Item of the Day: Trial of Sykes for Bribery (1776)

Full Title: The Trial of the Cause on the Action Brought by Hans Winthrop Mortimer, Esq; Member for the Borough of Shaftesbury, Against Francis Sykes, Esq; for Bribery Committed at Shaftesbury, Previous to the General Election, in October, 1774.  Tried by a Special Jury, on Saturday the 27th of July, 1776.  At the Assize held at Dorchester for the County of Dorset, Before the Honourable Sir James Eyre, One of the Barons of His Majesty’s Court of Exchequer.  Printed in the Year M.DCC.LXXVI.

[…]  The Declaration, &c. were opened by Mr. Buller.

Mr. Dunning.

May it please your Lordship, and you Gentlemen of the Jury, I am likewise council for Mr. Mortimer, who brings this action, by which he claims of the defendant no less a sum than 13000 l. which is the amount of 26 penalties incurred by Mr. Sykes, by those practices which he is now charged to have used at the late election for Shaftesbury.–The fame of the Shaftesbury election, which has been very much spread throughout this kingdom, must have brought you to a general knowledge of the sort of practices to distinguish that borough from other boroughs at the late election.  The flagrancy, notoriety, and openness in which this business was conducted at Shaftesbury, has rendered, and will continue to render that borough infamous, unless others are induced to follow the same example by the impunity with which these escape the consequences they have incurred by that sort of conduct.–Gentlemen, it now remains with you, whether that encouragement shall be afforded to other boroughs, or upon the contrary you will set such example, as will contribute to deter other places and persons from finding themselves in that predicament in which this borough stands, and in which the object of this prosecution, Mr. Sykes, stands personally.

Gentlemen, Mr. Sykes was originally a stranger to this country;–he found out a way to come into it by a purchase which he made in the neighborhood of Shaftesbury some years ago.–From the situation of that purchase, and from the reputation which Mr. Sykes’s fortune spread throughout that country, it is natural to suppose that if Mr. Sykes had been content to wait for the not very tardy operation of those circumstances, his object might, without much difficulty, have been obtained from Shaftesbury.  But whether it was an oriental idea that requires the same thing to be done at once, which in a plainer and simpler manner would be done in a little time, no great time however, or whether the object was more desirable from that manner of obtaining it, I don’t know; but you will find he was hardly possessed of this property in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury.

Gentlemen, Mr. Sykes represented Mr. Shaftesbury in the last parliament; but it seems that it was not then permitted to him to name his colleague.–He signified his displeasure, and the resolution he had formed in his mind, which he would carry into execution the first opportunity, as will be expressly proved to you by the witnesses present with him at the time he intimated his then resolution and determination; which was to appropriate the whole representation of Shaftesbury to himself and colleague; and that he would do if it were to cost him that manor, which had cost him 40,000 l. or would add that, if necessary, twice as much more.–You will presently see the consequence of those sort of speeches, though they seemed to be rather unguarded.–A little attention to the manners of that country from which Mr. Sykes imported those ideas, will easily convince you of his ability with respect to fortune.–These things will appear very clearly in evidence, if found necessary to lay them before you.–As occasions presented themselves, there was repetitions of these declarations, and a variety of acts indicating his intention to pursue those measures and they grew more and more frequent, preparatory to the last election: and there was a great deal of manoeuvre made use of, which is unnecessary to be explained in the present stage of this business.–As the election drew near, the necessary engine for the purpose of accomplishing those designs was provided, which was a large sum of money.–We shall prove the manner it was collected, conveyed, and distributed.–I shall at present state the evidence that we be given in a future stage of the cause.–It is unnecessary for me to trouble you with observations upon this sort of case, knowing you will be beforehand in all those observations;–for it is impossible such a case can be stated and proved to an intelligent jury, that would not incite in their minds all those things which are necessary for them to consider.   

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Filed under 1770's, Great Britain, Posted by Matthew Williams

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