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:

in the freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

11 in 1820, rising to 25 in 18311

Number of voters:

13 in 1823


260 (1821); 308 (1831)2


 Sir Charles Richard Blunt, bt.1
 James Webster1
24 Feb. 1823DOMVILLE re-elected after vacating his seat 
2 June 1823JOHN STUART WORTLEY vice Ward, called to the Upper House13
 Edward Rose Tunnonil
16 Feb. 1831(HON.) JOHN STUART WORTLEY vice Stuart Wortley, vacated his seat 

Main Article

Bossiney, a former fishing port situated on the north-eastern coast of the county, had dwindled into a village of ‘the most insignificant description’, containing ‘a few straggling houses’ which were occupied mostly by farmers. Its market had ‘long been discontinued’ and the surrounding countryside was ‘so bleak and rugged as to exhibit a complete picture of devastation’.3 The borough was thought to cover ‘about one fifth’ of the parish of Tintagel. It had no charter, but there was a corporation claiming to exist ‘by prescription’, which the municipal corporations commissioners dismissed in 1833 as standing ‘lowest in the scale of Cornish corporations’. The mayor, whose sole function was to act as the returning officer for parliamentary elections, was appointed annually by a grand jury empanelled by the outgoing mayor and the town clerk, at the court leet. The franchise was vested in an indefinite number of freemen, ‘possessed of a freehold within the borough and residing within the borough or parish’; most lived beyond the borough limits. Crucially, the eldest sons of freemen were entitled to be admitted, without a grand jury presentment, whereas the purchasers of freehold property had to be presented before they became freemen. This was designed to ensure that ‘no person unfriendly to the interests’ of the joint patrons, James Stuart Wortley of Wortley Hall, Yorkshire, the lord of the manor, and Richard Edgcumbe, 2nd earl of Mount Edgcumbe, the other principal landowner in the parish, was admitted to the franchise. In 1820 the 11 freemen included four members of the Symons family and three of their Avery and Glanville relatives. They ‘divided amongst them the good things derived from the patronage’, which included various revenue positions at the port of Padstow. When the mayor was asked in 1833 whether they had ever received gratuities, he ‘declined to ... answer’. Stuart Wortley, who let some of his property to the freemen, used the successive town clerks, Jonathan Elford and the Devonport attorney George Leach, to manage his affairs, and Mount Edgcumbe employed the services of Charles Rashleigh, the recorder.4 Stuart Wortley, a Tory, had represented the borough since 1802, while Mount Edgcumbe placed his seat at the disposal of government. At the general election of 1818 Stuart Wortley and the wealthy Irish landowner Sir Compton Domville were opposed by the reformer Sir Charles Blunt, a retired Indian judge, who stood as the champion of freeholders claiming the right to vote by virtue of residence alone. All but one of Blunt’s votes were rejected, and he met the same fate at a by-election in April 1819 when Stuart Wortley, having chosen to sit for Yorkshire, nominated John William Ward, the heir of the 3rd Viscount Dudley and Ward.

