CUST, Peregrine (1723-85), of Leadenhall St., London and Wanstead, Essex
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Family and Education
Delegate for Bristol on the African committee 1755-65; director, E.I. Co. 1767-9, dep. chairman 1769-70.
In 1739, for a fee of £500, Peregrine Cust was apprenticed to William Smith, Aufrère, and Co., linen drapers in Cornhill. Sent to Holland in 1743, he was ordered to learn ‘many languages and other things’. ‘I am now upon the High Dutch’, he wrote to his brother John, ‘and before I come home am to perfect myself in exchanges.’1 The same year he was admitted partner with a capital of £3,000.
Cust was returned for Bishop’s Castle at a cost of £1,200 on the interest of Charles Walcot,2 whose uncle and political mentor Sir Francis Dashwood was a Leicester House associate of John Cust. But Peregrine’s first frank and his first thanks went to his mother, whose grand-father, Sir Richard Mason, had represented the borough, and to whose assistance he chose to ascribe his having been elected ‘not only without opposition but with the united hearts of the whole town’.3 In the Commons he started by adhering to his brother’s old Leicester House connexions, now the new court; and during the next 24 years he is not known ever to have voted against Government. Suffering from no hesitancy in debate, he spoke on the Address, 13 Nov. 1761, attacking the German war as too costly and risky—‘all our success came from unforeseen accidents ... we always shall be inferior on the continent’.4 ‘Mr. Cust’, wrote Lord George Sackville, ‘... seemed in six sentences to answer the wild flights of Alderman Beckford.’5 During the next 10 years his interventions in debate, not very frequent but almost always on subjects on which he had expert knowledge, received attention. Thus James Harris notes in reporting the debate on the peace preliminaries, 10 Dec. 1762: ‘Cust ... did laudably—gave the only good account of the African article, and of the great importance of Senegal, the little use of Goree, and all this from authentic vouchers.’ And in March 1763, in the general court of the East India Company—‘the first of the great general courts whose debates were sometimes to rival those of the House of Commons in the interest they aroused’6—Cust and Robert Wood were the chief spokesmen for the Government in the fight between Sulivan and Clive over the peace treaty.
By 1762 Cust was of sufficient standing in the City to be informed by Bute of ‘the appointment of a minister to France’.7 When a month later Government contracts were being transferred from Newcastle’s friends to those of Bute, Cust, jointly with Touchet, was employed ‘to remit to Germany the subsistence of the troops’;8 and a year later, in money remittances to Gibraltar in partnership with Robert Jones, Sandwich’s ‘man of business’ in the Commons and in East India House. Cust was, in fact, one of the chief Government contractors under Bute’s Treasury.9 He remained close to the Grenville Administration; was ready to assist them in elections;10 and together with Amyand and Touchet was supposed to advise, or even ‘govern’, Grenville on matters of financed.11
But on the advent of the Rockinghams, Cust did not follow Grenville into opposition; was not singled out by Newcastle among the ‘contractors and remitters’ to be removed;12 did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act; and even in November 1766 was classed by Rockingham as merely ‘doubtful’. He now took a prominent part in debates on East India affairs: Conway, in his account of the opening debate on 9 Dec. 176613 classed him as ‘pro’, which he was to some extent: he admitted the Government’s right to expect some return from the Company, but ‘he was faithful too to the interests of the Company, and started many difficulties’.14 Still, even over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, he voted with Administration, and was classed by Newcastle in his list of 2 Mar. among its followers.
Nevertheless, when in search of a seat before the general election of 1768, Cust managed to procure it for himself with Newcastle’s approval. Here is the story as told by the Duke in a letter of 11 Nov. 1767.15 Some time after Shoreham had in December 1765 returned Admiral Cornish at his recommendation, they proposed, he writes, that Cust
should join Sir Samuel Cornish, which I very readily agreed to; and they now stand jointly as candidates for the next election.
There are a number of Government votes; and Mr. Cust, as brother to the Speaker, has procured those votes to be for him, though they are not for Sir Samuel Cornish; and so they now stand: but that makes no alteration at all in their junction. There are some who will be for one of the candidates, though not for the other.
