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Commons Chamber
03 March 1828
Volume 18

House Of Commons

Monday, March 3.

East Retford Disfranchisement Bill

Mr. Tennyson moved the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill.

Mr. G. Bankes moved, that counsel be called in, to be heard on behalf of a petition from certain inhabitants of the borough. A short discussion took place relative to the proper course of proceeding, and whether counsel should, or should not, be called in, before the committee proceeded to examine witnesses.

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called the attention of the House to the state of the question. Certain persons had approached the House with a petition which concluded in this way—"Your petitioners represent to your honourable House that they have no representative of their own in the House, and they pray that they may be heard by their counsel, in support of the petition, against the enactment of the proposed bill." The question was, whether the House would suffer the petition to be referred to the committee, and then allow the petitioners to be heard by counsel on the petition.

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shaped his motion accordingly. The House having resolved itself into the committee, it was moved and carried, that counsel be called in. Mr. Denman accordingly appeared at the bar. The chairman inquired for whom he appeared? Mr. Denman replied, that he appeared on behalf of the petitioners against the bill. Mr. G. Bankes moved that counsel be now heard.

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having risen, counsel was ordered to withdraw. The hon. member proceeded to oppose the hearing of counsel until all the evidence had been heard.

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thought there was no difference in the proceeding on this occasion and on a bill affecting private property. The custom was to call in witnesses to prove the preamble of the bill; then to hear the argument first, and the evidence after.

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was for not limiting the petitioners, as to the time when they were to be heard against the bill.

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was only anxious to discharge his duty to the petitioners, and would be governed by the opinion of the committee.

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argued, that the proper time for hearing counsel on the part of the petitioners, was after evidence had been heard in support of the bill which they opposed.

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was of opinion that the petitioners' counsel ought to be heard first.

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objected to hearing counsel in this stage of the proceedings. To hear counsel before the case of the complainants was closed, appeared to hint to be manifestly absurd.

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conceived that the way in which the House was proceeding was unconstitutional. If a member's seat were attacked, he got up, made his defence, and called his witnesses; and here they were about to disfranchise a borough without giving the petitioners a similar privilege. He claimed for these individuals the same right as that enjoyed by a member when he defended his seat. Counsel ought to be called in and heard in their defence.

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believed, that it had not been usual to call on any member for his defence, until the whole case against him had been gone through. All he contended for was, that the whole evidence in support of the preamble should be concluded before the evidence for the defence was begun. It would be inconvenient to hear the defence, in parts; and it would be unjust, after the defence was opened, to examine evidence against the petitioners.

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contended, that there was a distinction between this case and that of a private bill. In this case they had already heard a considerable part of the evidence; indeed, all that would ever be taken on oath had been already printed and circulated. Many of the members had expressed their opinion, that that evidence would be alone sufficient to warrant the disfranchisement. The committee, therefore, would not be hearing counsel against a shadow, but against that which would probably be the best evidence that could be obtained against the borough.

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agreed with the hon. gentleman, and moved, that "Counsel should be at once called in, and heard against the preamble."

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remarked, that the petition was, that counsel might be heard against the enactments of the bill, and not against the preamble.

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said, they were then in the middle of the plaintiff's case, and he thought it would be very strange if, before the plaintiff, had sustained his case by all the evidence he could produce, he should be set aside for the purpose of allowing the defendant to come forward in order to be heard by counsel. It would be an act of injustice even to the defendant himself; for, if such a course was pursued, it would enable the plaintiff to discover where the weak points of his evidence lay, and thus he would be enabled to take measures for strengthening it.

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was of opinion, that the learned counsel ought to be allowed to decide for himself, when it would be prudent for him to address the House. The present case was like finding a bill before a grand jury, and it would be a most unusual thing if the party accused entered on his defence before all the witnesses were heard on whose testimony the bill was either to be affirmed or dismissed. He would, however, leave it to the decision of the learned counsel, whose ability and acuteness would leave him to wave the privilege of addressing the House in the present stage of the business, if such a step should appear to him to be calculated to injure his clients.

Mr. G. Bankes moved that counsel be called in.—Mr. Denman accordingly appeared at the bar. The Chairman informed the learned gentleman, that the committee had decided on hearing him on the subject of the disfranchisement of East Retford, and that they called on him to state the course he meant to take—whether he wished to be heard before the evidence was adduced, or whether he was desirous that the evidence should be given first, and that he should be permitted to comment on it hereafter.