Following the dissolution in February 1820 it was reported that Thomas Oldfield, author of the Representative History, had arrived at the seat of the Rev. William Pitt Bray of Trebray, with the intention of challenging the Stuart Wortley interest. In the event, he did not stand, but his friend Blunt offered again with the London merchant James Webster. The sitting Members were nominated by Rashleigh, and Blunt and Webster were sponsored by the innkeeper William Avery. Nine split votes were given to Domville and Ward, Avery split for Blunt and Webster, and one freeman, Josias Robins, ‘declined to vote’. The mayor, John Symons, rejected 13 votes tendered for the opposition candidates by freeholders, including Bray, and Domville and Ward were declared elected.5 Webster petitioned against the return, 11 May 1820, accusing Symons of ‘great partiality and injustice’, but the appointment of a committee was deferred. The petition was reintroduced, 31 Jan., but discharged, 8 Feb. 1821, as Webster had been declared bankrupt.6 Early in 1823 Stuart Wortley, who had recently purchased Mount Edgcumbe’s interest in the borough and become sole patron, was preparing to install his eldest son John, after Domville had vacated in order to contest county Dublin. However, Domville was defeated and was allowed to be ‘re-elected by his former constituents’.7 The inhabitants of Tintagel petitioned the Commons for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 9 May 1823, 25 Feb. 1825.8 In June 1823 a by-election was occasioned by Ward’s succession to the peerage, and John Stuart Wortley was nominated despite his absence abroad. It was rumoured that the London banker Rowland Stephenson*, who had recently challenged the established interests at West Looe and Newport, would ‘make an attempt’ at Bossiney, but the general impression was that ‘matters are too snugly managed there to admit of any chance of his success’. Instead, Edward Rose Tunno, a wealthy landowner from South Wales, appeared ‘with two eminent counsel ... to try what [could] be done’ on behalf of the ‘independent interest’. Tunno’s party were refused accommodation within the borough and obliged to ‘take up their quarters at Camelford’. The ‘innkeeper who had for many years past supported the independent interest’, evidently Avery, had ‘lately found it for his advantage to change sides’. On election day 13 votes were cast for Stuart Wortley, 17 tendered by freeholders for Tunno were rejected by the mayor, William Wade, and Stuart Wortley was declared elected. Afterwards, his supporters enjoyed a ‘good dinner’ at the Edgcumbe Arms while Tunno entertained his friends ‘at a private house’. Certain documents had reportedly been discovered which supported the contention that ‘every person having a freehold within the borough and residing within the parish’ was eligible to vote, and a petition by Tunno against the return was expected.9 That autumn John Stuart Wortley travelled to Bossiney to be installed as recorder, in place of the deceased Rashleigh. He wrote to a friend that his constituents might ‘well be flattered at anybody’s visit to such a country and on such roads’.10 Tunno’s petition was presented to the Commons, 6 Feb. 1824. A committee was appointed, 11 May, and ‘a number of witnesses’ summoned, but the freeholders’ claim to the franchise was rejected and Stuart Wortley confirmed in his seat, 14 May 1824. Sir Christopher Hawkins*, the Cornish boroughmonger, was informed by his attorney, John Edwards of Truro, that the committee had ‘sat so short a time’ that the petitioners evidently had ‘no case’. Edwards nevertheless added:

The evidence of Mr. Elford was, indeed, curious. Wherever the late Mr. Masterman had a hand in a borough, his object was to get rid of anything, and by any means, that could ever be set up against his principal. This he did in Fowey, by packed juries, and, so it seems, he and my old friend Elford did at Bossiney. I hope ... that a committee of appeal will set the matter right. Not that I approve ... of the meddlers who, without any permanent stake in the county, favour us with their periodical visits.11

The political situation in the borough was described by a local newspaper in October 1824 when, unusually, a mayoral contest took place. For some years it had been the practice for John Symons and William Wade to alternate in the office, but on this occasion an unsuccessful attempt was made to ‘set aside the established order’ by putting up John Wade to oppose William Wade. It was believed that ‘the chief cause of the contest was a desire to secure the usual compliment made to the returning officer’ at the parliamentary election, expected to take place in the next 12 months, which perhaps reflected local anxiety about the extent of the patron’s power now that he was in sole control. The freemen were also unhappy with ‘the distribution of ... favours bestowed by the patron, which they assert are unequally divided’. A ‘formidable opposition’ to the Stuart Wortley interest was being organized ‘under the sanction of Mr. Tunno’, who had recently purchased the Trebray estate within the borough, and the Tory lord warden of the stannaries, the 3rd marquess of Hertford, had apparently been invited to ‘enter the lists’. There was ‘also a party’ contending for the rights of the freeholders. Later that month, however, it emerged that Tunno and the patron had reached a ‘compromise’ whereby they agreed to share the representation.12 In a sign of the continuing divisions within the corporation, ‘a few’ of the freemen attended the court leet in October 1825 to elect a new mayor, only to be thwarted by the deliberate absence of the majority, which meant that William Wade held over.13 At the dissolution in May 1826 Domville transferred to Okehampton and Tunno offered with John Stuart Wortley, but a strong opposition was still said to exist and both seats were reckoned to be in jeopardy. According to a local newspaper, one opposition candidate eventually came forward, who was identified as ‘Sir Michael Stuart Wortley ... represented by Mr. Vizard, the late queen’s solicitor’. Although this raises the intriguing possibility of a rift within the patron’s family, no such individual can be traced. In the event, as the patron’s wife observed, there was ‘no contest ... only a little trouble’.14 Within days of the election, James Stuart Wortley was raised to the peerage as Baron Wharncliffe.

