STURGES (afterwards STURGES BOURNE), William (1769-1845), of Holywell, Hants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 7 Nov. 1769, o.s. of Rev. John Sturges, DD, preb. of Winchester, by Judith, da. of Richard Bourne of Acton Hall, Worcs. educ. Winchester 1782; Christ Church, Oxf. 1786; L. Inn 1789, called 1793. m. 2 Feb. 1808, Anne, da. of Oldfield Bowles of North Aston, Oxon., 1da. suc. uncle Francis Page* (formerly Bourne) and took additional name of Bourne 6 Dec. 1803; fa. 1807.
Sec. to Treasury May 1804-Jan. 1806; ld. of Treasury Mar. 1807-Sept. 1809; PC 10 Aug. 1814; commr. Board of Control Sept. 1814-June 1816 (unsalaried), June 1818-Feb. 1822 (salaried); sec. of state for Home affairs Apr.-July 1827; commr. of woods, forests and land revenues July 1827-Feb. 1828.
Vol. Bloomsbury corps; capt. New Forest vols. 1803-5; chairman, Hants qtr. sessions until 1822; warden, New Forest 1827.
After his call to the bar Sturges, a member of the Crown and Rolls debating society, practised in King’s bench and on the western circuit with considerable success. He owed his political career to his friendship with George Canning, having been one of his set at Christ Church, Oxford. Canning introduced him to Pitt and he was returned to Parliament for a Treasury borough. His first known speech was in favour of the suspension of habeas corpus, 19 Feb. 1800. On 6 May he was appointed to the conference with the Lords on the Act of Union. His superintendence of the New Forest timber preservation bill in July would have brought him into contact with George Rose*. He opposed Sheridan’s pacific motion of 20 Nov. 1800.1
Sturges was offered the under-secretaryship of the Home Office in Addington’s ministry, but Canning’s decision to oppose the government swayed him against acceptance, contrary to his own inclinations. On 13 Nov. 1801 he approved the convention with the Baltic powers and the peace preliminaries. On 23 Nov. he brought in a bill to amend the Poor Laws by removing the stigma of paupers’ badges. He retained his interest in the subject throughout his life, though it did not come to parliamentary fruition until 1818. Meanwhile Canning had weaned him with hopes of office under a restoration of Pitt to power, and on 8 Feb. 1802 he scored a hit against government by showing that Pitt, before them, had instituted inquiry into alleged abuses in accounts from the West Indies. Within days of this he occurred to Charles Philip Yorke as a possible chief secretary in Ireland, being ‘clever and intelligent’, though ‘hardly enough advanced at present for so very high and responsible a situation’. On 27 May 1802 he seconded Canning’s motion to stop the slave trade to Trinidad.2
Canning had been on the look-out for a seat for ‘Scroggs’, as he nicknamed Sturges, in the next Parliament. In the event he was returned by George Rose as his colleague for Christchurch. Rose reported, 11 July 1802, ‘My liking to Sturges increases on a further acquaintance with him; he is one of the right sort in all respects’. In November 1802 Canning appointed him as one of his friends to organize an abortive petition calling on Addington to step down in favour of Pitt. On 2 Dec. Sturges attacked ministers on the navy estimates and made a considerable impression. He followed this up with an onslaught on the ‘constitutionality’ of the commission of naval inquiry, 15-17 Dec., and was regarded as Canning’s right-hand man in his ‘sharp fire’ on Addington. He was still going the western circuit, but re-emerged on 6 May 1803 among the ministry’s critics. Later that month he mustered with the Canningites in favour of Patten’s censure motion and allayed Canning’s fears that he might retreat by voting for it on 3 June; moreover, he voted for Pitt’s question of the same day at Canning’s ‘particular suggestion’—a step Canning could induce none of his other friends, except St. John Mildmay, to take: ‘Sturges would not have thought of the double vote if I had not recommended it’. Late that year Sturges added Bourne to his surname on inheriting £2,000 p.a., whereupon Canning dubbed him ‘Mr Scroggs’. On 8 Feb. 1804 he attacked the volunteer consolidation bill as totally inadequate, suggesting that it should have been vetted by a committee of the whole House. The Speaker fancied that he voted with Canning in the minority on Ireland, 7 Mar. 1804. He defended and was teller for Pitt’s naval motion, 15 Mar., and voted against Addington on the defence motions of 23 and 25 Apr. that brought him down.3
On Pitt’s return to office, Sturges Bourne became, as anticipated, patronage secretary to the Treasury. It ‘was very much against his liking and solely from attachment to Mr Pitt; on condition, however, expressly that he should not have the department of finance’. His ‘excessive despondency and lamentation’ at the narrow basis of Pitt’s ministry was remarked upon by Canning, who knew him to be an alarmist and was wont to invent absurd stories to frighten him. Apart from a warm defence of Pitt’s additional force bill, 8 June 1804, he confined himself to business in debate, occasionally introducing or supporting minor financial measures. He was tipped to succeed Canning as treasurer of the navy if Canning were promoted in November 1804. He was keenly aware of the vulnerability of government in the session of 1805 and admitted to Lord Temple that he wished to see Sidmouth excluded from and Fox in office, even if it meant Pitt stepping down to serve, with Fox, under a third person, or Pitt’s retirement. Canning, who saw how uncongenial his current duties were to him, thought a change was the answer (10 July 1805): ‘There is a place which I think he will like better than his present one, and I think also that Pitt may find a person better suited to the secretaryship of the Treasury’. The office of judge advocate general was mentioned for him and acceptable to him. In September Charles Long suggested him to Pitt as a potential Irish secretary, for ‘though with a very clear understanding and to many points very able, I do not think he will ever be useful as secretary of the Treasury’. His last official gesture was to carry to the dying Pitt an amended version of the King’s speech required by him in January 1806.4
