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 corporation

Number qualified to vote:



2,712 (1821); 2,925 (1831)2


 William Edward Tomline10
  Double return for the second seat, election for which declared void, 26 May 1820 
 Lord Fitzroy James Henry Somerset11
6 Mar. 1829JOHN SCOTT, Visct. Encombe vice Somerset, vacated his seat 
 NATHANIEL WILLIAM PEACH vice Tomline, vacated his seat 
6 Aug. 1830JOHN SCOTT, Visct. Encombe14
 Sir John William Lubbock, bt.1
 William Tooke1
4 May 1831JOHN SCOTT, Visct. Encombe10
 William Tooke1
 Humphrey Willyams1

Main Article

Truro, a port and market town, was situated almost in the centre of the county, in a valley at the confluence of two rivers which formed a large navigable creek, ‘one of the numerous branches of Falmouth harbour’; there were ‘several quays and wharves on its margin’. The town was ‘increasing rapidly in wealth and population’ in this period and had strong claims to be regarded as ‘the metropolis’ of Cornwall. Its prosperity was derived chiefly from the extensive mining operations in the neighbourhood. The ‘greater part of the tin raised in the county’ was sent here for smelting, before being exported to the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the East Indies, and ‘considerable quantities of copper ore’ were sent to Wales in return for supplies of coal. In 1814 the Truro Shipping Company was founded to promote general trade with London, and there were three banking houses ‘of the very first order of respectability and opulence’. The market house was rebuilt about 1810. There were small manufactories for woollens, carpets, paper and coarse earthenware. Since the 1790s the principal streets had been ‘considerably improved’, ‘many of the gentry of the county’ resided in the town and it served as a ‘social centre for a wide area’. The rapidly expanding suburbs were ‘far more populous’ than the town itself.3

The borough encompassed the parish of St. Mary and a small area of mainly agricultural land in the adjoining parish of Kenwyn. The franchise was confined to members of the corporation, which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, four other aldermen and 19 capital burgesses, who were removable but usually held their offices for life; there were no other freemen. It was a purely self-electing body, the aldermen being chosen annually by the capital burgesses and new capital burgesses being elected by all the corporators. They were mainly clergymen, lawyers and other professionals, plus a few merchants, and many were ‘related to one another’. Although the charter of 1589 required them to be resident, this was ‘not in practice acted upon’ and in 1834 11 were non-residents. Edward Boscawen, 4th Viscount Falmouth of nearby Tregothnan, the recorder, whose family had been connected with the borough since the seventeenth century, was the Tory patron and claimed the right to nominate both Members. He maintained his interest by procuring ‘places in the custom house’ for the relatives of his friends on the corporation, and lent £1,000 to rebuild the market house. However, the corporation was divided into two parties of nearly equal strength, and there had been a long history of resistance to Boscawen attempts to monopolize the representation. Between 1796 and 1814 the seats were filled by a Boscawen nominee and by John Lemon, a member of a neighbouring Whig family, who had purchased a life interest from the Boscawens. On Lemon’s death Falmouth asserted his right to fill the vacancy, provoking a backlash from the opposition party which included the attorneys John Bennallack and John Edwards (the town clerk), and two partners in the Miner’s Bank, Ralph Allen Daniell† of Trelissick and John Vivian, the wealthy mining adventurer and vice-warden of the stannaries. Behind them, in the shadows, stood the lord warden, Lord Yarmouth*, and his master the prince regent. The opposition articulated local resentment at the imposition of outsiders as borough Members, and the widespread dissatisfaction amongst businessmen with the corporation’s alleged neglect of its responsibilities, particularly in maintaining the waterway. In 1818 Falmouth’s nominees, his cousin Lord Fitzroy Somerset, brother of the 6th duke of Beaufort, and William Tomline, the son of a bishop, were opposed by Vivian’s son Sir Hussey, a hero of Waterloo and equerry to the regent, and Colonel William Gosset of Round Ward, Daniell’s son-in-law. Somerset and Tomline’s victory by one vote sparked uncharacteristic rioting in the town, and further challenges to Falmouth’s pretensions appeared likely.4

