BURRELL, Peter II (1723-75), of Langley Park, Beckenham, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



21 Feb. 1759 - 1768
1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. 6 Dec. 1723, 1st s. of Peter Burrell I. educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1737-8; St. John’s, Camb. 1741; L. Inn 1742, called 1749. m. 28 Mar. 1748, Elizabeth, da. of John Lewis of Hackney, Mdx., 1s. 5da. His da. Elizabeth m. R. H. A. Bennett; Isabella m. Lord Algernon Percy, later 1st Earl of Beverley; Frances m. Hugh, Lord Percy, later 2nd Duke of Northumberland; and Amelia m. Douglas, 8th Duke of Hamilton. suc. fa. 16 Apr. 1756.

Offices Held

Surveyor-gen. of Crown lands May 1769- d.


Burrell, having heard that the succession to his father’s contracts was to go to Brice Fisher and the parliamentary seat to Thomas Sewell, immediately on his father’s death wrote a bitter letter to Newcastle1 about Fisher and the emoluments heaped on him—‘no one in the City of London would disapprove of a son’s succeeding to his father’; and as for Dover, sending them a congé d’élire ‘may be a dangerous experiment ... there is some difference betwixt a lawyer or any other indifferent person and me, as my father has done services to many in that town, and I may justly call myself a countryman’.2 ‘Mr. Burrell, I think’, wrote Newcastle to the Duke of Dorset, 17 Apr., ‘seems to demand as a right to succeed his father everywhere ... I own I have my doubts as to the prudence of bringing such a gentleman into Parliament.’ Nonetheless he put Burrell on his list of parliamentary candidates,3 and in September 1756 was willing to nominate him at Ilchester—but Burrell, wrote James West on 27 Sept.,4 ‘makes a good deal of difficulty about the expense, and apprehends your Grace intended to bring him into Parliament at little or no expense to himself’. In December, on a vacancy occurring in Newcastle’s pocket borough of Boroughbridge, Burrell wrote to him:5

I am heartily sorry to be so obscure that even your own promise ... could not call to your remembrance one who lost his seat at Haslemere to serve you, and withdrew his pretensions at Dover on the faith of your promise and on your earnest request ... What, my Lord, have I done to cancel it?

He asked: could he count on the Duke’s promise or should he look out for himself? Newcastle replied6 that promises given qua minister he could not be expected to fulfil in his own boroughs after having left employment.

At last in December 1758, after two other candidates had been considered, Burrell got his chance at Humphry Morice’s borough of Launceston. Morice on 28 Dec. wrote to Newcastle7 that he had put up Burrell, who thought himself unkindly treated by Newcastle; that he told Burrell he had done so at the Duke’s request; and if the Duke confirmed this to Burrell ‘he shall never know to the contrary from me’. Newcastle replied on 30 Dec.8 approving of the choice: ‘I know him to be a very honest man’; but did not believe Burrell thought any more ‘of coming into Parliament by my means’—‘as the merit to him is entirely your own, I think, I can take no other part in it but to approve extremely what you have done.’ On 30 Dec. Burrell’s opponent, Sir John St. Aubyn, was returned, but Burrell was seated on petition, Charles Townshend, a close friend of his, acting for him in the House, and Newcastle and Pitt apparently favouring the petition.9

Although now provided for at Launceston, Burrell did not renounce the interest he had inherited at Haslemere. On the death of James More Molyneux he wrote to Newcastle, 27 June 1759,10 that he was determined to back his pretensions and interest there ‘at any expense, if ... pushed upon it’, and asked for the Duke’s support ‘in an affair where I have the greatest reason to hope for success’. But he does not seem to have carried the issue to a poll. At the general election in 1761 Burrell was again returned for Launceston, but at Haslemere supported Muilman and Parker against Molyneux and Webb, and their petition when defeated. ‘Mr. Burrell is outrageous with me on account of the Haslemere election, and talks very high upon taking his property from him by power’, wrote Newcastle to Hardwicke, 21 Nov. 1761;11 and when Newcastle peremptorily refused to support him, ‘he made almost a disturbance in my levee room upon it’. In the end the petition was withdrawn: even Charles Townshend and Lord Carysfort, ‘their chief friend’, left them—‘the cause came out such that he would have no more to do with it’.12

On 15 May 1761, Burrell wrote to the Duke of Bedford thanking him for ‘the quiet election at Launceston’—‘an opposition would have given me great uneasiness, and to your Grace I owe that there was none’. He referred to Bedford having told him that he thought of parting with his property at Newport—the twin borough to Launceston—‘and would treat about it as soon as the hurry of elections should be over’.13 The Duke sent the letter to his agent, John Butcher, for his opinion—‘what method I had best proceed in the selling of the estate at Newport, and the price I can reasonably ask for it’; and on 17 May replied to Burrell: ‘I am not yet at all determined, as to the parting with estates at Newport and Launceston, and therefore must decline for the present the treating with any person about them.’14 It is not clear whether Burrell was acting on behalf of his friend Morice who, not being on good terms with the Duke, may have preferred not to appear openly in the matter, or whether he was out to establish an interest of his own in his friend’s borough.

The friendship with Townshend was the lodestar of Burrell’s political conduct, and his behaviour was as erratic as that of his leader. On 13 Nov. 1762, Newcastle classed both as ‘doubtful’; next, Fox listed them as favourable to the peace preliminaries; and when on 9 Dec. Townshend left before the division, Burrell too abstained from voting. And next, on the formation of the Grenville Administration in April 1763, Burrell became involved through Townshend in the one incident which (barring his daughters’ brilliant marriages) ever brought him into prominence. It was intended to move Townshend from the Board of Trade to the Admiralty, normally a promotion. But Townshend started his usual game of hanging back, accepting, and refusing, which was the more embarrassing as the Board of Trade was promised to Shelburne. John Bindley, another friend of Townshend’s, wrote to Charles Jenkinson on 8 Apr.: ‘Mr. T. is to be at Mr. Burrell’s at seven, who will most strongly enforce his steady attachment to the Administration. The world say he will not accept. I am pretty confident he will.’15 At last, on the 14th, the King persuaded him to accept the Admiralty;16 but the next day the King wrote to Bute at 12.27 p.m.:

Ch. Townshend begged to see me before I dressed, it was to push in the strongest manner for Burrell to be in the Admiralty; that he had no friend in that board; that it lowered his character which he knew I wished to support; I told him all the vacancies were filled up, that there was no room for his or any other man’s friend.

At 1.15 p.m.:

Ch. Townshend has desired Ld. Halifax to tell me he cannot kiss hands without Burrell. I have sent Ld. Halifax out to tell him he yesterday accepted without conditions, and therefore expect he will kiss hands.


Charles Townshend has refused because I won’t promise him to vacate a seat in his board for Burrell.

At 3.50 p.m.:

Ld. Halifax and Mr. Grenville promised him that any weight they could have should be used to gain the first vacancy in that board for Mr. Burrell; that he refused and returned to the first charge.17

To this James Harris adds (and the statement is confirmed by Walpole) that Townshend going to Court took ‘his friend Peter Burrell (by virtue of his own right of entry) into the inner or second room, next the King’s closet, that second room where his Majesty receives company, and where no one ever goes before the doors are opened, except persons peculiarly privileged by their offices’; and that there the two argued the matter with Halifax and Grenville—‘neither he nor Burrell were satisfied, and Burrell twas remarked, took the lead in the remonstrance’.18 After this they both naturally went into Opposition; joined Wildman’s Club; and voted regularly with the minority. On 24 Jan. 1764 Burrell sharply attacked the Government over the Cider Act, and on 15 Feb., over Wilkes, acted as teller for the Opposition. A month later Newcastle listed them both as ‘sure’; but when Townshend refused to take active office under Rockingham, Burrell was marked by Rockingham as ‘doubtful’; and when Townshend took office under Chatham, Burrell became a regular follower of Administration, which he remained even after Townshend’s death.

Although the Burrell hold on one seat at Haslemere was re-established in 1768, this was filled by William Burrell, while Peter was returned for Totnes on the Duke of Bolton’s interest, probably at Grafton’s request; but when in 1774 he stood again on the same interest, he was defeated.

As debater in the House Burrell was unimportant; and it is difficult to ascertain the frequency of his recorded speeches, as it is often impossible to distinguish him from Merrick Burrell, 1761-68, and from William Burrell, 1768-74. Nor did he apparently play any prominent part in finance though he continued his father’s business—thus, for example, on John Bristow becoming practically insolvent, Burrell applied to Newcastle for Bristow’s remittances to Gibraltar, 10 Sept. 176119—‘My correspondence at Lisbon gives me the same opportunities my father had, and my fortune and character in life a full security to the public’; and he can probably claim more merit than other applicants ‘if constant attention to public service and the business of Parliament can give me any’. Similarly Samuel Martin, reviewing for Bute engagements to contractors, 17 Apr. 1763,20 mentions Peter Burrell’s application ‘to be appointed remitter to Minorca’.

He died 6 Nov. 1775.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 32864, ff. 298-9.
  • 2. The Dover people thought differently—see JONES, H. V. and DOVER constituency.
  • 3. Add. 32884, ff. 397-8.
  • 4. Add. 32867, f. 456.
  • 5. 27 Dec. 1756, Add. 32869, f. 404.
  • 6. Add. 32870, ff. 17-18.
  • 7. Add. 32886, f. 505.
  • 8. Ibid. f. 539.
  • 9. See Townshend’s report of the debate of 16 Jan. 1759 to Newcastle, Add. 32887, f. 197.
  • 10. Add. 32892, f. 264.
  • 11. Add. 32931, f. 195.
  • 12. Same to same, 12 Feb. 1762, Add. 32934, f. 291.
  • 13. Bedford mss 43, f. 260.
  • 14. Ibid. f. 264.
  • 15. Add. 38200, f. 293.
  • 16. King to Bute, Sedgwick, 221.
  • 17. For these four letters see ibid. 223-4.
  • 18. James Harris’s memorandum, Malmesbury mss.
  • 19. Add. 32928, f. 76.
  • 20. Bute mss.