Sturges Bourne met with Pitt’s friends on 26 Jan. and entertained them on 19 Feb. 1806. He voted with them against Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. He dined regularly with them and acted as a kind of press agent for them. On 30 Apr. he spoke and voted against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act. On 4 June he attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent the discharge of servicemen in wartime, in opposition to Windham’s military plan. He joined George Rose’s criticisms on West Indian questions and opposed the American intercourse bill, by vote (17 June) and speech (8 July). Unlike Rose, however, he was among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade. His commitment was, after all, to Canning and not to Rose, though he disliked Canning’s notion in September 1806 of a rapprochement with Lord Grenville and made calculations favourable to opposition on the results of the ensuing election. He would have willingly seen Canning at the head of Pitt’s friends, and when Canning negotiated a merger with Grenville in March 1807 was to have been provided with office.5 Meanwhile he had spoken and voted against ministers on the Hampshire petition, 6, 13 Feb., and criticized their new finance plan, 18 Feb. He was a member of the finance committee, 10 Feb., and, as such, ordered to help Bankes and Horner introduce a bill to regulate offices in reversion, 24 Mar.
Sturges Bourne obtained a seat on the Treasury board in Portland’s administration, though he did not want office, only a privy councillorship and membership of the Board of Trade. His chief satisfaction was the exclusion of Lord Sidmouth. On 25 Mar. 1807 the House grew impatient with his panegyric on Spencer Perceval, and his allegations of jobbing by the Grenville ministry were revenged by an attack on him in the Morning Chronicle, 15 June, for wasting public money on barrack supplies, as hinted by the commissioners of military inquiry in their report. On 29 June he defended himself in the House—the worst imputed to him by opposition was negligence—and next day announced that he would not proceed against the Chronicle, provided that they did not assail him again. On 21 July he successfully opposed compulsory parish schools and on 29 July doubled the settlement qualification in Whitbread’s poor relief bill to ten years. That summer and in the next he was again being suggested as a likely Irish secretary, though the viceroy was advised that he might prove ‘too timid a politician’; and in November he was the reserve choice both of Portland and the King for the office of judge advocate general, which was awarded to Ryder.6 He was then neither a reliable attender nor prominent in debate, though he opposed the reception of the Liverpool petition against the orders in council, 4 Mar., came to Canning’s defence, 4 Mar., 8 Apr., and opposed John Palmer’s* claims, 16 May 1808. He disapproved of Wardle’s proceedings against the Duke of York, 1 Feb. 1809, was himself examined by the House and cross-examined witnesses during the course of them. He also opposed Madocks’s vague charges of ministerial corruption, 5 May 1809.
Sturges Bourne did not hesitate to follow Canning out of office in September 1809 but he did so with profound misgivings as to the propriety of Canning’s behaviour, believing that Chatham’s appointment to the command of the Scheldt expedition would have been a far better occasion on which to make a stand. Nor had he any wish to discomfit Perceval, whom he had liked and esteemed and from whom—and not from Canning—he had first heard of the difficulty between the two. Yet, as he wrote to Rose, ‘I cannot hesitate to abandon office and perhaps Parliament rather then be suspected by him [Canning], or even by my bitterest enemy, of having sacrificed obligations and friendship to the love of place’. If, he went on, events should lead him into political opposition to Rose, he would surrender his seat. In fact, he admitted that the country could only benefit from the government’s having in Perceval ‘an avowed and I hope a real head; it will no longer be a government of departments from which, speaking with Treasury feelings, I can assure you the country has suffered great evil in matters of finance’: so he informed Lord Malmesbury, 5 Oct. 1809.7
On the other hand, he did not expect Perceval to last. Report had it that he would vote with government to keep his seat and not with Canning, but his votes in the session of 1810 were identical to those of Canning, among whose friends the Whigs listed him: with ministers on 23 and 26 Jan.; against them on 23 Feb. and 5 Mar., but with them in the conclusion of the Scheldt inquiry, 30 Mar. Canning wrote on 27 Jan.:
Scroggs, who used to be shilly shally shally, is now stout—and does not mind old Rose to whom indeed he owes no obligation—for he does I find, pay G. Rose’s expenses at Southampton (taking the chance of what they may be) with an engagement too to give up Christchurch to G. Rose if he fails there. I really think the obligation is on old Rose’s side, but I dare say old Rogue [sic] does not think so.
