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 prince’s tenants of the manor of Fowey capable of being portreeve, and in residents paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 320 in 18311

Number of voters:

275 in 1826


1,312 (1821); 1,589 (1831)2


7 Mar. 1820ERNEST AUGUSTUS EDGCUMBE, Lord Velletort 
 Alexander Glynn Campbell122
 Hugh Duncan Baillie122
20 Feb. 1830JAMES THOMAS BRUDENELL, Lord Brudenell vice Eden, vacated his seat 
30 July 1830JAMES THOMAS BRUDENELL, Lord Brudenell 
29 Apr. 1831JAMES THOMAS BRUDENELL, Lord Brudenell 

Main Article

Fowey, a port and market town situated on the western bank of the river of that name, on the southern coast of the county midway between Plymouth and Falmouth, consisted essentially of ‘one street ... narrow and irregular’, which extended for ‘nearly a mile’ alongside the harbour. The mainstay of its economy had traditionally been the pilchard fishery, which was ‘still carried on to a considerable extent’ but was prone to fluctuations; in some seasons it ‘failed nearly altogether’. Since the early 1800s the development of ‘very rich and extensive’ copper mines in the neighbourhood, which employed ‘a great number of hands’, had boosted the town’s prosperity, and it was stated in 1831 that ‘nearly one-quarter of all the copper ores raised in Cornwall’ was exported from Fowey. There was also growing demand for the local china clay and stone, which was supplied to ‘all the fineware potteries in the kingdom’. Fowey harbour provided a safe haven for coasting vessels, and the coastal trade ‘exceeded that of any other port in Cornwall’ in terms of tonnage. A ‘spacious’ market house had been erected in the 1790s.3

The borough encompassed ‘about one tenth’ of the parish of Fowey, with approximately ‘seven-eighths’ of its population, and a ‘small hamlet’ of ‘about 30 acres’ in the adjoining parish of Lanteglos. The franchise was vested in the rated inhabitants, of whom there were said in 1831 to be ‘about 250’, and in the ‘prince’s tenants, holding freeholds by burgage tenure’ in Lanteglos (part of the manor once belonging to the duchy of Cornwall), who were eligible to serve as the portreeve, the returning officer for parliamentary elections. John Rowe of Plymouth filled the office throughout this period. George Lucy, the son of a Warwickshire landowner, had been lord of the manor since February 1818 and was therefore able to create ‘parchment voters’ with his property in Lanteglos. His chief rival was Joseph Austen of Place House, who owned extensive property in the borough and had substantial mining interests nearby. Richard Edgcumbe, 2nd earl of Mount Edgcumbe, also maintained an interest, although this was based mainly on his family’s prestige in that part of Cornwall. The other source of local power was the corporation, which consisted of a mayor, eight other aldermen and an indefinite number of freemen chosen by the aldermen. In addition to making the rate and thus manipulating the electorate, the corporation had allegedly let ‘charity lands’ worth £250 per annum to certain electors for ‘£8 1s. only’. Austen had succeeded in having the corporation’s charter revoked in 1817, but Lucy financed the campaign for a new charter, which was granted in March 1819, when he became the recorder. At the general election of 1818 Lucy and a friend had been returned ahead of two candidates sponsored by Austen, only for them to be unseated on petition on the ground that some 50 temporary conveyances to burgage tenements had been improperly executed. Lucy, who was inclined to abandon the borough altogether in disgust, allowed the London banker Matthias Attwood* to contest a by-election in March 1819 at his own expense, but though Attwood defeated Mount Edgcumbe’s son Lord Valletort, standing on Austen’s interest, he was also unseated on petition.4 In July 1819 Lucy and Austen came to a formal agreement to share the representation in future, with Lucy leasing all his property to Austen, who was to manage the ‘united interest’; Mount Edgcumbe and Valletort endorsed this arrangement. Austen advised Lucy of the need for measures ‘calculated to make us wholly independent of the corporation’, and he was prepared to ‘engage at my own risk to embark at least £20,000 more in trade’ in order to persuade the inhabitants not to ‘regard the borough interest as the sine qua non of their hopes’. Meantime, the united interest sought to maintain itself in the usual ways, by treating, obtaining employment for friends in the customs and excise, and making small loans to electors, who were required to give notes of hand.5 Austen, who had hitherto espoused radical politics, sought to assure Lord Liverpool’s ministry, through his attorney A. Thomson, that he had no intention of making Fowey ‘an opposition borough’. Nevertheless Lucy (a supporter of government during his brief period in Parliament), while confident that ‘the united interest has a clear numerical superiority’, feared that his opponents’ hopes were being ‘kept alive by promises of favour and support’ from Liverpool, whom he suspected of planning to promote rival candidates.6

