Weymouth and Melcombe Regis


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

The two boroughs were united by Act of Parliament in 1571, and returned four Members

Right of Election:

in the freeholders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 600-800

Number of voters:

524 in Feb. 1828


(1821): Weymouth 2,370; Melcombe Regis 4,252: (1831) Weymouth 2,529; Melcombe Regis 5,126


11 Feb. 1824WALLACE re-elected after appointment to office 
 James William Farrer153
20 Feb. 1828EDWARD BURTENSHAW SUGDEN vice Wallace, called to the Upper House322
 Richard Weyland202
15 June 1829(SIR) EDWARD BURTENSHAW SUGDEN, re-elected after appointment to office6
 George Conway Montagu1
 Michael George Prendergast2
 Henry William Tancred2
 Thomas Bulkeley2
1 Aug. 1831CHARLES BARING WALL vice Weyland, chose to sit for Oxfordshire425
 Michael George Prendergast165

Main Article

Weymouth, as this constituency was usually known, and Melcombe Regis, which was in fact the larger and more important of the two towns, lay on either side of the River Wey, on a handsome bay at the centre of the Dorset coast. Though the port’s trade had much declined, improvements were made by the Acts of 1820, by which was rebuilt the bridge (opened in 1824) linking the two banks, and of 1825, by which the damage done to the harbour in the storm of November 1824 was repaired.1 Yet Weymouth’s prosperity was mostly owing to its status as a bathing place, made fashionable by George III, though its celebrity diminished after his death in 1820, when his residence of Gloucester Lodge at one end of the long Melcombe Regis esplanade was sold.2 Lady William Russell, who lived there in the mid-1820s, while her husband was stationed at nearby Dorchester, wrote that

it is a horrid place I must own - the climate exceedingly disagreeable even to me who like warmth and the sea, but the air is enervating, a perpetual sirocco - sea fogs as hot as the steam of a tea kettle, and then a monotony quite deadening. One walk, one drive, one view, all the houses looking one way, and instead of a marine smell, one of pitch, tar, tallow, sea coal smoke and so forth.

She dubbed it ‘an aguish, nasty, noisy place’.3 The borough was certainly turbulent and corrupt, as even elections to the mastership of ceremonies were fiercely contested, and the corporator George Alfred Ellis commented that the mayoral election of 1829 ‘resembled in a great degree those for the election of parliamentary burgesses, when meetings were held, committees were appointed, the tocsin of defiance was sounded and the banner of opposition was unfurled’.4 As in London, there were four Members, each elector having up to four votes at his disposal; in the official return the first two named were deemed to represent (the chapelry of) Weymouth, and the last two (the parish of) Melcombe Regis, where the elections actually took place.5 A freeholder borough, the franchise (as ruled by the Commons, 23 Feb. 1804) was ‘in the mayor, [at least eight] aldermen, [two] bailiffs and [24] capital burgesses, inhabiting within the borough, and in persons seised of freeholds within the borough [resident or non-resident] and not receiving alms’. The burgesses (or inhabitants) were theoretically part of the corporation, but were excluded from the select body and their only privilege was the right to vote in the annual mayoral election. Irregularities in the proceedings over these elections had led to the charter being renewed in 1804, and further writs of mandamus were issued in 1821, 1828, 1830 and 1831.6 The roughly 30 corporators were a numerically insignificant proportion of the total electorate of about 600 to 800. However, as the practice of splitting freeholds was prevalent, the number of electors was reckoned to fluctuate in the range 200 to 2,000, and it was said that ‘some even voted for the thirteen-hundred-and-sixtieth part of a sixpenny freehold’. The greatest number of voters polled in the 30 years to 1831 was the 745 in 1812.7 The pollbook for the contest in 1818 listed 308 voters.8

The principal interest was that of the Johnstones, whose relative William Pulteney† had purchased it in 1789 from Gabriel Steward, who had retired from the representation in 1790. From December 1811 the patron was Sir (George) Frederic Johnstone†, of Westerhall, Dumfriesshire, who succeeded his father John Lowther Johnstone (briefly Member for Weymouth) as 7th baronet and to his extensive properties in the borough when he was less than a year old. During his minority, the estates and electoral interests were managed by (initially four) trustees, of whom the Scottish attorney Masterton Ure contrived to make himself the leading figure, and from 1817 he was assisted solely by the lord of session Lord Alloway.9 Controlling the freehold leases of the ‘occasional’ voters and cultivating the corporation, Ure was accused by radicals of having spent upwards of £130,000 in maintaining the family interest, and he boasted to the prime minister Lord Liverpool, 5 Feb. 1820, that ‘there have been 14 returns of Members for Weymouth under my management’.10 Ure had returned himself since 1813, and before the general election of 1818 reached a compromise guaranteeing two seats for the Johnstone trustees, to be occupied by himself, an inactive ministerialist, and Thomas Wallace, a member of the government. The other party to the ‘union’ agreement was the increasingly powerful town, independent or Blue interest, led by the radical Dorchester banker William Williams of Belmont House, South Lambeth, Surrey, who had been defeated in four previous attempts to win a seat. He was joined by the London brewer and philanthropist Thomas Fowell Buxton, whose widowed mother had married the leading corporator Edmund Henning, founder of the Union Club. Buxton was warned by his uncle Charles Buxton of nearby Belfield that his support for government over Peterloo would ‘give great offence to your Weymouth friends’, but he subsequently became identified with the Whig opposition.11 These four survived a contest in 1818, and at the general election two years later were amicably returned unopposed, nothing coming of a rumoured challenge to Buxton, who, according to his relation Hudson Gurney*, succeeded ‘by gifted eloquence, yet by no gifts’.

