FOSTER BARHAM, Joseph (1759-1832), of Trecwn, Pemb.

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



22 Feb. 1793 - Apr. 1799
1802 - 1806
1806 - 1807
1807 - July 1822

Family and Education

b. 1 Jan. 1759, 1st s. of Joseph Foster Barham (formerly Foster) by Dorothea, da. and event. h. of Erasmus Vaughan of Trecwn. educ. ?Leipzig; G. Inn 1777. m. 26 July 1792, Lady Caroline Tufton, da. of Sackville, 8th Earl of Thanet, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1789.

Offices Held

Capt. Stockbridge vols. 1798, lt. 1803, capt. 1804-6.


Foster Barham inherited Jamaican plantations from his father, a Moravian by religion, who settled at Bedford. He at once sent instructions to the West Indies to continue payments to missionaries and to treat his slaves well. At his marriage his plantations were worth p. £2,000 p.a., but by his death brought in about £1,200 p.a. He inherited a partnership in a West Indies merchant firm, Barham and (Thomas) Plummer*,in which his next brother replaced him, in 1815, as a principal.1 From his mother he got a Welsh estate and an interest in Pembrokeshire politics. On 15 Jan. 1788 he joined the Whig Club and on 9 Mar. Brooks’s, sponsored by the Duke of Portland. He apparently wrote a pamphlet favourable to the Prince of Wales in the Regency crisis. In 1790 he and George Porter* contested Stockbridge, on an initial outlay of nearly £6,000, and, although they did not then succeed, both exposed the corruption there and bought up most of the property.2 While their petition against their opponents was delayed, Foster Barham was in quest of a wife. Rejected by the Hon. Lucy Pelham, he toured Portugal and Spain and on his return married Lord Thanet’s daughter.3 This and his being first cousin of Lady Holland reinforced his Whig connexions; but he was a seceder from the Whig Club after securing his seat for Stockbridge on 22 Feb. 1793.

Foster Barham’s maiden speech was in opposition to the Stockbridge disfranchisement bill, 27 May 1793. Its defeat left him with a secure seat, though he had voted for the reception of the Sheffield petition for reform on Fox’s motion, 2 May. He voted against the transportation of the radical Palmer, 24 Feb. 1794, and apparently against the enlistment of French émigrés, 14 Apr. In the next session he voted for peace negotiations, 30 Dec. 1794, 26 Jan., 24 Mar., 27 May 1795. Having on 25 Feb. 1794 supported Wilberforce’s motion to prevent the traffic in African slaves in British vessels, he called for the postponement of the abolition of the trade, 26 Feb. 1795. ‘Local considerations’ swayed him: the ‘complete ruin’ of the planters and the danger of rebellion were foremost. He preferred regulation to prohibition of the trade. In the same speech he expressed his alarm at the news of the proclamations issued by Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey in Martinique, lest the French follow their example. After securing what particulars he could of them (they were never executed), he brought in a critical motion against the two commanders, 2 June 1795. It was lost by 57 votes to 14. He rebuked William Windham for his defence of John Reeves’s ultra-monarchist pamphlet, 23 Nov. 1795, but a week later approved the bills against sedition, provided they were temporary. Presumably he was in the minority of six who voted for a three-year duration, 30 Nov. In the ensuing session, for the reasons that he had explained, he opposed the abolition of the slave trade at present, 18 Feb., 8, 15 Mar., 27 Apr. 1796, and answered critics of the campaign against the Maroons in Jamaica, 20 Mar.

The Treasury was by now hopeful of Foster Barham’s support, despite his past hostility, but they did not obtain it. On 10 Mar. 1797 he criticized the packing of the finance committee, having the day before met with the ‘armed neutrality’. As one of them he was a signatory to an appeal to the Earl of Moira in May to lobby the King for a change of ministry.4 He voted against ministers on the naval mutiny, 10 May, but opposed Grey’s motion for parliamentary reform on 26 May, not because he was not in favour of ‘a sober and well-digested scheme of reform’, but because it was inopportune and uncalled for. He had seconded Charles Rose Ellis’s bid to refer the gradual abolition of the slave trade to the colonial assemblies, 6 Apr., and opposed Wilberforce’s motions for immediate abolition on 15 May 1797 and 3 Apr. 1798 as impracticable. He readily supported (and was teller for) the bill to ameliorate the conditions of transport of slaves, 30 Apr. On 1 May he opposed and was teller against Walpole’s charges of inhumanity in the campaign against the Maroons. He voted with opposition on Irish questions, 11 and 14 June 1798. In April 1799, when his brother-in-law Lord Thanet was about to be tried for collusion with the United Irishman O’Connor, he vacated his seat.

