CREEVEY, Thomas (1768-1838), of Park Place, St. James's, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Mar. 1768, s. of William Creevey (d.1769), capt. of an African slaver, of Liverpool, Lancs., by w. Phoebe Prescott, ‘of obscure origin’, of Liverpool. educ. Newcome’s, Hackney 1780-7; Queens’, Camb. 1787-9; I. Temple 1789, G. Inn 1791, called 1794. m. 16 June 1802, Eleanor, da. of Charles Brandling* of Gosforth, Northumb., wid. of William Ord of Whitfield Hall, Northumb., s.p.
Sec. to Board of Control Feb. 1806-Apr. 1807; treasurer of Ordnance 1830-4, of Greenwich Hosp. 1834-d.
‘Creevey, by God! there’s nothing like you’, Lord Sefton assured him when, transmogrified into a Liverpool gentleman, he contested his native town in 1812. Born into ‘the third rate society’ there to a father whose profession was unmentionable, Creevey achieved no mean feat in inducing the world to believe, at length, that he was a bastard brother of his noble admirer. He called the Seftons ‘his own, his real family’. His talents were undoubted: in 1802, a barrister in Chancery practice who attended the Lancaster and Essex sessions, he secured, as his friend Dr James Currie of Liverpool put it, his marriage, his election and his independence ‘all ... in the course of a few weeks’. His marriage, to the widowed mother of William Ord*, who added £1,000 to her income, and cousin of Charles Grey*, was instigated by his school friend Charles Callis Western*. It established Creevey’s career in Whig society, where his weapons of ‘raillery of the present and detraction of the absent’ proved irresistible.1 His return to Parliament for Thetford on the interest of Lord Petre, a minor whose father had been one of his clients, was endorsed by the Duke of Norfolk, acting as Petre’s guardian.
Creevey’s politics were determined by his admiration for Fox, which was ‘next idolatry’. He could not be weaned from it when George Tierney* tried to win him over to Addington in 1803; on 22 Mar. 1804 he wrote, ‘I am more passionately attached every day to party’. He joined Brooks’s Club, 28 Apr. 1804. He also became an habitué of Carlton House and of the Prince of Wales’s ‘Pavilion Gang’ at Brighton, privately picking ‘Prinny’s’ character to shreds. In his first Parliament his voting record against Addington and Pitt was almost perfect: he ridiculed the former’s administration as ‘creatures of imbecility’ and denounced the latter as ‘the enemy of mankind’. He approved neither Whig flirtations with Addington nor Fox’s co-operation with Pitt against Addington. He had first spoken to Fox on 10 Mar. 1803. He seems first to have spoken in debate on 1 Dec. 1803 when he opposed the Liverpool merchants’ petition to fortify the town at their own expense, in favour of its being done at public expense. On 14 Mar. 1804 he moved for papers to illustrate the government’s ‘ridiculous and contemptible interference in the affairs of [Ceylon]’. Castlereagh thwarted him, carrying the previous question by 70 votes to 47. During Pitt’s second ministry his speeches became more frequent, as he became more aware of the political capital that might be made out of indictments of jobbery. In this context, he welcomed the reports of the naval commission of inquiry, 1 Mar. 1805; on 19 Mar. he assailed John Fordyce*, one of the commissioners, who was also a public debtor. On 28 Mar. he began a campaign to expose the compensation intended to the Duke of Atholl out of the revenues of the Isle of Man, which he opposed throughout. Fox’s indifference to this question dismayed him. On 25 Apr. Whitbread named him for his proposed select committee on Melville’s case; had a committee of the whole House examined it, Fox had wished Creevey to chair it; as it was, he was named as one of the managers to draw up an impeachment, 26 June. He asked awkward questions about the fees derived by judges from the civil courts, 20 May. He was a critic of the stipendiary curates bill, who tried, 21 May, to secure better provision for them.
