BABINGTON, Thomas (1758-1837), of Rothley Temple, nr. Leicester.
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Family and Education
b. 18 Dec. 1758, 1st s. of Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple by Lydia, da. of Rev. Joseph Cardale, vicar of Hinckley. educ. Rugby 1770; St. John’s, Camb. 1775; L. Inn 1778. m. 8 Oct. 1787, Jean, da. of Rev. John Macauley, minister of Cardross, Dunbarton, 6s. 4da. suc. fa. 1776.
Sheriff, Leics. 1780-1.
Dir. Sierra Leone Co. 1805.
Babington’s family, formerly knights of St. John, were seated at Rothley from 1529. Two of them sat for Leicester in the 17th century. Babington inherited an estate of about £2,000 p.a. An ‘earnest Christian philathropist’ he found Wilberforce too frivolous as a fellow student, but by 1790 they were close friends in the campaign for abolition of the slave trade. In 1792 Babington, ‘a firm Pittite’, was prepared to offer for the vacant county seat, but his evangelical associations did not commend him to the ‘Old Blues’. He was the author of Christian Education and occupied himself in good works on behalf of the poor. He also wished to see them endowed with smallholdings.1
In 1800 Babington contested the Leicester by-election as the corporation nominee and defeated a Whig opponent. Despite expectations to the contrary, he retained the seat.2 He was in the minority against the Irish master of the rolls bill, 19 Mar. 1801. His early endeavours to contribute to debate were paid scant attention by the reporters, but he approved the peace preliminaries, 4 Nov. 1801.3 on 26 Nov. 1802, before proceeding to Madeira for the winter with his ailing wife, he called for a more adequate bread assize to protect the poor and, on their behalf, opposed the beer duties, 6, 14 Apr. 1803, preferring duties on spirits.4 He also opposed the raising of public money by lottery, 30 Apr. On 15 Mar. 1804 he joined Pitt in opposition to Addington, but was listed ‘doubtful’ on Pitt’s return to power in May. He was among the opponents of the additional force bill in June, but listed ‘Pitt’ in September. He voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 6 Mar. 1805, in both majorities against Melville and on 7 June against the Duke of Atholl’s compensation. In July he was listed ‘doubtful Pitt’.
Babington opposed the Grenville ministry on Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. 1806. Next day, as a director, he presented the Sierra Leone Company’s petition for the transfer of their costs to the state. He opposed the abolition of exemptions under the property tax, 29 Mar., and criticized it as not sufficiently graduated, 31 Mar.; he also criticized the pig-iron duty bill, 28 Apr. He was in the minority on Indian affairs, 21 Apr. He voted and spoke in favour of the repeal of the Additional Force Act, insisting, against the county Members, that it had failed in Leicestershire, 30 Apr., 6 May. On 15 May he called for a modification of the property duty bill and supported Wilberforce’s clause to exempt life insurance holders from the equivalent of their premiums. He was among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade.
After his re-election in 1807 Babington resolved, with Wilberforce, to treat the Portland ministry ‘as their measures deserve’.5 On the whole he was more critical than Wilberforce. He thought their militia transfer bill was inadequate, 28 July 1807, but offered it his support as far as it went. Then on 14 Mar. 1808 he joined opposition to the bill. To the disappointment of the opposition he joined Wilberforce in approving the Copenhagen expedition, 30 Mar. 1808, though he was for eventual restitution of the Danish fleet.6 He was in the minorities on Irish and Indian affairs, 3, 15 Mar. and 11 May 1808, but commended the stipendiary curates bill, 12 Apr., and had an amendment to the local militia bill accepted, 13 May. He was in the minorities against the Duke of York, 17 Mar. 1809, and also on charges of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. and 11 May. He opposed public lotteries, 12, 18 May, and joined opposition to the Irish chancellor of the exchequer on the Irish revenue bill, 9 June.