Foster Barham resumed his seat in 1802, after an abortive attempt to come in for Haverfordwest. He pleaded for the protection of the West India planters, 20 Dec. 1802, and opposed additional sugar duties on their behalf, 17 June, 26 July 1803. He remained critical on Irish questions, 21, 28 July. On 2 Aug., in support of Fox’s motion for a council of generals, he was an advocate of a military command for the Prince of Wales. He later reminded the Prince that he had been so at his express request. He did not otherwise oppose Addington’s ministry until April 1804, when he supported the payment of the Irish civil officials at par, 12 Apr., and voted in the minorities on defence that brought the ministry down, 23 and 25 Apr. Listed ‘Fox’ in May 1804, he voted against Pitt’s additional force bill in June, but was preoccupied rather by Wilberforce’s fresh bid to abolish the slave trade, for which he announced his support, 30 May, and acted as teller. He admitted that events in St. Domingo had swayed him, as had the removal of his fears that unilateral abolition by Britain would merely transfer the trade to the sphere of contraband. He insisted, however, on compensation for the planters, whose profits were ‘not a third’ of what they had been, 12, 27 June. On 28 Feb. 1805, in a further plea for abolition, he argued that it would now be dangerous to continue the trade and referred to a suggestion of his that Indian sepoys should be planted in the West Indies to propagate free labour. On 5 Apr. he questioned Pitt on the security of the West Indies against enemy attack. His attitude to the ministry had remained critical. Listed in September 1804 ‘Fox and Grenville’, then under ‘The persons in opposition not quite certain’, he was pressed by John Calcraft* to attend. Accordingly he voted against government on defence, 21 Feb. 1805, for the continuation of the naval commission of inquiry, 1 Mar., and for the censure on Melville, 8 Apr., which he condoned in a speech of 10 Apr. (He paired in favour of criminal prosecution on 12 June.) He also steadfastly opposed the stipendiary curates bill, as a subversive attack on ‘the purest church in Christendom’, 21, 30 May 1805 and thereafter. But he was in favour of the Duke of Atholl’s compensation bill, 19 June, 1 July. On 3 July he led the opposition to the delay in the southern whale fishery bill, as a spokesman for the American whalers settled at Milford Haven. He was listed ‘Opposition’ in July, and in January 1806 Calcraft was still whipping him in.

Foster Barham applied to the Prince of Wales when he was overlooked on the formation of the Grenville ministry:5 ‘I have never yet in my life troubled you with a single request, though I have been through the whole of it devoted to your interest, and have never failed you in any one instance great or small’. He quoted the Prince as saying ‘Barham, I am exceedingly obliged to you and in various ways. All I can say is, that whatever may be your object, you may rely on my doing everything in my power to accomplish it.’ This ‘spontaneous and unsolicited’ promise was evidently made in 1803 after the Prince’s factotum Thomas Tyrwhitt* obtained a seat for Portarlington at Foster Barham’s expense, and he was now hurt when his application to the Prince through a friend, which listed his services, had been rebuffed as one that the Prince could not act upon. To meet the Prince’s wishes for Tyrwhitt, he had sacrificed his town house. Nothing was done for Foster Barham, who supported the ministry over the American intercourse bill, 21 Apr. 1806, arguing from his own experience that there was not sufficient British shipping for the Caribbean trade; he even swallowed the customs duties bill, with a rider that if the plight of the planters were investigated, the sugar duties might be reduced, 24 Apr. He voted for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. In August William Windham described him to Lord Grenville as ‘an independent man supporting government with two seats ... possessed ... of very considerable talents’.6

At the ensuing election, Foster Barham, whose indifferent health made him think of giving up Parliament, was chosen both for Stockbridge and Okehampton and sat for the latter. This was by arrangement with Tyrwhitt, who thereby liquidated the ‘disagreeable sort of debt’ he owed, and was at the same time permitted to nominate a paying guest for Stockbridge for that session, provided he could keep Foster Barham in good humour (‘no easy matter’). It would appear, however, that Tyrwhitt did not fulfil his part of the bargain which included the payment of the exact amount (£4,000) his seat for Portarlington had cost, and after they had submitted their dispute to William Adam* for arbitration, Foster Barham issued an ultimatum to Tyrwhitt, 13 Mar. 1807, requiring the resignation of his nominee for Stockbridge a week before Easter, according to a previous stipulation. The fall of the ministry doubtless dissipated the quarrel and Tyrwhitt advised him to offer Stockbridge to the new premier. Foster Barham resumed his seat for Stockbridge, though he informed Lord Grenville, 3 Aug. 1807, of overtures made to him to sell his interest there, which he would not consider unless it fell into Whig hands. Relations with his co-patron on the spot, Porter, were often strained but Foster Barham ridiculed a subsequent bid by Porter to buy him out and they remained in tandem.7

