allegiance, though in the less partisan atmosphere of the mid-1820s it had more credibility.5 There was also a substantial independent element among the London freemen, who objected to the strong treasury and Whig interests, and even attempted, in 1830, to form a United Club of Freemen of Canterbury to safeguard their privileges.6 The city was thus a vibrant political cauldron, as was seen in the profusion of candidates’ colours: red for Tory or more often purple (signifying the church), with sometimes orange for anti-Catholic; blue for Whig, with light blue for the more active reforming Whigs; and pink for neutral. The three Canterbury newspapers also reflected the divergent opinions of the city: Kentish Gazette (Tory), Kentish Chronicle (moderate Whig) and Kent Herald (Whig/radical).7

Both Clifton and Stephen Rumbold Lushington, the joint treasury secretary, offered again at the general election of 1820. There were rumours that Sir John Courtenay Honywood of Evington, Ashford, the son of a former Member, Colonel Thomas Wildman of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, and the former Member John Baker of nearby St. Stephen’s or some other third candidate might come forward.8 Twenty-nine freemen were admitted on the eve of the election, when Robert Foote of Charlton Place, who had been a contender in 1818, was put up on the independent interest by William Abbott, a London cordwainer, and Thomas Mathers, the Canterbury printer and Whig activist. After a second show of hands, the sheriff declared in favour of the sitting Members, but a poll was insisted on, which yielded just 24 votes for Foote on the first day, out of 495 freemen polled. On the second day, Clifton moved ahead of Lushington only to be overtaken again before Foote withdrew, after another 577 freemen had voted.9 According to the Kentish Chronicle, Lushington’s 601 votes (representing the support of 56 per cent of the voters) comprised 504 plumpers (of which 55 were out-dwellers), 94 splits with Clifton (13) and three splits with Foote. Clifton’s 566 votes (53 per cent) were made up of 390 plumpers (of which 53 were out-dwellers), 94 splits with Lushington (13) and 82 splits with Foote (12). Foote received only one plumper and split the rest of his 86 votes (eight per cent) with the other candidates; 12 were out-dwellers. It was estimated that about 160 resident freemen were unpolled.10 Allegations of corruption were later made by William Gutsole, a butcher, who said that

I saw persons with my own eyes placed there [the steps of the hustings], to endeavour to prevent the freemen from supporting Mr. Foote, by telling them if they voted for Clifton and Foote they would get nothing, but if they gave a plumper to Lord Clifton they would get paid for it!11

At this time began the split in the Whig votes which Clifton was to blame for the erosion of his support a decade later.12

The Whigs were determined to show their support for Queen Caroline, and she was given a rousing reception when she passed through the city, 5 June 1820, on her return to London.13 George Frend, the mayor, agreed to call a common hall, 21 July, but withdrew rather than preside over a meeting to pass resolutions in her praise. Alderman John Cooper took the chair instead, but was unable to persuade either Member to present an adulatory address to the queen. In published letters, he expressed his surprise at Clifton’s decision after his frequent pledges that he would observe the wishes of his constituents, but wrote that he had expected Lushington’s refusal because of his ‘intimate and close connection with the persecutors of the illustrious female’.14 There were illuminations throughout the city, 11 Nov., on the news of Caroline’s acquittal, and the new mayor, James Warren, was made very unpopular by his decision to call out the military after a mob nearly attacked his house for failing to illuminate.15 Despite this, the court of burghmote agreed a loyal address to the king, 12 Dec. 1820.16 When her death, 7 Aug. 1821, brought widespread mourning to the city, the Kentish Chronicle commented that ‘these open demonstrations of regret have their value, because they broadly contradict those who have insulted and libelled the queen, and who would (if they could) misrepresent the state of popular opinion’.17 A meeting of the mayor and commonalty agreed to petition the Lords against the Catholic relief bill, 6 Apr. 1821.18 At the instigation of the archdeacon, a numerous meeting of the clergy of the diocese was held, 8 May, and their petition against the Catholic peers bill was presented, 10 May 1822; another, from the mayor and common council, was presented by Lushington on the 16th.19 In June 1824 a purple flag was displayed with the words ‘Lushington and Loyalty’, while a blue one read, with less validity as he was pro-Catholic, ‘Clifton and the Protestant Ascendancy’.20 Following another meeting of the clergy, 29 Mar. 1825, a petition was presented from the cathedral and diocesan clergy against emancipation, 18 Apr., and a parochial one was brought up by Lushington, 26 Apr.21 A petition from the city and its environs for the gradual abolition of slavery in the colonies was presented, 12 Mar. 1824, and one from the court of burghmote for its amelioration and eventual abolition was presented, 13 Mar. 1826.22

