Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the portreeve, mesne lords and inhabitants paying scot and lot
Estimated number qualified to vote:
7 in 18311
about 110 (1821); about 90 (1831)2
|11 Mar. 1820||SIR GEORGE THOMAS STAUNTON, bt.|
|WILLIAM TAYLOR MONEY|
|6 Apr. 1826||HENRY LABOUCHERE vice Money, appointed to office|
|13 June 1826||HENRY LABOUCHERE|
|4 Aug. 1830||HON. LLOYD KENYON|
|JOHN HEYWOOD HAWKINS|
|3 May 1831||HON. LLOYD KENYON||5|
|HON. WILLIAM SAMUEL BEST||3|
|John Heywood Hawkins||2|
Mitchell was little more than a hamlet situated five miles south-east of Truro, consisting of ‘between 20 and 30 houses’ of which ‘about one-half’ were inhabited. The borough limits were not clearly defined but encompassed ‘considerable’ portions of the parishes of Newlyn and St. Enoder, an ‘almost entirely ... agricultural and mining district’.3 Local power was exercised by the portreeve, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, who was supposedly elected annually at the court leet by a jury of the principal inhabitants, nominated by the high lord, Sir Christopher Hawkins* of Trewithen, but who in practice held office for an indefinite period. The portreeve was one of five mesne or deputy lords, holding unspecified properties by ‘lease and release’ of the high lord, and the franchise was vested in them and in the rated inhabitants, whose numbers had diminished as Hawkins pursued a deliberate policy of depopulation, ‘levelling ... cottages with the ground so fast as they came into his possession’; by 1829 only three scot and lot voters remained. Hawkins was joint patron of the borough with the other principal landowner, Edward Boscawen, 4th Viscount Falmouth of Tregothnan House, who was raised to an earldom in 1821. In 1808 they had renewed an arrangement originally made by Hawkins and Falmouth’s father in 1800, by which they agreed to share the representation and the expenses. Each patron nominated two of the mesne lords and the fifth, who served as portreeve, was ‘a common friend’ and acted ‘as an umpire in case of any misunderstanding or foul play’. In 1825 Falmouth offered to purchase Hawkins’s property, if he was ‘disposed to sell now as you ... thought of doing some years ago’, at ‘the price then asked’, but nothing came of this.4 Both patrons sold their seats. At the general election of 1820 Hawkins introduced the East India Company director William Money, a fellow liberal Tory, on whose appointment as consul general at Venice in 1826 the vacancy was filled by the moderate Whig Henry Labouchere, who was known locally as ‘Loveshine’. The high Tory Falmouth again offered his seat in 1820 to the retired East India Company official Sir George Staunton, ‘on terms of perfect independence’, but Staunton’s pro-Catholic views meant that he was replaced in 1826 by the attorney William Leake, a former Member.5
When Hawkins died in April 1829 he left his property to his younger nephew, Henry Hawkins, a minor, whose father, John Hawkins of Bignor Park, Sussex, acted as trustee. Falmouth informed John Hawkins that he was ready to ‘consider the understanding between my father and Sir Christopher as in continued force between you and me’, and Hawkins had no wish to disturb the established ‘system of management’. However, there were certain signs of distrust between the two parties. John Hawkins was anxious to ‘preserve something like a balance of power’ in the borough by filling a mesne lordship in his son’s interest, which had been vacant since 1826. Unfortunately Henry, as a minor, could not nominate mesne lords, and it was thought that an Act of Parliament would be required to confer the necessary power on his father. John Edwards of Truro, the Hawkins’s attorney, warned the family agent in Mitchell, the Truro attorney James Chilcott, that ‘a certain personage’, evidently Falmouth, might try to ‘meddle with the choice’ of a new mesne lord, and claimed that he had shown ‘symptoms of an unfriendly intention’ on a previous occasion, when he was only deterred by the ‘peremptory’ response of the then portreeve, who had threatened to throw ‘all his power ... in direct opposition’. In fact, the vacancy was left unfilled.6 Another problem was how to fill the stewardship of the manor, left vacant by Sir Christopher’s death. This was an important office because if the portreeve died Henry Hawkins could not replace him, and it would fall to the steward to form a jury to appoint a successor, making him ‘in reality the first moving power’ in the process. John Hawkins also feared that if the stewardship was left vacant this might ‘excite some inquiry into the legality of our proceedings’ in neglecting ‘the usual forms of annually choosing the portreeve one month after midsummer’. Falmouth proposed that his agent, one Hendy, should fill the post rather than Chilcott, but the latter warned John Hawkins of the ‘very awkward appearance’ if Falmouth seemed to have ‘sole management’ of proceedings at the court leet; Hawkins circumvented this difficulty by appointing a steward on an interim basis.7 At the general election of 1830 the representation was shared in the usual way. Hawkins nominated his eldest son, John Heywood Hawkins, and Falmouth expressed his intention of presenting a candidate who would be ‘a colleague in every way most unobjectionable’. This proved to be the Ultra Tory Lloyd Kenyon, the son of the 2nd Baron Kenyon, who paid Falmouth £4,500 for the seat with ‘no guarantee as to time’. In writing to inform Lord Kenyon that his son had been ‘duly elected for our quiet little place’, Falmouth requested that