But when, on 17 Mar. 1768, the constable of Shoreham reported that the two had been returned ‘on the recommendations of your Grace which I hope will still merit your approbation’, Newcastle replied: ‘As to Mr. Cust, he got his recommendation from me; and I have seen very little of him since.’16
The years 1767-70 were probably the culminating period in Peregrine Cust’s public career. He was a director of the East India Company; in March 1767 took a prominent part in negotiations between them and the Government; similarly in the debates on the bill to limit dividends;17 and in February 1768, with the permission of the Commons, gave evidence before the Lords on that bill. During those years he held also considerable amounts of Bank stock rising to about £10,00018—was it merely for investment or was it to qualify for office? But by August 1770 Cust had sold all his Bank stock; and dropped out of the East India directorate. Sir George Colebrooke wrote to Clive, September 1769, about Cust’s ‘curious resolution’ to retire from the deputy chairmanship of the Company, which will cause disharmony in the directorate, ‘but it’s not to be wondered at that he is tired of conflicts’.19
When Alexander Fordyce’s bankruptcy precipitated the severe credit crisis of 1772, Cust was a petitioning creditor, and managed the business with success for the creditors, consideration for Fordyce’s partners, and civility to Fordyce himself. His conduct of the affair received general praise;20 most significantly, from the court of Chancery.
After April 1771 Cust hardly ever spoke in Parliament, except to examine witnesses during the inquiry into the state of the linen industry, March-May 1774, and on 23 Feb. 1781 over a petition against his own return.
At the general election of 1774, Cust stood for Ilchester (Brownlow Cust having moved to the family seat at Grantham). His election was declared void, and he did not stand again; but when his nephew became a peer he succeeded to Grantham, 20 May 1776. Again he voted with the Administration, and was present in every recorded division, February-April 1780. After some hesitation for what borough he should stand,21 he was once more returned on the Lockyer interest at Ilchester; was absent from divisions condemning the American war (12 Dec. 1781 and 27 Feb. 1782), but supported Government on motions of confidence (20 Feb. and 15 Mar. 1782). Again absent from the division on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, in Robinson’s list of March 1783 he is classed among ‘Lord North’s friends, doubtful’; voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov., but apparently absented himself from the divisions after the dismissal of the Coalition. Robinson, in his list of December 1783, expected him to ‘be with’ Pitt’s Government, in Adam’s list of 1784 he is classed as Opposition—and there is no division list for the first session of the new Parliament to settle the point. Having been returned by a much reduced majority, Cust had to face a petition of which the circumstances harassed him ‘more than was fitting in his ill state of health.’22
He died 2 Jan. 1785, leaving leasehold estates in Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex, and also one between Oxford Street and Piccadilly; and money legacies of nearly £30,000 besides a great many annuities. An illegitimate daughter born in 1769 and her mother are mentioned in the will.23
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Recs. Cust. Fam. ii. 257.
- 2. Letters from Cust to Walcot, in Walcot Pprs., Salop RO; also G. Grenville to Cust, 1 Dec. 1763, Grenville letter bk., Grenville mss (HL).
- 3. Recs. Cust Fam. ii. 290.
- 4. Horace Walpole’s notes of that debate (the only ones of that kind which have been preserved) in the possession of W. S. Lewis.
- 5. To J. Irwin, 16 Nov. 1761, HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 86.
- 6. Sutherland, E. I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 108.
- 7. Cust to Jenkinson, 30 Aug. 1763, Bute mss.
- 8. Treasury Minute, 10 Sept. 1762, T29/34/342.
- 9. Jenkinson Pprs. 213-14; S. Martin to Bute, 17 Apr. 1763, Bute mss.
- 10. Grenville letter bk. 24, 27 Sept. 1763.
- 11. G. Onslow to Newcastle, 17 Mar. 1764, Add. 32966, f. 55.
- 12. Fortescue, i. 128.
- 13. Ibid. 425.
- 14. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 288.
- 15. Add. 32986, f. 362.
- 16. Add. 32989, ff. 201, 280.
- 17. T. Bradshaw to Grafton, 14 May 1767, Grafton’s Autobiog. 178.
- 18. Bank of England recs.
- 19. N.d. but endorsed ‘received at Spa 4 Sept. 1769’, Clive mss.
- 20. London Chron. 18 June, 24 Dec. 1772.
- 21. See CUST, Francis,
- 22. Ld. Brownlow to Philip Yorke of Erthig, 22 July 1784, Albinia Cust, Chronicles of Erthig, ii. 226. See ibid. 236, P. Cust to Yorke on his election, 8 Apr. 1784 (misdated 1786).
- 23. For an abstract see Recs. Cust. Fam. iii. 334.