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 corporation

Estimated number qualified to vote:

under 20


4,549 (1821); 4,795 (1831)


25 May 1827ABERCROMBY re-elected after appointment to office
 MACDONALD re-elected after appointment to office
15 Feb. 1830THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY vice Abercromby, appointed to office
2 Aug. 1830(SIR) JAMES MACDONALD, bt.
 Edmund Hopkinson
 Edward Cheney
10 Dec. 1830MACDONALD re-elected after appointment to office
13 June 1832MACAULAY re-elected after appointment to office

Main Article

‘I could not come through that villainous hole, Calne, without cursing corruption at every step; and, when I was coming by an ill-looking, broken-winded place, called the town hall, I suppose, I poured out a double dose of execration upon it’. This was how William Cobbett† described his ride through the ‘vile rotten borough’ in 1826.1 Fondly remembered by Charles Lamb as ‘sweet Calne’, it lay in the parish and hundred of the same name, and was ‘a mere country town of respectable appearance and considerable extent’, having lost its once flourishing cloth production.2 Following a Commons ruling, 25 Feb. 1723, the franchise had been withdrawn from the fractious inhabitant householders and confined to a self-electing corporation comprising two guild stewards, who acted as joint returning officers, and an indefinite number of ‘ancient burgesses’ chosen from among the residents. There had been no contest since 1734, and the number of burgesses, under the domination of one or two local families, remained small.3

In the 1760s the corporation had come more or less entirely under the sway of the 2nd earl of Shelburne of neighbouring Bowood, though a spirit of opposition to the patron occasionally arose thereafter. On the death in 1805 of the marquess of Lansdowne, as Shelburne had become in 1786, the interest was inherited by his elder surviving son, who died four years later. He was succeeded as the 3rd marquess by his younger brother, who, as Lord Henry Petty, Lord Grenville’s chancellor of the exchequer and the rising hope of the Whigs, had once represented the borough.4 Like his father, Lansdowne was a man of wide intellectual interests, who came to wield major political influence. Unlike his father, who was infamous for his secretiveness and duplicity, his character was hailed as that of a disinterested aristocratic Whig leader, but he lacked his ruthlessness. Lord John Russell* complained in August 1827 that, ‘honest as the purest virgin’, Lansdowne ‘is most unfit to deal with men in important political transactions; he is too yielding, too mild and has too little ambition’. He wrote to Lansdowne himself, 4 Jan. 1829, that ‘I cannot help saying that I sometimes wish the pure gold of your integrity were mixed with a little more alloy of ambition, and self-love; for then you might be stamped with the king’s head, and pass current throughout the country’. Though he was talked of as a possible prime minister in the late 1820s he was passed over, and never fulfilled his early expectations.5

Lansdowne, who liked to nominate friends of a congenial cast of mind, had returned the Whig advisers James Abercromby and James Macdonald since 1812 and 1816, respectively. Although some doubt had been privately raised the previous autumn, when Macdonald counselled Abercromby against supporting the Liverpool ministry’s repressive legislation, they offered again at the general election of 1820.6 As was recorded in the corporation minute book, they were re-elected by the guild stewards Samuel Viveash, the head of the leading Calne clothier family, and Francis Child, a plumber, and nine others, being ‘the greater part of the burgesses of the said borough’, and were also thanked for their opposition to the ‘Six Acts’.7 At a town meeting, 13 Sept., Nathan Atherton, an attorney, and George Baily, a woolstapler, moved a laudatory address to Queen Caroline. The London barrister Henry Alworth Merewether, a native of the town who later succeeded to nearby Castlefield, attempted to delay it until the proceedings in Parliament had been completed, but it was agreed, and was presented to the queen by George Page, a surgeon, 2 Oct. 1820. The extent of support for her was shown by the joyous celebrations which attended the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties, and the muted feasting which marked George IV’s coronation the following year.8 Calne petitions against the duty on imported wool were presented to the Lords by Lansdowne, 2 Apr., and to the Commons by Abercromby, 13 Apr., and for revision of the criminal laws, again by them, 12, 13 Apr. 1821.9 Anti-slavery petitions from the town were brought up in the Commons, 15 May 1823, 8 Mar. 1824, 20 Feb. 1826, 25 July 1828, and the Lords, 9 Mar. 1824, 13 Feb. 1826, 8 July 1828.10

