NESBITT, Arnold (?1721-79), of West Wickham, Kent, and Icklesham, nr. Winchelsea, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. ?1721, 3rd s. of Thomas Nesbitt of Lismore, co. Cavan by his 2nd w. Jane, da. and h. of Arnold Cosby. m. 28 Nov. 1758, Susanna, da. of Ralph Thrale, M.P., sis. of Henry Thrale, s.p., at least 2s. illegit. suc. uncle Albert Nesbitt, 12 Jan. 1753.
Arnold Nesbitt, after having been apprenticed to his uncle, an eminent London merchant, became his partner and heir. Albert’s sister-in-law married Thomas Pelham of Catsfield, a cousin of Newcastle and a nephew of James Pelham: the Nesbitts thus became connected with the Pelham clan. Albert Nesbitt sat for Mitchell on the Courtenay interest managed by Lord Sandwich who, although by 1753 in opposition to the Pelhams, let Arnold succeed to his uncle’s seat, and was prepared to continue him in 1754. Here is Nesbitt’s account of these transactions, in a letter to Newcastle of 7 Mar. 1761:
When I had the honour of succeeding my uncle in the last Parliament, as I undertook the risk of a large expense for sitting two years, it was agreed I should be chosen into the present Parliament at the small expense of £500. Notwithstanding this agreement, Mr. Pelham insisted upon my standing at Winchelsea with Mr. Hunter, being the most likely person to defeat Mr. Belchier, from the little property I then had there. I did not choose this undertaking as it threatened a very large expense, but Mr. Pelham insisted upon it, and it was agreed my expense was not to exceed £1,000 ... We baffled Mr. Belchier in all his schemes both in the corporation and at law, but my expense instead of being £1,000, amounted to above £3,000, besides a pretty considerable annual expense since ... in the course of the seven years I have sat for Winchelsea. I have made several purchases both in and about the town, and those not very inconsiderable ...
I dare believe your Grace thinks I have great obligations for the different contracts I am concerned in ... but give me leave to say from the present prospect of the great disadvantages we have ever laboured under both at home and abroad in the carrying on of this business, things carry a different face.
Newcastle’s letter to Hardwicke, 17 Oct. 1753, confirms that the initiative for Nesbitt’s removal to Winchelsea came from Henry and James Pelham, ‘who thought they should better combat Belchier with Nesbitt, who has purchased an estate in, or near, the borough’. To the ‘little property’ near Winchelsea bought by Albert Nesbitt about 1749, Arnold continued to add till the family owned about 1,200 acres round Icklesham, two miles from Winchelsea.1
Of Nesbitt’s Government contracts most were worked in close partnership with James and George Colebrooke: for money remittances to America (1756); for victualling troops at Louisburg and St. John’s (1758), in North America, Guadeloupe, and Quebec (1759-60).2 Together with George Colebrooke, Nesbitt was concerned in a Dublin bank,3 and he was a big underwriter of Government loans: in 1757 he subscribed £20,000; in 1759 £350,000—obviously acting for a group of subscribers; in 1762, £450,000.4
‘I ... never gave a vote in Parliament against you’..., Nesbitt wrote to Newcastle on 7 Mar. 1761, ‘or ever had a thought that was not full of warm wishes for your Grace.’ Nevertheless Newcastle, pressed by Lord Egremont to support Lord Thomond’s candidature at Winchelsea, and by Bute to support Hunter’s, asked Nesbitt to stand down at the general election of 1761. He at first continued his activities in the borough, incurring thereby Newcastle’s displeasure, but in the end withdrew, and on 18 Feb. humbly apologised to the Duke for having taken a part disagreeable to him. His plea was reinforced by James Colebrooke, a dying man: ‘should you not forgive him, my Lord, and I be removed as I expect, it will be impossible for my brother singly to go on.’ Nesbitt was returned for Cricklade, probably with the support of Thomas and Charles Gore. In Bute’s list of December 1761 he was marked ‘contractor’, ‘Government’. After the division on the peace preliminaries of 10 Dec. 1762, Fox wrote in a paper on ‘Changes in Office’: ‘Sir George Colebrooke and Mr. Nesbitt were both at the House and went away to avoid voting.’ And Newcastle, who tried to rally his friends, wrote to Thomas Walpole, 12 Dec.:
I am sure you will execute your commission to Sir George Colebrooke, and Nesbitt, with all marks of affection on my part possible: the business is now over; and I dare say, we may depend upon both of them in everything else. Pray talk to them of the suggested intention of the court to attack me by a motion for a commission of accounts.