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said, he felt himself only capable of answering the question in general terms. He was quite sure that the course which might be considered by the committee the best mode of proceeding would be that which would give him the fullest opportunity of doing his duty towards his clients. Owing to causes chiefly of an accidental nature, he had been unable to attend last Monday to object to the principle of the bill; and it was, he apprehended, highly probable that, by the time the evidence was gone through, he should be called by his avocations to another part of the country. He had no doubt that an ample opportunity would be afforded, when the evidence in support of the bill had closed, so that no enactment might be made to the prejudice of the parties concerned with- out their being fully heard in their defence: but if it would not interfere with the proceedings of the committee, he hoped he might be permitted to make such general observations on the case as then occurred to him.

Counsel having withdrawn,

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said, that as the learned counsel was satisfied that the course the committee might follow would be conformable to the ends of justice, and as he had not stated that it was absolutely necessary to the interests of his clients that he should then address the committee, he thought it useless that counsel should be heard until after the evidence had been gone through. The committee could not take into their account any circumstances of private convenience; it was the duty of the petitioners to provide themselves with counsel who would be able to attend to their interests. It would be proper, therefore, to move "that the Counsel be informed that they would not be heard until after the evidence was concluded." The Chairman having notified the decision of the committee to Mr. Denman, and the preamble of the bill having been read, Mr. Richard Hannam was called in, and examined,

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—Was a solicitor. Had lived at Retford and in the neighbourhood thirty-three years. Had seen many elections in the course of passing on. Was concerned in one. It is generally understood that forty guineas is paid after the election; twenty guineas each member; that is notorious; it is not a secret; I believe it is known to every one in the town. Had been concerned in the election for, 1812. Mr. Osbaldiston and Mr. Marsh were returned. Upon that occasion I saw a great deal of election-money paid. One or two I paid myself, in 1814, for Mr. Osbaldiston. About sixty or seventy voters were paid in one day. I have in my pocket a list of the whole of the persons who were paid. It was made out at the time they were paid, by myself. It is all in my own hand-writing. It only contains a list of those living at Retford and the neighbourhood; there were some at Nottingham, and some at Manchester, of whom I know nothing. It contains a list of about seventy-five burgesses. They had borrowed some little money of me; their names are mentioned, and that money they had of me was taken off the twenty-one guineas, and so it was paid back. Some of them had twenty guineas; and some were paid although they did not promise their votes till the morning of the election. They were paid half. Mr. Dickenson assisted me on that occasion. He was a magistrate, and since dead. Witness sat with him while the men were paid. Witness pointed out the parties, and named the sums they were to receive. This was at the Angel-inn. Witness knew Pickup; he was an election agent for one of the candidates.—By desire of the Chairman, witness read the list of names through. He explained the distinction of whole men, half men, and quarter men. The whole men were those who received the full sum of twenty-guineas; the half men were those who had not promised their votes till the day of election, and therefore received only ten guineas; and the quarter men, who promised still later, received only five guineas. There were very few quarter men. There was no particular bargain; but the voters understood what was doing, and none of them refused the money. In the list the sums each man received were marked against his name. There were twenty-nine out-voters, and the sums opposite to their names were to be paid to them by Mr. Pickup. The name of George Hudson, now an alderman, was not in the paper. The name of Samuel Buxton was in. the paper, but he was not paid at the Angel. William Grant was paid, and was in the list. Stephen Lawrence was paid, but witness had not seen him in the lobby. Witness received several applications by letter for money from out-voters. He had six of those letters with him [a letter was selected from the number.] It came by post, and was postpaid.—Witness then read the letters. [They were all to the same effect, being written by out-voters who claimed payment for their votes. One stated, that he had not yet received his money, which would "be very acceptable," and begged an early attention to his application. Another hoped that he should be used the same as the other voters, and suggested that his mother was entitled to her deceased husband's share. Another took the liberty of writing to witness, as he was informed that he had the power of doing something for the friends of Mr. Osbaldiston, and begged an advance of 8l.or 10l., as he was at that time in want of money]. Witness continued. He thought it probable that many of the burgesses were not paid.—He knew Thomas Butler: he came to his office to pay his rent, and witness talked to him about the election, when Thomas Butler said, "I do not care a pin about my franchise. I do not care about members, unless I can get my forty guineas." When Mr. Pickup came to him to pay the voters, he did not come in secret. Several whose names were upon the list were not paid. There was a mark or writing against their names. One had been transported, and two were dead. He believed that Mr. Marsh did not pay anything for his votes. It was impossible for him to say that the candidates did know what money was paid. Was not aware that the candidates made any contracts with the voters. He lent money to several of the voters after the election. Expected to be paid out of the money which the voters were to receive from the members. He received 900l. from Mr. Osbaldiston, to pay off the House bills. He was not aware that the same practice had been continued in the elections subsequent to 1812. He believed that in subsequent elections' the voters were paid, but he did not know, of his own knowledge, that any one was paid. Mr. Marsh and Mr. Osbaldiston were the candidates in 1812. Mr. Marsh never came again. He received the money from Mr. Osbaldiston through the bankers. He paid the freemen in 1814. Did not pay any in 1816, because there were actions against Mr. Osbaldiston in the court of King's-bench, and it was not thought prudent to pay any money until they were disposed of. The money he lent the voters came out of the money he received from Mr. Osbaldiston for the house-bills. The other voters were paid by Mr. Pickup. The chairman here asked the counsel, if he wished to ask the witness any question.

