Navy Politics

Before the Reform Act of 1832, Cornwall could send more MPs to Westminster than the whole of Scotland. Among the Cornish boroughs was Fowey which was represented by two MPs.

In the early years of the nineteenth century there was much strife between the opposing parties in the town, the Rashleigh family and the Treffrys. Favours were given to those who could bring in the votes.

The case of Lieutenant Nicholls

Lieutenant Thomas Willcocks Nicholls was a keen supporter of the Rashleigh interests, but he wanted something in return. He had been out of service for three years because of an injury and was keen to get a command of a ship.

There is a letter from Lieut. Nicholls to William Rashleigh, who was one of the MPs for Fowey (the other was Robert Wigram). Timing was critical, as in April 1814 Napoleon had abdicated and soon there would little or no chance of being appointed to a command:

“Things having taken a material change since I had pleasure of seeing you, and as in all probability a Peace will soon take place and must again request again you solicit Lord Melville in my behalf and as His Lordship has promised you Sir, that he will appoint me to a vessel of the class I so much desire …”

Nicholls duly received his orders and was sent, not to the Cornish coast, but with despatches to his previous patron, Cochrane, now Vice Admiral of the American Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Cochrane himself was no stranger to politics or to Fowey, having been the MP for Stirling Burghs from 1800 to 1806 and an unsuccessful candidate in the Fowey election of 1806.

By October 1815 the Bramble was back in Plymouth and Nicholls had his big reward. The Royal Cornwall Gazette reported the sale of the prize Triton, captured by Lieutenant Nicholls of the Bramble: “A brig of 278 tons, captured while bound from Bordeaux to Guadeloupe complete with her cargo of 274 hogsheads of claret, seven casks of white wine, plus other consumables”.