Despite his ministerial office, Lushington showed a concern for local commerce and, for instance, was sensitive to the need for temporary remission of the duties on hops in periods of distress.23 The hop planters petitioned against the repeal of the law requiring hop bags to be labelled with the owner’s name, 13 June 1822. Lushington also presented a petition from publicans against the beer retail bill, 15 July.24 Following the petition of John Gostling, gas contractor, brought up on 21 Feb. 1822, and notwithstanding some local opposition, a bill was passed to supply Canterbury with gas.25 Alderman Henry Cooper’s petition against the duty on seaborne coal was agreed at a court of burghmote, 1 Apr., and was presented by Lushington, 25 Apr. 1823. Similar petitions were brought up, 4 Feb. 1824 (by Clifton), 17 Feb. 1825, 23 Mar. 1826, 21 Dec. 1830.26 The burghmote approved petitions for repeal of the assessed taxes, 16 Mar. 1824, 15 Feb. 1825, 17 Jan. 1826, though the second was not apparently presented to the House.27 After an abortive attempt in 1823, during the following session the Members co-operated to ensure the passage of a bill to repeal the Hides and Skins Acts. This was despite hostile petitions from the fellmongers and butchers, 31 Mar. (presented by Lushington), and the curriers, saddlers, cordwainers and harness-makers, 4 May 1824.28 That year saw the passage of legislation to improve the roads to the north of the city, to erect a waterworks and to build a corn and hop market, which was acknowledged as a major contribution to local commerce.29 Extensive preparations were made for the construction of a navigation between Canterbury and Sandwich, including the agreement on 29 Mar. of a petition in favour of the Stour Navigation and Sandwich harbour bill, which passed amid celebrations in June 1825.30 This scheme ultimately came to nothing, partly because it was eclipsed by the anticipated economic benefits of the Canterbury and Whitstable railway. After the presentation of a Whitstable petition for such a railway, 17 Feb. 1825, the county Member, Sir Edward Knatchbull, was especially active in supervising the passage of three bills relative to its development in the 1825, 1826 and 1827 sessions.31 At first the railway was used solely for freight, but it was opened to passengers, 10 Jan. 1832.32 A petition against alteration of the corn laws was presented, 28 Apr. 1825, and one for repeal of the malt duties was brought up, 1 Mar. 1830.33

On rumours in 1824 that Lushington would be appointed to an Indian governorship, his fellow nabob Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar*, who had been one of the defeated candidates in 1807, offered to stand, and a meeting of freemen called for the return of an independent, 3 May.34 Although Townsend Farquhar’s pretensions came to nothing, the freemen in London were keen to form a club to safeguard the return of popular candidates against their opponents’ entrenched interests. As the chairman of the first of a series of meetings held late that year put it:

There were certainly many persons in Canterbury who, although independent in one sense of the word, were completely dependent in another; who were so cramped in circumstances, and unfortunately so much in subservience to the aristocracy, as to be debarred even from the utterance of those feelings which did honour to them.

Thus as early as December 1824 it was expected that Townsend Farquhar’s opposition to Clifton, and the preparations of the London freemen, would create a sharp contest.35 A London meeting agreed to ascertain how far the resident freemen would oppose a third candidate, 20 Apr. 1825, and their caution was warranted since the general consensus in Canterbury was against upsetting the status quo. The relative absence of party strife led the Kentish Chronicle to object to the idea of a contest:

Mr. Lushington, by his liberality to his friends, is not more esteemed than Lord Clifton for the benevolence of his private conduct and the steadiness of his public principles: of all the measures originated by the government, of a liberal tendency, both Lord Clifton and Mr. Lushington are entitled to a common eulogium - one for originating and the other for supporting them.

The paper also ridiculed the activities of such short-lived organizations as the Canterbury Independent Club of 1820, denigrated the Kentish Gazette for recommending pledges, especially on trade and Catholic emancipation, and defended both Members.36 Speculation receded when it became clear that there would not be a dissolution in late 1825, but it was reported in November that a party in favour of a third candidate had visited Sondes to encourage one of his family to stand; his uncle George had been the city’s Member, 1800-6. Not the least reason for the Whigs to resist a new contender was the realistic fear that he would only damage the sitting Whig’s position and would be extremely unlikely to prevent Lushington’s return.37 Sondes’s youngest brother, Richard Watson*, did consider the possibility of standing, but had ruled out the idea by March 1826.38

As a general election approached, the freemen in London became more active. Mathers chaired a meeting, 28 Feb. 1826, at which he said that

it was obvious that unless the non-resident freemen exerted themselves to the utmost, the present Members would be allowed to walk over the course. He had received intimation from the most respectable sources that my Lord Clifton and Mr. Lushington understood each other perfectly well, nor could any man altogether blame them for keeping out a third candidate; but, as it had frequently happened on more important occasions, the interest of the Members clashed with that of their constituents.

The meeting avowed a desire for anyone, including Townsend Farquhar, to come forward who would vote for repealing the corn laws.39 Further resentment against the sitting Members was signalled at another meeting a week later, which decided not to follow up the non-resident freeman George Fuller’s suggestion that the radical William Cobbett† might be interested in the seat, but resolved to ask Townsend Farquhar to stand. When the latter declined, the wealthy London merchant James Morrison* was applied to, though with no apparent success.40 On 16 May the Kentish Chronicle remarked that while the country was gripped by election excitement

it affords an object of remark that the city of Canterbury, noted for its spirit in electioneering matters, has not ‘stirred a stump’ or made one attempt available at procuring an opposing candidate. This circumstance, perhaps, is to be accounted for by the respect in which the two present Members are held.

