EYRE, Francis (1722-97), of Colesborne, Glos.
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Family and Education
bap. 28 June 1722, o. surv. s. of Francis Eyre, shoemaker of Truro, by his w. Elizabeth Pascoe. m. Sarah Prescott, 1da.
Articled in 1737 to a Truro attorney, Eyre qualified in 1744 and subsequently practised in London, specializing in cases concerned with trade and plantation affairs. During the seven years’ war, as part owner of at least three ships engaged in privateering, he acquired a considerable fortune, and invested large sums in estates in Jamaica, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
In 1766, having ‘for some time past entertained thoughts of coming into Parliament’,1 Eyre heard from a friend, John Spottiswoode, that members of the corporation of Morpeth were seeking a candidate to oppose the Carlisle interest, which was being maintained by restricting the creation of freemen in the borough. On 12 Aug. 1766 Spottiswoode wrote to Robert Trotter, one of the leaders of the opposition in the borough, about Eyre, who, he declared,
would on no consideration submit to represent a venal mercenary body whose only attachment is gold, and who are always at market to be bought and sold ... Allow me, therefore, to recommend this gentleman as a person of strict honour and probity, a benevolent heart, and blest with a sufficient fortune, one who would cheerfully undertake all your battles against power and riches; and his knowledge in the law, which he has studied and practised for many years, joined with his natural spirit, activity and address, points him out to me as the person you wish for and ought to have. 2
After some hesitation Eyre agreed to stand, and at his own expense instituted legal proceedings on behalf of the excluded freemen.
The expense and uncertainty [he wrote to Spottiswoode, 11 Nov. 1766] would be alarming and deter perhaps any man alive but the man who does it. He has spoke to several who are very anxious about a seat in Parliament, but they shudder at it ... however, the greater the danger the greater the honour.3
Despite strong opposition from the Carlisle connexion, the rights of the excluded burgesses were established by the court of King’s bench, and at a canvass taken late in 1767 Eyre and his colleague Richard Fuller received a ‘fair majority’.4 Eyre was then approached by the Carlisles but at first ignored what he described as their ‘soothings, immense promises and threatenings’.5 However when, shortly before the election, doubts were cast on the legality of votes by freemen chosen less than a year before the election, a compromise was reached, by which Fuller withdrew and Eyre was to be returned with Peter Beckford, the Carlisle candidate. This arrangement was upset by the last minute candidature of Sir Matthew White Ridley, who with Beckford was declared elected by the returning officer. After petitioning unsuccessfully, Eyre began to campaign for the next election. At the poll in 1774 the returning officer once more declared Carlisle’s candidates elected, but finally, intimidated by the threats of Eyre’s supporters, agreed to return Eyre in place of William Byron. On 8 Dec. 1774, shortly after taking his seat, and while a petition from Byron was pending, Eyre wrote to Trotter that he had spoken in the House,6
very coolly relative to Mr. Grenville’s bill, and the public say I got much honour by it as I succeeded. However, I rather lost my temper when I spoke upon my own affair, but it had its effect and got me many friends—Lord John Cavendish, Sir Edward Astley, Mr. Fuller, Mr. Mackworth etc. etc. who all spoke for me.
But on 27 Jan. 1775 he was unseated. In June 1776 Byron died and Eyre immediately prepared for another contest, but he received little encouragement from Trotter, and being already involved in financial difficulties and lawsuits in connexion with his West Indian estates, he withdrew from the contest, and made no further attempt at Morpeth.
Increasingly embarrassed financially, Eyre was forced to sell his Gloucestershire estates, and from 1777 was frequently a defendant in pleas of debts, while in 1777 and 1778 he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea. According to the English Chronicle, writing in 1780 or 1781, before the general election of 1780 Eyre, hearing that Charles Anderson Pelham, patron of Grimsby, ‘was not decided as to his choice of any particular individual ... rode post to Grimsby, and paid his compliments to his unknown patron’, and having gained Pelham’s support was returned unopposed.
In Parliament Eyre voted regularly with Administration till the fall of North; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. In Robinson’s list of January 1784 he is classed as ‘very hopeful’, but in Stockdale’s of 19 Mar. as a Foxite. Eyre spoke several times on a variety of subjects, but with particular reference to West Indian and American affairs.
Eyre did not stand again in 1784, nor apparently at any subsequent election. His fortunes continued to decline, and having disposed of all his estates, he died comparatively poor on 13 Mar. 1797.