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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 120


(1801): 847


26 June 1790JOHN SARGENT911
 Sir Godfrey Webster, Bt.48
 John Tarleton48
 TARLETON vice Jodrell, on petition, 19 Mar. 1792 
29 Jan. 1794 RICHARD PAUL JODRELL vice Sargent, appointed to office53
 Sir Godfrey Webster, Bt.30
 John Hodson Durand46
 John Leach42
 Sir Walter Stirling, Bt.47
 Lucius Concannon47
 Charles Harrison2
 Denis O' Kelly2
28 July 1806 JOHN LEACH vice Sullivan, deceased64
 Hon. Henry Wellesley42
31 Oct. 1806JOHN LEACH 
11 May 1807JOHN LEACH132
 Charles Rose Ellis6
 Peter Isaac Thellusson, Baron Rendlesham [I]6
5 Oct. 1812JOHN LEACH77
 Hon. Thomas Bowes40
14 Feb. 1816 SIR CHARLES COCKERELL, Bt., vice Leach, vacated his seat 

Main Article

Crewe’s Act of 1782 disfranchising revenue officers threw Seaford into turmoil. At the 1784 general election and in the protracted struggle which followed it the hitherto dominant Treasury interest tried, through the device of keeping unfriendly voters off the rate-books, to maintain itself against the revived interest of the Pelham family of Stanmer and an independent interest which sought an extension of the franchise. Before the select committee on the controverted election of 1786, counsel for the sitting ministerial Members conceded victory, and the Pelham candidate, Sir Godfrey Webster* of Battle Abbey, was seated along with Henry Flood, an independent reformer.

The ruling of 1761 that the franchise was in the inhabitants paying scot and lot was not altered, and the Treasury, who retained control of the corporation, still hoped to regain supremacy. According to Oldfield, who was active at Seaford against the Treasury interest and sought to expose the borough as a prime example of electoral corruption, there ensued ‘the most disgusting scene of profligacy, in all its shades of deformity’. Lancelot Harrison of Folkington Place, government manager since 1768, was duped and supplanted by a new Treasury puppet, Thomas Harben of Lewes, a banker, who bought Seaford property from Harrison, wrested control of the corporation from him, secured his own election as a freeman in 1786 and procured Harrison’s dismissal from two of his three sinecure posts, one of which he gave to his protégé Thomas Chambers. Harben’s rise was resisted by Dr James Hurdis and some of the local gentry, but persecution and bribery ate away their support. In 1788 Harben secured the creation of over 20 nonresident freemen, and at Michaelmas 1789 Chambers was elected bailiff (and thus returning officer) at a court of assembly disrupted by a riot in which Webster was involved. When the new poor rate was made on 24 Dec. 1789, Harben had 26 ‘chalk diggers’, mostly in his employ, rated for houses occupied by widows, disfranchised custom house officers or freemen supposedly entitled to vote.3

Harben worked closely with the 3rd Duke of Richmond, lord lieutenant of Sussex and master general of the Ordnance in Pitt’s first ministry, who appears to have been responsible for supervising the management of the Treasury interest.4 In 1790 government put up John Sargent of Woolavington, a neighbour of Richmond, and Richard Paul Jodrell, an Oxfordshire landowner. Against them the Whig Thomas Pelham*, son of Lord Pelham (later 1st Earl of Chichester), brought forward Webster and John Tarleton, a Liverpool West India merchant. As Parliament was dissolved 13 days before the expiry of the statutory six months required for rated voters to become eligible, Chambers delayed the election for the maximum permissible eight days after the proclamation, and on 19 June, a Saturday, adjourned proceedings until the 21st. That and the following three days were disposed of by premeditated delaying tactics, so that by 24 June only 78 electors had been polled, 42 for the ministerialists and 36 for the Whigs. On 25 and 26 June the Harben faggot votes were admitted and the ministerialists ended with a comfortable majority. Fourteen split votes for Webster and Tarleton were rejected and almost all the freemen created in 1788 voted for their opponents. Among those who voted for the Pelham candidates were Harrison, Hurdis and Oldfield.5

