DUMMER, Thomas (c.1739-81), of Cranbury, Hants.
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Family and Education
On 18 Aug. 1765 Newcastle wrote to the Duke of Cumberland about electoral alignments in the Isle of Wight:1
Mr. Powell is now quite united with Mr. Holmes, Lord Holmes’s heir and successor, Mr. Leigh (who has great weight in the Isle of Wight), Sir John Barrington and Mr. Dummer [Dummer’s father]; this united interest is sure of carrying five, if not the whole six Members in the Isle of Wight.
On 14 Oct. 1765 Hans Stanley wrote to (George Grenville: ‘On the death of Mr. Dummer ... Mr. Holmes, who appears wholly devoted to the new Administration ... promised his son the vacant seat at Newport’,2 for which he was duly returned. In November 1766 he was classed by Rockingham as a Whig which suggests that he voted with the Rockinghams when in office. But he did not vote on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, and on 2 Mar. appears in Newcastle’s list among the ‘doubtful or absent’. He voted, however, with Opposition on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768.
At the general election of 1768 Dummer stood again on the Holmes-Government interest for Yarmouth, and was seated on petition. But next over Wilkes and the Middlesex election he voted three times with Opposition, 27 Jan. and 2 Feb. 1769, and as Jan. 1770, and never with Government. He again voted with Opposition over the Spanish convention, 13 Feb. 1771, and over Grenville’s Election Act, 25 Feb. 1774, and on that occasion is not marked by North, as are 84 other Members, as a friend voting against. In 1774 he was returned for Downton on the Duncombe interest but unseated on petition. In 1774 Lord Verney’s private circumstances compelled him to have ‘those stand for Wendover ... who can bear the charge which that borough is to him’,3 but why and how Joseph Bullock vacated his seat there in March 1775 to let in Dummer is not clear. Possibly Bullock was still returned on easy terms—‘Mr. Bullock is indeed accidentally of some use [to Verney]; we are of none at all’, wrote Burke when explaining why Verney had to drop him [Burke]. And perhaps now Bullock vacated the seat to enable Verney to sell it to better profit; and it was sold to one who henceforth steadily voted with Government: there are none but minority lists for 1775-9, but Dummer never appears in them; and in the five divisions, February-April 1780 for which there are full division lists, he voted with Government. The Public Ledger wrote about him in 1779: ‘gave £5,000 for his seat for this borough, and votes constantly with Government’, and the English Chronicle, in 1780 or 1781, that Bullock was ‘prevailed upon to vacate his seat for the very purpose, as it was supposed, of introducing this opulent substitute’. Robinson, in his survey for the general election of 1780, counted Dummer as a friend to Government; wrote that Verney will not bring him in again; and put against Lymington, where two opponents were to be ousted, that ‘two good friends of Government’ would be brought in—Dummer was one of them. The English Chronicle starts its long, and not altogether accurate, note on Dummer by describing him as ‘one of the richest, the obscurest, the most independent, and the most implicit Members in the House’; who for reasons incomprehensible to the writer, steadily voted with the Government—
He has fewer inducements than almost any man in the House, for his price (if he had one) could not consist in pecuniary temptations—he is too opulent for that; it could not arise from a wish for employment—he is too indolent for that; and besides if his intentions had had that tendency, they would doubtless have been indulged long ago; it could hardly proceed from ambition of titular consequence as he is too old ... and has no relation sufficiently near ... There is not, therefore, one motive to be assigned for this implicit conduct in Mr. Dummer; and as he cannot, of course, come under the predicament of a dependent, in the bad sense of the term, there is, perhaps but one way of getting rid of the difficulty, and that is, to call it a paradox, and wonder at it in ignorant taciturnity.
Although the point about the absence of titular ambitions is hardly convincing, and is palpably adduced to round off the argument, it is a fact that no application has been found from Dummer for titles or honours; and he never held any office; and the idea that the American war brought over a Member to the Government side on perfectly honest and honourable grounds, seems to have been as incredible to contemporary as to latter-day ‘Whigs’. But there undoubtedly was a paradox about a Member who in 1768-74 voted against the Government after having been returned on its interest, and in 1774-80 with it, while holding a seat purchased from Lord Verney. Also the concluding sentence of the note in the English Chronicle has retained its validity: the one peculiarity characterizing Dummer is ‘of being at once one of the richest, and the most unknown individuals in the kingdom’. He died on 3 June 1781, and it is the disposal of his property in his will that brings him into contemporary correspondence. A. M. Storer wrote to Lord Carlisle, 18 June 1781:4
Mr. Dummer ... left nothing to either of the Pentons who are his nearest relations, but has left all his [e]state to Ned Chamberlayne, who acted for him as his steward.
And Joseph Farington wrote that Dummer ‘bequeathed his great property, an estate of £6 or £7,000 a year, besides an estate of about £100,000 in the hands of the accomptant-general, after the death of Mrs. Dummer’ to Chamberlayne, his solicitor; and he adds the curious remark: ‘the late Mr. Dummer was a very weak man, and did not appear to have partiality for Mr. Chamberlayne’.5 Lastly, the Rev. M. Lort wrote to Bishop Percy, 24 June 1785: ‘There is a very capital collection of Greek, Roman, and English coins coming to market, belonging to the late Mr. Dummer.’6 Otherwise hardly anything is known about the man, whose estates are repeatedly referred to as ‘immense’, suggesting sums much higher than those named above.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Add. 32969, f. 74.
- 2. The letter is printed in Grenville Pprs, iii. 98-99, but this passage is omitted, and is taken from the original in Sir John Murray’s possession.
- 3. E. Burke to Rockingham, 16 Sept. 1774.
- 4. HMC Carlisle, 501.
- 5. Farington Diary, i. 56.
- 6. Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, vii. 470.