At the dissolution in February 1820 Lucy offered with Valletort, but the corporation was reportedly determined to ‘break’ the united interest by starting its own candidates, if ‘persons who have more money than wit’ could be found. It appears that the deputy recorder, Thomas Graham, travelled to London in search of candidates, as a result of which Alexander Campbell, the Tory sitting Member abandoned by Austen, canvassed the borough with his relative Sir Colin Campbell. To Austen’s astonishment, Thomson defected to the opposition and planned to have his erstwhile client arrested on the hustings for debt. However, the inhabitants ‘respectfully’ informed the Campbells that ‘they came in very unpopular company’, and the mayor, Robert Hearle, and other corporators were ‘treated with less ceremony’. On election day, ‘no opposition was attempted’ as the corporation interest was ‘found to be wholly insignificant, notwithstanding their efforts to obtain adherents by placing persons on the parish rate, whom the county magistrates afterwards struck off, and omitting others whom the same magistrates determined ought to have been put on it’. In their published address, Lucy and Valletort thanked the ‘Fowey election committee’ for its efforts, especially as Lucy had been absent from the poll. Lucy expressed to Austen his gratification on seeing the ‘golden number list’ of his supporters, but it seems that only ‘one member of the corporation’ had backed him.7

In May 1820 Lucy wrote to Austen regarding his share of the forthcoming expenditure for the maintenance of their interest, which included £1,000 for building vessels, another £1,000 to pay off Thomson and £5,000 that autumn for an unspecified purpose.8 A recent Act, allowing appeals against rating decisions to be made at quarter sessions, continued to be helpful, as it seriously undermined the corporation’s vote-making power, but Lucy lamented that it had encouraged the opposition to make such rates as ‘must occasion an appeal’, in order to ‘create all the expense they can’.9 Prominent figures among the opposition included one William Brown, the Bodmin attorney Edward Pearce, James Hill and John Rogers, who both owned property in the borough, and Thomas Nicholls, a half-pay naval officer who had been evicted by Austen and had ‘sworn my destruction’. Austen complained in 1824 that their activities would ‘soon drive away respectable inhabitants’, adding that Fowey had been ‘in such a state of ferment’ since the granting of the last charter that ‘my property ... has been wholly unproductive’. There seems to have been a particular problem in collecting arrears of rent, as the individuals thus pursued were apt to join the opposition. Lucy, by this time, took a ‘very disheartening and gloomy’ view of affairs, observing to Austen:

We are just as far from having a snug quiet borough as we were in 1818, and I am sure were the corporation done away we should not be free from trouble and anxiety. As long as the people have leases on any lives and there is property not our own in the place, this state of things can never be nor until all lawyers can be prevented interfering. You thought the building five ships on our union would, by giving employment and content, satisfy the people. Then you considered the mines and the government interest would enable you to put down all opposition, but I fancy this you have not found the case and ... while there are such people in Fowey as Hill, Hearle, Nicholls, etc. ... there must be an opposition. It costs them nothing and they will carry it on to your annoyance ... Your proceeds from the mines ... will always be swallowed up in stemming the tide of opposition ... Then as to the government, if they have interfered, it has certainly not been in our favour on any occasion that I can recollect, and considering the support given them in Parliament I think their behaviour scandalous ... The Edgcumbes either have no influence or are lukewarm and unwilling to exert it ... In my belief Lord Valletort has no intention of sitting any more for Fowey.

He believed that after the next general election they should reconsider whether control of the representation was worth the financial sacrifice involved, or else take a purely commercial view of their property, leaving ‘other people [to] fight’ for the seats and try to collect the rents.10 Opposition hopes were raised in December 1824 when Alexander Campbell and the Bristol merchant and banker Hugh Baillie* canvassed the borough and were received with ‘all the pomp and circumstance usual on such ... occasions’. Austen reported to Valletort that Baillie had provided employment for ‘five young men’ and that Campbell was making various promises as to ‘what he would do’ if elected. Their intervention galvanised the corporation, which had been engaged in a complex series of moves and countermoves against the united interest to prevent the forfeiture of its charter because of unfilled vacancies in its membership, and a writ of mandamus was obtained from king’s bench to elect a new mayor, John Bennet.11 Late in 1825 Lucy and Austen discussed the possibility of offering to return ‘two staunch government Members’ at the general election, but Lucy cautioned that this might aggravate their problems in the long term, as ‘the new Members might, having once a footing, never in any way be dislodged’, especially if ‘by any accident they got with the corporation’.12 The following spring, having secured a peremptory mandamus, the opposition elected Nicholls and Robert Flamank to the aldermanic vacancies. However, in a crushing blow shortly afterwards, rules absolute were obtained in king’s bench for criminal informations against Bennet and three other aldermen, Peter Giles, Coryton and Jordan, for ‘illegal interference with the poor rates’; they were due to be prosecuted at the assizes. Austen’s agent was confident that ‘Johnny [Bennet] and his gang ... will be sent to Newgate’, and jocularly suggested that he should ‘yield up at least one-half of his hard-earned smuggling profits’. There was now an opportunity to ‘root out every fibre of the corrupted tree’ of opposition, and Austen was advised not to ‘spare a man of them ... they should suffer both by ejectments from their houses and by suit for their debts’.13 The gentlemen, clergy and principal inhabitants of Fowey and adjacent parishes sent an anti-slavery petition to the Commons, 5 May 1826.14

At the dissolution in May 1826 Valletort contested Lostwithiel on his father’s interest and Lucy stood for Fowey with Robert Eden, the heir to an Irish peerage and brother-in-law of the home secretary, Robert Peel. A poster issued on their behalf by ‘True Blue’ complained of the conduct of ‘half-pay officers ... poisoning the minds of the people by their daily propagation of falsehood on the town quay’. It was not immediately clear whether the ‘corporators’ would find ‘persons able to raise the ways and means’ to support their ‘desperate ... enterprise’, but Campbell and Baillie finally appeared. An opposition poster warned that Austen would ‘endeavour to muster enough FAGGOTS to drown the scot and lot’ and make them ‘politically slaves’. The ‘very arduous contest’ lasted for three days, as ‘almost every vote’ was disputed. After 245 had polled the opposition ‘gave up the contest’, but the attorney for Lucy and Eden, ‘fearing ... there might be some plot contemplated’, asked for the poll to be kept open as ‘upwards of 70’ electors had not cast their votes. When another 30 had polled ‘without ... opposition’, Lucy and Eden were declared elected. Austen afterwards reproached Lucy for ‘undoing ... all my labours’ by absenting himself from the contest, to which he attributed the ‘disastrous’ fact that the opposition had secured ‘a majority of scot and lot’, providing them with a possible ‘disputed point to submit to a committee’. He maintained that if Lucy had been present ‘a triumphant majority of scot and lot would have rallied around you’, but instead many had been ‘seduced’ with bribes distributed by the notorious Penryn electioneer, Thomas Sowell.15 Baillie was thought unlikely to petition, having declared on the hustings that he had been ‘grossly deceived’ and ‘should not have appeared at the poll’, but one was presented by James Elvins, John Collins and other electors, 4 Dec. 1826, which accused Rowe of partiality and the Members and their agents of bribery and treating. A poster issued by the opposition referred to ‘numberless suits at law brought against’ the scot and lot men and claimed that 50 had been evicted from their homes, but confidence was expressed that the Commons committee would prevent ‘faggots, ycleped "prince’s tenants"’ from again being used to ‘rob’ the scot and lot voters of their franchise. In fact, Lucy and Eden were confirmed in their seats, 9 Apr. 1827.16 Meanwhile, other steps were being taken by the united interest to ‘crush opposition and set all pretenders at defiance’. A quo warranto judgment was obtained to prevent Hearle from acting as mayor and, later in 1827, with Bennet and his friends having evidently been removed, the corporation became defunct as there were insufficient aldermen for it to act. Negotiations were begun to purchase Rogers’s property, and it was also reported that Hill was trying to sell his. Austen observed some years later that the expense of the struggle for control of Fowey had ‘nearly overwhelmed me’, but ‘the destruction of the charter, by stopping the great drain on my finances’, had enabled him ‘very much to repair my affairs’.17 The Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June 1827.18 In June 1828 Austen reported to Sir Richard Vyvyan, the Ultra Tory county Member, that over 100 signatures had been attached to a memorial to the Members against the small notes bill.19 Fowey was silent on the Wellington ministry’s Catholic emancipation bill of 1829, which was opposed by Lucy, true to his previous views, but supported by the hitherto anti-Catholic Eden. For reasons that are unclear, Eden vacated early in 1830 and Lord Brudenell, a professional soldier and heir of the 6th earl of Cardigan, was returned in his place. At the general election that summer Lucy retired and John Severn, a Radnorshire landowner, was returned unopposed with Brudenell.20

The Methodists sent anti-slavery petitions to both Houses, 10, 16 Nov. 1830, and the inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 16 Feb. 1831.21 The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed to disfranchise Fowey and was opposed by Brudenell and Severn. Austen dismissed the ‘absurdity of the plan’, noting that apart from Fowey’s economic importance ‘the poorest house that I have here would more than qualify a man as a voter in London’.22 At the ensuing general election he urged Severn to visit the borough, as Brudenell had pledged to do, in order to deprive of ammunition ‘those who are endeavouring to show that the Members sent ... under the present system owe no responsibility to those who elect them’. Austen claimed to have ‘met with a very good reception’ while canvassing for the Members, who were returned unopposed. Lucy later noted that whereas in the past the election expenses for ‘both seats’ had been ‘£700-900’, and ‘more ... when there was a contest’, the cost of a ‘single return’ had been reduced to about £250.23 On 27 May 1831 Rowe sent a memorial to the home secretary, Lord Melbourne, stating the case against Fowey’s disfranchisement. It was pointed out that the borough contained over 300 electors, and statistics were produced to show the ‘perhaps unparalleled increase of trade’ in recent years, particularly in copper ore and china clay, which suggested that the ‘number, wealth and respectability of the inhabitants cannot but rapidly increase’. Austen doubted the wisdom of pressing Fowey’s case, for although the parishes of Fowey and Lanteglos had a combined population sufficient to qualify the borough for one Member, they could not ‘supply 300 £10 voters’ and ‘we should be probably united to some larger town having interests completely at variance with our own’; he therefore thought ‘we had better remain ... totally disfranchised’. However, after examining the reintroduced reform bill, he hoped that Fowey might be enlarged by adding neighbouring parishes to it and decided that ‘our claims ought to be supported’.24 Brudenell and Severn raised the case in the Commons, 21 July, drawing on the memorial for their arguments, but while Lord John Russsell regretted Fowey’s disfranchisement, ‘on account of the trade and commerce of [the] place’, the population of the town in the two parishes was less than 2,000 and no exception could be made to the government’s ‘rule’. The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Fowey’s fate, as it contained 325 houses and paid £259 in assessed taxes, placing it 47th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. Austen later discovered that the return made by the commissioner, who ‘whilst here had not time to see half the town’, had underestimated the number of houses by ‘more than 100’, but Lucy was ‘resigned to [the] great injustice’ of disfranchisement. He observed that ‘but for the late contests’, which had left some of the houses ‘tenantless’, Fowey might have ‘retained one of her Members’. On the other hand, the united interest would have faced ‘perpetual contests’ involving ‘an expense equal to the maintenance of two seats’, and there was also the difficulty of maintaining their position when government powers of patronage were being used against them.25 The bill’s passage was celebrated by the inhabitants with ‘bonfires, fireworks, firing of guns, ringing of bells, etc.’, organized by Collins, a ‘staunch reformer’.26 Fowey was duly disfranchised and absorbed into the Eastern division of Cornwall.

