NEWPORT, Sir Simon John, 1st Bt. (1756-1843), of New Park, co. Waterford.
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Family and Education
b. 24 Oct. 1756, 1st s. of Simon Newport, merchant and banker, of Waterford by Elizabeth, da. of William Riall of Clonmel, co. Tipperary. educ. Eton 1768-74, M. Temple 1770; Queen’s, Oxf. 1773; L. Inn 1779, called [I] 1780. m. 1 Oct. 1784, Ellen, da. of Shapland Carew, MP [I], of Castleborough, co. Wexford, s.p. cr. Bt. 25 Aug. 1789; suc. fa. 1817.
Chancellor of exchequer [I] Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807; commr. of treasury [I] Apr. 1806-Mar. 1807; PC [GB] 12 Mar. 1806, [I] 25 July 1806; comptroller gen. of Exchequer [UK] Oct. 1834-Sept. 1839.
Sir John Newport (he was never known as Simon) was the scion of an Anglo-Dutch family settled near Waterford since William III’s time, which had prospered in trade. At Eton he formed with William Wyndham Grenville* a friendship which dominated his public life: in 1782 he constituted himself Grenville’s mentor when the latter was chief secretary in Ireland.1 Though he never sat in the Irish parliament, he was one of the advocates of its reform in 1783.2 In 1795 a friend of the Speaker’s had this to say of him:
Newport is a partner in a bank with his father and brother who were educated merchants: he was created a baronet by the Marquis of Buckingham, who knew him at Eton. He and his family are dissenters, and very warm and slashing reformists in Church and State. The two Members of the city are returned chiefly by his connections, and his exertions—the combined motives therefore of electioneering interest, a most ardent love of popularity, and dislike of the Church instigate him to declare himself the champion of Roman Catholic emancipation to its utmost extent. He is a man of parts, and not defective in that talent of public speaking which is best calculated ad captum vulgi.3
Newport was, however, a supporter of the Union, on the eve of which he sent a memorial to Henry Dundas, advocating the increase of Scottish representation in proportion to the Irish influx, with the remark, ‘I have never found you unwilling to support any suggestion of mine, the policy of which you were convinced of’.4
In the autumn of 1801 Newport reminded his friend Grenville of his promise to procure him the assistance of government to secure his return for Waterford at the next general election against Alcock, a violent anti-Unionist with whom Newport had previously fought a duel. Grenville, who had resigned office since Newport first made the request, commended him to the viceroy and the premier in turn as worthy of support, ‘sincerely attached to the most intimate connection between Great Britain and Ireland, and ... a decided enemy to Jacobinism in all its shapes’. The request, referred by the viceroy to the premier, met with a slow response, not so much because the ministry feared that Newport would join Lord Grenville’s drift into opposition to them—they had no reason to suppose that—but because of the danger of alienating the Beresford clan. Such government assistance as Newport received proved ineffective, but he petitioned against the return after a keen contest and was finally seated on 7 Dec. 1803. That month Newport informed the chief secretary that he regretted that government would not support an inquiry into its handling of the Emmet rising, as ‘I am anxious to give to the existing government, or rather administration, as far as an inconsiderable individual can do, cordial and honourable support’.5
In fact, Newport soon joined the Grenvillite opposition to Addington and subsequently to Pitt’s second ministry. In his first two speeches, 20 Feb. and 2 Mar. 1804, he was a critic of legislative interference with private banks in Ireland and with the rate of exchange, warning the House characteristically to ‘bear in mind the great difference between the two countries, and not suffer themselves to decide too hastily upon general principles’. Overcoming a suspicion that debate on such matters was in itself prejudicial to the matters at issue, he soon became an acknowledged spokesman on Irish finance. His view of Irish fiscal policy was at this time favourable, however: it was on defence that he manifested his opposition. He voted for Pitt’s naval defence motion, 15 Mar. 1804. On 28 Mar. he spoke in favour of the Irish militia offer bill, but on 11 Apr. objected to the Irish militia augmentation bill and two days later to the former bill. On four subsequent defence divisions that month he acted with opposition.