The petition of Webster and Tarleton, accusing Chambers of partiality and the sitting Members of bribery, was not considered until March 1792, when the committee ruled, in confirmation of the decision of 1761, that the right of election was in the inhabitants paying scot and lot, as counsel for the petitioners argued, and not, as their opponents contended, in the bailiffs, freemen, jurats and ‘populacy’. All the invalid votes for Sargent and Jodrell were discounted, but objections to a number of votes for Webster and Tarleton were upheld and the final tabulation gave Sargent and Tarleton the return, with one more vote each than Webster and Jodrell. Webster had had little confidence in a successful outcome, and Pelham, who had promised to support him in preference to Tarleton if it ended in a by-election for one seat and had agreed to consider his suggestion of coming to terms with Sargent for the next general election, laid part of the blame for their disappointment on ‘Sir Godfrey’s despondency’ and indifference. He nevertheless offered Webster his ‘interest at the next election’ and, when false reports of Tarleton’s death reached him on the Continent in August 1792, took steps to secure Webster’s return for the supposed vacancy.6

According to Oldfield, the corporation, now ‘entirely shut out from all election rights’ at Seaford, ‘made an offer of their services’ to Pelham, who ignored it. Writing from Naples in December 1792, Pelham reminded his father that he had earlier told him that he was ‘perfectly disposed to a reconciliation with the Chamberses at Seaford, provided that my old friends did not consider it as an abandonment of them’; and when he heard that a petition had been presented to the Commons (12 Feb. 1793), presumably by Harben and company, challenging the decision of 1792 on the right of election, he directed his agent William Frogatt, a London attorney, to take steps to support that decision against it. A counter-petition from the inhabitants paying scot and lot was presented on 10 Apr. 1793. When they were eventually considered in 1795, the ruling of 1792 was upheld. Pelham also asked his father to advance money to Frogatt to support their interest in a dispute over the proposed election as jurats of Sargent, Charles Lennox*, Robert Steele* and John Clater Aldridge*, all connected with Richmond, which was resisted by Harrison, Robert Stone (a tenant of Pelham’s) and the brothers James, Thomas and William Chambers.7

Pelham, who turned alarmist on the outbreak of war with France, came back to England in August 1793 and the following month went to Seaford for Sargent’s election as bailiff, which was opposed unsuccessfully by Stone and the Chamberses. Sargent, as a non-resident, gave Harben power of attorney to act for him. Pelham assured Webster that he would ‘certainly support him in case of any vacancy’ and explained ‘why I do not consult with him about the interior economy of the borough’.8 It was only on 24 Jan. 1794, by which time he was supporting government, that Pelham learnt that Sargent had vacated his seat on being appointed to office under Richmond, who had failed to inform him of this at a meeting the previous day. He went to Seaford to nominate and canvass for Webster, still absent in Italy, but Jodrell came forward and carried the seat. Pelham wrote that

Webster lost his election because Tarleton had not given the voters what they expected at the last election. They considered themselves entitled to indemnity for the expense of contributing to the poor rates by which they gained the right of voting; they felt no guilt in accepting this bribe, nor did it affect their general principles of morality, so little did they value their rights as voters.

(When Tarleton stood for Liverpool in 1796, his detractors alleged that he had defaulted on a payment of £3,000 due to Webster for the Seaford seat.) At least ten electors who had voted for the Pelham candidates in 1790 now voted for Jodrell, while only half a dozen transferred their favours the other way. Jodrell’s supporters included Harben and Sargent, and among Webster’s were Stone, Hurdis and Rev. Thomas Williams, a former opponent of Pelham. The Chamberses did not vote.9