Creevey took office in the Grenville administration in 1806. He was to have sat at the Admiralty Board, vacating his seat; instead he became secretary to the Board of Control and remained in the House. Henceforward, Indian affairs were to be his speciality in debate (he was even reported to have lived in India) but he also acted as party whip. He was at this time Lord Henry Petty’s* ‘great friend and supporter’; but disliked his espousal (as chancellor) of ‘Pitt’s child’, the property tax. At Fox’s death he became rudderless. He even lost his seat to a Whig in the election of 1806. He alleged that another was to be found for him, but regained his own on petition. He voted for Brand’s motion against his friends’ successors in office, joined the Whig Club, 5 May 1807, and in the first session of the new Parliament acted as their whip in opposition. In July 1807 he led the attack on the East India Company’s application for statutory indemnity to raise a loan by bonds, calling for a complete exposure of the Company’s financial plight. He promised, next session, to indict Wellesley’s Indian administration and did so, 22 Feb. 1808, but as a reluctant second string to Folkestone, whose approach to the subject he deprecated. He was teller both against the orders in council and against Wellesley’s conduct, 3, 15 Mar. 1808. On 11 Mar. he had been placed on the select committee on East India Company affairs; on 26 Apr. he indicated in debate that he saw no future for the Company and wished to see its monopoly ended; but he failed to carry the sense of the House when he moved for an exposé, 6 May, and was further snubbed, even by Ponsonby and Tierney on his own side, when he returned to the fray on 2 June; nor could he hope to secure a reduction of the relief offered the Company, 13 June. He was equally unsuccessful in his opposition to the curates residence bill, ‘a direct violation of property’, 8 June, and to the encroachment on Hyde Park for building development, 30 June 1808.
Creevey’s private disillusionment with the Whig leadership was now complete.2 Although he attended the party meeting to endorse Ponsonby’s leadership, 18 Jan. 1809, he had been conspiring against it. He dubbed Ponsonby ‘Snouch’ or ‘the old drone’, Tierney ‘Mother Cole’, Lord Grenville ‘Bogey’ and equally despised Earl Grey, who claimed credit for getting him office but had voted against him as a member of the Thetford election committee. He had lost interest in Lord Henry Petty. In June 1808 he had hopes of winning Samuel Whitbread over to his East India campaign, at least next session; on 11 Dec. he urged him to change his tactics and prove himself ‘the strongest man’ in his party by switching his attention from foreign affairs to the public burden and the destruction of popular liberty. On 4 Jan. 1809 he incited Whitbread to launch ‘an assault upon the corruption of public men’. On 13 Jan. he advised him to ignore Tierney’s plan for the session and divide the House on the setback in Spain, for which he blamed Sir Arthur Wellesley. By 16 Jan., finding the Whig leaders amenable to action against the ministry, he relented: but he continued to play the frondeur with Whitbread. In the House he did the same.3 On 24 Jan. 1809 he complained of no action being taken against Thomas Steele* for his defalcations while in office. He was eager to press the case against the Duke of York in February. On 23 Feb. he denounced the select committee on East India Company affairs, Wellesley’s and the Company’s records alike. On 20 Apr., he described the sale of offices prevention bill promoted by Folkestone as ‘mere mockery and delusion’ as long as the Treasury had the monopoly of the traffic in seats in Parliament. The pursuit of corruption was now his theme; and while he mocked Madocks’s projected motion for reform, laughed at the Whig Club’s efforts to keep abreast of popular opinion, wished the Whig leaders would join the Court and absented himself from Curwen’s and Burdett’s bids to obtain reform, he stuck to his guns. On 2 June 1809 he attacked the enormous increase in public pensions since 1797, when Pitt appropriated the 4½ per cent duties, and on 8 June he attacked the provision of an official residence for the president of the Board of Control. Rejoicing in the split in the government in the autumn of 1809, he could not welcome the reconciliation of Whitbread and Earl Grey: he regarded the latter as a traitor to reform. He urged Whitbread to take the initiative and was an admirer not of Burdett, but of Wardle and Waithman.4 He assisted the latter to draw up the London common council petition against Wellington’s annuity, on which the opposition leadership refused to divide the House, 1 Feb. 1810, though he also helped draw up Milton’s amendment.
Creevey played his part in the opposition onslaught on ministers in the session of 1810, attending at Ponsonby’s personal request the pre-sessional meeting at Ponsonby’s house, despite his dislike of the leadership. He objected to the omission of commercial distress (due to the orders in council) and the question of the renewal of the East India Company charter in the speech from the throne, 26 Jan. 1810. He defended the publication of division lists, 29 Jan. In the debates on sinecures, 12 Feb. and 19 Mar., he complained of the increase of crown patronage through the new colonies, the East India Company, the droits of Admiralty, the Bank and retirement pensions. He favoured the liberation of the radical Gale Jones, 12 Mar., and the Westminster and Berkshire petitions for the release of Burdett, 17 Apr., 6 June. He scorned parliamentary privilege in this context, harangued the London livery against it and was conspicuously absent when Charles Williams Wynn asserted the House’s privileges on 8 June. On 4 May 1810 his motion for further information on recent events in India, involving Sir George Barlow, was agreed to. He tried to obstruct the discussion of Company affairs, 31 May, until the East India Company’s bankruptcy could be more clearly demonstrated. His aims, as he explained to Whitbread, 18 Aug. 1810, were to make Britain’s connexion with India profitable to both and compatible with the British constitution.
Creevey’s attendance was not as steady as hitherto in the session of 1811. Requested by ‘high authority’ to remain in town for the Regency division of 21 Jan. 1811, he had paired with Villiers and the latter refused to release him, unless office for Creevey was at stake. If the Whigs took office, he fancied a place at the Admiralty or the chairmanship of committees. He admitted that he could not serve as a subaltern to any minister he did not respect and he wanted carte blanche on Indian affairs. On 15 Feb. he arraigned ministers in the committee of supply for their cavalier handling of money bills and, being ‘beat all to pieces’ by Perceval and by a damaging admission of Charles Williams Wynn’s, threatened to make an attack on the sinecure tellerships of the Exchequer.5 Meanwhile, on 21 Feb. he launched another offensive against Sir George Barlow’s conduct in India and this time, so he believed, scored a hit. On 4 Mar. he made the point that the East India Company, having no profits, was in breach of statute in issuing dividends. On 6 Mar., expressing dissatisfaction with the new standing order made to counter his and other’s criticisms of the hurrying of money bills through the House, he gave notice of his motion against the sinecure tellerships. One of them was held by Lord Grenville’s brother, Lord Buckingham, and Grenville threatened to sever his connexion with the Whigs if Creevey persisted: so he dropped the motion for the time being and concentrated on Indian affairs. On 21 Mar., renamed to the select committee on the subject, he complained that it had been packed by ministers. He objected to the East India Company bonds bill, 23 May, and to the Board of Control salaries bill, 27 May, claiming that Robert Saunders Dundas (president) did not need the increase owing to his sinecures, and that if he got it the sinecure commissionerships of the Board (which never met, in his experience) should be abolished. His amendment was lost by 65 votes to 19. He made a point of voting against the Regent’s reinstatement of the Duke of York as c.-in-c., 6 June. On 17 July he attempted to prevent Bank directors from voting on the banknote bill.
On 8 and 9 Jan. 1812, for the third session running, Creevey tried to obstruct supply. He wished to refute ministerial claims that commerce was flourishing and to complain about three new sinecure appointments (those of Sir John Sinclair*, Robert Thornton* and John McMahon*). On 18 Jan. he asserted that the droits of Admiralty and the Leeward Islands duties should be public property: leaving the droits to Henry Brougham, he moved for a select committee on the duties, 11 Feb. 1812. He was thwarted by 50 votes to 19. On 6 Feb. he had called for a committee of the whole House, rather than a select committee, on East India Company affairs, insisting that the commercial slump (the effect of which at Liverpool he described) justified the freeing of oriental trade from Company control. After a month’s absence, he reappeared on 23 Mar. to defend the Liverpool petition for free trade in the East Indies: it was on this occasion that he made allegations of punitive assessments against a Liverpool inspector of taxes named Robert Kirkpatrick, a supposed protégé of the prime minister, whom he labelled a ‘common informer’, that got him into hot water subsequently; at the time Spencer Perceval rebutted them. The same day Creevey objected to the proposed new allowance to the royal princesses being charged to the consolidated fund and suggested that either the Regent should foot the bill or the tellerships of the Exchequer be abolished for the same purpose. On 9 Apr. he called for a statement of the salaries enjoyed successively by Lords Melville and Buckinghamshire at the Board of Control, with a view to exposing them as sinecurists. On 1 and 7 May it was Lord Glenbervie’s turn to be exposed as a sinecurist jobber by Creevey, but his amendment to the Regent’s Canal bill was lost by 49 votes to 15 and a further attack on 2 July was foiled.
It was on 7 May 1812 that Creevey at length brought in seven resolutions against the tellerships of the Exchequer that had proved so profitable to their holders, Lords Camden and Buckingham. The Whig leadership, as before, discountenanced and tried to thwart the motion and it was opposed by Ponsonby, Tierney and Horner: Lord Grenville made it clear to Earl Grey that if it was made a party question, their association must end. Creevey’s motion was amended by Brand and negatived without a division. Robert Ward reported: ‘Perceval said he had heard that his own party had thrown [Creevey] overboard; and he was not surprised at it, as he was always doing mischief to his friends’. Thomas Grenville confirmed this view, writing to Earl Spencer on 19 Apr.:
You cannot think more contemptibly of him than I do, and after his having used as he did the confidential knowledge which he had of elections for the purposes of betraying those who had trusted him, you cannot think of him with more disgust than I do; but nevertheless he is a feature in the party, ... because he is intimately connected with Whitbread and Ossulston and several others, and is a leading man of the second ranks of opposition, and therefore what he does in the House of Commons is and must be taken for the act of the party unless they disclaim him and divide themselves from him.
