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 dispute. In either freeholders and resident leaseholders rated to the poor or inhabitants paying scot and lot. ‘These two descriptions of persons’, wrote Oldfield in 1816, ‘being nearly the same in this borough, it has not been brought to a determination.’1

Number of voters:

about 60


(1801): 819


21 June 1790JOHN CALL 
28 May 1796(SIR) JOHN CALL, Bt. 
9 Apr. 1801 JOHN INGLETT FORTESCUE vice Call, deceased 
 John Brown16
 William Ogilvie7
19 May 1803 AMBROSE ST. JOHN vice Inglett Fortescue, vacated his seat 
8 May 1807THOMAS HAMILTON, Lord Binning 
16 Apr. 1810 WILLIAM STEPHEN POYNTZ vice Carter, vacated his seat 
4 Mar. 1813 HON. CHARLES RODOLPH TREFUSIS vice Rogers, vacated his seat 
 [Loftus] Longueville Clarke28
 Richard Dixon26

Main Article

George, 3rd Earl of Orford, as Baron Clinton in his mother’s right, was the nominal patron of Callington, where he owned the majority of the 62 burgages, the rest belonging to the Buller (of Downes) and Coryton (of Crackadon) families. Orford had been too unstable to manage Callington for some years, and although John Rolle* regarded himself as manager for Orford, it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that Sir John Call and Paul Orchard, a respectable nabob and an equally respectable country gentleman were elected from 1784 onwards on their own interest. They remained unopposed until Call’s death in 1801. In the meantime, Orford having died in 1791, the barony of Clinton had been in dispute until 1794, when it was awarded to the Trefusis family. Robert Trefusis, who became 17th Baron and seems to have had to purchase from the new Lord Orford burgages not part of the barony, informed Pitt, 17 June 1795, that he was placing his three seats in the hands of friends of government. He died in 1797 leaving two young sons and the Clinton estate was managed by trustees during their minority. Part of the borough was under mortgage to ‘Mr Palk’ as a collateral security for a loan to Clinton, but was released on payment of £5,000 of the principal and no advantage was taken of the ‘general discontent’ said by an agent of the Duke of Bedford to prevail among the voters.2

On Sir John Call’s death John Inglett Fortescue, one of the trustees and a kinsman of the Trefusis family, was elected in his place after a second writ had had to be issued on 30 Mar. 1801, the first one, issued on the 13th, having been lost. Another trustee John Clevland* had contemplated coming forward, but changed his mind. The fact was, as Lord Rolle informed Pitt, 5 Oct. 1797, that ‘by a decision of the lord chancellor the trust of the late Lord Clinton with respect to his landed property and boroughs is determined not to be in Mr Clevland under the will but in Mr Inglett Fortescue and Mr Hall under a deed’. Rolle therefore promised Pitt Clinton’s three seats ‘on any vacancy or dissolution’ and advised him to deal with Inglett Fortescue. Clevland realized that he would have injured Clinton’s interest. The Duke of Bedford’s agent, Jago, reported that Clevland had in mind Sir William Call, the deceased Member’s heir, who was however not yet of age. Coryton of Crackadon had ‘some thoughts of proposing his son’, but he was ‘abroad on his travels’ and nothing came of the rumoured intervention of his son-in-law, Capt. Rodd. Jago thought the borough might at that moment have been captured pro tem. for £1,000, but admitted that:

If the right was in the inhabitants at large paying scot and lot, there might be a chance of success, but they take care to appoint their own overseers, and to rate no person against their interest.

At the election of 1802 there was a contest, Messrs Brown and Ogilvie attempting to create an independent interest in the borough. They were not alone in this, as Felix McCarthy and Thomas Tyrwhitt*, friends, like Ogilvie, of the Prince of Wales, were also interested and the former, who was willing to yield to Tyrwhitt, claimed to have ‘an able and intelligent agent there’ and the goodwill of the Hon. St. Andrew St. John*, Clinton’s uncle; but they were simply not strong enough. Of 50 votes allowed on a freeholder or resident leasehold qualification (14 others having been rejected), 34 supported Fortescue and Orchard jointly, seven Brown and Ogilvie, seven Fortescue and Brown and two Orchard and Brown. There was no further contest until 1818. Fortescue vacated his seat in 1803 on behalf of his fellow trustee, another kinsman of the Trefusis family, Ambrose St. John.3

On 16 Feb. 1806 Lord St. John wrote to Lord Grenville, who had just formed his administration, asking for some conversation

on the subject of the boroughs of Callington and Ashburton, the property in which belongs to a near relation of mine Lord Clinton who is a minor, and whose trustee Mr Ambrose St. John is disposed to act relatively to these boroughs agreeably to my wishes.