Pelham told Lady Webster, 3 Apr. 1794, that Harben’s Seaford houses had just been sold ‘for £4,095 to Mr Bryant, an attorney, who has bought them on speculation with another attorney’, and that they ‘doubtless will be sold again in a short time’. By 16 July he had ‘very little doubt’ of being able to return Sir Godfrey ‘at a very moderate expense’, but was ‘determined to take the whole management into my own hands, as the consequence of his interference is an increase of unnecessary expense to both’.10 In March 1795 he became Irish secretary and his official junction with government created difficulties with Richmond, who had left office in January, over the distribution of patronage at Seaford. He complained to his father in August that two places which he and his friend Lord Sheffield*, another Sussex landowner, had applied for had gone to friends of Harben; and on his return from Ireland soon afterwards he voiced his grievance to the Duke of Portland, who sympathized and urged Pitt to try to mollify him. An interview with Pitt only confirmed Pelham’s suspicion and resentment. Pitt told Pelham that Sargent, now seated for Queenborough, ‘perfectly admits how reasonable it is, that while there is a Member on each interest at Seaford the patronage should be impartially divided’, but that he did ‘not seem to think that his friends would now be disposed to enter into any compromise for the general election’; and Sargent subsequently wrote to Pitt:

upon mentioning to the Duke of Richmond ... the idea which you suggested respecting the partition of the government interest ... I found ... [him to] express more surprise and mortification at it than I had really expected. He thought it perfectly fair that Mr Pelham should now have his full share of appointments in all other parts of the county, except at Seaford, where they had been promised exclusively to him.11

Lord Palmerston told his wife, 6 Nov. 1795, that Pelham’s candidate for Seaford at the next general election was to be Charles Rose Ellis, a wealthy West Indian and childhood friend of Lady Webster, whose husband had become ‘very obnoxious there’. He added that Ellis’s return was not ‘very certain, as the Duke of Richmond and Mr Harben are very active and have the assistance of government’; but it was later reported in the press that Pelham and Richmond had settled their differences at Seaford.12 Richmond seems to have lost interest in the borough. In 1796 Ellis, who had presumably agreed to become paymaster of the Pelham interest, stood with his cousin George. They were opposed by John Leach, a rising barrister who had been counsel for Sargent and Jodrell in 1792, had acquired property in Seaford and been elected recorder in 1795, and the Whig John Hodson Durand*, who had Sussex property, had bought some houses in Seaford, possibly Harben’s, and whose sister had recently married Lancelot Harrison’s son Charles. The Ellises, who received 53 split votes, beat Durand and Leach, who got 42. Three electors split their votes between Charles Ellis and Durand, one between George Ellis and Durand. Of those who voted for the Ellises, about 24 had supported Webster in 1794, and most of them had voted for the Pelham candidates in 1790. They received a dozen votes from people who had voted for Jodrell in 1794, five of these being men who had changed sides between 1790 and 1794, seven who had voted for the ministerialists in 1790. Their supporters included Williams, Rev. Thomas Evans the vicar of Seaford, Hurdis, and Charles Harrison and his brother William. Harben voted for Leach and Durand, whose supporters included about 24 electors who had voted for Jodrell in 1794, two-thirds of them having voted for the government candidates in 1790. Only four who had voted for Webster in 1794 changed sides, but one of them was Robert Stone.13

By September 1801, when he was chosen bailiff, Harben had gone over to Pelham, recently appointed Home secretary in the Addington administration. On 17 Oct. Harben reported:

The ... manoeuvre used by Mr Durand to influence the voters and keep up the clubs require[s] every legal exertion on my part to counteract his powerful means. Mr Durand only a fortnight since had given up his cause without the least hopes but this agent here ... [persuaded him] that he shall be able by the mere dint of money to obtain his wish, and has undertaken to give every voter in his interest one hundred pounds each if he can obtain a majority of promises. He has also furnished the clubs liberally each night with ... beef, but in this he fails, as the weekly decline has been lately very great. I am not the least alarmed ultimately at his proceedings, other than it may cause much useless money to be spent.

Harben added that the Chamberses were ‘mortified’ by his elevation in Pelham’s favour at their expense and that Harrison was not to be trusted. Leach too was now allied with Pelham, and Harben claimed that their examination of the state of the borough had led them to conclude that

there was nothing to fear at the next general election ... [Leach] also entered into a detail with me for the future management of the borough in which he was clear that my system would establish it after the election so as to secure the interest in your lordship’s family permanent as a burgage tenure.14

It was reported in the press, 3 Feb. 1802, that Durand had declared his intention of standing at the next general election, but this was a mere ploy, for on 20 Feb. he made an agreement with Leach whereby he was to ‘continue the appearance of being a candidate’ until two days beforehand, when he would stand down for Leach, who in return engaged to buy his Seaford property for £2,000 down, with the remaining £1,500 on mortgage. In the event it was six weeks before the dissolution that Durand, after consulting Leach, agreed forthwith to announce his withdrawal. Leach, who was apparently acting as broker for Pelham and Ellis, told the former that Durand, in return for a promise that ‘the whole of his purchase money will be paid to him immediately after the election’, had agreed

to include in the bargain all the arrears of rent due to him, which ... bind the tenants more effectually to your lordship’s interest. He has also consented that it should be immediately declared that he has sold the houses to your lordship ... Durand further engages to support by every means in his power the success of your lordship’s friends. I trust I may now congratulate your lordship upon the absolute and perpetual possession of the borough.15

At the dissolution George Ellis retired and Charles was joined on the Pelham interest not by Leach, but by Richard John Sullivan, a supporter of the Addington ministry. A disgruntled elector warned Pelham that trouble was brewing and it appeared in the form of Sir William Stirling, a rich London banker, and Lucius Concannon, a Whig adventurer. Ellis and Sullivan received 67 split votes, the interlopers 46. One elector voted for Ellis and Stirling, one for Sullivan and Concannon. Just before the close of the poll the vicar of Seaford and Richard Simmons, mariner, nominated and voted for Charles Harrison and Dennis O’Kelly, with a view to lodging a petition. Harben, Leach, Hurdis and two of the Chambers brothers voted for Ellis and Sullivan, who received support from about a dozen electors who had voted against the Ellises in 1796. The composition of the vote for Stirling and Concannon suggests that the coalition between Pelham and Harben had alienated a number of former Pelham supporters: at least 14 electors, including Harrison before he was put in nomination, changed sides. Stirling was reported to have complained at the close of the poll that he had been enticed to Seaford by a false promise of 73 ‘independent’ votes.16

Concannon went to Paris after the election and was still there when his petition, prepared for him by the Whig manager William Adam* and accusing Ellis and Sullivan of bribery and Harben of partiality, was presented on 7 Dec. 1802. The same day petitions were lodged in the names of three electors on behalf of Concannon and Stirling, and of the vicar on behalf of O’Kelly and Harrison, the latter charging all the other four candidates with bribery. Robert Adair* told Adam that one Parsons, Concannon’s agent at Seaford, ‘whose evidence would utterly destroy all his chance for the seat’, was anxious to find a means of ‘escaping from the clutches of a good cross-examining advocate’. Adair ‘hinted his going to France, but could not urge it’. The problem became academic when Concannon failed to return in time to enter into his recognizances. His petition for an extension, 21 Dec. 1802, was resisted by ministers and rejected, and three days later all three petitions were dismissed because recognizances were overdue.17

Meanwhile a snag had occurred in the purchase of Durand’s Seaford property. Frogatt informed Pelham, 6 Sept. 1802:

To my great surprise, Mr Durand called ... to say he apprehended there was a mistake respecting the payment ... for that he only meant 1,500 guineas should remain on mortgage in case Mr Leach was a candidate, but that he did not intend to extend that indulgence to any other person and therefore expected to receive the whole purchase money at Michaelmas next. Mr Leach is gone to Paris, or I should have got him to have seen Mr Durand to have explained the agreement ... Should Durand persist in being paid all the money immediately, you and Mr Ellis will have good ground to decline the purchase, for as the election is now over, I think it is by no means an eligible one.