Newport was a prominent member of the Grenville opposition to Pitt’s second ministry, against which his vote was cast on every major issue. In 1804 and 1805 he was a leading critic of the Irish budgets, objecting to duties on tobacco, timber and retail sales. He led the opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 8 Feb. 1805, when his amendment was lost by 112 votes to 33. He displayed philanthropic interests; having on 26 Apr. 1804 obtained a select committee on Irish Poor Law reform, he also supported the abolition of the slave trade, 7 June 1804, and on 21 Mar. 1805 introduced a bill to establish pauper lunatic asylums in Ireland—withdrawn with a view to improvements on 4 Apr. It was doubtless on this account that the Irish lord chancellor included him in his short list of ‘great manufacturers’ of Irish legislation.6 Newport further established his reputation as the ‘political ferret’ by his exposure of the needless persistence of the commissioners of Union compensation, 3 Apr. 1805—he secured their liquidation on 17 June—and by an unsuccessful motion for an inquiry into the expenditure of Irish secret service money from 1793 until 1804, 21 May. He was proposed by Whitbread for a select committee to inquire into the charges against Melville, 25 Apr. ‘A warm friend to the question’, he spoke in favour of Catholic claims, 14 May 1805, and in a welter of oratory, was as usual distinguished for his plain, practical and sober style of speaking.7
The most rewarding, if hectic, event in Newport’s career was his appointment as Irish chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Grenville’s ministry, 1806-7. An intrigue of Sheridan’s to secure the office for George Tierney* had first to be set aside.8 Newport’s appointment also irritated some Irish county Members who felt that he must needs retain a ‘sleeping’ interest in the family bank. After canvassing for his re-election, he was returned in absentia, being preoccupied with the preparation of his budget. On 14 Apr. 1806, as a preliminary, he carried the repeal of the Irish house duty and the budget followed on 7 May. The increased taxes he proposed to cover the interest on the Irish loan were not popular and he was harassed by his predecessor in office, John Foster. On 19 May he introduced a bill to regulate the Irish customs and excise and combat arrears in collection and on 3 June a bill to free trade in corn between Britain and Ireland. His Irish election bill, introduced on 19 June, the symptom of a lifelong interest in electoral reform, was criticized as an ‘assault on the protestant interest’ in corporation boroughs as it facilitated the admission of Catholics, and was alleged to have been manufactured for his own benefit. It had to be shelved, but his Irish poor relief bill, 26 June, was better received. He was full of legislative projects, including the abolition of 38 Irish customs sinecures, which he eventually achieved. He offended the hierarchy of the established church in Ireland by his proposals to reform protestant education.9
Newport was returned unopposed in 1806, though he had expected trouble at Waterford: Lord Grenville’s brother the Marquess of Buckingham had provided him with a seat at St. Mawes to fall back upon. Grenville charged him with the preparation of the Irish business for the session by January 1807, which proved neither practicable, much as he laboured at it, nor prudent, for the exertion brought on a severe attack of the asthma that handicapped him all his life. He appeared at Westminster on 9 Jan. but became ill again; Parnell deputized for him.10 In December he had urged Grenville to legislate for the Irish Catholics and on 20 Feb. and 4 Mar. 1807 he defended an increased grant to the Catholic seminary at Maynooth against Perceval. He went out of office with his colleagues on the Catholic question, although he was permitted to deliver his second Irish budget on 24 Mar. On 15 Apr. he was a leading critic of the dismissal of the Grenville administration in debate.
