COMBE, Harvey Christian (1752-1818), of Cross Street, London and Cobham Park, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1796 - June 1817

Family and Education

b. 1752, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Harvey Combe, attorney, of Andover, Hants by Christiana, da. and coh. of J. Jarman of St. Peter Cornhill, London. m. 9 May 1780, his cos. Alice Christian, da. of Boyce Tree, corn factor, of London, 4s. 6da. suc. fa. 1787.

Offices Held

Alderman, London 1790-1817, sheriff 1791-2, ld. mayor 1799-1800.

Lt.-col. W. London militia 1794-6; capt. Aldgate vols. 1798; lt.-col. 9 Loyal London vols. 1803, commdt. 10 Loyal London Vols. 1803; gov. Irish Soc. of London 1806-17; master, Brewers Co. 1804-5; warden, Fishmongers Co. 1812-14; dir. Globe Insurance Co. 1805-d., W.I. Dock Co. 1811; pres. society for prosecuting felons 1817.

Biography

Combe married his cousin and obtained her father’s business, in which he had been apprenticed. His father, a country attorney, left him an estate worth about £500 p.a. ‘His great knowledge of grain suggested the idea of becoming a brewer’ and, in partnership with his brother-in-law Joseph Delafield and George Shum*, he took over Gyfford’s brewery at Castle Street, Longacre, towards the end of the century and prospered. He was variously reported to be worth £2,000 p.a. or £100,000 and in 1807 purchased Cobham Park. As a London alderman from 1790 and a member of the Whig Club since 7 May 1785, he associated himself with opposition politics. On that account he was six times passed over for the mayoralty, and in January 1794 carried a motion for a London petition for a speedy peace.1

In 1795 he contested unsuccessfully the London by-election against Alderman Lushington, being caricatured as a pugilist for his known enthusiasm for the sport. After leading the opposition in common hall to the sedition bills in November 1795, he was returned third on the poll in 1796. His address emphasized his ‘abhorrence of the present disastrous war’ and his readiness to be instructed by common hall. His success was said by a government newspaper to be due to a secret coalition with Sir William Curtis; the same paper criticized the choice of a ‘man of the world’ addicted to gambling and boxing, no recommendations to the representation of ‘the first commercial city in the universe’, and styled him ‘this civic popinjay’.2 For the next 20 years, though a Whig (elected to Brooks’s on Fox’s proposal, 21 Mar. 1792) rather than a radical, he remained the sole connexion in the House between the metropolitan radicalism of the later 18th century and the fresh wave which arose during the Napoleonic wars.

Combe’s politics soon became evident in the House, though his potentialities as a speaker were doubted.3 On 1 Nov. 1796, in his maiden speech, he criticized the late City members for their ready acquiescence in government measures and on 14 Dec. he seconded Fox’s motion censuring ministers over the imperial loan. He claimed ‘to be attached personally to no man, nor to have any prejudice against any of the members of administration. He voted with Mr Fox as a friend to human happiness, which was best secured by political liberty.’ Shortly afterwards, he christened his fourth son Charles James Fox, and in introducing a motion for the dismissal of ministers, 19 May 1797, he used Fox’s arguments that Pitt had plunged into war unnecessarily, that his conduct of it was weak and ineffective and that he kept on shifting his ground as to the prerequisite conditions for peace. Combe’s motion followed resolutions passed by common hall, but the other City members opposed it, claiming that it was supported only by a vociferous minority of the Livery. It was defeated by 243 votes to 59. Combe voted for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797. He was not a Whig seceder. He advocated regulation of food prices, 13 June, and, again in compliance with his constituents’ instructions, opposed the assessed taxes, 14 Dec. 1797: a year later, he sought tax relief for retail shopkeepers. On 21 Dec. 1798 he opposed the renewed suspension of habeas corpus. He voted against the Irish union, 31 Jan., 11 Feb. 1799.