On 20 Mar. Clinton himself informed Grenville that he had ‘received an intimation’ that Ambrose St. John was ‘disposed to relinquish his seat’ and that he would be glad to recommend a friend of government. His informant was Lord St. John, of course, but the young nobleman asked Grenville to consider his offer ‘a mark of my respect for your lordship personally’. He added that he could not make this offer unconditionally, owing to ‘considerations very materially connected with my interests at Callington’—nor could he promise anything for the future, or both seats: Orchard was evidently strong enough to hold his seat as long as he wished. Grenville was duly gratified, especially when Orchard elected to retire and he was able to purchase all three of Clinton’s seats on behalf of government. John Clevland, appointed Clinton’s guardian by his father’s will, wrote to Grenville, 9 Aug. 1806, claiming credit for this arrangement, which he said he had set on foot ‘the last spring when I was in London’, with his ward’s approbation. Since then, he complained, he had lost Clinton’s confidence, owing to the fact that Lord Rolle and Mr Fortescue ‘had been busy about the boroughs’. Clinton had been troubled on another score: Benjamin Tucker, second secretary at the Admiralty, had announced his intention of opposing the patron’s interest and a canvass for him had begun in July. Clinton asked Grenville to disown Tucker (which he did) and to name the friends he wished to see returned promptly so as to discourage ‘gentlemen wandering about in pursuit of seats’ and to secure the ‘opinions and suffrages’ of the electors in advance. There was no opposition at the election to Wickham and Garrow, friends of government.4

Grenville did not, however, inform Lord Rolle of the arrangements made until 22 Oct. 1806, possibly because, thanks to their ‘old acquaintance’, he did not expect disapproval from him: on 21 Oct., however, Fremantle, Grenville’s underling, heard of Rolle’s disapproval from ‘letters from the west’ written to Francis Drake, who thought it would ‘tend to keep matters perfectly quiet’ if Grenville wrote to Rolle ‘as Lord Clinton’s friend and relation’ for his approval. Meanwhile Rolle penned a hint to Grenville, through Lord Auckland, that although he had recommended Clinton to come to terms with Grenville, he could not approve his present proceedings and intended to cut him out of his will, after having entailed his estate on him. He was sore that Orchard, originally his nominee, was being forced out, and although he would not ‘make a resistance’ he thought the Clinton interest endangered. Seymour, the attorney appointed as Clinton’s agent on Francis Drake’s advice, had offended the electors, not least by stating that the candidates would not attend their election; and ‘if a suspicion gains ground they are sold which they have never been, nor taken any money for their votes, I will not answer for the consequences’. On 30 Oct. Rolle recited his grievances by letter to Grenville: the patronage had slipped out of his hands, an agent ‘an entire stranger to the boroughs and myself’ having been instructed ‘not to confer’ with him. He added that Clinton had fallen under the influence of a ‘near friend Mr D[rake]’ and that he (Rolle) had it in his power to throw out ‘one if not more’ of the three candidates, but did not wish to do so. There followed a postscript announcing his reconciliation with Lord Fortescue and accordingly with the Grenville administration. Grenville had had Wickham returned for both Midhurst and Callington as a security, but advised him not to vacate Callington, as it might ‘give an opening for opposition (though none took place at the last election)’, 3 Jan. 1807.5

On 9 Apr. 1807 Lord St. John wrote to Grenville that he had heard of ‘some advances’ made by the new (Portland) government to Clinton for his parliamentary interest, but believed that, through Drake, Grenville could ‘keep him steady’. About ten days before, he added, ‘I begged Mr Ambrose St. John to see Mr Drake and to state to him my opinion that Lord Clinton would best consult his own interest in maintaining the connexion he had formed with you. I afterwards have heard from Mr St. John that Mr Drake agreed with me in that opinion’.6 Drake and Clinton discovered, however, that it would be ‘extremely hazardous’ to try to carry friends of Grenville at the election, owing to the ‘machinations which had been carrying on previous to the dissolution by Lord Clinton’s own agents’ and because of ‘the silly cry of No Popery and the Danger of the Church, which has been so industriously kept on foot’. Accordingly Clinton was so prudent as to offer the seats to government, whose friends were ‘quietly returned’. When one of these retired from Parliament in 1810, Clinton returned his friend Poyntz (afterwards his father-in-law), on condition of paying election expenses up to £750 and of resigning after two years if they disagreed on politics.

There was some doubt as to Clinton’s intentions for the next election. In 1810 he had been prepared to offer a seat to Lord Ebrington*. Lord Binning, who had come in as a friend of administration in 1807, was a friend of Canning, but hoped to persuade Clinton to nominate him again, though his first preference was for a seat at Arundel, and he was evidently obliged to answer some ‘queries’ from Clinton if he was to be put up at Callington. He was also discouraged by the ‘delay and reserve of Draco’ (i.e. Drake, Clinton’s friend). Clinton, who was being solicited by Lord Wellesley for his seats, was under close observation, especially from Lord Cholmondeley who as coheir to Lord Orford was working himself up to a lawsuit for the recovery of part of the Clinton estate, and who was close to the Prince Regent. Cholmondeley wrote to the latter’s secretary McMahon before the election that he was ‘vexed to hear’ that government ‘was not sure of Lord Clinton’s boroughs’. He added, ‘with respect to Callington, I can only say neither trouble or expense should have been spared by me to have effected so desirable an object for his Royal Highness in case of Lord Clinton’s hostility’. Clinton’s younger brother Charles Trefusis was not quite of age, so he struck a blow for his own independence by returning Poyntz again and a local country gentleman who wished to pay the expenses for the seat unconditionally, to keep a seat warm for his brother until early in 1813. Binning, defeated at Arundel, arrived at Callington in pursuit of a seat, but got nowhere.7

Lord Egremont, writing apropos of Poyntz on 9 Aug. 1812, had said that it would be dangerous for him to vacate his seat at Callington because of the risk to Clinton’s hold on the borough, and that ‘Lord Cholmondeley will probably settle that business for him before another election’. The latter was not successful in 1812 and, though he obtained a legal victory over Clinton in 1817, could not persuade him to cede a seat at Callington, as the Whigs hoped he would, for the benefit of Sir James Mackintosh*.8

There was a keen contest in 1818. Advantage was taken of the fact that Clinton had decided to nominate two friends of government, ‘unknown in the county’. According to Richard Dixon of Fenchurch Street, ‘the slopseller’, and Longueville Clark of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn, barrister, they were in Cornwall on business when they were shown a letter from Richard Peter, a freeholder of Callington. This implored any two gentlemen to ‘come over and oppose the Clinton interest’, at no expense and without any reference to political principles, though supporters of government were preferable, since, it alleged, the present candidates described as ‘Sir Frederick Robertson’ (instead of Sir Christopher Robinson) and Col. Lygon, as well as Clinton, were hostile to government, and their agent Tucker was a supporter of annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Clarke then urged Dixon, against his better judgment, to join with him and on 18 June they were accepted as candidates at Callington: while Clarke was securing his qualification at Launceston, he ‘discovered’ that he was in error about the candidates, but when ‘a Mr Bruce’ and Richard Wellesley* also turned up hoping to be adopted and the latter was clearly hostile to administration, he persisted.9 Dixon and Clarke, whose agent was Charles Carpenter, were defeated, but taking advantage of the fact that the right of election had never been determined they claimed that they should have been returned10 and planned a petition, with the hope of ‘gaining two seats for administration’, a curious sentiment in view of the fact that their opponents duly supported administration—but the petition was given up. Incidentally, scot and lot voters on either side were rejected by the portreeve. Callington was now a matter of considerable embarrassment to Clinton (voters expected a ‘compliment’ of £20 each),11 and after his nominees were unseated at the next election, his main desire was to sell his interest.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Boroughs, i. 108; Rep. Hist. iii. 254; cf. Pole Carew mss CC/L/30, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 8 Mar. 1799, where the franchise is described as similar to that at Fowey. In 1820 (CJ, lxxv. 301) the House decided that the franchise lay with the first of the two categories.
  • 2. Add. 34457, f. 104; Norf. RO, Hamond mss, Orford estate pprs. Mackreth to Hamond, 8, 13 Mar. 1794; PRO 30/8/123, f. 176; Devon RO, Clinton mss 96MWV, Reichenberg to ?, 16 Oct. 1797; Bedford mss L1258, bdle. 10, Tyeth to ?, n.d.
  • 3. CJ, lvi. 233; PRO 30/8/173, f. 86; Bedford mss, bdle. 17, Jago to Gotobed, 19 Mar., [Apr.] 1801; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1654; R. Inst. of Cornw. mss, Callington election minutes, 8 July 1802.
  • 4. Fortescue mss; Pole Carew mss CC/L/39, Clinton to Pole Carew, 19 Oct., draft reply 27 Oct. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 237.
  • 5. Fortescue mss; Add. 34457, f. 104.
  • 6. Fortescue mss.
  • 7. Clinton mss 96M/21, ‘Agreement with Mr Poyntz as to Callington, 20 Jan. 1810’; Rogers to Clinton, 10 Dec. 1812; A. G. C. Tucker, Observations (1817); Add. 37297, f. 175; 38739, ff. 9, 21, 56, 62, 69, 74, 78; Geo. IV Letters, i. 171.
  • 8. Add. 38367, f. 302; 38739, f. 103; 51691, Lauderdale to Holland, 1 July, 27 Aug. 1817.
  • 9. Geo. IV Letters, ii. 749.
  • 10. They claimed that the poll should have been Clarke 32, Dixon 31, Lygon 18, Robinson 17.
  • 11. Oldfield, Key (1820), 64; Clinton mss 96M/box 2/19; box 88/16.