Great Grimsby


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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 400

Number of voters:

393 in 1826


3,064 (1821); 4,008 (1831)1


 Samuel Turner132
 John Macpherson Brackenbury30
9 June 1826CHARLES WOOD279
 Sir Thomas Philipps, bt.140
31 July 1830CHARLES WOOD227
 George Fieschi Heneage186
 Thomas Chaloner Besse Challoner156
2 May 1831GEORGE HARRIS200
 Rees Howell Gronow187
 Henry William Hobhouse173
  Election declared void, 2 Aug. 1831 
10 Aug. 1831HON. HENRY FITZROY182
 Charles Henry Bellenden Ker160
 William Maxfield153

Main Article

Great Grimsby, a seaport with ‘several good streets, the houses of which are well built’, was, according to Oldfield, ‘second to none in the history of corruption’.2 Political events turned on the rivalry between the Whig Blue party of the Anderson Pelham family of Brocklesby, Barons Yarborough, and the Tory Reds, headed by George Tennyson† of Bayons Manor, Tealby, who had inherited the old interest of the Clayton family. National politics played little part, although anti-Catholicism was strong among the Reds. The interest of the 1st Lord Yarborough should have prevailed as he was by far the largest land and property owner in and around Great Grimsby. However, the Claytons had been influential in the town’s affairs for centuries, usually taking a leading role in the corporation, and were significant proprietors. Each family could, if they managed their interest well, nominate one Member, and the Anderson Pelhams had occasionally returned two. The corporation (or ‘the 24’) of 12 aldermen, one of whom was annually chosen as mayor, 12 common councilmen, and several officials also had influence. Yarborough was its recorder, and a member of his family generally high steward, but the other vacancies were usually contested, with each side often expending large sums. The call list of resident freemen entitled to vote was revised three or four times each year and, when being prudent, each party monitored those who would soon qualify for their freedom. There was a rapid turnover of the list, and in election years the numbers of new freemen always rose sharply: 42 were admitted in 1820, only 19 over the next four years, 111 in 1826, 104 in 1830, and 30 in 1831.3

Tennyson had hoped to secure control of the borough in 1790 by promoting the building of a new dock, but the Blues’ bribery proved more alluring to the freemen than the promise of future commercial prosperity. Soon afterwards the two sides reached an uneasy compromise over politics and promoted the dock scheme together. The coalition collapsed over a new haven bill in 1813, and Tennyson’s son Charles decided in 1817 to resurrect the family interest. However, he failed to get the backing of ministers for a second candidate and therefore at the 1818 general election, though inclined towards government and backed by the money of his brother-in-law Matthew Russell*, he stood as an independent, adopting his own colour of Pink. He faced the Blue John Nicholas Fazakerley* and the apostate Tory John Peter Grant*, who had acted in tandem with the Blues at the last election, and whom he beat into third place. On 1 Apr. 1819 Tennyson’s agent Joseph Daubney, a local attorney, told him, ‘You have the mastership at present. Any temporizing will ruin you’. He suggested that ‘a few thousand pounds laid out in property here, if laid out to the best advantage, would secure an overwhelming interest for you, and save a great deal of money as it might prevent contests’.4 He advised that ‘this should be done as it were insensibly, not by making a push against Lord Yarborough’, who he thought likely to adopt a similar course, and highlighted the expediency of bringing Grant’s supporters over to them, perhaps by buying his property, and the importance of paying their polling money before Yarborough paid his. Of prime importance, however, was the need to avoid any hint of co-operation with Yarborough and to dispel the periodic rumours of an alliance, which had probably emanated from the Blues in order to prevent Grant’s supporters joining the Pinks. Tennyson instructed Daubney to carry out his proposals as far as possible, except for an early payment of polling money, which he did not wish to settle unless he had to, fearing a charge of bribery. He achieved a coup in September 1819 when his candidate, James Goulton, was elected mayor (Goulton’s brother, a tenant farmer of Yarborough, was subsequently given notice to quit).5 Grant’s refusal to sell his property and a rumour that he would again provide a Christmas gift of coals rekindled speculation that he would stand at the next election. Tennyson made a Christmas donation of 7s. worth of coal, flour or meat to any who cared to apply, and sought to curry more favour by paying ‘christening money’ (two guineas for each newly christened child of freemen who had given him a plumper, one for a split vote) and providing £25 towards the prize money at the annual races (as did Fazakerley). On 25 Dec. 1819 Daubney informed Tennyson, ‘The liberality in the distribution I think has brought over some of Grant’s men ... Nothing is doing by the Blues to strengthen their interest by picking up the stragglers from Grant’s’.

Two days after George III’s death, 31 Jan. 1820, Tennyson advised Russell that ‘Great Grimsby is either to be had for both seats or abandoned. A considerable sum has been spent since the last election on cultivating an interest’. Referring to Russell’s son William Russell*, he said that ‘the same expense will carry two as well as one. I doubt much whether Lord Yarborough can get anybody to come forward’.6 On 3 Feb. Russell replied that his son was not yet ready for Parliament and that he considered Yarborough had ‘a fair claim for one seat on account of his property and contiguity’, and suggested that Tennyson and Fazakerley ‘should go down ... and claim to be returned again as part of the old election’. Two days later he told Tennyson that he would pay the outstanding election money, and that thereafter Tennyson should consider himself free to do as he pleased with the interest he had established, though he thought that ‘Yarborough will never tamely submit to the loss of two Members and ... will find no difficulty in getting a candidate’.7 Tennyson’s staunch opposition to the Hull docks bill had boosted his cause, but his failure to pay the polling money had, Daubney informed him, 5 Feb.,

raised the people’s wrath and fury. They say the Pelhams’ trick is played off upon them again. They will have the money, or you need not come again. Fazakerley’s money is not looked for nor is he expected again ... I think you would get two Members easily if it were paid.

