St. Mawes


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:

see text

Estimated number qualified to vote:

see text


1,640 (1821); 1,558 (1831)1


8 Mar. 1820Sir SCROPE MORLAND, bt. 
13 Feb. 1822PHILLIMORE re-elected after appointment to office 
9 June 1826Sir SCROPE MORLAND, bt. 
3 May 1830GEORGE GRENVILLE WANDISFORD PIGOTT vice Morland, deceased 
 Richard Wyatt Edgellnil
 William Haldimandnil
 Samuel Thomas Spry18
 Charles Henry Bellenden Ker18

Main Article

St. Mawes, a decayed port on the east coast of Falmouth Bay in the south-west of the county, had one main street of houses fronting the sea, on the north side of the harbour, which were mostly inhabited by fishermen engaged in the declining pilchard fishery.2 The borough comprised the manor of St. Mawes, which formed part of the parish of St. Just. It had no charter and was governed by a portreeve (or ‘mayor’), the returning officer for parliamentary elections, who was elected annually at the court leet of the lord of the manor, Richard Grenville†, 2nd marquess of Buckingham, the leader of a tiny parliamentary squad. The franchise was held at the beginning of this period to be in the resident freemen, mostly Buckingham’s tenants, who were reckoned to number about two dozen. Elections were held on the quay, and costs were generally trifling. Buckingham, whose local agent was his Cornish steward Thomas Jago, was ever watchful over his interest and sensitive to potential threats to his control. He returned political associates rather than members of his family, and usually insisted that they attended their elections. Radical commentators made much of the fact that St. Mawes returned two Members, while the substantial and flourishing port of Falmouth, across the estuary, was unfranchised.3

In 1820 the sitting Members, Sir Scrope Morland, a London banker and old family friend and Buckinghamshire neighbour of the marquess, and Joseph Phillimore, an experienced civilian, came in again.4 Late in 1821 Buckingham, who was negotiating for a junction with Lord Liverpool’s ministry, informed Phillimore that ‘for three years the pilchard fishery, the harvest of Cornwall, has failed at St. Mawes’ and ‘the inhabitants who look only to that employment are consequently in the greatest distress’. When the coalition was effected in January 1822 Buckingham obtained a dukedom and Phillimore a place at the board of control. Buckingham advised Phillimore:

Of course you will be re-elected at St. Mawes, and a journey there will not be required. Put yourself in communication with Mr. Jago and write another letter to the mayor offering yourself for re-election. On the same day on which you write these letters, write me a line in order that I may also write to St. Mawes.5

A few months later Buckingham was enraged by what he regarded as a slap in the face from government over local patronage, and he remonstrated with Charles Arbuthnot*, secretary to the treasury:

It is of vital importance to me that none should be placed in government employment in St. Mawes but such as are known to me not to be capable or likely to do me harm there, and I illustrated this by the distinct attempt made by an officer of the custom house to bribe that borough at the last election. You perfectly acquiesced, in conversation with me, in my view of the subject. I therefore should more regret that the promise then made is withheld, and the measure distinctly avowed of putting the patronage of St. Mawes into the hands of the custom house under an apparent but entirely fallacious guarantee that my interests are not to be hurt thereby. As I consider the engagement entered into by you with me as broken by the result of the interview between you and ... Morland, I am under the necessity of requesting an explicit answer whether I am to consider the decision notified to ... Morland by Mr. Dean is irrevocable and of begging that no doubt may be left upon a subject which will decide the question of my future connection with the government.

It is not clear whether the matter was resolved, for early in 1823 he was still grumbling about ‘the treasury’s persistence in neglect of my St. Mawes application and its own promises’.6 On a visit to the town in the summer of 1822 Buckingham, who was critical of the ‘folly’ of ministerial policy on the salt tax, found ‘great misery ... owing to the complete failure in the fisheries’, but ‘great loyalty ... and the warmest personal attachment ... to me’. At the end of 1824 he told Morland, who evidently thought he was being blamed for the situation, that

the distress in Cornwall is dreadful and I fear that your being the principal creditor, and having possessed yourself of all the assets, will raise a very mischievous clamour. Individually I lose nothing; but the ruin amongst the fishermen and lower orders is complete.7

The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 16 Mar. 1824.8 Buckingham had decided by this time to drop Phillimore, with whom his relations had turned sour, and to return at the next general election Sir Codrington Carrington of Chalfont St. Giles, a retired Indian judge, who might otherwise have embarrassed his interest in Buckinghamshire.9 The duke anticipated a challenge from the Buller family of Morval, and before the election in 1826 he had a number of his Buckinghamshire and Hampshire toadies enrolled as St. Mawes freemen. In the event Morland and Carrington were unopposed, ‘the intention of setting up an interest hostile to that of the duke ... not being sufficiently matured for immediate operations’, as a liberal newspaper put it. The same organ commented on the incongruity of Jago’s connivance in the return of men favourable to Catholic relief, as Buckingham required, while he was actively exciting a ‘No Popery’ cry in the county.10

The inhabitants petitioned the Commons against the proposed abolition of the export bounty on pilchards, 17 Feb. 1830.11 Following Morland’s death two months later Buckingham returned George Pigott, the son of a Buckinghamshire squire and family friend. Pigott was put forward with Carrington at the general election that summer when, in a local bid to challenge Buckingham’s control and widen the franchise, they were opposed in the names of the Whig philanthropist William Haldimand* and Richard Edgell of Milton Place, Egham, Surrey, a cavalry officer. Haldimand and Edgell’s backers, who included Laurence Boyne, a surgeon and long a thorn in Buckingham’s flesh, Richard Bellman, a carpenter and builder, and Spargo James, gentleman, tried to poll the votes of 28 ‘tenants from adjoining manors’. However, these were rejected by the portreeve, who would only accept the votes of 13 of Buckingham’s tenants and accordingly returned his nominees.12 Boyne, Bellman and James petitioned against the return, 3 Nov., claiming a majority of legal votes for the challengers. A second petition was received on 16 Nov. from James James, a ropemaker, and James Peters, a draper and grocer, but they failed to enter into recognizances. The Truro attorney William Paul had ‘no great opinion of the petitioners’ case’, but he was keen to gather information to show that the area immediately to the east of St. Mawes, known as ‘Bogellus and Boella’, which contained 112 houses, was ‘within the limits of the borough’. The election committee, appointed on 2 Dec., took submissions and heard evidence as to the right of election. According to Pigott, several of the petitioners’ ‘most material witnesses completely broke down under cross examination and ... established one or two points which they were called to disprove’. After lengthy deliberation the committee rejected the claim both of the petitioners, that the right of election was in the inhabitant householders, and of the defendants, that it was in the ‘portreeve and burgesses ... being resident freemen, sworn and admitted at the borough and manor court, or freeholders whose titles have been presented at the borough and manor court’. Instead, it was ruled to be in the ‘portreeve and burgesses, being inhabitant householders resiant within the borough paying scot and lot, and in the freeholders possessed of freeholds within the borough’. The boundary question was left unresolved. Carrington and Pigott were confirmed in their seats, 16 Dec. 1830.13

The Wesleyan Methodists sent anti-slavery petitions to both Houses in November 1830.14 On 14 Feb. 1831 John Cam Hobhouse presented and endorsed a petition from the inhabitants complaining of Buckingham’s domination and praying that if the borough was not to be reformed it should be disfranchised. Five weeks later they petitioned the Commons in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed that fate for St. Mawes.15 Carrington and Pigott opposed the measure. At the ensuing dissolution Carrington retired and was replaced on Buckingham’s interest by Sir Edward Sugden, a leading Tory lawyer. Samuel Spry† of nearby Place House, who had been ‘instrumental’ in securing the enfranchisement of the scot and lot voters, and the lawyer Henry Ker (subsequently a boundary commissioner), came forward as supporters of reform and were nominated by Boyne. Sugden attacked the reform bill at some length, but Pigott said little and Spry remained silent; Ker was not present. The majority of the resident electors, including the newly enfranchised ratepayers, reportedly voted for the reformers, but the votes of non-resident freeholders secured the return of Buckingham’s candidates. Ker appears to have been tardy in paying his share of the expenses. Later that year the portreeve estimated the electorate at about 87.16

