BACON, Edward (?1712-86), of Earlham, nr. Norwich.
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Family and Education
b. ?1712, 1st s. of Waller Bacon of Earlham, M.P. for Norwich, bencher of G. Inn, by his w. Frances. educ. G. Inn 1731, called 1738, bencher 1755, treasurer 1764. m. 4 Sept. 1742, Elizabeth Knight of Southampton, s.p. suc. fa. 1734.
Steward of Norwich 1750, recorder 1752-83.
Ld. of Trade Dec. 1759-July 1765; chairman of committee of privileges and elections 1758-70.
Independent and diligent, Bacon was a highly respectable and apparently very dull Member. During his 41 years in the House he is not known to have spoken in any major debate, and altogether his interventions were exceedingly rare; his parliamentary activities centred on committee work, and he was an indefatigable representative of local interests. Horace Walpole described him as having ‘more Whiggism than abilities’.1
Returned for King’s Lynn, and next for Callington, on the Walpole interest, Bacon was a regular, though not a subservient, Government supporter. In 1754 he was invited to stand for Norwich. The following memorandum, dated 25 Mar. 1754, is among Newcastle’s election papers:2
Mr. Bacon says that Mr. Pelham pressed [him] to decline standing for Norwich, that to oblige Mr. Pelham he did decline (though it was to his own inclination to have stood) Mr. Pelham having promised to bring him into Parliament. Mr. Pelham acquainted him by letter this summer that he had fixed him at Newport, and that he should come in upon easy and reasonable terms. To which Mr. Bacon wrote an answer submitting to Mr. Pelham’s pleasure as to his election, but declining contest or expense.
Mr. Morice yesterday wrote to Mr. Bacon and Col. Lee that as he had been at an excessive expense at Newport they could not expect to come in for nothing, that he did not expect a reimbursement of his expenses, and that they should pay no more than what was agreed by Mr. Pelham ...
And a further minute of 31 Mar.3reads: ‘Mr. Bacon of Norwich. Is willing to come in at Newport at an expense of £1000.’ He was returned after a contest. When, however, toward the end of 1755 ‘Old Horace’ Walpole, M.P. for Norwich, was about to be made a peer, Bacon would not stand down for his son Thomas. This time Newcastle, apparently afraid that a dispute with Walpole might drive Bacon ‘into measures of opposition’, persuaded Walpole to give in: which did not surprise Bacon who had secured a ‘steady and firm attachment’ of ‘gentlemen of all denominations’ to his interest.4 He was returned unopposed.
When on 2 May 1757, in the concluding debate on the loss of Minorca, George Townshend moved an amendment inculpating the Newcastle-Fox Administration, Bacon voted for it;5 and in June, when a new Administration was being formed, Pitt insisted on his being appointed to the first vacancy at the Board of Trade; but because of a promise to Edward Eliot that none should be disposed of till they both could be accommodated6 he had to wait till December 1759. He then zealously applied himself to its work, his attendance at Board meetings during his 5½ years of office averaging nearly 80 per cent.7
At the general election of 1761 Bacon and Harbord were opposed by two Norwich aldermen whom they easily defeated. In October 1761 Newcastle sent Bacon his parliamentary whip through Lord Buckinghamshire; in Bute’s list of December 1761, he is marked ‘Government’ and ‘Orford’. In the choice of a new Speaker, Bacon was seriously considered by Newcastle8 who, however, finding that he was ‘not liked’,9 does not seem to have pressed his candidature. In November 1762 Newcastle still classed Bacon as ‘pro’, but Fox, in a list compiled at the beginning of December, more correctly included him among the Members favourable to the peace preliminaries. Not a single Opposition vote by Bacon is recorded under the Bute or the Grenville Administration. In March 1763 he was placed, as a safe man, on what was really a Treasury list for the select committee to inquire into the accounts of the late war. Only one single speech by Bacon is recorded in this Parliament (if it was a speech): on 29 Feb. 1764 he moved on behalf of his Board the estimates for the civil settlements of East and West Florida.10
Bacon’s retention at the Board of Trade was never considered by the Rockinghams in June-July 1765; and he went into opposition with the Grenvilles; voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 7 and 22 Feb. 1766; and against the Chatham Administration over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. In January and March 1767 Townshend and Newcastle classed him as a follower of Grenville; but a letter from Lord Buckinghamshire to George Grenville, written from Norwich, 29 Feb. 1768,11 suggests that he was veering toward the Government (his not voting on the nullum tempus bill may have been symptomatic):
The county and city are in a high ferment, it does not appear to me that Bacon will lose his election, I could have wished his behaviour had lately been such as would have justified my interesting myself for him.
In the new Parliament Bacon’s first recorded vote, on Wilkes’s petition, 27 Jan. 1769, was still with Opposition; after which he appears in every extant division list as voting with Government, except on making permanent Grenville’s Election Act—having long been chairman of the committee on elections, he appreciated the value of the Act; he appears in the King’s list as a dissenting ‘friend’, and at the end of the Parliament was classed by Robinson as ‘pro’. A few interventions in debate by Bacon in committees on the gunpowder bill and on the linen trade, 6 May 1772 and in March 1774, are reported in this Parliament (by Cavendish and Brickdale), the last to be recorded anywhere.
In 1774 Bacon’s election was uncontested. In the new Parliament he remained an unwavering supporter of the North Administration: there are seven division lists in this Parliament giving the names of Government supporters, and from none was Bacon absent. The Public Ledger, an Opposition paper, wrote about him in 1779:
Steadily attached to the ministry in all questions whatsoever. What his motives are, and what his objects (for he has not the appearance of being without them) does not fall to our knowledge.
But as he never held any office after 1765, it must be assumed that he acted from conviction—which the English Chronicle, though also an Opposition paper, acknowledged in a note on him in 1781:
Edward Bacon ... is an intelligent sensible man, perfectly conversant in the intricacies of committee business, and skilled in all the branches of commercial information. He is vulgarly denominated a stickler, but as this appellation appears in him to be only an ill-natured mode of conveying an idea of indefatigable attention to every subject that comes within his cognizance, it will rather operate as a compliment than otherwise. He is firmly attached to Lord North, and is of course his friend in Parliament.
The election of 1780 was warmly contested, and Bacon won by a narrow margin only. In the new Parliament no vote by him is recorded: he was too ill to attend. Robinson wrote about him in December 1783:12
Mr. Bacon is so ill he can’t attend and can’t live long; perhaps may not wish to come in again.
He did not stand in 1784, and died 12 Mar. 1786.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Mems. Geo. III, i. 68.
- 2. Add. 32995, f. 128.
- 3. Ibid. f. 134.
- 4. Walpole to Newcastle, 15 Nov. 1755, Add. 32861, f. 482; Newcastle to Bacon, 27 Nov., 1 Dec., Walpole to Newcastle, 2 Dec., Add. 32861, ff. 108, 161, 175.
- 5. J. West to Newcastle, 3 May, Add. 32871, f. 13.
- 6. Add. 32891, f. 235; 32896, f. 338; 32898, ff. 364-5.
- 7. Basye, Board of Trade, 223-5.
- 8. See list, n.d., Add. 32929, f. 319.
- 9. Newcastle to Bedford, 10 Oct., Bedford mss 44, f. 194.
- 10. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 11. Grenville mss (JM).
- 12. Laprade, 74.