WHARTON, Richard (c.1764-1828).
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Family and Education
b. c.1764,1 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Thomas Wharton, MD, of Old Park, Bishop Auckland, co. Dur. by Margaret, da. of Anthony Wilkinson of Crossgate, co. Dur. educ. Pembroke, Camb. 1780; I. Temple 1783, called 1789. m. 7 June 1792,2 Henrietta, da. of James Farrer of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. and Clapham, Yorks., s.p.
Chairman of ways and means 1808-9; sec. to Treasury Dec. 1809-Jan. 1814.
Wharton apparently had little success at the bar and in 1794, after five years’ practice, he applied in vain to Pitt for the chief justiceship of Lower Canada.3 On the death of his father, a close friend of the poet Gray, in December that year, the Old Park estate, which had been in his family’s hands since 1620, passed to his elder brother Robert, who took the additional name of Myddleton on succeeding to a Yorkshire estate in 1801. Richard received a share in property entailed on his father by a kinswoman but its location is not known. Nor is it clear when he acquired the property at Stranton, near Hartlepool, which was in his possession in 1825. Most of his election addresses were dated from Old Park, where he seems to have lived as his brother’s tenant.4
In 1802 Wharton offered himself for Durham, which his grandfather had unsuccessfully contested in 1747, as ‘the delegate of the independent interest’ in opposition to the Whig sitting Members, Ralph John Lambton and Michael Angelo Taylor, though it was the latter, returned two years previously on the old Tempest interest under the aegis of his brother-in-law Sir Henry Vane Tempest, who was his principal target. One of the charges levelled against him, but denied by him, was that he was an atheist. He narrowly beat Taylor into third place after a fierce contest.5 No trace of activity has been found for his first period in Parliament, which was ended when his election was voided on petition in February 1804, his payment of the travelling expenses of the non-resident freemen having been construed as bribery. The friend whom he recommended at the ensuing by-election was defeated by the Whig Robert Shafto.
Wharton, whose unsuccessful attempt to nullify the petition by instituting legal actions under the Bribery Act against his opponents cost him, so he later claimed, ‘many thousand pounds’, stood for Durham in 1806, as did Lambton and Shafto. He wrote to the Pittite Lord Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale) who, he had been told, had offered him his interest with the freemen resident in Cumberland and Westmorland, and requested financial backing to enable him to go to the poll with the object of ‘adding one (if not two) to the friends of the late Mr Pitt’ and excluding one or two Foxites ‘in the scale of parliamentary balance’. Lowther provided both cash and agents, but vetoed any attempt to unseat Lambton. Shafto gave up and Wharton, who pledged his personal and political devotion to Lowther, came in unopposed.6 He was granted six weeks’ sick leave, 4 Feb. 1807, extended for a further five weeks, 11 Mar., but attended to speak against Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge on Catholic relief, 9 Apr. He admitted when he stood for Durham at the general election that ‘peculiar circumstances’ had prevented him from ‘taking a share in the public business’ in the 1806 Parliament.7 A third candidate declined to go to a poll and Wharton was returned unopposed with Lambton, as he was again in 1812.
Wharton, who was appointed to the revived finance committee early in the 1807 Parliament, derided Whitbread’s scheme for parochial education, 13 July, and so made himself a personal enemy. He was ‘much pleased’ to be made chairman of ways and means in January 1808, having been recommended to Perceval by his fellow Lonsdale Member Charles Long, joint paymaster of the forces.8 On 4 Apr. 1808 a motion that he was disqualified, as chairman of ways and means, from sitting on the finance committee was brought on by Robert Myddelton Biddulph, who alleged that he had only seen him there once, when he had attended to create a ministerial majority on a contentious issue, but it was defeated by 70 votes to 21. When the resignation of Henry Wellesley as secretary to the Treasury was thought to be imminent in October 1808, Long ‘mentioned Wharton to Perceval as the best person’ to replace him. Wellesley decided to stay on and, although Long believed that Perceval ‘seemed to think that Wharton would fill the situation very well’, Perceval kept his options open when he wrote to Lonsdale on the matter:
I am fully sensible of the zeal, ability and industry of Mr Wharton, but I am sure, when your lordship recollects the extreme importance to government of that office, and the very various and almost inconsistent qualities which ought if possible to meet in the person who fills it, that you will feel it to be entirely consistent with great personal regard for Mr Wharton and with every wish to comply with your request, that I should be desirous of keeping myself entirely free and disengaged with respect to it.9
Early in 1809 Wharton published Remarks on the Jacobinical tendency of the Edinburgh Review. When Perceval proposed to retain him on the reduced finance committee, 24 Jan., Whitbread threatened to oppose his appointment to it. Wharton stoutly defended himself and blamed the committee’s difficulties on the political prejudices of its chairman, Henry Bankes, but said that he would ‘by no means regret his name being left out’, which it eventually was. He chaired the inquiry into the Duke of York scandal, 1-22 Feb., and on 23 Mar. 1809 defended the witness General Clavering against a charge of prevarication. Two months later he told Farington that although he had been ‘much afflicted with gout, and now complained of walking in a lame manner’, he was coping with the physical demands of the chairmanship, which required his daily attendance for the duration of the session.10
When Perceval became prime minister in the autumn of 1809, he made Wharton secretary to the Treasury in place of Huskisson, who had resigned with Canning. Long thought he would ‘do well in many respects, but he must work hard to make himself master of finance’, and George Rose commented on his advancement in similar terms. Later in November he was said, ‘after having been a little out of spirits’, to be ‘in better hopes’ regarding the new ministry’s chances of survival.11 His notorious opposition to economy in the finance committee made him a target for Whitbread’s scorn, 25 Jan. 1810, but he gave as good as he got in reply. He deplored Porchester’s attempt to proceed with the Scheldt inquiry before questions of trade and revenue were dealt with, 22 Feb. As the ministerial crisis deepened, Wharton, whom the Whigs listed as one of Perceval’s 11 personal followers, expressed private misgivings to Lonsdale over the premier’s handling of the finances and his refusal to come to terms with Canning or Sidmouth.12 Opposing Bankes’s call for sinecure reductions, 17 May, he argued that the influence of the crown had in fact decreased in relation to the growth in national wealth and provoked an outburst of indignation from Whitbread. He voted against criminal law reform, 1 May, and parliamentary reform, 21 May, and on 20 June tried to explain the absence of senior ministers from the debate on Williams Wynn’s election bribery bill. Later in the year he was ‘laid up for some time by gout’ which kept him away from the divisions on the Regency.13 On 22 Mar. 1811 he clashed with Bankes on barracks expenditure. His few other speeches in that session were brief affairs on official business. Charles Arbuthnot, his senior colleague at the Treasury, nursed hopes of having him replaced by the financial pundit John Charles Herries, but Wharton scented the danger, as Arbuthnot told Herries, 6 Aug. 1811:
What passed some time since between Perceval and Wharton I cannot tell, but everything indicates that the latter is intending to take root here, as far at least as may depend upon himself. He is not meaning to stir from London any part of this year ... He is also talking of what he shall do next session, and I see that in his attendance upon Perceval he is more than usually assiduous, with a view no doubt to make himself appear to be necessary. I suppose therefore that of his own resignation we ought to entertain no hope, and Perceval would not propose to him to retire unless on his part there should be some opening for so doing.14
He was a little more conspicuous in the House in 1812, particularly in his defence of the barracks estimates, 13, 14 Apr. and 1 May.
After Perceval’s death, Wharton sought Lonsdale’s views on a ministerial coalition with Canning and Wellesley, ‘since my acceptance of or declining any offer that may be made to me, will entirely depend upon your intention of supporting the government that may be formed’.15 He retained his place in the Liverpool ministry and was one of several men in office who voted for Canning’s motion to consider Catholic relief, 22 June 1812,16 but he voted against relief next session, 2 Mar., 11 and 24 May 1813. He acquiesced in Creevey’s motion for information on the money spent on the development of Regent’s Park, 2 July 1812, but defended Lord Glenbervie, the first commissioner of woods and forests, against Creevey’s slurs. He replied to criticism of the malt tax, 11 Dec., and the franking bill, 12 Dec. 1812; opposed Newport’s retrospective attack on Perceval, 6 Apr.; spoke at length against repeal of the additional leather duties, 18 May, and defended the Regent Street development bill, 15 June, the army extraordinaries, 23 June, and the auction duties bill, 25 June and 2 July 1813. He favoured Christian missionary activity in India, 22 June, 1 and 12 July.
He had by now ingratiated himself with the Prince Regent, and on 1 July 1813 Lonsdale’s son, Viscount Lowther, recorded a conversation with Wharton, who complained of being ‘insulted’, with no one to consult, and aired notions of serving the Regent by strengthening his personal following in the Commons.17 Soon afterwards he became so ill that it was clear that he had little chance of continuing at the Treasury. He aspired to the surveyor-generalship of the works, made vacant by the recent death of James Wyatt and, under the proposed reorganization of the department, to be held in future by a civil servant rather than a professional architect. Early in October Lowther confided to his father that Wharton’s appointment as surveyor-general, which would have vacated his seat, had been settled:
It will suit him admirable [sic]: salary not yet fixed: it is to be a good one! ... He is a most deserving man. He tells me he has saved five thousand pounds in office. His elections have cost him £10,000 and nearly ruined him.18
This report proved to be premature. Wharton, who was said to want ‘to retain his seat for a year that he may resign it in favour of a nephew’, did not come to London from Bath until December 1813, by which time Liverpool had begun to complain of his holding on to his office ‘circumstanced as he has so long been in point of health’. He apparently tried to secure the surveyor-generalship for life, but this raised difficulties, as Long told Lonsdale:
I think it would be ... very objectionable to create a new office for which the individual becomes a public accountant for life ... but if it were not a parliamentary office I have no idea it would be disturbed by any persons succeeding to the government and I certainly do not think that Wharton is at all more obnoxious to the opposition than all the rest of us ... The only way in which if there was any doubt upon this point ... Wharton could be secured would be by a contingent pension to take effect in case he should lose the office of surveyor-general. I have just seen Lord Liverpool and suggested this to him. He did not give me any decided answer, nor do I even know whether there is any room upon the civil list ... Perhaps it would be as well not to say anything to Wharton ... It would only add to his disappointment if it did not take effect.19
In the end, Wharton retired from the Treasury with a civil list pension of £500 a year, dated 27 Dec. 1813.20 Yet he remained dissatisfied and in March 1814 made a bid, backed by Lonsdale, to replace Glenbervie, who was disposed to retire as first commissioner of woods and forests, boasting that he could increase the Regent’s popularity by financing his proposed new palace out of non-public funds. Long had to tell Lonsdale that Liverpool’s ‘reception of the proposition was very far from encouraging’ and that he had ‘never seen in that quarter any very great disposition to attend to Wharton’s wishes while the negotiation for his retiring was going on’. In a subsequent letter, Long reported:
The plan for building the Prince’s palace is to raise money ... by letting some of the crown lands ... This is what Wharton means by serving HRH as far as popularity is concerned, but this will equally be the mode proposed in the Act whoever is at the head of the woods. I have often thought ... Wharton showed a great want of knowledge of mankind, and particularly of ministerial mankind, in putting forward, as he always does, the Prince’s kind dispositions towards him; it is well to have them, but he should keep them in the background: there is nothing that excites jealousy and disinclination in a minister ... to serve any person more than putting forward pretensions of this kind. I think all has been done on this point that could be. Lord Liverpool is in possession of Wharton’s wishes and he feels that you would wish them to be carried into effect if it can be conveniently done, but that you do not wish to press him inconveniently upon the subject.21
There the matter ended. Wharton was apparently inactive in Parliament in 1814 and on 21 Apr. was granted six weeks’ sick leave. Liverpool told the Regent, 31 Aug. 1814, that he had ‘formally declined’ the surveyor-generalship, but it is not clear whether this was a reference to a new offer made after the passage of the Regulating Act (54 Geo. III, c.157) or to the events of December 1813.22
Wharton’s ‘indiscreet zeal’ landed him in a ‘scrape’ in November 1814 when, after the question of the court martial of Colonel Quentin of the Prince of Wales’s Hussars had been satisfactorily disposed of in the House on the 17th, he induced the editor of the Courier to publish a paragraph based on his earlier conversation with the Regent at Brighton on the matter and intended to put an official seal on it. Its effect was to reopen it ‘in a manner very awkward for the Prince’, who was furious with Wharton. Liverpool too was ‘outrageous’ and there was a ‘great laugh’ against Wharton, the more so as he had bragged on his return from Brighton that ‘no subject had ever been so much honoured’. He went to ground for several days.23
Wharton was said to have gone abroad for the sake of his health and his only certain votes in the remainder of the 1812 Parliament were with government on the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment, 3 July 1815, and in defence of the Scottish prosecutions, 10 Feb. 1818, though he was credited with a vote with the minority on the Speakership, 2 June 1817. Either he or the Whig John Wharton could have been the ‘Mr Wharton’ who spoke for the corn bill, 3 Mar. 1815. Despite his ‘very indifferent’ health, he stood again for Durham in 1818 and was returned after a token but vexatious contest.24 He chaired the Chester election committee, 19 Feb.-5 Mar. 1819, but his name appears in none of the surviving division lists for that session. In a Letter to the Freemen of Durham, 20 Oct. 1819, he condemned the forthcoming county meeting promoted by Lambton, the reforming Whig county Member, to protest against the Peterloo incident, and denied the need for parliamentary reform. He supported the seizure of arms bill, 10 Dec., and alleged that the north-eastern colliers were armed and organized for a rebellion to effect not reform but ‘a transfer of property’; and he supported the newspaper stamp duties bill, 20 Dec. 1819.
At the general election of 1820 he abandoned Durham city and stood for the county against Lambton and his conservative Whig colleague. Whether he did so on his own initiative or at the behest of government is not clear, but Lowther reported that he was ‘agreeably surprised to find that the Treasury wished him success; he has such strange fancies that torment him’. Ministers interfered on his behalf and he had the backing and financial support of the Church, the shipping interest and the leading ministerialist landowners, but he had no hope of success once the Whigs had coalesced, quite apart from the handicaps of his lack of private means, his government pension, his ‘broken constitution, his doubtful character, and his very moderate share of solid or useful talents’. Yet he was ‘sanguine to the last’ in his reports, and his sudden withdrawal after six days made many ministers ‘furiously angry’ with him. Long concluded that he ‘was deceived himself and therefore certainly misled others’.25
Wharton spent the rest of his life in declining health and comparative obscurity at his London house in Grafton Street. The ‘poor Wharton’ who was reported to be a prisoner in King’s Bench ‘under circumstances not very creditable’ in January 1828 was almost certainly not Richard, but John Wharton.26 Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges recalled him as a man ‘of quick talents, much literature, and most pleasing manners, hospitable and open; a man of the world, of a handsome person and benevolent expression’.27 He died 21 Oct. 1828.