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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 90


1,047 (1821); 1,098 (1831)


 Sir Jacob Astley bt.26
 William Henry Lytton Earle Bulwer23
20 Apr. 1827GEORGE CANNING vice Ellis, vacated his seat 
5 Sept. 1827(HON.) AUGUSTUS FREDERICK ELLIS vice Canning, deceased57
 Joseph Henry Butterworth6
 William Lyon34
 William Williams24
 LYON vice Ellis, on petition, 7 Mar. 1831 

Main Article

After the turbulence, intrigue and corruption of the period 1784-1812 Seaford, an insignificant resort on the Sussex coast, 13 miles east of Brighton, was comparatively though not entirely tranquil.1 From 1812 at least one seat was under the control of Charles Rose Ellis, a wealthy Jamaican plantation owner and the close friend of George Canning. Ellis, who had sat for Seaford on the now defunct Pelham interest, 1796-1806, purchased assorted properties in the borough over a period of years.2 Defeated in 1806 and 1807, he was returned after a contest in 1812 and unopposed in 1818 even though he lived largely on the continent from 1815 to 1819.3 While his interest was based on his ownership of property, including Seaford House, where he occasionally resided, it was bolstered by his mastery of the self-electing corporation, which consisted of a bailiff and an indefinite number of jurats and freemen. In September 1830 there were 12 jurats, including Ellis and his two sons, and 28 freemen. One of the stock techniques of electoral control which he employed was manipulation of the rate books, whereby hostile or potentially troublesome voters were effectively disfranchised. Yet there was an element within the borough which resented his domination and proved it to be not invulnerable to attack.4

Some obscurity surrounds the identity of Ellis’s coadjutor at the start of this period. His ally from 1811 had been the lawyer Sir John Leach, Member for Seaford, 1806-16, and vice-chancellor, 1818-27. He was still a jurat of Seaford, along with his brother Thomas, in 1830, when he was master of the rolls. By one account George Watson Taylor, another rich Jamaican proprietor, who was returned with Ellis in 1818, came in on Leach’s interest. According to Oldfield, who had been politically active at Seaford 30 years earlier, he had bought Leach’s ‘interest in the borough’ to become ‘joint patron of its influence’ with Ellis; but no evidence has been found of such a purchase.5 It is therefore not quite clear on what interest George Agar Ellis, the heir to two peerages and a large Irish estate, came in unopposed with Charles Ellis in 1820, when Watson Taylor, who was heard of no more at Seaford, was returned for East Looe. He was ‘transacting business respecting ... Seaford, one seat of which I have some thoughts of buying’, on 26 Feb. On 3 Mar. he dined with Charles Ellis in Brighton, and next day ‘went over to Seaford where I was drawn into the town by the foolish people’ and ‘canvassed the place’. Ellis accompanied him when he completed his canvass, 5 Mar. 1820, and on the 6th they were returned and ‘drawn through the town’. Agar Ellis ‘made a short speech, attended a long dinner’ and ‘left most of my constituents very tolerably drunk at five’.6 In 1823 John Fitzgerald, an Irishman who had settled in Suffolk after his marriage to a wealthy heiress, established himself as Ellis’s electoral partner. He bought Corsica Hall, situated just east of the town, from one Pindar, who had made an unsuccessful attempt to establish an interest on the strength of it during the 1812 Parliament. Fitzgerald, who rebuilt the hall and named it Millburgh, also bought several houses within the borough, some of which had formerly sustained Leach’s interest. His attention may have been drawn to Seaford by Ellis’s friend and fellow-Canningite Lord Granville, whom he succeeded as the tenant of Wherstead Lodge, near Ipswich in 1825; or he may have met Ellis on one of his visits to Suffolk.7

