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

Number of voters:

about 1,400


8,586 (1821); 9,857 (1831)1


 Edward Davies Davenport263
23 Mar. 1822JOHN WILLIAMS vice Waldo Sibthorp, deceased 
 Thomas George Corbett612

Main Article

Lincoln, a Roman settlement, was a cathedral city and county of itself, centrally situated in the west of Lincolnshire on a hill rising from the River Witham. It was essentially an agricultural centre, with no ‘fixed manufacture’, but had a busy trade in corn, wool and coal.2 The self-electing corporation consisted of a mayor, 12 other aldermen, two sheriffs (the returning officers), four chamberlains, four coroners, 26 common councillors and the usual officers. Mayors were chosen annually, normally in strict rotation of seniority. The freedom, which conferred the parliamentary franchise, was obtainable by birth, apprenticeship, purchase and gift: there were few admissions in the last two categories and freemen were not blatantly created for electoral purposes. About two-thirds were out-voters, of whom a significant number lived in London. The exclusivity and irresponsibility of the corrupt and debt-ridden corporation was resented by the leading inhabitants; and in this period there were running battles over various contentious issues, notably the low level of corporation rents and the decrepit state of the Fossdyke navigation. The latter involved the wealthy and influential local banker Richard Ellison of Sudbrooke Holme, Lincoln’s recorder and its Member from 1796 to 1812, who held a life interest as lessee. In neither case did the reformers achieve any worthwhile success, and their leading spokesman, Dr. Edward Parker Charlesworth, was kept out of the corporation, despite serving as chamberlain and sheriff. Alderman William Wriglesworth, a seed merchant, was often a lone reformer within the select body.3 The Anglican establishment of course had a dominant presence, but Dissent too was vigorous and was at the core of the resident groups in more or less permanent opposition to the corporation.4

Electorally, Lincoln was open, expensive and troublesome to aspiring patrons. Freemen anxious to have a say in elections and to benefit financially from contests encouraged the intervention of a ‘third man’, though they did not always find one. The strongest natural interest had once been that of the Whig Monsons of nearby Burton: it had been in abeyance for many years but had been revived in 1806 by the soldier William Monson, with the initially reluctant backing of his nephew, the 4th Baron Monson. William Monson died in 1807 and Lord Monson in 1809, leaving an infant son who would not come of age until February 1830. Lord Monson’s widow, who in 1816 married the Tory 3rd earl of Warwick, kept the Burton interest alive, first through her father, the 2nd earl of Mexborough, Member for Lincoln, 1808-12, and in the next Parliament through the Whig John Fazakerley, who was recommended by the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam. On the opposite side in politics, Ellison had sat with the support of the 4th earl of Buckinghamshire, a Tory cabinet minister, whose Nocton estate passed on his death in 1816 to his only daughter, the wife of Frederick Robinson*, a rising star of the Liverpool administration; but Robinson did not interfere at Lincoln. Ellison was by then sitting for Wootton Bassett, and on the death of the Nocton nominee in 1814 had secured the unopposed return for Lincoln of his nephew Coningsby Waldo Sibthorp, whose father, uncle and grandfather had previously sat for the borough, where they had long resided at Canwick on its southern boundary. In 1818, when Fazakerley retired, the new Burton candidate Robert ‘Bobus’ Smith, an independent Whig, who paid his own expenses of over £3,000, was beaten into third place by the wealthy barrister Ralph Bernal*, an advanced Whig in politics, adopted as the third man by the London freemen through the agency of the election agent John Stanbury. Sibthorp topped the poll.5

At the dissolution in 1820 the ‘greater part’ of Bernal’s supporters, peeved at his failure to pay his voters in the normal fashion, disowned him and took up the Whig Edward Davies Davenport* of Capesthorne, Cheshire, son of the Member for that county, who was brought forward under the aegis of Stanbury and the London out-voters. Sibthorp offered again. A group of respectable freemen led by Charlesworth, the Dissenters’ mouthpiece William Bedford and three aldermen, including Robert Featherby, disgusted at the renewed intervention of a seat jobber, organized and subscribed to bring in Smith, who had initially balked at the potential cost of another attempt, free of expense. It appears that Lady Warwick, not expecting Smith to stand, had offered Davenport the support of the Burton interest; and she was embarrassed at having to withdraw it when the situation changed. Both Smith and Sibthorp were too unwell to attend in person, but they easily defeated Davenport in a two-day poll of 835 freemen. At a subsequent celebration dinner Smith claimed to have asserted the rights of the electors against mercenary jobbing; but he evidently paid his supporters in the customary fashion.6