Following a report in the Devizes Gazette, 4 Nov. 1824, that the burgesses of Calne intended to add to their number ‘by extending the elective franchise more liberally than heretofore among the freeholders of that borough’, and a denial of this by an ‘Inhabitant of Calne’ a week later, ‘Medium’ attributed the paragraphs to an unnamed resident embittered by his exclusion from the corporation. The ‘Inhabitant’ retorted that there was no similarly sized borough ‘wherein the elective franchise is so unjustly granted and so partially extended, and that by this very corporate body, who are always calling out for a reform in Parliament’. His correspondent declined to reply to three questions: why did so much borough patronage go to the families of burgesses, who paid the election expenses and who supplied the local newspapers? Having seen off his opponent, the ‘Inhabitant’ gloated that ‘I suppose we shall be told next that the borough of Calne is not represented by personal influence’. His challenge, however, was taken up by ‘Succedaneum’, 16 Dec. 1824, who stated that ‘every member bears his vote to the hustings untainted by fee or reward’, that newspaper and election costs were paltry and were divided between a large number of the inhabitants, and that the burgesses, though friends of Lansdowne, could act independently on occasion. The unwearied ‘Inhabitant’ contested each of these points in detail, revealing that ten members of just two intermarried families effectively had a narrow majority in the corporation of 19, and suggesting that the simplest way for the burgesses to prove their reform credentials would be for them to increase their number, and so reduce Lansdowne’s influence.11

When Abercromby introduced his motion in the Commons to amend the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr. 1826, Canning, the foreign secretary, joked that if he were a reformer he would move to insert Calne instead of Edinburgh, since it had even fewer electors. That month the ‘Inhabitant’ returned to the fray, denying a report that the Members and burgesses had each contributed £50 to the local poor, whose condition he asserted was uniformly neglected by the corporation. He ridiculed the sole admission to the ruling body of William Wayte of Highlands (who was sworn, 15 Apr.), a relative of the other predominating family, as an attempt to bolster their strength against a ‘spirit of independence beginning to manifest itself among the junior burgesses’. He continued, ‘I am inclined to think, however, that they have not, as they expect, got the right weight (Wayte) in their scale. He will not, in my opinion, be quite so subservient as they could wish’. He also repeated his call for a petition to Parliament

urging the justice of the prayer by stating the number of burgesses as compared with the number of inhabitants, the amount of property they possess in the borough as compared with the whole and, lastly, stating the number that have been elected as burgesses, possessing no property in the borough, not even being housekeepers.

Having received no reply, his arguments were repeated by ‘Another Inhabitant’, who wrote a second letter in June, on the eve of the general election, pointing out that at a meeting of inhabitants at the Lansdowne Arms, the usual toast to the Members had had to be omitted for fear of disturbances. At a gathering on 6 June 1826 Merewether declared that ‘he was confident the inhabitants had rights of election in them; and parties having such rights are bound to vindicate them’. He was supported by the only burgess present, John Wayte, a currier, Page and Atherton, and they agreed to investigate further the issue of the residents’ rights.12

A rebellion arose and Abercromby reported to the leading Whig lawyer Henry Brougham*, 6 June 1826, that, of the then 17 corporators, ‘at present there are nine against and eight for, without any hope that I can see of turning the scale in our favour’. He explained that the ‘real reason is jealousy between the powerful families in the borough, the influence of opinion which taunts them with being the humble servants of a lord and the love of lucre in others’.13 The next day Macdonald and Abercromby, who were at Bowood, though Lansdowne was confined to Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, by gout, received a note from William Wayte, saying that he had failed in his expedition to London to find a candidate. He had apparently approached Sir Edmund Antrobus of Amesbury Abbey, Salisbury and Antrobus Hall, Cheshire; Sir Coutts Trotter of Westville, Lincolnshire; and the Bank director William Manning*, who ‘was gone to Penryn’. He had not proceeded further, not choosing to put the borough into the market, and the sitting Members had therefore, as Macdonald put it, ‘had a hair’s-breadth ’scape, and owe it I know not whether to the timidity or the forbearance of the enemy’. They called that day on Wayte, who declared

that he might perhaps appear censurable, but that in fact he could not help himself, for that without consenting to be considered a mere tool of Lord Lansdowne’s (which with all the respect he had for him he could not consent to do) he could not avoid concurring with those who thought it right to mark their sense of the little respect with which they were treated by his lordship, that he should have been a mere non-entity if he had not done what he had - with a parcel of trash of the same kind, ill stammered out, implying that he had followed and not led. On pressing him as to the grievances we heard again of the discontinuance of the invitations to dinner at Bowood, of the special favour in which the Viveash family were held, of the interference of Atherton and of the offence given by Abercromby’s having addressed his letter to the guild stewards through Atherton, which is made one of the leading pretexts for the immediate explosion.