In February 1820, following the regent’s succession as George IV, Sir Hussey Vivian declared his candidacy for the impending general election. After canvassing in early March his success was ‘considered ... certain’, and a Whig newspaper warned that if Falmouth opposed Vivian he would ‘lose both seats’. It was also reported that the electors, who ‘like to have a friend at court’, expected much from Vivian’s connection with the royal household. Somerset announced that he would stand again, but Falmouth’s intentions for the second seat remained unclear until shortly before the poll, when Somerset and Tomline issued a joint address and prompted Gosset to offer in conjunction with Vivian. However, Tomline, ‘finding he had no chance of success, cut and run, without taking leave’, and made overtures to his former constituency at Christchurch. Falmouth, realising that he ‘could not carry both seats ... refused to have anything to do with one’, and he apparently left Somerset to canvass ‘on his own interest’. On the morning of the election Truro became ‘a scene of gaiety and bustle’ as ‘a large party of the inhabitants’, wearing Vivian and Gosset’s colours, paraded the streets accompanied by a band. Soon afterwards a number of labourers from Tregothnan, and other ‘persons hired for the occasion in the neighbouring parishes’, marched into the town ‘in regular order, six-a-breast ... dressed in light blue ribbons’. Their presence provoked ‘a few boxing bouts’, but nothing more serious. Somerset was nominated by the Rev. Cornelius Cardew, who extolled his noble birth and connections, said that he believed his character to be ‘very fair’ and added that he had ‘bled in defence of his country’, a reference to the fact that he had lost an arm at Waterloo; Lewis Daubuz seconded him. The absent Tomline was sponsored by Thomas Clutterbuck and George Thomas. Daniell, in proposing Vivian, emphasized that his family had ‘constantly resided amongst them’, and Thomas John attested to his ‘excellent private character’. Gossett was introduced by John Buckingham and Edwards, who noted that he was ‘allied to a family of the first respectability in the borough’. Somerset expressed the hope that ‘his parliamentary conduct had met their approbation’. Vivian complained of the ‘tone of asperity and sarcasm’ in the sitting Members’ address, in which they professed themselves unaware of ‘any ... interests ... which may not be as competently served by us as by other candidates’. He retorted that they had doubtless taken ‘every opportunity of promoting the interests of individuals’, but that they were ignorant of the wider interests of the inhabitants as they knew no one ‘beyond the circle of the ... corporation who supported them’ and never visited the town. For himself, Vivian declared that at a time of blasphemy and sedition it was the ‘duty of every man who wished well to his country to rally round its throne, its laws and its religion’. On general political questions, he promised to ‘endeavour to conform’ his opinions to those of his constituents, while ‘reserving to himself that privilege ... of acting according to the best of his judgement’, and on matters affecting the immediate interests of the town ‘he should ... have great pleasure in paying attention to their instructions’. He also addressed the non-electors and urged them to ‘avoid whatever might lead to riot ... bloodshed and disgrace’. Gosset declared that his principles were unchanged. So close was the contest expected to be that ‘much anxiety’ was felt about the ability of certain corporators in poor health to attend. One was ‘brought to the hall in a kind of jitter, being unable either to stand or sit’. Another, James Willyams, was handed a letter on his arrival in Falmouth’s handwriting, after reading which he expressed regret at being obliged to oppose Somerset, remarking that ‘if any conciliatory disposition had been evinced, the peace of the borough might have been preserved’. At the close of the poll the mayor, Bennallack, declared Vivian to be elected and said he was making a double return for the second seat, between Gosset and Somerset who had 11 votes each, so that the Commons could decide the matter. This was ‘received with loud and continued cheering’ by the crowds inside and outside the hall. Vivian and Gosset were chaired in an ‘elegant car’ and then dined with their corporation supporters, including Bennallack, and ‘about 120 of the principal inhabitants’, at Pearce’s Hotel, where they toasted ‘the independence of Truro’; they later gave a ball and supper to the ‘gentry’. Falmouth dined with ‘about ten’ of his friends at the Red Lion, where toasts were proposed to ‘honourable connections’ and ‘True Blue’. Both parties ‘distributed a number of tickets for beer, etc. to the populace’. In a published address, Vivian proclaimed the triumph of ‘a contest of nearly six years’, while Gosset maintained that he would not have stood but for Falmouth’s insistence on ‘both seats or neither’. A Tory newspaper doubted the advantages of Truro’s ‘independent situation’, predicting that ‘the absence of that efficient patronage under which it had so long flourished, and which some individuals had abundantly experienced ... would soon be apparent’.5

