YONGE, George (1733-1812), of Colyton, Devon
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Family and Education
b. Mar. 1733, o. surv. s. of Sir William Yonge, 4th Bt. educ. Eton 1742-5; Leipzig Univ. m. 10 July 1765, Anne, da. and h. of Bourchier Cleeve, London merchant, of Foots Cray Place, Kent, s.p. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 10 Aug. 1755; cr. K.B. 7 May 1788.
Sec. at Turin embassy 1753; ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1766-Jan. 1770; P.C. 10 Apr. 1782; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Apr.-July 1782; sec. at war July 1782-Apr. 1783 and Dec. 1783-94; master of the mint 1794-9; gov. Cape of Good Hope 1799-1801, of Tortola, Virgin Islands 1806- d.
‘I have always heard Sir George Yonge wished to be employed abroad in the diplomatic line’, wrote the Duke of Rutland to the younger Pitt on 13 Dec. 1786.1 In 1753 Yonge had begun a career in diplomacy, but it did not last long. He was back in England in 1754 to fight a contested election at Honiton, and received £500 from secret service funds towards his expenses.2 On 10 Dec. 1755 he made his first recorded intervention in debate: a ‘very short’ speech in support of the subsidy treaties.3 It is not clear whether or not he stood for Honiton in 1761.
At the by-election of 1763 he was opposed by Anthony Bacon. Hearing that Bacon was supported by Administration, he protested to Grenville. ‘My conduct in Parliament’, he wrote,4‘will be such as my principles naturally suggest to me—the most faithful attachment to his Majesty’s Government and the service of my country.’ Grenville replied that he had discouraged Bacon from standing at Honiton, believing Yonge to be ‘in friendly dispositions towards Government’; he now asked for a specific declaration of his political allegiance.5 Yonge’s answer is not known. He was returned after a disorderly and expensive contest.
On 10 Feb. 1764 he spoke and voted for the repeal of the cider duty; on 18 Feb. voted with Opposition on general warrants; belonged to Wildman’s Club; and was listed by Newcastle, 10 May 1764, as a ‘sure friend’. Lord North told James Harris on 5 Oct. that ‘Sir George Yonge’s sister had like by the application of her mother to have been maid of honour, but that the violence of her brother’s opposition had prevented it.’6 Yonge led the opposition to the cider duty in Devon and tried to secure the support of the Tory country gentlemen. ‘Would to God’, he wrote to Newcastle on 18 Oct. 1764,7 ‘all that wear the name of Whig adhered to the principles of one, as I trust I do.’ Yet on 9 Jan. 1765 he attended the Cockpit meeting of Government supporters.8
Upon my proferring not merely my good wishes but my services to men and principles I had been so much connected with, in any department where I might be found most useful, I had the whimsical answer of a distress to answer every one’s demands, and a concern that how much soever every one of these men wished well to and respected me and my abilities, yet that good opinion and that wish could go no farther than profession at present and the kindest assurances. I was in a humour not to suffer myself to remain a suitor to the distress of any Administration, and frankly declared I meant no such thing, and if I was not wanted for the public service I did not want anything myself from them, but should content myself with my best good wishes likewise for the public.
He seems at this time to have been connected with Townshend, and occupied the official residence at the pay office.
Yonge was given office in the Chatham Administration, and voted with them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. At the general election of 1768 his agents canvassed Devonshire;11 but he soon withdrew, and was returned head of the poll for Honiton. He voted with Administration on the seating of Luttrell, 8 May 1769, but did not speak in any of the debates on the Middlesex election. In January 1770 he resigned, ‘for the honour of Lord Chatham’ and the ‘country’s quiet’;12 and henceforth regularly voted with Opposition. On 25 Jan. 1770 he recanted the vote he had given on the Middlesex election, and on 7 Feb. 1771 spoke for Savile’s bill for securing the rights of electors.
Judged by the number of his speeches, Yonge was one of the most prominent in opposition to the American war. He spoke on a variety of topics, but most of what he said was commonplace. The English Chronicle wrote of him in 1781:
Is a man distinguished for the uniform steadiness of his political opinions, but as all his attachments savour of violence or enthusiasm it is but fair to infer that they originate rather in passion than in conviction ... He is frequently heard with great attention.
It also accused him of speaking when drunk. On one question he saw further than most M.P.s. During a debate on Irish commercial policy, 8 Feb. 1780, he said:13
Not only a commercial but a political revolution has taken place in the British dominions, for such is the taking off the restrictions on the trade of Ireland ... Formerly we imposed no taxes on our dependencies, but were content with advantageous restrictions on their trade. If such restrictions are taken off ... there will arise a necessity of establishing some laws by which all parts of the Empire may contribute proportionably to their ability to the public safety and internal police and government.
Between 1754 and 1790 Yonge fought seven contests at Honiton. ‘Sir George is much disliked there and ... it is thought ... might be beat’, wrote Robinson in 1780; and in 1784 his election was considered precarious. Yet he always had a comfortable majority. He spent a great deal on the borough, and in later life was in low water financially.
Yonge was given office in the second Rockingham Administration. He had always been independent of parties, though he had kept up some connexion with Shelburne; who, when forming his Administration, wrote to the King on 9 July 1782:
I am still under a considerable difficulty about a secretary at war, not being able to find anybody in office to promote to that employment except Sir George Yonge, about the propriety of which I have great doubts.
And on 10 July:
Sir George Yonge desires me ... to say that he feels so much apprehension about accepting an office of so much business as not to be overcome by anything but his devotion to his Majesty.14
‘Sir George Yonge secretary at war is most completely ridiculous’, wrote Loughborough to Eden on 12 July 1782;15 and Cornwallis:16 ‘Sir George Yonge is ignorant and important.’ But Wraxall’s opinion was that he ‘did not want talents ... though he possessed no pretensions to eloquence’.17
Yonge left office with Shelburne; spoke and voted against the Coalition’s receipts tax, 12 June 1783, and was one of the tellers against the East India bill; and returned to the War Office with Pitt. Most of his later speeches deal with army business. He voted for parliamentary reform in 1783 and 1785.
He died 25 Sept. 1812.