Addresses of condolence and congratulation to George IV were agreed by the corporation and the inhabitants during March 1820, and, in an example of how they were required to involve themselves in local affairs, all four Members became patrons of the newly-established Religious Tract Society that year.12 Yet the apparent unanimity masked a number of disagreements which continued to occupy the attention of the Johnstones and their friends during 1820.13 The contest in 1818 had resulted from the ambition of Gabriel Tucker Steward, son of the former patron and Member for Weymouth, 1794-1810, to gain control of the borough, his interest being based on the 600 fee farm properties (or ‘land tax’ votes), whose status was disputed. However, before bringing them to the poll in favour of the sitting Member Sir John Murray and two running mates in 1818, he had agreed to sell them to Ure and Williams for £5,000. This had secured victory for the four union candidates, but Williams subsequently pulled out of the deal, to Steward’s great disgust.14 The trustees were still in negotiation for the purchase of the properties at the time of the general election of 1820, and Ure and Wallace were involved in trying to settle the matter. The outcome is not known, though it seems likely to have eventually gone through, and Steward, like Murray, played little further part in Weymouth politics. Other lands, including 50 votes in Chapelhay, were acquired by the trustees, so strengthening their already dominant interest.15

Requests for patronage, especially in the customs and navy, were frequently forwarded to the Members and were sometimes explicitly linked with past or future voting behaviour.16 Mutual jealousies were aroused between Ure, who had by practice engrossed most of the influence to reward supporters of the trustees, and other Members, who felt that they deserved to have their say, and these developments even threatened the management of the borough. Wallace’s agent, Joseph Horsford, a principal burgess, particularly distrusted the attempts of Henning, a partner in the Weymouth bank of Henning, Bower and McLorg, and his brother John, a Weymouth attorney, to ingratiate themselves with Lady Charlotte Johnstone, the young heir’s widowed mother. Their anxious desire to sell her some of their freeholds, on account of their financial difficulties, declining interest and unpopularity, was seen as a ruse to increase their patronage (though Ure denied this), and they were even believed to be grasping at Buxton’s seat. According to Horsford, who made repeated suggestions to Wallace for the promotion of his friends, it was essential to counteract the intentions of the Hennings and to uphold the interests of government and of the family. For example, he was especially keen to forward the pretensions of Lieutenant Connor of the navy as a landing-waiter instead of Ure’s candidate, one Curtis (‘the son of the porter at the Lodge’), and added that his appointment was ‘of infinite importance to you personally’.17 This particular case was the occasion of an angry exchange of letters between Ure and Wallace. The former toadied successfully to Lady Johnstone, but was said by Horsford to be ‘in awe of her’ and was weakened by losing control over receiving the rents. The latter believed himself secure in her favour for his seat, but his agent was forcibly told by her that ‘Wallace is no great thing’ and so he believed that ‘the aim of both Ure and John Henning has been and is to sell that seat if you were not in the way’.18 Ure reminded Wallace that ‘from the year 1813 downwards I had managed the Weymouth patronage for the family of Sir John Johnstone’ and that ‘none of the Members nominated by the trustees ever considered themselves as entitled to recommend, and this principle was distinctly recognized by you in the spring of 1818’. For his part, Wallace blamed Ure for his high-handed management of the borough and, privately regretting the shortage of patronage at his disposal, stated that ‘as a man of honour I am bound to use [what I have of] it, for what I conscientiously believe the benefit of the interest on which I am returned and for that only’.19 Horsford was dismissive of Ure’s inattention, arguing:

If more decision had been taken against many of those who are inimical to our interest ... it would have proved the most beneficial line to us and sunk our enemies. I see it daily and it would have been equally beneficial as the possession of the land tax. I assure you the general cry is let us have four ministerial men.20

These disagreements were indicative of how each individual involved in Weymouth politics sought to cloak his personal ambition under the pretence of acting in the best interests of the heir. Ure, who was accused of usurping the interest on behalf of the ‘trustees’, indeed soon came to differ with the ‘family’, as represented by Lady Johnstone. She was, of course, primarily concerned to safeguard the future influence of her son, who began to visit Weymouth and build up a personal following as he approached his majority. She was assisted in the family’s cause by her immensely rich brother, John Gordon of Cluny, who in 1820 expressed a desire to have a seat at Weymouth, though she later quarrelled with him too. She found another supporter in the army officer Richard Weyland* of Woodeaton, Oxfordshire, who had been a college contemporary of Gordon at Cambridge. He was known to be ‘violently attached’ to Lady Johnstone in April, and married her in September 1820, leading to speculation about his future role in the borough.21

