The Foxearth and District Local History Society

This Notorious Borough

The Sudbury Election

August 2nd 1837

The election for this notorious borough took place on Tuesday. The result has been most distressing to the worthy and independent electors of both parties.

The reform candidates were W.A.Smith Esq. brother of the late member, and Mr T.E. M.Turton Esq the only son of Sir Thomas Turton, Bart. These gentlemen arrived on Saturday week and commenced their canvas, but as the money was not spent in drunkenness and dissipation to the satisfaction of the freemen, the latter got up a requisition to Sir E. Barnes promising to vote for him and any other conservative candidate he might introduce. This requisition was signed by 200 hundred electors and the parties presenting it pledged themselves they could bring in their candidates without expense.

On Thursday evening Sir E. Barnes and Sir J.J. Hamilton arrived accompanied by a large procession of the Tories and commenced their canvas on Friday morning. After completing it they found that nearly 100 of the independent requisitionists were not to be seen, having purposely absented themselves till they be bribed. Among them were a considerable number who usually vote with the Reformers and those whose only object was to induce the candidates to come and spend their money.

At the conclusion of the canvass above 250 voters out of 580 remained to be purchased. The candidates on both sides very prudently kept their purse strings closed and the effects was ludicrous in the extreme, instead of the gaiety of an election, groups of men assembled in the streets and walked about in sober sadness as if some calamity had befallen them. The prices asked varied from £100 to £30 and the most moderate were inclined to wait before they would engage themselves on these terms.

The evening prior to the election several inhabitants desirous of avoiding the scenes of iniquity heretofore practiced, suggested a compromise by the withdrawal of one candidate by each party. In pursuance of this Sir John Hamilton and Mr Turton agreed to retire and announced their intention to the Mayor by letter.

The principal men of both parties were informed of this arrangement on Monday night at about 12 o'clock and all seemed to concur on the propriety of the proceedings. Soon after a few of the most violent Tories maddened at the prospect of not fingering the cash, broke out in open rebellion, they called out their band of music at 2 o'clock in the morning, raising the inhabitants from their slumbers with shouts "No Compromise" and paraded the town until the morning.

At 7 o'clock, Sir John Hamilton and Mr Turton left the town. As it was known that if either of these gentlemen were elected, they had signed a written undertaking that they would not retain their seats, the venal voters on both sides were determined to elect one of them in the hope that they should have another election with a better chance.

The independent Reformers determined not to follow this example of treachery, remaining quite passive. The poll commenced at 8 o' clock and closed at 4, the numbers were as follows.


Sir Edward Barnes was drawn through the town attended by very few of his respectable supporters and departed about six o' clock without gratifying his partisans by the expenditure of a single shilling. The men on both sides who have heretofore profited by a profligate expenditure of money are vexed and mortified beyond description.

The expenditure at the election in 1835, when bribery was unrestrained by either party, amounted upon an average to at least £35 a man for men of all description upon the register. Profiting by this example the demands of the parties became more exorbitant and the very excess of the iniquity has in this case happily produced it's own remedy.

Sudbury Election Petition

April 12th 1842

Emma Ruffle deposed

I am the wife of Mr G.Ruffle a labourer, I was employed at the Swan Inn for eight months before and at the election;
I saw a person named Massey; he came on Saturday before the nomination. Mr Massey was a stranger; there were two strangers with Mr Massey; they arrived on Monday; never heard their names; one was a dark thin man; the other very short and sandy; saw the dark man go over to the Black Boy;
never saw these strangers in the commercial room; I saw the dark gentleman in the kitchen; he was talking a few words;
In the morning of Monday he came in to dry himself and in the evening he came to talk; he promised me a new gown if Mr Villiers was returned.
I was going upstairs about ten o' clock; there was a light in Mr Sombre's bedroom; I shoved the door open and looked in; I saw gold on the table; Mr Sombre sat close to the table with his back to the door and appeared to be counting it; I left at once; there appeared a great deal more than ten or twenty sovereigns; I don't think Mr Sombre saw me.
On the Tuesday I saw a great many voters on the steps leading to the committee rooms; saw them coming back; some had money; I heard it was gold.
A voter named Outing had gold in his hand as he passed me on the landing; he went away very soon after the poll was over; the dark man went off in one post chaise; I carried the dark man's carpet bag downstairs; I reminded him of his promise and he gave me ten shillings.

Cross examined;

I am on the other side; my husband voted on the other side, I did not see money with any more than Outing. I left the Swan on the 12th of October; my husband was Boots at the Rose and Crown at the Election; it is a great blue house.