Newport was encouraged by his success at the Waterford election in 1807 and in the ensuing session was a leading opponent of the Portland ministry’s Irish measures. That autumn he conveyed to George Ponsonby the English opposition’s wish that Ponsonby should be their leader, the realization of which made him in turn virtual leader of the Irish opposition, with special responsibility for Irish financial questions. Then and subsequently he was plagued by ill health, though his zeal was undiminished.11 In the session of 1808 during which he moved unsuccessfully for their admission to the Bank of Ireland and for an increased grant to Maynooth College, he was an adamant spokesman for Catholic claims, though he regretted their ‘infatuated’ line in objecting to the royal veto on hierarchical appointments. He otherwise acted with the Grenvillite opposition. He favoured sinecure reform, objected to the East India Company monopoly as well as to legislative interference in the corn trade. He was a spokesman for the Irish brewing and distilling interest and against harsh legislation to stop illicit distilling—though his critical amendment was lost by 78 votes to 21 on 24 May 1809. On 25 Apr. and 11 May 1809 he favoured the censure of Castlereagh for corruption. He moved for action against embezzlers of public money, 17 Feb., and supported Ward’s motion against the Dutch commissioners, 1 May. On 30 May his motion against the irregularities of an Irish revenue surveyor, Beauchamp Hill, was defeated by 77 votes to 50, but on 9 June he carried against ministers the deletion of a clause in the Irish revenue regulation bill indemnifying Irish excise officers. He was a leading spokesman for Curwen’s reform bill, 26 May 1809, and on 30 May (and subsequently) supported Irish tithe reform. Had a dissolution then taken place, he informed Grenville from Cheltenham, where he was recuperating, 7 Aug. 1809, he could not have afforded another contest for Waterford, not having resumed his banking interest since 1806.12
In the session of 1810 Newport, chosen for the finance committee, added allied subsidies and the conduct of the Peninsular war to his topics of opposition, and defended the petitions on behalf of Burdett. On 21 and 25 May he defended parliamentary reform and Catholic relief, while on 3 and 24 May he moved unsuccessfully against three Irish ‘jobs’ and on 9 June opposed the viceroy’s salary rise. During the King’s illness, when he was one of the committee to examine the royal physicians, he opposed the proposed Regency bill throughout. Like Christopher Hely Hutchinson*, he complained, 13 Feb. 1811, of ministerial neglect of Ireland, and this was the keynote of his activity that session, when it was reported that, if the Whigs returned to power, he looked forward to being Irish chief secretary, though he would more probably have resumed the Irish exchequer. He impugned the chief secretary’s treatment of the Catholics, 22 Feb.; tried to secure more time for the hearing of Irish public bills, 5 Mar.; described the regulation of Irish distilleries as an infraction of the Union; spoke up for Catholic militiamen’s right to freedom of worship and for public education in Ireland, and opposed taxation of the Irish press. He failed to secure a select committee of inquiry into the finances of Ireland, 19 Mar. He was a critic of commercial credits, on which he was a select committeeman, and a supporter of the election bribery bill,13 though not to be rallied to an extra-parliamentary meeting to promote constitutional reform.
In the session of 1812,. Newport renewed his motion for a select committee on Irish finance, 9 Jan., and this time obtained it; supported Morpeth’s motion on Ireland, 4 Feb.; objected to the bias in favour of protestant schools in Irish public grants, 9 Mar.; spoke up for the Princess of Wales, 23 Mar.; objected to the extension of the gold coin bill to Ireland, 26 Mar., 10 and 17 Apr.; moved for an inquiry into defaulters on public money, 15 Apr., and in defence of parliamentary reform and Catholic relief took up the cudgels against Castlereagh, 8 and 21 May, 22 June. On the latter occasion he forecast the ‘separation’ of England and Ireland if Catholic relief were not granted.