He indicated that he would only attend the election if a new opposition arose, and had told his friends that ‘they would do enough if they absented themselves from the dinner’, which proved that ‘the object of some of them was only to show their majority and to use that as the means of canvassing their own importance in the borough’. The Members then visited the ringleader Charles Wayte, a corporator who had accompanied his relation to London, ‘and found him looking still more foolish than the other, with plenty of malignity disguised under an assumed frankness, for he is the only real enemy and he is a bitter one’. They spent that day and the next hearing the complaints of the malcontents, most of whom were recalcitrant, except for John Wayte, who ‘seemed not a little ashamed of his brother mutineers’. Abercromby reckoned that ‘we have ten votes on which perfect reliance can be placed: the steady eight [and] William and John Wayte’. Although he believed that any adventurer would be rebuffed, he found it strange that the disaffected party had apparently not agreed the feasible plan of establishing control over one seat, nor had they thought of asking the local country gentleman George Walker Heneage† of Compton House, the son of the former Member for Cricklade, to come forward. Like Wadham Locke† of Rowdeford House, near Devizes, he was in fact spoken of as a possible candidate, but in the end no one emerged to challenge the Members.14

Abercromby and Macdonald were proposed, 12 June 1826, and made speeches justifying their political conduct and in support of reforming the franchise. The Irish poet Tom Moore, who lived at Sloperton Cottage on the Bowood estate, was pressed into service, and related in his journal that he

walked between the two Members to the town hall - no pelting, contrary to what we had anticipated - a few slight hisses during a part of Abercromby’s speech, but they soon died away - one of the Calnites, at the close of the proceedings, said that they expected to have heard Mr. Moore speak - ‘so you will’, said Macdonald, ‘if you’ll come to the dinner’. The Calnite (who was one of the dissentients) shook his head negatively.

Most of the independent party declined to vote and presumably boycotted the dinner, so that the Members were elected by a minority and ‘now laugh in their sleeves’.15 Beneath the election entry in the corporation minute book there appear only nine signatures, comprising the ‘steady eight’ supporters (including five Viveashes), and one of the Waytes’ friends, the woolstapler Robert Baily, who was presumably obliged to sign in his capacity as junior guild steward.16 Moore’s narrative continued:

The dinner at three o’clock - furiously hot - my health proposed by one of the burgesses - made a speech in which I endeavoured to give as popular a complexion to the transaction as possible - did not blink the question of reform, but said that ‘however unluckily, Calne furnished of an example of that anomaly and inequality in our representation which I, in common with all friends to reform lamented, yet I could not but look upon it as an instance of that compensating power, by which Providence so often educed good out of evil, that Calne should be able to place two Members in the House, who whenever the day of parliamentary purification arrives, will be among the first to plead for that great cause, and thus best evince their gratitude to the town by raising her to that rank in the representative body of England which she so well deserves to occupy’. Something of this kind. Both Abercromby and Macdonald seemed delighted with what I had said - the latter particularly overflowed with praises of it, and made a speech afterwards near an hour long about me - the day altogether went off much better than we could have expected - an unspeakable relief, however, to get away.17

The near disaster led an observer to comment that ‘in the next Parliament Lord Lansdowne will probably lose one Member at Calne’, where the electors were ‘obviously tired of getting nothing’.18

Abercromby had already turned his thoughts to Lansdowne’s future management of the borough:

My belief is that this commotion has been useful: it has disclosed all their feelings, it has broken out before they were hardened in their opposition, it anticipates what would have occurred on S[amuel] Viveash’s death. My present notion is that you should come here as soon as possible after the election and see all the burgesses separately. The object should be to effect as good an understanding as you can among the respectable part of the Viveash and Wayte factions, and regulate all the details of borough proceedings in the way most palatable to both. The great difficulty will be the choice of your burgesses and when they are to be present I cannot tell. I think that [William] Wayte of Highlands is vain rather than bad. He expects and will require to be treated as a neighbour. The others will look for more attention, and that done they will be ready enough to look down upon the humble burgesses. You have two powerful rival families and how to be well with both is the question. S[amuel] Viveash may speak for his family, but Mr. Wayte cannot do so for all of them who bear his name. Charles Wayte is a political as well as a personal enemy ... You must bear in mind that S[amuel] Viveash is old and that the Waytes are strong. I do not know what are the politics of Mr. Wayte, but Charles is a Tory. The party in the town not burgesses exercise a great influence on the others by their tenants.19

Ill feeling certainly lingered on, and at a meeting of the ‘Friends of Independence’ in Calne, 23 June 1826, Atherton was hard put to restrain the expression of hostility to the governing interest, and the Members were only grudgingly toasted. Page acknowledged that ‘although a symptom of independence had certainly been evinced, it had not yet duly received birth’, and William Wayte, echoing Page’s call for an extension of the franchise, explained his conduct at the election and promised that ‘to prove the sincerity of dependence, he had gone so far as to say that he would take part with the offended party, if they had an equality on their side’.20 In October it emerged that Lansdowne ‘in order to insure his future return of the Members as heretofore ... waited personally on each of the dissentient burgesses, expressing a hope they would no longer continue to act hostile to or oppose his interest in the representation’. However, only two corporators accepted his invitation to dinner on this occasion, and anger at the domination of Lansdowne and the Viveashes surfaced again in February 1827.21 In May that year Atherton and two others were added to the corporation, and two more were elected the following year (though they had to be resworn in 1831 because of a legal difficulty).22

By now the undisputed leader of the moderate Whigs, Lansdowne played a key role in the negotiations in early 1827 that ended with the formation of the Canning ministry, in which he eventually became home secretary. Abercromby was appointed judge advocate-general and Macdonald was given a place at the India board; in order to avoid two separate by-elections, they were returned for Calne on the same day, 25 May. Unlike at the general election, they were unanimously chosen, 17 names (including the five Viveashes, and William and John Wayte) being listed in the minute book.23 Lansdowne brought up in the Lords a petition for repeal of the Test Acts from the Protestant Dissenters, 8 June, as did Abercromby in the Commons, 12 June 1827.24 One reason why Lansdowne, who had remained at the home office under Canning’s successor Lord Goderich, was removed by the new prime minister, the duke of Wellington, in January 1828, was that retaining him would have meant providing places for his immediate connections, such as the Calne Members.25 The new town hall, which Lansdowne had offered to provide in November 1826, was used for the first time in February 1829. The corporation agreed an address in favour of Catholic emancipation later that spring.26

Abercromby left the Commons in early 1830 on his appointment as chief baron of exchequer in Scotland. Lansdowne chose as his successor the brilliant young lawyer and writer Thomas Babington Macaulay, son of the anti-slavery campaigner Zachary Macaulay, whose Edinburgh Review article in praise of the Canning ministry had first brought him to Lansdowne’s attention. He made clear that the seat was destined for his elder son Lord Kerry†, who would shortly come of age, but gave Macaulay the freedom to vote as he desired, ‘far from wishing or expecting this accordance [with him on political questions] to be universal or servile’. The nomination of an inexperienced stranger caused resentment in Calne, and Macaulay, with Kerry’s support, had to undertake a careful canvass. As he wrote to his father from Bowood, Macaulay was

glad that I stayed here. A burgess of some influence, who, at the last election attempted to get up an opposition to the Lansdowne interest, has just arrived. I called on him this morning and, though he was a little ungracious at first, succeeded in obtaining his promise. Without him, indeed, my return would have been secure; but both from motives of interest and from a sense of gratitude I think it best to leave nothing undone which may tend to keep Lord Lansdowne’s influence here unimpaired against future elections.

He was elected unopposed, 15 Feb., all the Viveashes and Waytes being among the 18 signatories attached to the election return.27 Brougham informed Lord Grey that Lansdowne’s passing over the older and abler Whig lawyer Thomas Denman*, who was currently without a seat

has given us all much pain, and me more than any one. It is partly owing, however, to a misunderstanding, for he did not like to offer Denman a seat as locum tenens for Kerry. I don’t believe any apprehension of Windsor entered into it. Lansdowne’s usual love of a novelty perhaps did, though it certainly ought not; but you know his weakness.28

The 3rd Baron Holland asked in a letter to his elder, but illegitimate, son Charles Richard Fox, 7 Feb. 1830, then residing in Canada: ‘who knows had you been here or Henry [Fox*, his legitimate younger brother] a politician, whether he would not have thought of one of you for it? Not I certainly’.29

In 1830 the Calne bookseller and stationer Thomas Philip Baily published a Short History of the Borough of Calne, which rehearsed the familiar complaint of how the original householder franchise had been usurped by those ‘burgesses’ who were members of the corporate body. At the general election of that year a contest was set on foot, motivated

by the conduct of the self-denominated burgesses, who almost invariably fill the vacancies which may occur in their corporate body, by electing either comparative stranger, or mere youths, tools in fact, to the exclusion of the old and respectable inhabitants.

Macdonald and Macaulay were confident of success, although, according to Lansdowne, there were ‘several wandering aspirants to Parliament around the place, attracted by the odour of a new right of election’.30 In the end, a ‘temperate and conciliating’ address was issued by two independent candidates: the army agent Edmund Hopkinson of Edgeworth Manor, Gloucestershire, and a reformer, Colonel Edward Cheney of Gaddesby, Leicestershire.31 In what was evidently an attempt by the two principal families to resist the exertions of the ‘men and tenants’, Macdonald was proposed by Samuel Viveash senior and William Wayte, while Macaulay was nominated by two other corporators. Cheney was introduced ‘in an excellent address’ by Page, and Hopkinson, ‘in a neat and appropriate speech’, by Henry Harris, a baker. The sitting Members received the votes of the 18 burgesses, ‘including some, as to the validity of whose votes objections were raised, in consequence of non-residence in the borough, and others on account of not being householders and rated to the poor rate’. Their opponents had the votes of 77 inhabitant householders tendered in their favour, all of which were entered on the poll book as having been rejected, ‘on the ground that they had no right to vote’. Macdonald and Macaulay, duly returned, were heard coolly and politely, but Cheney and Hopkinson were received with ‘thunderous applause’.32

The defeated candidates’ petition was presented to the Commons by the Irish Catholic leader Daniel O’Connell, 3 Nov. 1830.33 Their legal advisers prepared objections to the qualifications of nine of the corporators as ‘legal burgesses’, alleging for instance that Joseph Baily, a clothier

was not at the time of his pretended swearing and admission as a burgess of the said borough a resiant, nor a householder, nor paying scot and lot within the said borough but only an inmate, and that he was never duly sworn or admitted a burgess of the said borough.34

Merewether, as he wrote in his History of the Boroughs, argued this last point on the basis of the

burgesses being sworn at ‘Ogborn court’, a village about 13 miles distant, which it is impossible to attribute to any corporate right or obligation; for Ogborn itself is not a corporate place; and that the members of the corporation at Calne, should be sworn in at the manor court of Ogborn, is too absurd and anomalous to be for an instant supported.35

He opened their case before the committee, 25 Nov., but was soon interrupted, and the chairman, Charles Williams Wynn, who told Macaulay in private that the petition ought to have been declared frivolous and vexatious, surprised everyone by refusing to allow the case to be gone into ‘because a previous determination had finally settled the right of election in that borough so clearly and explicitly, that it neither required not admitted any explanation’. The franchise was agreed to be in the ‘ancient burgesses’, but the petitioners had contended that these were the ‘inhabitant householders resiant’, while to the defendants it comprised only the ‘select body of the corporation’. The committee, when it reported on 30 Nov. 1830, decided, in a new formulation, that the franchise was in ‘the ancient burgesses of the said borough only, meaning by the term ancient burgesses, burgesses duly elected and sworn according to the ancient constitution of the borough of Calne’, and that Macdonald and Macaulay had been duly elected.36 Merewether believed that this

determination is certainly very extraordinary, inasmuch as the sitting Members had been returned by the burgesses, claiming to be members of the corporation, whose right the committee negatived. But if they intended, that though the burgesses were not entitled as corporators, yet having been sworn at Ogborn court, they might be entitled as sworn according to the ancient custom of the borough, in that respect also the decision was untenable: because Calne had not belonged to the manor of Ogborn, but at a period long after it had first returned Members to Parliament.37

The petition of Page and six other inhabitant householders against this decision was presented to the Commons by Sir Robert Vaughan, 27 June 1831, but its consideration was put off and ultimately abandoned.38

Following a meeting in Calne, 1 Nov., anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were presented to the Lords by Lansdowne, 11 Nov., and to the Commons by Macdonald, 16 Nov. 1830.39 On the formation of the Grey ministry that month, Lansdowne became lord president and Macdonald, resuming his former office, was re-elected unopposed for Calne, the entry in the minute book having 15 signatures beneath it.40 During the ‘Swing’ riots, the Rev. William Lisle Bowles, vicar of Bremhill, related to Lansdowne, 24 Nov. 1830, that

all seem well disposed here and at Calne, and there will be a meeting at Calne, Friday, to take to the state of the labouring poor into consideration and to swear special constables - for every one, who had even a hearth, hardly knows how long he may have one or his life in safety.41

Lansdowne, one of the more reluctant parliamentary reformers, was criticized as the only possessor of a close borough in the new cabinet.42 A numerously signed reform petition from Calne was presented to the Lords by Lord Radnor, 17 Feb., and to the Commons by the advanced Whig Henry Warburton, 26 Feb. 1831.43 Under the criteria adopted for the ministry’s reform proposals, announced on 1 Mar., Calne, whose parish had a population of over 4,000, escaped disfranchisement of any sort. As early as the following day aspersions began to be cast on the motives lying behind the decision to retain this Whig pocket borough. Although it received a compliment from the Tory Lord Mahon for providing a seat for his gifted fellow historian Macaulay, the radical Henry Hunt wondered ‘by what chance the ministers have overlooked that most rotten and stinking hole of corruption in their sweeping measure of reform’. Following the staunch Tory John Wilson Croker’s sally at the expense of the contiguous ‘liberty of Bowood’, 4 Mar., William Peel’s complaint about the unjust treatment of Tamworth in comparison with Calne, 7 Mar., and O’Connell’s attack on its patron, 8 Mar., ministers were forced to explain the anomaly of its continued representation. Another reform petition from the inhabitants was brought up by the county Member John Benett, 9 Mar., when he stated that

with respect to the influence a noble marquess is said to have in this borough, I have the satisfaction of knowing that he is as anxious it should be open as the inhabitants themselves, for he is sure always to possess the influence that is dearest to him, the influence of rank, of neighbourhood, of kindness of heart.

