HURST, Robert (1750-1843), of Horsham Park, Suss.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 1750, o.s. of Richard Hurst of Horsham. educ. M. Temple 1771, called 1776. m. Maria, da. of Adam Smith, 2s. 5da.
Bencher, M. Temple 1811, reader 1814, treasurer 1821.
Lt. Suss. yeomanry 1797.
Hurst, a barrister ‘of great experience and ability’, made ‘the business of elections his particular study’ and was retained by the 11th Duke of Norfolk for his electoral ventures from 1786. He was particularly active in his native borough of Horsham. In 1789 he was seconded to Great Marlow, where he had some interest through his connexion with the Hammond family, to assist William Lee Antonie* in his election campaign. In 1799 he retired from the bar with an estate of ‘£4,000 or £5,000 per annum’. In February 1802 it was public knowledge that he was to be Norfolk’s nominee for Steyning at the next election. But he could not resist nibbling at Shaftesbury, to assist the ‘anti-nabob’ interest there at the instigation of William Bryant.1 He was second on the poll and chose to sit for Shaftesbury, rather than Steyning.
Hurst joined Norfolk’s friends in opposition, voting on 4 Mar. 1803 for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts. The House ‘laughed without mercy’ when Charles Kinnaird, who had come in for Leominster on the ruin of Norfolk’s interest there (for which Hurst was the agent), knocked off Hurst’s hat in oratorical flight, and Sheridan complained that ‘there had been unnecessary vehemence of language, in the course of the debate and even of action that came too near the feelings of some honourable Members’.2 Hurst was at first a great speaker on small matters to which he attached importance. He figured in debate as an opponent of the St. Pancras workhouse bill, 21 Mar., 1, 4 Apr. 1803—he opposed a similar one for St. James’s parish on 21 June. On 25 Apr. he opposed a toll on manure carriage in the Edinburgh road bill, as being harmful to agriculture. He also opposed the general turnpike bill, 8 June, believing that it would ruin the roads by encouraging heavy transport. He strongly supported the coroners remuneration bill, 27 Apr., 2, 10 May. He voted with the Foxite minority on the Nottingham election bill, 3 May, but opposed the discharge of James Trotter, a Scottish election offender, 6 May. He objected to Addington’s concession of exemptions to the income duty, 14 July: ‘Every man who had 20s. a year ought cheerfully to contribute one, in the present crisis, to the cause of his country’. He objected to the bill authorizing legacies to Queen Anne’s bounty to benefit poor clergy, as they might harm investment in trade and commerce, 15 July, and wished to render the parsonage house bill ‘perfectly nugatory’, 18 July. He voted for Fox’s motion for a general council of officers, 2 Aug. It was he who on 28 Nov. brought up the report of the committee on expiring statutes.
Hurst seems to have followed Norfolk’s line of objecting to the coalition of opposition to Addington in 1804, as he did not vote with them, though he was present in March and April, as speeches against the Aylesbury election bill—which he thought a threat to the borough franchise—and against the grant of a fishery monopoly to the Marine Society attested. He was listed ‘Prince’ in May 1804 and, after joining the opposition to Pitt’s additional force bill in June, became ‘Fox and Grenville’ in September. He was again in the minorities on defence, 21 Feb. and 6 Mar. 1805, and at the same time opposed the salt duty as a tax on one of the necessities of life. He was in the majorities against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June, and advised postponement of the award of compensation to the Duke of Atholl, 23 May. In July he was listed ‘Opposition’. He supported the Grenville ministry, voting for their repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. He was critical of the election treating bill, 12 Mar., but put in a word for the Marquess Wellesley when a bid was made to impeach his conduct in India, 20 June.
Returned for Steyning on Norfolk’s interest at the ensuing general election, he was at odds with his political friends over the case for expelling John Fenton Cawthorne*, 23 Jan. 1807,3 but took their side on the Hampshire election petition, 13 Feb., and joined them in opposition to the new ministry on Brand’s motion, 9 Apr.
Although Hurst remained the nominee of the 11th and 12th Dukes of Norfolk for another 22 years for Steyning, and from 1812 for Horsham, he became a less assiduous Member, with little to say in debate. Opposition could count on his vote, when present, until the Regency bill was passed. He voted for sinecure and parliamentary reform, 17 and 21 May 1810. In his first known speech of that Parliament he supported tax relief for the forces, 22 May 1810. He could not be rallied to an extra-parliamentary meeting of Friends of Constitutional Reform in 1811, and between 1 Jan. 1811 and 4 Feb. 1812 no minority vote is known and only two brief speeches. He then voted for Morpeth’s Irish motion, invariably supporting Catholic relief. His chief interest in the House was to shepherd through the Horsham enclosure bill and he went away without voting on McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb., and, unlike other ducal nominees, did not join opposition on Turton’s censure motion, 27 Feb.4 On the other hand he voted in the minorities against the orders in council and their effect on relations with the USA, 13 Feb., 3 Mar., and on the barracks estimates, 13 Apr. After taking leave of absence on 28 Apr., he does not seem to have returned until June. On 12 June he wrote, apropos of opposition, ‘I now give up the political ghost. We were beat to the devil last night.’5
Apart from his support of Catholic relief, Hurst’s only minority votes in the first session of the Parliament of 1812 were against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813, and for a committee of the whole House on the civil list, 27 May, on which he spoke. In 1814 he voted for the censure of the Speaker and for Romilly’s bid to abolish attaintment, 22, 25 Apr., and spoke against the pillorying of Lord Cochrane, 19 July, and the Irish preservation of the peace bill, 20 July. On 16 Feb. 1815 he promoted a bill to increase allowances to prison chaplains. That session he was in the minorities against the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb., against the renewal of the property tax, 19 Apr., against the Regent’s address on the resumption of war with Buonaparte, 25 May, against the Regent’s extraordinary expenditure, 31 May, and in the majority against the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 3 July. In the session of 1816, except for a month’s leave, he voted steadily for retrenchment, defending his constituents’ petition against the property tax, 5 Mar., as the renewal was a breach of faith. He voted for the reception of the Lymington petition for reform, 11 Feb. 1817, but was critical of one from his own constituents’ presented by Lord Folkestone, 7 Mar., claiming that it was not respectably supported. He voted steadily against the suspension of habeas corpus and its effects and for further retrenchment 1817-18; but his only speech was in approval of the offenders’ conviction reward bill, 13 Apr. 1818.
He did not sign the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whig opposition in the Commons after the ensuing election. In the next session his only speeches were in favour of amending the legislation on insolvent debtors, 16 Mar., 20 May 1819, but he voted steadily with opposition until 10 June. He invited criminal law reform, 2 Mar., burgh reform, 1 Apr. and 6 May, and opposed public lotteries, 4 May, 9 June 1819. He voted until 14 Dec. 1819 against the repressive legislation introduced by ministers that session.
Hurst, who retired from the House to make way for his patron’s son in 1829, died 13 Apr. 1843 ‘in his 93rd year’.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: M. H. Port / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Beds. RO, Antonie mss UN570/42-4; Bucks. RO, Lee mss D3/63, 76; Albery, Parl. Hist. Horsham, ch. vi.-x.; Berks RO, Preston mss, Loveden to Sellwood, 8 July; The Times, 3 Feb. 1802; see SHAFTESBURY.
- 2. Add. 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 11 Mar. .
- 3. Lonsdale mss, R. Ward to Lowther, 24 Jan. 1807.
- 4. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 432, 437.
- 5. Arundel Castle mss, Hurst to Howard, 12 June 1812.
- 6. Gent. Mag. (1843), ii. 96.