STANIFORTH, John (d.1830), of Norton Hall, Suff.
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Family and Education
Dir. Bank of England 1807-19; asst. Levant Co. 1817; member, Society of Shipowners 1817.
Staniforth’s uncles John Staniforth (d.1798) and Philip Green were Hull shipowners; his father was a London merchant; and another uncle, Joseph Green, was based at Königsberg. Probably all four formed a merchant partnership trading to the Baltic. Staniforth himself continued his father’s London business in partnership with John Blunt at a variety of addresses and was described by Joshua Wilson in 1808 as ‘a Russian and Swedish merchant of considerable eminence’. He was introduced at a late stage at Hull in 1802 by Philip Green, who, it was said, had for some time ‘thought himself very ill used’ by the sitting Member Samuel Thornton. Backed by Green’s shipping interest and deriving popularity from the lower class of voters as the ‘third man’ who provoked a contest and thus brought money into the town, he was comfortably elected. Green died in May 1803 and soon after his election Staniforth strengthened his interest by establishing his own shipping business at Hull, again in partnership with Blunt. He claimed in 1818 that he had ‘expended half a million in the trade and shipping interest of this town in 16 years’: most of his money appears to have been spent in attracting East India business to Hull and in 1804 he also procured naval contracts for the Hull yards.3
As early as November 1805 William Joseph Denison reported to Earl Fitzwilliam that Staniforth ‘from his contracts, and always voting with the ministers, has obliged so many people, that it would require a good deal to beat him’. He had in fact not voted against Addington until Fox’s motion on defence, 23 Apr. 1804. He supported Pitt’s second administration, voting against Whitbread’s motion of censure on Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, and being classed ‘Pitt’ in the government lists of September 1804 and July 1805. Although he opposed the American intercourse bill, 17 June 1806, and received the thanks of a committee of merchants for his efforts, he had supported the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and had made known his intention of giving the Talents ‘a fair and liberal support’. Accordingly Lord Grenville, referring to him as one of ‘our most respectable and steady friends in the House of Commons’ supported his claims to the patronage of Hull against those of Fitzwilliam in August 1806 and was not prepared to withhold government support from him at the general election.4
He was listed among ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade. He did not, however, support Brand’s motion, 9 Apr. 1807, and in 1810 the Whigs listed him ‘Government’ (i.e. a supporter of any government which held office). His only recorded votes against the Portland ministry were on the Duke of York’s alleged corruption, 15 and 17 Mar. 1809. He voted for Porchester’s motion for inquiry into the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan. 1810, and Whitbread’s motion critical of Chatham’s conduct, 23 Feb., but had supported government on the address, 23 Jan., and did so again on Porchester’s final resolutions on the expedition, 30 Mar. On 8 June he presented a Hull petition hostile to Burdett and reform. He again voted with government on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811. On 1 Mar. 1811 he was named to the committee on commercial credit. Although he does not appear in the minority in the published division on Brougham’s motion on the orders in council, 3 Mar. 1812, and was reported to have paired for it, Robert Ward commented on the division: ‘not one merchant left us, for Staniforth, the only one who generally sides with ministers, but who voted against them on this question, had always disapproved it’.5 He had on 27 Feb. presented his constituents’ petition to the same effect. He supported Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812.
Classed ‘Government’ by the Treasury in the next Parliament, he spoke against the renewal of the East India Company’s monopoly and complained of the delays in issuing licences, 3 June 1813. He opposed Lord Cochrane’s resolution on the state of the navy, 5 July 1813 (Cochrane had on 13 June 1810 questioned in the House the validity of affidavits made by Staniforth in the court of Admiralty). He voted with ministers on the civil list, 14 Apr. 1815, but for postponement of the grant to the Duke of Cumberland, 3 July; and, having presented a petition from Hull against the property tax on 29 Feb., voted against its renewal, 18 Mar. 1816. He supported government on the public revenues bill, 17 June 1816, and Ridley’s motion for a reduction of the lords of the Admiralty, 25 Feb. 1817, but again voted against them on the additional grant to the Duke of Clarence, 15 Apr. 1818. He opposed Catholic relief, 24 May 1813 and 9 May 1817.
Staniforth was criticized at Hull in 1818 for his participation in the profits of the East India Company monopoly and for his failure to oppose the suspension of habeas corpus and the corn bill. Although a supporter (W. W. Bolton) assured the electors that Staniforth ‘came over from France expressly for the purpose of opposing [the corn bill]; and that he voted against it upon every division of the House’, there is no record in the published division lists of his opposition. Staniforth, in financial difficulties, announced his retirement before the election, but was nominated by a committee of his friends and narrowly defeated at the poll. A subscription was raised to finance the contest, a scrutiny and a petition. James Robert George Graham, the successful candidate, who heard rumours of Staniforth’s bankruptcy early in January 1819, suspected that the petition was motivated by ‘a wish to temper and gain time with his creditors’, and on 9 Feb. wrote to Fitzwilliam:
The circle then of my opponents is narrowed to Staniforth himself, Col. Wray his relation, and to the Becketts [also related to Staniforth by the marriage of his cousin Mary Staniforth to Joseph Beckett of Barnsley], who are your enemies, and thro’ them I suspect to the Lowthers, who now unhappily are mine. The latter I believe will be found to be the principal agitators and had he not been powerfully backed, Staniforth, circumstanced as he is, could never have thought of petitioning. His private calculation is, if I can obtain my seat, it may procure me some aid from the Bank of England, some favour from the government and enable me to resume business under a deed of trust without committing an act of bankruptcy. The government calculation is first to annoy you and me; then secondly, if they seat Staniforth, he is a dead vote with them for the Parliament; if the election be a void one, with some other candidate they will resume the contest for a single vacancy; and if Staniforth be seated and after all compelled under the Bankrupt Laws to go out of Parliament still for a year they will have his vote; and at the expiration of it may start again some new candidate to supply his place.
Staniforth, however, did not proceed with the petition and on this occasion, although he resigned his directorship at the Bank, appears to have avoided a formal declaration of bankruptcy. He formed a new partnership with his son Charles and John William Gosling, which was declared bankrupt in September 1826.6 Staniforth died 30 Mar. 1830.7
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: J. M. Collinge
- 1. PCC 617 Exeter.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1793), 89; (1801), 1050; (1803), 1184.
- 3. PCC 617 Exeter, 680 Walpole; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 322; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/13-20; The Times, 11 May 1803; Kingston Wit, Humour and Satire (1818), 16-19, 27-28, 101; J. M. Bellamy, Trade and Shipping of 19th Century Hull (E. Yorks. Local Hist. Ser. xxvii), 18.
- 4. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F41/4; Wilson, 322; HMC Fortescue, viii. 288; Fortescue mss, Staniforth to Grenville, 29 Aug., Grenville to Taylor, 25 Oct. 1806.
- 5. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 450; Morning Chron. 6 Mar. 1812.
- 6. Kingston Wit, passim; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/75, 80, 82; The Times, 6 Sept. 1826.
- 7. Annual Reg. (1830), 259.