The quiet that had existed in the town during early 1820 continued into November, when Horsford reported to Wallace that ‘we have many Queenites here, but they were got quite still’. Caroline’s acquittal was, in fact, greeted with illuminations, but an attempt to address her was suppressed, and loyal addresses to George IV were agreed at meetings of the corporation and inhabitants, 21, 22 Nov. 1820.22 A meeting for reform of the criminal laws, 20 Jan. 1821, was attended by Williams and Buxton, who commented to his wife that ‘I find my constituents in very good humour, but my coming was quite indispensable’. The ensuing petitions were presented to the Lords by Lord Digby, 30 Mar., and to the Commons by Buxton, 17 May.23 Petitions from the innkeepers and publicans against the beer duties were brought up by Ure, 15 July 1822, 6 May 1824.24 In July 1823 the recorder Giles Templeman resigned because of ill health, and on 25 Aug. the Tory George Bankes* was elected to replace him. Wallace, who had been voted an address of thanks by the inhabitants for his services to commerce on his resignation as vice-president of the board of trade in February, was not expected to be opposed following his appointment as master of the mint later that year. After Horsford, as mayor, had offered to name him to the corporation, he was elected a principal burgess, 24 Nov. 1823.25 Ure, who accompanied him on a visit to Weymouth that month, presumably oversaw his unopposed re-election in early 1824, when favourable comments were made on the harmony that prevailed.26 Following a requisition to the mayor, a meeting on 6 Apr. 1825 drew up anti-Catholic petitions, which were presented to the Commons by Wallace and to the Lords by Lord Shaftesbury, 18 Apr., and, following another meeting, 15 June, an address was sent to the duke of York to thank him for his speech in the Lords against relief. Ure and Bankes attended the mayoral dinner, 21 Sept. 1825, when speeches were given in praise of ministers.27

At the general election of 1826 Williams retired and no town candidate came forward to replace him, but Buxton’s popularity, despite his pro-Catholic stance, was expected to ensure his return.28 Weyland and Gordon, who issued addresses professing the same ministerialist and anti-Catholic principles as Ure and Wallace, came forward together as candidates of the Johnstone family to oppose the Members sitting on the interest of the trustees, whose powers the family were (unsuccessfully) challenging in chancery and the court of session. The ailing Wallace played little part in the proceedings, but Ure was subjected to such a barrage of damaging allegations that he hurried to Weymouth to defend his conduct at a meeting, 22 May, when Horsford and the Hennings rallied to his support, and he promised to publish his accounts to vindicate his financial handling of the trust. Although Weyland and Gordon briefly withdrew, in order to prevent the appearance of their being in coalition with Ure, Gordon was enticed to re-enter on behalf of the ‘real friends’ of the Johnstones, and Weyland joined him in an effective canvass. Gordon therefore stood alone against the union of Buxton, Ure and Wallace, and a severe contest was provoked by Ure’s introduction of another colleague from what one hostile address called the ‘depository of strangers’. This could have been Wallace’s friend Brinckman Broadhead, son of Theodore Henry Broadhead*, who later expressed his relief at being ‘out of the scrape’. Instead the fifth candidate was James William Farrer of Ingleborough, near Clapham, Yorkshire, nephew of Thomas Farrer†, who was condemned as the son of a solicitor and the creature of his relation by marriage, the lord chancellor Lord Eldon, who had appointed him a master in chancery in 1824.29

Williams having been allowed to make a parting speech as the self-styled ‘champion of independence’ on the hustings, 10 June 1826, Wallace spoke in praise of Ure, whose appearance was greeted with applause. Buxton (proposed by Williams) distanced himself from the Johnstones, Farrer aligned himself with the union and Gordon was nominated as the friend of the freeholders. There followed a contest of unbridled violence: not only were there frequent unruly interventions in the hall, but hired mobs patrolled the streets outside; as the barrister John Campbell II* noted, ‘the election was held in a small room, to reach which we had to mount a ladder and enter by the window, on account of the crowd on the staircase’. Following outrages against the electoral officers, ‘King Joe’ Horsford of the union’s ‘Purples’ being blamed for retaliating against Gordon’s gangs of ‘Blues’, the controversial decision was taken, at Wallace’s suggestion, to call in the military; Gordon complained about this to ministers, who were unsympathetic. After 15 days, the poll closed with Buxton in a commanding lead, Gordon in second place, having early on overtaken the defeated Farrer, and Wallace and Ure trailing narrowly behind Gordon. Farrer, who was given a farewell dinner, hinted at a petition, but nothing came of this, though a legal opinion was drawn up alleging that Gordon had incited riots and was guilty of treating and bribery. Of the electors, which Ellis numbered at 1,200, there must have been many whose votes were disputed and left undecided, as there would certainly have been a high proportion of splits, particularly for the union candidates, who shared a committee.30 Buxton, who refused to be a party to any illegal expenses, reported that Gordon reputedly spent ‘£1,500 a day, and his party confess to £1,000’, and Gordon himself claimed to have incurred costs of £40,000. Buxton presumably paid a quarter of the joint union expenses of £4,686 (and Wallace paid an additional £42 outstanding from the 1824 by-election).31 The corporation spent over £500 on special constables, and legal proceedings were taken against the rioters, including Horsford, who was convicted on two charges of assault.32