Both Clifton and Lushington began a canvass and, despite having to return to London on official and parliamentary business, found little to discourage them, especially as Richard Gibbs, a tea broker, rallied the out-voters behind Lushington and denied renewed allegations of a coalition between the Members.41 The independent freemen held a large and rowdy meeting, 30 May, but having failed to find another candidate who would stand the expense, could do no more than agree to support Watson, even though he was absent and had not consented to stand.42

Over 100 freemen were admitted in the month before the general election of 1826.43 The poll commenced on 9 June, when Lushington and Clifton defended their respective ministerialist and Whig principles, but the main argument was between the supporters of Clifton and Watson. Charles Larkin, a Rochester land surveyor, argued that the latter should withdraw rather than split the cause of independence, while Thomas Moulden, a London merchant, advocated freedom of election, and Mathers opined that Clifton should not object as the purpose of a third candidate was to attack Lushington. The poll was attended by uproar both in the guildhall, where a light blue standard signifying reform was fought over, and outside, where a barricade erected to keep the freemen in order was broken down. Watson polled only 23 votes on the first day to Lushington’s 311 and Clifton’s 236. By gaining control of the staircase inside the hall, the Blues were enabled to increase their candidate’s vote, but he was again overtaken by Lushington and suffered from the loss of most of the votes which were cast for Watson. Just as the poll was closing Watson arrived in the city and expressed his gratitude for having been supported without his concurrence. Damage had undoubtedly been done to the united Whig interest, but Clifton, who later blamed the excess of mistaken zeal in the Whig cause for his retirement, was not entirely the victim of a factious intervention. As the Kentish Chronicle judiciously commented:

If the rambling of one or two staunch Blues from his lordship’s flock was indicative of hostility to his interest, our suspicion is confirmed that he was not supposed to go far enough in his political doctrine, and that his actions in the House of Commons had displeased some few of his friends. Be this as it may, the original blue cockade seemed to preponderate and was still hailed, by a vast concourse of persons, as a ‘type of the free’.44

Lushington had 665 votes (receiving support from 63 per cent of the voters), with Clifton second on 435 (41 per cent) and Watson trailing with just 107 (ten per cent). Lushington received 576 plumpers (87 per cent of his total) and shared two-thirds of his 89 cross-votes with Clifton and one-third with Watson. Clifton’s 313 plumpers made up 72 per cent of his total, and he shared his 122 splits equally with Lushington and Watson. Watson got only 23 plumpers (22 per cent of his total), and received most of his votes through splits with Lushington (25) and Clifton (59). That the election was not a full-scale contest is shown by the negligible number of London or out-county voters participating, and by the low percentage (15) of Kent out-voters in the total of 1,058 freemen polled.45

Following the formation of a new ministry under the pro-Catholic George Canning, a court of burghmote agreed an address to the king supporting his prerogative of appointing ministers of his choice, 27 May 1827.46 Petitions against Catholic relief were presented from several parishes, 5, 19 Mar. 1827, and from the diocesan clergy, 19 Mar. 1827, 6 May 1828.47 Clifton brought up others for repeal of the Test Acts, 31 May 1827, 25 Feb. 1828.48 In late 1828 Canterbury was involved in the general controversy in Kent following the adoption of an anti-Catholic petition at the Penenden Heath meeting, 24 Oct. Clifton was so closely aligned with the Catholic cause that an editorial in the Kentish Gazette referred to him as ‘the Popery representative in Parliament of the city of Canterbury’.49 The Protestant Dissenters and Unitarians of Canterbury had taken a large part against the Brunswickers at Penenden Heath, and their petition in favour of Catholic emancipation, as well as one from the freemen and inhabitants of Canterbury, was presented by Clifton, 4 Mar. 1829.50

The main issue to dominate Canterbury politics during the 1826 Parliament was the Lushington affair. After months of speculation, his appointment to the governorship of Madras in January 1827 led to confident predictions of a by-election within the year. Joseph Planta*, who was soon to replace Lushington at the treasury, was thought of as a possible successor. Townsend Farquhar’s name was also mentioned, though he was discounted as being quite content to remain at Hythe.51 The London out-voters leapt at the chance to put up an independent candidate, and at a meeting on 29 Mar. the candidacy of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Torrens* was proposed.52 Torrens subsequently agreed to stand and pledged his support for reform and greater religious liberty, provided Protestantism was protected. As a professed supporter of Canning it was expected that he would be returned, though he himself reckoned he would require the full support of the London out-voters.53 Meanwhile, a meeting of freemen, 5 Apr., had decided to approve an approach to Watson, as someone who was independent and would vote for economies.54 Watson, who was serving abroad with the army, wrote to decline the offer; when this eventually came out, Charles Hock Chapman, the chairman of the Independent Freemen of Canterbury, was unable to keep up the momentum of his campaign.55 In any case, by the summer it had become apparent that Lushington would not resign. Clifton presented the Canterbury freemen’s petition to enforce his vacating the seat, 12 June 1827, but Lushington defended himself in debate and refused to give way to the views of the bulk of his constituents.56

With the meeting of Parliament and the return of Watson from Portugal, further attempts to dislodge Lushington were expected. The committee of Independent Freemen held an unruly meeting about the non-representation of the city, 20 Feb. 1828, when it was agreed to requisition the mayor for a common hall, which the Kentish Chronicle hoped would fully discuss the question, ‘as the committee seem to have avoided all party feeling, and treated it as a subject in which every freeman is alike concerned whether rich or poor, red or blue’.57 After Mathers had denied there were any party differences, 17 Mar., it was unanimously resolved to petition Parliament that it was illegal for Lushington to retain his seat and to request the issue of an election writ. In the absence of Clifton, this was brought up by Lord John Russell, 27 Mar.58 Allegations were made of false signatures having been added to the petition, and Lushington’s supporters always maintained that he was opposed only by a small proportion of the electors.59 A meeting on 10 Apr. proposed the formation of a London Union of Independent Freemen Society, in order to combine with the resident freemen to secure the return of Torrens in the event of a vacancy.60 At a subsequent meeting, 5 June, Fuller related the reply he had received from the Canterbury freemen:

The letter justly remarked ‘that a house divided against itself could not stand’, and also reminded them that a slur had been for a long time cast on the honest part of the electors in London; for, observed the writer, ‘whenever the expense of returning a Member is talked of, you are generally represented as being the persons who cause such an enormous expenditure’ and recommended them to take such steps, as would prevent designing characters by artful intrigues, profiting by their votes.

