CHILD, Josiah (c.1630-99), of Wanstead, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. c.1630, 2nd s. of Richard Child, merchant, of Fleet Street, London by Elizabeth, da. of one Roycroft of Weston Wick, Salop. m. (1) 26 Dec. 1654, Hannah, da. of Edward Boate, shipbuilder, of Portsmouth, Hants 2s. (d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) lic. 14 June 1663 (aged 32), Mary, da. of William Atwood, merchant, of Hackney, Mdx., wid. of Thomas Stone, merchant, of London, 1s. 2da.; (3) lic. 8 Aug. 1676, Emma, da. and coh. of Sir Henry Barnard, merchant, of London and Bridgnorth, Salop, wid. of Francis Willoughby of Middleton, Warws. 2s. cr. Bt. 16 July 1678.1
Dep. treas. of the navy, Portsmouth 1655-60; freeman, Portsmouth 1655, alderman 1656-62, mayor 1658-9; member, R. Africa Co. 1672, asst. 1675-6; committee, E. India Co. 1674-6, 1678-d., gov. 1681-3, 1686-8, dep. gov. 1684-6, 1688-90; commr. for assessment, London and Warws. 1677-80, Essex 1679-80, 1689-90, Warws. 1689; j.p. Essex 1679, 1687-d., dep. lt. Apr. 1688-?d., sheriff Nov. 1688-9.2
Commr. for trade 1668-72.
Although Child was removed from office by the commissioners for corporations in 1662, the Restoration had little effect on his meteoric rise from humble origins. The market for naval stores may have contracted somewhat, though Child, as a good mercantilist, pointed out that he drew his supplies entirely from the New England colonies, but on his second marriage he returned to London and built a new brewery in Southwark. ‘Much of the beer was small and stinking, and the rest ill-tasted and unfit for the sea’ but it was good enough for the navy and the royal household. Already in 1665 he was canvassing among his friends in Parliament his theory of a low rate of interest as the prime requisite for an expanding economy. His signature occupies a prominent place on the Southwark by-election return in the following year, and he was recommended by the King for membership of the Brewers’ Company. The publication in 1668 of his Brief Observations concerning Trade and Interest of Money was timed to coincide with a parliamentary debate. The book, advocating toleration as well as cheap money, caused a considerable stir, though its originality and consistency have been overrated, and its author was proposed by Buckingham for a seat on the Navy Board. Meanwhile Child had formed a syndicate with Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt. and Thomas Papillon to bid for the victualling contract for the navy, but their tender was rejected in favour of Sir Denis Gauden, from whom the all-powerful surveyor-general of victualling, Samuel Pepys, had received so many gratifications. Pepys’s offence was not to be forgiven; for the moment, however, Child confined himself to proposing the establishment of a victualling commission, and in 1671 the rival syndicates merged (as the Duke of York had wished six years before), under the chairmanship of (Sir) Denny Ashburnham.3
Meanwhile, Child and another business associate, William Love, described by Roger North as the leading fanatics in the City, had been appointed to the council of trade. Unfortunately material interests soon disrupted their spiritual unity, and with it the council itself, allegedly a sinister machination of the republicans to infiltrate the government machine; for Love was a member of the Levant Company, while Child was embarking on purchases of East India Company stock which were before long to give him virtual control. In 1673, however, he was far from exclusively occupied with the Eastern trade. He bought for £11,500 from the trustees of Robert Brooke the estate at Wanstead where he had been living for some years, ‘a cursed and barren spot, as commonly these over-grown and suddenly moneyed men for the most part seat themselves’, and adorned it at prodigious cost with walnut trees and fish ponds many miles in circuit. He was a founder-member of the Royal Africa Company, and part-owner of 1,330 acres in Jamaica. Although he never visited Dartmouth, he acquired an interest there by entering into a partnership with a local ship-owner, presumably one who felt himself threatened by the expansion of the London-based firm of (Sir) John Frederick. One of the Dartmouth seats had been vacant since October 1671 and, aided by a lavish expenditure of money and court pressure on the customs officials, Child defeated Frederick’s partner Nathaniel Herne in a by-election on 1 Feb. 1673. The election was among those quashed by the House because writs had been issued by Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury during a recess, but Child’s majority was impregnable, and he was again returned a fortnight later.4
Child naturally prepared to defend himself against Herne’s petition by adding his name to the committee of elections, but his other 18 committees in the Cavalier Parliament were almost wholly concerned with trade. The Dutch agent du Moulin, who approached him about this time, was dismayed at his hostility. But with the collapse of the Cabal and the advent to power of the Anglican Danby, Child’s support for the Government rapidly disappeared. He withdrew from the victualling contract with Papillon; his accounts had still not been passed at his death a quarter of a century later. In the 1674 session he took a prominent part in two opposition manoeuvres, the attack on the press-gang and the whispering campaign against Pepys. In the debate on impressment, Child declared sarcastically that he was glad to hear from Pepys that ‘so few have been oppressed. He has conversed all his time with seafaring men; knows of hundreds of masters of ships etc. that have been pressed.’ He was less effective when named as the authority for Pepys’s Popish practices, when he shuffled and prevaricated.5
In April 1675 Child, Papillon, Littleton and Henry Powle were active in collecting evidence for the impeachment of Danby. He served on the committee for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy, and in a debate on the growth of London he delivered himself of the remarkable assertion that ‘sixty years’ experience has made it evident, in fact, that rents have increased the more for building houses’. It was probably the conspiracy against Danby rather than the breakdown of the victualling contract that led (Sir) Joseph Williamson to inform Herne, the outgoing governor of the East India Company, that the King would be highly offended if either Child or Papillon were chosen as his successor, ‘both men having behaved very ill towards him’. ‘I am loath to speak plain English’, Sir Richard Wiseman wrote of Child in 1676, ‘but if he were well observed he might be proved to be a capital offender’, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘worthy’ in 1677.6
Sobered perhaps by his temporary exclusion from the East India board, Child made no more speeches in the Cavalier Parliament. He was probably required to earn his baronetcy only by abstention from overt opposition, for his name appears on no list of court supporters in 1678. He was added to the commission of the peace in 1679, but seems never to have acted, presumably because he scrupled the oaths. He virtually withdrew from English politics during the exclusion crises, though it was reported in February 1679 that he was engaged, with his third wife’s brother-in-law Chandos, in an attempt to reconcile Shaftesbury and Danby. He was quick to sense the Tory reaction in the autumn of 1681, and on behalf of the East India Company began the policy of sweetening the Court with a present of 10,000 guineas. This entailed a feud with Papillon which was to dominate the rest of his career. By his third wife (the widow of the eminent naturalist) he had resumed his ancestral connexions with the Welsh marches, and he proceeded to strengthen his interest by marrying his daughter to Charles Somerset, characteristically improving the occasion by unloading on the bridegroom a large quantity of East India stock, which promptly depreciated.7
Child had acquired a poor opinion of Parliament and the ‘ignorant country gentlemen, who hardly knew how to make laws for the good government of their own families, much less for the regulating of companies and foreign commerce’. But with the mounting criticism of his expensive and ambitious Indian policy, and the tightening links between the company and the Court, he may have thought it advisable to strengthen his position with a seat in Parliament. He was returned for Ludlow at a by-election in 1685 on the interest of Somerset’s father, the Duke of Beaufort. He sat on only one committee in James II’s Parliament, and made no recorded speeches. Nevertheless he was regarded by James (whose investments he supervised) as a valuable potential recruit to the Court. On 6 Aug. 1687, Roger Morrice reported that Child, ‘a man of parts and of great estate (though his principles are not known) was pressed exceeding hard by the King himself, who sent for him twice to Hampton Court who used many arguments to him, but he peremptorily refused to be an alderman’. Although Child thus avoided acknowledging the new London charter, the same objection could not apply to taking county office in Essex. In spite of the outraged reaction of Tory country gentleman like (Sir) John Bramston when such ‘commonwealthsmen’ were appointed to the bench, Child went on to announce his candidature for the county seat in 1688. Hostility towards his Indian policy increased in the City as the year wore on, but Child steadfastly refused adoption as a court candidate, and by September James’s electoral agents had given up hope of him. Child did not stand in 1689, when he was sheriff of Essex, nor so far as is known for any later Parliament. But with a holding computed at £51,000 at the Revolution he remained active in the affairs of the East India Company till his death on 22 June 1699, aged 69. Two of his sons entered Parliament, the younger representing Essex (with one break) from 1710 to 1734.8
Contemporary notices of Child are mostly unfavourable. The most balanced estimate comes from Burnet:
A man of great notions as to merchandise, which was his education, and in which he succeeded beyond any man of his time; he applied himself chiefly to the East India trade, which by his management was raised so high, that it drew much envy and jealousy both upon himself and upon the company; he had a compass of knowledge and apprehension beyond any merchant I ever knew; he was vain and covetous and thought too cunning, though to me he seemed always sincere.9
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
This biography is based on W. Letwin, Sir Josiah Child, Merchant Economist.
- 1. Inhabitants of London in 1638 ed. Dale, 171.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1655, p. 431; 1658-9, p. 326; 1665-6, p. 371; 1687-9, p. 187 R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 328; Add. 38871, ff. 7-12; Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. ed. Sainsbury, x. 47, 175; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 304.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1661-2, p, 18; 1664-5, p. 540; 1665-6, p. 371; 1668-9, p. 642; 1671, p. 481; 1672-3, p. 264; Morant, Essex, i. 30; Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 387; Pepys Diary, 25 Sept. 1668.
- 4. R. North, Examen, 461-2; CSP Col. 1669-74, pp. 99, 410; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii