WOMBWELL, George (1734-80), of Crutched Friars, London and Wombwell, Yorks.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 11 June 1734, 1st s. of Roger Wombwell of Barnsley, Yorks., merchant, by Mary, da. of Francis Chadwick. m. 4 June 1765, Susanna, da. of Sir Thomas Rawlinson (ld. mayor of London 1746), sis. and h. of Sir Walter Rawlinson, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1740; cr. Bt. 26 Aug. 1778.
Director, E.I. Co. 1766-9, 1775-7, Apr.-Nov. 1780, chairman 1777-9.
By 1763 Wombwell was established as partner with his uncle in the London firm of George Wombwell, sen. and jun. In the East India Company he was from the outset connected with Lord Sandwich, and with his support was elected director; in April 1769, when defeated at East India House in one of the most fiercely contested elections of the century, Wombwell was again a ministerial candidate.
By 1770 Sandwich was politically estranged from his half-brother Henry Seymour whom he had brought in for Huntingdon in 1768 on his paying £800 for election expenses and lending Sandwich £1,000, ‘which though not expressly stipulated, was understood should lie till I could discharge it without inconvenience’. Seymour now asking for repayment, Sandwich was ‘extremely glad’ of such an opportunity to discard him as Member ‘without making a family breach’. In a letter of 19 Oct. 17701 he repeated to Wombwell what he had previously said in conversation:
that if your political sentiments continued to coincide with mine, I did not know of any one I should more likely take by the hand than yourself, if a vacancy should happen before my younger son was of age [i.e. before 1773].
He now suggested that Wombwell should advance to him £1,000 to repay Seymour. If a vacancy occurred within the next two years, or should there be two vacancies at the general election, he would return Wombwell: ‘provided when you claim the performance on my part you are disposed to make as strong declarations of political connexions with me, as is fit for one gentleman to make to another’. The cost of a by-election he put at £800, and of the general election, if uncontested, at £1,000; if there was a contest, the sum lent by Wombwell was ‘to go in part’. Wombwell’s reply is not extant, but the terms were presumably accepted by him.
In the House Wombwell absolutely followed Sandwich’s line, and appears among the Government supporters in every division list which names them. Nine interventions by him in debate are recorded. In his first speech, 31 Oct. 1776, he defended the use of naval press-gangs, and ‘censured the Americans as bragging, cowardly banditti’. In other speeches he extolled Sandwich as ‘the best minister, and perhaps the worthiest man in this country’—‘there was not in the kingdom a man of more nice and delicate honour’. As chairman of the East India Company he defended in 1778-9 its measures regarding Lord Pigot. He opposed the bill to exclude contractors from the House. On 11 Mar. 1779 he spoke ‘of the danger of little men buying up contracts, and ... executing them badly’—which implies, not without justification, that the biggest men were Members.2
Wombwell himself was a Government contractor: starting with April 1776 he held jointly with John Henniker and William Devaynes an army contract for victualling 12,000 men in America, soon raised to 13,700. He also held a contract for victualling Gibraltar (from which, at his own request, he was released as he could not ‘prevail on the masters of any ships to go to Gibraltar without convoy’).3 Early in 1778 he subscribed £20,000 to the Government loan and purchased a further £20,000, but soon sold the lot.
In April 1779, when Wombwell was about to leave the directorate by rotation, Robinson wrote to Jenkinson: ‘Sir George Wombwell has behaved badly ... of late in Leadenhall Street, affecting to be patriot there and to lay his own ground.’4 And in an undated letter, merely marked ‘Monday night near 11’, he wrote to Sandwich: ‘We have neither Wombwell nor Durand—they are both remarkably slack and in short there is no dependence to be had on them—as such what support can they expect from us.’5 Though there is no absolute proof, it seems that the letter is of the same period and refers to India House and not to the House of Commons.
In July 1780 Robinson wrote in his electoral survey against Huntingdon: ‘The same again most likely, unless Sir George Wombwell should die or be too ill to come in again.’ Wombwell was returned on 8 Sept., but on 19 Oct. Robinson wrote to Jenkinson:6
Lord Sandwich showed me to-day a letter from Sir George Wombwell who poor man gives up himself entirely—and his Lordship has settled everything for Sir H[ugh] Palliser to succeed him. There is some money transaction between Lord S. and Sir George, which I have undertaken to discharge when Lord S. is called upon by Sir George’s executors, that is to lend Lord S. the money and to stand in their shoes, which I am very happy to do as it is I think rendering a service to the Government to get Sir Hugh into Parliament to curb Keppel. Lord Sandwich never has sold his seats but has availed him[self] of them to borrow money on his personal security.
Wombwell died on 2 Nov. 1780.
His close connexion with Sandwich exposed him to virulent attacks in the Opposition press. The Public Ledger, in its ‘Parliamentary Characters’ published in 1779, wrote about him: ‘Bold, shrewd, and i[mpuden]t; and consequently equal to Lord Sandwich’s wishes’; and the English Chronicle in 1780:
Is an East India director, without one property to fit him for so honourable a station, but the characteristic quality of knowing the speediest method of becoming rich ... By being the implicit instrument of the Treasury, extremely powerful in his influence with the Company, and conducts himself in all respects like the conscious despot of their society.