PENNANT, Richard (?1736-1808), of Penrhyn Hall, Carnarvon, and Winnington, Cheshire
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Family and Education
b. ?1736, 1st surv. s. of Richard Pennant, Liverpool merchant, of Penrhyn Hall, and gd.-s. of Edward Pennant, chief justice of Jamaica, by Bonella, da. of Joseph Hodges of Jamaica. educ. Newcome’s acad. Hackney; Trinity, Camb. 18 Jan. 1754, aged 17. m. 16 Nov. 1765, Anne Susanna, da. and h. of lt.-gen. Hugh Warburton of Winnington, s.p. cr. Baron Penrhyn [I] 19 Nov. 1783.
Pennant owned large estates in Jamaica, and was connected with the leading West Indian families: his cousins included the Beckfords, the Dawkinses, and Edward Morant. In 1761, by arrangement with William Beckford, William Jolliffe returned Pennant for Petersfield. He was classed in Bute’s list as ‘Pitt’ (possibly because of the Beckford connexion); was not in Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries; but did not vote against them. He voted with the Opposition on general warrants, 18 Feb. 1764, but was listed, however, by Jenkinson among ‘friends or nearly so’. He was classed by Newcastle, 10 May 1764, as a ‘sure friend’; by Rockingham, July 1765, as ‘pro’, and November 1766, as ‘Whig’. He voted with Administration on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, but was listed by Newcastle, 2 Mar. 1767, as a friend.
Pennant planned to stand for Liverpool at the general election, and arrangements for his adoption were made by one of its Members, Sir William Meredith, who wrote to the Duke of Portland, 22 June 1767: ‘I am happy to inform your Grace that I carried my point at Liverpool very cleverly ... it has cost Pennant less than £200, and it will not cost him £100 more.’ And on 6 July:
In Pennant’s private character I have everything I can wish in a colleague; but though he has generally been in our divisions, and I am sure his heart is with us, yet, as a party man, he is not quite to my mind. But I could get no one of the immediate description I desired ... Pennant knows who brings him in; he was adopted by my friends on Lord Rockingham’s letter, and I cannot therefore doubt of his future conduct.1
At the Liverpool by-election of December 1767 he was returned unopposed. In 1768, and again in 1774, jointly with Meredith, he successfully contested the borough; and voted regularly with the Opposition till 1780. Pennant spoke frequently in the House, generally on local matters or America: he attacked the taxing of America, 29 Jan. 1769, and seconded the motion for the repeal of the tea duty, 19 Apr. 1774, because ‘every one in America will look on it as a common cause and be united’.2
In 1780. Pennant was defeated at Liverpool. In 1783, on Fox’s recommendation, he was made an Irish peer. In 1784 Penrhyn, as he now was, was again returned for Liverpool after a contest; was classed by William Adam as ‘Opposition’, and followed Fox till he left Parliament. He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1785.
Between 1784 and 1790 Penrhyn is reported to have made more than thirty speeches, all on matters concerning Liverpool trade or the West Indies. Because of his vigorous defence of West India interests during the debates on Pitt’s Irish proposals, he was dubbed ‘Chairman of the West Indian merchants’. In fact the interests of his constituents and of the West Indian planters generally coincided. In May 1788, in a debate on the slave trade, Penrhyn and his fellow Member, Bamber Gascoyne jun., were, according to Wraxall, ‘the only two Members who ventured to speak in extenuation if not in justification of the African trade ... and loudly called for an immediate investigation as the sole mode of exposing the calumnies circulated respecting the merchants as well as the planters’. Henceforth he spoke frequently in defence of the slave trade ‘denying the facts advanced, appealing to the prudence and policy of the House against their compassion’.3 On 12 May 1789 he told the House that ‘if they passed the vote of abolition they actually struck at seventy millions of property, they ruined the colonies, and by destroying an essential nursery of seamen, gave up the dominion of the sea at a single glance’.4
Penryhn stood again for Liverpool in 1790, but on the third day of the poll, addressing the freemen, declared: ‘As my re-election is now attended with the same contest, disorder, and confusion that I have experienced at every dissolution of Parliament for these twenty-two years past, though I am first at the poll, and have no doubt of success, I beg leave to retire.’5 He died 21 Jan. 1808. ‘The memory of his Lordship’, wrote the Gentleman’s Magazine (1808, p. 170), ‘will long exist in the agriculture of North Wales, in the extensive traffic which has given employment and food to thousands, and in the opening of roads to and through the almost inaccessible mountains.’