When in February 1828 Wallace was given a peerage, as part of the arrangements on the formation of the duke of Wellington’s administration, there was another fierce contest, which was replete with the usual accusations of electoral chicanery. ‘Johnstone’ Weyland offered on behalf of the family and the independent freeholders, but ‘An Old Freeholder’ ridiculed the notion that Gordon was a genuine ‘town’ Member. Farrer and Wellington’s eldest son Lord Douro* having declined (the vacancy was also suggested as a possible opening to Sir Roger Gresley* of Drakelow, Staffordshire, while the names of Brinckman Broadhead and Eldon’s grandson Lord Encombe* were also mentioned), the ministerialist and corporation candidate was Edward Burtenshaw Sugden, a London barrister of lowly origins, who had been defeated for Sussex in 1818 and New Shoreham in 1826. Weyland and Lady Johnstone failed to persuade Wellington to withdraw him on the grounds that Weyland was one of his supporters and that the heir would soon be in a position to oversee the future return of Tories. On 9 Feb. Weyland was proposed by Steward’s brother, the former Weymouth Member Richard Augustus Tucker Steward of Nottington House, and Sugden, who glossed over his connection with the trustees, was given a hostile reception. Sugden led after the first four of the ten days of the poll, during which the ‘Blues’ and ‘Purples’ clashed violently with each other for control of the hall.33 He was elected by a majority of 120 after 524 electors had been polled; a petition on Weyland’s behalf, which was presented on 7 Mar. 1828 and alleged the admission of fraudulent votes, was allowed to lapse.34 Weymouth continued to be strongly anti-Catholic in character, and the inhabitants’ hostile petition was presented to the Lords by Wallace, 3 June 1828. Petitions for repeal of the Small Notes Act were brought up in the Commons by Ure, 2 June, and in the Lords by Wallace, 3 June 1828.35 In 1829, when the government introduced Catholic emancipation, an anti-Catholic address to the king was signed by 1,230 residents. In the House, Buxton, who thought it would probably prevent his re-election, voted for emancipation, as did Sugden, following ministers, while Ure apparently abstained and Gordon divided against, receiving a vote of thanks from the inhabitants for having redeemed the pledge he had made in 1826.36

Gordon, who replaced Alloway as the only other trustee of the Johnstone estates in 1828,37 evidently had private ambitions of his own and, having been surprised by Sugden’s showing at the by-election that year, decided to come to terms with him. A series of secret memoranda was drafted, the principal one being that

Gordon offers to return Mr. Sugden free of expense for Weymouth, as long as he may require a seat, Mr. Sugden allowing Colonel Gordon to sell two of the three remaining seats. He also, with Lords Grantham and Goderich, will use his best endeavours to obtain a peerage for Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon. Mr. Weyland to be excluded from the borough.

Gordon clearly meant that Buxton would be left undisturbed in possession of his seat, that Sugden, Gordon (at least for the time being) and (presumably) Ure would occupy the other three, which could otherwise to sold, and that no room could be spared for Weyland. Gordon also sought to strengthen his hand by acquiring freeholds surreptitiously, as according to one note (confirmed by another dated December 1828), ‘Colonel Gordon is to buy of Messrs. Henning and Horsford their freeholds [for £21,000], and the conveyance is to be taken in the joint names of Colonel Gordon and Mr. Sugden as purchasers, but Mr. Sugden is to hold as a trustee only for Colonel Gordon’. As far as outstanding financial matters were concerned, it was agreed that

£2,000 to pay off old bills [is] to be paid by Mr. Sugden on or before [the next] general election, if he is returned. If he retire, and another person is returned for his seat, he [is] to pay the £2,000, or only £1,000 if Mr. Sugden is returned before the general election.

Gordon’s sister found out about these deals and, recourse again having been had to the courts, she soon afterwards broke off all communications with him, while another of young Johnstone’s uncles, Alderman James Bower of Weymouth, wrote Gordon a ‘reprehensive letter’. Ure was initially highly critical of Gordon’s actions, but by 1829 they had apparently decided to co-operate, with Gordon effectively now beginning to manage the interest on behalf of the trustees.38

