HARLEY, Hon. Thomas (1730-1804), of Berrington, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. 24 Aug. 1730, 4th s. of Edward, 3rd Earl of Oxford, and bro. of Edward, Lord Harley. educ. Westminster 1738-48. m. 15 Mar. 1752, Anne, da. of Edward Bangham, M.P., 2s. 5da.
Alderman, London 1761- d., sheriff, 1763-4, ld. mayor 1767-8; P.C. 27 May 1768.
Harley set up as a wine merchant in Aldersgate St. c.1752. In the trade directories of 1763 he is still described as a wine merchant, but by then he had also entered other fields. Lord Oxford wrote to Sir John Cust, 31 Dec. 1760:1 ‘My brother, Mr. Thomas Harley, who is ... to be concerned in clothing some of the militia regiments, has desired me to mention his name to you, if you ... should think proper to employ him.’
In 1761 Harley was proposed as candidate for London by a committee of merchants under the chairmanship of Richard Glover, and was returned after a contest. He made his first speech on 11 Mar. 1762. He appears in Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries, but like most West country Members he opposed the cider tax, March 1763. Over general warrants he at first supported Grenville’s Administration, and in the debate of 14 Feb. 1764 spoke for them; but in the decisive division of 18 Feb. voted with Opposition—doubtless a concession to popular sentiment in the City of London. He voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766. He supported Chatham’s Administration, but voted against them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767.
In 1768 he was returned for London head of the poll. As lord mayor during the riots of May 1768 he exerted himself to restore law and order; his conduct won general praise, and an address was voted by both Houses asking the King to confer ‘some mark of distinction’ upon him. He was made a Privy Councillor but refused a pension, asking instead for ‘something in the way of his profession’.2 In November 1768 he was given a share in the contract to remit money to the troops in North America.
In the division on Wilkes’s expulsion, 3 Feb. 1769, Harley voted with the court, but on the seating of Luttrell, 15 Apr. 1769, with the Opposition—which was explained by Opposition newspapers, probably correctly, as a sop to popular feeling in the City. Harley consistently supported North’s Administration, and became the leader of the court party in the City. In 1772 he was chairman of the secret committee on East India affairs, and as such introduced the bill to restrain the Company from sending out supervisors to India. He made several speeches on East India affairs, but always in his capacity as chairman of the committee; and seems to have had no personal interest in the Company.
In 1774 he refused to contest London; though had he stood, wrote Walpole,3 ‘Wilkes himself owned that ... he ... would have been the first on the poll’. Wishing to maintain his family’s interest in Herefordshire he contested the county, but was defeated; he was returned after another contest at a by-election in 1776.
During the American war Harley’s contract became extremely profitable, and he added others for remitting money to the West Indies and for supplying clothing and blankets to the troops in America. In 1778 he became a partner in the bank of Raymond, Harley, Webber, and Co., and principal subscriber to Government loans. He bought an estate in Herefordshire and built himself a mansion. He was sensitive about the correctness of his financial dealings with Government; and of the nine speeches he made between 1774 and 1782, eight are in defence of his own honesty and political probity (though neither was ever publicly attacked)—the ninth was on a turnpike bill.
He wished that the contracts were strictly inquired into, [he said in the House, 13 Apr. 17784] as he was conscious that ... his would bear the test ... he had always supported Government upon principle, and had even risked his person and life in support of Government ... he could solemnly affirm his vote in Parliament was never influenced by any other consideration but the mere merit of the several questions as they arose.
Harley did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, and was classed by Robinson, March 1783 as a doubtful follower of North. But he voted against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, belonged to the St. Alban’s Tavern group which tried to bring about a union between Pitt and Fox, and afterwards supported Pitt. However, he voted against Pitt’s Irish commercial propositions, 13 May 1785, but supported him on the Regency.
Harley died 1 Dec. 1804.