Another of Tennyson’s confidants at Great Grimsby, alderman John Lusby, stressed, 6 Feb., that it was imperative for him to have a companion, as he could not succeed alone. Tennyson felt he had little option but to pay the £10 per head expected, and his agents let it be known that he would settle his bills and bring a colleague with him, 12 Feb. Five days later a local Tory, John Macpherson Brackenbury of Aswardby, declared his candidacy, but Daubney told Tennyson, 20 Feb., that ‘his entry was private and his reception as might be expected very cold’, adding next day, ‘I do not hear of his success, he has no music or bustle of any kind, nor does he give even a pint of ale’. Rumoured at a meeting to have been sent by Tennyson, Brackenbury denied any such connection and confirmed his independence. Others believed that he had been sent by ministers, but Tennyson told Questor Veal, the Blue town bailiff, 21 Feb., ‘I have fully ascertained that is not the fact’. The same day Yarborough advised the leading Whig Lord Fitzwilliam, ‘I am under a great dilemma about Great Grimsby. Fazakerley will have nothing to do with it. This perhaps will not surprise you when from first to last his expense and aid there is between six and seven thousand pounds’.8 Grant’s friends published part of a letter from him in which he declared his willingness to stand again, and requested his return free of expense, 23 Feb.9 A canvass was undertaken on his behalf, and Daubney suspected that Yarborough was behind his candidacy, 26 Feb. In his address, 23 Feb., Tennyson referred to his record and urged his supporters to reserve both their votes.10 An approach was made to Tennyson by Lord Shaftesbury, 24 Feb., on behalf of one Lieutenant-General Mitchel as his colleague, but he had already offered the chance to the Tory William Duncombe of Duncombe Park, Yorkshire.11 Tennyson introduced him two days later and they made their joint entry, 28 Feb., when their reception was ‘exceedingly flattering’.12 That day a handbill circulated promising that Grant would arrive on 2 Mar. 1820, but he never showed.13 Three days before the poll, Samuel Turner, a London merchant recommended to Yarborough by the Whig Commons leader Tierney, declared his candidacy in the Blue interest, but he had left it too late and the Pinks easily triumphed over him and Brackenbury.14 It was the first time in over 70 years that the Blues had failed to return at least one of the Members.

Of the 329 who voted, 254 (77 per cent) saw the contest as one between the traditional antagonists and either split for the Pinks or plumped for Turner. Tennyson secured support from 69 per cent (191 as split votes shared with Duncombe, 31 shared with Turner, four shared with Brackenbury and one as a plumper). Duncombe received votes from 62 per cent (13 shared with Turner), Turner from 40 (63 as plumpers and 25 shared with Brackenbury) and Brackenbury from nine (one as a plumper). Of the 22 members of the corporation who polled, 11 plumped for Turner, seven split for Tennyson and Duncombe, three split for Tennyson and Turner and one split for Duncombe and Turner.15 A few days after the election Yarborough’s agent alderman George Babb created a stir when he paid those who had voted Blue £20 for a plumper and £10 for a split vote.16 Tennyson’s kinsman William Hutton warned him, 27 Mar., that Yarborough’s action ‘fully shows his determination and that of his son to use every exertion to recover the borough, or at least the power of returning one Member’.17 Daubney thought that Duncombe should pay his polling money if he decided to visit in the autumn, but informed Tennyson, 13 June, that he had been careful not to pledge him to anything, adding that ‘if Mr. Fazakerley should now pay or Lordy should pay for him, then I think it may be necessary for you to pay your second election money’.18 When the freeman list was reviewed that November the Pinks ‘lost a balance of near twenty votes’, according to Daubney, who told Tennyson that one of the members of the corporation had gone over to the Blues after he had refused to pay off more of his debts for him. Several others were also making claims on him, while the Blues had paid out plenty to assist ‘the gowns’. Two vacancies in the 24 occurred in November, which Daubney thought they must try to capture.19 In a ‘very severe contest’, 12 Dec. 1820, Tennyson’s candidates lost to Yarborough’s by 187-113 for the vacant aldermanic post, and by 191-101 for the common councillor’s place. A letter from ‘a free burgess’ which appeared in the Stamford Mercury the following week claimed that Yarborough’s success was obtained purely by money, and estimated that he had laid out £2,000, while Tennyson had spent nothing.20 Thereafter Tennyson no longer sought to fill any vacancies and Yarborough gradually assumed control of the corporation.21

Tennyson’s cause probably also suffered because of his support for ministers over the Queen Caroline affair. George Oliver told him, 12 Oct. 1820, that it was inadvisable to call a public meeting in Great Grimsby as his proposed loyal address was likely to be thrown out and substituted by one from the radicals, who were already busy preparing their own. These misgivings were reinforced by Tennyson’s fear that the leading Pinks would withhold their support from him.22 Growing disquiet in Great Grimsby with his stance, and Yarborough’s rising popularity on account of his support for Caroline, led him to re-examine his position and at the end of the year he addressed a pamphlet to his constituents, in which he admitted that he had been duped by ministers’ pledges and stated the constitutional case in favour of the queen.23 Thereafter he was a consistent supporter of her cause, and he presented a Great Grimsby petition demanding that a fair provision be made for her, 24 Jan. 1821.24 (Duncombe, a lax attender, cast only one known vote on the matter, in support of ministers’ conduct.) Tennyson brought up a petition against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr.25 He continued throughout the session to ignore warnings that his pro-Catholic votes would meet with disapproval in Great Grimsby.26 On 28 July he was informed by alderman John Moody that a petition complaining of undue interference on his behalf at the general election was being taken around by Captain Miller, a customs officer. It called for him to be unseated and for the borough to be thrown into the hundred. It was to be presented by the Whig William Smith and Moody suggested to Tennyson that ‘as you now appear to be on the same side of the House ... I should hope that you would have sufficient influence to prevent yourself and your friends from being put to expense and trouble by designing men’.27 The petition never materialized.

In September 1823 Charles Anderson Pelham, Member for Lincolnshire, succeeded his father as 2nd Baron Yarborough, but this occasioned no change in the relationship between the Blues and Pinks in Great Grimsby. Between 1820 and 1824 there had been an increase in the number of ships using the dock, but the silting-up of the approaches was reaching crisis proportions and the lock gates were also in danger. Added to this, there was now only one mercantile firm of consequence (Todd and Popple) operating out of the town, so that when the treasury threatened action against them in 1824, the Haven Company made representations and pleaded that it was their trade alone which enabled them to meet running repairs and pay for other day-to-day expenses, and that if they withdrew it would effectively shut the port. The only option available was for Tennyson and Yarborough to come to terms and agree on joint action. Neither had a majority of shares, the shareholders being divided for the most part into supporters of the rival camps. (In 1819 Tennyson had been in the ascendancy, having the support of 191 of the 385 shares, to Yarborough’s 152, with 42 remaining neutral.) On 1 Nov. 1824 they agreed to press for a new haven bill to raise money for the cleaning and repair of its facilities.28 Tennyson presented a Haven Company petition for the bill and was ordered to prepare one, 14 Feb. 1825. It was the Hull Member Daniel Sykes who introduced it, 18 Feb., but Tennyson steered the rest of its passage, and it received royal assent, 10 June 1825.29 Both Tennyson and Yarborough contributed £1,000, while the corporation, George Robert Heneage of Hainton and John Angerstein, the largest single shareholder, each paid £500 towards the repairs.30 While the improvements began, rumours began to circulate about the imminent dissolution of Parliament.

Yarborough had already settled that his kinsman George Fieschi Heneage, the son of George Robert, a Whig who had recently renounced his Catholicism, would be his first candidate, when he advised Fitzwilliam, 30 Mar. 1825, that Turner would not offer again and that ‘I have reason to believe that I can return both ... and therefore I shall be happy to do everything I can for the return of Mr. Sykes’.31 Sykes, however, was undecided about giving up Hull, and Yarborough therefore asked Fitzwilliam to find him another man, 13 Sept. 1825. He explained that he had spent much money in the town, lowered his rents and replaced the town clerk, and would therefore be ‘greatly surprised’ if he failed to win both seats. Although he admitted that Tennyson was ‘a useful Member’, he said that he ‘could not propose him or give him any support whatever’, for he had paid none of his polling money and his father was ‘very much disliked’. Heneage’s family, he believed, had always controlled about 20 votes, and ‘I thought it advisable that he should be one for me to recommend’. He concluded, ‘Great Grimsby is often an expensive place if [there is] any formidable opposition, but I do not expect that ... Any sum above four thousand pounds I will be happy to pay’.32 Fitzwilliam approached Henry Gally Knight*, who declined the offer, and then asked his Yorkshire confidant Sir Francis Lindley Wood of Hemsworth whether his son Charles would like to try his luck. Wood accepted the terms and Yarborough sanctioned Fitzwilliam’s recommendation.33 On 8 Nov. 1825 Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton* told Sir Francis:

Yarborough’s interest there ought to be irresistible, but it has not been well managed, and he has frequently been defeated, but when the battle is well fought by his candidate, and when his own power is prudently and vigorously exerted, success is certain.34

Expecting a spring dissolution, Yarborough informed Heneage and Charles Wood, 18 Feb. 1826, that he was anxious for them to canvass Great Grimsby as soon as possible.35 They issued separate addresses, 1 Mar., and when they entered Great Grimsby together, 3 Mar., ‘the town presented a scene of great gaiety’. They commenced their canvass the next day and ‘met with a most flattering reception’.36 That day a handbill signed by ‘an independent burgess’ was circulated, urging the freemen to reserve their votes for candidates of the ‘old crimson standard of independence’ and charging Tennyson with treachery by forming a secret coalition with Yarborough.37 This assumption arose because not only were Yarborough and Tennyson co-operating over the rejuvenation of the dock, but Heneage was a close friend of Tennyson, and his family had generally been associated with Tennyson’s party in the past. Heneage had the approval of George Tennyson, who nevertheless seemed unaware of his intention of acting with Yarborough and a colleague. A requisition for two genuine Red candidates secured 176 signatures, after which, so Tennyson informed his father, 6 Mar., a ‘jobber called "Fortune", a scamping borough hunter’, touted it about London in an attempt to secure ‘candidates, no matter from what quarter of the political world. The votes are offered at £10 each!’.38 Tennyson, who was deeply alarmed at this turn of events, had thought that Panton Corbett, Whig Member for Shewsbury, was likely to be Yarborough’s candidate, and faced a dilemma. While he did not wish to contradict his father, offend Heneage or do anything to damage his chances, he feared that if he did not stand against him, it would appear as if he were in coalition with Yarborough. Further complications were created by his father’s wish for a ministerial candidate and the undoubted desire of the Reds for an anti-Catholic. His own politics had shifted and he was now a Whig in all but name; Lord Grey even offered to help him at Great Grimsby. He also realized that a contested election would be prohibitively expensive, having estimated that he had spent £12,000 in maintaining his interest since 1818. Seeking to extricate himself from the borough and endorse Heneage while opposing Wood and Yarborough, he therefore wrote to Lusby to explain his situation, hoping, as he told his father, 9 Mar., that

Lusby will convey this to the Reds and the party may thus be kept together to oppose Wood. I say pro forma that I have not abandoned my pretensions because that is the best evidence of no coalition and may until another man can be found help to keep the party from promising Wood.

On 10 Mar. Lusby published Tennyson’s letter which, though it stressed that he had not abandoned the borough, conceded that he needed a colleague if he was to contest it again. He admitted that he was neither the ministerialist nor anti-Catholic that some voters wanted, but condemned Yarborough’s attempt to close the borough.39 Babb told Wood, 11 Mar., ‘I believe the freemen in general are well satisfied there will be no opposition’.40 Tennyson informed his father, 14 Mar., that his letter had had a good effect, and that Heneage and Wood were not popular because of their ‘arbitrary and haughty mode’ of canvassing, which had particularly alienated the young freemen, ‘who are numerous enough (about 100 in the town) to carry the election’. He thought that ‘a good ministerial candidate will yet beat Wood and we can always save Heneage’.41 Next day George Tennyson replied that because many of the freemen thought Heneage was in collusion with them, and because Duncombe had never paid his polling money, Heneage had been refused promises, which had put Wood in first place after the canvass. He therefore concluded that the less they did for Heneage the better for him, and that they should leave their supporters to do as they pleased.42 Wood informed Thomas Bucknall Estcourt*, 20 Mar., that after his canvass he and Heneage were ‘quite secure’, as three-quarters of the freemen had promised them, and ‘the persons who might oppose us are split’. The ‘ranting Methodists’, he added, had collected a petition for an anti-Catholic ministerialist and had left the town to find one.43 Yarborough requested Wood and Heneage to recanvass after hearing reports of an agent being in town looking for a Red candidate, 27 Mar. 1826.44

Everything remained quiet until late April, when the former Member John Henry Loft, a ministerialist who had proved a thorn in the Blues’ side between 1802 and 1812 and retained a some influence, arrived to introduce Sir Thomas Phillipps of Middle Hill Hall, Worcestershire, a staunch Protestant, on the ‘old Red interest’. Tennyson advised his father, 1 May, that Phillipps was ‘a red hot ministerial man and an anti-Catholic, but the government know nothing about him’.45 On 24 Apr. Joshua Plaskitt, George Tennyson’s agent, informed him:

Sir Thomas Phillipps and Loft have it all to themselves as yet. They are making all the attacks against Mr. Heneage. Loft canvassing for Mr. Wood says that Wood is Lord Yarborough’s friend and that Mr. Heneage is yours, and that Mr. Wood is the man that ought to be chosen with Sir Thomas. I expect Mr. Heneage and Mr. Wood will be here this week and make a great show, treat, etc. Mr. Heneage has written to Mr. Daubney rejecting his assistance. I do not think that Sir Thomas has made any impression much.46

Charles Tennyson was now concerned that if he did not denounce Phillipps it would be assumed that he had been responsible for his candidature. Heneage thought that Tennyson was hindering rather than helping him and desired that he do nothing publicly for him, but Daubney was still instructed to deliver whatever help he could by ensuring that Tennyson’s friends voted for him.47 After a week’s intense canvassing, Daubney informed Tennyson, 13 May:

I should not be at all surprised if Sir T. Phillipps were to succeed. Our friend Heneage is I think a little in the background, on account of his being supposed to be your representative. A strong prejudice prevailed against him for sometime on that account but I incline to think it fast wearing off.48

At the 1826 general election Tennyson, as expected, retired, citing the junction of Heneage and Wood and the ‘additional embarrassment which the arrival of a third candidate has since created’.49 Duncombe also declined. In the ensuing contest, Phillipps attacked Yarborough’s attempt to close the borough and assured the freemen that they were no longer bound by promises made to the Blues on the understanding that there would be no opposition.50 It made no difference and Wood topped the poll, with Heneage well ahead of Phillipps. On 10 June Wood informed Bucknall Estcourt that ‘we carried every disputed point and all went on as we could wish it’.51 Of the 393 who polled, 349 (89 per cent) viewed the contest in party terms, by either splitting for the two Blues or plumping for the single Red. Wood was supported by 71 per cent (250 as split votes with Heneage, 28 shared with Phillipps, and one as a plumper). Heneage received votes from 67 per cent (13 shared with Phillipps and two as plumpers), and Phillipps from 36 (99 as plumpers). Of the 22 corporators who voted, 20 split for Wood and Heneage, and one (Tennyson’s former confidant Lusby) for Heneage and Phillipps, while one plumped for Heneage.52

With the restoration of the dock complete, trade started to improve, although traffic was still insufficient to pay for more than daily running costs. Many thought that an enclosure was the solution to increasing the town’s vitality. The landowners of Great Grimsby petitioned for one, 23 Feb. 1827, and Heneage and the Lincolnshire Member Charles Chaplin were ordered to prepare a bill, which Heneage introduced, 19 Mar. It received royal assent, 28 May 1827.53 Yarborough emerged as the greatest beneficiary, but the resulting increase of his influence caused some resentment.54 Meanwhile the Haven Company decided that better access was needed to the port, and therefore petitioned the Commons for the widening and repair of the approach road, 6 Feb. 1828. Heneage and Chaplin were again ordered to prepare a bill, which Heneage introduced, 7 Mar. It received royal assent, 23 May.55 Heneage presented a petition against the Spirituous Liquors Act, 28 Mar. 1828. Wood was a consistent supporter of Catholic relief and repeal of the Test Acts, but Heneage did not vote on either. A petition against Catholic emancipation reached the Commons, 9 Mar. 1829.56

At the 1830 general election the sitting Members offered again, amid expectations of an unopposed return. (George Tennyson remained influential, but no longer sought to lead the Reds, while the Pink party which had been formed from the old Reds to support his son had ceased to exist.)57 On 12 July Wood informed his wife:

I am quite safe, the popular candidate and in high favour, they cannot find anything to say against me. So far Heneage bears the brunt of all their ill temper ... His property, which ought to give him some strong influence in the place, is on the contrary against him, for everybody wants a bit rent free ... We have [a third man] announced for tomorrow, but he has been already announced for so many different days, and as often put off, that I do not believe that he will appear at all.58

Wood was wrong, and George Harris, a captain in the navy, arrived to stand in the Red interest, 13 July. After his canvass he issued an address declaring that the next day he would introduce Colonel Mayne of Boulney Court as his colleague.59 The two Blues entertained the corporation and other gentlemen to dinner and gave ‘a treat to the freemen at the different public houses’, 13 July, but Wood informed his wife that Heneage ‘cannot keep his temper so that he gets on worse and worse’, adding the next day that Mayne ‘is a short, fat, vulgar man who has nothing to say’, while Harris ‘is a man of nothing, and could not stand for a day’. However, it was Mayne who withdrew, 15 July, when Wood declared the election won, as Harris ‘has not a farthing to spend’.60 He and Heneage had quit canvassing two days later and left the work to their agents, but Harris continued.61 On 28 July the Blues returned and attempted to instill some vigour into the proceedings by holding a procession. Wood reported to his wife:

We were very favourably received, more so as to Heneage than was expected ... The captain ... threatens with a fourth man who has more guineas than Heneage and myself and Lord Yarborough to boot have shillings. Meanwhile ... I shall have more votes than enough ... they may just as well give plumpers against us as split on me.62

Thus far the canvassing had passed peaceably, but Wood thought that ‘there is a chance of broken heads tonight, if ever ... Edward Heneage has had his cap knocked off, and a dozen of them dancing round him with torches’, 29 July.63 That evening Harris introduced another man in the Red interest, Colonel Thomas Chaloner Besse Challoner. On the eve of the election the rival parties held parades, ‘each endeavouring to exhibit its strength’. Wood topped the poll above Harris, with Heneage third and Challoner in last place. The Stamford Mercury commented:

The whole of the election has been most extraordinary ... and is it not the least strange that in spite of all the influence exercised by the other party ... Harris and Challoner, the popular candidates, should have mustered 371, the latter having 156 after a canvass of only 36 hours.

Challoner promised to stand at the next election.64 Writing to his father, 9 Aug. 1830, Tennyson commented that Heneage ‘will now begin to discover that our original advice to him to stand upon his own legs was the best’.65 Daubney’s refusal to pay the freemen sufficiently for voting for Heneage, allegedly declaring, ‘Damn them, they may be bought like sheep at Smithfield when they are wanted’, may have contributed to his defeat.66

Of the 394 who polled, 328 (83 per cent) supported either both the Blues or both the Reds. Wood received votes from 58 per cent (175 shared with Heneage, 51 shared with Harris, and one as a plumper). Harris was supported by 54 per cent (153 shared with Challoner, eight shared with Heneage, and three as plumpers), Heneage by 47 (three shared with Challoner), and Challoner by 40. No elector plumped for Heneage or Challoner, or shared their votes between Wood and Challoner. Of the 22 members of the corporation who voted, 19 shared their votes between Wood and Heneage, two between Harris and Challoner, while one plumped for Wood. Of the 250 electors who split for Wood and Heneage in 1826, 161 can be positively identified as voting in 1830. Of these, 114 (71 per cent of the total) again divided their votes between them. Twenty-five (16 per cent), however, completely switched sides and split for Harris and Challoner, while 19 (12) shared their votes between Wood and Harris, two between Heneage and Harris, and one between Heneage and Challoner.67 A few weeks later the Globe and Courier newspapers published a letter from Daubney protesting that

at the late election, some extraordinary interferences took place on the part of persons employed in His Majesty’s revenue service [in Great Grimsby]. The collector of the customs was observed to join in the parade of the Red party ... The revenue cutters Greyhound and Lapwing landed from 70 to 80 of their crews, who kicked up occasional rows to intimidate the peaceable inhabitants and the Blue party, and in one of these, which became a serious riot and affray, they were actually led on by one of the commanders, Lieutenant Howe of the Greyhound. This gentleman canvassed for the Reds, attended their parades in his uniform, and wore a Red ribbon, the cognizance of the party his efforts were intended to support.

He added that sailors had helped to build hustings for the Reds and provided Red ensigns for them to fly from their inns. The Courier published another claim that

the Greyhound was laid in the Humber ... to receive such of the Blue party as could be made intoxicated, and kidnapped on board her; and two of them were actually confined there until the election was over.68

In the ensuing libel case brought by Howe against Daubney, Wood confirmed Howe’s participation, while the harbour master testified to the use of sailors in building hustings and the use of flags. One voter alleged that he had seen Harris seize the reins of the horse of Wood’s carriage while some sailors opened it and threatened to throw Wood’s friends into the river, and other witnesses detailed Howe’s part in leading sailors in the rioting. One Blue voter confessed that he had been taken aboard the Greyhound and plied with drink, and that although he was offered a return to land he ‘preferred to stay on board’. Several others, however, ‘contradicted the testimony of the defendant’s witnesses’, and the jury found for Howe and awarded £10 damages.69

Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 11 Nov. 1830, 7 Mar. 1831.70 The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed to remove one seat from Great Grimsby and Harris, a firm opponent of that measure, presented a corporation petition in protest, 21 Mar.71 Wood, who had become private secretary to the new premier Lord Grey, his father-in-law, naturally supported it. At the 1831 general election Wood, perceiving that the bill was not fully approved of in Great Grimsby and conscious of his prominent position, decided to seek a safer seat. In his place Rees Howell Gronow, a captain in the Grenadier Guards, was brought forward by Yarborough as a ‘decided advocate of reform’, 24 Apr.72 Referring to Great Grimsby’s place in schedule B, he declared that he was sanguine of ‘procuring an exception in favour of so important a place of commerce’.73 Harris offered again, 26 Apr., and introduced John Villiers Shelley as his colleague in the anti-reform interest. Throughout the election Shelley was studiously polite to Gronow because some ‘wicked wag’ had told him that Gronow would shoot him if he was beaten.74 On 28 Apr. a letter appeared in the Morning Post, alleging that George Tennyson’s tenants, under a threat of eviction, had been directed by Plaskitt to vote for two reform candidates. Rumours circulated that a Colonel Hughes would come forward, but in the event it was Henry William Hobhouse, brother of John Cam Hobhouse, the advanced Whig Member for Westminster, who was introduced as the second Blue, 29 Apr. Harris topped the poll with 200 votes, with Shelley second on 192, only five ahead of Gronow and 19 ahead of Hobhouse. Gronow later recalled that on the second day of polling

one of my best supporters came to me and said there are four persons of great influence to whom you must give £100 a piece. If you don’t come in, I will engage to return the amount to you myself, and if you refuse to give the money, you are quite sure to be beaten.

He refused to pay.75 He and Hobhouse issued an address claiming that the Reds had used ‘unconstitutional means’ to secure their victory, declared that they would petition against the return and promised that they would ‘soon revisit’.76 Of the 376 freemen who polled, 352 (94 per cent) split either for the two Whigs or the two anti-reformers. Harris and Shelley shared 184 votes, while Gronow and Hobhouse shared 168. There were no plumpers, and each candidate shared his few remaining votes with both his political opponents. The Reds’ victory was attributed by the press to their popularity among the unskilled labourers, who comprised roughly 35 per cent of the freemen. Of the 21 voting members of the corporation, now almost totally under Yarborough’s influence, 18 shared their votes between Gronow and Hobhouse, two between Harris and Shelley, and one between Harris and Gronow.77 Three days after his victory, 5 May, Harris, in a bid to consolidate his position, laid the foundation stone of what was to become his rope and canvas factory. The stone was inscribed: ‘To commemorate the victory achieved by the independent freemen ... over every conjoined influence that could be opposed to them’. The building was to be the largest in Great Grimsby, and was expected to employ two or three hundred people.78 In a speech at Bourn, 7 May, Tennyson denied that his father had turned out his tenants, and the next day Plaskitt replied to the accusation:

Never in my life ... did I discharge any one man from his house, his close, or his labour on account of any vote ... nor did I ever receive any such direction from George Tennyson, Charles Tennyson, or the Haven Company so to do.79

Gronow and Hobhouse’s petition against the return, alleging bribery and corruption, was presented, 22 June 1831.80

On 6 July 1831 Charles Waldo Sibthorp, Tory Member for Lincoln, claimed in the House that as Great Grimsby’s population exceeded 4,000 it ought, by the government’s criteria, to retain both its Members. On 14 July, Harris produced a document signed by the minister and churchwardens of Great Grimsby stating its population to be 4,225. He pointed to his own victories as proof that it was free, despite Yarborough’s attempts to make it a nomination borough, and argued that ministers were ‘bound in honour and justice’ to maintain its status as a two Member constituency. Shelley added his voice to its defence, 28 July, claiming that it was a ‘highly thriving and prosperous’ place. Waldo Sibthorp spoke up once more, and when the question was put for Great Grimsby’s inclusion in schedule B, Harris intervened to ask whether Wood, now Member for Wareham, was willing to defend it. Although Wood demurred, the question was held over until another day, on account of the late hour. On 2 Aug., however, the election committee determined that Harris and Shelley were guilty of treating and declared their election void, barring them from the ensuing by-election. When Sir William Guise, the chairman, moved for the new writ, Daniel O’Connell proposed an adjournment on the grounds that the borough was to lose a Member, but Lord Althorp pointed out that the House could not act by the terms of the reform bill until it passed, and the writ was approved. Harris and Shelley immediately promised to go down to Great Grimsby and take with them ‘two gentlemen as staunch as ourselves’.81 The petition, Gronow later claimed, ‘cost Lord Yarborough many thousand pounds’, while Charles Arbuthnot*, the Tories’ former man of business, advised the duke of Wellington, 10 Aug. 1831, that they had contributed £350 towards the Reds’ legal expenses.82

On 22 July Lusby had predicted to Tennyson that the election committee would prove treating and bribery on both sides, and that the ‘perjured witnesses and other discreditables’ associated with Yarborough would mean that he would be unable to return another Member. Allied with a declaration of support for Great Grimsby retaining two Members, he conjectured that Tennyson might be able to revive his Independent party.83 On 2 Aug., the day the committee reported, George Tennyson issued a handbill declaring that ‘it is in my interest and yours that [Great Grimsby] should send two Members to Parliament’.84 Next day, however, Charles Tennyson advised Lusby that he was unwilling to bring forward his eldest son George without an assurance of support from Yarborough, who would only comply if he stood as a Blue ‘and thus forsake his ancient colour and the tried friends of our family’. Tennyson continued:

Two gentlemen are therefore sent down by Lord Yarborough, Mr. Gore and Mr. Ker ... I do not however see how we can on this occasion interfere to prevent him ... I know not who is gone in the Red interest. If, after all, they want a candidate, my son will be very near you.85