in regard to the other matter, the communication may be made to Messrs. Child and Company at your convenience, but it will be best that this should be rather done in a roundabout way than by your banker or known agent. Your commissioner may desire Messrs. C. to notify to me that they have received this communication on account of my landed property sold.8
The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 naturally proposed the disfranchisement of Mitchell. Kenyon opposed the bill, but Heywood Hawkins made a notable speech in its defence. Ominously, Falmouth wrote to John Hawkins that while he hoped they might continue to act together, he considered the reform question to be one of ‘existence for the constitution’ and ‘you would not I think ask me to sanction the giving power to anyone whose intention is to aid in its destruction’.9 Heywood Hawkins nevertheless offered again at the ensuing dissolution and Falmouth responded by introducing two candidates, Kenyon and William Best, the heir of Lord Wynford, the former chief justice of common pleas. On election day the portreeve, John Coryton of Pentillie Castle, was present with the three other mesne lords, the Rev. John Boscawen (Falmouth’s brother), Richard Curgenven (Falmouth’s steward) and Harry Trelawny Brereton (Sir Christopher Hawkins’s nephew), and two rated inhabitants, James Parks and John Vincent. It appears that none of the candidates was present. Brereton and Parks proposed Hawkins, Boscawen and Curgenven nominated Kenyon and Best, and Brereton demanded a poll on Hawkins’s behalf. Boscawen and Curgenven gave split votes for Kenyon and Best, and Brereton and Parks the same for Hawkins and Kenyon. However, Vincent, a Hawkins tenant, proved to be ‘the Iscariot of the occasion’ and switched sides, splitting his votes between Kenyon and Best, who were declared elected. Davies Gilbert, the moderate Tory Member for Bodmin, who was present, wrote that Vincent ‘must have been gained over by the most base means’, and he condemned this ‘most infamous ... and dishonourable transaction’. Heywood Hawkins was puzzled as to why Coryton, who was supposedly ‘the umpire or bottle holder’ and who had ‘the reputation of an honest man’, had ‘refused to take an active part’ in the proceedings.10 In the lengthy correspondence that ensued, Falmouth maintained that only a ‘private verbal understanding’ existed between the present parties to ‘preserve conjointly’ their interests (he had in fact destroyed the original written agreement in 1808 with Sir Christopher Hawkins’s consent). Furthermore, he questioned whether the trustee for an infant was entitled to ‘vote away’ that which he was ‘bound by [his] legal office to protect, upon the vague plea of political independence’, or whether this allowed him to ‘annihilate with the property of [his] ward that also of the other party’. Heywood Hawkins countered that the 1800 agreement, of which a copy survived, clearly stipulated that each patron must support the other’s candidate, regardless of who they were, and that the agreement applied to their heirs. He accused Falmouth of ‘attempting to escape under cover of a cloud of dust of his own raising’. The dispute spilled over into the press, which reproduced the original agreement.11
The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Mitchell’s fate, as it was placed third in the list of the smallest English boroughs; it was absorbed into the Western division of Cornwall. In November 1832 Falmouth’s agent, Samuel Hews, wrote to Chilcott that he was ‘quite grieved’ to see the property at Mitchell ‘open to the country in the way it now is’, with ‘so much trespass and destruction’ and ‘loss of ... income’.12
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 32-33.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 170; PP (1830-1), x. 99; (1831-2), xxxvi. 32-33.
- 4. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), i. 644-6; Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DD/J/879, 2120b; J2/98; R. Instit. Cornw. Henderson mss HH/14/159, 169.
- 5. Cornw. RO, Carlyon mss DD/CN/3226/3; Sir G. Staunton, Mems. (1856), 110, 116.
- 6. Henderson mss HH/14/172; Johnstone mss DD/J/2120a-b, 2154.
- 7. Johnstone mss DD/J/2138-9, 2154; Henderson mss HH/14/171-2.
- 8. Johnstone mss DD/J/2137; Kenyon mss, Falmouth to Kenyon, 19 May, 5 Aug.; West Briton, 30 July, 13 Aug. 1830.
- 9. Johnstone mss DD/J/2142/2.
- 10. Ibid. DD/J/2142/5, 16; Cornw. RO, Gilbert mss DD/DG/23, Gilbert’s diary, 3 May; West Briton, 6 May 1831.
- 11. Johnstone mss DD/J/2142/1, 3, 4, 6, 9-15; R. Cornw. Gazette, 28 May; West Briton, 3, 10 June; The Times, 20 June 1831.
- 12. Henderson mss HH/14/184.