Creevey did not vote for a more efficient administration, 21 May 1812, and during the remainder of the session he devoted himself to opposing the East India Company bill at every stage, 15 June, 3, 7, July. He was particularly scathing on the subject of the Whig leaders’ discomfiture in the negotiations for a change of government.6
Creevey’s links with Liverpool had been revived in the session of 1812. His mother’s illness and death took him there. He defended the town’s petitions against restrictions on East India trade, 23 Mar., and against the orders in council, 27 Apr.; and protested at the site proposed for a barracks there, 1 May. On 4 July he provisionally accepted an offer made through William Roscoe* to stand for Liverpool at the next election, if prospects seemed good, though sure of Thetford. To Henry Brougham, the first Whig choice at Liverpool, Creevey wrote, 30 Aug., ‘I like my own berth at Thetford much too much to put it at any hazard for so tempestuous a sea as Liverpool’. He intended to secure his return at Thetford before travelling to Liverpool (only three days before he had transmitted to Roscoe his favourite notions on parliamentary reform). Nor would he offer at Liverpool as ‘a random shot’: if he were to be Brougham’s second string, it must be with the united support of the party. This was procured for him by Roscoe and Lord Sefton; though Brougham disliked it and prophesied that the attempt to carry two Whigs must fail; and was irked at Creevey’s arriving with Thetford in his pocket, while he bore the brunt of the campaign with no seat to fall back on.7 They were defeated, but Creevey felt confident of his success on the next occasion: ‘we have fought a battle of real principle that will never be forgotten in this place’, he informed his wife.
Creevey’s fourth bid to block the sessional supply, 3 Dec. 1812, was based on the country’s inability, with war on three fronts to finance, to cope with its tax burden in a time of commercial decline. He called for consideration of the depreciation of paper currency. He was cold shouldered by the Whig leaders.8 On 8 Dec. he opposed and was a teller against the bank-note bill. He objected to the abuse of the privilege of franking letters by public officers, 12 Dec. Although he never uttered in the House on the subject, he was a regular supporter of Catholic relief. In March 1813 he took down the speeches on the Princess of Wales’s case for the Morning Chronicle when the gallery was cleared. On 8 Mar. he attacked the sinecure joint paymastership of the forces, held by Lord Charles Somerset*, and on 12 Mar. the paymastership of marines. He failed in the latter bid by 56 votes to 35, but on 6 Apr. secured the concession that Somerset’s office would be axed if the sinecure bill passed. In June he opposed the renewal of the East India Company charter at every stage, voting also against Christian missions to India, 22 June.
On 25 June 1813 Creevey was at length able to attract the House’s attention to his prosecution for libel, which he proposed to make a matter of breach of Members’ privilege. His attack on Kirkpatrick, the Liverpool inspector of taxes, 23 Mar. 1812, having been misreported in the newspapers, he had supplied the editor of the Liverpool Mercury with a correct version of his speech. This led to his prosecution for libel at Lancaster, 29 Mar. 1813, and he was found guilty. He thought he was being made a scapegoat by the government, but Brougham advised him and Whitbread (one of the five peers and 12 Members present at his appeal) stood by him. It was felt that he got off lightly when his appeal to King’s bench, 20 May, did not succeed: he was fined £100, though prepared to court imprisonment, having denied the jurisdiction of the court. Nor did he impress the House on 25 June, when he claimed that the privilege of having speeches printed, made use of by many Members, was at stake.9 At the same time, Creevey’s credit collapsed: he owed £7,000. Western and Whitbread, both his creditors, helped him and he agreed to retrench. His first obligation was to pay his Thetford election expenses. Then he had to give up living at Brighton.10 He proposed for economy’s sake and for his wife’s health to live abroad, and he experimented with Brussels.