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said, he would only ask witness how many of those persons, to whom payments had been made, he knew to be alive now?—Witness said he could not exactly say. There were only a few of them dead to his knowledge. Henry Pickup was then called and examined,

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—He keeps an inn. Was employed in 1814, by Mr. Osbaldiston, to go to Retford, and pay money to the voters. Witness believed that the voters received twenty guineas a-piece at that time, but had no papers relative to the transaction. What papers he had, he had given up to Mr. Osbaldiston. Mr. Hannam had never given witness a list of persons to whom money was to be paid; at least he recollected no such list. Witness had never paid any voters but those paid at Retford, who might be about 50; he should know the list he paid them by, if he saw it. A paper was here shown to the witness, which he said was the list in question. He had paid the voters according to that list. Mr. Hannam pointed out the parties to him who were to be paid Jonathan Fox was called in, and examined,

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.—Was a clerk in the Retford bank in 1818 and 1819, and received 100l. from Mr. Crompton, for his services in the election of 1818. In 1819, a sum of 2,840l. was paid into the Retford bank on Mr. Crompton's account. This was paid out again in different sums; but witness could not tell to what parties, or for what purposes, as he had not the vouchers. The vouchers had been delivered to Mr. Crompton, and destroyed. Witness's impression was, that the money had been paid into the bank, and paid out for election purposes. Received the 100l. from Mr. Crompton as a present. Does not recollect ever to have folded up election-money in papers, and directed it to particular individuals: recollected that the 2,840l. had been drawn out in various sums from the East Retford bank, but could not say for what purposes, not having the vouchers: the money was chiefly, or entirely, paid by himself. His impression was, that a part of the money had been paid to tavern-keepers, and for other election purposes, but it was impossible for him to specify the amount or destination of any particular sum. He could not charge his memory with having himself ever paid any money to voters. He had every reason to believe that the whole account was an election one. There were riots in the town at and before the election. Many public-houses open, and many of the freemen constantly drunk. On some occasions the military were called out: witness thought properly, and necessarily. Mr. Crompton kept no account with the Retford bank before the election. He kept a book with the bank while he had his account there, in which the entries were made by witness. Still witness could not, after so great a lapse of time, swear to the destination of any part of the money. [On the motion of Mr. D. W. Harvey, the day-book of the Retford bank, for the year 1819, was called for]. In answer to other questions the witness stated, that his impression was, that part, if not all the money paid in on Mr. Crompton's account, had been made up in parcels, and given to a person named Ledbeater; but this he could not state positively. Some parcels were made up and given to him. Ledbeater was the bellman of the town. How many parcels he got, he could not say—whether they were one hundred, or twenty, or five, or one; but his impression was, that some parcels, containing money, were given to him. Could not state how often. Ledbeater, the bellman, had no account at the bank. If money was given to him, it must have been on some voucher from Mr. Crompton; those vouchers were not now in the bank. They had been given up to Mr. Crompton. Witness had received 100l. for his services in paying out the several sums of money. He could not state for what particular purpose those sums were paid. Witness was again closely pressed as to whether he had not made up several parcels of money, directed to several persons, and given them to Ledbeater, the bellman, but he persisted in saying that he could not positively charge his memory with the fact. His impression was, that some parcels were so given, but he could not state how many or to what amount. He believed the parcels were directed to burgesses. Ledbeater had since died. Did not know how Ledbeater had disposed of the parcels he got. Witness told Mr. Tennyson's solicitor to apply to Ledbeater's widow for information on that subject. Witness had made no entry of the particular items for which the sums were paid. That course would be troublesome. He could not state any other reasons for not having made the entries. There was no book kept in the bank in which those items would appear. The payments made on account of the sum of 2,840l., paid in by Mr. Crompton, were entered as one sum under the head of sundries. Could not say that the accounts of any other customer who kept an account at the bank were so kept. Could not say whether the draughts made on account of the 2,840l. were paid in cash or notes. Witness got the 100l. for himself, for his trouble in paying out the several sums. A sum of 100l. had been paid to him on a former occasion, for his trouble in paying out several small expenses: could not say what they were for. The amount of the whole was somewhere about 700l. The payments were made from June, 1819, to April 1820. The 100l. was paid to him for his trouble in making those payments, and nothing else. Witness had posted out the payments as one sum, under the head of sundries. If any checks or draughts were given for the payments by Mr. Crompton, they were returned to him. The names of the parties to whom the several payments were made did not appear in the posting of the account. It was posted under the head of "sundries." That was not the general way in which accounts were kept. But one other account was kept where several entries of sums were posted as one sum. If there was an error in the account of any day's account in which those payments were made, he could correct it only from memory. Witness did not make any entry of the numbers of the notes he paid on any one check. If there were any error in the daily balance, he could check it by the memorandums he had got. Those memorandums were given up to Mr. Crompton.

