Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 1,500


8 May 1754John Olmius573
 Charles Gray515
 Isaac Martin Rebow497
 Rebow vice Gray, on petition, 13 Mar. 1755 
25 Mar. 1761Charles Gray 
 Isaac Martin Rebow 
11 Apr. 1768Charles Gray874
 Isaac Martin Rebow855
 Alexander Fordyce831
7 Oct. 1774Isaac Martin Rebow 
 Charles Gray 
8 Sept. 1780Isaac Martin Rebow566
 Sir Robert Smyth303
 Alexander Fordyce124
 Robert Mayne12
17 Oct. 1781Christopher Potter vice Rebow, deceased639
 Edmund Affleck571
 Affleck vice Potter, on petition, 4 Mar. 1782 
1 Apr. 1784Sir Edmund Affleck665
 Christopher Potter425
 Sir Robert Smyth416
 Potter's election declared void, 5 July 1784 
14 July 1784Sir Robert Smyth653
 Christopher Potter382
 Samuel Tyssen26
15 Dec. 1788George Jackson vice Affleck, deceased 
 George Tierney vice Affleck, deceased 
 Double return. TIERNEY declared elected, 6 Apr. 1789 

Main Article

Colchester had a large electorate and was noted for frequent and expensive contests. A large proportion of the freemen were non-resident: of the 1280 who voted in 1788, 528 came from Colchester, 227 from London, and 525 from other places. The situation at Colchester in 1754 was unusual since, as a result of legal proceedings taken after the election of 1741, the corporation had been dissolved. The three candidates in 1754 were all local men, each standing on a separate interest, and each pledged to restore the town’s charter. John Olmius, son of a merchant of Dutch descent, and Isaac Martin Rebow, whose father had represented Colchester 1734-5, were supporters of Administration; the third candidate, Charles Gray, who owned considerable property in the town, was a Tory. When the poll closed Rebow was in second place, but Gray demanded a scrutiny. 75 of Rebow’s votes were struck off, and 30 of Gray’s, and Olmius and Gray were returned. Rebow then petitioned, alleging that the scrutiny had been improperly conducted, and, after a long struggle in the House, Gray eventually conceded the election.1

Olmius apparently considered his position in Colchester secure, but in 1760 Lord Rochford wrote to Newcastle:

As to Colchester, Rebow will certainly be chose. If Gray chooses to stand, any West Indian come down with a great deal of money, Olmius will certainly be thrown out.

Olmius did not stand. Rebow and Gray joined forces, and were opposed by Sir Thomas Frederick, who declined just before the poll.2

The sitting Members were now required to fulfil their pledges to restore the town’s charter. On 25 July 1762 Lord Rochford wrote to Bute to urge the matter forward, adding: ‘it is agreed that I am to be the steward, and Mr. Rebow the recorder’.3 When the revival was effected, Colchester politics developed along the familiar lines, with a corporation and anti-corporation party.

The understanding between Gray and Rebow continued at the next election, and they were adopted as joint candidates at a public meeting in November 1767. The independent group then began to search for a third man, but it was not easy to find anyone prepared to hazard his money in such a borough. They were obliged to begin canvassing in January 1768 with no name to announce. The following month they were reduced to advertising for a ‘gentleman of character’, and complained that Colchester electors had been ‘injuriously represented as a venal, corrupt set of people’ in order to deter newcomers: 180 of them pledged themselves to oppose the sitting Members. A week later the strength of the opposition interest was put at 500. Alexander Fordyce, a Scottish banker, then made his appearance as their candidate, and after a fierce and acrimonious campaign Gray and Rebow were elected by narrow majorities. A few months later one of Gray’s friends wrote to him:

Now this town begins to be a little quiet and people can speak a little impartially concerning election matters, it appears to me more and more astonishing you succeeded upon the poll, considering the weight of metal on one side and the basest treachery on the other.

According to the Gentleman’s Magazine, Fordyce spent £14,000 on the election. Moreover, to consolidate his interest, he ‘erected an hospital, and established other charities there, in order to render himself the popular candidate upon the first vacancy’. But before any vacancy occurred, Fordyce went bankrupt.4 His debts were still undischarged in 1774, and Rebow and Gray were able to bring about one of the few uncontested returns for the borough.

Gray retired from Parliament in 1780 and there was a scramble for his seat. The Administration hoped to bring in another Government supporter: Edmund Affleck, a naval officer, James Round of Birch Hall, and Fordyce were all considered.5 Polling day was extremely confused. Colonel John Bullock, who had been canvassing the town, declined; so did William Mayhew, the recorder of Ipswich, and William Mills, who had been harbingers for Fordyce. But when Fordyce declared his candidature, he asked for his second votes to go to Robert Mayne, another London banker. This was more than his supporters would allow, and early in the afternoon a new candidate, Sir Robert Smyth, was put in nomination.6 Oldfield’s account of this election contrasts strangely with the usual reports from Colchester:7

Sir Robert Smyth ... was stopped in his carriage, as he was passing through this town ... and elected by a very respectable majority, out of the same respect to his private and public virtues.

Certainly there was something unusual about Smyth’s election, for Thomas Brand Hollis, a fellow reformer, wrote to congratulate him on the ‘noble manner in which you succeeded, which evidences that the people are not yet lost to all virtue and the sense of what is right—they only want leaders on whom they can depend’.8 There seems to have been a good deal of shady manoeuvring between the various candidates before the poll opened. It is not clear how Fordyce alienated his supporters, but they may have thought that he was trying to get two seats for the price of one. As Oldfield observes, the disinterested conduct of Smyth’s voters did not continue at the next contest.

