While our MP of the Month sat only briefly in the Commons after 1832, his parliamentary career provides valuable insights into two important aspects of nineteenth-century politics: the fluidity of party labels and the influence which money had in the selection of candidates.
A ‘dashing young man’, Samuel Bayntun was the son of a wealthy Wiltshire clergyman. After graduating from Oxford, he joined the army, serving with the 1st Dragoon Guards and then transferring to the 1st Life Guards. While stationed at York in 1827 he was asked to stand for that constituency at a future election as a ‘Protestant Tory’. At the 1830 general election he was elected as a supporter of ‘old true blue’ principles. By the time of the 1831 election, however, Bayntun’s political position had already begun to shift. Although he remained a Tory, he declared his support for the Whig ministry’s reform bill as a measure of constitutional ‘renovation’. Following his unopposed return, he maintained his support for parliamentary reform in the division lobbies.
In October 1832 Bayntun began canvassing at York in anticipation of that December’s general election. Finding his views on parliamentary reform ‘too liberal’, many of his former supporters, including his election committee, transferred their allegiance to another Tory, John Lowther. This left Bayntun reliant on the votes of York’s Reformers and ‘liberal Blues’. Although his election address emphasised his ‘strictly independent’ principles, it also declared his support for numerous ‘liberal’ measures, including reductions in public expenditure and taxation, the removal of sinecures and monopolies, reform of the Church, the abolition of slavery and amendment of the corn laws. On the hustings he even asserted that the ballot might prove necessary to secure purity of election. His opinions led some reports to describe him as a ‘reformer’ or a ‘liberal’. However, Bayntun insisted that he was ‘no less’ a Tory than before, although Wellington’s ‘despotic dicta’ against parliamentary reform had left Bayntun unable to support his ministry. He won the second seat at York, behind the Whig Edward Petre, with whom he shared 741 split votes. In contrast, he shared only 124 votes with Lowther, the Tory candidate.
Reports on the composition of the new Parliament showed continued uncertainty about Bayntun’s party affiliation: the Morning Post classed him as a Conservative, while the Spectator described him as a Ministerialist and Reformer, and the Leeds Mercury considered him a Liberal. However, his votes in the division lobbies soon confirmed that he had abandoned his Conservative views, giving general support to Whig ministers, but also joining the minorities in support of Radical causes. These included the ballot, repeal of the house and window taxes, and the abolition of flogging as a military punishment.
Although Bayntun’s shifting political position was one reason for the defection of his former backers at York, another important factor was an ongoing dispute over the costs of the 1830 election. Bayntun claimed in September 1832 that he had been told that this earlier contest would cost him no more than £5,000, but, having paid out more than £11,000, he was still being asked for a further £3,000 or £4,000. In December he initiated court proceedings against the treasurer of his election committee, Mr. Cattle, for the return of money provided for the 1830 contest. With little prospect of Bayntun spending large sums in 1832, especially given rumours that he was heavily in debt, his former supporters turned to another candidate who was more likely to foot the heavy election expenditure which York’s freemen expected.
Bayntun’s court case against Cattle ended in humiliation in March 1833. While Bayntun’s counsel claimed that Cattle had embezzled funds, the jury found that Cattle had in fact spent all the money Bayntun had given him, much of it on bribery and corruption, with Bayntun’s knowledge. Bayntun was further embarrassed by another court case that April when he was charged with illegally pawning a looking-glass (valued at £6), which he had rented with other furniture for his London lodgings. Although the case was dismissed, it was indicative of his precarious financial position, with creditors looming. The ‘mental anxiety’ caused by his ‘pecuniary embarrassments’ was felt to have hastened Bayntun’s untimely death from scarlet fever in September 1833, aged just 29. According to an unconfirmed later account, he was buried secretly by torchlight in St. John’s churchyard, Devizes, ‘to prevent the seizure of his corpse by creditors’. In a curious and macabre final twist, one of Bayntun’s brothers, with whom he had quarrelled, exhumed the body and discharged a pistol into its face.
For Bayntun’s parliamentary career before 1832, see our 1820-32 volumes.