In June 1829 Sugden was appointed solicitor-general by Wellington, whose assistance at the subsequent by-election was solicited by Ure, though no opposition was expected.39 However, the London attorney Daniel Wilson Davison of Clement’s Inn and some other adventurers put up George Conway Montagu of Lackham House, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, who, as a prisoner in king’s bench, was unavoidably absent.40 Sugden, who had arrived with Gordon the previous evening, was thrown to the floor during scuffles on the hustings, 13 June, when he defended his support for emancipation against Montagu’s anti-Catholic supporters and explained that he had indeed paid £6,000 of his ruinously high election expenses of over £8,000. The erection of booths, which were requested because the number of voters was put between 1,600 and 2,500, proved to be unnecessary, as Montagu’s candidacy was withdrawn after the first day, on which only seven freeholders were polled. Having palpably failed to attract the attention of the independents against the combined interest of Gordon and Ure, Davison was evidently frightened off by the expense of a hopeless contest and nothing came of his boast that Montagu would try his hand again.41 A number of addresses attacked Gordon for having abandoned the Blues’ cause, and one wished him to be replaced by Weyland, but in fact there was no significant challenge to the sitting Members at the general election of 1830. All four, who were returned unopposed, spoke in praise of independence and justified their respective votes on the Catholic question, with Gordon rebutting criticisms by saying that he would hand over his own property to his nephew whenever he wanted to buy it.42 The joint committee was chaired by John Henning, whose accounts Gordon later queried:

For I cannot for my life understand in what way so large a sum as £1,101 7s. 18d. could have been expended on that occasion, and it must have been expended to make my share, or fourth part, amount to what you have it entered at, namely £274 9s. 5d.43

Gordon was absent from the division on the civil list which brought the Wellington government to an end, 15 Nov. 1830, when Sugden and Ure voted with ministers and Buxton against them. Not being a resident, Williams was prevented from speaking at the town meeting, 17 Mar. 1831, when an address to William IV in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill was agreed. John Henning and Horsford moved an amendment to the reform petition to the Commons, complaining of the planned reduction of the borough from four to two seats, but this was defeated. In the Commons, 21 Mar., Ure presented the anti-reform petitions of George Andrews, a Weymouth freeholder, and the town, and a favourable one (signed by four times as many inhabitants) was brought up by Buxton, though even he acknowledged that ‘by the intended measure, they are, I think, hardly dealt with’. Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Commons, 28, 29 Mar., and to the Lords, 18, 21 Apr. 1831.44

In late 1830 Gordon’s former agent James John Fraser had taken action against him in the court of session for recovery of part of his debts, arising from electoral expenditure. Early the following year the Caledonian Mercury published some of the legal evidence, including Gordon and Sugden’s memoranda, which was used by reformers to show that ‘the corruption in the borough is of the most flagrant description’. The matter was raised in the Commons by Daniel O’Connell, 13 Apr. 1831, when Lord John Russell agreed that the allegations of venality required investigation, despite Sugden’s repeated denials of wrong-doing. Also circulated in the press in April were hostile statements from the protagonists, which partially clarified the hidden workings of the interest. Sugden had to admit that he had acted (if only briefly) as counsel for Gordon in the period leading up to his appointment as a trustee, and that Gordon had paid his expenses at the 1828 by-election; but Gordon asserted that he had not communicated in detail with Sugden about Weymouth before he became a Member in 1828 and that Sugden had subsequently reimbursed the outstanding costs, albeit with ‘a good deal of chaffering’. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Sugden had twice been returned for Weymouth since the agreement had been made, and Gordon had to insist that he had never sold him the seat (the phrase ‘free of expense’ meaning merely that Sugden did not directly purchase it). Sugden persisted in his claim that he had paid his share of the ordinary expenses of over £8,000, but Fraser alleged that he had not complied with the terms concerning the sums of £1,000 and £2,000 which were due on his re-election. In Gordon’s defence, it was surprisingly asserted that he had not seen the paper relating to the purchase of properties and that ‘some of the stipulations are so preposterous that he never could have listened to it’, but Sugden emphasized that it was a perfectly legal attempt to secure the electoral influence of the property. It was made clear that the clause relating to the peerage for Gordon had only been included in the first draft, and Goderich and Grantham indignantly denied that they had ever been a party to the arrangements, which in this respect had, in any case, acrimoniously fallen through. Weyland was to have been ‘excluded’ (Ure being too powerful an ally to dispose of in this manner), not because of personal animosity, but in order to avoid any future contest. Yet correspondence between Weyland and Fraser revealed that there were continuing differences between the brothers-in-law over the costs which they had jointly incurred in 1826 and 1828, and that Lady Johnstone entirely disapproved of her brother’s recent conduct. Throughout his public defence, Gordon was anxious to stress that he was conscientiously acting in what he conceived to be the best interests of Sir Frederic Johnstone, who he said would be able, if he so wished, to purchase for himself Gordon’s own interest in the borough when he reached his majority.45

This furore no doubt persuaded Sugden to retreat to a seat for St. Mawes at the general election of 1831, though in his parting address he explained that he had always intended to resign in 1832, when Johnstone would come of age, and that this was a convenient time for him to take his leave. It was initially assumed that Bankes would replace him, but Weyland came forward, presumably with the consent of Gordon and Ure, who were opponents of parliamentary reform. Buxton, who claimed to stand alone, informed his family that ‘I found all my constituents eager for reform beyond conception; had I voted against it I should hardly have got any support. Is this not unexpected!’46 However, a token contest arose on the intervention of three other reformers, hurriedly sent down from the Reform Committee in London, who had hopes of coming in with Buxton. These were the Irishman Michael George Prendergast*, the London barrister Henry William Tancred† and an army officer, one Captain Thomas Bulkeley.47 On the hustings Ure, who approved of the removal of the out-voters but opposed the reduction in the number of Weymouth’s seats, was answered by reform speeches from Williams, Buxton and Prendergast. Gordon pledged himself to oppose the reform bill and ‘Johnstone Esq.’ (no doubt the baronet himself) thanked the freeholders on behalf of Weyland, who was away. Prendergast and Tancred, who (like the absent Bulkeley) soon withdrew, complained of the arrangement which excluded them, and Buxton ‘explained the nature of the agreement and urged its policy as that best calculated to advance the cause of reform’.48 Despite Buxton’s comment, the prevailing anti-reform sentiment was reflected in the Dorset contest, at which, of the 62 Weymouth and Melcombe Regis freeholders whose votes were accepted, 40 plumped for the Tory Henry Bankes* (father of George), 20 split for the reformers Edward Portman* and John Calcraft*, one voted for Portman and Bankes, and another for Calcraft alone.49

Weyland, who thereafter voted consistently for the reform bill, decided to take his seat for Oxfordshire, where he had also been returned. Another contested by-election then took place in Weymouth on the appearance of Charles Baring Wall, former Member for Guildford and Wareham, who was strongly opposed to reform and had the support of the Tory opposition. Prendergast, invited by the independent and pro-reform freeholders, offered again and canvassed as a reformer on the town interest, arguing that the trustees only deserved two of the four seats.50 He urged ministers to stand by their promise to him and to reward him for the sum of £2,300 which he had already had to pay in election costs at Weymouth. It transpired that the union of Buxton and the Johnstone trustees flirted with the idea of abandoning Wall and conceding the seat to Prendergast, provided that ministers would later remove him to an office in India, but this fell through. As the Whig whip Edward Ellice*, who had also had thoughts of seating James Brougham*, explained to the disappointed candidate:

The Weymouth election is only a repetition of what usually happens in these cases: delusive expectations and broken faith and promises ... Money was necessary and is always necessary at Weymouth, and if the other party were willing to spend it (which was my only doubt) and it was wanting on your side, there could be little question of the result.51

The tumultuous proceedings began in driving rain, 23 July 1831, when such was the pressure of the crowd that the candidates had great difficulty reaching the leads of the town hall, from where they were supposed to make their speeches. Wall, who spoke against reform and the proposed reduction in the number of Members for Weymouth, denounced Prendergast as a nominee of government. Prendergast, stressing his reform credentials, read a letter from Johnstone, which apparently expressed the family’s approval of his candidacy. But it was clear that Wall was the family’s object, as Joseph Horsford’s son Thomas, who was described as the ‘demon of mischief’, was active in organizing the ugly disturbances suffered by Prendergast’s supporters. Polling booths having been erected in front of the statue of George III on the sea front, the election confusion continued for ten days. Wall, who led from the beginning and did particularly well among the out-voters, was returned with a majority of 260 out of the 590 legitimate votes. The result turned on one decision of the mayor, which had the effect of sweeping away a whole class of voters (presumably the fee farm rents), and Prendergast claimed that as he had a lead of 290 to five of the rejected votes, he should really have had a majority of 25 over Wall (455-430), out of the 885 freeholders who tendered their votes.52 A petition to this effect was presented to the Commons, 15 Aug. 1831, but the recognizances were not entered in time.53

A reform petition from the inhabitants was presented to the Lords by Grey, 3 Aug. 1831.54 In the Commons on the clause reducing the representation of Weymouth, 6 Aug., Wall, who said that his election indicated that there had been a public reaction against reform, argued that Melcombe Regis, with a population of over 4,000, merited two seats and that Weymouth, with a population of over 2,000, should at least retain one, so that the combined borough should be allowed to have three Members. In this he was supported by Ure and George Bankes, though the chancellor Lord Althorp and Portman replied that it would be adequately represented with two seats. Meetings in Weymouth on 28 Sept. agreed to draw up petitions for and against the reform bill, and these were presented to the Lords, 3 Oct., by Grey and Eldon respectively.55 The town experienced much of the excitement that attended the Dorset by-election that autumn, when of the 89 freeholders whose votes were accepted, 31 voted for William Ponsonby* and 58 for his anti-reform rival Lord Ashley*, who boasted to Wellington that ‘I went through Weymouth twice and did not hear a single cry of disapprobation’.56 Nevertheless, in October 1831 700 inhabitants signed the address to the king in praise of ministers and their reform measure, and following a meeting of the ‘friends of reform’ in May 1832, other addresses were forwarded to William IV and Grey in support of their continued efforts. The eventual passage of the bill was celebrated with a public dinner.57 Petitions from the inhabitants for the plan of national education in Ireland were brought up in the Commons by Buxton and Lord Jermyn, 9 May, and in the Lords by Lord Lansdowne, 14 June 1832.58

The united borough was duly reduced to a two Member constituency by the Reform Act (clause vi). Under the Boundary Act, it was extended into the neighbouring parishes of Wyke Regis and Radipole, and it continued to be a large and tumultuous borough, having 1,576 houses, of which 804 were valued at more than £10, and paying £3,978 in assessed taxes; 431 electors were registered in 1832.59 Johnstone, who came of age on 10 Jan. and was elected a principal burgess on 7 Feb. 1832, failed in his attempt to gain control of both seats, largely because of the personal following enjoyed by Buxton, who was not defeated until five years later.60 Gordon, embittered and disappointed, and Ure, pleading ill health, retired into obscurity at the dissolution that year, when Wall returned to the representation of Guildford. After another contest at the general election in December 1832, Buxton, the popular and Liberal candidate, and Johnstone, the influential and Conservative patron, were elected ahead of their respective colleagues the Bridport coal merchant William Wharton Burdon (who was Liberal Member for Weymouth, 1835-7) and George Bankes.61 Johnstone, who sat until 1834, died in 1841, when the family estates were again put into the hands of trustees, but his elder twin son Sir Frederick John William Johnstone was Conservative Member for Weymouth, 1874-85.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. G. Kay, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (1823), 3-4, 11-12, 15-18; G.A. Ellis, Hist. and Antiquities of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (1829), 26, 92-93, 131-2; CJ, lxxv. 121, 128, 177, 290, 336, 353, 374; lxxx. 66, 167, 189, 217, 225, 242, 460, 479, 518.
  • 2. Ellis, 27-28, 129-30; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 298-9.
  • 3. Blakiston, Lord William Russell, 123, 128.
  • 4. Salisbury Jnl. 2 July 1821; Western Flying Post, 14 Dec. 1829; Dorset Co. Chron. 3 Feb. 1831; Ellis, 82.
  • 5. J. Hutchins, Dorset, ii (1863), 433, 442.
  • 6. CJ, lix. 105; PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 155; (1835), xxiv. 725-6, 729-30; Weymouth Mus. Weymouth and Melcombe Regis borough recs. 110.MB1, pp. 337-42, 481-6, 526-9; 110.MB2, pp, 18-19.
  • 7. PP (1830-1), x. 108; (1831-2), xxxvi. 597; xxxviii. 158; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 383; Peep at Commons (1820), 17; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 198-9; Key to Both Houses (1832), 420.
  • 8. There are no extant pollbooks for the period between those for the general elections of 1818 (Weymouth Public Lib. L.324 WE.11) and 1837 (Dorset Co. Mus.).
  • 9. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 142-6; M. Weinstock, More Dorset Stud. 11-20.
  • 10. Carpenter, 199; Add. 38283, f. 379.
  • 11. Oldfield, Key (1820), 78-79; Full View of Commons (1821), 22; Buxton Mems. 78, 83; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 146-7.
  • 12. Western Flying Post, 28 Feb., 6, 13, 20, 27 Mar.; Salisbury Jnl. 5 June 1820; Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62/F/C 219; Norf. RO, Gurney mss RQG 572/3.
  • 13. The following four paragraphs are largely based on correspondence, which ends in 1820, in Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZMI/S76/40 [cited as Wallace (Belsay) mss in HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 147].
  • 14. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 146-7; Late Elections (1818), 400; [G.T. Steward], A brief detail of the circumstances attending the late contract entered into at the last general election for Weymouth (1819), BL 8138.a.3.(6).
  • 15. Middleton mss S76/30/51; 40/1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 35, 38.
  • 16. Ibid. S76/29/9, 18, 43, 75; 30/73, 88.
  • 17. Ibid. S76/40/3, 5-9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18-20, 23, 25, 35, 38.
  • 18. Ibid. S76/40/5, 7, 8, 25.
  • 19. Ibid. S76/30/23, 70; 34/1-7.
  • 20. Ibid. S76/40/35.
  • 21. Ibid. S76/40/5, 6, 8, 38; Western Flying Post, 18 Sept. 1820.
  • 22. Middleton mss S76/30/50; 40/7, 11, 38; Western Flying Post, 20, 27 Nov. 1820.
  • 23. Salisbury Jnl. 29 Jan.; The Times, 31 Mar., 18 May 1821; Buxton Mems. 102; CJ, lxxvi. 350; LJ, liv. 149.
  • 24. CJ, lxxvii. 426; lxxix. 331; The Times, 16 July 1822, 7 May 1824.
  • 25. Salisbury Jnl. 10, 17 Feb., 7 July, 1 Sept., 13, 27 Oct., 10, 24 Nov., 1 Dec. 1823; Weymouth and Melcombe Regis borough recs. 110.MB1, pp. 370-3, 384, 386, 391-2, 396-9.
  • 26. Dorset Co. Chron. 12 Feb. 1824.
  • 27. Ibid. 31 Mar., 7, 14 Apr., 16, 30 June, 7 July, 29 Sept.; The Times, 19 Apr. 1825; CJ, lxxx. 315; LJ, lvii. 580.
  • 28. Western Flying Post, 3 Apr. 1826; Gurney mss 402/39.
  • 29. Dorset Co. Chron. 6, 13 Apr., 18, 25 May, 1, 8 June 1826; Middleton mss S76/52/2-4, 7, 8; Dorset RO D705 L2, Extracts from the Accounts of Masterton Ure, Esq. Sworn by him on the 10th of May 1825.
  • 30. Dorset Co. Chron. 15, 22, 29 June, 6, 20 July; The Times, 22, 24, 27, 30 June 1826; Add. 40387, f. 229; Dorset RO, photocopy 555 (of Weymouth Public Lib. L.324 WE.36); Life of Campbell, i. 435; Ellis, 157-8; E.S.L. Cosens, Hist. Weymouth, 80-82.
  • 31. Buxton Mems. 188; Cosens, 82; Middleton mss S76/49/20, 22, 23.
  • 32. PP (1835), xxiv. 729-30; Morning Chron. 22 Mar. 1827.
  • 33. Dorset Co. Chron. 31 Jan., 7, 14, 21, 28 Feb.; The Times, 4-6, 9, 11 Feb. 1828; Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/37/10; Middleton mss S76/49/24, 25; Wellington mss WP1/914/32, 41; 916/12; 920/25.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxiii. 143-4, 187.
  • 35. Ibid. 95; LJ, lx. 503; Dorset Co. Chron. 18 Jan., 22 Feb. 1827, 29 May 1828.
  • 36. Dorset Co. Chron, 2, 23 Apr. 1829; Buxton Mems. 220.
  • 37. The Times, 6 Apr. 1831. Not in 1825, as reported in some sources, e.g. People’s Bk. 374.
  • 38. Carpenter, 374-7; Brougham mss, Ure to Hamilton, 13 Sept. 1828, Weyland to J. Brougham, 4 May 1829.
  • 39. Dorset Co. Chron, 11 June 1829; Wellington mss WP1/1025/31.
  • 40. This was presumably the same man, also described as the son of V.-Adm. Montagu, who was the defeated candidate at Grampound in 1814 (HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 57, 60), in which case his dates were 1776-1847, not ?1774-1819 (as wrongly given in ibid. i. 397).
  • 41. Dorset Co. Chron, 18 June 1829.
  • 42. Ibid. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 July, 5, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 43. Dorset RO D705 B6.
  • 44. Dorset Co. Chron, 24 Mar.; Sherborne Jnl. 24 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 416, 445, 456; LJ, lxiii. 449, 504.
  • 45. Carpenter, 199, 374-7; The Times, 5-9, 11-13 Apr.; Dorset Co. Chron. 14 Apr. 1831.
  • 46. Dorset Co. Chron. 28 Apr., 5 May 1831; Buxton Mems. 262.
  • 47. This may have been the Capt. Thomas Bulkeley who was the defeated Conservative candidate at New Windsor in 1837, but at the time of the 1831 election he would have been merely a cornet in the 1st Life Guards.
  • 48. Add. 36466, f. 405; Brougham mss, Prendergast to Brougham [1 May]; Dorset Co. Chron. 5 May 1831.
  • 49. Dorset Pollbook (1831), 27-28, 34-35.
  • 50. Dorset Co. Chron. 26 May, 9, 16, 23, 30 June, 7, 21 July; Sherborne Jnl. 21 July 1831.
  • 51. Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham [n.d.], Prendergast to same, 21 May, 8 [?28] June, Ellice to Prendergast, 25 July 1831.
  • 52. Dorset Co. Chron. 28 July, 4 Aug.; Sherborne Jnl. 28 July, 4 Aug.; The Times, 30 July, 4 Aug. 1831.
  • 53. CJ, lxxxvi. 754-5, 794-5.
  • 54. LJ, lxiii. 891.
  • 55. Ibid. 1036, 1042; Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Sept. 1831.
  • 56. Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Sept. 1831; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 45-46, 55-56, 112; Wellington mss WP1/1198/2.
  • 57. Salisbury Jnl. 17, 24 Oct. 1831; Dorset Co. Chron. 24 May, 7, 14, 21 June 1832.
  • 58. CJ, lxxxvii. 301, 302; LJ, lxiv. 292.
  • 59. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 157-8.
  • 60. Dorset Co. Chron. 12 Jan., 9 Feb., 5 July; The Times, 19 June; Brougham mss, Buxton to Brougham, 2 Aug. 1832; Bodl. (Rhodes House), Buxton mss, ms. Emp. s. 444, vol. 3, pp. 23, 27; Buxton Mems. 300, 423-4.
  • 61. Dorset Co. Chron. 18 Oct., 6, 13 Dec.; The Times, 29, 31 Oct., 15 Dec. 1832.