Sibthorp received a vote from 90 per cent of those who polled, Smith from 63 per cent and Davenport from 31 per cent. Sibthorp got 83 plumpers (ten per cent of his total), Smith 27 (five per cent) and Davenport 26 (ten per cent). Four-hundred-and sixty-two voters (55 per cent of those who polled) split between Sibthorp and Smith, which accounted for 62 and 89 per cent of their respective totals. Sibthorp shared 204 votes with Davenport (27 and 78 per cent of their respective totals) and Smith only 33 (six and 12 per cent). Those who voted were made up of 430 Lincoln residents (51 per cent) and 405 out-voters (49), of whom only 17 came from London. Of these, 13 voted for Davenport, six for Sibthorp and four for Smith. Of the residents, 94 per cent voted for Sibthorp, 72 for Smith and 24 for Davenport. The out-voters polled 85 per cent for Sibthorp, 53 for Smith and 39 for Davenport. Of the ten aldermen who voted, nine split for Sibthorp and Smith and one plumped for Sibthorp.7

The start of the trial of Queen Caroline in August 1820 prompted nightly torchlight parades by the populace in her support. The traditionally rowdy 5 November festivities were enhanced by popular feeling on the issue, and the abandonment of the prosecution later in the month was jubilantly and destructively celebrated.8 A dinner meeting at the Reindeer, 23 Nov., produced a requisition for a public meeting, with four aldermen and both sheriffs among the signatories. The mayor, George Steel, refused to take part and the meeting, 30 Nov., was chaired by Featherby. Its address in support of the queen eventually received over 1,250 signatures and was presented by Smith. Sibthorp would not countenance it, and with the dean of Lincoln, George Gordon, he promoted a meeting to send a loyal address to the king, 14 Dec. They were frustrated when the Rev. James Hawkes, a Unitarian, and Bedford moved and overwhelmingly carried an amendment calling for the dismissal of ministers. The meeting was dissolved and the original address left open for signatures; but the queen’s supporters countered on 23 Dec. 1820 with an address based on their amendment and a petition to the Commons which included a request for parliamentary reform. When this was presented by Bernal, 13 Feb. 1821, Sibthorp disowned it and Smith, though he endorsed its call for restoration of Caroline’s name to the liturgy, denied the need for reform.9 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the malt tax, 3 Apr. 1821.10 Troops were needed to quell disturbances which marred the coronation celebrations that summer.11

Sibthorp, who had been incapacitated by a carriage accident for almost a year, died on 9 Mar. 1822. The Whig barrister Thomas Denman, Member for Nottingham, arrived in Lincoln for the assizes the following day and immediately sent notice of the vacancy to Henry Brougham, Member for Winchelsea, and John Williams, their junior in their defence of the queen at her trial, who were on the circuit at York. Williams promptly started, with Denman acting for him until he arrived in Lincoln on 19 Mar.; in the meantime he had offered to stand aside for his close friend Davenport, who gave him his blessing. Brougham scotched a bid by the Hollands to insinuate their favourite, Fazakerley, who had been without a seat since 1820. Williams canvassed assiduously and the Tories, thwarted by the refusal to stand of Sibthorp’s brother and successor Charles and Ellison, could not respond. Williams, who advocated parliamentary reform, was nominated by Wriglesworth and Bedford.12 In February 1823 local merchants, bankers and traders petitioned both Houses for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Act.13 Lincoln agriculturists petitioned the Commons against interference with the corn laws, 28 Apr., and the clergy of the archdeaconry against Catholic relief, which both Members supported, 17 May 1825.14 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 3 Mar. 1826.15