Foster Barham had meanwhile resumed his role in the abolition of the slave trade. Having on 10 June 1806 pledged himself again to support abolition, with compensation, he was listed among ‘staunch friends’ of the measure. Wilberforce wrote: ‘He really is a generous fellow, and he seems to be actuated by a warm spirit of patriotism and philanthropy ... such an honourable exception to the conduct of his brother planters’.8 On 27 Feb. 1807, stating the planters’ case, he said that he had never been able to procure sufficient slaves to cultivate his lands and that ‘of any guilt that attached to this trade they were at most but partners with the Parliament which tolerated it, and the country which profited so much from it’. He nevertheless wished for immediate abolition, 6 Mar. On 9 Mar. he encouraged an amendment to the preamble of the bill which justified it on grounds of expediency alone.9 To the end he denied that masters had been guilty of inhumanity towards their slaves, 16 Mar. He still hoped for the adoption of his plan to import Chinese or Indian free labourers to the West Indies, but Wilberforce could not swallow it, and when William Windham, the colonial secretary, showed an interest and urged Foster Barham to be the contractor for the migration, he informed him that he had refused to do so from the start. The great merit of his plan, he argued, was that it would enable the slaves to imitate ‘an example of voluntary industry ... without rushing at once into a state of savage liberty’.10

Foster Barham, after leave of absence for illness, would appear to have supported Lyttelton’s motion critical of the Portland ministry, 15 Apr. 1807. At the ensuing election he claimed, ‘I wish to be out’ and lamented a further rebuff of his claims to the Haverfordwest seat ‘only ... on Windham’s account’, Windham being without a seat.11 He voted with opposition in the first two divisions of the Parliament of 1807 and against the Irish arms bill, 11 Aug. In debate he deplored the invidious persecution of an individual for delaying the issue of the Poole election writ, a practice so general that it would be hypocrisy not to prevent it by a general remedy, which he offered, 4 Aug. On 7 Aug. he complained of the difficulty of obtaining tax rebates which he and others had experienced. He next appeared on 4 May 1808, still in the minority, on Scottish pensions, and next day clashed with Patrick Duigenan in defence of the Catholic seminary at Maynooth. This provoked his motion censuring Duigenan’s appointment to the Irish privy council, which was replied to on the government side only by the Irish secretary, but was lost by 179 votes to 107. On 23 May Foster Barham distinguished himself in a speech, afterwards printed, which presented the ultimatum of the West India sugar planters against permitting distillation from grain. (He had given evidence to the select committee on it.) Lady Holland commented:

My friend and cousin Barham made an excellent speech, far superior in argument to Perceval. He attacked both parties, especially the opposition for making it a party question. He was interrupted and assured by Mr Ponsonby that it was not so, when in corroboration of his assertion he drew forth a circular note from his pocket. All persons disclaimed having any knowledge that such notes had been issued, when upon enquiry the transaction was traced to Sir John Sinclair* who had underhand engaged the person usually employed (information he obtained from [Thomas] Creevey*) to distribute them to the opposition Members.12

It was in vain that Foster Barham moved an inquiry by the House into the claims of the planters for protection, 24 June 1808. Nor could he procure the inclusion of Ireland in the prohibition of distillation from grain, 23 Feb. 1809. He voted against ministers on the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. He was dissatisfied with all the resolutions proposed on the Duke of York’s conduct, 17 Mar., and abstained after proposing one of his own that eschewed flattery, and, while exonerating the duke of misconduct of army patronage, charged him with making it possible by his association with Mary Anne Clarke and offered him the loophole of resignation. He advocated a reduction of the duties on spirits, 21 Mar., 13 Apr. After voting against ministers on the charges of corruption alleged against them, 25 Apr., he was disgusted when they resisted the charges against the Dutch commissioners, 1 May, thinking they had already flouted public opinion sufficiently that session. He went on to support Madocks’s motion against ministerial corruption, 11 May, and, although he indicated that he had no time for Wardle’s wilder allegations, 26 May, he denounced abuses in the Irish revenue service, 30 May, and voted with the rump against the distortion of Curwen’s reform bill, 12 June. He did not think public opinion was anxious for reform, but gave credit to Burdett for his moderate views, 15 June.