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.—You have stated your belief that this money was paid to Ledbeater? Yes; I only stated my belief of it.—Do you think it possible you could at any period of your life have delivered many hundred pounds in small parcels to the bellman of the town, and not have recollected it to the last day of your life? I only speak from recollection. I certainly cannot state the thing, because I only state my conviction that I think it was done; even now I cannot say most positively it was done. [The witness was informed that was no answer to the questions, and was cautioned by the chairman to answer the questions as they were put.]

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.—Give an answer to the question. I can only state to the best of my belief; I can only say I never made such a payment in a particular way, that it makes that impression upon my mind that it was paid for the purposes I have stated.—In answer to another question, witness said parcels were made up in sums of twenty guineas. He then went on to state, in answer to other questions, that, if any of the freemen took money for their votes, he did not believe that all did. He could not say whether there were ten or five who had not taken money; but there were some, he could not say how many, or who they were. He had got the 100l. solely for his services as clerk to Mr. Foljambe. He had never heard Mr. Foljambe state any thing about sealed packets. This money had been paid on Mr. Crompton's account, after the election of 1818. He remembered another instance where money was paid in on account of a party, after an election, who had not kept any previous account at the bank. That was paid in on account of lord Fitzwilliam. It was 500l. and 700l. on two occasions. Witness could not speak as to the dates. He supposed the money was paid with reference to election transactions, and for election purposes. He could not state the foundation of this opinion. He believed Mr. Foljambe knew more of these transactions than witness did. Never recollected any other instance of such sums as those before-named being so lumped. Could not have put the sums up in packets, without an express order.—Assuming that your impression is well founded, who would be the person in your establishment that would make up those packets? I presume it would be myself; but I cannot remember what number of freemen there were at that time.

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.—Supposing there were packets, you would have made them up? I presume so.—Supposing you saw packets, and you were the person who made them up, would you have sealed them, or not? I cannot say.—Do you think it probable? I really cannot say.—Would the inclosures in the packets consist of gold—of sovereigns at that time? I cannot say in what way.—Supposing there were packets, they would probably contain notes of your own bank? It is highly probable they would.—Supposing the payment was made in packets, is it not probable it would be made at the banking-house? I cannot say, for I do not recollect any thing about it.

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.—You have said you have given up all your vouchers to Mr. Crompton? They are all given up to Mr. Crompton.—You say that you applied to Mr. Crompton since to lend you these vouchers? Yes.—What was his reply? That he had received them, but having the highest reliance on the honour and fidelity of our house, that we should do nothing wrong; he had looked cursorily over the things, and on doing so, he was satisfied it was all right, and then threw the vouchers and the book into the fire.—Is it the practice of your bank, on paying a check of a customer, to make an entry of the manner in which you discharge the check? Perfectly so.—If it is your custom to enter in your book the manner in which you discharge every check, where is the entry of the manner in which you satisfied that check of Mr. Crompton's? There is no other entry but that; it is posted into the regular books.—Do you mean to say you paid a check of that magnitude without making any entry whatever in any book, of the mode in which you paid or discharged that check? I certainly should have described the mode, and the person's name; but I think there must have been some list furnished to me that would state all; that if so, that was furnished to Mr. Crompton.—When you speak of the list, do you mean the names of persons? Yes —You mean the names of persons who were to be the ultimate receivers of that money? Yes.—Was the sum of money you were thus to distribute, making up the great total, made up in parcels or packets? I really cannot say.—You have said you had a recollection that some were so? Yes.—Do you think the whole amount was so disposed of? I really cannot say.—You think the person who brought Mr. Crompton's check, or order, brought a list, in which were stated the names of persons who were to be the receivers of that money? Yes, I should think so.