No further opposition to the patrons was manifested. There had been nine freeman admissions between 1820 and 1826, of whom three were members of the Wade family, two were Averys and one a Symons. Six more were admitted in 1827-8, including two Averys and a Glanville. Despite the relatively rapid expansion of freemen numbers, none of the rebel freeholders of 1820 had been brought on board.15 In 1828, when the county Member Sir Richard Vyvyan tried to mobilize local opinion against the small notes bill, he was informed that Bossiney corporation ‘appear quite afraid to convene a meeting or to forward any memorial to their representatives, unless directed by the immediate agents of ... Lord Wharncliffe to do so’.16 The peace of the borough was undisturbed by the Catholic question in 1829; both Members supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, in accordance with their previous views. At the general election of 1830 Stuart Wortley chose to contest Perth Burghs and his brother Charles was returned unopposed with Tunno; ‘the accustomed dinner was given’.17 An anti-slavery petition was forwarded to the Commons by the inhabitants of Tintagel, 10 Nov. 1830.18 In February 1831 Charles Stuart Wortley vacated to make room for his elder brother, whose election for the Burghs had been declared void.19 The Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed to disfranchise Bossiney, was opposed by the Members, who were undisturbed at the ensuing general election.20 John Stuart Wortley accepted that no case could be made for saving the borough, 20 July, but he insisted that it had ‘an open corporation’ and that only the ‘perfectly legitimate’ influence of ‘a landlord over his tenants’ was exercised. By the new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831, Bossiney was placed sixth in the list of the smallest English boroughs. It was duly disfranchised in 1832 and absorbed into the Eastern division of Cornwall.

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 501-2.
  • 2. Ibid. 34-35.
  • 3. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), i. 644; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 136-7; Parochial Hist. Cornw. iv. 231, 235-6; PP (1835), xxiii. 454.
  • 4. PP (1830-1), x. 60; (1831), xvi. 256; (1831-2), xxxvi. 34-35, 501-2; (1835), xxiii. 451-4; West Briton, 7 May 1824; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), 209-13; W.T. Lawrance, Parl. Rep. Cornw., 308-9.
  • 5. R. Cornw. Gazette, 26 Feb., 11 Mar.; West Briton, 10 Mar.; R. Institution Cornw. TAY/43, Bossiney ms pollbook (1820).
  • 6. CJ, lxxv. 196, 389; lxxvi. 18-19, 51-52; West Briton, 16 Feb. 1821.
  • 7. Add. 52011, f. 52; West Briton, 28 Feb., 17 Oct. 1823.
  • 8. CJ, lxxviii. 298; lxxx. 128.
  • 9. West Briton, 9, 30 May, 6 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 31 May, 7 June 1823.
  • 10. Add. 52011, f. 70; West Briton, 17 Oct. 1823.
  • 11. CJ, lxxix. 11, 345, 347, 365; West Briton, 7, 21 May; Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DD/J2/111, Edwards to Hawkins, 26 May 1824. Masterman was presumably William Masterman†, the Edgcumbe family agent and town clerk, 1781-6.
  • 12. West Briton, 15, 22 Oct. 1824.
  • 13. Ibid. 14 Oct. 1825.
  • 14. BL, Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 27 May; Sheffield Archives, Wharncliffe mss, Lady C. Stuart Wortley to Lady Erne, 10 June; West Briton, 2, 16 June; R. Cornw. Gazette, 10, 17 June 1826.
  • 15. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 501-2; Bossiney ms pollbook (1820).
  • 16. Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss DD/V/BO/47, Braddon to Vyvyan, 2 June 1828.
  • 17. West Briton, 30 July, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 53.
  • 19. West Briton, 11, 25 Feb. 1831.
  • 20. Ibid. 29 Apr., 6 May 1831.