Rebow died a year after the election. The Government candidate, on the corporation interest, was Edmund Affleck, who had married the widow of Peter Creffield of Ardleigh Hall, near Colchester. He was on duty in the West Indies, and the campaign was conducted on his behalf by Richard Rigby, whose estate was at Mistley close by.9 The other candidate was Christopher Potter, a Government contractor. Lord North was reluctant to spend money on elections, especially when both candidates were Government supporters; but he wrote to Robinson on 1 Oct. 1781:10

In this case of Colchester, I am inclined to give way because Mr. Rigby is concerned, whom I think it is our interest and policy to support on most occasions, especially in the contests of the county and boroughs of Essex. The sum must, however, be limited, and should not exceed £1,500 or £2,000 at the most. But would it not be possible to prevent Potter from embarking on such an expense as to distress Affleck?

Potter could not be deterred, and the £2,000 proved very inadequate; Smyth lent him support, and he was returned. The following month Lord Hardwicke was told:11

Commodore Affleck’s friends are not come to a final determination as to a petition. They are possessing themselves with facts as fast as possible, and have quite sufficient to set aside the election, but the great expense both parties have already been at (Affleck near £5,000 and Potter much more) is a reason why the former will not go on, unless he can disqualify paupers and move bribery against such a number of persons as will give him a majority upon the poll. This he will find difficult, if not impracticable (Potter being ahead 67) although he can bring home divers proofs of both sorts.

Ultimately it was decided to proceed with a petition. Potter, in turn, demanded a statement of Affleck’s qualification, but the committee decided that, since Affleck was abroad and did not know he had been set up, the demand was unreasonable.12 Just before the fall of North’s Administration, Affleck was declared elected. The expense on his side alone had then reached £7,000.13

Smyth and Affleck both supported Pitt, and stood in 1784 as Government candidates.14 Rigby now supported Potter, who was returned second on the poll with a majority of nine over Smyth. Rigby wrote to John Strutt on 8 Apr.:15

Sir Robert Smyth deserves his mortification for the foolish part he took in supporting Potter against Affleck at his former election. Had he not come and volunteered it, which he had no sort of occasion to do, against Affleck and me and almost all his acquaintance at Colchester, it never would have entered into my head to support Potter against him.

Smyth petitioned, alleging that Potter was not properly qualified, and drew attention to a declaration of bankruptcy in April 1783. Potter had covered himself with a certificate from his creditors, and his friends were in high hopes that he would retain his seat,16 but his election was declared void on the ground that he had not obeyed the standing order of the House to hand in a statement of qualification. At the by-election Smyth had a decisive victory. Samuel Ennew wrote to Lord Hardwicke:17

It is said that near the close of the poll, the friends of Mr. Potter, finding he could not succeed, prevailed on Mr. Tyssen (who I am told is a gentleman of fortune) to become a candidate, to entitle him to petition, which he has promised to do, and that bribery is the ground on which it is to be founded.

Potter and Tyssen duly submitted petitions, alleging that Smyth was not qualified; that the mayor had acted with partiality; and that a ‘numerous and outrageous mob’ had interfered in the election. The House confirmed Smyth in possession of the seat.

In 1788, on Affleck’s death, there was a strongly contested by-election. The Government candidate was George Jackson, and he was opposed by Tierney, who had fought the general election as a Pittite, but had subsequently changed sides.18 Jackson was sponsored by the corporation, and more particularly by Francis Smythies, the newly-elected recorder. Samuel Ennew reported to Lord Hardwicke:19

The number on both sides was exactly equal, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Tierney having polled 640 each. Had Mr. Jackson been introduced in any other manner than by Mr. Smythies, I am fully persuaded in my own mind he would have been elected by a considerable majority, but Smythies ... had rendered himself obnoxious to numbers of the burgesses, that many of them gave their votes to Mr. Tierney rather in opposition to him than to Mr. Jackson.

Both parties petitioned, and the House awarded the seat to Tierney.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Ipswich Jnl. 2 Feb., 23 Mar., 13 Apr. 1754.
  • 2. Add. 32874, f. 209; 32912, f. 183; Ipswich Jnl. 28 Mar. 1761.
  • 3. Bute mss.
  • 4. Ipswich Jnl. Jan., Feb. 1768; Geo. Wegg to Gray, 5 Mar., 1769, Round mss, Essex RO; Gent. Mag. 1772, p. 311.
  • 5. Robinson’s survey, Royal archives, Windsor.
  • 6. General Evening Post, 9-12 Sept. 1780.
  • 7. Boroughs, ii. 21.
  • 8. 19 Sept. 1780, Smyth mss, Essex RO.
  • 9. Add. 35618, f. 185.
  • 10. Abergavenny mss.
  • 11. Thos. Younge to Hardwicke, 11 Nov. 1781, Add. 35618, f. 242.
  • 12. Debrett, v. 282.
  • 13. Fortescue, v. 261.
  • 14. Affleck to Robinson, 2 Apr. 1784, Abergavenny mss; Laprade, 120.
  • 15. Strutt mss.
  • 16. HMC Rutland, iii. 122.
  • 17. Add. 35622, f. 277.
  • 18. Add. 35641, f. 192.
  • 19. Add. 35625, f. 262.