Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

less than 20


(1801): 2,187


18 June 1790CHARLES LONG
28 June 1793 JENKINSON re-elected after appointment to office
13 Mar. 1799 HON. ROBERT BANKS JENKINSON (Lord Hawkesbury), re-elected after appointment to office
9 June 1800 SAUNDERS DUNDAS re-elected after appointment to office
25 Feb. 1801 HAWKESBURY re-elected after appointment to office
4 Mar. 1801 SIR JOHN BLAQUIERE, Bt., Baron de Blaquiere [I], vice Saunders Dundas, vacated his seat
6 July 1802HON. ROBERT BANKS JENKINSON (Lord Hawkesbury)
2 Dec. 1803 SIR CHARLES TALBOT, Bt., vice Hawkesbury, called to the Upper House
1 Apr. 1806 SIR ARTHUR WELLESLEY vice Lamb, vacated his seat
 RICHARD LE POER TRENCH, Earl of Clancarty [I]
21 July 1807 SIR WILLIAM ELFORD, Bt., vice Nicholl chose to sit for Great Bedwyn
 STEPHEN RUMBOLD LUSHINGTON vice Clancarty, appointed to office
15 July 1808 WILLIAM JACOB vice Elford vacated his seat
21 Dec. 1812 CHARLES WETHERELL vice Sullivan, chose to sit for Lincoln
29 Mar. 1813 RICHARD ARKWRIGHT vice Wetherell, chose to sit for Shaftesbury
10 May 1816 JOHN MABERLY vice Lamb, vacated his seat
26 Feb. 1819 THOMAS PHILLIPPS LAMB vice Arbuthnot, chose to sit for St. Germans
12 July 1819 JOHN DODSON vice Lamb, deceased

Main Article

Oldfield estimated in 1794 that there were only six voters at Rye, and in 1818 only 15 of the 33 members of the corporate body were qualified to vote. The small electorate was a close oligarchy dominated by the Lamb family—Thomas Lamb (d.1804), his son Thomas Phillipps Lamb* and his grandson Thomas Davis Lamb*. The power of creating new freemen was vested in the mayor, and members of the Lamb family held the mayoralty on all but three occasions between 1790 and 1820.1

Treasury control, exercised through the granting of posts in the customs service to voters, was weakened but not overthrown by Crewe’s Act of 1782, and in 1784 one seat went to William Dickinson I*, an opponent of administration. On a vacancy in 1789, the other was filled by Charles Long, a protégé of Pitt, who was to be appointed secretary to the Treasury in 1791. Jackman, the agent sent by William Adam* to investigate the Cinque Ports, held out hopes of a seat for opposition in 1790 and reported through Charles Whiting, 1 June:

I have seen the Mr Lambs, whose influence at this place no human power can shake—I was (as Mr Adams [sic] directed) particularly tenacious respecting Rye. But hearing from undoubted authority in the neighbourhood that neither Mr Long or Mr Dickinson would be returned again, I waited on the old gentleman, who gave me a very gracious reception—After a conversation, which gave me to understand that one seat was vacant, he told me that he had delegated all his influence in the corporation to his son, who is the present mayor, and lived but a few roods out of the town—I requested to know if I had his permission to wait on the mayor—he said ‘by all means’—Very fortunately young Lamb was an old school fellow of my friend the alderman’s—I accordingly paid my compliments to the mayor, and in company with the old gentleman’s nephew—The reception I met with was exceedingly flattering, and very candid—He said, that until he knew the name of the candidate it was impossible for him to say anything conclusive on the subject — He said likewise that he had just returned from London, and that he had partly engaged his interest at Rye—The fact is one seat may be had here, but I understand for not less than 4,000 pounds or guineas—Pray see Mr Adams immediately and say, what I am to do respecting this place.

The Duke of Portland, however, considered Rye to be ‘quite out of the question’.2

Thomas Phillipps Lamb had an interview with Pitt on 9 June 1790 and two days later his father told Dickinson that he could not return him again for Rye:

to attempt to accomplish your wishes soon with the assurances of your giving your support to government I found would be very hardly combated. Indeed, times are so difficult that I am quite disconcerted and hardly know what to advise my son to do.

One seat was earmarked for Robert Banks Jenkinson, son of Lord Hawkesbury (created Earl of Liverpool in 1796), a senior member of Pitt’s cabinet, who later told Lord Lonsdale that in his search for a seat for Robert, ‘I met with difficulties and obstructions which I had no reason to expect’, but that ‘piqued at this treatment, I determined to endeavour if possible to carry my point’. For the other, the Lambs had the notion of returning a friend as locum tenens for Thomas Phillipps Lamb ‘till he is out of his mayoralty’. The elder Lamb rejected Dickinson’s offer to perform this role as ‘a matter too violent for one of my age and infirmities to be concerned in’, and had in mind a member of the Fuller family, into which Dickinson had married. In the event, it was settled that Long was to be returned with Jenkinson, though after the election Thomas Lamb told Dickinson and Fuller that their election, could it ‘have been done with any propriety’, would have been ‘most agreeable to me’ and popular with the freemen.3

