Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:



15 Apr. 1754John Phillipson
 Wenman Coke
13 Dec. 1756William Ponsonby, Visct. Duncannon, vice Phillipson, deceased
29 Dec. 1758Thomas Sewell vice Duncannon, called to the Upper House
30 Mar. 1761Charles Townshend
 John Roberts
5 Dec. 1761Roberts re-elected after appointment to office
1 Mar. 1763Townshend re-elected after appointment to office
3 June 1765Townshend re-elected after appointment to office
23 Dec. 1765Roberts re-elected after appointment to office
17 Nov. 1766Townshend re-elected after appointment to office
30 Nov. 1767Thomas Bradshaw vice Townshend, deceased
19 Mar. 1768John Roberts
 Edward Harvey
7 Aug. 1772Charles Jenkinson vice Roberts, deceased
28 Dec. 1772Jenkinson re-elected after appointment to office
10 Oct. 1774Edward Harvey
 John Robinson
24 Apr. 1778George Augustus North vice Harvey, deceased
9 Sept. 1780George Augustus North
 John Robinson
2 Apr. 1784John Robinson
 Thomas Orde
26 Dec. 1787Robinson re-elected after appointment to office

Main Article

Harwich was controlled by the Treasury, operating through the Customs House (in 1763 ten of its officers were in the corporation) and the Post Office, operating through the Harwich packet boats (whose agent and four captains were generally elected into the corporation). There was also a so-called independent interest, discreetly promoted by successive Government managers: each in turn, while professing to be solely concerned to secure the Government hold on the borough, was in fact trying to build up an interest of his own.

The two Members returned in 1754 were Wenman Coke, nephew and heir of the postmaster general, Lord Leicester, and John Phillipson, whose father had been agent of the packet boats. Leicester and Phillipson were rivals in an attempt to capture the borough, but Henry Pelham had arranged for Harwich to be managed by his secretary John Roberts, through Griffith Davies, collector of customs at Harwich. Leicester had often tried to have Davies removed, and so had Phillipson, but finding Pelham firm gave up such attempts. Phillipson had applied for the lease of Crown property in the town, which carried a certain influence, but Pelham granted it to Roberts ‘to keep that part of the interest in his own hands’, and to warn off Phillipson from meddling in the corporation. Here was the beginning of a new interest; like a manumitted slave, Pelham’s ‘very faithful secretary’1 on his master’s death attained full freedom; fitted up a house for himself at Harwich; and on 27 Sept. 1755 was elected into the corporation.

On Newcastle assuming the Treasury, both Leicester and Phillipson re-opened their attack against Roberts and Davies, but failed. Newcastle resigned the Treasury on 11 Nov. 1756, and Phillipson having died on the 27th, Newcastle’s successor, the Duke of Devonshire, had to choose a new Member for Harwich. On the 29th Leicester wrote to Devonshire2 to warn him against ‘that puppy Roberts’, who

imposed his reports about that borough on Mr. Pelham and the Duke of Newcastle, in order to get the borough into his management, and bring himself in, so I hope you won’t fix on him. If you do, you give away in time the borough from the Government.

Next day Davies wrote to Devonshire to signify to him the wishes of a great number of his ‘faithful friends and servants’ that he should nominate Roberts. Devonshire nonplussed both sides by recommending his brother-in-law, Lord Duncannon, whom they all had to welcome as a most proper choice. The struggle, however, continued over every new vacancy in the corporation. Thus one of the Post Office group, on 10 Dec. 1756,3 wrote about Davies:

He has already by such surreptitious methods of proceeding got in so many of his own friends, and most of them independent people, that ... if he is not disappointed in this instance, he is very near master of the borough.

And Leicester to Devonshire, 27 Dec.: ‘Be assured if you employ Roberts in the management of [Harwich], you will certainly throw the borough out of the Government into his hands.’ When Roberts and Davies claimed that Harwich corporation would not choose Leicester’s candidate for burgess—‘is not that ... proof that they have betrayed the borough and taken it out of the hands of the ministry?’, the burgesses being so low and poor that ‘they must be dependent on some body, which undoubtedly is on Roberts and Davies’.

During Newcastle’s second term at the Treasury, Roberts pressed continually to be returned for one of the two boroughs under his management, Harwich or Orford. When difficulties arose, Roberts argued that at Harwich ‘there has always been an independent interest, which was formerly in Mr. Phillipson and since his death has been in other hands’ (i.e. his own), while Newcastle admitted in a memorandum, 6 Feb. 1761: ‘Mr. Roberts could choose himself at Harwich.’ But after having secured his nomination Roberts assured Newcastle that the independent interest was ‘well inclined at present’ and the Government had the nomination of both Members. When toward the end of 1762 Newcastle went into opposition against his successor Bute, Davies, who was in danger of being dismissed, quickly made his submission to his new master, and so did Roberts, in a rather more discreet manner. Davies till his death in 1778 continued to manage Harwich for successive Administrations and it became a Treasury borough more than any in all England. But what completes the electoral merry-go-round at Harwich is that Roberts, for twenty years Davies’s valiant associate in the struggle against Phillipson and Leicester, on a vacancy in the corporation in October 1766 thought fit to warn his fellow-Member, Charles Townshend, then chancellor of the Exchequer, against him:4 Davies should be brought back to a proper degree of subordination.

If this be not done upon the present vacancy, the collector at the head of the custom house officers, and the independents he has lately very irregularly made, will have it in his power to bully his masters, whenever he shall be disappointed in his expectations.

After Davies’s death John Robinson, secretary to the Treasury, managed Harwich for the Government. The Crewe Act of 1782 seemed for a time to menace Government influence; and Oldfield in 1792 described Harwich as ‘formerly a Treasury borough’ now controlled by Robinson.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


Namier, Structure, 358-89.

  • 1. Roberts’s M.I. in Westminster Abbey.
  • 2. Devonshire mss.
  • 3. Carteret Leathes to Leicester, who forwarded the letter to Devonshire.
  • 4. Buccleuch mss.