Gosset petitioned the Commons to be seated, 11 May 1820, alleging that several ineligible persons, presumably non-residents, had been allowed to vote. However, he failed to enter into recognizances and, as Somerset had not petitioned, the Commons declared the double return void, 26 May, and issued a writ for a by-election.6 Meanwhile, a struggle was taking place for control of the corporation. The Vivian party had failed in an application to king’s bench for the removal of two capital burgesses, Lord Exmouth and Colonel Boscawen, on the ground of non-residence, but a writ of mandamus was obtained directing that two vacancies, arising from the deaths of John James and Peter Tippet, both Falmouth supporters, be filled. Falmouth’s friends deliberately absented themselves from the resulting meeting on 5 May and, as only 12 corporators were present, no election took place. Bennallack convened another meeting five days later, when the same 12 attended, but he chose now to interpret the charter as requiring the presence only of a majority of the existing corporation, rather than of the whole body, and proceeded to admit Humphrey Willyams of Carnanton (another partner in the Miner’s Bank) and Captain Richard Devonshire as capital burgesses. This ‘stroke was wholly unexpected’ by Falmouth’s party.7 Consequently, the by-election in June became a test of the legality of Bennallack’s action. Somerset was again nominated by Cardew, who argued that the candidates were ‘not on an equality’ owing to Somerset’s connection with the patron, whose ‘friendship ... ought to be one of the most powerful recommendations’. He expressed ‘shame and regret’ at the opposition to Falmouth when the townspeople had ‘derived many and great advantages’ from his family, including ‘lucrative employments’. John Thomas, the seconder, warned that ‘if the new interest should ... prevail ... the inhabitants would shortly feel the difference and reap the bitter fruit of their ingratitude’. John Vivian, Gosset’s sponsor, acknowledged Somerset’s qualifications to be their Member and maintained that ‘nothing but the most extraordinary obstinacy and overweening arrogance’ of Falmouth prevented it; John Buckingham seconded. Edwards intervened to condemn Cardew’s ‘extraordinary statement’ and declared that there had never been ‘a more unblushing avowal of unconstitutional influence’ by a peer; Gosset joined in the protest. Objections were raised to the votes tendered by Willyams and Devonshire, and also to that by Edwards, on the ground that he was disqualified as town clerk, but Bennallack allowed them and Gosset was declared elected. The town was ‘perfectly quiet’ throughout the proceedings and the friends of Gosset and Somerset afterwards dined at the Red Lion and Pearce’s respectively.8 Somerset duly petitioned against the return, 21 June 1820, but consideration of it was deferred until the next session when a committee confirmed Gosset in his seat by nine votes to five, 19 Feb. 1821, thereby recognizing the legality of the corporation elections.9 Nevertheless, by the summer of 1821 the Tory county Member, John Hearle Tremayne, suspected that Falmouth’s opponents ‘must be rather sick of their game’, as notwithstanding Vivian and Gosset’s support for Lord Liverpool’s ministry, the premier had ‘been very steady and done nothing for any of them in spite of Carlton House ... influence, if any such has been exerted’. The government also raised Falmouth’s standing by promoting him to an earldom. He and his friends boycotted mayoral elections so that Bennallack held over until king’s bench delivered its verdict on Willyams and Devonshire’s position.10 In May 1823 their elections were declared void, as they had not taken place in the presence of a majority of the whole body, including a majority of the aldermen, and writs of mandamus were promptly obtained to fill the vacancies and to appoint a new mayor. Falmouth’s party had been further strengthened by the deaths of three Vivian supporters, Daniell, John and Dr. James Kempe. The corporation meeting on 31 May was held behind closed doors and lasted for nine hours. It appears that Vivian’s party levelled complaints against six capital burgesses, accusing them of contempt of court for ignoring previous mandamuses ordering them to attend, and although each was acquitted by ten votes to eight, Bennallack acted on his own authority to declare four of them guilty and expel them. The corporators then divided 11 to eight in favour of William Paul as mayor and Dr. Clement Carlyon and Joseph Hosken James as the new capital burgesses but, with Bennallack rejecting the votes of the four he had expelled, William Jenney was declared elected as mayor and Devonshire and another naval officer, Charles Pengelly, as capital burgesses, by eight votes to seven. Falmouth and his friends ‘protested against this summary measure’ and named Paul as the rightful mayor, placing Truro in the ‘novel predicament’ of having ‘two mayors’. It was widely considered that Bennallack’s conduct was indefensible and on 6 June king’s bench ordered him to swear in Paul, Carlyon and James; he evidently complied. On 2 Sept. the Rev. William Curgenven, John Nankivell and Lewis Daubuz junior, all adherents of Falmouth, were appointed to fill the three remaining vacancies for capital burgesses. The local Whig newspaper lamented that ‘by this measure’ Falmouth’s interest had been ‘so fully secured as to render it highly improbable that any contest’ for the parliamentary representation would ‘take place for many years’. Edwards, who resigned as town clerk in March 1824, later observed that Vivian had ‘no chance’ at the next general election, ‘as the peer is all powerful’, adding that ‘whatever he attempted, Lord F. neutralized, through Lord Liverpool’.11