Creevey’s attendance in the session of 1814 was patchy. He launched an attack on West Indian patent places, 29 Mar., and, on the committal of the colonial offices bill, tried to prevent the holding of such offices by leave of absence, 18 Apr. On 22 Apr. he seconded Whitbread’s amendment to Morpeth’s critical motion on the Speaker’s conduct. On 6 May he made a last stand against the colonial offices bill, producing a savage lampoon on the content of the bill which made it a laughing stock: it nevertheless passed by 48 votes to 8. On 14 May he voted against the blockade of Norway. On 17 May he opposed the renewal and increase of pensions for Wellesley and Warren Hastings for their services in India: he was thwarted by 62 votes to 23. He had encouraged Whitbread’s championship of the causes of the Princess of Wales and the Princess Charlotte: he was credited with writing the latter’s letter to her father in 1814; but he missed the debate on the subject in June, and subsequently became disillusioned with the Princess of Wales.11
Creevey spent the whole of the session of 1815 in Brussels. He had in 1813 offered up his seat to Lord Petre, who declined relieving him of it. He had thoughts of Brougham holding it as his locum tenens: but he retained it. At Brussels he became an admirer of a former bête noire of his, the Duke of Wellington, who converted him into a supporter of the resumption of hostilities with Buonaparte. Nevertheless, he returned to vote with opposition at Westminster, 2, 3, 8, 25 and 26 Apr. 1816: he arrived too late to oppose the property tax, as intended. He returned to Brussels, professing readiness to come back to Westminster if summoned. His friends kept him informed of the political scene, but the deterioration of his wife’s health detained him abroad.12
Creevey’s hopes of retaining Thetford at the next election had become precarious. Lord Sefton urged him to offer at Liverpool, but stood there himself in the event. The death of his wife in June 1818 threw him ‘upon the world with about £200 a year or less: no home, few connexions, a great many acquaintance, a good constitution, and extraordinary spirits’. His old friend Bernard Howard, now Duke of Norfolk, did in fact oust him from Thetford at the general election of 1818: Creevey told him what he thought of him. Brougham looked about for another seat for him. Lord Grey was unlikely to help and it was hoped the Duke of Bedford might oblige, but it was Bedford who viewed him de haut en bas: ‘There are some partisans who do infinitely more harm than good to the party to which they attach themselves, and I reckon Creevey, with all his talents, of this description’. This comment was provoked by a rumour that Wellington would place Creevey at the Ordnance and find a seat for him.13 But he remained a Whig, albeit a disillusioned one. He lamented the loss of Romilly as ‘a leader that all true Whigs would have been proud to follow’ and assured his friend Bennet from Brussels, 30 Dec. 1818, that the choice of Tierney as their leader was derisory: after a recital of Tierney’s mottled career, he concluded that he thought nothing of principles, only of catching votes. In 1820 he resumed his parliamentary career under Lord Thanet’s aegis. He died 5 June 1838. His keen sense of the ludicrous added constantly to the entertainment of the political scene for his contemporaries, as it has for posterity: indeed it got the better of his more serious pretensions.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
Based, unless otherwise stated, on The Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, Creevey’s Life and Times ed. Gore and on the Creevey mss (Univ. Coll. London transcript).
- 1. Broughton, Reminiscences, iii. 81.
- 2. Whitbread mss W1/373/6-12.
- 3. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 309.
- 4. Fitzwilliam mss, box 76, Creevey to Milton, 24 Oct. 1809; Manchester Coll. Oxf. Shepherd mss, Creevey to Shepherd, 24 Oct. 1810; Whitbread mss W1/373/15, 17; 374, 375. Creevey eventually abandoned Wardle: Brougham, Life and Times, i. 522.
- 5. Whitbread mss W1/379/2; Phipps, Plumber Ward Mems. i. 390, 391.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, x. 235-8; Phipps, i. 392; Spencer mss; Whitbread mss W1/384.
- 7. Liverpool RO, Roscoe mss 1058; Brougham mss 10344-5; Grey mss, Brougham to Grey [16, 18], 25 Sept., [4 Oct.] 1812.
- 8. Add. 40280, f. 104.
- 9. Gent. Mag. (1813), i. 382, 480; Brougham mss 10347, 10349; Add. 34460, f. 333; 51658, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 16, 22 May; Horner mss 5, f. 305; Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 22 May 1813.
- 10. Whitbread mss W1/391-401.
- 11. Horner mss 6, f. 55; Brougham mss 10355; Whitbread mss W1/419.
- 12. Brougham mss 10350; Grey mss, Grey to Holland, 11 Feb., Tierney to Grey, 19 Dec. 1816, Ord to Grey, 6 Jan. 1817.
- 13. Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, i. 320; Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland ; 51565, same to Lady Holland, Tues. , Sat. [8 Aug. 1818]; 51666, Bedford to same [early 1819].