Between 1826 and 1832 the Borough of St Ives hosted six elections, the last one in 1832 coming after the Great Reform Act which fundamentally changed both the composition of the electorate and the distribution of seats.
The population of St Ives in 1831 was 4,776 and the estimated number of voters was 499. Following the Reform Act, which brought Lelant and Towednack parishes into the constituency, the number of seats was reduced from two to one and the electorate was increased to 584.
So why would the electors of St Ives have welcomed frequent elections? To be absolutely honest we cannot be sure that they did but……..following the February 1828 election Sir Christopher Hawkins of Trewithen, who held one of the St Ives seats in his pocket, complained that his bill for public houses had run to between £1700 and £2000. Treating and bribing were facts of electoral life though the bribery was unsubtly disguised. On 17 April 1828 John Tregerthen Short (JTS) wrote in his diary, “Each voter for Sir Christopher Hawkins had a dinner, and the remainder of a one pound note.” In other words they were all given £1 with which to pay for their dinner and were allowed to keep the change, which probably amounted to about 12s (about £60 today) Frequent elections meant frequent treats and bribes.
The election of 10 June 1828 was the second election that year and the third since 1826. Oddly enough, given the level of corruption (from today's standpoint) the election was caused by an anti-corruption measure. In February 1828 Sir Charles Arbuthnot had been elected to the St Ives seat vacated by Sir Christopher Hawkins. On election he was invited by the Prime-minister, the Duke of Wellington, to join his cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his acceptance precipitated his resignation from the House. Why? Because, since 1707 new ministers were required to resign their seats as a means of preventing the Crown from packing the House with its place-men and pensioners. The convention had become that a new minister therefore had to stand for re-election and this is what Arbuthnot did. More ale and cakes for the electors of St Ives.
Hence on 2 June 1828 JTS writes in his diary, “Wellesley Long Pole, Esq., canvassed the town, the late elected member, Sir Charles Arbuthnot, having resigned his seat, being previously exalted in the Ministry.” Wellesley Long Pole was in fact The Hon. William Pole Tylney Long Wellesley, nephew of the Duke of Wellington and a man who had contested and sat for St Ives before. Wellesley Long Pole is presumably how JTS and/or the people of St Ives referred to their once and future M.P. Long Pole was not a universally admired character, when he died on 1 July 1857 the Morning Chronicle wrote of him, “A spendthrift, a profligate, and a gambler in his youth, he became debauched in his manhood... redeemed by no single virtue, adorned by no single grace, his life gone out even without a flicker of repentance.
Pitted against Long Pole (who was actually born William Wesley-Pole) were: Sir Charles Arbuthnot; James Morrison, a rich London merchant; and a Mr Blakemore. It was said that Morrison had provided 1500 sovereigns to meet expenses but despite his expenditure he visited St Ives only once, on the final day of canvassing when he received the advice that he had no chance and immediately took himself back to London. Mr Blakemore was absent “detained in London” and his friends decided that retreat was the better part of valour and resigned on his behalf.
JTS describes the day of the election in his diary, “ 10th June, At 10 a.m. Sir Christopher Hawkins, bart., and Wellesley Long Pole, Esq., the former supporting the cause of the Right Hon. Sir Charles Arbuthnot, attended at the town hall, when Wellesley Long Pole, Esq., resigned the contest, and Sir Charles Arbuthnot was elected without opposition. Immediately afterwards Mr Wellesley Long Pole made an active and successful canvas of the town for another election, and left St Ives at 10 p.m. having given all his friends 5s.
The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 14 June 1828 reports that Long Pole spoke strongly against James Halse and urged the electors not to “remain in bondage”. He left the town preceded by a flag bearing the legend 'independence'. The RCG also reports that Halse and Hawkins also canvassed the town against the next election.
JTS subsequently wrote in his diary for 21 June, “All Mr Wellesley's votes had a public dinner; each received one guinea to defray the expense of the dinner, which ended up at 7s 3d per man. Later on 1 August he records that “Sir Christopher Hawkins gave each of his friends one guinea for a dinner, and the women 10s. The dinner cost 3s 6d per plate.
The next election took place in August 1830 when the contest was between Wellesley Long Pole, James Morrison and James Halse. By now Hawkins had died and his property had been acquired by Long Pole, largely with the aid of finance supplied by James Morrison on the understanding that they would share the representation. Long Pole and Morrison were returned, though when the result was declared Long Pole was in Essex where he was fighting another election. He lost! The loser, Halse, took action to ensure that he would not lose again.
It should be noted that of the election mentioned here, 1826, 1830,1831 and 1832 were general elections while February and June 1828 were by-elections. The winners in 1826 were James Halse and Sir Christopher Hawkins, Halse sat until 1830 and the two 1828 elections were both for the seat with Hawkins had resigned.
Besides the sources referred to in the text the reader is directed to The History of Parliament 1820-1832, St Ives
The Diary of John Tregerthen Short is available here.
See also: St Ives Hails Halse Again on this site.