In October 1820 a public meeting at the Ebenezer chapel approved an address in support of Queen Caroline, drafted by John Davy, to which ‘about 1,000’ signatures were attached, and another was sent by the ‘female inhabitants’. Following the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties an illumination was organized, 21 Nov., which was ‘much more general than expected after the measures ... taken to prevent it’ by a ‘junto’, who had urged the ‘respectable’ householders not to participate and threatened tradesmen with the loss of custom. Bennallack tried to ensure that the celebrations were peaceful by swearing in ‘six or seven special constables’, forbidding the use of fireworks and pistols and requesting that non-participants be left undisturbed. The ‘populace paraded the streets with two persons seated in a cart, representing Majocci and Demont, the former having a green bag hanging from his neck and the Courier newspaper fastened on his back’, while a band played ‘the rogue’s march’. Later, two effigies of the perjured witnesses were ‘hanged on a gibbet and finally consumed in a large bonfire’. The corporation ‘resolved unanimously’ to send a loyal address to the king, promising to ‘defend to the last our glorious constitution’, 19 Dec. 1820, and another was reportedly signed by ‘a very large proportion of the most respectable inhabitants’. A petition from the inhabitants to restore the queen’s name to the liturgy was presented to the Commons, 24 Jan. 1821.12 Several petitions from members of the Truro branch of the Cornwall Agricultural Association and from the merchants and inhabitants, for relief from distress, were sent to Parliament in 1821.13 The corporation and inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the salt duty, 20 May 1822, and relief from the ‘heavy pressure’ of the coastwise coal duty, 12 Feb. 1824.14 A public meeting, 19 Oct. 1822, agreed a memorial to the treasury against the removal of the packet service from Falmouth, which would be ‘severely felt’ throughout the county.15 Anti-slavery petitions from the mayor and inhabitants were sent to the Commons, 7 May 1823, and both Houses, 15 Mar., while the Protestant Dissenters and other inhabitants petitioned the Commons to condemn the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May 1824. Further anti-slavery petitions were presented to Parliament in 1826, from a recently formed Truro Anti-Slavery Society, the members of which included the corporators James and John Nankivell, several Anglican and Dissenting clergymen, Willyams, William Peter of Chilverton, a prominent reformer in the county, Edward Budd, the Methodist proprietor of the West Briton, and the Quaker draper Samuel Milford.16 The corporation and inhabitants forwarded anti-Catholic petitions to Parliament, 2 May 1825.17 In September, when a dissolution appeared imminent, Vivian announced that he would not stand again, explaining that ‘after the changes which have taken place’ in the corporation his appearance would ‘have the effect only of disturbing the peace ... without attaining the desired end’. He later wrote to his brother that Truro had ‘cost me more than anyone imagines’. According to a Whig report, some of the corporators believed that they should be ‘allowed to choose one of their representatives’, and ‘a very general feeling’ existed in favour of Vivian, but Falmouth was ‘determined not to concede anything’ and seemed likely to nominate ‘some strangers’.18 At the general election in the summer of 1826 Gosset also retired and the former Members, Somerset and Tomline, came forward, observing in their address that their defeat in 1820 had been due mainly to ‘proceedings since legally invalidated’. They were returned unopposed and expressed the hope that ‘henceforward no ephemeral interests will be allowed to disturb [the] unanimity’ of the borough. Afterwards, ‘about 75 gentlemen’ dined with them at the Red Lion and a ball and supper for the ladies at the Assembly Rooms was ‘numerously and fashionably attended’. The news of Vivian’s return for New Windsor on the court interest prompted the ‘warmest demonstrations of joy’ among the inhabitants.19

The Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828.20 Following a public meeting, 19 May, the Anti-Slavery Society forwarded a petition to Parliament, 12 June 1828, which declared that slavery was ‘abhorrent to the spirit of the British constitution and in direct violation of every principle of the Christian religion’.21 On 13 Jan. 1829 the mayor, James Chilcott, summoned a meeting by requisition to petition against Catholic claims, which was attended by ‘between 5 and 600’ persons including several corporators and ‘the whole of the clergy for many miles round ... with ... only two exceptions’. Carlyon proposed and Falmouth seconded the petition, in which alarm was expressed at ‘the menacing attitude’ of the Catholics in Ireland and ‘the despotism of their priesthood’, the assertion made that Britain’s prosperity was chiefly attributable to ‘the basis of pure religion on which our admirable constitution rests’, and the conclusion drawn that ‘Catholics cannot be safely admitted into the councils of this Protestant nation’. John Carpenter, who was married to a Catholic, and Budd complained that the meeting had been called at short notice and moved an adjournment; according to Budd’s newspaper, this was ‘lost on a show of hands by about three to two’, but his Tory rival maintained that ‘only four or five hands’ were raised in its support. William Dale defended the Methodists from Budd’s criticisms, arguing that they were right to ‘unite with churchmen in defence of a constitution under which they enjoyed liberty of conscience and freedom of worship’. Budd’s organ admitted that the petition was ‘carried by a very large majority’ but claimed that during the proceedings ‘a great number of persons from the country’ had ‘poured in’, including Falmouth’s tenants, to give the meeting ‘a decided character’. The Tory report, however, insisted that ‘the assemblage, with very few exceptions, was composed of the better classes’ and included the ‘principal merchants and tradesmen of this town’. Sir Richard Vyvyan, the Ultra Tory county Member, and Falmouth presented the petition, 17, 24 Feb. 1829.22 Somerset and Tomline, who had been nominated by Falmouth in 1826 on condition that they opposed Catholic relief, indicated their wish to support the Wellington government’s emancipation bill, but Falmouth, who was appalled by the premier’s ‘political apostasy’ and resolved to join the Ultra opposition, required them to vacate.23 It appears that the corporation was unaware of what was happening until Falmouth informed them that he was recommending Lord Encombe, the grandson of former lord chancellor Eldon, and Nathaniel Peach, a Norfolk landowner and Member for Corfe Castle. This prompted the West Briton to observe that Falmouth evidently ‘considers the right of returning and changing [the Members] ... at pleasure as a species of private property’. At the by-election Encombe was proposed by Carlyon, who maintained that ‘existing circumstances fully justified them in parting with their late representatives’, and seconded by James Nankivell. Peach was nominated by Daubuz senior and Clutterbuck. After being declared elected, Encombe promised that ‘if ... any serious difference of opinion should arise between him and the corporation, he should deliver up the trust reposed in him’, and Peach ‘expressed his resolve to support the Protestant cause’. The Members and corporators dined at Pearce’s, while the ‘populace ... received a number of shilling tickets for beer’; £100 was later distributed amongst the poor ‘by tickets of half-a-crown each’. It was reported that ‘a great degree of dissatisfaction’ existed among the corporators at their ‘cavalier’ treatment by Falmouth and that ‘three gentlemen have announced their determination to resign’, but in the event only Thomas Daniell did so.24 The bankers, merchants and inhabitants petitioned the Commons to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 2 Apr., and the Baptists and Independents similarly petitioned the Lords, 15 June, 5 July 1830.25