Jenkinson, who became Lord Hawkesbury on his father’s promotion in the peerage, came in again at the next two general elections. The Lambs expected the Jenkinsons to provide them with patronage in return for the seat, and in 1802, in addition to the normal election expenses, which in 1796 had been ‘about thirteen hundred pounds for the two Members’, charged £2,596 6s. 6d. to their account in order to pay off the corporation debt. Hawkesbury thought that the Lambs’ complaint ‘of having been ill used’ by Pitt’s ministry ‘on the subject of the patronage of the port’ was ‘in part true’, but it was with considerable reluctance that his father agreed to pay this sum:

How far you may think it advisable to submit to this is for you to judge. Much, however, depends on the obligation which the Lambs will have to you and the hold you have on the borough in future. I think I recollect you told [me] that you were master of it and were to recommend hereafter for the two Members. Too ready an acquiescence on this occasion may make them more exorbitant in future.4

In 1796, the other seat went to the son of Henry Dundas, Pitt’s secretary for war, and when he transferred to Midlothian in 1801 he was replaced by Lord Blaquiere, an Irish placeman and friend of Pitt and Liverpool. In 1802, according to Liverpool’s later account, Addington ‘thought he had a right to a seat at Rye, as Mr Pitt had before’, but was forced to accommodate Thomas Davis Lamb, who was bent on a parliamentary career as a means to advancement.5 When Hawkesbury was summoned to the Lords in 1803 his seat went to a supporter of Addington. In March 1806 the Grenville ministry provided Lamb with a place, which vacated his seat, and secured the return of Sir Arthur Wellesley, who wished to come in in order to defend his brother’s controversial Indian administration. They obtained both seats for supporters at the general election.

Relations between the Lambs and successive administrations between 1807 and 1820 appear to have been relatively cordial and all the Members returned in that period were supporters of government. Only scraps of information survive concerning the transactions which secured them their seats. Both Members elected in 1807 were stopgaps hurriedly sent down to Rye, ‘the electors there having for the first time insisted upon seeing their candidates’,6 and their replacement caused difficulties. Thomas Davis Lamb complained to the 2nd Earl of Liverpool, 22 Oct. 1809:

I can prove by my accounts that in forwarding the electioneering system at Rye of his [Portland’s] late administration (from the number of returns), I have been at a considerable expense, though to my certain knowledge thousands were received at the Treasury more than were ever paid to me to defray the expenses, or indeed than I demanded.7

Curwen’s Act of 1809 drove Treasury activity underground and probably accounts for the temporary election in 1812 of Thomas Phillipps Lamb, but it did not remove Rye from Treasury control. This was eventually to be effected by the Rye Independent Association, which began its work in 1825. The Lambs were highly respected and even Oldfield had to concede that ‘both the freemen and the inhabitants (which is not a little remarkable) are contented and satisfied with the mild sway of their borough monarch’.8 Thus local opposition was difficult to mount, as was proved by an incident in 1818 involving John Maberly, a government contractor for whom Lamb had made way two years earlier. Maberly evidently failed to secure a renewal of his tenure at the dissolution, but made a bid to retain the seat. On 1 June Lamb reported to Lushington, secretary to the Treasury, who later told Liverpool that Maberly had acted ‘in defiance of all that I could say to him’, that

Mr M. came here on Saturday, intimating that it was with the knowledge of Lord Liverpool and Mr Lushington, and showing me a memorandum of proposals that he had made to me, which I acknowledged; but that I had not consented to them; that at the time he made them, he asked me, if I would make them decisive, to which my reply was, No, No. He went from my house in great warmth, and as I understood to canvass the town in declared opposition to me. I of course sent ... my youngest son to request of the freemen not to give their votes, or make any promise. Their answer nearly every one was as it had ever been, most satisfactory to me, I may say every one whom my son could see, and there was only three whom he missed seeing ... I have not heard that Mr M. made any canvass in the town.9

On 8 June 1818 John Charles Herries, auditor of the civil list, made the following mysterious allusion to Rye in a letter to his cousin:

There is a curious business going forward about Rye ... Do not let a word of reference to that borough escape you to anyone. Our friend will not get it this time, but I have a strong expectation that the very circumstance which will at present defeat him will ultimately throw it into his power: of all which, however, he is himself utterly ignorant; as I know the matter only under the seal of secrecy and am therefore not able to communicate it to him.10

In the event, the seats were filled by Charles Arbuthnot, who was also returned for St. Germans, and Peter Browne, whose father Denis Browne* had recently complained that he had been robbed of a seat for Honiton by Treasury favouritism. On 4 Feb. 1819 John Barry and James Smith, claiming to be electors, petitioned against their return on the grounds of the illegality of the closed corporation and the payment of money by the two Members to Thomas Phillipps Lamb; but they failed to enter into recognizances and the petition was not heard.11

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Boroughs, ii. 335; VCH Suss. ix. 53; L. A. Vidler, New Hist. Rye, 161-2.
  • 2. Ginter, Whig Organization, 169-70, 173.
  • 3. Som. RO, Dickinson mss DN258 passim; Add. 38310, f. 54.
  • 4. Add. 38473, ff. 117, 119, 121.
  • 5. Add. 38311, f. 163.
  • 6. Wellington mss, Clancarty to Wellesley, 9 May 1807.
  • 7. Add. 38571, f. 141.
  • 8. Boroughs, ii. 338.
  • 9. Add. 38458, ff. 241, 242.
  • 10. Add. 57418.
  • 11. CJ, lxxiv. 90, 145.