Yet these efforts were rendered nugatory by Clifton’s refusal to move for a writ and the realization that Lushington had not acted illegally.61 At least the Kentish Chronicle was able to congratulate Alexander Baring for promising to introduce a bill to require Members accepting office under the East India Company to resign their seat.62 Meanwhile, Torrens was clearly apprehensive of standing if any difficulties were to arise and wrote to the London freemen, 30 Sept. 1828, to decline any further involvement while Lushington was still the sitting Member. He gave as an excuse his belief that his election could only succeed if the out-voters and independents combined.63

The radical Huntingdon attorney Samuel Wells volunteered his services to the Canterbury freemen, and recommended not that they should petition the king-in-council to recall Lushington (which had been one of his original proposals), but to introduce a bill to declare the seat vacant. This was approved by a meeting of the out-voters resident in London, 16 Dec. 1828, though there were obvious signs of disunity between them and the resident freemen, especially in their criticisms of Clifton for failing to take a leading part.64 A meeting of Canterbury freemen agreed to support the proposed bill, 15 Jan. 1829, and resolved to lay it before the home secretary, Robert Peel, and the attorney-general, Sir Charles Wetherell, to request Baring to move it and to ask Clifton to support it. Mathers said that Lushington ‘had been guilty of an unwarrantable act in leaving his constituents in a state of half-representation, remarking that to them he was dead; and indeed ... where is the man who can, at this moment, affirm that he is not dead?’ The attempt to oust Lushington then began to fall apart, with first the Kentish Gazette ridiculing the freemen for failing to raise enough subscriptions to cover the costs of the bill, and then the London out-voters themselves resolving to give up the campaign.65 The Whig voters kept heart, however, and despite opposition from Lushington’s supporters, such as the banker Deane John Parker of Westgate, their petition against Lushington was adopted at a common hall, 23 Feb. It was signed by over 300 resident freemen and, although delayed by his illness, was presented by Clifton, 19 Mar., when Baring announced that he would introduce his proposed bill. Other petitions from Canterbury complaining of Lushington’s absence were brought up, 16 Apr., 19 May.66 Baring’s bill would have deprived Lushington of his seat once it was given royal assent, and although Baring insisted that this did not make it retrospective, it ran into opposition. James Law Lushington claimed, 6 May, that his brother would have resigned if had he been politely requested to do so and did enjoy the approval of his constituents.67 Canterbury opinion was firmly and vociferously divided along party lines by this time.68 The Whigs and independents rejoiced when the House agreed, 22 May 1829, to refer their petitions to a select committee, which reported that Lushington’s case did not come under the Act of 1707, but recommended that a new bill should be introduced to bring Indian offices within its scope.69 The Tories at least succeeded so far as to prevent Baring’s bill, when it passed, from applying to Lushington.70 Early in the new year criticisms again surfaced at Lushington’s continued absence, and similar comments began to be made against Clifton, who was now resident in Ireland.71 Despite the initial obstruction of the mayor, Edward Kingsford, a common hall was eventually held, 27 Apr., which agreed to petition the Commons to alleviate economic distress and improve the representation; it was presented by Poulett Thomson, 24 May 1830.72

As the Tory press had not been slow to point out, Wells’s involvement in the affair was hardly disinterested, a fact which became plain when he declared his candidature for Canterbury to a meeting of London freemen in May 1829. In November he circulated an address, offering himself as a candidate and calling for an end to pauperization, underrepresentation and corruption.73 In March 1830 he issued another warning that he would contest Canterbury against the ‘two factions’, and he later stated that ‘he had no favour to bestow in return for their suffrages and no family to quarter on the excise, the army, or navy; his best claim was that he was the advocate for the labouring classes’. Aldermen Henry Cooper, George Neame and James Roberts visited Lees Court, 1 Mar., to ask Sondes to allow Watson to stand in conjunction with Clifton.74 Considerable jockeying for position began between the candidates, leading one newspaper to comment that ‘it would appear that the freemen are in a divided state as to the best course to be pursued, and one or two meetings lately held have only been scenes of noise and confusion’. Both the Tories and the independent London voters objected to a supposed arrangement between Watson and Clifton, while the Tory and Whig papers were united in their suspicions of Wells.75 In May Lord Mahon*, who was searching for a seat, was encouraged by a report that a contest would cost his father, the 4th Earl Stanhope, only £1,500, but he was ultimately deterred by the crowded field, which reflected the dominant treasury and territorial interests.76 At the beginning of July Wells announced his candidature with a radical address, Watson offered as a man unconnected with any party, and Clifton also started to campaign on the basis of his past conduct. A notice was inserted in the papers asking the friends of Lushington to reserve their votes for a candidate of the same principles who would soon emerge. After a visit to his brother John, a prebendary of Canterbury, it was even rumoured that Peel would be the Tory’s choice for the seat. But the army officer Henry Bingham Baring*, son of the wayward Whig Henry Baring*, came forward and, though claiming to be ‘perfectly independent’, made clear his support for the duke of Wellington’s government. Lord Carlisle wrote to Lord Holland, 10 July: ‘You hear that Henry Baring’s son opposes Darnley at Canterbury. So much for civil speeches’.77 Watson was initially attacked by the local Tory paper for having no ideas or experience except an ‘aristocratic notion’ of the Commons being ‘as little controlled by the wishes and sentiments of the people as the House of Lords’; but a later statement that he had no hostility towards the administration benefited his cause. Clifton’s recent lackadaisical commitment to the Whigs had damaged his credibility. Lacking sufficient support, he decided to avoid an expensive contest and relinquished his pretensions in favour of Lord Fordwich*, the eldest son of the 5th Earl Cowper of Panshanger, Hertfordshire, who promised to support economies and retrenchment. On 13 July, the Kentish Gazette summed up the position:

A few days’ experience has, doubtless, convinced Mr. Baring that the principles of Mr. Lushington are as warmly espoused in this city as ever; and Mr. Watson, we are given to understand, has met with no inconsiderable support. The fate of Lord Clifton is only such as was universally expected and his introduction of my Lord Fordwich, ‘to cover his retreat’, is certainly a masterly manoeuvre.78

Much of the active canvassing took place in London. Fordwich was criticized as a sprig of the nobility by a Mr. Mills, one of Baring’s supporters. Fordwich’s campaign was backed by John Chalk Claris, the editor of the Kent Herald, and by Clifton, who nominated him at the election.79 Wells withdrew for fear of expense, and his supporters urged the return of Watson and Fordwich. Allegations were then made that Thomas Lever Burch, the chairman of Fordwich’s committee, had offered to split his votes with Watson, but the existence of any agreement was strongly denied by both parties; indeed, three days before the poll, Watson appealed to his friends not to fail to vote for him because they thought he was safe.80 On the eve of the poll, great excitement was created by the addition of purple to the pink colours of Watson, a gesture which was considered tantamount to a union with Baring. Watson denied this, but his stance on the hustings was equivocal:

I now state to you, that I go to Parliament purely independent; not, however, to oppose the duke of Wellington’s administration in all his measures, but to support such as may appear best calculated to secure the interest of the country.

Baring, whose proposer, Parker, was scarcely heard for hisses, tried to repair the damage by stressing his independent credentials, while Fordwich spoke in favour of reform and retrenchment. As all the candidates were military men, they vied with each other in promises to resign their commissions rather than let their careers interfere with their ability to represent the borough.81 The election was accompanied by the usual turbulence, much of it caused by the arrival of several hundred London out-voters. About 150 freemen were admitted in the three weeks beforehand and another 146 (almost all from the capital) on the two days prior to the poll.82 Fordwich’s committee house was painted blue and the Canterbury men so disliked the hustings, where they had to vote instead of the guildhall, that they threatened to tear them down. At the end of the first day Fordwich was in third place, partly because the electors were holding back their votes until they had been richly treated, but he moved convincingly into second place behind Watson the following day. Towards the end of the third day Baring gave up the contest, at which point he had received 731 votes (or support from 37 per cent of the voters), to 1,101 (55 per cent) for Fordwich and 1,334 (67 per cent) for Watson. As a legal precaution, two other candidates, who each got eight votes, were entered on the last day: Samuel Elias Sawbridge of Olantigh, Kent, a former Member; and George John Milles, Watson’s elder brother (later the 4th Baron Sondes).83 Although the Whigs feared that treasury influence would carry Baring against Fordwich, Canterbury was one of the first of the popular boroughs to register a victory against ministers.84

Watson received 15 per cent of his votes in plumpers, 27 per cent in splits with Baring and 57 per cent with Fordwich. Fordwich scored 26 per cent of his votes in plumpers, five per cent in splits with Baring and no less than 70 per cent with Watson. Baring received the greatest number of plumpers (307), which made up 42 per cent of his total; the rest were split with Watson (51 per cent) and Fordwich (eight per cent). The outcome was, therefore, largely determined by the splitters: 38 per cent of all voters split between Watson and Fordwich and 18 per cent voted for Watson and Baring. As many of those who should have plumped for Fordwich split with Watson early in the contest, and as Watson received so many Tory votes in combination with Baring, Fordwich was acknowledged as the popular candidate.85 A comparison of the behaviour of individual voters in the 1826 and 1830 elections reveals that Watson’s success was largely due to his ability to gain split votes from both Whigs and Tories. Of those who plumped for Lushington in 1826, 25 per cent plumped again (16 per cent for Baring and nine per cent for Watson), but over two-thirds split their votes (33 per cent between Watson and Baring, and 35 per cent between Watson and Fordwich). Of Clifton’s plumpers, 26 per cent plumped for Fordwich, while 54 per cent split between Watson and Fordwich and another 12 per cent split between Watson and Baring. Of those who had voted for both Clifton and Watson in 1826, 70 per cent split for Fordwich and Watson.86 Of the 1,988 freemen polled, roughly 20 per cent were resident in London and 40 per cent were Kent out-voters, so that the residents made up only 40 per cent of the total. A greater proportion (49 per cent) of the London freemen supported Baring than was the case with the freemen as a whole. Fordwich fared much the same among them (43 per cent), but Watson did very much worse (27 per cent). The turnout was 87 per cent (84 per cent of the Canterbury and London voters and 91 per cent of the Kent voters), which, although high, was about the average for major contests in the borough in the early nineteenth century.87