Before the election of 1812, Newport informed Lord Grenville that a contest at Waterford would probably cost him his Irish home: his father was still alive at 85. He was, however, unopposed. On 10 Feb. 1813 he was at loggerheads in debate with Chief Secretary Peel over a supposed breach of the Union in starch export duties. On 23 Mar. he moved for action on Irish education, referring to his abortive efforts of 1806 to counter sectarianism. He was a leading champion of relief in the debates on the Catholic question that session. Subsequently, a species of disillusion set in. He became increasingly doubtful of Ireland’s hopes in the forthcoming era of Catholic demagogy: ‘doomed for ever to be the sport of the most malignant and destructive passions’; moreover, the respect shown him by Peel as chief secretary and by William Fitzgerald*, did much to temper the former asperity of his opposition on Irish questions, particularly as these ministers were prepared to make allowances for his asthmatic bouts and postpone questions to give him his say on them and to quote his approval as authority. Nevertheless, he was at his most active in that parliament. In May and June 1813 he was a leading critic of the East India Company trade monopoly and tried to obstruct the grant of its renewed charter, 11 June, proposing an assertion of crown sovereignty over India, 14 June. He also tried to secure a concession of East India trade for the outports, 16 June. On 31 May 1814 he called for an inquiry into the increased fees in courts of justice over the last 20 years, authorized by one vote on 28 June, which while it met with repeated obstruction from the profession, secured the regulation of fees and led to the abolition of a number of abuses, particularly in Ireland. His perseverance on this issue was exemplary. A member of the corn trade committee of 1813, he was an outspoken protectionist and repeatedly supported the revision of the Corn Laws in 1814 and 1815, again with particular reference to Ireland. He was a foe of the Orange associations in Ireland and several times drew parliamentary attention to their abuses from 1814 onwards. While he as always advocated Catholic relief, he could not swallow Parnell’s proposals in 1815. He approved Peel’s efforts to strengthen the Irish magistracy and substitute civil for military government.14 A stickler for the constitution, he complained of the violation of an Act of Parliament by Treasury decree, 6 Apr. 1813; censured the Speaker for his prorogation speech, 22 Apr. 1814, and protested against the adjournment of December 1814, which reduced Parliament to ‘a register of edicts’. He invariably opposed what he regarded as illiberal legislation on aliens: ‘if the alien bill and the Bank restriction bill were the fruits of the battle of Waterloo, the blood of Britons had indeed been shed in vain’.
Newport had criticized the peace treaty of 1814 on behalf of his constituents because it neglected the Newfoundland fisheries, and on behalf of humanity because it failed to secure an international declaration against the slave trade. When Buonaparte escaped to France in 1815, he was dismayed to discover that Grenville favoured a renewed alliance to suppress him. He so far overcame his scruples as to declare on 7 Apr. that he would support the alliance, though he hoped the renewal of war would not be necessary and duly voted with government. On 21 Apr., however, he took umbrage at the treaty of alliance which, he said, closed the door on a peaceful settlement, and a week later and on 26 May he formally deplored the war. His change of heart did not damage his personal friendship with Grenville and he chose to regard it as their sole difference of opinion.15 He was an adamant opponent of the property tax and of the Irish substitutes for it, both representing a crippling burden on a distressed community. In the spring of 1816 he was a critic of the large military establishment and of the Bank of England and called for retrenchment. The plight of Irish agriculture exercised him, and after piloting an Irish farms recovery bill he moved on 26 Apr. for an inquiry into the state of ‘misgoverned’ Ireland. It was lost by 187 votes to 103, while his similar motion of 19 June was lost by 59 votes to 10. The debates of that session made him a sarcastic critic of Castlereagh’s style of leadership in the House. On the consolidation of the Irish with the English Exchequer, which he saw as the logical result of overburdening Ireland at the time of the Union, he objected to the creation of an Irish vice-treasurer and deputy. A member of the finance committee that session, on 15 May 1817 he unsuccessfully moved 13 resolutions on Irish finance, calling for a reduction in Ireland’s tax burden. He was a prominent critic of the suspension of habeas corpus and of the seditious meetings bill, which he urged should be extended to Ireland (which it was not) to counter the Orange associations, but he gave his reluctant assent to the Irish insurrection bill, 23 May. In March 1818 he was a prominent opponent of the indemnity bill. He resisted the marriage grants to the royal dukes, 15 Apr. This was a question on which he said he had previously abstained. In April and May he exerted himself against the Irish window tax and called for public attention to disease in Ireland.