In the event Pelham and Ellis contracted with Durand, 21 Oct. 1802, for their joint purchase of his Seaford houses, paying £2,100 down, with the balance of £1,685, plus interest, to be paid on 3 Nov. 1803, when the transaction was duly completed.18

The alliance between Pelham, Ellis and Leach did not last and Pelham’s hopes of establishing a secure interest at Seaford proved illusory, for when Sullivan died in July 1806 the Pelham candidate Henry Wellesley* was opposed and comfortably beaten by Leach himself. The extent of the erosion of the Pelham interest is indicated by the fact that in addition to eight voters, including Charles Harrison who had defected in 1802, at least 16 others who had then voted for Ellis and Sullivan now voted for Leach. The remainder of Leach’s supporters were some 16 long-standing opponents of the Pelham interest and about 20 new voters. Only four men who had voted for Stirling and Concannon in 1802 voted for Wellesley, and almost two-thirds of his support came from electors who had voted for Ellis and Sullivan in 1802, including Thomas and James Chambers and Rev. Williams. Only nine new voters went with Pelham, whose expenses were £507, plus £465 outstanding in fees to Frogatt.19

The Pelham interest, which had been singularly badly managed, now collapsed almost totally. Leach supported the ‘Talents’ and offered them the nomination to the second Seaford seat at the 1806 general election, thus frustrating the hopes of John Tekell, comptroller of the Mint and husband of Lord Grenville’s second cousin Lady Griselda Stanhope. Another disappointed man was the Whig Richard Sharp*, who told Lady Holland that he had been ‘labouring for some months’ at Seaford, but had given up when he ‘found the person on whom I relied very far from explicit, in consequence of his apprehensions, communicated to the chancellor and by him to me, that my separate interest from other sources may be injurious to his influence’. Leach’s colleague and presumably paying guest was George Hibbert, a leading London West India merchant. They proved too strong for Ellis, who declined to contest the issue.20

Leach and Hibbert were in opposition to the Portland ministry by the time of the 1807 general election, but it made no difference. Leach told Grenville, 3 May, that his own seat was safe, that Lord Rendlesham*, a ministerialist, had accompanied Charles Ellis to Seaford ‘as the second candidate, but it was not thought advisable that he should undertake a canvass’, and that Ellis had ‘asked only for my second votes’. He claimed to have secured ‘a majority of promises for Mr Hibbert as well as myself, nearly in the proportion of three to two’. On 11 May he informed Grenville that ‘our adversaries declined the contest and Mr Hibbert and myself were this day elected without a poll’; but a manuscript poll list in the Seaford corporation records indicates that there was a token poll in which 13 electors, including Harrison and Evans, voted for Leach and Hibbert, and six, including Williams and James Chambers, for Ellis and Rendlesham.21

Ellis found a seat elsewhere at this election and subsequently formed an alliance with Leach which, as the latter told Adam, 30 Aug. 1811, ‘united almost the whole property of the place and seemed to exclude the possibility of opposition’, though an attempt was being made to ‘inflame the minds of the lower people by a cry of coalition and by continued treating’. In 1812 Ellis, as a Canningite, was a target for ministerial hostility, and government sent down John Pelly Atkins, son of John Atkins*, and his uncle Dr Sherrard Beaumont Burnaby, an ecclesiastical lawyer, to oppose him and Leach. An attempt was made to get Pelham (now Earl of Chichester), who was ‘shy of interfering’, to ‘order’ four of his tenants to vote for the ministerialists, but the interlopers got nowhere and withdrew. Leach and Ellis were challenged by Thomas Bowes, brother of the 8th Earl of Strathmore, who had contested Minehead unsuccessfully in 1807 and, according to Oldfield, had bought Harben’s remaining Seaford property. Though he was defeated, he made a respectable showing at the poll, but his petition charging Leach and Ellis with bribery was deemed ‘frivolous and vexatious’.22