Smith, whose health was poor, announced his retirement a month in advance of the dissolution that year and Fazakerley, who had Burton backing, immediately offered in his room. Williams also stood down.16 Charles Sibthorp, a bitter and intemperate opponent of Catholic claims, accepted an invitation from the Tories, though he disclaimed any party allegiance. The third man, who fatally delayed his appearance, was Thomas Corbett of Elsham Hall, near Brigg. A friend of religious toleration and moderate reform, he was supported by Bedford and backed and accompanied on his canvass by the county Whigs Charles Tennyson, the heir to Bayons Manor, and George ‘Fish’ Heneage, the heir to Hainton Hall, who were to come in respectively for Bletchingley and Grimsby at this election.17 Corbett trailed from the start and gave up on the second day 182 below Sibthorp, who was reportedly furious to see Fazakerley take the honour of topping the poll by 12 votes. Sibthorp was hit by a stone during his boisterous chairing.18 Of the 1,232 who polled, 65 per cent supported Fazakerley, 64 per cent Sibthorp and 50 per cent Corbett. Fazakerley received 66 plumpers (eight per cent of his total, Sibthorp 146 (18 per cent) and Corbett 40 (seven per cent). Fazakerley shared 408 votes with Sibthorp, which made up 51 per cent of both their totals. Splits for Fazakerley and Corbett numbered 332 (41 and 54 per cent of their respective totals) and for Sibthorp and Corbett 240 (30 and 39 per cent). The voters comprised 435 Lincoln residents (35 per cent) and 797 out-voters (65 per cent), of whom 104 (eight per cent) came from London. Residents voted 77 per cent for Sibthorp, 71 for Fazakerley and only 36 for Corbett. The out-voters as a whole voted 64 per cent for Sibthorp, 59 for Fazakerley and 55 for Corbett. London voters, however, gave 82 per cent support to Corbett, 84 to Fazakerley and only 13 to Sibthorp. Of the seven aldermen who voted, six split for Fazakerley and Sibthorp and one plumped for Fazakerley.19 Charlesworth, who backed Corbett, wrote after the election:

The next contest will be a very severe one ... Corbett lost ... only by coming too late: he has gained the personal respect of all parties: he is determined to try again: one of the neighbouring interests will then be thrown out: all the powers of darkness will be moved to ward off this blow from Canwick: if Burton be not tenanted in the meanwhile, the blow must fall there.20

Corbett and Sibthorp dined their supporters in November 1826.21 On Ellison’s death in July 1827 he was replaced as recorder by Robinson (now Lord Goderich), who attended mayoral feasts but did not otherwise assert himself.22 Lincoln agriculturists petitioned both Houses in defence of the corn laws and against foreign wool imports in 1827 and 1828, and maltsters the Commons for repeal of the Malt Act, 8 Feb. 1828.23 Dissenters petitioned heavily for repeal of the Test Acts, which Sibthorp opposed and Fazakerley supported.24 At a ‘very thinly attended’ meeting to petition against the restriction of small bank notes, 20 May 1828, Edward Drury, a bookseller and printer, moved but did not press an amendment calling for general retrenchment.25 Lincoln Catholics petitioned the Commons for relief, 29 Apr. 1828, but the inhabitants petitioned the Commons against emancipation in 1829, when the archdeaconry petitioned both Houses to the same effect.26 Fazakerley supported emancipation, but Sibthorp was its furious opponent and, as one of the Ultras, was permanently alienated from the Wellington ministry. Some inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the assessed taxes, 10 Apr. 1829.27 At a city meeting to petition for tax remissions, attended by Sibthorp but not by Fazakerley, 1 Feb. 1830, Bedford easily carried against Sir Edward Bromhead of Thurlby, high steward of the borough, a more radical petition for a partial return to a paper currency, stronger agricultural protection, an end to the East India Company’s monopoly, a commutation of tithes and repeal of onerous taxes. Sibthorp, who attacked the government, and his clerical brother Humphrey supported it.28 Local brewers and publicans petitioned the Commons against the sale of beer bill, 7 Apr., and clergy of the diocese petitioned against the Maynooth grant, 25 May 1830.29