By 1830 a coalition was forming around the cause of parliamentary reform, which included consistent advocates such as Budd and Milford and other figures in the anti-Falmouth movement, notably Bennallack and Willyams, who had hitherto shown no sympathy for a general measure of reform. Local hostility towards the corporation from businessmen also played a part, and was exacerbated by the prosecutions of James Bastian and Jeremiah Reynolds for non-payment of quay dues, and the proceedings threatened against two unnamed merchants, probably Robert and William Michell, for refusing to pay the metage on coal.26 At the dissolution that summer it was reported that an attempt would be made to ‘open the borough’ by contending that the right of voting had originally been in the inhabitant householders and that the presence of so many non-residents meant the corporation had forfeited its charter. Falmouth complained of ‘a set of clever hacks’ being ‘sent down from London’ to support this ‘vile attempt to radicalise Truro’. Willyams declined an invitation to stand, but he recommended Sir John Lubbock, whose London bank acted as agents to the Miner’s Bank, and the London attorney William Tooke. A committee was formed to organize a canvass of the householders before the candidates arrived, and the town was kept in a state of ‘considerable ... excitement’ by a band which constantly ‘paraded the streets playing national and lively airs’. A letter in the local press urged the inhabitants to behave ‘like men of independence’ and join in ‘knocking down the stronghold of tyranny, oppression and slavery, which has for many years been set up ... by an usurping power’. On election day the ‘popular party’ was ‘in full activity’, erecting ‘two triumphal arches ... surmounted by flags, etc.’ in preparation for Lubbock and Tooke’s arrival. The town hall was ‘crowded almost to suffocation’ when Carlyon and James Nankivell nominated Encombe and Daubuz and Cardew proposed Peach. Willyams, amidst ‘loud cheers’, introduced Lubbock as the man to ‘aid them in their efforts to free themselves from ... thraldom’; Bastian seconded. Bennallack, who sponsored Tooke, was confident that a petition to the Commons would establish the rights of the inhabitants; Milford seconded. Peach spoke briefly on behalf of Encombe and himself, promising the ‘zealous performance of their duties’ and maintaining that they were ‘fully as independent as those who were pleased to use these terms’. He pointed out that Lubbock and Tooke had ‘come forward on the mere invitation of an individual who spoke for them’. The show of hands was overwhelmingly in favour of Lubbock and Tooke, but the mayor, James Ferris, called it for Encombe and Peach. Tooke advised Ferris to make a double return and let the Commons decide who were the legal voters, warning of the personal risk in acting otherwise. He went on to advocate ‘a constitutional and temperate reform in the representation, which should embrace an extension of the ... franchise to large towns, and that class generally that now claimed their rights here’, condemned ‘all extravagance, all jobs and things of that description’ and said he was a ‘decided enemy to slavery’. When Ferris declared Encombe and Peach elected Bennallack, as a capital burgess, demanded a poll, which was eventually agreed to. By the end of the day eight votes tendered by householders for Lubbock and Tooke, and one by the reformer Dr. Richard Taunton for Encombe and Peach, had been rejected, and seven by corporators for the latter candidates allowed. That evening ‘between 60 and 70’ people dined with Falmouth at the Red Lion, while the opposition gathered at Pearce’s. Next day six more corporators polled for the sitting Members and 73 householder votes for their opponents were rejected. By the end of the third, a total of 146 votes for Lubbock and Peach had been disallowed. On the final day Bennallack cast his vote, but another 32 householders were rejected. Encombe and Peach were declared elected and later gave a ball and supper to a ‘numerous and brilliant assemblage’. In a printed address, Lubbock and Tooke claimed victory by 179 votes to 15 and pledged to petition against the return.27