And on 17 Dec.: ‘Tell Nesbitt that I beg to see him on Wednesday morning at Newcastle House. I will do all I can to fix him, and Sir George Colebrooke.’ They do not seem, however, to have joined the Opposition immediately: George Colebrooke appears among the subscribers to Bute’s extremely profitable loan, though Nesbitt does not; and they seem to have had some curious dealings in the West Indies where both had considerable interests—on 9 May 1763 Shelburne told James Harris about
an underhand scheme of Charles Townshend’s of aiding and promoting a bargain between Colebrooke and Nesbitt on one side, and the French Jesuits on the other, for buying off the stock of the latter in Dominica to the amount of 60 or £70,000, when Colebrooke and the others were to have the stock and estate upon trial for a twelvemonth.
But by the autumn of 1763 Jenkinson classed Nesbitt as ‘doubtful’; in the division of 15 Nov., over Wilkes, he and Colebrooke voted with the Opposition, and continued with them throughout Grenville’s term of office (they were both members of Wildman’s Club and were classed as ‘sure friends’ by Newcastle). In consequence notice was given to them to terminate their contracts for the paying and victualling of troops in America.5
When the Rockingham Administration was formed, restitution to the two sufferers was part of Newcastle’s scheme but it could not be effected till Grenville’s contract with Fludyer and Drummond had expired; and when the new agreement was made in July 1766, Colebrooke withdrew, while Nesbitt continued in partnership with Adam Drummond to hold contracts for victualling troops in North America and Canada (that of 1766 was for 6,000 men). After the outbreak of the American revolution, the size of the contracts was doubled; Nesbitt also obtained a grant of 20,000 acres in St. John’s Island.6
About the end of 1766 Rockingham still classed Nesbitt (though with a query) as ‘Whig’ (Newcastle, writing to Rockingham, 23 Sept. 1765, referred to him as ‘your friend Nesbitt’); but Charles Townshend, in January 1767, more correctly marked him as a Government supporter—he voted with them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. Newcastle still placed him on 2 Mar. 1767 among the ‘doubtful or absent’, and on the 8th exhorted Rockingham not to ‘forget Nesbitt’. He was absent from the division on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768.7
Although in 1764 Nesbitt had purchased the borough and hundred of Cricklade, he was defeated at the general election of 1768, and only re-entered Parliament for Winchelsea in January 1770. He now ranked as a Government supporter. In 1774 he was returned unopposed at Winchelsea, and after a contest at Cricklade; and naturally elected to sit for the latter. He died on 7 Apr. 1779, aged 57. There is no record of his having spoken during his 24 years in Parliament.
Toward the end of his life he got into serious financial difficulties. According to Mrs. Thrale,8 Nesbitt was ‘somewhat singed’ in the panic of 1772, which seems very likely in view of his close connexion with Colebrooke; and Henry Thrale at the time of Nesbitt’s death was ‘bound for him in forfeiture of £220,000’; but her account of the transactions between the two is too confused to supply a clear picture, while her conclusion—‘That Nesbitt was a shockingly wicked fellow always’—expresses her usual attitude towards her husband’s family. After having provided for two illegitimate sons, Colebrooke and Arnold Nesbitt, he left the bulk of his estate to his nephew John Nesbitt.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Add. 32919, ff. 509-11; 32733, f. 81; C. A. Nesbitt, Hist. Fam. Nisbet or Nesbitt in Scotland Ireland, 41.
- 2. T54/36/325-8; T54/37/123-8; T29/33/239, 253, 260, 346.
- 3. Add. 32988, f. 402.
- 4. Devonshire mss; Add. 32901, f. 238; 33040, ff. 290-1.
- 5. Add. 32917, ff. 311-12; 32918, f. 287; 32919, f. 101, 201, 509-11; 32945, ff. 285, 301; 32967, ff. 434-6; 40758, f. 279; Malmesbury mss; T29/35/394.
- 6. Fortescue, i. 128; T54/40/224-8; 29/39/28; 29/40/44-45; 29/45/30-32; 54/42/71-73, 261, 567-71; Add. 38340, ff. 26-39; APC Col. 1766-83, pp. 62, 66.
- 7. Add. 32970, f. 17; 32980, f. 228.
- 8. Thraliana, i. 311.