Charlesworth had noted in 1828 that the ‘Red’ (Whig) interest was ‘much below’ that of Sibthorp, who, despite a divorce scandal on account of his adultery, had ‘continued to get the popular cry in his favour’ by paying careful attention to the constituency.30 When Fazakerley retired ahead of the 1830 dissolution there was speculation that the 5th Lord Monson, now of age, did not mean to interfere in Lincoln elections and did not share his family’s Whig politics. In the event his uncle the 3rd earl of Mexborough (Lady Warwick’s brother) offered in Fazakerley’s room. Sibthorp started at the same time.31 The committee of the self-styled ‘Independent Interest’ held out hopes of a third man. The first serious contender was Tennyson, who made good progress with the London freemen, but was deterred after being alerted by his leading supporters to an ‘absurd prejudice ... against me on the part of several of the inferior class of voters’ on account of his vote for Lord Althorp’s 1827 election expenses bill. Before making his withdrawal public, he strongly urged Gilbert John Heathcote, Member for Boston and the son of a former county Member, to meet the London voters, who had ‘said that if anything arose to prevent my offering, they would take my recommendation’, but warned him of the risk involved in ‘there being an apparent discontinuance of a third man’: ‘if I were to decline now and the interval of a day were to occur before you declared, the party might be broken into by others’. He professed confidence that if Heathcote moved quickly neither Mexborough nor Sibthorp would ‘obtain a single promise’ from the London freemen. Heathcote did not immediately respond and, after making further inquiries, he concluded that the plan ‘would not succeed’; he later admitted that this judgement was ‘wrong’.32 The Independents (‘Blues’) turned to Montague John Cholmeley of Norton Place, Member for Grantham, but his prevarication prompted Bedford and others to adopt in desperation the local man John Fardell of Holbeck Lodge, a former legal officer of the archdeaconry court, whom they believed to be a reformer. He accepted, but only on condition that he would not oppose Sibthorp, to whom he was pledged, or Cholmeley, if he stood. Almost immediately Mexborough, who had already hinted at second thoughts, pulled out, complaining of unreasonable popular hostility to the Burton interest, partly because the ox meat provided at Lord Monson’s majority celebration earlier in the year had been undercooked. This marked the final humiliation and collapse of the Monson interest, but Mexborough nevertheless paid the customary ‘head money’ of £2 for promised splits and £4 for plumpers. A renewed attempt to persuade Cholmeley to start failed and, although rumours of a third man persisted to the last, Sibthorp, who denounced undeserving pensioners and sinecurists and excessive public expenditure, but hedged on the slavery question, walked over with Fardell, who said little.33

Lincoln Dissenters, who co-operated with the London committee formed to promote the return of Lord John Russell for Southwark, petitioned the new Parliament for the abolition of slavery.34 Both Sibthorp and Fardell helped to vote the government out of office, 15 Nov. 1830. A meeting got up by Wriglesworth, Bedford and others carried a petition for the extinction of corrupt boroughs, an extension of the franchise, the ballot and a reduction of taxation, 7 Dec. 1830. Ten aldermen signed the requisition for the meeting of 7 Mar. 1831 which petitioned both House in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill. The corporation petitioned the Lords in the same sense, 21 Mar. Sibthorp, having condemned the ballot but voiced support for moderate reform, vehemently opposed the measure in the House, and Fardell voted silently against it.35 Drury and others formed a Lincoln City Electoral Association to secure the return of two reformers at the next election, and Charlesworth reported in late March that ‘the Blues anticipate a coalition with the Reds to turn out the sitting Members’, with Fazakerley mentioned as a possible candidate. Nothing came of this, nor of an approach to Heathcote, recommended by Tennyson, to whom the reform committee had first turned, and who privately encouraged Heathcote to start:

I think Fardell and Sibthorp will meet with a rough reception, indeed I should think Fardell will scarcely make another attempt. There is a large body of out-voters who may not like a reformer, but they will vote for any third man.36

At the dissolution precipitated by the defeat of the reform bill the reformers secured ‘Fish’ Heneage as its uncompromising supporter; he was accompanied into the city by Corbett. Fardell, who like Sibthorp had been executed in effigy, withdrew, but Sibthorp, against the advice of his friends, stood his ground. The late entrant General Gage John Hall, who was supposed to have been sent down by the treasury, canvassed but took fright at the probable cost of a contest. Sibthorp, who delivered ‘a flaming speech’ against the bill’s infraction of freemen’s rights, and Heneage were returned unopposed, a bid to nominate Fazakerley as a second reformer having been scotched by his agent.37 Some freemen petitioned the Lords against the reintroduced reform bill, 4 Oct., but the inhabitants petitioned for it, 14 Oct. 1831, and also addressed the king in support of the reform ministry.38 During the crisis of May 1832 a meeting was convened to address the king to reinstate the Grey ministry and to petition the Commons to withhold supplies until reform was secured.39