Ellis retained control of one seat at Seaford until 1830. Oldfield wrote in 1816 that Bowes sold out to a Mr Pindar, first clerk in the army agency of Cox and Greenwood, who was ‘now contesting the influence’ with Ellis and Leach.23 In February of that year Leach vacated his seat on being appointed chancellor of the duchy of Cornwall and brought in Sir Charles Cockerell, a wealthy nabob who voted with government. There was no contest in 1818, when Cockerell was replaced by George Watson Taylor, a rich West India planter. One contemporary account had it that he ‘succeeded on the interest’ of Leach, now vice-chancellor; but Oldfield later wrote that before the general election Watson Taylor ‘purchased Sir John Leach’s interest in this borough and became joint patron of its influence’ with Ellis:

Mr Ellis owns nearly half the houses, and Mr Taylor has most of the others on lease, so that they can nominate their own tenants, who in return nominate them for Members of Parliament, which makes Seaford, after all the expensive contests that have taken place, as snug a pocket borough as Gatton, or Old Sarum.24

Authors: Brian Murphy / David R. Fisher


  • 1. E. Suss. RO, SEA 460.
  • 2. Ibid. 480.
  • 3. Based on Oldfield, Boroughs (1792), iii. ‘Cinque Ports’, 125-37. See also SEA 189-212; M. A. Lower and W. D. Cooper, ‘Further Mems. Seaford’, Suss. Arch. Coll. xvii (1865), 160.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/171, f. 147.
  • 5. Oldfield, iii. 138-41; SEA 460.
  • 6. CJ, xlvi. 38, 47; xlvii. 12, 28, 381, 414, 435, 446-7, 564; Oldfield, iii. 141-5; Public Advertiser, 20 Mar. 1792; Add. 33090, ff. 338, 340; 33129, f. 85; 51705, Pelham to Lady Webster, 9, 18 Mar. 1792.
  • 7. Oldfield, iii. 145; Add. 33129, ff. 136, 164, 169; CJ, xlviii. 174, 622; xlix. 23, 179; l. 12, 54, 178, 235-6; SEA 153-5.
  • 8. SEA 172-3, 175; Add. 51706, Pelham to Lady Webster, 27 Sept. 1793.
  • 9. Add. 33129, f. 234; 33630, ff. 7-9; Liverpoll Pollbook (1796), 51; SEA 467.
  • 10. Add. 51706.
  • 11. Add. 33129, f. 324; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 730/13; Camden mss C122/1; PRO 30/8/175, f. 187; 195, f. 128.
  • 12. NRA, Broadlands mss; Morning Chron. 29 Dec. 1795.
  • 13. SEA 474.
  • 14. The Times, 8 Oct. 1801; Add. 33108, ff. 39, 176.
  • 15. The Times, 3 Feb. 1802; Add. 33109, f. 249; 33059, f. 282.
  • 16. The Times, 26 May, 23 June 1802; Add. 33109, f. 247; SEA 475; Picture of Parliament (1802), 144.
  • 17. Blair Adam mss, Concannon to Adam [16 Nov.], Adair to same [11 Dec.], Fox to same, [28 Dec.] 1802; CJ, lviii. 67, 110, 112; Debrett (ser. 3), i. 488-90.
  • 18. Add. 33109, f. 423; 33112, ff. 88, 90, 94.
  • 19. Add. 33059, f. 287; 38833, f. 205; SEA 478.
  • 20. Fortescue mss, Lady Griselda Tekell to Grenville, 7 Aug., 21 Oct., replies 9 Aug., 25 Oct.; Add. 51593, Sharp to Lady Holland, Thurs. [1806].
  • 21. Fortescue mss; SEA 480.
  • 22. Blair Adam mss; Add. 38739, f. 36; Geo. IV Letters, i. 155; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. v. 472.
  • 23. Rep. Hist. v. 472.
  • 24. Morning Herald, 16 June 1818; Oldfield, Key (1820), 266.