Canning, who was Ellis’s guest at Seaford Lodge in November 1825, secured him a peerage a few weeks before the dissolution of 1826.8 Ellis, who took the title of Baron Seaford, accordingly introduced and brought forward his younger son Augustus, an army officer, while Agar Ellis made way for Fitzgerald. They were unexpectedly challenged by two wealthy Norfolk Whigs, Sir Jacob Astley† of Melton Constable and William Lytton Bulwer* of Heydon. They were said at the time to have been invited by ‘a requisition of the electors’, though it was alleged four years later that they had been drummed up by Richard Teeling of Newhaven, a shady character with a smuggling pedigree, who had been deputed to search for likely candidates. Lord Seaford saw nothing in their intrusion ‘which would justify a moment’s anxiety’, and they were easily seen off. It was reported that some voters absconded with their benefaction of 288 bottles of wine and 234 gallons of strong ale.9 When Canning was appointed first lord of the treasury in April 1827 he could not depend on a quiet re-election for Newport. Augustus Ellis made way for him and he was returned in absentia, Fitzgerald standing in for him at the formalities.10 On Canning’s death four months later Lord Seaford decided to reinstate his son, who was in Portugal with his regiment. Technical hitches delayed the election until 5 Sept. 1827, when ‘a small party’, led by James Gorring, a freeman, and Henry Bull, a tenant of Fitzgerald, showed themselves ‘determined not to let the business go off so quietly’. They nominated Joseph Henry Butterworth of Clapham, the son of the late Methodist Member for Dover, who was ‘entirely unknown to the inhabitants’ and who, it was asserted, ‘came into the town in the morning by accident, on his way from Brighton to Hastings’. There was a token poll and Butterworth (who had only a year to live) had departed before Lord Seaford arrived to dine with the electors.11 Protestant Dissenters of Seaford and Newhaven petitioned the commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June 1827.12 In March 1828 Lord Seaford, writing from Paris, asked his son to impress on Fitzgerald, who ‘understands the whole subject of the poor laws better than I do’, the importance of securing from the Wellington ministry a modification of a pending bill dealing with rate assessments: if men on the rates appealing to be removed did so on the ground of ‘comparison of their case with that of others, who were left out of the rates’, it ‘might open a question which might be very inconvenient to us’. The outcome remains obscure.13

In June 1829 the young Tories Philip Pusey*, a Berkshire squire, and Lord Mahon*, son of the 4th Earl Stanhope, were apparently led by one Goodwin to pay a deposit on the cost of being returned for Seaford at the next general election. In the event the negotiation fell through and both came in elsewhere in 1830, when Captain Robert Henry Stanhope* of the navy reconnoitred the borough but took no further action.14 Ellis and Fitzgerald were challenged by William Lyon, the cavalry officer son of a wealthy London West India merchant of Scottish birth, and William Williams of Aberpergwm, sheriff of Glamorgan, who issued a joint address. They were said to be responding to an invitation from a number of electors ‘dissatisfied with the conduct of Lord Seaford, whose object, according to their impression, has for some time been and still is, to break down the little remains of independence, by giving to the trade of the place as little encouragement as possible’. Their leading supporters appear to have been the freemen Gorring, James Simmons and George and James Stevens, abetted by William Champion, Stephen Eves, Joseph Hubbard and William Maynard, electors of Seaford, and Levi Emanuel Cohen, editor of the Brighton Guardian. They claimed to be offering the voters the chance to free themselves from ‘the sad alternative of surrendering your best interests into the hands of the nominees’ of Lord Seaford; and at a public meeting Lyon, who later alleged that the electorate had dwindled to little more than 70, declared that ‘I was until now ignorant that there existed ... a body of voters upon whom the iron hand of tyranny pressed so heavily’. At the same meeting Cohen invoked the recent example of the ratepayers of Rye in freeing themselves from electoral subjugation and promised that Lyon and Williams would rehouse any voters evicted for defying Lord Seaford and Fitzgerald. In the course of the campaign Seaford was denounced as a slave owner, the sitting Members were attacked for failing to support the sale of beer bill and the practice of keeping unfriendly inhabitants off the rates was condemned. There was supposedly an unsuccessful bid by ‘the agents of Lord Seaford’s party’ to strengthen their position by creating a number of new freemen, while their opponents regaled the electors with a drinking party, a cricket match and a dance. For Ellis and Fitzgerald, who untruthfully claimed to have supported the beer bill, it was argued that all the respectable voters were content to be ‘under the natural influence of property and of neighbourhood’. The intervention of Lyon and Williams, ‘utter strangers’, was portrayed as part of the government’s vendetta against the Canningite remnant: they were said to have been sent down and subsidized by the treasury, to have courted support with promises of places in the customs and excise services and to be ‘unsparing in their bribes’, as Huskisson put it. Fitzgerald, who was at pains to stress his independence from the Ellises, was praised for his munificence to the borough, where he had founded and endowed a free school and provided generous relief during recent outbreaks of disease.15 The polling was dominated by lengthy legal discussions of disputed votes: five tendered for Lyon and Williams were rejected by the bailiff, James Brooker. Fitzgerald topped the poll, with Ellis four votes ahead of Lyon in second place. While Ellis deplored ‘the baseness of some old friends’, Lyon retorted that ‘many of the electors had ... complained of harsh treatment, and their resentment could not in justice be stigmatized as baseness’. Ellis’s majority was attributed by his opponents to the votes of Fitzgerald, Brooker, the Rev. James Carnegie, vicar of Seaford, and one Watcham, the ‘household servant’ of Fitzgerald. The Guardian reported that the rejected votes were those of Thomas Bull, whose father had been evicted from his mill after his rebellion in 1827 and who was allegedly turned down on specious grounds, and of William Coombs, Samuel Newington, William Pilcher and William Reed, deemed to be ‘paupers’ because they had only paid their rate arrears at the last minute. (It was pointed out that this ploy, a favourite one of the established interests, had not been used against them in identical circumstances in 1826, when they had voted for Ellis and Fitzgerald.) Dr. Charles Verral of Stone House, a physician, freeman and apologist for Lord Seaford and Fitzgerald, subsequently replied, with more than a trace of anti-Semitism, to these attacks. He stressed the patrons’ generosity to the borough, by which ‘the young are instructed, the old supported, the poor relieved, the sick attended and nourished, the widow and orphan cheered’. He argued that Henry Bull had deserved eviction, that the allegations about his son’s rejected vote were ‘full of error’ and that objections raised to Watcham’s vote had proved unsustainable.16 On 18 Aug. 1830 Mahon wrote to Pusey:

With respect to Seaford, it appears that not only were the legitimates returned after all, but that the rebels had to canvass in person and to keep open house (and no doubt open hands) for three weeks, besides which ... I believe ... they were as a further resource obliged to pledge themselves entirely to government and to take down treasury letters. Thus it is evident that Goodwin misinformed us on every one point, and ... in justice he ought to refund a very considerable part of the money we gave him.17

A petition was lodged in the names of Simmons and four other electors claiming a majority of legal votes for Lyon over Ellis. Lyon also petitioned to the same effect and additionally accused Fitzgerald of unlawful treating. He failed to enter into recognizances, but the electors’ petition was successful and Lyon was seated in place of Ellis, 7 Mar. 1831.18 By then the details of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed the disfranchisement of Seaford, had been made public. Lord Seaford decided to support it as a necessary concession although, as he explained to Granville, 1 Apr. 1831, he had ‘many objections’ to it, not least that ‘it makes disfranchisement its principle, instead of restoration’:

Do not fancy that I have formed my opinion under the influence of resentment because Seaford is included in schedule A. I care very little about my borough influence. Augustus dislikes Parliament as interfering with his military duties. The expense of keeping up my interest was very considerable. I should not have liked to indemnify myself by mongering, and it is doubtful for how much more I could have sold my property on account of its borough influence, while it is very certain that I can save a considerable annual expense by treating it as mere property. Accordingly, Augustus, immediately after the decision of the committee who unseated him, announced to his friends that he should not offer himself again as a candidate.19

At the 1831 general election, therefore, Fitzgerald and Lyon, who had both voted against the bill, were returned unopposed. Lord Seaford told Granville that while his son ‘might I believe have come in’, as ‘the party who supported him had intended to put him up in his absence and professed to be sure of electing him’, he had vetoed the idea:

I know they would expect him to defend their franchises, and this would alone have been a sufficient objection, even if a seat in Parliament had not been a matter of indifference to him, not to say very inconvenient.20

At the election Lyon condemned all reform as unnecessary, but Fitzgerald claimed that his only rooted objection was to indiscriminate disfranchisement. Lyon opposed the reform bills in the House, while Fitzgerald abstained.21

A meeting of electors, including bailiffs, jurats and freemen, adopted a petition to the Commons ‘complaining of the injustice of their proposed disfranchisement’, which Fitzgerald presented and endorsed, 13 July 1831.22 On the formal proposal to include Seaford in schedule A, 26 July, Lyon, pointing to his own return as proof that it was no nomination borough, vainly suggested that it be united with Hastings. A ‘numerous meeting’ chaired by Carnegie, 15 Sept. 1831, resolved to petition the Lords in the same terms as the Commons. Lyon, who forwarded the petition to the duke of Wellington for presentation, explained that the omission of the signatures of the bailiff and jurats derived from a misunderstanding and not political differences. The duke presented it, 27 Sept. 1831.23Seaford fell comfortably within schedule A as redefined in the final reform bill.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1832-4), 1049.
  • 2. J.A. Astell, System of Intrigue and Turpitude (Seaford, 1976), 29; M.A. Lower, ‘Mems. Seaford’, Suss. Arch. Coll. vi (1854), 126; E. Suss. RO AMS 6004.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 477-9.
  • 4. E. Suss. RO SEA 319; PP (1835), xxiv. 399-400; Brighton Guardian, 28 July 1830.
  • 5. E. Suss. RO SEA 319; Morning Herald, 16 June 1818; Oldfield, Key (1820), 266.
  • 6. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 26 Feb., 3-6 Mar. 1820; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC8/43.
  • 7. Lower, 124-6; W.D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 48; J.A. Astell, Hist. Seaford, 5, 7; M. Lewis, Seaford, 7.
  • 8. Bagot, Canning and Friends, ii. 296; Add. 51818, Ellis to Holland, 24 Nov. 1825.
  • 9. Add. 38301, f. 213; Brighton Gazette, 25 May, 1, 15 June; Brighton Herald, 27 May, 3, 10, 17 June 1826, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 10. Torrens, Melbourne, i. 223; Brighton Herald, 21 Apr.; Courier, 23 Apr. 1827.
  • 11. TNA 30/29/9/5/51, 53, 56; Bagot, ii. 421; Brighton Herald, 8 Sept.; The Times, 10 Sept. 1827; Astell, System, 35.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxii.
  • 13. Add. 38755, f. 207.
  • 14. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C355, Pusey to Mahon, 18 June 1829, Saturday [?1830]; Berks. RO, Pusey mss D/Ebp/C1/31, 36, 43; Astell, System, 36.
  • 15. Brighton Guardian, 7, 14, 21, 28 July, 4 Aug.; Brighton Herald, 10, 17 July; Brighton Gazette, 29 July; Add. 60288, f. 281; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 75, Huskisson to Denison, 19 July 1830.
  • 16. Brighton Guardian, 4, 11, 18, 25 Aug.; Brighton Herald, 7, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 17. Pusey mss C1/43.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 72, 89, 90, 141, 142, 196, 307, 308, 344; Brighton Guardian, 9 Mar.; Brighton Herald, 12 Mar. 1831.
  • 19. TNA 30/29/9/5/78.
  • 20. Ibid. 5/81.
  • 21. Brighton Guardian, 27 Apr., 4 May; Suss. Advertiser, 2 May; Brighton Gazette, 5 May 1831.
  • 22. Brighton Gazette, 21 July 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 650.
  • 23. E. Suss. RO SEA 486, 497; Brighton Gazette, 22 Sept. 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1196/9; LJ, lxiii. 1011; Astell, System, 36. D.R.F.