According to his account book, Fordwich spent £5,467 on his election from 13 July 1830 onwards. Most of the entries were for canvassing, treating, travelling and payments to freemen. One item alone, repaying Burch for his expenses, was for £1,186. Several bills related to Kent out-voters, including those resident in Ramsgate and Sandwich. Coach hire for the London voters and tavern bills at Dartford, Rochester and Sittingbourne amounted to at least £175. In total, it was calculated that he spent £3,334 on the Canterbury and east Kent voters, at £3 10s. 0d. per vote; and £2,033 on voters resident in London and more distant parts, at £13 per vote. The Whig whip Edward Ellice* judged that Fordwich must have spent nearly £10,000, and just before the next election it was reported that his bills amounted to ‘more than £9,000 ... only part of which is discharged’.88 Watson’s accounts reveal expenditure of about £4,500, mainly on transportation and local electioneering costs. He spent £952 on Canterbury voters (at an average cost of £1 1s. 4d.), £646 on Kent voters (£1 17s. 5d.) and £1,152 on London voters (£12 1s. 8d.). The Spectator listed Canterbury as a borough in which money was the prevailing interest, and estimated that each candidate must have spent £4,000 or £5,000. This was rebutted in The Times by one of Fordwich’s agents, Robert Southee, a London solicitor, although he himself received £50 for his services during the election. One estimate put Baring’s expenses at £7,000.89

Anti-slavery petitions were presented from Dissenting congregations, 3, 10 Nov., and from the inhabitants (by Watson), 7 Dec. 1830.90 Following a meeting of the freemen resident in London, their petition for reform, the ballot, shorter parliaments and economies was brought up by Fordwich, 16 Nov.91 Opinion was divided between the radicals’ intentions for reform and the moderate Whig view as explained in a Kentish Chronicle editorial, which argued that all resident Canterbury householders should be enfranchised.92 A pro-reform petition from the mayor, Henry Cooper, was presented by Fordwich, 4 Feb. 1831.93 At a common hall, 2 Feb., the moderates succeeded in obtaining a petition for reform and retrenchment, which was brought up by Watson, 7 Mar.94 A court of burghmote, 8 Mar., agreed to petition Parliament in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and this was presented by Watson, 10 Mar. Fordwich brought up a petition from the inhabitants (containing 1,500 signatures), and two others from the non-resident freemen were presented, 18 Mar.95 Some dissent to the reform proposals was voiced in London, though one estimate that the removal of the out-voters would leave Canterbury as a rotten borough with only 250 electors was a great exaggeration.96 In a published letter to Russell, ‘A Canterbury Freeman’ asked for the elective right for non-resident freemen to be extended to the county boundary, or at least to within 20 miles of the borough.97 A rumour that Baring, who, unlike the sitting Members, was an anti-reformer, might re-enter led to a revival of activity by Fordwich’s supporters among the London freemen, but he did not stand at the 1831 general election.98 Despite the fear that Watson’s support for reform might have antagonized his Tory supporters, he and Fordwich were quietly returned unopposed.99 Fuller petitioned the Commons to give the franchise to out-voters where they resided or at the nearest place sending Members, 14 Sept. 1831.100 A town meeting resolved to petition the Lords in favour of the reform bill, 23 Sept., and this was presented, 4 Oct.; another gathering agreed to address the king to request him to create enough peers to pass it, 10 Oct. 1831.101 A spontaneous meeting, 11 May 1832, to decide how to preserve the cause of reform after the dismissal of Grey’s ministry, resolved to petition the Commons not to grant any supplies until the reform ministry had been restored.102 A meeting of Conservatives to thank the king for upholding the privileges of each part of the legislature, 19 May 1832, was hijacked by an angry crowd of reformers outside. At the instigation of the unsuccessful Whig candidate for the Eastern division of the county, Sir William Cosway, an address was agreed to congratulate the king on the re-appointment of Lord Grey that month.103 The east Kent celebration of Reform dinner was held in Canterbury, 26 July 1832.104