Samuel Shelley, blacksmith, deposed that he voted as a foreman at the last election, was at the Black Boy on Tuesday morning at about 11 or 12; went upstairs to a room which he believes was a bedroom.
He went to the window; a man asked him his name; then gave him two sovereigns; went down stairs and walked to the hustings and voted for the sitting members.
After voting went to the Swan and passed upstairs and went to the committee room which was over the tap-room; saw persons sitting at a table with pens ink and paper upon it; Mr Francis Gooday, Joseph Barker,---Eley; cannot recollect the names of others in the room; he received a note from Francis Gooday and was told to take it to a window on the landing;
he went to the window about eight or nine yards from the Committee room on the right hand; the window was opened; but cannot say by whom.
The note was put on the window by him; a hand took it and placed four sovereigns in his hand; could not say by whom the hand belonged; the room was dark.

Cross examined by Mr Cockburn; had generally voted for the Blue party; cannot say how often he had voted; had done so without money; had not received money at former elections; once he received money; cannot say if he had twice-he forgets; cannot name any elections on which he had voted without money but one; cannot say when that took place.
Had been in the town since last Thursday; had received £2 with his subpoena; had spent his time since he had town at different houses-part at Mr Hibble's; had paid his expences himself; cannot say who is to pay Mr Hibble-probably he will.
Had brought up money for his expenses in London; it was less than £1; a sovereign will go a good way with him.

Mr Andrews asked what witness knew about the election; told him the truth, told him only from a love of truth; has taken bribery oath on more occasions than one.

Francis Making made a similar deposition as to the receipt of the money; Cross-examined; had generally voted for the Blue party, but according to the whichever party paid the most; sometimes he had not been paid at all; lost £1 10s by one election; had once been in prison for robbing a garden; had never refused to take the bribery oath; has always done so when put.

The Chairman understood the meaning of the bribery oath.

James Bell Johnson deposed that he received £6 in a similar way, and an additional £4 from the hands of Warren, according to promise. Cross-examined; Never voted before; does not know why he was offered more than other voters. Gooday had first promised him £10; works for Mr Parsons, the tailor who supports the Blues. Mr Parsons turned him away three days after the election; took him back a few weeks since; swears that when taken back nothing passed about this statement. Mr Green paid him £2 with his subpoena; had no money since he came to town; had not conversed with his master about the election since he came to London; had not spoken to other witnesses on the subject of his evidence.

Richard Steed deposed that he is now a publican at Bury St Edmund's; is a freeman and voted at the last election for the first time; he received his £6 in the same manner as other witnesses.

His father and family supported the Blues; had quarrelled with his father before last election; it was about not marrying Miss Shelley why they had quarrelled. Mr Cockburn; What was the cause of the quarrel ?-Mr Hilyard objected to the question unless the ground of the quarrel had reference to the election. It was not competent to interrogate the witness as to family misunderstanding which he would be naturally reluctant to answer; and then construe his indisposition to reply into an attack on the credit due his evidence,--Mr Cockburn: it is understood that in a cross-examination counsel was entitled to test the credit of the witness by questions; and if he could shew that he had been guilty of a violation of one of the social elations of life, it served to impeach his credit and therefore admissible, --The Committee decided that the question might be put-Witness recalled; Cannot say the cause of the quarrel; had spoken to his father since the election before he left Sudbury, five months ago. Re-examined; knew a girl named Shelley; had courted her but very little; his father never said anything to him about it; had often disagreed with his father ; believes he went out too much for him.

Thomas Brown, foreman, gave a similar statement to the previous witnesses.

Cross-examined; had voted for 30 years; was sometimes it paid; if the bribery oath was put, he took it. William Tolladay, freeman gave similar testimony.


Further evidence as to the wholesale bribery carried on was produced, which was of the same nature as that deposed to by witnesses the previous day.

Mr William Hervey Cross stated that he was a coachman. On the day of the last election he was in Sudbury, his father and brother were both electors of the borough. Mr Francis Sykes Gooday offered him £50 if he would persuade his father and brother to vote for the Whig candidate. His father and brother refused to accept it and polled for Messrs Jones and Taylor. Mr Nicholas Cross admitted that he had been offered bribes to vote for the sitting members.

Mr Large, the printer of the placards for the Blue party was called but he did not come forward.

Mr Hildyard then summed up the evidence on behalf of the petitioners and contended that bribery had been clearly established, was brought home sufficiently to the sitting members and that a large body of the electors had given their votes under it's influence. No honourable Member of the committee could entertain a scintilla of doubt as to the fact, after the weight of evidence adduced.

