Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY: November 10th 1842-1843. 1845-1846.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL: November 1st 1836.
WARD: St Thomas
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN: June 1846 on death of Ald Cooper.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD: Ex officio magistrate for tenure only.
RESIDENCE: Offices 16 High St Gosport. 57 High St P'mouth.
DECEASED: Alverstoke 2nd February 1869. aged 75.
BURIED: Alverstoke Cemetery Gosport.
Hoskins was of the ten solicitors to receive mayoral honours during the C19th. He was solicitor to the Floating Bridge Company and was also involved with the proposed railway between Portsmouth & London. Until his sudden resignation in 1852 he was an active member of the council and Treasurer to the County Court.
This election was a most peculiar affair. Rumour had it that an ad hoc group had decided to promote, and had actually canvassed, the mayoral candidature of Alderman William Bilton - a chemist from All Saints Ward. A strong feeling pervaded the council that such behaviour was unacceptable. At noon on the 9th November mayor Howard opened the proceedings to a packed room saying that the first business of the day was to elect a new mayor. There ensued a pause of a half hour or more during which time no one spoke as one side waited for the other to open the proceedings! The mayor was critical of this unseemly behaviour. Cllr Slight then stood to ask, 'By way of commencing the terrible fight that was about to take place whether the parties who were deputed to move their respective candidates were actually waiting for the other to open?" Cllr Paul rose to ask the mayor if was prepared to stand again? Howard replied with an emphatic 'No.'
Cllr John Sheppard (All Saints) then proposed Alderman Bilton. This was seconded by Cllr Henry Childs (St Thomas). Cllr Hoskins then stood to propose Edward Casher as a most suitable candidate for mayor saying he was a man of discretion and high mental capacity. Cllr Law objected to Casher as a fit person on the grounds that he had opposed the Camber Docks Improvement Bill and in so doing had, 'Robbed the pockets of the ratepayers by involving them in unnecessary expense as a result of his opposition to the scheme." Casher defended himself saying that he had not opposed the Camber project since September 1841 adding that he hdd only allowed his name to go forward for mayor as he was entreated by his friends so to do. Alderman Garrett stood next to oppose Casher for the same reasons as Cllr Law but added that Casher, as leader of the Traders' Association, had opposed the Camber project throughout and had thereby cost the borough much money in redrafting the Bill. Sheppard stood again moving that despite the fact Bilton was suspected of Chartist sympathies he was clearly the man for the job. (2) He was already a member of the Board of Surveyors and a Guardian. The motion was put for Bilton with the result:- Ayes 23. Noes 19.
The rules required that the new mayor to be elected by a majority of those attending - in this case forty-eight. So twenty-five votes were needed to secure the position. Bilton's 23 was not enough. The vote was taken again with similar result. The meeting was adjourned to the 10th. Again there were forty-eight present. Cllr Sheppard was the first to stand asking if it was legal for councillors to be neuter on this issue? If so the same difficulties were likely to arise today as yesterday. Cllr Slight repeated that he could not possibly support Bilton due to his Chartist affiliations. Bilton interjected, I am not a Chartist.' But agreed he had attended one of their meetings. He went on to rebuff the allegation saying, "The taunts were of so base a character that no one could give them credence."
The motion was put that Bilton was the fit person to be the next mayor. The votes were taken with the result:- Ayes 24. Noes 21. Neuter 3. For Casher:- Ayes 20. Noes 27. Neuter 1. So there was still no overall majority. The mayor observed that the impasse was serious. Then to break the deadlock Cllr Leggatt proposed Cllr Hoskins. This was immediately seconded by Cllr Sheppard and supported by Casher. The vote was 32 Ayes to two Noes - one of which was that of Cllr Bilton. So Hoskins, the compromise candidate was elected mayor, and Alderman Bilton was left to contemplate the cruel vagaries of fate.
Cllr Sheppard was still not satisfied. At the next full council meeting (3) he raised the issue of neuters again. He contended that they should not be counted as attending. If it proved illegal to include neuters then this would call into question the validity of the election and of all future council business. Sheppard went so far as to accuse the late mayor of dereliction in not having stated a case in support of the validity of Hoskins' election noting that Howard had himself declined to vote. Howard pointed out that the only way to resolve the matter would be to go to the Queen's Bench for a decision. No one wanted this so Sheppard's motion was lost by 27 votes to six.
Before Hoskins' mayoral year commenced the Camber Docks project had occupied the council and in November 1842 tenders were sought for further excavations with a view to enlarging and extending the Town Quay. On the 14th June 1843 the Inner Camber was opened. Another civic enterprise was the agreement to build a new police station in Ordnance Row and extend the gaol. To close the year Hoskins was accorded the usual vote of thanks and a public dinner - tickets one guinea - was arranged in his honour.
At this meeting no one seemed anxious to come forward. A long silence ensued before Cllr Stigant stood proposing Cllr T.E. Owen. This was seconded by Cllr Cavendar. Then Alderman Howard seconded by Alderman Cooper proposed Benjamin Bramble. Whereupon Cllr Leggatt nominated James Hoskins - seconded by Cllr Turner. So they now had three nominees. It was agreed that a vote would be taken and the one with the least 'Ayes' would drop out. But Murphy's law operated. The vote was taken with the result:-
T.E. Owen - 15 Ayes, 20 Noes, 5 Neuter
B. Bramble - 15 Ayes, 29 Noes, 7 Neuter
J. Hoskins - 24 Ayes, 22 Noes, 5 Neuter
As Bramble and Owen had tied for bottom place the vote was re-run giving Ayes: Owen 15. Bramble 11. Hoskins 24. In the final ballot Hoskins polled 29 Ayes to Owen 20. So Hoskins got his second term.
This proved a more illustrious term than Hoskins' first. Nationally the Corn Laws were repealed and Peel's ministry fell. Locally, in February, realising that the prosperity of the commercial port depended on good communications 500 inhabitants, at a public meeting chaired by the mayor, sought a Parliamentary Bill to permit the construction of the 'Direct London & Portsmouth Railway, the so called 'Atmospheric Line' from Epsom & Croydon to Portsmouth.
In June the Egyptian leader Ibrahim Pasha visited the town and the Corporation presented an Address. 1846 was also memorable for the inauguration of the Royal Portsmouth Hospital. In September Cllr Emanuel presented a petition from 106 Burgess of the High Street for the abolition of the Annual Free Market Fare.
Hoskins' civic career came to an abrupt conclusion. On the 2nd February 1852 he resigned from the Council for no stated reason. There was no debate and the resignation was just accepted. (5) But there had been rumours. On the 14th February 1852 the Portsmouth Times refuted the allegations made in a letter, published in the Portsmouth Guardian, (no copies are extant) from Superintendent of Police, W. Leggatt [who wrote}:- "James Hoskins. We have the highest authority for saying that the report put in circulation by a mid weekly contemporary relative to this gentlemen's possibly receiving an appointment under the English Government of from 700.00 to 1400.00 is devoid on the slightest foundation.
Subsequently Hoskins wrote privately to mayor Bramble refuting all allegations. The text was published in the Hampshire Telegraph of 14th February 1852. Hoskins said inter alia of Leggatt's letter in the Guardian that it was, " .. pronounced . . . by the whole population of the Borough as a most scandalous, low, abusive production evidently calculated to incite a breach of the peace - and this too from the head of police who from his position ought to have exhibited himself as the conservator of the peace. .. " Whatever, Hoskins took no further part in civic affairs. He was never appointed JP but continued to practise from his office in the High Street Gosport.
1. Hampshire Telegraph, 14th November 1842.
2. A radical working class reformist political movement (1838-1848) Seen as a politically subversive movement, supposedly being inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution.
3. Hampshire Telegraph, 28th November 1842.
4. Hampshire Telegraph, November 15th 1845.
5. Hampshire Telegraph, 7th February 1852.
Norman Gordon