BARWELL, Richard (1741-1804), of Stansted Park, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. 8 Oct. 1741 at Calcutta, s. of William Barwell, later gov. of Fort William and director of E.I.Co., by his w. Elizabeth Pierce of Calcutta. educ. Westminster 1750. m. (1) 13 Sept. 1776 at Calcutta, Elizabeth Jane (d. 1779), da. of Robert Sanderson, 2s. d.v.p.; (2) 24 June 1785, Catherine, da. of Nathaniel Coffin of Bristol, formerly cashier of customs, Boston, Mass., at least 10 surv. legit. ch.1
Writer in the E.I.Co. 1757; proceeded to Bengal 1758; 12th on council for Bengal 1770; 4th on the supreme council 1774; res. and returned to England 1780.
Barwell came of a family (originally from Kegworth, Leics.) which had East Indian connexions since at least 1682.2 He had two brothers in the Company’s civil service, and another a captain of an East Indiaman; his father, at one time a supporter of Laurence Sulivan, got him his writership;3 but he was the architect of his own fortune, amassed by private trade and by undertakings in the supply of timber and salt which were of very doubtful legality.4 He was one of the first of the Company’s servants to realize the advantage to his career of investing the money he remitted to England in East India stock, and of placing the votes in the Company so acquired at the disposal of the dominant faction.5
Barwell is best known for his support of Warren Hastings in the struggle against Philip Francis and his allies in the Supreme Council, 1774-80, though the alliance did not survive Hastings’s return to England. Barwell was a calculating man, with strong family feelings but few close friends, despite his expansive hospitality; but he also avoided making enemies,6 and Hastings spoke approvingly of his ‘easy and pleasant’ manners and his ‘fertility of official resources’.7 Nevertheless, while in Bengal he could not avoid the venom of Philip Francis, nor a duel with the bellicose General Clavering; and the laxity of his private morals made him vulnerable. His heavy gambling losses to Francis gained notoriety, and in the year of his return to England a disappointed blackmailer exposed some of his amorous exploits in a scurrilous pamphlet entitled The Intrigues of a Nabob; or Bengal the Fittest Soil for Lust.8
While still in India he had distinguished between
a servant of Government and a creature of the ministers. The former ... a character which uninfluenced by a change in the Administration, invariably adheres to the court, and not ... like the latter, attached to any personal interests of an individual.9
He kept in touch with John Robinson, secretary to the Treasury,10 and in 1778, when planning to leave India, instructed his sister to tell Robinson that ‘I shall be happy to hold a seat in the House under the countenance of the minister, and that I have commissioned you to be at any expense not exceeding £4,000 to enable me to render service in that line’.11 In 1780 he stood for Wallingford on a joint interest with John Cator who felt ‘sure of carrying the borough for both’;12 but they were defeated. In March 1781 Barwell was returned for Helston.
In the House he was one of the richest ‘nabobs’: he was believed to have returned with a fortune of more than £400,000. Though he was only 40 when elected to Parliament, his active career lay behind him. He sought a seat, no doubt partly for prestige, but partly to protect himself against attacks on the sources of his East India wealth. His three recorded interventions in parliamentary debate before 1790 were all in self-defence: 5 Mar. 1782 over his refusal to answer some questions put to him by the secret committee; 28 May, over the Rohilla war; and 19 Apr. 1787 in reply to a reference by Burke to him.13 In his vulnerable position he exercised extreme caution: he tried to be politically inconspicuous, and preferred, whenever possible, to support the Government of the day. In the three divisions preceding the fall of the North Administration (27 Feb., 8 and 15 Mar. 1782) he voted with them. When Shelburne came into the Treasury, Barwell made a private approach to him;14 but voted against the peace preliminaries, and in March 1783 was classed by Robinson ‘North, doubtful’. He attended the general court of the East India Company on 7 Nov., when it passed in defiance of the Fox-North Administration, a vote of thanks to Hastings.15 But he kept neutral over Fox’s India bill, 27 Nov. 1783; and John Sinclair wrote about him in a paper for Pitt, early in January 1784:16 ‘It would not be difficult to get his interest. He did not vote. Mr. Sinclair could speak to him if necessary.’ By January 1784 he was classed by Robinson as a supporter of Pitt, and in 1784 was one of the candidates for whom Administration found seats—he is in the list of ‘persons that will pay 2,000 or 2,500 or perhaps £3,000’; and the name Barwell usually appears twice, his brother James having also been considered for a seat.17 Richard Barwell was finally returned by H. M. Praed for a seat at St. Ives which he had placed at the disposal of the Government for £3,500.18
Henceforth he was a consistent, though inert, supporter of Administration; voted with them against the impeachment of his former colleague, Sir Elijah Impey, 9 May 1788; and paired on their side in the divisions on the Regency. Shortly before the general election of 1790 Barwell and Lord Darlington purchased the estate of John Nesbitt at Winchelsea, the borough for which Barwell sat for the rest of his parliamentary life. He also purchased the borough of Tregony from Sir F. Basset.
Barwell found adjustment to English life hard on his return from India, but seems to have overcome his difficulties.19 In 1781 he purchased for about £100,000 the estate of Stansted Park, Sussex, from the trustees of the Earl of Halifax, and he occupied himself with the cares of his family and his fortune (he acquired large holdings in the funds by subscription and purchase between 1781 and 1784, but sold out all his holdings by March 1786),20 with the purchase of land in Sussex, and the enlargement and beautification of his magnificent house and grounds at Stansted.21 A lady visiting nearby wrote of him on 24 July 1785:22
While I was at Uppark a marriage took place near there that surprized most people. Mr. Barwell, the great East Indian of Stansted, to Miss Coffin, a very pretty little girl not 16, of American extraction. Till a fortnight before this event he kept a very beautiful mistress close to his park, by whom he has several children, and till very lately he declared most strongly against matrimony. He seems a good-natured man, but the mogul prevails strongly, I think, in his way of life and conversation.
Barwell died 2 Sept. 1840.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Lucy S. Sutherland
- 1. Ms ped. in possession of the Barwell family.
- 2. Nichols. Leics. iii (2), p. 853; J.M. Holzman, Nabobs in England, 39.
- 3. ‘Letters of Mr. Richard Barwell’, Bengal Past Present, x. 242.
- 4. Ibid. ix. xi. and xii passim.
- 5. Bengal Past Present, x. 248 and xi. 265.
- 6. See, e.g., ibid. ix. 92.
- 7. To. L. Sulivan, 6 Jan. 1780, Bodl. ms. Eng, Hist. C271, f. 37.
- 8. The author was Henry F. Thompson.
- 9. Barwell
to his sister Mary, 30 Mar. 1776, Bengal Past Present, xiv. 223.
- 10. See letters from him to Barwell, 24 July and 25 Nov. 1776, Abergavenny mss.
- 11. Bengal Past Present, xvii. 297.
- 12. Robinson’s survey for the general election of 1780.
- 13. Debrett, vi. 326; vii. 197, 199; xxii. 126.
- 14. Barwell to Hastings, n.d. (recd. July 1783),