WHARTON, John (1765-1843), of Skelton Castle, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 21 June 1765, 1st s. of Joseph William Hall (afterwards Stevenson) of Skelton by Ann, da. and h. of James Foster of Drumgoon, co. Fermanagh. educ. R. sch. Armagh; Trinity, Dublin 1781; L. Inn 1784. m. 14 Oct. 1790, Susan Mary Anne, da. of Gen. John Lambton† of Lambton, co. Dur., 2da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1786; took name of Wharton only by sign manual 3 May 1788 on suc. to estates of his aunt Mrs Margaret Wharton.1
Capt. N. Riding yeoman cav. 1794; lt.-col. Cleveland vols. 1803, 3 N. Riding militia 1808.
Sir William Milner was approached by Wharton (then known as ‘Hall of Skelton’) in November 1787 as a bidder for partnership with him on the Whig interest at York at the next election. Milner described him to Earl Fitzwilliam as ‘a man of great abilities, a declared man of the party, of some interest and large property’, and added that it was in any case ‘his intention to purchase a seat in the next Parliament’. He certainly had the means. Mrs Judith Milbanke wrote of him, 10 Nov. 1787: ‘he is a good sensible, lively young man, and is the nephew of old Peg Wharton to whom she last year gave an hundred and fifty thousand pounds in the three per cents. He is also heir to her landed estates.’ On 3 Apr. 1788 he joined Brooks’s Club, sponsored by Sir Thomas Dundas. Fitzwilliam, who admitted ‘his family and fortune are circumstances, that must make every Whig wish to see him in Parliament upon a Whig interest’, was not committed to trying for both seats at York and by May 1789 it was settled that Wharton should stand for Beverley on the interest of another Whig magnate Charles Anderson Pelham*. His own friend Robert Sinclair informed Fitzwilliam, 19 Apr. 1789, apropos of York,
although I have a very high opinion of him, yet I very much doubt whether he is the fittest person to take up upon such an occasion, I mean deliberately and voluntarily for the purpose of reviving and re-establishing the old interest. He is young, gay, lively, a little volatile, little known and, of course, of no great weight in the town—and therefore beyond question not so likely to afford us an assisting pull as a man of experience and established acquaintance in the town and neighbourhood.2
After Wharton’s triumph at Beverley in 1790, Sinclair informed Fitzwilliam, 20 June:
But it is beyond the power of imagination to conceive the popularity of Wharton here... . Perhaps it has never happened in the history of electioneering that out of 1,050 voters 908 should be on one side in favour of our friend and his principles.
The former ministerial patron Sir Christopher Sykes† was swamped. Wharton then made a Whig marriage and joined the Whig Club, 2 Dec. 1791, having voted against Pitt’s foreign policy on 12 Apr., and been listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland the same month. He joined the Friends of the People, and was in the chair at the meeting of 9 June 1792 which expunged the names of the five seceding Members from the association. He also became a Friend of the Liberty of the Press. He was in the Foxite rump which opposed the address, 13 Dec. 1792, and, according to George Rose, voted against war with revolutionary France, 18 Feb. 1793.3 On 7 May he voted for Grey’s reform motion, having the day before presented petitions from Aldgate (London) and Newmills (Scotland) in favour of parliamentary reform. On 8 May he gave notice of and on 31 May introduced a quintessentially Whig motion deploring the abrogation of the principles of the glorious revolution of 1688 and calling for inquiry into means of restoring them. It was defeated by 71 votes to 11, though the 11 included Fox, Grey, Sheridan, Whitbread, Lambton, Martin, Ridley and William Smith. On 17 June he supported Fox’s motion against the war, which he declared the country could ill afford. On 21 Jan. 1794 he voted for Fox’s amendment to the address calling for a speedy peace.
Wharton was embarrassed by his patron’s conversion to government with the Portland Whigs in 1794. He nevertheless rejoined the opposition on the suspension of habeas corpus, 16, 17 May (on the second division of the latter date) and against the war, 30 May. On 16 June he admitted that he had been brought to heel: he swallowed the necessity to preserve the constitution, but he added that, as a former member, he could see no harm in the Constitutional Society. On 7 Aug., moreover, he ‘left the room’ when the Yorkshire alarmists met. He dried up in the House; but voted pointedly against the further suspension of habeas corpus, 23 Jan. 1795, and in favour of peace three days later. He supported Sumner’s amendment on the public settlement of the Prince of Wales’s debts, 1 June, and opposed the seditious meetings bill, 25 Nov. 1795. On 10 May 1796 he was in the Foxite minority of 42 against the war. That month he presided over the anniversary meeting of the Constitutional Society at the Crown and Anchor, but adjourned the meeting when the radical Thelwall advocated the equalization of property.4
It seems to have been understood that Wharton would not seek re-election at Beverley in 1796, when his patron backed the candidature of a Pittite, but he at first denied any intention of withdrawal. Yet he did not go to the poll. In 1799 he was unsuccessful in a by-election there, despite the support of ‘the mob who took his horses and pulled him through the town’. His politics were evidently unchanged. In 1802, standing alone, he once more headed the poll at Beverley. Not until 1813 is he known to have contributed to debate again, but his attachment to Fox continued. He voted for the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 4 Mar. 1803, and with Fox on the Nottingham election bill and the preparations to resume hostilities with France, 3, 24 May. He was in the divisions of 12-25 Apr. 1804 that brought down Addington’s ministry and was listed Foxite, in opposition, 1804-5. He was in the majorities against Melville, 8 Apr., 12 June 1805. He supported his friends in power on the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, was a staunch supporter of the abolition of the slave trade and supported Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the ministry, 9 Apr. 1807. He had again headed the poll, supported once more by Lord Yarborough, in 1806, though there were rumours of his having financial problems and he was involved in a (bloodless) duel with the unsuccessful candidate.5 In 1807 he was returned in second place.
Wharton was in steady opposition when present in the Parliament of 1807, listed a ‘thick and thin’ supporter by the Whigs in 1810. They failed to place him on the finance committee for 1809. He had voted with the more radical wing of the party for peace negotiations, 29 Feb. 1808; against the Marquess Wellesley’s conduct in India, 15 Mar. 1808; for Madocks’s motion, 11 May, and for Burdett’s reform motion, 15 June 1809. He supported Brand’s motion of 21 May 1810 and Romilly’s for criminal law reform that month. After the Regency debates he appears to have been absent from the House for a year, pairing with one of the Lowthers, but was not inactive out of it: at least, he was counted as a friend of constitutional reform early in 1811 and in June a supporter of the bid by Whigs and radicals to come to terms on parliamentary reform.6 He was back in the House by 24 Apr. 1812 when he renewed his support for Catholic relief. He further supported sinecure reform, 4 May, and the motion for a more efficient administration, 21 May.
Despite further rumours of his insolvency after his sale of an estate in 1809, Wharton headed the poll at Beverley in 1812. On 14 Dec. he voted against the bank-note bill. He supported Burdett’s Regency motion, 23 Feb. 1813, and on 5 Mar. broke his long silence in the House by seconding Cochrane Johnstone’s motion on the plight of the Princess of Wales. He invariably voted for Catholic relief. Lord Grey and his brother-in-law Lambton vouched for his attendance.7 He opposed the blockade of Norway, 12 May 1814, and (on his nephew’s motion) the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb. 1815, as well as the retention of the militia in peacetime, 28 Feb. There is no evidence that he opposed the corn bill. He certainly opposed the resumption of hostilities with Buonaparte, 28 Apr., 25 May 1815. He opposed fresh taxation, 13 Mar., 19 Apr. 1815, and was always in the minority on civil list questions. In the spring of 1816 he voted steadily for retrenchment, promising a constituency petition against the property tax, 25 Feb., and asking for relief for landlords who had reduced tenants’ rents, 5 Mar. In May he was against the Bank restriction. He was accidentally shut out of divisions on 7 and 9 May. He paired against the suspension of habeas corpus in February 1817 and voted against it in June. On 6 May he supported his nephew’s motion against Canning’s mission to Lisbon. On 20 May he voted for Burdett’s reform motion (as also on 1 July 1819). His only known votes in the session of 1818 were against the ducal marriage grants, 13, 15 Apr.
Wharton’s situation at the dissolution of 1818 was undoubtedly embarrassing. In the first place he was in debt to his son-in-law, Thomas Barrett Lennard, who needed the money. To the latter’s father he excused himself, 23 Mar. 1818:
My trustees above a year and a half ago took possession of my rents, and I am actually subsisting on what they choose to allow me, and must continue in this state of dependence and degradation till the termination of their trust which cannot be closed till they receive payment for an estate I sold in 1809, and this I, or rather they, are trying to enforce by a suit in Chancery ... it shall however be my study to remove and remedy the inconveniences I have caused as soon as it can be done, and I shall ever reflect on them with deep regret.
On 7 Mar. he had confirmed his intention of standing again at Beverley. A month or so later, on receipt of an execution on his furniture, he went to Nice, where his daughter Mrs Barrett Lennard died in 18 May, and he was there at the dissolution. On 8 June he was back in London and renewed his candidature for Beverley. He once more headed the poll and found time to assist Henry Brougham in the Westmorland contest against the Lowthers, which he had once had an ‘itch’ to undertake himself.8
Wharton signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the opposition in August 1818, but a caveat of his led him to explain to its promoter, Viscount Duncannon, on 26 Aug.:
My pen must have slipped if I wrote that their opponents are quite as bad as the ministers—but I do not deny that I think them nearly so—or at least that their conduct hitherto has been little less bad. However there is amongst them so much a greater share of talent, abilities, knowledge of the constitution, love of liberty and honesty, that I will not despair, especially now that they are well backed by numbers in the Parliament and by the people out of it, of seeing them act well, and I am sure nothing will give me greater pleasure than to see it. What I wish however they would entirely get out of their heads and hearts is the expectation of ousting their adversaries and the wish to get into their places. Once rid of these deceitful hopes, I think they would act much more to the real good of the country.9
This language was very much the same as that of Lord Folkestone, with whom Wharton was staying when he wrote it. In the ensuing session he voted with opposition on the Bank questions of 2 and 8 Feb.; on the Windsor establishment, 22, 25 Feb., and for criminal law reform, 2 Mar. After two leaves of absence, he voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May; against the malt and excise duties, 9, 25 June, and against the foreign enlistment bill. He paired in favour of inquiry into abuse of charitable foundations, 23 June. He voted with some steadiness against government measures to curb radicalism in the last session of that Parliament, attempting unsuccessfully to secure authorization for newspaper reporters to attend those public meetings still permitted under the seditious meetings bill, 13 Dec. 1819.
Wharton was defeated in his ninth contest at Beverley in 1826 and, failing to procure another seat or win back Beverley, spent his last 15 years a prisoner within the rules of King’s Bench. He died 29 May 1843, after attempting to provide for his family.10
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne