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 2,0001

Number of voters:

1,829 in 1830


11,468 (1821); 14,381 (1831)


 John Halcomb628
 Joseph Butterworth201
 George Finch13
 Michael Kingsford8
11 Feb. 1828WILLIAM HENRY TRANT vice Bootle Wilbraham, called to the Upper House739
 John Halcomb633
5 Aug. 1830SIR JOHN RAE REID, bt.977
 John Halcomb732
29 Nov. 1830POULETT THOMSON re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Dover was a port ‘of considerable consequence’ situated in east Kent, 72 miles from London and 21 from Calais, to where (and Boulogne) there was a daily steam packet service. Dominated by ‘stupendous [white] cliffs’ and its castle, it had docks, warehouses, a custom house and barracks. There was paper manufacturing in the neighbouring villages of Buckland, Charlton and River. Dover’s marine promenade housed a number of medicinal baths for fashionable hypochondriacs.2 While Charles Poulett Thomson exaggerated in 1830 when he described his as ‘the most troublesome seat of the whole 658’, the large non-resident element in Dover’s expanding electorate (put at over 2,300 in December 1831) certainly tested the resources and stamina of candidates.3 The freedom was obtainable by birth, marriage, apprenticeship, purchase and gift of the corporation; and between 1819 and 1831, 1,261 new freemen were admitted, mostly on the basis of birth or marriage. There were creations of 106, 457, 152, 243 and 30 in the respective election years.4 At any one time, at least one third were non-residents. The most significant of these were the London electors, who made up between 24 and 44 per cent of the total outvote. The most powerful single interest was that of the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, whose court of lodemanage appointed the 140 pilots, based at Dover, Deal, Margate and Ramsgate; most of them were freemen of Dover. Considerable government patronage was available in the customs, the Channel packet service and the ordnance and victualling establishments. For much of this period the lord warden was also prime minister, in the persons of Lord Liverpool, until his death in December 1828, and his successor the duke of Wellington. In these circumstances, the influence of both lord warden and administration was ‘very powerful’, especially as several of the chief Cinque Ports officials, mainly local attorneys, were leading members of the corporation, from which political opponents had long been excluded.5 For all this, there was a significant independent element in the electorate, particularly the out-voters; and Thomas Pain, registrar of the Cinque Ports, told Liverpool a month before the 1818 general election that the stability and supremacy of the established interest could not, ‘where the freemen are so numerous and so composed ... be calculated for any lengthened period’.6

There was a brief prospect of a ‘sharp contest’ in 1820, when the ministerialist sitting Members offered again. Edward Bootle Wilbraham, a Lancashire landowner, had been returned in 1818 on the government and lord warden’s interests; while his colleague Sir John Jackson, a London merchant and director of the East India Company, had enjoyed Liverpool’s neutrality. The independents, humiliated in 1818, put up Joseph Butterworth, a wealthy London law publisher and prominent Methodist and associate of the ‘Saints’.7 Their campaign was orchestrated in Dover by Isaac Hubbard and George Page, a brewer, and among the London voters by William Standen, a linen draper. Jackson, however, was in poor health (he died 17 May 1820) and he withdrew on 23 Feb. 1820.8 Two days later over 300 freemen signed a resolution inviting any other interested ‘independent candidate’ to join Butterworth, but none materialized. Three weeks after the quiet return of Bootle Wilbraham and Butterworth, it was reported that some of the latter’s supporters were forming ‘an Independent Club’ to consolidate their success.9

Free barons and inhabitants of Dover petitioned the Commons for restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 12 Feb. 1821.10 Some inhabitants petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief, 12 Apr.1821.11 Dover petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 15 May 1823, 11 Mar. 1824, 20 Apr. 1826, and the Lords, 12 Mar. 1824, 10 May 1826, and the Commons for inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May 1824.12 The Commons received a petition from Dover tanners and curriers against the hides and skins bill, 3 May, and one from Dover butchers in favour of it, 11 May 1824.13 Owners and occupiers of land in the Dover area petitioned the Commons against interference with the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825, 18 Apr. 1826.14 Operative sawyers petitioned the Commons against reinstatement of the Combination Acts, 13 May 1825.15

Bootle Wilbraham was assiduous in his manipulation of patronage, and in October 1822 he appealed to his friend Canning, recently installed as foreign secretary, to intervene against a recent ‘most imprudent decision’ by the treasury to hand over customs patronage to the commissioners of customs. He claimed to have been robbed of the recommendation to three vacancies and to have remonstrated in vain with Charles Arbuthnot*, the secretary to the treasury.16 A year later he was worried by proposed reorganization of the packet service, which he warned would be economically damaging to Dover and prejudicial to ‘the patronage of the government there’; and late in 1825 he was caused more vexation by the same problem, which Liverpool evidently interceded to settle.17 Butterworth had become increasingly unpopular with a section of his supporters, who looked askance at his parliamentary conduct, though he was a frequent speaker and far from being a slavish adherent of ministers.18 In September 1825, when a dissolution was expected, two young London merchants of advanced liberal views announced their joint candidature on the independent interest: James Morrison* was a wealthy wholesale haberdasher, and Poulett Thomson was a partner in his family’s Russian trading company. They had been put in touch with a group of disaffected London voters, led by William Bushell, a sugar broker, by the radical Member Joseph Hume, who had turned down their invitation to stand himself. Poulett Thomson had been introduced to Hume by Bentham’s confidant John Bowring, in whose circle of Utilitarians and philosophic radicals he had been moving for a few years. He and Morrison canvassed both the resident and non-resident electors on a programme of parliamentary reform, retrenchment and relaxation of restrictions on trade. At a meeting of London voters in their support, 27 Sept. 1825, Bowring denounced Bootle Wilbraham as ‘the representative of the lord warden’ and attacked Butterworth for having ‘by all his votes proved himself hostile’ to ‘the cause of freedom’. Resolutions were carried for measures to be taken to liberate Dover from ‘the corrupting influence of the government exerted through the lord warden’ and ‘a corporation neither chosen by popular opinion nor responsible to it’. A committee of 24 was formed to run their campaign in London. Bootle Wilbraham, who stood by his opposition to ‘experimental innovations’, and Butterworth, who claimed ‘genuine independence’, responded with separate canvasses, but the postponement of a dissolution put a temporary end to this activity. Nothing came of a report that Colonel George Jarvis of Dover was to stand on ‘the independent interest’.19

Developments in the spring of 1826 revealed a split in the local leadership of the lord warden’s interest. Its dominant group of Pain, William Elgar, Henshaw Latham, a banker, James Moon, the harbour master, and John Shipdem, the town clerk and harbour registrar, had become known as the ‘junta’ to some of their associates, who resented their monopolization of patronage. The leading dissidents were William Knocker, an attorney who held the post of captain of Archcliff Fort, George William Ledger, another attorney, Edward Rutley, a brewer, and Edward Thompson, lieutenant of Walmer Castle. In late March they tried to introduce Colonel Frederick FitzClarence, the illegitimate son of the king’s brother the duke of Clarence, admiral of the fleet. At a common hall, 30 Mar., their resolution inviting him to stand was carried, despite the protests of Page, on behalf of the sitting Members, and of Thomson’s supporter Charles Ladd, whose statement that ‘the point of the bayonet’ was ‘always turned against the rights of the people’ provoked uproar. FitzClarence declined to stand, and reports that Robert Campbell, a director of the East India Company, was to offer proved false.20 A fortnight later Morrison pulled out on account of poor health, but in doing so he endorsed Poulett Thomson as the man to rescue Dover from ‘local and political thraldom’. Butterworth, who was backed principally by Page and Humphrey Humphreys, a tanner, confirmed that he would stand again, but he soon discovered that much of his support had evaporated. At a meeting of London voters called to endorse him, 29 May, for example, an amendment supporting Poulett Thomson was carried. In mid-May Knocker and his cronies introduced John Halcomb†, the son of a Wiltshire coach proprietor and a fledgling barrister, who had lately published a pamphlet advocating poor law reform. At a common hall, 13 May, he spoke in favour of ‘moderate’ parliamentary reform, adjustment of the corn laws, and revision of the poor and usury laws, and made clear his fanatical hostility to Catholic claims. An attempt by the friends of Butterworth and Poulett Thomson to scupper him was thwarted.21 It was rumoured that he was in the confidence of the home secretary and leading Protestant Peel; but when the latter was questioned by Bootle Wilbraham, who now declared his hand, he said that he had met Halcomb for the first time ‘the other day when he called upon me’ and had given him ‘no encouragement whatever to stand for Dover’.22 With Bootle Wilbraham, Butterworth and Halcomb all opposed to Catholic relief, Poulett Thomson was assailed with a ‘No Popery’ cry, but he claimed on the hustings that his somewhat vague explanation had been well received. He stressed his support for free trade and reform. In an eight-day contest, which was punctuated with outbursts of violence from Halcomb’s more ruffianly supporters, Bootle Wilbraham led convincingly throughout, while Butterworth trailed hopelessly in fourth place. The struggle between Poulett Thomson and Halcomb was very close until the fifth day when the former, boosted by the arrival of London and other out-voters, moved decisively ahead. It was later alleged (with some justification, to judge from the pollbook) that at about this point the leaders of the lord warden’s party, fearing an ‘attenuation of their power’ if Halcomb was returned and ready to ‘sacrifice their political sentiments for the sake of saving the entire of their local patronage and power’, instructed their supporters to give their second votes to Poulett Thomson.23 Late on the sixth day the latter’s friends nominated George Finch, a wool stapler, and Michael Kingsford, a miller, as a legal precaution. Butterworth, already ailing and further exhausted by the contest, died in London 11 days after it ended.24

One-thousand-and-four freemen voted, of whom 63 per cent were Dover residents and 37 per cent out-voters, including 171 from London. It was later reckoned that over 300 electors were unpolled.25 Latham and Pain plumped for Bootle Wilbraham, their cronies Elgar and Moon split for him and Butterworth, and their rivals Knocker, Ledger and Thompson split between Bootle Wilbraham and Halcomb. Bootle Wilbraham received 171 plumpers (15 per cent of his total vote), Poulett Thomson 346 (47 per cent) and Halcomb 112 (18 per cent). Halcomb shared 492 votes with Bootle Wilbraham (78 and 41 per cent of their respective totals), Poulett Thomson 348 (46 and 30 per cent) and Butterworth 163 (82 and 14 per cent). Bootle Wilbraham was easily the most favoured candidate among the Dover voters, 72 per cent of whom supported him. There was little between Halcomb (42 per cent) and Poulett Thomson (39 per cent); but the latter had a commanding advantage of 325 to 180 among the out-voters. In particular, he received 136 votes, including 63 plumpers, from the London voters, of whom only 14 backed Halcomb. Gentlemen and professionals showed a marked preference for Bootle Wilbraham (88 per cent), while Halcomb received a vote from 41 per cent of them and Poulett Thomson from only 23 per cent. All the 82 pilots who voted supported Bootle Wilbraham; 41 also voted for Halcomb and eight for Poulett Thomson.26

At a celebration dinner, 26 June 1826, 200 freemen signed a pledge of future support for Poulett Thomson, who launched a fierce attack on the government.27 From this meeting sprang the Dover Reformers Union which, under the chairmanship of George Pound, a tailor, was formally constituted in August. Halcomb, who used the columns of the Courier and John Bull to attack Poulett Thomson, announced that he would stand again at the first opportunity.28 Amid false reports in November 1826 that Bootle Wilbraham was to be made a peer, the so-called ‘Halcomb Loyal and Constitutional Association’ met to promote and subsidize a petition against Poulett Thomson’s return: its argument was that by an Act of 1623 the franchise lay only in the resident freemen, of whom Halcomb had had a majority. The Reformers Union and the London electors in Poulett Thomson’s interest, led by Bushell, Ladd and Thomas Chittenden, a cordwainer, organized themselves and other out-voters to contest it. They were joined by a non-party group of residents under the leadership of Page and George Gravener, an attorney.29 The petition, in the names of William Sankey, a surgeon, and James Walker, a brewer, was presented on 30 Nov. 1826 but, because of a technical difficulty over recognizances, it was not considered until 8 Mar. 1827. It was summarily rejected, 12 Mar., having, it was said, come perilously close to being deemed frivolous and vexatious.30 Yet Halcomb immediately hinted at the possibility of an appeal, to the amazement and disgust of his opponents, who held a victory parade through Dover, in which the colours of Bootle Wilbraham, Poulett Thomson and the late Butterworth were symbolically mingled.31

Dover landowners and occupiers petitioned both Houses against relaxation of the corn laws in 1827, but some inhabitants petitioned the Commons for their revision, 26 Feb. Agriculturists petitioned the Commons for protection against foreign wool imports, 12 June 1827.32 Inhabitants of Dover petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief, 31 May 1827.33 Bootle Wilbraham was created Lord Skelmersdale in January 1828, and Halcomb immediately offered again, arriving in Dover on 21 Jan., when a preliminary meeting of his supporters, chaired by Sankey, was held. Halcomb, who appealed for backing to the friends of Poulett Thomson and Butterworth and boasted that he would be the servile supporter of no government, was taken to task by John Howland, an auctioneer, over his part in the attempt to disfranchise the out-voters. He tried to shuffle off responsibility for the petition onto his supporters, though he admitted having drawn attention to the issue of the franchise and taken legal advice on it. The following day John Finnis, Matthew Kennett, an attorney and Cinque Ports official, Latham and Admiral Robert Winthrop secured a common hall meeting to congratulate Skelmersdale and invite his eldest son Richard Bootle Wilbraham† to stand. Sankey moved an amendment for the adoption of Halcomb, who was promptly attacked by Pound and Odden Hambrook, a chemist, for his involvement in the 1826 petition. Halcomb repeated his explanation, but the amendment was defeated. While the invitation to Bootle Wilbraham was being signed in the jury room, many signatures for the amendment were collected in the body of the hall. The leaders of the lord warden’s party were nonplussed by Bootle Wilbraham’s rejection of the invitation. Matthias Prime Lucas, the current lord mayor of London, Octavius, the son of Sir Robert Wigram* and Sir Charles Joshua Smith were touted as possible replacements. Charles Russell*, a retired Indian army officer and son of Sir Henry Russell, a native of Dover and former Indian chief justice, did visit the borough on 23 Jan.; but, ‘after making his bow to a few of Mr. Wilbraham’s particular friends, he returned to London’. The rich East India merchant James Mackillop* was next mentioned, but he was said to have turned down the approach of a delegation because of illness. Halcomb claimed to have visited Charles Jenkinson*, half-brother of the dying Liverpool, and to have offered to step aside for any man preferred by him or his connections. Jenkinson, he said, had told him that they ‘declined to interfere’.34 The Whig Lord Holland observed to his soldier son Charles Richard Fox*, 19 Jan., that if he had still been quartered at ‘that d____d place Dover’ he ‘might possibly have slipped into Parliament’ on this vacancy.35 On 28 Jan. William Henry Trant, a former East Indian civil servant who had sat for Okehampton, 1824-6, announced his candidature. Like Halcomb, he was a firm opponent of Catholic relief, and he pronounced his politics to be the same as those of Skelmersdale. It was not clear whether he had the formal and explicit support of the Wellington ministry and the lord warden’s interest. Halcomb’s repeated claims that he did not, and had merely been picked up in desperation by Kennett and his friends, were repudiated; but the vaunted letters of recommendation were never produced, and on the hustings Trant himself would ‘not say that I am sent down at the lord warden’s bidding’. The point was academic, for the local leaders of the lord warden’s party and the independents coalesced in Trant’s support to help keep out Halcomb, who complained that the struggle was ‘not one of political principle’ but represented ‘a last and desperate attempt on the part of a few individuals to retain in their hands the whole power and patronage’ of Dover. Trant led throughout the contest, during which heavy snow fell, though he was only 34 ahead at the close of the third day. An influx of out-voters on the fourth gave him an advantage of 103. After 15 votes had been recorded on the fifth day Halcomb, having established that he had a majority among the residents, asked for the poll to be closed. Trant agreed, but Halcomb then requested the mayor, Shipdem, to make a double return to save the expense of a scrutiny. When Trant’s counsel protested against this subterfuge, Halcomb denied having called for the poll to be closed. After consulting the assessor Shipdem refused to make a double return and declared Trant duly elected. Trant, who returned to London almost immediately because of a relative’s dangerous illness, replied to Rutley’s question of ‘whether the whole of the patronage was to be continued to two or three individuals’ with an assurance that he would ‘never become the tool of any party’. He denied in the House, 8 July 1828, 16 July 1830, allegations that his expenses had been paid by the corporation or the government. Halcomb made a magnanimous speech, but forecast that Trant was unlikely to retain the ‘treasury support’ which he had enjoyed on this occasion.36 One-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventy-two freemen voted, of whom 70 per cent were residents and 30 per cent out-voters. The votes for Trant of Latham and Pain, on the one hand, and of Bushell and Ladd, on the other, symbolized the coalition against Halcomb, whose majority of 45 among the residents (501-456) was overturned by Trant’s lead of 151 among the out-voters (283-132). The London voters favoured Trant by 88-11, and those from Deal by 45-12. Sixty per cent of gentlemen and professionals voted for Trant, though in Dover they were evenly divided. The pilots voted 40-31 in favour of Trant.37

Halcomb’s supporters were reported to have subscribed at least £300 towards defraying his expenses. At a meeting of the ‘Halcomb Association’, 23 Feb. 1828, Sankey denied stories that it was to be broken up, but admitted that its articles, which the late contest had ‘in many instances tended to nullify’, required revision. Knocker and others were deputed to do so. Sankey paid ‘a handsome compliment’ to the independents, who were said to have declined an invitation to attend, although it was also alleged that those present included ‘the leaders of the different political parties in the town’.38 If this was an attempt to broaden the basis of Halcomb’s support, it hardly squared with the petition presented in his name to the Commons two days later, which challenged Trant’s return on the ground that the franchise was restricted to the resident freemen. After hearing evidence the committee decided, 18 Mar. 1828, that in accordance with an explanatory ruling of 1770, non-residents were entitled to vote.39 Dover Baptists and Protestant Dissenters petitioned Parliament to repeal the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828.40 Owners and occupiers petitioned in protest at the revised corn duties, 22 Apr., 16 May 1828.41 To the astonishment of his opponents, Halcomb petitioned the Commons to be heard in appeal against the decision on the right of election, 6 Feb. 1829.42 No action was taken for seven weeks, and in the interim the abiding anti-Catholicism of the majority of Dover’s inhabitants was confirmed by a meeting and numerously signed petition against Catholic emancipation, of which Trant was a conspicuous and furious opponent in the House. At the same time, other inhabitants of Dover and local Baptists petitioned for emancipation.43 Halcomb was extremely active in the extra-parliamentary campaign against it, and in April 1829 he gained some notoriety as the author of a submission to the Lords that it was illegal for them to pass the relief bill and for the king to give it his assent. He was one of a deputation which went to Windsor to try to present those arguments to George IV, 10 Apr. Poulett Thomson supported emancipation, though he made a point of welcoming the associated suppression of Jesuit and other Catholic monasteries. At a meeting of London voters organized by representatives of both the lord warden’s and independent parties, 14 Apr., money was raised to meet the cost of contesting Halcomb’s petition. Their petition to be heard against it was presented two days later by Poulett Thomson, who gave £100 to the fund. Complementary meetings were subsequently held in Dover, Canterbury, Chatham and Rochester. The appeal committee was appointed on 5 May but, after hearing Halcomb argue his own case, it did not trouble to call counsel for his opponents before giving a verdict against him, 8 May 1829.44

The Kent county Members took charge of the Dover harbour improvement bill, which became law on 9 May 1828.45 In 1830 Poulett Thomson and Trant introduced a bill for the improvement of the borough’s civic amenities, which aroused the hostility of some inhabitants but obtained royal assent on 17 June.46 Freeholders and other residents of Buckland petitioned the Commons for radical parliamentary reform, including the ballot, tax reductions, revision of tithes and appropriation of church revenues, 26 Feb. 1830.47 There was a false report in April 1830 that Poulett Thomson, whose motion for a revision of taxation, 25 Mar., earned him a vote of thanks from a group of his supporters, would abandon Dover for London at the next election. Although Trant, outraged by Catholic emancipation, frequently opposed government with his fellow Ultras that session, he voted against Poulett Thomson’s motion, as he admitted when questioned by some of the London voters.48 At a meeting of these, 10 May, Bushell, who had been permanently alienated from Poulett Thomson by his support for Catholic relief, and Captain William Pascall of the East India Company carried a vote of thanks and pledge of support for Trant. His anodyne reply, 21 May, implied that he would offer again at the next general election.49 A month later it became known that Sir John Rae Reid, the head of a London West India trading house, was ready to stand, with Wellington’s blessing. On 23 June a Dover meeting of ‘independent freemen’ opposed to the ‘system so long pursued by the close committee’ of the lord warden’s interest, which was attended largely by former Halcombites, including Sankey, resolved to support him, apparently in a bid to stake their claim for a fair share of patronage.50 At a meeting of London voters, 29 June, Pascall announced that Trant had decided to retire, and recommended Reid. Bushell, who claimed that Richard Bootle Wilbraham had intended to start on the lord warden’s interest, but that Skelmersdale had withdrawn him when Reid made his move, put in a word for Trant, while William Luddington, a coal merchant, backed Poulett Thomson and denounced Reid. After a ‘very stormy discussion’ the meeting adopted the proposal of one East, who asserted that Wellington had ‘intimated that the patronage should not be distributed as before’, to make a formal approach to Reid. Reid, paying lip service to his ‘independent principles’, duly accepted, and he was endorsed at a meeting of London electors chaired by Pascall, 3 July, when Trant’s retirement was confirmed. Under questioning Reid said that ‘as to patronage he knew nothing about it, but the loaves and fishes which came his way he would fairly distribute’. Poulett Thomson offered again and was backed at a London meeting run by Luddington and Nicholas Ladd, another coal merchant, 2 July, although he was given a hard time by some of his audience over his support for emancipation and free trade.51 He was confident of ‘walking over the course quietly’, but had reckoned without Halcomb, ‘as great a blackguard as [William] Cobbett†’, who on 5 July announced that he would stand again. He advocated agricultural protection and currency and poor law reform, attacked free trade doctrines and condemned the concession of emancipation. He summoned and chaired a London meeting, 9 July, when, while still trying to blame others for the attack on the out-voters, he conceded that he had ‘offended’ and begged forgiveness. He faced much opposition, but insisted that ‘while he had a shot in his locker he would stand the contest’ and enigmatically promised that if returned he would ‘reveal certain secrets which would extend their privileges far beyond their most sanguine expectations’. An attempt by Reid’s committee to start John Bayley, a son of the eminent judge who had married into the Fector family, once powerful at Dover as government agents, came to nothing. Reid received some abuse as a supposed slave owner, a charge which he denied.52

Some of the shifts in allegiance which had occurred at Dover were indicated by the fact that Finnis nominated and then plumped for Poulett Thomson, as did Elgar, while Shipdem nominated and plumped for Reid. Moon and Pain split between Reid and Poulett Thomson, but Latham joined the Halcombites Knocker, Rutley and Thompson in voting for Halcomb and Reid. Their erstwhile associate Ledger plumped for Reid, as did Bushell.53 While the contest was generally seen as being between Reid and Halcomb, the former and Poulett Thomson, running neck and neck, were always well ahead of Halcomb, whose supporters on the second day attempted to wreck the hustings and steal the pollbooks. On the third Halcomb tried to poll a number of scot and lot payers, but the mayor, Henry Bruyeres, refused to accept their votes. A boatload of London voters, pledged to plump for Reid, was reported to have been sent down. There was serious violence, and a detachment of troops from Deal was quartered at the castle as a precaution. On the fourth day, with Poulett Thomson and Reid over 230 ahead, Halcomb demanded and obtained a scrutiny; ironically, it deprived him of more votes than his opponents. Reid and Poulett Thomson were chaired, leaving Halcomb ‘in the midst of an harangue’ and threatening to petition.54 Poulett Thomson reflected that ‘the victory in numbers was easy enough, but in vexation and annoyance the cost has been so high that I really don’t think a seat for 20 years would make me consent to undertake it again’. Yet he consoled himself with ‘the powerful conviction that nothing can touch my seat in Dover as long as I choose to retain it’.55

One-thousand-eight-hundred-and-twenty-nine freemen polled, of whom 59 per cent were Dover residents and 41 per cent out-voters. Three hundred and four (40 per cent) of the latter were from London. Reid received 277 plumpers (28 per cent of his total), Poulett Thomson 339 (35 per cent) and Halcomb 358 (49 per cent). Halcomb’s advantage in plumpers over Reid was nullified by Reid’s sharing of 481 votes (49 per cent of both their totals) with Poulett Thomson, with whom Halcomb split only 155. Two-hundred-and-nineteen voted for Reid and Halcomb, comprising 23 and 30 per cent of their respective totals. Poulett Thomson had 581 votes from Dover residents, Halcomb 537 and Reid 525; but Halcomb trailed hopelessly among the non-residents, with only 195 votes to Reid’s 452 and Poulett Thomson’s 394. Of the London voters, 219 (72 per cent) voted for Reid, including 143 who cast plumpers, 127 (42 per cent) for Poulett Thomson and a mere 37 (12 per cent) for Halcomb. No fewer than 92 per cent of them voted for Reid or Poulett Thomson or both. Reid had a marked advantage (71 per cent) among gentlemen and professionals, of whom 53 per cent voted for Poulett Thomson and only 26 per cent for Halcomb. Of 71 pilots, 62 (87 per cent) voted for Reid, 41 (58 per cent) for Poulett Thomson and 18 (25 per cent) for Halcomb.56

Halcomb petitioned, 15 Nov. 1830, claiming a legal majority over Reid and accusing Bruyeres of closing the poll prematurely, rejecting his request for a scrutiny and refusing, since the election, to provide him with a copy of the pollbook. The petition was pronounced ‘frivolous and vexatious’, 9 Mar. 1831.57 Meanwhile Poulett Thomson had been appointed vice-president of the board of trade in the Grey ministry in November 1830. There were rumours that the London electors might start one of the Baring family, but the Halcombites met and resolved not to oppose Poulett Thomson’s re-election, which passed off quietly.58 In December 1830 the corporation and over 1,100 householders signed a petition on behalf of boatmen resident at Dover and Deal for repeal of the provision of the 1826 Pilotage Act which required a number of pilots constantly to ply the Channel to take charge of ships coming from the west. Reid took up their case with Wellington, but Skelmersdale approached him on behalf of the Deal pilots, who wanted the practice to continue. The corporation again complained to Wellington in April 1831 of the distressed condition of the Dover boatmen as a result of ‘the legalised monopoly of the cruising system’.59 The masters, wardens and pilots of Dover, Deal and the Isle of Thanet petitioned the Commons against the ministry’s proposed timber duties, 17 Mar. 1831.60 Wesleyan Methodists of Dover petitioned for the abolition of slavery, 25 Mar. 1831.61

A Dover meeting chaired by Latham, 10 Mar. 1831, promoted petitions to Parliament in favour of the ministry’s reform bill, which were subsequently signed, it was reported, by five members of the corporation and over 1,000 inhabitants. Wellington refused to present the petition to the Lords (Lord King did so in his stead, 30 Mar.); and Reid, on the pretext that the bill was ‘too sweeping’, declined to support that to the Commons when it was presented by Poulett Thomson, 18 Mar.62 A group of Reid’s London supporters, led by Bushell and Pascall, met on 16 Mar. to get up a petition against the bill’s proposed disfranchisement of non-resident freemen. Although Ladd and John Nicholson, a tea dealer, opposed the motion, it was carried, and a petition was presented on 15 Apr. by Reid, who voted against the bill.63 He and Poulett Thomson, who of course supported it, came forward at the dissolution and seemed likely to enjoy a quiet return, especially as a late bid by some London voters to introduce another reformer was frustrated. Thomas Squier, a Dover hairdresser, later took the credit for having acted, along with some tradesmen and ‘two young professional gentlemen’, to prevent Reid from walking over. The Westminster radical tailor Francis Place accorded it to Nicholson, ‘the most straightforward, indefatigable man in England’, for whom he unsuccessfully applied to the organizers of the Loyal and Patriotic Fund for a payment of £66, claiming that he had ‘had a promise of indemnification to the amount of £1,000 in respect to Dover’.64 Whatever the truth of the matter, the first approach was apparently made to Sir William Richard Cosway of Bilsington, who declined because he was committed to stand for Kent if a reformer was wanted. On the eve of the election, 27 Apr., a common hall was held to endorse Robert Stanhope, a naval officer and member of the queen’s household, who was introduced by Richard Horsnaill, a local brazier, and declared his support for the bill. According to Squier’s later account, opinion in Dover in favour of reform was so powerful that little effort was needed to ‘get that feeling up and into a well directed course’. Reid promptly backed down, as ‘so strong a bias prevails in favour of the measure of reform’. That evening Captain Thomas Blair of the Indian army announced himself as a reform candidate, but the following day he stood aside for Poulett Thomson and Stanhope.65 Dover was the first borough of any size to make its return at this election, and Lady Holland considered the Tory defeat there ‘a good omen’.66 Nicholson published a press statement proclaiming victory in ‘the first battle of reform’ at the citadel of ‘the prince of Waterloo’, whose military success would be ‘remembered only for the misery inflicted upon Englishmen by the terrible taxes imposed to purchase it’. Richard Cuthill, the secretary of Stanhope’s committee, felt obliged to apologize to Wellington for what he described as the individual action of Nicholson, who had in any case already resigned as chairman.67 Freemen and inhabitants of Dover petitioned the Lords in favour of the reform bill, 3 Oct., and some ‘out-dwellers’ did likewise, 6 Oct. Wellington was assured that the latter petition was the work of ‘a party of renegades’ numbering no more than 24, and that the petition of the non-residents against the measure (presented on 4 Oct. 1831) was more representative of majority opinion.68 Inhabitants of neighbouring parishes petitioned the Commons to permit the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 20 Aug.1831.69

As a result of the Reform and Boundary Acts the revamped and slightly enlarged constituency of Dover contained 1,743 £10 houses and a reduced electorate of 1,651, of whom about 990 qualified as resident freemen.70 Reid continued to cultivate the borough and to seek patronage from Wellington, who thought it ought to be possible to return two Conservatives if the local leaders of the lord warden’s interest would co-operate, though he felt powerless to compel them to do so:

The truth is that the lord warden’s office is very powerful when the lord warden is minister. When he is not so, he has very little influence ... I have seen enough of Dover and Cinque Port politics to be quite certain that if the lord warden’s gentlemen and the gentlemen attorneys there choose to carry two Members they will have them. If they do not the lord warden can do nothing to force them.71

Poulett Thomson, who in June 1832 appealed to lord chancellor Brougham to give the lie to Halcomb’s claims that he had his support for his renewed canvass, successfully defended the following month a ‘vindictive’ action brought by Bushell for recovery of £17 allegedly owed to him for his expenses as an agent in 1826.72 At the general election of 1832 Poulett Thomson, who was also returned for Manchester, topped the poll, but Halcomb’s intervention dished Stanhope, whose hold on the seat was rightly considered tenuous, and let in Reid.73 Halcomb’s persistence was rewarded at the by-election caused by Poulett Thomson’s opting to sit for Manchester, at which he beat Stanhope, but he held the seat for less than two years. The next 14 elections, 1835-85, were all contested.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 518.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 388-9.
  • 3. Add. 61937, f. 116; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 518.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 519; (1835), xxiv. 283.
  • 5. Ibid. (1822), xviii. 171; (1824), vi. 93; (1833), vii. 529; Wellington mss WP2/215/54; 222/103; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 464.
  • 6. Add. 38458, f. 234; 38578, f. 72.
  • 7. Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62/F/C72.
  • 8. Kentish Chron. 15, 18, 22, 29 Feb.; Kentish Gazette, 22, 25 Feb.; The Times, 22, 25 Feb. 1820.
  • 9. Kentish Chron. 3, 7, 10, 28 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 3 Mar.; The Times, 3 Mar. 1820.
  • 10. CJ, lxxvi. 63.
  • 11. LJ, liv. 32.
  • 12. CJ, lxxviii. 312; lxxix. 148, 417; lxxxi. 263; LJ, lvii. 75; lviii. 319.
  • 13. CJ, lxxix. 312, 347.
  • 14. Ibid. lxxx. 350; lxxxi. 254.
  • 15. Ibid. lxxx. 411.
  • 16. Add. 38284, f. 200; 38285, f. 225; 38288, f. 152; 38291, f. 141; 38293, f. 263; 40360, ff. 170, 171.
  • 17. Add. 38293, ff. 263, 266, 288; 38294, f. 361; 38296, ff. 252-6, 281, 370; 38301, ff. 5, 9, 20, 33.
  • 18. Brougham mss, J. Smith to Brougham, 2 Sept. 1825.
  • 19. J. Bowring, Autobiog. Recollections, i. 301; Kentish Chron. 9, 20, 23, 30 Sept., 4 Oct.; Kentish Gazette, 20, 23, 27 Sept., 4, 7 Oct.; Kent Herald, 22, 29 Sept., The Times, 27, 29 Sept. 1825.
  • 20. Wellington mss WP2/222/106; Kent Herald, 23 Mar., 20, 27 Apr.; Kentish Chron. 31 Mar., 4, 28 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 4, 7, 21 Apr. 1826.
  • 21. Kentish Chron. 2, 9, 16, 19, 23, 26, 30 May; Kent Herald, 25 May; Kentish Gazette, 26 May 1826.
  • 22. Add. 40386, f. 313.
  • 23. Kentish Gazette, 29 June 1826.
  • 24. Kent Herald, 1, 22 June; Kentish Gazette, 2, 9, 13,16, 27 June; Kentish Chron. 2, 9, 13, 16, 20, 23 June; The Times, 1, 8, 16, 19, 21 June 1826.
  • 25. The Times, 31 Jan. 1828.
  • 26. Dover Pollbook (1826).
  • 27. Kent Herald, 29 June; Kentish Chron. 30 June, 4 July 1826.