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 525.
  • 2. Ibid. 50-51.
  • 3. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), ii. 268-76; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 144; Parochial Hist. Cornw. ii. 23-25; PP (1831), xvi. 27-29; Cornw. RO AD 275/2.
  • 4. PP (1830-1), x. 73; (1831-2), xxxvi. 50-51; (1835), xxiii. 505-6; Drew, i. 654-5; Cornw. RO AD 275/12; Rashleigh mss DD/R/5496, Adam to Austen, 7 Mar. 1819; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 53-57.
  • 5. Treffry mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Fowey agreement, 20 July (printed in P. Jupp, British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831, pp. 93-95); Austen to Lucy, 3 Nov.; letters to Austen from Thomson, 22 Nov. 1819, Lucy, 28 Mar., 14 Dec., Leane, 3 July 1820; Cornw. RO, Treffry mss DD/TF/659b, election accts. 1819-20.
  • 6. Treffry mss, Thomson to Austen, 22 Nov. 1819; CUL, Buxton of Shadwell Court mss 117/61, Lucy to Buxton, 11 Jan. 1820.
  • 7. West Briton, 25 Feb., 3, 10 Mar.; Rashleigh mss DD/R/5496, Austen’s election memo; Cornw. RO, Carlyon mss DD/CN/3212, election address, 13 Mar.; Treffry mss, Lucy to Austen, 28 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Treffry mss, Lucy to Austen, 17 May 1820.
  • 9. Ibid. Lucy to Austen, 16 Jan., Austen to Rashleigh, 5 Apr. 1821; West Briton, 4 June 1824.
  • 10. Rashleigh mss DD/R/5496, Austen to Valletort, 7 July; Treffry mss, Lucy to Austen, 23 July, 1 Oct. 1824.
  • 11. West Briton, 4 June, 12 Nov., 17 Dec.; Rashleigh mss DD/R/5496, Rashleigh’s memos, 15, 20 Dec. 1824; Treffry mss, Austen to Valletort, 22 Jan. 1825.
  • 12. Treffry mss, Lucy to Austen, 20 Nov. 1825.
  • 13. R. Cornw. Gazette, 11 June 1825, 27 May, 17 June 1826; Rashleigh mss DD/R/5496, Pearce to Rashleigh, 10 Dec. 1825; Treffry mss, Meredith to Austen, 19 July 1826.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxi. 327.
  • 15. Rashleigh mss DD/CA/B45/51, ‘True Blue’, 23 May; ibid. DD/R/5507, ‘To the Scot and Lot’, 12 June; Add. 40387, f. 174; Treffry mss, Austen to Lucy, 18 Aug.; West Briton, 9 June 1826; PP (1830-1), x. 73.
  • 16. West Briton, 7 July 1826; Rashleigh mss DD/R/5507, ‘To the Majority of the Scot and Lot’, 31 Mar. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 76-77, 120, 386, 396.
  • 17. Treffry mss, Lucy to Austen, 21 Apr., 6, 30 Sept. 1827, n.d. [Dec. 1828?], Austen to Lucy, 23 Oct. 1831; PP (1835), xxiii. 505; Parochial Hist. Cornw. ii. 24.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxii. 520.
  • 19. Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss DD/V/BO/47, Austen to Vyvyan, 1 June 1828.
  • 20. West Briton, 30 July 1830.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 53, 256; LJ, lxiii. 59.
  • 22. Cornw. RO AD 275/2.
  • 23. Ibid. 275/4-5; West Briton, 6 May 1831; Treffry mss, Lucy to Austen, 24 June 1832.
  • 24. PP (1831), xvi. 27-29; Cornw. RO AD 275/7, 10, 12-13.
  • 25. Treffry mss, Austen to Lucy, 19 Apr., Lucy to Austen, 30 May, 14 June 1832.
  • 26. West Briton, 22 June 1832.