Fourteen corporators agreed a reform petition to the Commons, 7 Mar., and 12 signed one to the Lords, 12 Mar. The former was brought up by Macdonald, 14 Mar., when he stressed the honesty of the electors, but Hunt drew on his experience as a native of the area to declare that ‘it is a common expression in that part of the country, "that the Members for Calne are just as much under the control of Lord Lansdowne, as regards their votes as Members of this House, as if they were his lackeys"’. Presenting the latter petition, 15 Mar., Lansdowne stated ‘in justice to the corporation, that any influence which has been exerted, or which has prevailed in the borough of Calne in elections, has never been purchased or sold’.44 On 15 Apr. further grievances were expressed at the inconsistency of preserving Calne, while, for example, as its Member William Bankes complained, the similarly sized Tory-controlled borough of Marlborough was scheduled to lose one seat. Responding to Russell’s request for information, Lansdowne wrote to him that

in the town I have three houses rated at £10 and perhaps two or three more of that value in the ‘liberty of Bowood’, which Mr. Croker thought proper to allude to, consisting almost exclusively of the park and garden. There is only one house that can confer a vote, the others being lodges and labourers’ cottages. In the remainder of the parish I of course have farm houses, but there are other considerable proprietors besides me. The result is that if I am able to return one of my family for one of the seats, it will be by the influence of neighbourhood, etc., not by direct influence.45

Russell made use of this information in again vindicating Calne’s continued existence in the House, 18 Apr.:

The principle of the bill is to take away the power of nomination, not the influence of property or of character, and if the House were totally to disfranchise Calne, Lord Lansdowne would still retain that influence which is properly due to a man enjoying nobility alike by his origin and talents, his high title, his vast possessions and his great ability - an ability for public affairs, united with a moderation of ambition rarely joined to such powers, and an integrity upon which no spot has ever been cast, even in the utmost heat and bitterness of political contention.

Both Macdonald and Macaulay, whose scruples about resigning his seat in the event of his opposing government on the issue of slavery had been brushed aside by his patron,46 voted for the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution.

They had issued a joint address, 19 Mar., when a short-lived challenge was mounted by Walker Heneage. In fact Macdonald, assured of a seat for Hampshire, where he now resided, withdrew, and was replaced by Charles Fox, much to the annoyance of the ‘greater part of the inhabitants’, who had hoped that Lansdowne would have

waived his privilege and permitted the election of a country gentleman, known and beloved by all the inhabitants, who takes an active part in promoting every measure calculated for the benefit of the town ... and whose opinion on the subject of reform accords with that of the more potent peer. But his ‘lordship could bear no rival near the throne’, and therefore the burgesses, with the exception of two or three, who chose to show that their practice and principles agree, were reduced to the bitter alternative of voting for a man of whom they knew nothing and who, before the day of canvassing, they had never seen.

Macaulay and Fox, who were both reformers, were duly elected, 2 May, by 11 of the 15 resident burgesses, the attempted candidacy of Hopkinson, who nominated himself, and of Cheney, who was absent, being disregarded. Fox wrote to his father that day that his friend James Hale

assisted in showing up a yellow faced apothecary who, appearing to wish to open the borough on public grounds, was pretty well convicted of having thought of nothing but himself and of having said to one of the burgesses that, if they elected him one, the rest of the inhabitants of the town might fight for it as they might.

During the dinner, Kerry, partly to forestall Hopkinson’s expectations, announced that he would stand at the next general election, and the hope was expressed that the passage of the bill would heal the rift between the ‘men of Calne’ and the burgesses.47

On the reintroduction of the reform bill, Bankes again raised the anomaly of Calne’s preservation, 5 July 1831, wondering ‘with what longing eagerness must one noble lord of the conclave have listened, when the demarcation was made, to hear that Calne was excluded’. Many complaints were voiced in committee about the quality of the statistics used and the inconsistency of allowing the extension of Calne to include the whole parish when other pocket boroughs were to be abolished. Russell was again forced to defend its treatment, 26 July, after Croker had shown that with only 997 male inhabitants residing within the borough, it presumably only had a total population of about 2,000 and ought to be disfranchised. The following day Henry Boldero, moving for the postponement of discussion on the partial disfranchisement of his own borough of Chippenham, contended that it was of more consequence than Calne, although he admitted such a statement was ‘hackneyed as a matter of observation in the House’. On 30 July Bankes imagined how

a traveller, passing along the Bath road, who, after he shall have gone through the wide and handsome street of Marlborough, shall, at eight miles distance, find himself in the petty town of Calne, will, if the case has not passed into a proverb, hear with incomprehensible surprise that two Members are granted to Calne, and but one to Marlborough.

