SEWELL, Thomas (c.1710-84), of Ottershaw, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1710, s. of Thomas Sewell of West Ham, Essex. educ. M. Temple 1729, called 1734, bencher 1754, reader 1762, treasurer 1765. m. (1) Catherine (d. 17 Jan. 1769), da. of Thomas Heath, M.P., of Stepney, Mdx. and Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, 4s. 3da.; (2) 20 Mar. 1773, Mary Elizabeth, da. of Humphrey Sibthorp of Canwick Hall, Lincs., professor of botany, Oxf., 1da. Kntd. 30 Nov. 1764.
K.C. 1754; master of the rolls 4 Dec. 1764- d.; P.C. 12 Dec. 1764.
Sewell, bred up under an attorney, ‘afterwards engaged in the laborious business of a draughtsman in Chancery’;1 called to the bar, by 1764 ‘he was in full business’ and supposed to be making £3-4000 p.a.2 At the general election of 1754, encouraged by Henry Pelham, he stood at Wallingford. John Roberts wrote in a paper for Newcastle, 16 Mar. 1754:3
That Mr. Sewell was promised to have the expenses for Wallingford borne, after he had expended £1,000 of his own money. That in consequence of that promise he had received already £1,200, and that more will be wanting. And if Mr. Sewell did not succeed there, he should be brought in somewhere else, at a convenient time.
And next, on 21 Mar., Sewell is stated to have ‘had already £1,250’, and to desire ‘nothing further at present’; but he would let Roberts know if more was needed. A further payment of £780 appears in the secret service accounts on 5 Apr. 1754.4 He therefore had presumably a total of £2,030; and he lost his election. ‘As to Mr. Sewell’, wrote Hardwicke to Newcastle, 19 Apr.,5 ‘your Grace knows that I implicitly obeyed Mr. Pelham’s commands as to everything relative to him’—Hardwicke being in charge of the legal fraternity.
As seats fell vacant Sewell would enter his claim: for Seaford in June 1755, for Dover in April 1756, for Okehampton in October 1758. Lord Kinnoull, one of Newcastle’s election managers, wrote to him, 16 Oct. 1758:
The hopes your Grace gave to Mr. Sewell were in consequence of his disappointment at Wallingford; for some time he often spoke to me upon the subject, but for these last two years I have had no conversation with him. If your Grace thinks proper to choose him, it may be very agreeable to Mr. [John] Bristow; who has appeared anxious about it, and to the Dissenters, by whom Mr. Sewell is said to be much employed in law matters.
But it was only in December 1758, on a vacancy at Harwich (with which Sewell’s father-in-law had some connexion), that Newcastle was able to redeem his promise. Sewell, wrote Lord Mansfield to Newcastle, 19 Dec., made the most explicit declaration that ‘he came in upon the engagement and connexion upon which he set out, and you would find him a man of honour’.6
Sewell made no mark in the House, and as the seat at Harwich was now assigned to John Roberts, Sewell appears in Newcastle’s list of 26 July 17607 among ‘persons who may be omitted or transferred to other places’. He stood for Exeter, ‘nominated in the interests chiefly of the Low Church Party’,8 and supported by Newcastle who introduced him to the bishop and dean as ‘a particular friend of mine’ and ‘a gentleman of great eminence in the profession of law’.9 He was badly defeated, but in December was returned on the Government interest at Winchelsea.
When in December 1761 the office of solicitor-general fell vacant, Sewell and Fletcher Norton were named to the King; ‘and I having been asked by my Lord Bute’, wrote Newcastle to the Duke of Bedford, 21 Dec.,10 ‘I have told him that I thought Mr. Norton the most proper person’. And when in 1764 Sewell was appointed master of the rolls (others having refused), it ‘surprised every one exceedingly’, wrote W. G. Hamilton to Calcraft,11 ‘and I am told no one more than Sewell himself, who had never applied for it, and who had no idea that he was in the contemplation of Government’.
In Bute’s list of 1761 Sewell was marked ‘Newcastle and lord chancellor’; and in December 1762 he was counted by Fox as a supporter of the peace preliminaries. In fact he is not known ever to have voted against any Government; he was with the Grenvilles over general warrants; was listed as ‘pro’ by Rockingham in the summer of 1765; and by Townshend in January 1767 as a supporter of the Chatham Administration, with whom he voted on the land tax and the nullum tempus bill. He seldom intervened in debates, and then mostly on technical points; he was at the meeting of ‘men of business’ at Grenville’s house on 28 Jan. 1765, the night before the question of general warrants came up again in the House; and the next day he ‘got up, and spoke as to the points of law in favour of Government’; on 24 Apr., on the masters in Chancery bill; on 5 Feb. 1766, on the repeal of the Stamp Act (but what he said is not recorded); on 9, 12 and 13 May against Grenville’s bill about seizing papers, etc.12
Defeated at Winchelsea in 1768, Sewell did not stand again. He died 6 Mar. 1784.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Gent. Mag. 1784, ii. 555.
- 2. Chatham Corresp. ii. 298-9.
- 3. Add. 32995, f. 97.
- 4. Namier, Structure, 198, 200.
- 5. Add. 32835, f. 104.
- 6. Add. 32856, f. 317; 32864, ff. 316, 336; 32884, ff. 397-8; 32886, f. 389.
- 7. Add. 32999, ff. 19-20; 32919, f. 344.
- 8. J. J. Alexander, ‘Exeter Members of Parliament’, Trans. Dev. Assoc. lxii. 206.
- 9. Add. 32920, ff. 341, 343.
- 10. Bedford mss 44, f. 288.
- 11. Chatham Corresp. ii. 298-9.
- 12. Harris’s ‘Debates’; Add. 32973, ff. 361-2.