Although Combe differed from his City colleagues on most national issues, much of his time in the Commons was spent in collaboration with them in safeguarding the interests of the City. On 24 Feb. 1800, the occasion of his presenting a peace petition which he had himself promoted in common hall in the year of his mayoralty, Combe’s conduct as mayor was criticized in the House, but his colleague Curtis came to his defence, saying he had known him ‘near forty years in public and in private, and could bear ample testimony to his impartiality and worth in both ... though their politics were as opposite as light and darkness’. Farington endorsed this view in his diary, describing Combe as a man

who has been found to possess a very warm heart and great kindness of disposition. He is always ready to do acts of service when applied to, and engages by his manner. His connexion with the City has been attended with great expense to him, and he has had honour for it but not profit. In politics he is a party man, but the City have confidence in him when business is to be transacted.4

In June 1800, Combe promoted the London petition for the repeal of the first Act against workmen’s combinations, which succeeded, and in October another one to consider the high price of provisions. He also supported the petition for a free coal market in London, 18 Feb. 1802. Having hailed the peace, he accompanied Fox to Paris later that year. On 5 July 1803, again acting on instructions, he opposed Addington’s property tax bill, stigmatizing it as a renewal of income tax under another name; like the latter, ‘it raised an equal sum upon incomes of unequal duration’.5 He helped promote the insolvent debtors bill which received the royal assent on 30 July 1804, but the same month unsuccessfully opposed the corn trade bill. He secured an amendment to the Additonal Force Act with regard to London, 11 July 1804: he approved the repeal of the same measure, 9 July 1806. He opposed the salt tax, 4 Mar. 1805.

While he naturally supported the Grenville administration, 1806-7, and fêted them and the Prince of Wales at his brewery, he had little to say on their measures; nor did he ask anything for himself, though he applied unsuccessfully for patronage for his brother on two occasions.6 He was also an interested party in the Globe Insurance bill in June 1806. He reverted to opposition in 1807, voting for Brand’s motion, 9 Apr. On 10 Mar. 1808 he presented the petition of London merchants trading to America against the orders in council and on 18 Mar. obtained a hearing for them. He attended the meeting to endorse Ponsonby’s leadership of the Whigs, 18 Jan. 1809, but that session also voted with the ‘Mountain’, acting as teller for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 15 June. He gave evidence and asked questions in the Duke of York’s case in February 1809. A member of the committee of finance from 10 Feb. 1807 until January 1809, he was again named for it by Bankes on 31 Jan. 1810. He was objected to by Perceval, who named Denis Browne: but Combe defeated Browne by 117 votes to 104. On 2 May 1810 he supported the Middlesex petition for the release of Burdett from the Tower, and on 7 May, in defence of City privileges, protested against ministers’ obstruction of the common hall petition critical of their conduct to be presented to the King (14 Dec. 1809); supported in this by his London colleagues, he lost the motion by 138 votes to 52. On 8 May he defended the London livery petition against Burdett’s committal to the Tower. He presented another complaining of its rejection by the House, 25 May. In 1811 he was a friend of an unrestricted Regency and a steward for the meeting of Friends of a Constitutional Reform of Parliament. He was also one of the select committee on commercial credit. He opposed the leather tax, 26 June 1812. He could be relied on to vote for sinecure reform. Although he continued to attend until March 1815, he was increasingly impeded by illness—he suffered from a paralytic complaint. In the Parliament of 1812, he voted (as usual) in favour of Catholic relief, against Christian missions to India, 22 June 1813, and against the alteration of the Corn Laws, on which he was a select committeeman. His last known speech was against the London prisons bill, 11 July 1814.

On 30 May 1817, when common hall met to discuss a petition against the suspension of habeas corpus, Combe wrote regretting his continued ill-health. He had taken six weeks’ leave of absence from the House, 19 May. Henry Hunt then proposed that Combe be asked to resign, as without him the Livery lacked an effective representative at a time of crisis. After a stormy discussion the resolution was passed, ‘a cruel and wanton insult ... which had a visible effect on his enfeebled constitution’.7 He at once took the Chiltern Hundreds and resigned his civic appointments. He died 4 July 1818.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Richard Brown / R. G. Thorne

Notes

  • 1. City Biog. (1800), 153; Brayley and Walford, Surr. ii. 150; Farington, ii. 187; Public Characters (1806), 612; Beaven, Aldermen of London, ii. 202.
  • 2. M. D. George, Cat. Pol. and Personal Satir