Early in October 1830 the anti-slavery campaigner William Blair of Bristol visited Truro as part of his tour of Cornwall. The ‘very respectably attended’ annual meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, 8 Oct., heard several Anglican and Dissenting clergymen move for petitions, which were presented to Parliament, 4, 5 Nov. Several petitions were also forthcoming from Baptist and Methodist chapels, and handbills were circulated in the town urging consumers to boycott West Indian sugar.28 Lubbock and Tooke petitioned the Commons against the election return, 11 Nov., accusing Ferris of ‘arbitrarily and illegally’ rejecting votes tendered by householders, the Members and their agents of ‘notorious and corrupt bribery and treating’ and Falmouth of ‘undue and unconstitutional interference’. Bastian and other inhabitants presented a similar petition, 15 Nov. In a published address, Tooke advised his supporters to concentrate on organizing ‘petitions for a reform in the representation’, as this would ‘procure the ulterior benefits required, emancipatory atonement to the injured slave’ and ‘retrenchment ... in relief of an impoverished people’. A Commons committee confirmed Encombe and Peach in their seats after less than four hours’ deliberation, 18 Feb. 1831, but the outcome had reportedly rested on the casting vote of the chairman, the Ultra Sir Edward Knatchbull. Lubbock and Tooke immediately announced that they would offer again at the next opportunity.29 The mayor, Paul, declined to act on a requisition from 29 resident householders for a meeting on reform, but he made the town hall available and Willyams took the chair, 1 Feb., when the hall was ‘filled, as was the lobby at the entrance’. William Michell moved and Budd seconded the petition, in which they condemned the situation in Truro, where a small body of mainly non-residents ‘usurp the rights and privileges of ... the inhabitant householders’ and were ‘notoriously in subserviency to a peer’. In such a representative system, Parliament had ‘sanctioned unjust and unnecessary wars ... to check the rising spirit of liberty in other states and to avert the necessity of granting ... reform’, while ‘borough patrons and their ... instruments had been provided for by sinecure places, unmerited pensions and all the various means that a lavish expenditure of the public money could supply’, with the result that an ‘enormous public debt’ had placed an ‘unprecedented’ burden of taxation on the people. An ‘efficient reform’ was required to ‘wholly and forever deliver our country from the baneful influence ... of borough patronage’, by extending the franchise to ‘inhabitant householders generally’, reducing election expenses, ‘shortening the duration of Parliaments’ and introducing the ballot. Bennallack supported all these details except the ballot, which he considered ‘degrading to Englishmen’ and likely to ‘open the door more widely’ to bribery, but only a Mr. Petherick supported his amendment to omit this clause and the original petition was ‘carried without opposition’. After leaving the chair, Willyams argued that though reform would not remedy all the ‘evils’ afflicting the country, it would ‘materially diminish their pressure and effectually guard against their recurrence’. He believed Lord Grey’s ministry to be ‘honest in their intentions’ but warned that ‘unless the people themselves put their shoulders to the wheel, the work would never be done’. The petition was presented to Parliament by Wynne Pendarves, the Whig county Member, and Lord Dacre, 9, 21 Feb.30 The government’s bill proposed to open the borough by enfranchising £10 householders, but to reduce its representation to one seat. A ‘numerously and respectably’ signed petition was presented to the Commons by Wynne Pendarves, 19 Mar., in favour of the bill with ‘such alterations’ regarding the distribution of seats ‘as may be deemed just and expedient’. Memorials were sent to the home secretary Lord Melbourne by 79 inhabitants, 12 Apr., and the corporation, 16 Apr., explaining that the 1821 census return covered the parish of St. Mary alone, when in fact ‘by far the most extensive portion’ of the town lay in ‘streets forming a continuation of the streets of the ... borough’ in the parishes of Kenwyn and St. Clement. The corporation exercised jurisdiction over ‘the whole town ... for municipal purposes’, under the Paving and Lighting Act of 1790, and the combined population of the three parishes was 6,687. It was therefore requested that the borough boundaries be extended to include the whole town, so that it might retain two Members.31 In the Commons, 18 Apr., Lord John Russell accepted Truro’s case and announced that it would be removed from schedule B. The Members, who had opposed the bill’s second reading, voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment. At the ensuing general election Tooke, whose friends had for some time been ‘indefatigable in their exertions on his behalf’, declared his candidature, but Lubbock announced that he would not stand. Willyams accepted an invitation to come forward from an ‘acting committee for the burgesses of Truro’, comprised of Bastian, Reynolds, the ironmonger Robert Blee and the confectioner John Cuming. Vivian, who had earlier been expected to offer, issued an address in which he regretted his inability to confront Tooke personally on the hustings and ‘defy malice and misrepresentation’. He advised against another attempt to challenge the existing right of voting and hoped the inhabitants would ‘see through the real object of it, and not allow any other person to obtain your favour by so shallow an artifice’; he promised to stand once the reform bill had passed. The town was again ‘kept in a state of excitement’ as the election approached, and on nomination day ‘a multitude crowded around the doors of the town hall and finally burst them open’. So full did the hall become that the press was unable to gain access, meaning that reports of the proceedings are thin. Encombe was proposed by Daubuz and Thomas, and the absent Peach by Carlyon and James Nankivell. Tooke and Willyams were nominated by Benallack but ‘there was no seconder’. Encombe ‘spoke strongly against the reform bill and dwelt particularly on Gascoyne’s motion’. Tooke, before replying to Encombe’s observations, adverted to the controversy between himself and Vivian, which apparently arose from a revelation that the previous year Tooke had handed over £3,500 ‘for the purpose of securing four seats in Parliament’, only to be ‘swindled’ out of most of the money by the notorious ‘election general’, John Stanbury. After Willyams had spoken the meeting was adjourned. Next day the votes of the capital burgesses were taken first before 24 votes tendered by inhabitant householders for Tooke and Willyams were rejected. When Paul declared Encombe and Peach elected, ‘the opposite party produced and signed a return in favour of Tooke and Willyams’. However, no proceedings were initiated against the official return.32

On 29 Sept. 1831 Paul convened a meeting by requisition to petition the Lords for the speedy passage of the reintroduced reform bill. The inhabitants were ‘summoned by sound of trumpet’ to hear the banker Edmund Turner move the petition and deny that the people had ‘become indifferent’ to reform. He commended the bill as one for ‘securing all property and establishing the peace and prosperity of the empire’; Budd seconded him. The petition was carried ‘unanimously’, as the anti-reformers had stayed away, and presented to the Lords, 4 Oct.33 Following the bill’s rejection Carlyon, the new mayor, declined to summon a meeting to organize an address to William IV, but allowed the use of the town hall. Thomas Daniell took the chair, 17 Oct., when those present included Peter, Turner, Willyams, Carpenter, Milford, Bastian and William Michell, ‘comprising nearly the whole mercantile population of Truro’. An address was agreed expressing ‘indignation and alarm’ at the Lords’ conduct and the hope that ‘those prerogatives ... vested in your Majesty for the general good order of society will be exerted if necessary’ to ‘protect us from an usurping oligarchy’; it was forwarded to Melbourne for presentation.34 In December 1831 Falmouth reported to Wellington that he had ‘set on foot’ an anti-reform declaration in Truro, which was evidently that published the following month with 52 names attached, including most of the corporators. It registered their concern at the ‘vast and fundamental changes in the representation’ proposed by the bill, when ‘the striking and continued example of revolutionized France and ... what is even now passing in this country and in Ireland’ showed it to be ‘inconsistent with sound views of liberal policy and ... the general welfare of mankind’. The king, it was hoped, would protect the Lords from ‘unconstitutional violence’, and an alternative measure would ‘not involve the destruction of chartered rights nor lessen the due weight of property’.35 When Grey’s ministry resigned in May 1832, a requisition for a public meeting was ‘speedily signed by above 60 respectable householders’; Carlyon again declined to summon it but offered the town hall. On the morning of the 17th news arrived of the government’s likely reinstatement and Turner met with ‘a committee of the requisitionists’ to amend the proposed resolutions before chairing the meeting, which adjourned to the Green. After speeches from Taunton, Carpenter, Budd, Bastian, Bennallack, Milford and Henry Stokes, an address to the king, for the appointment of ministers committed to carrying the whole bill, was approved ‘with acclamation’ and passed to Melbourne for presentation. Whereas the Whig report claimed that the ‘assemblage ... exceeded 1,500’, the Tory organ insisted that ‘the most respectable inhabitants were deaf to the call’ and that the meeting had been ‘really a miserable affair’, attended by ‘not more ... than a few hundreds ... of all classes, including women and children’.36 Celebrations to mark the bill’s passage were delayed until the Scottish and Irish bills had passed. Willyams presided at a reform dinner, 24 Aug. 1832, and £195 raised by subscription was used to distribute beef to 5,000 people and provide ‘a brilliant display of fireworks’.37

The boundary commissioners recommended that the borough limits be extended to incorporate those parts of the parishes of Kenwyn and St. Clement which, with St. Mary, formed ‘one entire and compact town’, and that allowance be made for future building. In 1832 there were 405 registered electors, of whom 388 were £10 householders and 17 corporators.38 At the general election in December Vivian and Tooke were returned ahead of a Conservative. Reform was widely regarded as a preliminary to a renewed attack on the local oligarchy, and the Liberals triumphed at the first elections held after the Municipal Corporations Act. However, Vivian was defeated in 1835 and Tooke in 1837, when Turner was returned as a moderate Liberal with a Conservative; thereafter the representation was usually shared until Truro became part of a county division in 1885.39