On 31 Jan. Bankes had proposed him for the finance committee. Perceval resisted, but had to swallow him by 107 votes to 98; on the other hand he urged his being of the Scheldt inquiry committee, as Canning’s friend, 5 Feb. Again with Canning, he voted for the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., for sinecure reform, 17 May, and spoke and voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810; but on 31 May did not divide with Canning for the regulation of sinecures. In June he wrote to George Rose:
I have not been insensible to the marked alteration in your conduct towards me during the last two or three months, and as I can only attribute it to my vote having during that time differed from yours, I think on three subjects, I ought perhaps to infer that you would be glad my seat were otherwise filled.
Rose denied ‘the remotest wish’ that he should vacate his seat, but added that less cordiality was inevitable in the circumstances. They agreed to differ, but it was clear that Sturges Bourne must look elsewhere for a seat if the rift continued.8
Perceval wooed him during the King’s illness and Canning thought that his inclination was to vote with government, while he himself was for abstention; but he left Sturges Bourne free to decide for himself. He was present on 1 Nov. 1810, but decided on abstention in the ensuing Regency debates, being, in fact, strongly ‘against the restrictions’. On 24 Jan. 1811 he admitted to Robert Ward* the quandary he was in: he agreed with Canning’s opposition to the Regency bill, but thought it was time for a reconciliation with Perceval and did not wish to alienate George Rose. All this Ward eagerly reported next day to Perceval, who replied that ‘he would leave Bourne’s mind entirely to itself, convinced that he intended everything that was right, and would feel hurt, or revolt at any step on his part to quicken him one way or another’. The process was not so slow: on 28 Jan. Ward dined at Sturges Bourne’s, two days later vice-versa, and on 16 Feb. Sturges Bourne dined at Perceval’s. By the end of February, Ward reported, ‘Bourne now regularly sits with us, and often on the Treasury bench. I hope he will soon be there officially.’9
By July 1811 Canning expected Sturges Bourne to respond to a Treasury note in support of the bank-note bill. He certainly dined with ministers on 18 Jan. 1812. On 20 Feb. Canning informed his wife:
I have had a correspondence with Sturges, of my own beginning—for I was determined not to bear any longer his impartiality between me and P[erceval] but to force him to a declaration, or to take part one way or other. I imagined he would take it with P[erceval] and perhaps come into office with him. I had rather he did that than remained neuter, but his last letter leads rather to a different conclusion, and Huskisson thinks the offer of office in such a govern[ment] will frighten him. I know not, nor do I much care.
He voted with Canning for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 4 Feb. 1812, but with ministers for McMahon’s paymastership, 21 Feb., and against Turton’s motion, 27 Feb. When he broke a long silence in debate, 11 Mar., it was to support the royal prerogative of discharging convicts who entered the armed forces. Despite suggestions to the contrary, he voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., and he supported sinecure reform, 4 May. Perceval’s assassination restored him to Canning. He voted for a more efficient administration, 21 May, and went away, like Canning, on the same question, 11 June.10
In the Parliament of 1812 Sturges Bourne was without a seat. Canning informed him at the end of September that he could get himself returned for Honiton at a cost of between £3,000 and £4,000, but he failed to reply in time. In the summer of 1814 Canning reluctantly accepted the Lisbon embassy in return for offices or honours for his friends and it was part of the bargain that Sturges Bourne should become a privy councillor. George Rose later alleged that he had refused a seat at the Admiralty board, but Canning, writing to him on 19 July, told him he could have an unsalaried seat at the India Board, with a promise on Lord Liverpool’s part of better things when the opportunity offered. Had Canning’s cousin and namesake been willing to accept an Irish office (he wanted an Irish peerage) he would probably have vacated Petersfield for Sturges Bourne. Although he could not be accommodated in this way, Canning nevertheless hoped to be able to offer him a gratuitous seat elsewhere, but on 18 July he heard that that could not be done. ‘Of a seat’, he wrote to him next day,
I have still hopes, but that which I destined for you, and which had been positively promised to me, is withdrawn. It is not Liverpool or the government that have thus disappointed me: the offer was from a private quarter. The disappointment vexes me the more. The seat of which I have still hopes would probably cost something—I hope not any exorbitant price—and perhaps it might not be to be had till the beginning of the next session.11
In March 1815 an Irish borough available to ministerial nominees was found for Sturges Bourne. He said a few words in defence of government measures, 18 Apr. and 5 May, and voted steadily with them thereafter, remaining a supporter of Catholic relief. He spoke only once on Indian business, 19 May 1815, and seldom enough on other subjects. In April 1817 report had it that Canning was urging government to adopt him as their candidate for the Speaker’s chair, in preference to Manners Sutton. He was admitted to be the better qualified in parliamentary and legal knowledge, but his want of connexions and infrequency of attendance were major disadvantages and he was not adopted. On 17 Mar. 1818 he was a severe critic of Folkestone’s proceedings against the suspension of habeas corpus, which he steadily favoured. Before the dissolution he was awarded a salary and, by prearrangement with George Henry Rose*, came in again for Christchurch at the general election, acting as guardian of Rose’s interest there.12
Sturges Bourne had become chairman of the select committee on the Poor Laws, 4 Feb. 1818, and on 12 Mar. proposed two bills to regulate parish vestries and amend the laws, and on 30 Apr. another on the law of parish settlement. (Incidentally, he now swallowed a qualification for settlement of only three years.) These bills passed, but were rejected in the other House. On 9 Feb. 1819 he secured the revival of the committee and proceeded to renew his legislative programme, with moderate success.13 He remained in town until 23 Dec. to support government measures against sedition.
‘Little’ and ‘hideous’ and ‘totally free from the vice of humour’, Sturges Bourne remained a Canningite and refused office after Canning’s death.
Gravity and deliberation and solidity were the ornaments of a mind eminently judicial. He was consequently a respected, and very useful friend ... He was English all over, a great lover of his country, proud of its institutions, full of English habits, frank, honest, moral and religious.14
He died 1 Feb. 1845.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 433; Rose Diaries, ii. 369; The Times, 22 Nov. 1800.
- 2. Colchester, i. 221; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 355; PRO 30/8/120, f. 183; Fitzwilliam mss, box 60, Laurence to Fitzwilliam, 12 Feb. 1802; Add. 35701, f. 237.
- 3. PRO 30/29/8/2, ff. 171, 214; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 11 July 1802; G. Festing, J. H. Frere and his Friends, 90; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 115; Phipps, i. 101; Rose Diaries, i. 465; Add. 48222, f. 150; 51585, Tierney to Lady Holland, 26 Dec. 1802; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 7 May, to his wife, 20, 21, 31 May, 4, 6, 8 June, 10 Dec. 1803; Colchester, i. 487.
- 4. Rose Diaries, ii. 120, 129, 159; Colchester, i. 509; PRO 30/8/120, f. 197; 328, f. 255; A. Aspinall, ‘The Canningite Party’, Trans. R. Hist. Soc. (1934), 178, 183; Aspinall, Three Early 19th Cent. Diaries, 319-20; Horner Mems. i. 277; HMC Fortescue, vii. 281-9; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 10, 11 July 1805; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 11/22.
- 5. Rose Diaries, ii. 239, 249; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 20 Feb., 11 Mar. 1806; Aspinall, Politics and the Press 1780-1850, p. 326; Add. 38737, f. 163; 42773, f. 159.
- 6. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 378, 379; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 18 Mar.; Add. 52178, Brougham to Allen, Sunday [14 June 1807]; NLI, Richmond mss 70/1355; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 8 June 1808; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 323, 445; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3559.
- 7. Phipps, i. 355; Rose Diaries, ii. 349-52; Malmesbury mss.
- 8. Malmesbury Letters, ii. 133; Horner mss 4, f. 153; Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to Bragge Bathurst, 17 Dec. 1809; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 27 Jan., 23 Feb., 6, 24, 28 Mar., 1 Apr. 1810; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4184; Add. 42774, ff. 291, 292, 294.
- 9. Perceval (Holland) mss bound vol. f. 32; Colchester, ii. 284; PRO 30/29/8/5, f. 539; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 2 Dec. 1810, 18 Jan. 1811; Phipps, i. 310, 332, 354-402.
- 10. Add. 38738, f. 94; Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, i. 316; Harewood mss; Phipps, i. 438; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 11 o’clock [24 Apr.]; Malmesbury mss, Mrs K. G. Robinson to Malmesbury, 12 June 1812.
- 11. Add. 38739, f. 68; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 14 July, to Sturges Bourne, 19 July 1814; NLS mss 3796, f. 94.
- 12. Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 18 Apr. 1817; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 541; HMC Fortescue, x. 425; Tomline mss, Rose to Tomline, 19 Mar. 1818.
- 13. Colchester, iii. 36, 44, 69, 70; Romilly, Mems. iii. 343.
- 14. Leveson Gower, ii. 153, 376; Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 4 Feb. 1845.