The Calne ‘Constitutional and Independent Association’, formed to emancipate the franchise from the corporation, held its first anniversary dinner, 3 Aug. 1831.48

Ministers were anxious to bring Macaulay, who, like his colleague, divided regularly in favour of reform, into office. Lansdowne, however, suspicious of the inflammation of public opinion in favour of reform and opposed to the creation of sufficient peers to carry it through the Lords, found excuses to delay his promotion in the uncertain prospect of his re-election for Calne.49 Fears about the level of hostility to the Lansdowne interest were made all the more real by the fact that, when the revised bill was introduced in December 1831, Calne, with 710 houses, of which 238 were worth £10 per annum, and paying £740 in assessed taxes, was scheduled to lose one seat, to the delight of Croker and the Tories, whose campaign against it was thus vindicated.50 Ministers were therefore prevented from appointing Macaulay to the India board that month, in place of Macdonald, who had offered to resign in his favour.51 Margaret Macaulay recollected that

the people of Calne, Lord Lansdowne says, are so angry that the borough has been transferred to schedule B, that he does not like to hazard a new election, not feeling sure of succeeding in it. His feeling seems to be, that if Tom was to get in again, as most likely he would, that any struggle there at this time might be prejudicial to Lord Kerry at the next election, by creating discontent and bad blood ... Tom’s impression is that his colleagues think it a crotchety objection, and are a little vexed with him altogether. He never was hearty for the reform bill, and now that it touches him he may be more out of humour with it and disposed to make much of a little.52

The partial disfranchisement of Calne was agreed without debate or a division, 23 Feb. Macaulay presented a petition from the inhabitants against this determination, 28 Feb., but acknowledged that they had to abide by the principles of the bill.53 In the Lords, 30 May, Lansdowne explained that

in the first bill population alone was taken as the basis and, according to that standard, Calne was to retain its two Members and Chippenham only one; but, in consequence of the criterion being changed now, of taking not merely population, but also taxation as the basis of representation, these towns changed places ... The line has been drawn and, in this instance, acted upon with the most rigid impartiality.

He repeated this the following day, though he said that he had received representations from Calne against the loss of a Member and believed that there was a petition which had gone astray. By the Boundary Act, the borough was extended to include the whole of the parish, and parts of the neighbouring parishes of Blackland and Calstone Willington, which increased its area from 1.6 to 14.2 square miles.54