Waterford complimented its indefatigable Member with a guarantee of his seat for life and ‘for nothing’ in 1818. Newport was reported by Lady Spencer to be ‘cured’ by such ‘extraordinary’ medicine: ‘he has got flesh and he has got grievances, and he has got words, and he will make speeches and is quite a happy wee man’.16 He was accordingly prominent in debate in the first session of the Parliament. He had regretted Peel’s departure from Ireland and on 6 Apr. 1819, when he moved for a select committee on the state of disease in Ireland, he was seconded by the new chief secretary, Grant. The same day he obtained leave for a bill to assimilate the office of clerk of the peace in Irish counties to the English pattern, a measure inspired by the case of Wyndham Quin*.17 Electoral abuses were a frequent topic of his that session. Impatient at Grattan’s postponement of the question of Catholic relief, on 22 Apr. he moved for an inquiry into the established church in Ireland, of which he took a dim view. He continued to complain of Ireland’s tax burden and called, as a select committeeman, for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank. He was an uncompromising opponent of the foreign enlistment bill in May and June 1819.
Newport felt unable to attend the session of 1819-20, his wife being ill. Thomas Grenville recalled on 30 Nov. 1820,
He was very much attached to his wife ... as disagreeable and vulgar a woman as I ever saw ... but he was very fond of her and she died [9 Dec. 1819]. Then his [only] brother [William] failed as a Waterford banker, shot himself [6 June 1820], and left Sir John to settle the embarrassments of the house as he could. Sir John is come to end his asthmatic days in England.18
Newport was by no means a spent force and, although he subsequently refused major office, was considered ‘one of the most consistent, indefatigable, useful and best informed Members in the House’. He died 9 Feb. 1843.19
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: P. J. Jupp
- 1. Camelford mss, Newport to Grenville, 3 Aug., 17 Sept., reply 19 Sept. 1782.
- 2. Newport’s The State of the Borough Representation in Ireland in 1783 and in 1800 appeared in 1832.
- 3. Sidmouth mss, Butson to Addington, 17 Mar. 1795.
- 4. NLI, Newport mss.
- 5. Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 8 Aug., 4 Oct., 16, 30 Nov. 1801, 14 Feb., 17 Aug. 1802; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 2/1, Addington to Abbot, 11 Jan. 1802; Add. 35713, f. 85; 35730, f. 365; Sidmouth mss, Grenville to Addington, 6 Dec. 1801; CJ, lix. 36; Wickham mss 5/32, Newport to Wickham, 23 Dec. 1803.
- 6. Add. 49188, f. 200.
- 7. Add. 41852, f. 207.
- 8. HMC Fortescue, viii. 33; NLS mss 11143, f. 209.
- 9. HMC Fortescue, viii. 82, 94, 104, 192; ix. 32; NLS mss 12917, Newport to Elliot, 23 May, 21 June 1806.
- 10. HMC Fortescue, 396; Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 17 Nov., 11, 12, Dec., Grenville to Newport, 24 Nov.; NLS mss 12910, Elliot to Newport, 29 Oct., 12911, 30 Dec. 1806, 1 Feb., 13 Mar. 1807; 12917, Newport to Elliot, 28 Dec. 1806, 5, 20, 26, 31 Jan. 1807.
- 11. Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 4 June; Grey mss, Ponsonby to Grey, 23 Nov. 1807; Add. 41857, f. 69.
- 12. Fortescue mss.
- 13. NLI, Richmond mss 65/738, 754; P. H. Fitzgerald, Life of George IV, ii. 30.
- 14. Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 1 July 1812, 7 Jan., 2 Oct. 1814, 26 Dec. 1815; Add. 40286, f. 240; 40287, ff. 62, 185; NLI mss 7815, p. 139; 7840, p. 178; 7846, p. 22; Colchester, ii. 536, 545.
- 15. Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 30 Mar. 1815.
- 16. Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 2 Apr. 1818.
- 17. Add. 40279, f. 43.
- 18. Spencer mss.
- 19. Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 652.