MAWBEY, Joseph (1730-98), of Botleys, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 2 Dec. 1730, 2nd surv. s. of John Mawbey of Ravenstone, Leics. by his 2nd w. Martha, da. of Thomas Pratt of Ravenstone. m. 21 Aug. 1760 Elizabeth, da. of his cos. Richard Pratt of Vauxhall, Surr., sis. and h. of Joseph Pratt, 3s. 6da. cr. Bt. 30 July 1765.
Sheriff, Surr. 1757-8.
At the age of seventeen Mawbey became a partner in the vinegar distillery of his uncle Joseph Pratt sen. at Vauxhall, and in 1754 joint owner with his brother. In 1763 he bought Botleys, rebuilt the mansion, and began to take part in county affairs, becoming in 1770 chairman of the Surrey quarter sessions. Further enriched in 1766 by succeeding to the property of his brother-in-law, he retired from business about 1775.
In 1761 Mawbey was returned head of the poll for Southwark. On 10 Dec. 1762 he spoke against the peace preliminaries, and in the divisions over Wilkes and general warrants voted consistently with Opposition. He seems at this time to have been connected with Charles Townshend,1 and at the beginning of 1765 to have veered round in support of the Grenville Administration (he attended the Cockpit meeting of Government supporters on 9 Jan. 17652). But Rockingham on coming into office created him a baronet—‘Your Grace’s friend Joe Mawbey will be ... Sir Joseph’, he wrote to Newcastle on 11 July 1765.3
‘I have sat a considerable time in this House’, said Mawbey on 11 Mar. 1779,4 ‘... during almost the whole of which time I have been in opposition’—the Rockingham ministry alone excepted. His ‘mind and conduct’, he claimed, reviewing his parliamentary career,5 were ‘most decidedly independent’; he was ‘a man of plain sense’, acting ‘uniformly upon principle’.6 Walpole described him as ‘vain, noisy, and foolish’7; and Wraxall as8
a man who, from some unfortunate circumstances of his private life, never could obtain a patient or a candid hearing in Parliament ... Mawbey spoke, nevertheless, with great good sense, though not with brilliancy.
Contemporaries were amused by his keeping pigs, fed on the husks of the barley used in distilling, and his writing poetry which he published in the magazines;9 and he was frequently taunted in the House of Commons with witticisms about pig-keeping.10
He often made himself ridiculous, and became a butt for the wits. One occasion is reported by Harris during the debate on the Address, 10 Jan. 1765:
Mawbey would have had the word glorious added to the word expensive in the description of the war. It happened unfortunately there was no such expression as ‘expensive war’ in the Address, so the House laughed and Mawbey sat down.
He pleaded causes which no one else would take up and few would uphold. In January 1769 he presented Wilkes’s petition to the House, and declared that ‘no character in the kingdom has been libelled so much as Mr. Wilkes’s’.11 While striving earnestly for redress of Wilkes’s alleged grievances, he passed by the main issue; and no speeches by Mawbey are reported on Wilkes’s expulsion or the Middlesex election.
‘What a man says in his place here, he ought not to be ashamed of’, said Mawbey on 12 Mar. 1771.12 He was never ashamed to say what he thought, or to insist on his right to say it. On 19 June 1780, during the debate on the petition of the Protestant Association,13
Mawbey rose, and many attempting to prevent his speaking, he declared that on a business of such importance he would not be prevented from declaring his sentiments ... and he would not be stopped by the illiberal conduct of any man ... He had a right to be treated as a gentleman: such as disliked staying longer in the House might depart, but he assured them they might as well avoid noise for they would sooner get away by it.
In Surrey he was something of a parvenu, unpopular with the gentry. Sir Anthony Abdy wrote to Rockingham about the Surrey petition of 1769:14 ‘If ... the whole is left to Sir Joseph Mawbey, and if he is to take the lead, I am afraid the county of Surrey will make but an indifferent figure, for I am sure the gentlemen at any general meeting will not submit to be led by him.’ And George Onslow wrote about the meeting of 13 Oct. 1774, at which Mawbey offered himself as a candidate for the county:15 ‘Every gentleman of every party united against ... Sir Joseph ... so the county will not be disgraced, thank God.’ Mawbey went to the poll, but was heavily defeated. After the election he delivered an elaborately conciliatory speech, dwelling on his character as a gentleman.16 He had been aware of the strength of his opponents, but
I thought it did not become me as a gentleman and a man of spirit to desert my friends ... I finish this contest with perfect good humour, and tomorrow shall receive every opponent in the same manner I should if this contest had never taken place. I have not, nor will I ever do anything unbecoming me as a gentleman.
At the by-election of 1775 he was urged to withdraw in order to avoid splitting the Opposition vote but, refused. He told Lord John Cavendish ‘that several of good fashion who disliked his way of voting approved of him because he was useful as a man of business’.17 This time he was successful, and in 1780 was returned head of the poll.18
On 5 Dec. 1782 Mawbey ‘spoke warmly in commendation’ of Shelburne, and ‘professed to entertain implicit trust in the integrity of his Administration’. He voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1783, and on 11 Nov. 1783 expressed his dislike of the Coalition:
He never could have confidence in the measures of a ministry, one half of which had for twelve years together shown their incapacity to govern ... He reminded the House that the present ministers had strongly condemned the preliminary articles last session, and observed that it ill became them now to call upon the House to return thanks for their having concluded and signed definitive treaties, grounded upon and almost exactly the same with those preliminaries which they had so lately reprobated.
The reporter remarks: ‘Sir Joseph was on his legs for some minutes, but from the noise that prevailed in the House while he was speaking we were able to catch only at the few observations that we have reported.’ And on 2 Feb. 1784:
Sir Joseph spoke for some time, and chiefly on the subject of Lord North’s conduct as a minister, but there was so much noise and coughing while Sir Joseph was upon his legs that we could not hear him with distinctness to be able to repeat his arguments.19
After his defeat for Surrey in 1790 he complained to Pitt of Administration’s failure to support him:20
After my steady and faithful attachment to you in times the most critical and trying, and, during the Regency business, at the risk of my life from ill-health, I am sorry to be obliged to complain of the return that has been made to me. I have no other political attachment nor wish to have. That attachment was of the best sort, as it arose altogether from principle and a conviction of your abilities and integrity. I was in hopes that my public conduct had some claim of merit with you, and that you would not have sacrificed an old friend for the sake of getting a new one. It is probable I shall be again in Parliament; I know I may, and quickly, if I choose it. But my son, now in his eighteenth year, will certainly be in Parliament the first possible moment. Him I wished to lead to your standard—he attended my canvass and election—after the treatment I have met with, could he be blamed if he took another direction?
But Mawbey never re-entered Parliament, nor did his son become a Member.
Mawbey died on 16 June 1798.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. James Harris’s memoranda, 21 Mar. 1764, Malmesbury mss.
- 2. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 3. Add. 32967, ff. 315-17.
- 4. Almon, xii. 110.
- 5. Letter to magistrates of Surr. 10 July 1794, Gent. Mag. 1797, i. 381.
- 6. Debrett, xii. 417.
- 7. Mems. Geo. III, iii. 175.
- 8. Mems. i. 265.
- 9. For specimens of his poetry see Gent. Mag. 1790, pp. 649, 748.