In the debate on the reintroduced reform bill, 26 July 1831, Pigott, while conceding that protest against the disfranchisement of St. Mawes was futile, argued that it was neither ‘decayed’ nor ‘corrupt’ and that ‘the influence which prevailed there is the fair influence of property’. The new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 confirmed St. Mawes’ fate, as it was listed among the ten smallest English boroughs. Early in 1832 some of the ratepaying electors, tenants of Buckingham, were threatened with eviction by the duke’s agent for having voted for the reform candidates the previous year. Paul advised Spry that these tenants ‘should not be allowed to be losers by their attachment to your interest’ and that ‘I think [your obligations] go to the extent of providing houses for those of your supporters who may be turned out of their present residences and to some little pecuniary assistance’. He added that ‘the expenses already incurred by you amount to about £290, from which must be deducted the £104 received from Mr. Ker’, and that ‘I really hope you will allow me to lay out a sum not exceeding £150 more, if it should become necessary’.17 On 7 May a petition was presented to the Lords from 17 electors, headed by William Vincent senior, complaining that they had been evicted and praying for the ‘inestimable boon of total disfranchisement as the only means of protecting the inhabitants from utter ruin’. Following the bill’s passage, Boyne chaired a meeting of the ‘friends of reform’ at which ‘the ejected electors ... were present and heartily joined in the general exultation at the downfall of corporate tyranny’.18 St. Mawes was absorbed into the Western division of Cornwall.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PP 1831-2), xxxvi. 37. Figures for the parish of St. Just (estimated for 1821). The borough population was put at 475 in 1831 (ibid. 314).
  • 2. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 231; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 166; S. Lewis, Topographical Dict. of England (1831), iii. 272.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 459; Oldfield, iii. 232; Lewis, iii. 272-3; Oldfield, Key (1832), 389; J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 7-8, 27.
  • 4. Bucks. RO, Spencer Bernard mss D/SB PF1/2(a), diary, 3, 11 Mar.; West Briton, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Christ Church, Oxf. Phillimore mss, Buckingham to Phillimore, 25 Nov. 1821, 27 Jan. 1822.
  • 6. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss, Buckingham to Arbuthnot, 16 June 1822; Sack, 28; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/67; Phillimore mss, Buckingham to Phillimore, 29 Jan. 1823.
  • 7. Fremantle mss 46/11/63; Spencer Bernard mss PFD 8/5, 7.
  • 8. CJ, lxxix. 167.
  • 9. Fremantle mss 51/5/17; Phillimore mss, Buckingham to Phillimore, 19 June, reply, 21 June 1825; JRL, Carrington mss 1/6a, 6b.
  • 10. Sack, 27; West Briton, 2, 9 June 1826.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxv. 54.
  • 12. West Briton, 30 July, 6 Aug.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830; Sack, 27-28.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxvi. 19, 87, 107, 140-1, 180; PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 459; R. Cornw. Gazette, 13 Nov., 25 Dec.; West Briton, 24 Dec. 1830; Cornw. RO AD/408/92; Fremantle mss 139/14/73b; 139/20/3b.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 53; LJ, lxiii. 68.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 245, 406; R. Cornw. Gazette, 19 Feb. 1831.
  • 16. R. Cornw. Gazette, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831; Cornw. RO AD/408/93, 98; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 37.
  • 17. Cornw. RO AD/408/100.
  • 18. LJ, lxiv. 186; West Briton, 1, 22 June 1832.