Babington voted with Perceval’s ministry on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, but against them throughout on the Scheldt inquiry. The Whigs were not duped and listed him ‘doubtful’. Nevertheless he opposed the imprisonment of Burdett, supported the release of Gale Jones and voted for criminal law and sinecure reform in April and May; had he not been shut out, he would also have voted for parliamentary reform on 21 May.7 He regularly supported Irish tithe reform and a review of the droits of Admiralty. He was, moreover, a member of the finance committees of 1810, 1811 and 1812. He voted with opposition on the Regency, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811, against the commercial relief bill, 22 Mar., and for the election bribery bill, 25 Mar., supported freedom of worship for Catholic militia men, 30 May, and opposed the reinstatement of the Duke of York, 6 June. In the session of 1812 he voted regularly for retrenchment. In the debate on the Luddites’ activities in the midlands, his standpoint was that the framework bill should be temporary and that the Nottingham peace bill should be extended to Leicester, 14, 18 Feb. 1812; after irritating many of them by the complacency of a speech at the mayor’s feast at Leicester in 1811, he supported the framework knitters’ petition for relief, 17 Mar., and opposed the orders in council, 3 Mar. (though he had voted with ministers on 27 Feb.).8 He was in the chair hearing evidence on this subject on the day of Perceval’s assassination. He voted against Stuart Wortley’s motion for a more efficient administration, 21 May.
Babington was listed ‘hopeful’ by the Treasury after his re-election in 1812. George Rose objected to his being listed ‘con’ and preferred ‘doubtful’, adding ‘his disposition is to be favourable to good order’.9 As in the previous session, Babington opposed legislation to confirm paper currency. He supported Catholic relief throughout that Parliament and was a champion of Christian missions to India. Unmoved by the arguments of the Home secretary Lord Sidmouth, with whom he corresponded on the subject, he opposed the renewal of legislation against the Luddites, 29 Nov. 1813, and justified his opposition to proposed alteration of the Corn Laws, 3 Mar. 1815. He opposed the transfer of Genoa, 27 Apr. and loans for the Russian service, 12 June. He did not think it necessary to press for the abolition of corporal punishment in the army, 21 June. From 1815 he voted steadily for retrenchment, speaking several times in favour of it in 1816; but he resisted attacks on the salaries of George Rose* and John Wilson Croker*. He was also a supporter of the resumption of cash payments by the Bank and of more deterrent action against bank-note forgery. He voted for the reception of the Lymington reform petition, 11 Feb. 1817, and advised the House against ‘a direct vote of rejection’ of other more objectionable ones, 12 Mar. He remained hostile to public lotteries and disliked publicly sponsored schemes for the relief of distressed manufacturers, 28 Apr. 1817. His attitude to measures against sedition was cautious. On 28 Feb. 1817 he supported the opposition amendment to limit the suspension of habeas corpus until 20 May, and he voted in the same sense on the ban on public meetings near the House, 28 Mar., but he voted for the suspension on 23 June, although he opposed the renewal of the secret committee both on 5 June 1817 (to Wilberforce’s grief) and on 5 Feb. 1818; and he voted with ministers when opposition attacked their employment of informers, 5 Mar. He opposed the aliens bill, 22 May 1818.10
Babington did not risk another contest in 1818. Against his better judgment, he was induced to accept nomination for the county. Wilberforce and his other friends among the ‘Saints’ were prepared to back him, but he gave up after a token contest. In December of that year the more advanced Westminster Whigs were alarmed in case he, or Wilberforce, was sprung upon them in the by-election caused by Romilly’s death to draw the ministerial and Methodist vote, but there seems to have been no sound basis for their fears. Babington did not seek re-election. He had become, before leaving Parliament, a partner in the Leicester bank with John Mansfield, who succeeded to his seat. This venture proved ill-advised, but he made up for it by the improvement of his estate. He died 21 Nov. 1837.11
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: P. A. Symonds
- 1. Trans. Leics. Arch. Soc. xii. 7, 51; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 32; J. C. Colquhoun, Wilberforce (1867), 215; M. Elwin, Noels and Milbankes, 414; Gent. Mag. (1838), i. 322.
- 2. Wilson, 33.
- 3. The Times, 6 Nov. 1801.
- 4. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 87.
- 5. Ibid. 308.
- 6. Whitbread mss W1/4185; Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to J. H. Addington, 31 Mar. 1808.
- 7. Morning Chron. 26 May 1810.
- 8. A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, 101; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 451.
- 9. T.64/261, Rose to ?Arbuthnot, 8 Nov. 1812.
- 10. Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 90; Life of Wilberforce, iv. 326.
- 11. Add. 56540, ff. 29, 32, 40; Colquhoun, 229; PCC 7 Nicholl.