VERNON, Thomas (1666-1726), of Twickenham Park, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 8 Mar. 1666, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Thomas Vernon*; bro. of Sir Charles Vernon†, nephew of John Weston*. m. Jane (d. 1742), 1s. d.v.p. 3da. suc. fa. 1711.
Freeman, Haberdashers’ Co. 1692; member, Levant Co. 1692, asst. 1700; dir. New E. I. Co. 1698–1700, 1701–3; manager, united trade 1702–3; dir. S. Sea Co. 1711–13; ?gov. St. Thomas’ Hosp. by 1719.
Commr. taking subscriptions to New E. I. Co. loan 1698; S. Sea Co. 1711; ld. of Trade 1713–14.1
Aided by his father’s status as one of the City’s leading Turkey merchants, Vernon embarked on a career in commerce, and by October 1691 he had already visited Leghorn, a journey no doubt undertaken to gain experience of the trade to the East. The death of his elder brother, Henry, a few weeks later left him heir to his father’s considerable estate, and the following year he joined the Levant Company. Although subsequently he became a respected Levant merchant, it was in the East India trade that he first achieved prominence. His father had been associated with interloping merchants there as early as 1691, and in August 1698 Vernon was elected as one of the first directors of the New Company, having recently served as one of the receivers for the £2 million subscription which its members had raised for a government loan. His involvement with the New Company argues strongly for his identification as the ‘Thomas Vernon’ who unsuccessfully contested Dartmouth in January 1701. His name was certainly touted the following month as a possible candidate for a by-election at Sandwich, his brother-in-law and fellow New Company director Sir Henry Furnese* recommending him. However, although his commercial interests may have influenced him to campaign alongside the Whigs in 1701, he followed his family’s politics at the Middlesex contest of 1705, voting for the Tory candidates as a Twickenham freeholder.2
Vernon’s electoral success at the Whitchurch election of October 1710 was principally secured by his purchase of burgages in the borough. Evidently a merchant of considerable means, Vernon possessed over £3,000 of Bank stock by March 1710, and within a few months of his victory at Whitchurch his fortune had been further bolstered by his father’s death. The ‘Hanover list’ identified him as a Tory, and in his first parliamentary session he was cited as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had detected the mismanagements of the previous administration. In January 1711 he made the first of several appearances at the Treasury as a surety for the arrears of his uncle John Weston*, receiver-general of taxes for Surrey. The return of Henry Vernon I* as Member for Stafford on 25 Jan. obscures Thomas’ subsequent activity in the House, but his prior concern for fiscal administration suggests that he was most likely to have been the ‘Mr Vernon’ appointed on 17 Feb. to the committee to draft the bill to state the public accounts.3
During the ensuing recess Vernon was closely associated with the embryonic South Sea Company, gaining appointment as one of the commissioners to receive subscriptions to the company, as well as being named one of its first directors. In the second session of the 1710 Parliament he attracted the attention of the company’s principal supporter, Robert Harley*, who included Vernon on a canvassing list, possibly in preparation for the Commons’ attack on the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). Vernon’s Tory allegiance was confirmed in February 1712 when he was cited as a member of the October Club, and he can thus be identified with some certainty as the ‘Mr Vernon’ who reported on 8 May 1712 from the committee to examine the appropriation of public funds granted before Michaelmas 1710. His personal interest in supplying the war effort was evident in the course of that year, for in February he had sought to obtain an army bread contract, and three months later was reported to be keen to provide clothing for the Prussian army. The only other time he seems to have had a role in proceedings during the 1710 Parliament was as a teller on 14 May 1713 in blocking a motion to read several merchant petitions which had been presented to the Board of Trade since the abortive Treaty of Gertruydenberg. His importance in the City was exemplified by his summons on 12 June to confer with the Upper House on mercantile affairs. Only six days later, he chose to break with his party by voting against the French commerce bill, a course which may well have been dictated by his business interests.4
Further reasons for Vernon’s apostasy became apparent during the run-up to the Whitchurch election of 1713, for on 7 Aug. he sent Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley) a reminder of his expenditure in the service of the ministry. In particular, he noted the recent loss of a ship with the Quebec expedition, which together with electoral and other expenses was said to amount to over £14,000. Vernon drew attention to Harley’s previous promises of favour, and appeared impatient for preferment, observing archly that ‘I believe I shall be the means of choosing several Members of Parliament’. Certainly, Vernon had little difficulty in securing his own seat at Whitchurch, where the two sitting Members were returned without a contest. His loyalty was finally rewarded in September when he was appointed to the Board of Trade, a post which brought an annual salary of £1,000. Proof of his reconciliation with the party was soon supplied by his vote for the Tory candidates at the ensuing London poll, a contest heavily influenced by divisions over the French commerce bill. Having accepted government office, he had then to seek re-election at Whitchurch in March 1714, but was ‘unanimously’ returned. Further confirmation of ministerial support came that month when he was made a j.p. for Surrey, his father’s native county. The presence of no fewer than three namesakes in the new Parliament undermines any attempt to delineate his activity.5
The accession of George I brought a predictable decline in Vernon’s political fortunes, the new Whig ministry dismissing him from the Board of Trade in December 1714. He did, however, achieve success at Whitchurch in the general election of 1715, after which two lists confirmed his Tory allegiance. Although the Worsley list identified him as a Tory who might be expected to vote Whig in the 1715 Parliament, he consistently opposed the ministry. He later suffered the ignominy of expulsion from the House in May 1721 for attempting at the time of the South Sea Bubble inquiry to influence Hon. Charles Rosse* on behalf of his own son-in-law John Aislabie*. He failed to regain his seat at the ensuing by-election, but was successful in 1722, and remained an MP until his death on 22 Aug. 1726. He was buried at Twickenham, his principal residence since his purchase of the Park estate in 1698. His will indicated the extent of his substantial fortune, including a Twickenham property rented by Alexander Pope with whom he was on friendly terms. In the absence of a male heir, the family’s rich parliamentary tradition was continued by Vernon’s brother Sir Charles†.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. PCC 71 Trenley; Guildhall Lib. ms 15858/1; info. from Prof. R. R. Walcott and Prof. H. G. Horwitz; Add. 38871 (unfol.); British Mercury, 5–9 Sept. 1711; Boyer, Pol. State, iv. 123; J. Aubrey, Surr. v. 320; Pittis, Present Parl. 352.
- 2. HMC Downshire, i. 386; Seymour, Survey of London, i. 567; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(7), pp. 78–79; Bodl. Rawl. C.449; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 386; Sevenoaks Public Lib. Polhill-Drabble mss U1007, C13/4, J. Macky to [–], 24 Feb. 1701.
- 3. Egerton 3359 (unfol.); Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 8, 184, 530; xxix. 180, 836.
- 4. Stowe mss 57(7), pp. 78–79; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 167; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 12 June 1713.
- 5. Add. 70207, Vernon to Ld. Oxford, 7 Aug. 1713; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 123; Post Boy, 15–17 Sept. 1713, 11–13 Mar. 1714; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 225.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 633; PCC 173 Plymouth, 71 Trenley; Lysons, Environs (1792–6), iii. 566; Pope Corresp. ed. Sherburn, ii. 15.