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 593.
  • 2. Ibid. xxxviii. 86-87. Figures for the parish of St. Mary only. The borough population in 1831 was 3,104.
  • 3. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), ii. 640-50; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 169-70; Parochial Hist. Cornw. iv. 259-62; V. Acton, Hist. Truro, i. 93-121; PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 85-86.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 85; (1835), xxiii. 653-62; West Briton, 4 Mar. 1831; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 87-88; E. Jaggard, Cornw. Politics in Age of Reform, 60-62.
  • 5. West Briton, 11, 18 Feb., 3-24 Mar.; The Times, 4 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 11, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. CJ, lxxv. 183, 239, 243.
  • 7. West Briton, 12 May 1820, 6 June 1823; R. Cornw. Gazette, 13 May 1820; Cornw. RO B/TRU/166/7, corporation election bk., printed list.
  • 8. West Briton, 2, 9 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 3, 10 June 1820.
  • 9. CJ, lxxv. 335-6, 389; lxxvi. 18, 77-78, 84; West Briton, 23 Feb. 1821.
  • 10. Cornw. RO, Tremayne mss DD/T/2608; West Briton, 13 Oct. 1820, 12 Oct. 1821, 11 Oct. 1822.
  • 11. West Briton, 16 May, 6, 13 June, 5 Sept., 10 Oct. 1823, 19 Mar. 1824; R. Cornw. Gazette, 7 June, 5 July, 6 Sept. 1823; Cornw. RO AD 207/2, Edwards to Roberts, 16 Sept. 1824.
  • 12. West Briton, 20 Oct., 17, 24 Nov., 22 Dec.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 23 Dec. 1820, 20 Jan. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 5.
  • 13. CJ, lxxvi. 90, 113, 125; LJ, liv. 149.
  • 14. CJ, lxxvii. 282; lxxix. 27; West Briton, 6 Feb. 1824.
  • 15. West Briton, 25 Oct. 1822.
  • 16. CJ, lxxviii. 292; lxxix. 161, 417; lxxxi. 263; LJ, lvi. 77; lviii. 130; R. Cornw. Gazette, 10 May 1823; West Briton, 19 Mar. 1824, 10 Mar., 14 Apr. 1826.
  • 17. CJ, lxxx. 364; LJ, lvii. 731.
  • 18. West Briton, 16, 23 Sept. 1825; NLW, Vivian mss A1053, H. Vivian to J. Vivian, 31 May 1826.
  • 19. West Briton, 26 May, 9, 16 June; R. Cornwall Gazette, 10, 17, 24 June 1826.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxii. 520, 545; lxxxiii. 91, 100.
  • 21. Ibid. lxxxiii. 426; LJ, lx. 533; West Briton, 23 May 1828.
  • 22. West Briton, 16 Jan.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 17 Jan. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 81; LJ, lxi. 47.
  • 23. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Tomline mss HA 119/562/762, Tomline to Falmouth, n.d., reply, 13 Feb. 1829.
  • 24. West Briton, 6, 13, 27 Mar., 24 Apr.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 7 Mar. 1829.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxv. 254; LJ, lxii. 722, 809.
  • 26. Cornw. RO B/TRU/102/7, corporation order bk., 9 Oct. 1827, 27 Aug. 1829, 24 July 1830, 3 Sept. 1831; West Briton, 23 July 1830.
  • 27. West Briton, 23, 30 July, 6, 13, 20 Aug.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug.; Kenyon mss, Falmouth to Kenyon, 5 Aug. 1830; P. Jennings, ‘Notes on Parl. Hist. Truro, Part VI’, Jnl. R. Instit. Cornw. xx (1916), 102-4, lists the householders who tendered votes.
  • 28. West Briton, 8-29 Oct., 5 Nov. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 38-39, 53; LJ, lxiii. 19, 30, 42, 99.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 58-59, 65-66, 259, 265; West Briton, 26 Nov., 3 Dec. 1830, 25 Feb., 4 Mar. 1831; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 218.
  • 30. West Briton, 28 Jan., 4 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 226, 310; LJ, lxiii. 243.
  • 31. West Briton, 18 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 406; PP (1830-1), x. 125-6, 133-7.
  • 32. West Briton, 18 Mar., 29 Apr., 6 May, 15 July; R. Cornw. Gazette, 7 May 1831.
  • 33. West Briton, 30 Sept.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 1 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1052.
  • 34. West Briton, 14, 21 Oct., 11 Nov. 1831.
  • 35. Wellington mss WP1/1204/23; R. Cornw. Gazette, 28 Jan. 1832.
  • 36. West Briton, 18, 25 May, 1 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 19 May 1832.
  • 37. West Briton, 29 June, 13 July, 24, 31 Aug. 1832.
  • 38. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 85; (1835), xxiii. 661.
  • 39. Jaggard, 106-10, 125-9.