Mr Austin said his learned friend had concluded his case so suddenly that he was taken by surprise. He therefore requested the committee would adjourn till tomorrow to give him time to consult as to the course he should take. His present impression was that he would call no evidence but merely address the committee on behalf the sitting members.


Mr Austin addressed the Committee for nearly three hours.

He thought he should satisfy them that there was no evidence in this case upon which they could with propriety come to a resolution touching the connection of the sitting members with bribery proved in this case. His learned friend had said he should prove that two thirds of the electors had been bribed and that towards the close of the election the plan adopted in the early part of the day did not succeed and a body of voters amounting to ten or twelve received bribes of the amount of £50 each or thereabouts. If this had been proved it would be important but he could find nothing to shew that his learned friend had even attempted to substantiate that allegation.

His learned friend however said that he would shew that two thirds of the constituency were bribed and he apprehended the Committee would make void the election upon that ground alone. His learned friend had made but one attempt to prove that fact. A man named Bigsby had told them that he saw numerous voters going into a public house on the day of the poll, from 100 to 200.

Would they on such evidence say that two thirds of the voters had been bribed? He would now come to the real question for consideration.

Was there ever a case in which the seats of persons were voided unless they were personally implicated? What could be said if from an unauthorised act of a single officious supporter, that an election should be set aside? If this principle were adopted many seats would be insecure. It would perhaps be difficult to point to a seat in the obtaining of which corruption had not been used, though without the knowledge of the representatives themselves.

He begged it to be understood that he did not allude to the seats held by the present Committee (laughter). The principle of the law was that bribery must be connected with the candidates or their agents in order to make void their seats. He was not there to say that no corruption was practiced at the election-this he left to the Committee acting under the new Act for their consideration when making their report; but what he had said was that sitting members had not been implicated in that bribery by any evidence.

Could any man doubt that this contest was determined upon, by loading individuals of the two parties in the borough, independently of the candidates on either side. How therefore could it be said that these people were the agents of the sitting Members.

Mr Villiers; arrived in the town on Sunday; Mr Dyce Sombre early on the following morning; there was no previous connection shewn between the sitting members and the persons managing the election.

The managers are not the sitting members but men of influence in the town and if bribery had been planned at all it was planned before their arrival. It had not been proved that the sitting members had ever been present in the room No 10. A servant had been called to show that a large heavy box was brought on the carriage of one of the sitting members. This reminded him of anecdote long current in the town. It is said that on some former occasion a candidate for Sudbury made his entrée upon the coach-box and called for the porter to take his portmanteau. The porter tugged with all his might but to no effect and Dick, the Boots, in his turn in vain essayed to remove the luggage, the waiter was called in. Eventually with the assistance of the three the portmanteau rolled over the side of the coach and fell with the dead weight upon the pavement, and the candidate won his election "laughter".

This he dared to say was the origin of the "large heavy box" in the present instance; but he would add that the contents of the portmanteau were not composed of those metals which were used to corrupt voters, but had been obtained from a neighbouring quarry, (laughter).

What was the other evidence; an inquisitive chambermaid said she saw a light burning in Mr Dyce Sombre's bedroom and looking she saw him there with money on the table-more than twenty or thirty sovereigns; but whether there were more than necessary for the ordinary purposes of Mr Dyce Sombre in this town, no attempt was made to prove it. If they were to say that the persons meeting in No 10 were the agents of the two sitting members, in consequence of the sitting members sleeping at the Inn, he must say that it would be irrational; on the contrary, would it not rather afford an interference the other way.

What ever the Committee might think proper to do with respect to eight, ten or a dozen people whose cases have been brought before them; whatever they might think fit to do with reference to the state of the borough itself, he did think he was entitled upon a review for the whole evidence, to ask them to decide that the sitting members were not connected with these corrupt transactions.

The room was cleared at two, when the Committee proceeded to deliberate. At three o'clock the Committee announced their decision as follows;--

"That Frederick Villiers and David Octerlony Dyce Sombre, Esquire, were by their agents guilty of bribery at the last election for the borough of Sudbury.

"The Committee are of the opinion from the evidence given before them, that gross, systematic and extensive Bribery prevailed at the last election for the Borough of Sudbury; they also considered their duty to express to the House their unanimous opinion that the Borough of Sudbury should be disenfranchised and that the new writ ought not to be used for the said Borough".

The Committee immediately reported their decision to the House when it was ordered on the motion of Mr Redington, the chairman, that the minutes of the proceedings of the evidence be laid before the House; and that the Speaker do not issue his warrant for a new writ for the Borough of Sudbury before Saturday the 7th of May