The Boundary Act added the bail and close to the old parliamentary borough, which produced a constituency with 707 £10 houses and, after the disfranchisement of non-resident freemen, a reduced electorate of 1,043 at the 1832 general election.40 Sibthorp was then defeated by Heneage and another reformer, but he regained the seat in 1835 and topped the poll at every election until his death in 1855. A second Conservative was returned in 1841, but the representation was generally shared until 1865. There was a bribery scandal in 1847.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Excluding the four ‘liberty’ parishes of Bracebridge, Bramston, Canwick and Waddington.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 253-7; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 538. See Sir. J. Hill, Georgian Lincoln, ch. viii.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxvi. 2345-65, 2368-9; Hill, 199-202, 237-9, 250-3.
  • 4. Hill, 294; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, Parties, 361-2.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 253-5; Hill, 285-6.
  • 6. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 18 Feb., 3, 10, 17 Mar., 14, 21 Apr.; Hill, 227-8; Add. 52444, f. 91; JRL, Bromley Davenport mss, Lady Warwick to Davenport [1820], Fazakerley to same, 4 Apr. 1820.
  • 7. Lincoln Pollbook (1820).
  • 8. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 1 Sept., 17, 24 Nov. 1820.
  • 9. Ibid. 24 Nov., 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 Dec.; Drakard’s Stamford News, 24 Nov., 1 Dec; The Times, 18 Dec. 1820; Fox Jnl. 52; CJ, lxxvi. 67; Hill, 228-9.
  • 10. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 6 Apr. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 229.
  • 11. Hill, 229.
  • 12. Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [14, 21 Mar.]; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 15, 22, 29 Mar.; The Times, 23 Mar. 1822; Hill, 230.
  • 13. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 24 Jan. 1823; CJ, lxxviii. 9, 62, 78; LJ, lv. 495.
  • 14. CJ, lxxx. 350; LJ, lvii. 826; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 13 May 1825.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxi. 124; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 17 Feb. 1826.
  • 16. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 5 May 1826.
  • 17. Ibid. 2, 9 June; The Times, 2, 3, 5, 10 June 1826; Lincs. AO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/29-31.
  • 18. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 16 June; The Times, 12 June 1826; Hill, 231.
  • 19. Lincoln Pollbook (1826).
  • 20. Hill, 231.
  • 21. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 10, 17 Nov. 1826.
  • 22. Ibid. 21 Sept. 1827, 3 Oct. 1828, 1 Oct. 1830.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxii. 239, 433; lxxxiii. 25, 259, 332; LJ, lix. 318, 319.
  • 24. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 25 May 1827, 16 May 1828; CJ, lxxxii. 505, 510, 527; lxxxiii. 91, 100, 105; LJ, lx. 81, 87.
  • 25. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 30 May 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 435; LJ, lx. 541.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxiii. 282; lxxxiv. 115; LJ, lxi. 303; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 20 May 1829.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxiv. 218.
  • 28. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 5 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 30.
  • 29. CJ lxxxv. 274-5, 473.
  • 30. Hill, 232.
  • 31. Bromley Davenport mss, Fazakerley to Davenport, 24 July; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 9, 16 July 1830; Hill, 232.
  • 32. Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss XIII/B/5bb, 5cc, 5ee; Hill, 232-3; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 23 July 1830.
  • 33. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 30 July, 6 Aug. 1830; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Barne mss HA53/359/42; Hill, 233.
  • 34. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 24 Sept., 29 Oct., 5, 12 Nov., 10 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 55, 147, 157, 212, 445, 455; LJ, lxiii. 69, 224.
  • 35. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 10, 17 Dec. 1830; Drakard’s Stamford News, 4 Feb., 11 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 26, 406; LJ, lxiii. 243, 319, 345.
  • 36. Hill, 234; Drakard’s Stamford News, 25 Mar., 1 Apr. 1831; Ancaster mss XIII/B/6c, 6d.
  • 37. Drakard’s Stamford News, 29 Apr., 6 May; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 29 Apr., 6 May; Boston Gazette, 3 May 1831; Hill, 234-5.
  • 38. LJ, lxiii. 1055, 1089; Drakard’s Stamford News, 14 Oct. 1831.
  • 39. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 11, 18 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 337.
  • 40. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 91-92; (1835), xxvi. 2367.