That day Charles Pearson, Yarborough’s agent, confirmed that Montague Gore of Tilehurst Lodge, Berkshire (later Liberal Member for Devizes) and Charles Henry Bellenden Ker, a conveyancer and legal reformer, would offer. However, although Gore reached Lincoln, where he ‘gave a barrel of ale away to the friends of freedom’, he was taken ill and had to return home. Ker made his appearance with Pearson and the electioneering attorney William Tallents, and attempted to address the electors, but ‘the Reds had so placed themselves that nothing could be heard’. Pearson challenged the Reds to a public debate in which they could ‘state fairly the nature of their objections’ to the reform bill. On 5 Aug. 300 people greeted Harris and Shelley outside the town and accompanied them in procession. They brought as their nominees Henry Fitzroy, brother of the 3rd Baron Southampton, and Lord Loughborough, son of the 2nd Earl Rosslyn, one of the organizers of the Tory opposition. On the hustings Loughborough criticized Yarborough, characterized the reform bill as revolutionary, referred to his votes against it when Member for Dysart Burghs, and promised to vacate the seat for Harris at the end of the Parliament. He predicted that the real battle over the bill would occur in the Lords, and argued that by returning himself and Fitzroy, ‘who were closely connected by family ties’ with that House, the electors might ‘fairly hope to obtain a revision of the case of Great Grimsby’. Fitzroy promised his stern opposition to the bill. Pearson addressed a Blue audience the same evening, noting that the Reds had not responded to his challenge, and, claiming that Yarborough, far from trying to dictate to the borough, was legitimately wielding his influence in order to promote ‘liberal [and] enlightened politics’. Three days later he introduced William Maxfield, a captain in the navy, as the second Blue. At the nomination Fitzroy accused the reform candidates of being Yarborough’s nominees and, referring to Maxfield, added that ‘one of them in particular’ had ‘been fetched from London by the steward of that nobleman’. In response, Ker insisted that he stood on purely independent principles, was a reformer by conviction, and had offered himself after hearing that there were a great number of reformers at Great Grimsby: that many of them were Yarborough’s friends was no reason ‘for him to blush’. Maxfield claimed to be ‘totally unconnected with the noble lord’, explaining that he had long desired to represent ‘a seaport town which might benefit by his practical experience’, and advocating reform and free trade. After a one-day poll the Blues conceded defeat, ‘while there were still 14 votes for them objected to on one side and 10 on the other’. Harris and Shelley were chaired alongside the new Members, after which Harris told the electors that they had ‘not only given Lord Yarborough notice to quit, but had also ejected him vi et armis’. Of the 338 who polled, only 11 (three per cent) did not divide their votes between the two Blues or the two Reds. Fitzroy was supported by 54 per cent (176 as split votes with Loughborough, five shared with Ker, and one with Maxfield). Loughborough also received votes from 54 per cent (four as split votes with Ker and one shared with Maxfield), while Ker secured 47 per cent (151 shared with Maxfield) and Maxfield 45. Yarborough’s grip on the corporation was again evident, as 19 of the 23 who voted split for the two Blues, the other four dividing their votes between the Reds, while the victory of the Reds was again attributed to the strength of their support among the unskilled labourers.86 After the chairing the two new Members left for London in order to take their seats as soon as possible, but were prevented from doing so, 12 Aug. 1831, when it was discovered that the sheriff’s return had not been made. Sir George Clerk complained in the House, 16 Aug., and the sheriff of Lincolnshire and Great Grimsby’s returning officer were ordered to attend. Loughborough and Fitzroy were allowed to take their seats next day, when Clerk read a letter from the sheriff explaining that he had only received the return the previous evening. John Moody, the Blue mayor and returning officer, appeared before the House, 19 Aug., and said that as was customary he had given the return to the town clerk, George Babb, to send off, but that owing to pressure of work Babb had forgotten. Tennyson exonerated both officials from deliberate deceit and asked what advantage they could gain from delaying the return. Babb and Moody were ordered to appear before the House, 23 Aug., when Loughborough spoke in their favour, and they were discharged without penalty.87

On 30 Aug. 1831 Fitzroy criticized the reform bill’s proposal to limit the freeman franchise to the present holders, observing that because accommodation at Great Grimsby was so cheap, it would gradually reduce the number of electors, as there were probably less than 100 £10 houses. He added that there were ‘300 or 400 £5 and £6 householders’, who he believed were ‘more independent and intelligent than the £20 rentpayers in London, Manchester, Birmingham, and other such large places’. Croker, one of the leading critics of the bill, condemned the appointment of Ker and Tallents as boundary commissioners for Lincolnshire, 23 Sept., but they did not compile the report on Great Grimsby. By the revised bill of December 1831 it was again scheduled to lose one Member, against which the corporation again petitioned the Commons, 21 Feb. 1832.88 When its place in schedule B came up for consideration, 23 Feb., Loughborough and Fitzroy made stout defences of its independence and vitality, and, referring to the boundary bill, claimed that the expansion of the borough to increase the number of £10 voters would merely throw it into Yarborough’s hands. Their pleas were to no avail. The boundary commissioners reported that of the 185 £10 houses, 111 were already occupied by burgesses, ‘so that the addition to the present constitution by the altered qualification will be nearly insensible’. They realized that because the number of resident electors was large, an addition from the immediate vicinity would add few more, and they concluded that a large increase in the size of the borough was necessary. They recommended the addition of the parishes of Bradley, Clee with Weelsby, Cleethorpes, Great and Little Coates, Laceby, Scartho and Waltham (almost a ten-fold expansion in the area of the borough), which would add 338 £10 houses.89 Tennyson, commenting on the proposals to his father, 23 Feb., complained, ‘I do not think it right that the agricultural interest should thus be let in to overbear the towns’, adding that he had managed to have Great Grimsby nominated as one of the polling places for the Northern division of Lincolnshire.90 A dinner to celebrate the Reform Act’s passage was held, 14 Sept., chaired by the mayor and attended by Tennyson, Maxfield, Yarborough’s son Charles, the new Member for Lincolnshire, and Sir William Amcotts Ingilby, the other county Member.91 The reformed borough had a population of 6,836 and 656 registered electors in 1832.92 Of these 303 were £10 householders, only 79 of whom lived in the old borough.93 At that year’s general election Loughborough offered as a Conservative and appealed to Tennyson not to oppose him.94 However, the influence of the Tennysons had seriously waned, and Yarborough, despite nominally being the patron, had less sway with the new electorate. The Liberal Maxfield, who had the support of both families, defeated Loughborough on this occasion, but thereafter the Heneages acquired control.95

Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon


  • 1. The figure for 1821 applies to the whole parish; that for 1831 to the parliamentary borough (PP (1831-2), xxxix. 155).
  • 2. White’s Lincs. Dir. (1826), 133; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 155.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 527.
  • 4. Unless otherwise indicated, the section dealing with events prior to the 1820 general election is based on S. Humberside AO (SHAO), Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 1, passim.
  • 5. E. Gillett, Hist. Great Grimsby, 200.
  • 6. Durham CRO, Brancepeth mss D/BR/F294.
  • 7. Lincs. AO (LAO), Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H108/22, 24.
  • 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/161.
  • 9. Great Grimsby Pollbook (Squire, 1820).
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H33/13.
  • 12. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 3 Mar. 1820.
  • 13. Great Grimsby Pollbook (1820).
  • 14. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F33/64.
  • 15. Great Grimsby Pollbook (1820).
  • 16. Drakard’s Stamford News, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 17. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H103/4.
  • 18. SHAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 1.
  • 19. Ibid. 14 Nov. 1820.
  • 20. Drakard’s Stamford News, 15 Dec.; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 22 Dec. 1820.
  • 21. PP (1835), xxvi. 172.
  • 22. SHAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 1.
  • 23. C. Tennyson, Observations on Proceedings against the Queen.
  • 24. CJ, lxxvi. 5.
  • 25. Ibid. 229.
  • 26. SHAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 1.
  • 27. Ibid. box 3.
  • 28. G. Jackson, Great Grimsby and the Haven Co. 50, 84-85.
  • 29. CJ, lxxx. 37, 67, 86, 294, 336, 389, 518.
  • 30. Jackson, 51.
  • 31. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F33/64.
  • 32. Ibid. 67.
  • 33. Fitzwilliam mss, Gally Knight to Milton, 26 Sept.; Borthwick, Hickleton mss, Fitzwilliam to Wood, 18 Oct., reply, 21 Oct 1825; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F33/66.
  • 34. Hickleton mss.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Hull Advertiser, 10 Mar. 1826.
  • 37. Hickleton mss.
  • 38. Add. 40385, f. 329; LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/6.
  • 39. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/6,9-11, 14.
  • 40. Hickleton mss.
  • 41. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/13.
  • 42. Ibid. 2Td’E H13/6.
  • 43. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 F365.
  • 44. Hickleton mss.
  • 45. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/21.
  • 46. Ibid. 2Td’E H13/7.
  • 47. Ibid. Td’E H98/19.
  • 48. Ibid. 2Td’E H17/33; Drakard’s Stamford News, 12 May 1826.
  • 49. Drakard’s Stamford News, 19 May 1826.
  • 50. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 9 June; Great Grimsby Pollbook (Skelton, 1826).
  • 51. Sotheron Estcourt mss F365.
  • 52. Great Grimsby Pollbooks (1820 and 1826).
  • 53. CJ, lxxxii. 225, 336, 420, 453, 467, 590, 596.
  • 54. Great Grimsby Pollbook (Skelton, May 1831).
  • 55. CJ, lxxxiii. 19, 112, 141, 375.
  • 56. Ibid. lxxxiv. 115.
  • 57. Hickleton mss, C. to F.L. Wood, 29 June; Great Grimsby Pollbook (Skelton, 1830).
  • 58. Hickleton mss.
  • 59. Great Grimsby Pollbook (1830).
  • 60. Hull Advertiser, 23 July 1830; Hickleton mss.
  • 61. Hull Advertiser, 23, 30 July 1830.
  • 62. Hickleton mss.
  • 63. Ibid. C. to M. Wood, 29 July 1830.
  • 64. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 65. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H89/8.
  • 66. Gillett, 202.
  • 67. Great Grimsby Pollbook (1830).
  • 68. Globe, 6 Aug.; Courier, 20 Aug. 1830.
  • 69. Ann. Reg. (1830), Chron. pp. 87-90.
  • 70. CJ, lxxxvi. 55, 347.
  • 71. Ibid. 416.
  • 72. Gronow Reminiscences, i. 308; Drakard’s Stamford News, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 73. Lincs. Herald, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 74. Gronow Reminiscences, i. 309.
  • 75. Ibid.
  • 76. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 6 May 1831.
  • 77. Great Grimsby Pollbook (Skelton, May 1831).
  • 78. Hull Advertiser, 13 May 1831.
  • 79. Drakard’s Stamford News, 13 May 1831.
  • 80. CJ, lxxxvi. 536.
  • 81. Great Grimsby Pollbook (Drury, Aug. 1831).
  • 82. Gronow Reminiscences, i. 309; Wellington mss.
  • 83. SHAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 3.
  • 84. Unless otherwise indicated this account of the 1831 by-election is based on Great Grimsby Pollbook (Drury, Aug. 1831); Drakard’s Stamford News, 19 Aug.; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 19 Aug. 1831.
  • 85. SHAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 3.
  • 86. Great Grimsby Pollbook (Drury, Aug. 1831).
  • 87. CJ, lxxxvi. 758, 762, 768-9.
  • 88. Ibid. lxxxvii. 133.
  • 89. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 154; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432.
  • 90. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H111/11.
  • 91. Drakard’s Stamford News, 21 Sept. 1832.
  • 92. PP (1835), xxvi. 178.
  • 93. Great Grimsby Pollbook (Skelton, 1832).
  • 94. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H4/4.
  • 95. Gash, 205.