ROBINSON, Morris (1757-1829), of Thoralby, nr. Leyburn, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 14 July 1757, 1st s. of Morris Robinson, attorney of the Six Clerks Office in Chancery, of Carey Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. by Jane, da. of John Greenland of Lovelace in Bethersden, Kent; bro. of Matthew Montagu* (formerly Robinson). educ. Trinity Hall, Camb. 1775-7; L. Inn 1775. unm. 1s. illegit. d.v.p.1 suc. fa. 1777; uncle Matthew Robinson Morris† as 3rd Baron Rokeby [I] 30 Nov. 1800.
Robinson’s father, a failed attorney, was rescued by his kinsman the archbishop of Armagh, who left him the reversion of his Irish peerage.2 Robinson thereby became heir to an eccentric peer of advanced political views. He was brought into Parliament by the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, who expected his nominees in 1790 to support Pitt’s administration. He sat on the ministerial side but drew no attention to himself in the House before his patron’s death (22 Feb. 1794), except to be listed ‘doubtful’ on the Test Act repeal question in April 1791, to say a few words on Warren Hastings’s trial, 30 May, and to act as teller for the Farnham Hop bill, 10 June 1793. Suddenly he showed signs of independence. On 17 Mar. 1794 he supported Fitzpatrick’s motion in favour of Lafayette and on 28 Mar. Sheridan’s against private ‘benevolences’ to support the war effort. He both spoke and voted in support of Sheridan’s motion against the French émigré enlistment bill on 16 Apr., objected to a proposal to allow government contractors to sit in the House, 1 May, and opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, 16 May, though he ‘confessed himself an alarmist’, 16 June, on which day he supported the House’s thanks to Lord Howe on his naval victory. On 20 June he complained of the management of Warren Hastings’s trial and on 10 July he objected to the subsidy to Prussia.3 He announced on 30 Dec. 1794 that he would remain opposed to the curtailment of civil liberty and rebuked William Windham for using the term ‘acquitted felon’ apropos of the recent treason trials.
On 2 Jan. 1795 Robinson emerged as a champion of the navy. Complaining that it had not been mentioned in the King’s speech, he referred to reports of the superior construction and speed of French ships and suggested that more attention should be paid to naval development than to the financing of continental armies. On Charles Grey’s advice he postponed the elaboration of this theme until the debates on naval supply on 7 Jan. He again accused Pitt of neglecting the navy on 22 Jan. and next day was rebuked by him for interrupting his argument in justification of the suspension of habeas corpus. Robinson refused to be browbeaten and voted against ministers on the subject. On 21 Jan. and 5 Feb. he opposed the imperial loan, which he claimed would be better applied to the navy. He objected to the admixture of flour with hair powder, 29 Jan. and opposed the provision for militia subalterns in peacetime, 19 Mar. He voted for Fox’s censure motion, 24 Mar. On 17 Apr. and again on 8 June he pressed for the release of servicemen taken prisoner by the French. He opposed the public payment of the Prince of Wales’s debts, 14 May, and voted in the minority for a smaller sum, 1 June. He supported the opposition motion against the dismissal of Earl Fitzwilliam, 19 May. He called for a reduction of the imperial loan, 23 Feb., 3 June, and before voting for its deferment, 10 June, complained that Pitt had not experienced ‘sufficient adversity’ in carrying his measures ‘and seemed to want a little of the correction of the House’. Next day he was the sole opponent of the loan bill before it passed and concurred with Fox’s complaint that large majorities secured Pitt from the House’s scrutiny of his policy. He complained that the relief of West India merchants was granted out of the surplus not required by the Emperor in loan and opposed it, 17, 18 June. Indeed, he objected to the ‘great extension of influence, in consequence of loans, contracts etc.’, 25 June. He felt justified by events in the West Indies, 29 Oct., when he announced that he would vote for the continuance of the war ‘no farther than it was necessary to support our commercial and naval power’. On 4 Nov. he attributed losses of men in the West Indies to neglect of the transport service.
Robinson opposed Pitt’s measures against treason and sedition in limine, 10 Nov. 1795, calling for time to utter ‘the last bitter groan of expiring liberty’. He continued to speak and vote against them, commending on 27 Nov. his uncle Lord Rokeby’s part in promoting a petition against them. He thought that the King’s safety was rather endangered than secured by such measures, 1 Dec., and that he should veto them, 10 Dec.: they were worse than the guillotine. The system of barracks, he thought, would ‘outlive the constitution’, 4 Dec. He advocated peace negotiations with France, without waiting for a more settled government there, 9 Dec. On 11 Feb. 1796, in accordance with a previous threat on 25 June, he moved that no Members of the House be allowed to have any part in the contracting of a foreign loan, his intention being that no more continental subsidies should ensue. He was defeated by 70 votes to 19. He objected to the preference given to Boyd, Benfield & Co. in the late loan, 26 Feb.; spoke against barracks and voted for Grey’s motion on the national finances, 10 Mar.; criticized the campaign against the maroons in Jamaica, 20 Mar., and opposed the slave trade, 11 Apr. He objected to the Westminster Police Act, 19 Feb., and the London small debts recovery bill, 25 Apr., because they extended the influence of the crown and impugned trial by jury, ‘the cornerstone of British liberty’. He objected to the real succession tax, 9, 13 May.
Although in his penultimate speech, 10 May 1796, Robinson had announced that he would vote with ministers against Fox’s motion, on the ground that the French government was now proving an obstacle to peace, he was regarded as an opponent by the Treasury and could not expect to obtain a seat from a friend of theirs at the dissolution. He did not find one, if that was his intention. In 1800 he succeeded to his uncle’s title, but not apparently to financial security. The fact that his younger brother (an admirer of Pitt) was so well provided for led to animosity between them and he was reduced to misery by it.4 This probably inspired his anonymous pamphlet of 1811 attacking the government on the bullion question. He died 10 May 1829.