The Whigs failed to secure Foster Barham’s attendance for the opening of the session of 1810.13 He was present on 16 Feb. when he opposed Wellington’s pension, in view of the risks he had taken to win the battle of Talavera. He also voted against ministers on the Scheldt question, 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar., being listed among their adherents by the Whigs. He opposed the reception of the Middlesex petition for Burdett’s release from the Tower, 2 May, approved the Berkshire one, 6 June, but voted for Williams Wynn’s motion to safeguard the privileges of the House, 8 June. On 1 June he explained at length his reasons for supporting Catholic relief. His attitude to the Regency proposals does not appear, but he was present on 22 Feb. 1811 to vote against the Irish secretary’s handling of the Catholic convention. On 5 Mar. he deplored the resurgence of an illicit slave trade. On 4 Apr. he obtained an airing for his former plan of introducing free labourers ‘from the shores of Hindustan’ to the West Indies, which was not now opposed by Wilberforce, though James Stephen criticized it. On 6 June, to the dismay of some Whigs, he recanted his hostility to the Duke of York in 1809, claiming that he was a victim of the ‘Puritan mania’ then prevalent.14 He continued to speak for the sugar planters’ lobby, 2 Apr. 1811, and opposed the introduction of British law in Trinidad, 13 June. He voted for Burdett’s motion against flogging in the army, 18 June.

Foster Barham was absent until March 1812, when he supported inquiry into outstanding demands on the Bank, 17 Mar. On 23 Mar. he asked why provision was made for the royal princesses, but not for the Princess of Wales. He voted for Williams Wynn’s motion questioning the constitutionality of McMahon’s appointment as secretary to the Regent, 14 Apr., but was too disgusted by Burdett’s speech to join the minority on the barracks estimates, 1 May.15 He advocated a liberal compensation to Spencer Perceval’s family, 20 May, and next day voted for a more comprehensive administration. He came to George Ponsonby’s rescue, 3 June, when he was harassed by Richard Martin as to the prospects of a new ministry. Apart from Catholic relief, he was a supporter of tithe reform in Ireland, 23 June, 7 July.

Foster Barham, whose disillusionment with the Prince Regent was apparent, remained in opposition in the Parliament of 1812. On 26 Feb. 1813 he was a spokesman for the Pembrokeshire Whigs against Sir John Owen over their election petition. Objecting to suppositions that the West India planters were ‘a wealthy set of men’, 13 May, he went on to assure Alexander Baring sarcastically that he would prefer the profits of Baring & Co. to the whole of the West Indies, 21 June. He ridiculed the limitation of furlough for colonial officials to a year, 18 Apr. 1814. On 27 June and I July he protested at the ministerial habit of ignoring questions posed by opposition Members. He called for an immediate renunciation by France of the slave trade, 27 June. (On 18 Apr. 1815 he proposed a bill to prevent British subjects from assisting the foreign slave trade, which he ably defended, 5 May.) Believing that Lord Cochrane’s guilt on the charge of fraud against him was doubtful, he espoused his cause and opposed his expulsion from the House, 5, 19 July 1814. He voted against the continuation of the militia, 28 Nov. 1814, and the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb. 1815. He did not appear in the minorities against the resumption of hostilities against Buonaparte, who had left a relative of his on Elba out of pocket, but favoured the reception of the London petition for peace and retrenchment, 1 May 1815. He himself steadily opposed ministers on civil list questions and legislation on aliens, and from 27 Mar. 1816 (after a month’s leave) regularly supported retrenchment. He had been prepared to protect the corngrowers, 21 June 1813, but suggested that the House ‘dared not’ refer petitions against it to a committee, 6 June 1814, and concluded, 28 Mar. 1816, that he wished to prevent the importation of foreign grain, but also to oppose any bounties on exporting it. He vouched for the distress of agriculture in Pembrokeshire, 4 Apr., having returned from there recently after acting on behalf of the Whigs in their compromise with Sir John Owen.16 On 19 June 1816 he denounced the mischief done by the slave registry bill (which he had opposed on 13 June and 5 July 1815) and by Methodist missionaries in the West Indies: the insurrection he foretold had come to pass. Ironically, his mother’s family had been fervent Wesleyans, but he disclaimed knowledge of the sect and rebuked their champion Joseph Butterworth in debate, 26 June.

