ELLIS, George (1753-1815), of Park Place, Mdx and Sunning Hill, Berks.

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

Constituency

Dates

1796 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 19 Dec. 1753,1 o. and posth. s. of George Ellis of Greencastle, Jamaica by Susanna Charlotte, da. of Samuel Long of Longville, Jamaica. educ. ?Eton 1764-70. m. 31 Oct. 1801,2 Anne, da. of Adm. Sir Peter Parker, 1st Bt., of Bassingbourn, Cambs., s.p.

Offices Held

Capt. St. James’s vols.

Biography

Ellis was born in Jamaica three months after the death of his father, whose will provided his widow with an annuity of £1,200, but made no reference to children of the union. His father’s brother John Ellis claimed the whole of his property as heir at law, but the ensuing squabble was settled by the intervention of Ellis’s grandfather, Samuel Long, who prevailed on his daughter to allow John Ellis possession of the property and to surrender £500 of her annuity during her child’s minority, in return for which John Ellis agreed to pay for his education and, when he came of age, to give him £20,000 and a life interest in a small Jamaican sugar plantation, on condition that his nephew then executed a release confirming to him his ‘absolute right for ever to the property’. Ellis’s mother, who later married General Sir David Lindsay, brought him to England in 1755. He grew attached to her brother Edward Long, to whom he confided, 20 Sept. 1774, soon after returning from a tour of France, his mistrust of the motives of his paternal uncle in insisting that he keep the Jamaican estate and some contiguous property in his own hands rather than lease it, as he would have preferred:

I have a difficult card to play, as I must be really guided by my own friends at the same time that I appear to pay the most implicit deference to his advice. I must therefore contrive to make him advise those very measures which I have previously determined to follow ... The few months which remain before I come of age are not more than sufficient for half of what I wish to be master of, and after that time the busy line of life which my distrust of my uncle’s intentions has forced me to adopt will I believe give me but a little time for any other pursuits.

It is not clear what settlement was made when he came of age, but Ellis, who visited Jamaica in 1780, was never short of money. When he died he was in possession of the Jamaican plantation and other property, and his estate was valued at £30,000. John Ellis was lost at sea in 1782 and when his younger son Charles Rose Ellis* inherited his share of the family fortune on coming of age in 1792, he sent his cousin £10,000 in cash as reparation for his lost patrimony.3

Ellis could probably have supported himself with his pen if necessary, for after making his literary bow with mock heroic couplets on Bath in 1770 he proved a popular author of both verse and prose. He made a name for himself as a man of charm and wit, moved in Whig society, contributed to the Rolliad and became friendly with the Whig diplomat Lord Malmesbury, whom he accompanied as an aide on his mission to The Hague in December 1784. In 1791 he toured Germany and Italy with the Malmesburys and when Malmesbury went over to government in 1793, Ellis followed suit. He was soon on intimate terms with Canning, to whom his cousin Charles had been attached since their days at Oxford.

At the general election of 1796 Charles Ellis bought him a set for Lord Abingdon’s borough of Westbury, but when his cousin fell out with the agent over the terms for his re-election, George opted to take his seat for Seaford where Charles, with whom he had successfully contested the borough, had become paymaster of the Pelham interest. When Malmesbury was sent to Paris to negotiate peace terms in October 1796 he persuaded Ellis, ‘the only person in whom I could place entire confidence’, to go with him ‘as my private friend’. He returned to England to report progress to ministers in mid November, when Malmesbury assured Lord Grenville, the Foreign secretary, that Ellis was ‘fully acquainted with everything that has passed’ and that the ‘soundness of his judgement’ and ‘acuteness of his discernment’ could be relied on. He went back to Paris on 11 Dec. 1796 and came home with Malmesbury when the negotiations collapsed.4 After an initial demur, he agreed to go with Malmesbury to Lille when negotiations were resumed there in July 1797. He played an important role as the British spokesman in secret exchanges with a representative of the French moderates. When Canning hinted that Grenville was dissatisfied with Malmesbury’s handling of the negotiations, Ellis replied with a long and spirited defence of his chief. He remained wholly in Malmesbury’s confidence and in close touch with Canning who, with Pitt’s blessing, kept him informed of Grenville’s hostility to negotiations, until they broke down in September.5

On 25 Nov. 1797 Lord Granville Leveson Gower, another member of Canning’s ‘select squad’, reported that Ellis and his cousin had obtained Pitt’s permission to desert the opening of Parliament for the hunting field. He joined Canning and Frere in starting the Anti-Jacobin, which provided him with a vehicle for abusing the Whigs as he had once lampooned the Pittites.6 He made no mark in the Commons, where he is not known to have spoken, and contented himself with supporting government with his vote, as he did on the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. He was privy to discussions between Canning and Pitt on the prospects for peace negotiations in December 1799. As one of the leading ‘moderate’ West Indians in the House, he was opposed to immediate abolition of the slave trade, but prepared to support measures designed to ensure its limitation and eventual cessation.7

When Pitt resigned in 1801, Ellis loyally followed Canning’s line, made known his ‘determination to oppose’ the Addington ministry and condemned the ‘vile friends and adherents of our new gallipot ministry who go about telling the vilest lies about Canning’, the only one of Pitt’s friends to have acted with ‘real honour’.8 Later in the year he married and bought a Berkshire property near Canning’s residence at South Hill. Caning was ‘not prepared’ for, but was pleased by his voting, with his cousin and Lord Morpeth, in the largely Grenvillite minority of 20 against the peace terms, 14 May 1802.9

Ellis did not seek re-election at the subsequent general election, possibly because of ill health, which raised fears for his life in 1806 and prompted him to decline Canning’s offer of a seat for Lord Lonsdale’s borough of Cockermouth in 1807.10 He continued to wield his pen, contributed to the Quarterly Review, began, but did not live to finish, an edition of his friend Windham’s diary and frequently played host to Sir Walter Scott, who dedicated the fifth canto of Marmion to him and found his company enchanting. Francis Horner was equally delighted by Ellis when he met him for the first time in 1812, but others saw flaws in him. Sir Gilbert Elliot noted in 1793 that he ‘is certainly clever in some points, but his whole mind and faculties are so completely unstrung by this habitual lounge and he is so completely nothing that it is very fatiguing’; and Tom Moore recorded a conversation about Ellis at the Fox Club in which it was ‘remarked how unintelligible and confused he was in his conversation (particularly upon business), though so clear in his style of writing’. Canning described his death, 10 Apr. 1815, after a protracted illness, as ‘a loss such as never can be repaired’.11

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 606.
  • 2. Add. 38833, f. 53, Canning to Frere, 7 Nov. 1801; Gent. Mag. (1801), ii. 1052 gives to Nov.
  • 3. Longs of Longville ed. Howard, i. 107-9, 132-6, 140, 147; PCC 235 Pakenham; prob. act. bk. 1815; Minto , ii. 123.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue , iii. 259, 269, 276, 282; Malmesbury Diaries , iii. 292, 323, 348; Windham Diary , 347.
  • 5. Malmesbury Diaries , iii. 371, 396, 429-34, 437-40, 442, 449, 453-7, 496, 519, 521, 542, 553, 584; HMC Fortescue , iii. 336, 338-41, 346-52, 358-9, 361.
  • 6. Leveson Gower , i. 183, 195; Canning and his Friends , i. 135.
  • 7. PRO 30/8/120, ff. 169, 177; Add. 37877, f. 218; 38735, f. 179; Canning and his Friends , i. 150.
  • 8. Rose Diaries , i. 295; Canning and his Friends , i. 181.
  • 9. Add. 38833, f. 121.
  • 10. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 26, 27 June, 2 July 1806; Lonsdale mss, Canning to Lonsdale, 14 May 1807.
  • 11. Horner mss 5, f. 179; NLS mss 11048, f. 201; Moore Mems. ed. Russell, ii. 227; Add. 38740, f. 119.

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