Macaulay finally joined the government in June 1832 and, accompanied by Kerry, was re-elected unopposed for Calne by 13 of the corporators.55 He came in for Leeds at the general election in December 1832, when Abercromby was returned for Edinburgh and Fox for Tavistock. At Calne, which remained a proprietary borough after the passage of the Reform Act, Kerry was, as expected, elected unopposed as a Liberal.56 He sat until his death in 1836, and the following year the seat went to his younger brother, the earl of Shelburne, who occupied it until he was summoned to the Lords in his father’s barony in 1856. He succeeded his father as 4th marquess of Lansdowne in 1863, but died three years later, after which his elder son, the 5th marquess, continued to control the interest, returning his younger brother, the minister and historian Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, from 1868 until the abolition of the borough in 1885.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, ii. 405, 406.
  • 2. A.E.W. Marsh, Hist. Calne, 3, 121; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 793; PP (1831-2), xl. 97; (1835), xxiv. 574; VCH Wilts. xvii. 27-44.
  • 3. Marsh, 38, 39, 41, 120; CJ, xx. 273; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 151; PP (1835), xxiv. 571, 572.
  • 4. Oldfield, v. 151, 152; HP Commons, 1754-90, i. 408; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 413, 414; VCH Wilts. xvii. 101.
  • 5. CP, vii. 440; Walpole, Russell, i. 136-7; Lansdowne mss; The Times, 2 Feb. 1863.
  • 6. NLS mss 24770, f. 1.
  • 7. Wilts. RO, Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 28; G18/1/12, bdle. 2.
  • 8. Ibid. G18/1/2, p. 31; Devizes Gazette, 21 Sept., 16 Nov. 1820, 26 July 1821; Salisbury Jnl. 9 Oct.; Add. 51686, Lansdowne to Holland, 19 Nov. 1820.
  • 9. Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 41; LJ, liv. 156, 324; CJ, lxxvi. 262; The Times, 3, 13, 14 Apr. 1821.
  • 10. CJ, lxxviii. 312; lxxix. 130; lxxxi. 81; lxxxiii. 555; LJ, lvi. 67; lviii. 34; lx. 610.
  • 11. Devizes Gazette, 4, 11, 18, 25 Nov., 2, 9, 16, 30 Dec. 1824, 20 Jan. 1825.
  • 12. Ibid. 19 Jan., 13, 27 Apr., 1, 8 June 1826; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, pp. 64, 66, 68.
  • 13. Brougham mss; Add. 40387, f. 111; Moore Jnl. iii. 945, 946.
  • 14. Lansdowne mss, Macdonald to Lansdowne, 7 June, Abercromby to same [7, 8 June]; Devizes Gazette, 8 June 1826.
  • 15. Devizes Gazette, 15 June 1826; Moore Jnl. iii. 946.
  • 16. Lansdowne mss, Macdonald to Lansdowne, 7 June 1826; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 70.
  • 17. Moore Jnl. iii. 946, 947.
  • 18. Baring Jnls. i. 47, 48.
  • 19. Lansdowne mss, Abercromby to Lansdowne [7 June 1826].
  • 20. Devizes Gazette, 29 June 1826.
  • 21. Ibid. 12, 19 Oct. 1826, 1, 8, 15 Feb., 1 Mar. 1827.
  • 22. Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, pp. 75, 78, 79, 84, 86, 87, 112.
  • 23. Ibid. p. 80; Add. 52447, f. 107; Devizes Gazette, 24, 31 May 1827.
  • 24. LJ, lix. 389; CJ, lxxxii. 545; The Times, 9, 13 June 1827.
  • 25. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1461.
  • 26. Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, pp. 72, 89, 96; Marsh 114-16.
  • 27. Macaulay Letters, i. 263-6; ‘Selina Macaulay’s Diary’, Bull. of New York Pub. Lib. lxvi (1962), 440, 441; Wilts. RO, Creswick mss 137/97, ‘Caution. Borough of Calne’, 8 Feb.; Devizes Gazette, 18, 25 Feb., 4 Mar. 1830; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 98.
  • 28. Brougham, Life and Times, iii. 35.
  • 29. Add. 51785.
  • 30. Devizes Gazette, 8, 29 July; Add. 51687, Lansdowne to Holland, 28 July 1830; Macaulay Letters, i. 276, 278, 279.
  • 31. Not to be confused with his nephew Capt. Edward Cheney of Badger Hall, Salop (W.G.D. Fletcher, Leics. Peds. and R. Descents (1887), 196).
  • 32. Devizes Gazette, 5 Aug. 1830; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 102; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 507.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvi. 14.
  • 34. Calne borough recs. G18/1/13, ‘Calne election’.
  • 35. H.A. Merewether and A.J. Stephens, Hist. Boroughs and Municipal Corporations, iii. 2195.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxvi. 133, 135; Devizes Gazette, 2, 9, 16 Dec. 1830; Macaulay Letters, i. 312.
  • 37. Merewether and Stephens, iii. 2197.
  • 38. Devizes Gazette, 30 June, 7 July 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 566, 705, 737.
  • 39. Devizes Gazette, 4, 11 Nov. 1830; LJ, lxiii. 41; CJ, lxxxvi. 86.
  • 40. Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 108.
  • 41. Lansdowne mss.
  • 42. Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 43. Devizes Gazette, 10, 17 Feb. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 233; CJ, lxxxvi. 309.
  • 44. CJ, lxxxvi. 355, 372; LJ, lxiii. 325; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, pp. 110, 111; Devizes Gazette, 10 Mar. 1831.
  • 45. Add. 38080, f. 50.
  • 46. Mems. of Clan ‘Aulay’, 209.
  • 47. Fox Talbot Mus. (Lacock), Fox Talbot mss, unknown to Fox Talbot, 24 Mar.; Devizes Gazette, 24 Mar., 14, 28 Apr., 5 May 1831; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 114; Add. 51786; Macaulay Letters, ii. 8, 9, 12-14.
  • 48. Devizes Gazette, 11 Aug. 1831.
  • 49. Add. 51563, Holland to Brougham [bef. 27 Oct. 1831]; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 163, 164, 236, 260.
  • 50. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 68, 69, 309; xxvii. 46, 47; xl. 97, 98; Croker Pprs. ii. 141; Wellington mss WP1/1201/31.
  • 51. Lansdowne mss, Grey to Lansdowne, 27 Dec.; Grey mss, reply, 28 Dec. 1831; Wilts. RO, Hobhouse mss 145/2/b, Hobhouse to Lady Hobhouse, 28 Jan. 1832; Holland House Diaries, 97, 106, 120; Baring Jnls. i. 92.
  • 52. Mems. of ‘Clan Aulay’, 225, 226, 231, 232.
  • 53. CJ, lxxxvii. 152.
  • 54. PP (1835), xxiv. 571; Marsh, 51; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432.
  • 55. Devizes Gazette, 7, 14, 21 June 1832; Macaulay Letters, ii. 122, 123, 130, 131; Calne borough recs. G18/1/2, p. 120.
  • 56. Lansdowne mss, Lansdowne to Rice, 14 Dec.; Devizes Gazette, 13, 20 Dec. 1832, 24 Jan. 1833; Gash, 214; R.W. Davis, ‘Whigs and Idea of Electoral Deference’, Durham Univ. Jnl. lxvii (1974), 86.