Under the Boundary Act, the borough of Canterbury was enlarged to include parts of a few out-lying parishes, the precincts and extra-parochial places within the city, and the borough of Longport, which formed a large segment of the south-east of the city. The number of freemen within seven miles of the borough was numbered at 1,201, and together with at least 300 £10 householders, they formed a registered electorate of 1,511 at the general election of 1832.105 Watson flirted briefly with the idea of standing for Kent East, and it was supposed that Baring, Clifton’s brother, the diplomat John Duncan Bligh, Lord Albert Denison Conyngham†, son of the 1st Marquess Conyngham, and Stewart Marjoribanks* might emerge as candidates.106 As it was, the Whig dominance of Canterbury was preserved by the return of Watson and Fordwich against the madman John Thom, alias Sir William Courtenay, after a short contest. The traditional pattern of a combination of Liberal and Conservative Members was re-established in 1835.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. K. Eaton, ‘Newspapers and Politics in Canterbury and Maidstone, 1815-1850’ (Univ. of Kent at Canterbury M.A. thesis, 1972), pp. v, 1-7, 12-13; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 58.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 3; (1835), xxiv. 33-34; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, Canterbury city recs. FA43, FA44.
  • 3. Canterbury city recs. AC13, 69-70.
  • 4. PP (1835), xxiv. 28.
  • 5. O’Gorman, 280, 349-50; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 215-17; Peep at the Commons (1820), 5; Kentish Chron. 14 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Kentish Chron. 29 June 1830.
  • 7. Eaton, 30-45, 201-2.
  • 8. Kentish Chron. 29 Feb.; Kentish Gazette, 15, 25, 29 Feb., 3 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Canterbury city recs. AC12, 114-18; Kentish Chron. 7, 10 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 10 Mar. 1820.
  • 10. Kentish Chron. 14 Mar. 1820.
  • 11. Kentish Gazette, 10 Apr. 1827.
  • 12. Kentish Chron. 27 July 1830.
  • 13. Ibid. 9 June 1820; Canterbury Pollbook (1826), 28.
  • 14. Kentish Chron. 21, 25 July, 4, 8, 11 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 25 July 1820.
  • 15. Kentish Chron. 17, 21 Nov. 1820; Canterbury Pollbook (1826), 28.
  • 16. Kentish Chron. 15, 19, 22, 29 Dec. 1820; Canterbury city recs. AC12, 159.
  • 17. Kentish Chron. 14 Aug. 1821.
  • 18. Ibid. 10 Apr. 1821; Canterbury city recs. AC12, 170-1.
  • 19. Kentish Chron. 10 May 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 249, 272.
  • 20. Kent Herald, 1 July 1824.
  • 21. Kentish Gazette, 1 Apr. 1825; CJ, lxxx. 315, 343.
  • 22. CJ, lxxix. 155; lxxxi. 159.
  • 23. For example, Kentish Gazette, 4 Apr. 1820.
  • 24. CJ, lxxvii. 342, 426.
  • 25. Ibid. lxxvii. 45, 231; Kentish Chron. 29 Mar., 16, 19 Apr. 1822.
  • 26. Canterbury city recs. AC12, 285, 331, 492-3; CJ, lxxviii, 253; lxxix. 6; lxxx. 70; lxxxi. 205; lxxxvi. 199; Kentish Chron. 10 Feb. 1824.
  • 27. Canterbury city recs. AC12, 355-6, 416, 491; CJ, lxxix. 211; lxxxi. 160.
  • 28. CJ, lxxx. 233, 319; Kentish Chron. 2 Apr. 1824.
  • 29. Kentish Chron. 8 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 8 Apr. 1825.
  • 30. Canterbury city recs. AJ3/1; AC12, 423; Kentish Chron. 1 July 1825.
  • 31. CJ, lxxx. 53.
  • 32. Kentish Chron. 17 Jan. 1832.
  • 33. CJ, lxxx. 350; lxxxv. 111.
  • 34. Kentish Chron. 23 Apr., 4 May; Kentish Gazette, 4 May; Kent Herald, 6 May 1824.
  • 35. Kentish Chron. 19 Oct., 24 Dec.; Kentish Gazette, 24 Dec.; Kent Herald, 9, 30 Dec. 1824.
  • 36. Kentish Chron. 26 Apr., 12 July, 9 Aug., 2, 23 Sept.; Kentish Gazette, 26 Aug. 1825.
  • 37. Kentish Chron. 1, 8 Nov. 1825.
  • 38. Fitzwilliam mss 124/3.
  • 39. Kentish Chron. 3 Mar. 1826.
  • 40. Ibid. 14 Mar., 4 Apr. 1826.
  • 41. Ibid. 16, 19, 23, 26 May; Kentish Gazette, 16, 19 May 1826.
  • 42. Kentish Chron. 2, 9 June; Kentish Gazette, 2, 6, 9 June 1826.
  • 43. Canterbury city recs. AC12, 502-30.
  • 44. The Times, 12 June; Kentish Gazette, 13 June; Kentish Chron. 13 June 1826, 27 July 1830.
  • 45. Canterbury Pollbook (1826).
  • 46. Canterbury city recs. AC12, 574.
  • 47. CJ, lxxxii. 274-5, 333; lxxxiii. 319.
  • 48. Ibid. lxxxii. 510; lxxxiii. 110.
  • 49. Kentish Gazette, 25 Nov. 1828.
  • 50. Kentish Chron. 3 Mar. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 103.
  • 51. Kentish Chron. 17 Nov. 1826, 16, 30 Jan., 13 Feb., 27 Mar. 1827.
  • 52. Kentish Chron. 3 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 3 Apr. 1827.
  • 53. Kentish Chron. 20, 27 Apr., 4 May, 19 June; Kentish Gazette, 20 Apr., 4 May 1827.
  • 54. Kentish Chron. 6, 10 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 10 Apr. 1827.
  • 55. Kentish Chron. 4, 25, 29 May, 26 June; Kentish Gazette, 25, 29 May, 26 June 1827.
  • 56. CJ, lxxxii. 550; Kentish Chron. 12, 15, 26 June 1827.
  • 57. Kentish Chron. 19, 22, 26 Feb., 11 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 11 Mar. 1828.
  • 58. Kentish Chron. 18 Mar., 1 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 18 Mar. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 207.
  • 59. Kentish Gazette, 21, 25 Mar. 1828, 6 Mar. 1829.
  • 60. Ibid. 15 Apr.; Kentish Chron. 15 Apr. 1828.
  • 61. Kentish Chron. 10 June; Kentish Gazette, 10 June 1828; Add. 40396, f. 220.
  • 62. Kentish Chron. 1 July 1828.
  • 63. Ibid. 10 June, 16 Sept., 7 Oct. 1828.
  • 64. Ibid. 1 July, 16, 23 Dec.; Kentish Gazette, 23 Dec. 1828.
  • 65. Kentish Chron. 20 Jan., 10 Feb.; Kentish Gazette, 20 Jan., 6 Feb. 1829.
  • 66. Kentish Chron. 20, 24 Feb., 3, 17, 24 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 24 Feb., 3, 6, 13, 24 Mar. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 152, 238, 316.
  • 67. Kentish Chron. 12 May; Kentish Gazette, 8 May 1829.
  • 68. Kentish Chron. 19, 26 May, 2 June; Kentish Gazette, 12, 15, 19, 22, 26 May 1829.
  • 69. CJ, lxxxiv. 332; PP (1829), iii. 359-60.
  • 70. Kentish Chron. 9 June; Kentish Gazette, 5, 9 June 1829.
  • 71. Kentish Chron. 16 Feb., 30 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 16, 26 Feb., 16 Apr. 1830.
  • 72. Kentish Chron. 20 Apr., 4 May; Kentish Gazette, 16, 30 Apr.; The Times, 29 Apr. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 465.
  • 73. Kentish Gazette, 20 Jan.; Kentish Chron. 26 May, 10 Nov. 1829.
  • 74. Kentish Chron. 9 Mar., 20 Apr. 1830; Cent. Kent. Stud. Harris mss U624 C242, Sondes to Harris [?3 Mar. 1830].
  • 75. Kentish Chron. 25 May, 1, 29 June; Kentish Gazette, 28 May, 25 June 1830.
  • 76. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C130/9, Mahon to Stanhope, 19, 22, 24, 26 May 1830.
  • 77. Kentish Chron. 6 July; Kentish Gazette, 6 July 1830; Add. 51578.
  • 78. Kentish Gazette, 9, 13 July; Kentish Chron. 13 July 1830.
  • 79. Kentish Gazette, 16, 20 July; Kentish Chron. 20 July 1830.
  • 80. Kentish Gazette, 23, 27 July; Kentish Chron. 27 July 1830.
  • 81. Kentish Gazette, 30 July; The Times, 30 July; Kentish Chron. 3 Aug. 1830; Canterbury Pollbook (1830), 13-23.
  • 82. Canterbury city recs. AC13, 91-137; B. Keith-Lucas, Unreformed Local Government System, 27.
  • 83. Kentish Chron. 27 July; Kentish Gazette, 30 July; The Times, 2 Aug.; Add. 51600, Lady Cowper to Lady Holland [29 July 1830].
  • 84. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 15 July 1830; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 332-3.
  • 85. Watson mss WR 757, Davey to Watson, 27 July; Kentish Gazette, 6 Aug.; The Times, 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 86. These percentages are based on the sample votes of the 285 freemen (27 per cent of the total number voting in 1826), with surnames beginning with the letters A-G, who can be identified in the pollbooks as having voted in both 1826 and 1830.
  • 87. O’Gorman, 184, 189, 373. The statistics in the last two paragraphs are based on Canterbury Pollbook (1830); Kentish Gazette, 6, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 88. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [Aug.]; Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss 40, Fordwich’s expenses at Canterbury election, 1830; Hatfield House mss 2M/Nicholson, Nicholson to Salisbury, 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 89. Watson mss WR 758, Watson’s election expenses, 1830; Spectator, 1 Jan.; The Times, 8 Jan.; Kentish Chron. 15 Mar. 1831.
  • 90. Kentish Chron. 9 Nov. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 20, 52, 155.
  • 91. CJ, lxxxvi. 86; PP (1830-31), iii. 421; Kentish Gazette, 19 Nov. 1830.
  • 92. Kentish Chron. 30 Nov., 14 Dec. 1830; Kentish Gazette, 1 Feb. 1831.
  • 93. CJ, lxxxvi. 211; PP (1830-31), iii. 423.
  • 94. Kentish Chron. 8 Feb.; Kentish Gazette, 4 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 347.
  • 95. Canterbury city recs. AC13, 169-71; Kentish Gazette, 11 Mar.; Kentish Chron. 15, 22 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 359, 402.
  • 96. Kentish Gazette, 22 Mar. 1831.
  • 97. Kentish Chron. 19 Apr. 1831.
  • 98. Ibid. 22 Feb., 15 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 8, 11 Mar. 1831.
  • 99. Kentish Chron. 26 Apr., 3 May; Kentish Gazette, 26, 29 Apr., 3 May 1831.
  • 100. CJ, lxxxvii. 840.
  • 101. Kentish Chron. 27 Sept., 11, 18 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1054.
  • 102. Kentish Chron. 15 May; Kent Herald, 17 May 1832.
  • 103. Kentish Chron. 22 May; Kentish Gazette, 22 May; Kent Herald, 24 May 1832.
  • 104. Kentish Chron. 31 July 1832.
  • 105. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 3-5; (1835), xxiv. 49; (1837), xxvi. 195; Kentish Chron. 4 Sept. 1832.
  • 106. Kentish Chron. 5 June; Kentish Gazette, 6 June 1832.