  • 28. Kent Herald, 6 July, 17 Aug. 1826.
  • 29. Ibid. 23, 30 Nov., 7, 21 Dec. 1826, 18 Jan., 8 Feb., 1 Mar. 1827; The Times, 14 Feb. 1827.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxii. 46-47, 119, 127-8, 156, 160.
  • 31. Kent Herald, 15, 22 Mar. 1827.
  • 32. LJ, liv. 89, 154, 324; CJ, lxxxii. 230, 239, 316, 548.
  • 33. LJ, lix. 369.
  • 34. Kentish Gazette, 22, 25 Jan.; Kent Herald, 24 Jan.; The Times, 25, 28 Jan. 1828.
  • 35. Add. 51785.
  • 36. Kentish Gazette, 29 Jan., 1, 5, 8, 12, 19 Feb.; Kent Herald, 31 Jan., 7, 14, 28 Feb.; The Times, 31 Jan., 4, 5, 8, 9, 11-13 Feb. 1828.
  • 37. Dover Pollbook (1828).
  • 38. Kentish Gazette, 19, 26 Feb.; Kent Herald, 28 Feb. 1828.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxiii. 102-3, 162, 167, 180; Kent Herald, 20 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 21 Mar. 1828.
  • 40. CJ, lxxxii. 510; lxxxiii. 90; LJ, lx. 81, 125.
  • 41. CJ, lxxxiii. 259; LJ, lx. 169.
  • 42. CJ, lxxxiv. 9; Kentish Gazette, 24 Feb. 1829.
  • 43. The Times, 14, 16 Feb.; Kentish Gazette, 27 Feb. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 98; LJ, lxi. 85, 227.
  • 44. Kent Herald, 2, 23, 30 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 17, 28 Apr., 8 May 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 175, 239, 260-1, 262, 274; Add. 40399, ff. 152-64.
  • 45. CJ, lxxxiii. 21, 94, 141, 153, 215, 261, 333, 334.
  • 46. Ibid. lxxxv. 38, 110, 126, 341, 357, 380, 428, 461, 522, 532, 561.
  • 47. Ibid. 104.
  • 48. Kentish Gazette, 20 Apr., 7 May; Kentish Chron. 4 May 1830.
  • 49. Kentish Gazette, 14 May, 1 June 1830.
  • 50. Ibid. 25 June; Kentish Chron. 29 June 1830; Wellington mss WP1/1125/27.
  • 51. Kentish Gazette, 2, 6 July; Kentish Chron. 6 July; The Times, 2, 5 July 1830.
  • 52. Add. 61937, f. 116; Kentish Gazette, 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 23, 27 July; Kentish Chron. 6 July; Kent Herald, 8, 15, 22 July 1830.
  • 53. Dover Pollbook (1830).
  • 54. The Times, 2, 4, 6, 7 Aug., Kentish Chron. 3, 10 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 3, 6 Aug.; Kent Herald, 5, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 55. Add. 61937, f. 116; 76381, Poulett Thomson to Althorp, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 56. Dover Pollbook (1830). The voting figures analyzed here are those actually recorded in the pollbook. The ‘official’ result was given as Poulett Thomson 975, Reid 974 and Halcomb 730.
  • 57. CJ, lxxxvi. 85, 197, 350-1, 353.
  • 58. Kentish Gazette, 26, 30 Nov. 1830.
  • 59. Wellington mss WP2/215/24/ 50-52, 54, 60.
  • 60. CJ, lxxxvi. 395.
  • 61. Ibid. 435.
  • 62. Kentish Chron. 15, 22 Mar.; Kent Herald, 17 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 18 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 402; LJ, lxiii. 401.
  • 63. Kentish Chron. 22 Mar., 5 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 22 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 491.
  • 64. Kentish Chron. 26 Apr.; Kent Herald, 21, 28 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 26 Apr. 1831; Add. 36466, ff. 333, 345, 354.
  • 65. The Times, 25-29 Apr., 7 May; Kentish Gazette, 29 Apr.; Kentish Chron. 3, 31 May; Kent Herald, 5, 12 May; Hastings Iris, 28 May 1831.
  • 66. TNA 30/29, Lady Holland to Granville [May 1831].
  • 67. Kentish Chron. 3 May 1831; Wellington mss WP2/222/1, 2.
  • 68. LJ, lxiii. 1036, 1055, 1056, 1067; Wellington mss WP2/222/25.
  • 69. CJ, lxxxvi. 771.
  • 70. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 7-9.
  • 71. Wellington mss WP2/222/55, 72, 78, 84, 85.
  • 72. The Times, 16 July 1832.
  • 73. NLS mss 3870, f. 77; Wellington mss WP2/222/ 99-108, 115-23; Kentish Chron. 27 Nov., 11, 18, 25 Dec. 1832.