Foster Barham returned from Geneva in April 181717 and on 25 Apr. resumed opposition. He favoured the abolition of the separate colonial secretaryship, 29 Apr., denying that the colonies would resent it. If, as he alleged, he had come back from the Continent to support Catholic relief, he was absent on the division on it, 9 May, though he paired in favour. He supported opposition in June on the choice of Speaker and the suspension of habeas corpus: he explained, 5 June, that he had concurred with the suspension in wartime, but saw no call for it now and, if it was necessary, ministers were to blame. On 2 July he unsuccessfully took up the case of Thomas Evans, a detainee under the suspension. On 11 July he informed the House of the conviction of his ‘late’ friend George Ponsonby that agents provocateurs were responsible for popular disorder. In the session of 1818 he was apparently absent (in Italy) until 1 May. On 19 May he attempted to curtail the duration of the aliens bill. Supporting inquiry into the condition of slaves on the island of Nevis, 20 May, he maintained his long-held view that the slaves were better off than the British poor.

Foster Barham signed the requisition to Tierney to lead opposition in the House after the election of 1818. He supported Tierney’s motion on the Bank and Brougham’s membership of the committee on it, 2, 8 Feb. 1819. On 17 Feb. he informed the House that boy chimney sweeps were unknown in the part of the country where he resided and that he had been resisted when he attempted to introduce them. He voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar. After a period of absence (his being taken into custody was debated on 22 Apr.) he returned to support burgh reform on 6 May, but said he would abstain on the Barnstaple bribery bill, since the House had not adopted a consistent line of conduct in the disfranchisement of electors, as also on the Penryn bribery bill, 10, 12 May. He supported Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. On 21 May he advocated the reform of the Welsh judicature. He voted for Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the abuse of charitable foundations, 23 June, but, as in 1817, did not support Burdett’s reform motion on 1 July.

Foster Barham travelled from Wales to Hampshire to be present at the county meeting requisitioned by the Whigs, though he informed Palmerston, who hoped to woo him to the other side, that he had no wish for a meeting, being keen to prevent violent measures. He was an opponent of radicalism, but objected to government suppression of public opinion and prejudgment of the Peterloo incident, which in his view merited inquiry.18 Accordingly he voted with opposition on 24 and 30 Nov. 1819, and on 6 and 8 Dec. told the House that, although he was no reformer and approved the seditious meetings prevention bill, he wished to see it limited in time and place. He voted in this sense and no further. Foster Barham died 28 Sept. 1832.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: R. G. Thorne / P. A. Symonds


  • 1. Bodl. Clarendon dep. C.361, 362, passim; 428, Foster Barham to Wedderburn and Graham, 8 Sept. 1789; Caribbeana, iv. 915; PCC 618 Tenterden; F. Foster Barham, Foster Barham, Gen. 15.
  • 3. Add. 58145, Lady Pelham to Lady Webster, 15 Sept. 1791, 31 Jan., 30 Mar., 25 June 1792.
  • 4. PRO 30/9/32, Abbot diary, 9 Mar. 1797; Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1253; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1565.
  • 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2152; Bodl. C.431, bdle. 5, Tyrwhitt to Foster Barham, 3 July 1802-23 July 1803, Foster Barham’s drafts, n.d.
  • 6. HMC Fortescue, viii. 302-3.
  • 7. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2204; Bodl. C.431, bdle. 5, Tyrwhitt to Foster Barham, 2 Nov. 1806-22 Mar. 1807; Blair Adam mss, Tyrwhitt to Adam, 13 Mar. 1807, enc. Foster Barham to Tyrwhitt, of even date; Fortescue mss.
  • 8. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 272.
  • 9. Grey mss, Smith to Howick [9 Mar. 1807].
  • 10. Add. 37885, f. 242; 37886, f. 48.
  • 11. Bodl. C.431, bdle. 5, Foster Barham to Kensington, draft n.d. [May]; Morning Chron. 22 June 1807.
  • 12. Add. 51549, Lady Holland to Grey [May 1808].
  • 13. Grey mss, Grey to Holland, 12 Jan. 1810.
  • 14. HMC Fortescue, x. 149.
  • 15. Ibid. 242.
  • 17. Jerningham Letters, ii. 1104.
  • 18. Broadlands mss (NRA), Foster Barham to Palmerston, 20 Oct. 1819.