The witness was directed to withdraw.

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observed, that the committee could not suffer its dignity to be trifled with in this way. He would appeal to the committee whether this man's answers could be believed. Something ought to be done to support the dignity of the House, which ought not to be trifled with in this manner. He should move, that the witness had been guilty of gross prevarication.

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asked, how, if the inquisitorial power of the House was to be exercised, that power could ever be exercised if it was treated in this manner? One phrase was perpetually in this man's mouth. In a well-known case, a poor man who came from Italy, got great disgrace for using the same phrase. Here was a man from a short distance who had entertained the committee for an hour and a half, with the same answer. He had been guilty, in his opinion, of gross prevarication.

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thought it doubtful whether the witness had been guilty of prevarication; it seemed a wilful suppression of the truth.

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agreed, that the conduct of the witness did not amount to gross prevarication, although it was evidently a wilful suppression of truth.

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confessed that he did not know what prevarication was, if the witness had not been guilty of it. After a short conversation, Mr. Alderman Waithman moved, "That Jonathan Fox has attempted to defeat the investigation of the committee, by wilfully suppressing the truth." The resolution was agreed to and reported to the House, and Fox was committed to Newgate. Harriet Thornton was called in, and examined,

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and others.—She is the widow of the late Mr. Thornton. Her husband was in the habit of employing others to pay the election-money. A memorandum-book, which stated certain payments made by him on those occasions, was produced. At the elections of 1818 or 1820, he had given 21l. to the voters respectively. In 1818, the sums were sent round to the voters; these gratuities were made to the burgesses generally, with the exception of the aldermen, who received none. The books which the witness brought were received in evidence. On the part of Mr. Evans, her husband had money to the amount of near 4,000l., much of which was distributed among the voters. Several outvoters received a part. After specifying the sums given in 1818, the witness deposed that at that election her husband had personally disposed of the money for votes, but in 1820 he employed others for that purpose. William Baker was next called, and examined

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and others.—Remem-bersthree election sat Retford before the last. Recollects Mr. Evans's and Mr. Crompton's election, in 1818. He received forty guineas for his vote from each. Mr. Cottam, since dead, paid him with his own hand the consideration for his vote, enclosed in a letter. He was in a room at Mansfield on the occasion. It was on the part of Mr. Crompton. There were six other freemen present, some of whom got letters at the same time. In 1818, Mr. Thornton called on him, and came afterwards in the company of a stranger, who gave him money for his vote. At the last election, he was paid by Mr. Foljambe. In 1820, he saw a company of people in an alehouse; but on applying for the election-money, he found his name was not in the list. He got money, however, afterwards. He was canvassed by Mr. Foljambe, who told him that "all would be right" if he should give his vote to sir R. Dundas. He interpreted this expression as conveying an intimation of forthcoming election-money. Sir R. Dundas was near, and must have heard what passed. Believes that most of the freemen in East Retford would expect money for their votes. He could nevertheless, not say positively that any received payment, except himself: but the practice, was a matter of notoriety, and he had heard it frequently mentioned, in public conversation. He himself got the sum of forty guineas on two occasions, and heard some of his brother burgesses speak of their having received a similar sum.

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was called in, and examined,

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He is freeman of Retford, a cordwainer by occupation, and magistrate of the borough. He was present when Mr. Thornton canvassed his journeymen. They were given assurances that all would be made right in the event of their supporting him. Understood by that expression the forty guineas. He heard similar expressions made use of upon former occasions. There were about one hundred and twenty freemen in Retford; but he would not undertake to say how many had been remunerated for their votes. He had received forty guineas for his vote at every election previous to the last; at which he did not vote. There were, he understood, about forty freemen who would not receive bribes. Being examined afterwards upon this point by a "member," he said he did not believe there were forty freemen who would not receive bribes.

The chairman reported progress, and: asked leave to sit again.