BATHURST (formerly BRAGGE), Charles (1754-1831), of Lydney Park, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

28 Dec. 1790 - 1796
1796 - June 1812
1 July 1812 - 1818
1818 - Feb. 1823

Family and Education

bap. 28 Feb. 1754, 1st s. of Charles Bragge (d. c. 1780) of Cleve Hill, Mangotsfield and Anne, da. of Benjamin Bathurst† of Lydney. educ. Winchester 1770; New Coll. Oxf. 1772, BCL 1785, fellow 1772-89; L. Inn 1772, called 1778. m. 1 Aug. 1788, Charlotte, da. of Anthony Addington, MD, of Fringford, Oxon., 2s. 2da. surv. suc. to estate of maternal uncle Poole Bathurst of Lydney 1804 and took name of Bathurst by royal lic. 11 May 1804. d. 13 Aug. 1831.

Offices Held

Commr. of bankrupts 1778-80; sec. to commrs. of peace in chancery 1779-91; recorder, Monmouth 1790; counsel, bd. of control 1797; bencher, L. Inn 1813.

Chairman of ways and means 1799-1801; treas. of navy Nov. 1801-June 1803; PC 18 Nov. 1801; member, bd. of trade June 1803; sec. at war Aug. 1803-May 1804; master of mint Oct. 1806-Apr. 1807; chanc. of duchy of Lancaster June 1812-Feb. 1823; pres. bd. of control Jan. 1821-Feb. 1822.

Commr. for building new churches 1818.

Biography

Bathurst had been indelibly branded by George Canning’s* malevolent wit as ‘Brother Bragge’; and his inextricable connection in public life with his brother-in-law Lord Sidmouth obscured and devalued such innate talents as he possessed.1 Nothing came of rumours in government circles early in 1820 that he and Sidmouth were minded to give up their cabinet offices; and at the subsequent general election he was returned again for Harwich on the treasury interest.2 He was one of the Members who, in the scramble which ensued when the Commons were summoned to the Lords to hear the king’s speech, 27 Apr., ‘were unable to sustain the pressure of the throng’ and retreated to the Lower House.3 He persuaded Alderman Wood to drop his motion to summon George Edwards, the informer on the Cato Street conspirators, to answer a charge of breach of privilege, 2 May. He opposed inquiry into the droits of the crown as ‘an innovation upon the established practice’, 5 May. Supporting the ministerial amendment to Russell’s Grampound disfranchisement bill, to throw the borough into the neighbouring hundreds, 19 May, he argued that ‘a principle of loose reform’ should not be ‘engrafted upon a measure which had a specific object in view, namely, the remedy of certain and avowed corruption’. As he had promised, he attended to support the motion for Antrobus, the duke of Newcastle’s Member for Aldborough, to be given time to prove his property qualification, 25 May.4 He spoke for the government amendment to Campbell’s motion for inquiry into the Welsh judicature, 1 June. He tried to justify the proposed secret committee on the conduct of Queen Caroline, 26 June. In his defence of the aliens bill, 7 July, he said:

If gentlemen would look to the ... uniform system of the disaffected of this country, they would find them resort to every quarter of the world where any symptoms of a similar spirit appeared ... The feeling and example of the French Revolution were not yet done away ... While the seeds of disaffection were scattered throughout Europe, and especially in this country, a measure of this nature was indispensably necessary, to guard against commotion.

The Whig Member Sir James Mackintosh commented in his journal that Bathurst ‘outdid his usual dullness. His translation of Ward’s argumentative pleasantries into the Bathurst tongue was particularly remarkable’.5 He presented a petition from inmates of king’s bench prison against Lord Althorp’s insolvency bill, 17 July 1820.6

When Robert Peel* declined the half-hearted offer of the presidency of the board of control, resigned by Canning, in December 1820, the premier Lord Liverpool persuaded Sidmouth and Lord Castlereagh* that it should be filled on a temporary basis by an existing member of the cabinet, in order to keep it in reserve for a future reshuffle at a more propitious moment.7 Bathurst was the designated victim, and the proposition was apologetically put to him by Sidmouth:

I have stated your health, and your total want of familiarity with East India subjects and concerns, but in vain. The answer, as to the former, is that the business may be done when and where, at any time and at any place you please; and, as to the latter, that [Thomas] Courtenay*, the secretary, is a perfect master of all that is necessary to be known and of the manner of conducting all the business of the board; and ... that, with the exception of the mint, the duties of the head of that department are less onerous than those of the head of any other in the government ... It was admitted both by Lord L. and Lord C. that if you yielded to their wishes ... you should not be exposed to those laborious and irksome committee duties, of which you have borne the chief burden for many years past.

Bathurst, who had ‘fully made up my mind to receive an intimation of losing one office, but had no apprehension of being called upon to hold two’, was mortified, and did his best to escape. ‘I have a great aversion’, he told Sidmouth, ‘to be placed in a ridiculous situation ... by holding an office the duties of which I should not have learned till it was time to quit it’; he had been told that ‘it takes near six months hard reading to acquire this knowledge’. He argued that if there had to be a makeshift arrangement, Indian business could perfectly well be conducted by the present members of the board, under the supervision of one of them or of a departmental minister:

What appears to me objectionable in point of appearance is the bringing a new man into this temporary situation, and particularly in the House of Commons and in the case of the chancellor of the duchy, who certainly might if properly qualified discharge permanently the duties of both offices. In these times of reform and consolidation, it would undoubtedly give rise to the observation, why should not the two offices be always consolidated; and though the saving would only be to the India Company, yet the patronage and influence of the crown would be so far diminished. If it was possible to suppose that the appointment was not understood to be temporary the objection to my taking it would be tenfold increased ... I cannot but conjure you most earnestly to save me from this exhibition, which I cannot look at without dismay.

A ‘subdued’ Sidmouth passed on this letter to Liverpool, who wrote directly to Bathurst, putting the pressing need for a temporary arrangement and insisting that he was the only member of the cabinet who could reasonably take on the additional responsibility:

Your office is one of dignity and importance, but avowedly of little official labour. It is not even paid by the public, and it is an office the abolition of which could never be contemplated; nor could it from its nature ... ever be consolidated with any other office. There would be nothing therefore extraordinary or objectionable in your taking upon you for a time the discharge of the duties of the India board ... I am ... not aware of any India topic which can become at this time of public interest or hostile discussion; and ... no office ever had an individual more completely conversant with every detail belonging to it than Mr. Courtenay ... The office must be filled up before Parliament meets, and I see my way to nothing but a permanent arrangement if you are not placed at the head of it.

Thus bullied, Bathurst reluctantly surrendered.8

As he had feared, he was immediately quizzed by opposition as to why he had not sought re-election. His lame answer, 23 Jan. 1821, was that it was unnecessary because he received no salary as president. He took the same line when Hume raised the issue again, 9 Feb.9 He defended Sidmouth against a charge that he had made a biased selection of loyal addresses to lay before the king, 23 Jan. Bathurst, who, according to Edward Bootle Wilbraham*, ‘is not much listened to, and is conscious of it’,10 vindicated the bill of pains and penalties and maintained that insertion of the queen’s name in the liturgy was not one of her ‘legal rights’, 31 Jan. On a complaint of breach of privilege by the publication in the Gazette of a libellous address from Langholm, 1 Feb., he admitted that it had occurred ‘entirely from inadvertence’. ‘In a great passion’, he dismissed as old hat Creevey’s objections to the automatic voting of large sums of public money in committees of supply, 2 Feb.11 On 5 Feb. he spoke against the opposition motion of censure on government’s conduct towards the queen: its object was ‘first, the removal of ministers, and then, as a necessary consequence, a reform in Parliament’. Creevey reported gleefully that ‘Brother Bragge could scarcely be heard, in which he was highly judicious’.12 He assured Lambton that government had no intention of restoring press censorship in India, 9 Feb., but was unable to tell Hume whether there would soon be a statement on Indian finances, 19 Feb.13 His only other known contribution to debate on Indian affairs was a comment on the inadvisability of direct intervention against suttee, 20 June. He spoke against the transfer of Grampound’s seats to Leeds, 12 Feb., printing the Nottingham petition for the impeachment of ministers, 20 Feb., and inquiry into the military outrage at the recent Dublin county meeting, 22 Feb. He voted, as usual, against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and moved a wrecking amendment against the second reading of the relief bill, 16 Mar., when Henry Bankes, a fellow anti-Catholic, noted that Bathurst was ‘never so well attended to by the House as his good sense and acute reasoning deserved’; it was thought that he, Sidmouth and Nicholas Vansittart* would ‘go out if the bill is carried’.14 He saw no reason to proceed further against the Morning Chronicle for breach of privilege, 9 May. On 11 Apr. he endorsed the government preference for inquiry into Ilchester gaol by commission rather than select committee, defended the judicial commission against accusations of neglect and opposed an attempt to reduce the salary of the judge advocate.15 He spoke against Hume’s plan to disfranchise ordnance officials and repudiated his allegation that recent disturbances in Scotland had been deliberately fomented by government agents, 12 Apr. He supported the London police bill, 2 May, and exonerated lord chancellor Eldon from any blame for the slow progress of the judicial commission, 9 May: in his own view, ‘nothing had resulted from the extension of the inquiry to the English courts which justified the expense of the undertaking’.16 The noise was ‘so excessive’ when he rose towards the end of the debate on Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 9 May, that he was at first inaudible. He claimed to have ‘no objection to the principle of disfranchisement, in cases similar to that of Grampound’, contended that ‘the House, with all its alleged abuses, was perfectly competent to discharge all its functions’ and suggested that in a reformed system Members might be returned who would ‘prove pernicious, inasmuch as they would prevent those from acting who had more practical information’.17 He denied that a Manchester magistrate had been given a living in reward for his part in the Peterloo massacre, 15 May, voted against the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, and accused Hume of being disingenuous in objecting to his elder son Charles’s appointment as paymaster of the Thames river police, 28 May.18 On 28 June he was one of the ‘creditable’ (as Grey Bennet put it) minority of six who voted against reducing the grant to General Desfourneaux.19 He defended the queen’s exclusion from the coronation, 29 June, and on 3 July 1821 ruled out curbs on the blasphemy prosecutions brought by the Constitutional Association. According to William Fremantle*, the duke of Wellington named Bathurst as one of the front bench ministers who were ‘perfect cyphers’ in debate.20 There was speculation that he would go out altogether at the end of the year, but in the event he merely handed over the board of control to Charles Williams Wynn* as part of the ministerial junction with the Grenvillites.21

Bathurst spoke briefly against the amendment to the address calling for tax reductions, 5 Feb. 1822. He retrospectively defended the gaol sentence imposed on Henry Hunt*, 8 Feb., and opposed proceedings for breach of privilege for interference with Members’ mail, 25 Feb. He denied that the directors of the East India Company had turned a blind eye to the practice of suttee, 14 Mar., and answered criticism of an appointment at Harwich, 18 Mar.22 His attendance appears to have lapsed for over three months, probably because of the illness and death, 28 Apr., of his daughter Mary. On 26 June he argued, in reply to Creevey’s strictures, that Sidmouth’s pension of £3,000 did not violate the Act of 1817. He doubted the propriety of accepting a petition against the Marriage Act amendment bill, 12 July. He was named to the select committee on the Calcutta bankers’ claims, 4 July, and brought up its report, 29 July 1822.23

According to Hobhouse, under-secretary at the home office, towards the end of the 1822 session Liverpool ‘conceived an idea’ of persuading Bathurst to retire, and mentioned it to Sidmouth, who asked what ‘inducement’ would be held out to him. When Liverpool said none, Sidmouth ‘refused to broach the subject’, and appealed to Londonderry (formerly Castlereagh)

whether he would consent to Mr. Bathurst’s being unhandsomely displaced. Lord Londonderry replied that he undoubtedly would not, and renewed the expression of his sentiments of the value of Mr. Bathurst’s services in the House of Commons, although he is not well heard in debate. In fact his acuteness and his knowledge were extremely useful to Lord Londonderry.24

Yet in early August 1822 William Huskisson*, anxious for promotion from his subordinate post at the board of trade, told his mentor Canning that in a recent interview Liverpool, explaining ‘the particulars of what had occurred to him and Londonderry in discussions about an opening’, had said:

He did not think ... [Bathurst] would retain his present situation long, and that was also Lord S[idmouth]’s impression. He was sure that he was a man of such correct feeling that he would not remain after he found himself incapable of taking his fair share of the labour and duties which might be expected from him; and that he would certainly at any time give up his office upon the slightest hint. But his conduct had always been so true and straightforward and pure towards the government that he should be most unwilling to convey to him that hint; and that the domestic afflictions which he had met with, and under which he was still suffering, added to that unwillingness.25

When Canning took the foreign seals on Londonderry’s suicide he initially tried to advance Huskisson, who was impatient at the prospect of waiting for ‘the millennium when B.B. will discover that his retirement might be an accommodation to government’, by removing Williams Wynn from the board of control. Frustrated in this, Canning turned to his scheme to secure Bathurst’s retirement and replacement by Vansittart, which would open the exchequer for Frederick Robinson* and the board of trade for Huskisson. At Canning’s prompting, Liverpool sounded Sidmouth at the end of October; but ‘by his answer he appeared more tenacious of office and situation for himself and friend than he was before’. Liverpool renewed the subject at a meeting with Sidmouth on 18 Nov., when he stressed the urgent need to strengthen the government before Parliament met; pointed out that Bathurst’s health, which, ‘though it improved always in the country ... invariably suffered by a continued residence in London’, was unequal to ‘the fatigue of the House of Commons and an official situation, and in times like the present’, and added that his retirement would enable Canning to transfer to Harwich to escape the ‘intolerable burden’ of representing Liverpool. He concluded:

No one can be more sensible than myself of the loss we should sustain in being deprived of Bathurst’s services. I do not consider this as any question of balance of advantages, but altogether as a question of time; and if so, that which might afford some compensation at one time, might be totally useless and unavailing at another ... I need scarcely add that it would be my most anxious desire, whether the vacancy shall occur now or at some future period, to make such an arrangement as to our friend’s family as may appear to you and to him to be just and equitable, and which may in all respects be agreeable to himself.26

When Sidmouth put the case for honourable retirement to him Bathurst was perfectly amenable and, according to Hobhouse, ‘voluntarily offered’ to hand over his seat to Canning, of whose central role in the affair he was apparently unaware. The only condition for which he stipulated was that the proffered pension for his wife should be made inheritable by his two surviving daughters; he preferred this to the offer of a place at one of the public boards for his son. Once the legal technicalities had been ironed out a satisfactory arrangement was reached, and Bathurst retired in February 1823, ostensibly ‘on account of the state of his health’. Sidmouth reported that he was ‘quite satisfied’ with the terms of his ‘unavoidable’ retirement from affairs.27

The following year Bathurst wrote to Peel from Lydney:

I have reason to be thankful, that my health enables me to enjoy, with little interruption, the comforts of a country life, and discharge some of its duties; while I am equally confident that it would not be equal to those of a public nature.28

In December 1824 Sidmouth complained to Lord Colchester of Liverpool’s ‘neglect of his own promises respecting the arrangements for Bragge Bathurst’s family two years ago’. (Bathurst’s wife had been duly granted a civil list pension of £600 8s. 9d. on 10 Feb. 1823; but the promised additional sum was not forthcoming until it was furnished by grants of £200 6s. 7d. on 7 Jan. 1825 and £100 13s. 5d. on 31 Dec. 1829. Bathurst himself received a civil list pension of £350 8s. 6d. on 5 Aug. 1826.)29 Some years later Vansittart (now Lord Bexley) commented to Sidmouth on Bathurst in retirement:

The strength of his mind preserved him from foibles; his principles were settled, and his prejudices (so far as he had them) all on the right side. Still I doubt not that some years of quiet and reflection at the close of his life were valuable to him and improved by him.30

On 30 Nov. 1827 Thomas Estcourt* reported to Sidmouth on a recent ‘satisfactory’ visit to Bathurst at Lydney, where

we found Mr. Bathurst looking particularly well ... On ... two ... days ... we walked about the park, scaling the hills and botanizing, and enjoying and pointing out the fine views with as much acuteness and ardour as I ever saw him evince ... He declared himself free from all pain in the side and from rheumatic aches ... On the wet day we went through the whole of the antiquities contained in the cabinets, and in short passed three most agreeable days according to the style of former times.31

Bathurst composed ‘an elaborate dissertation’ on the Roman villa and temple unearthed at Lydney.32 He died there in August 1831. By his brief will, dated 24 June 1829, he left all his personal estate, which was sworn under £16,000, to his wife.33 He was succeeded in turn by his surviving sons Charles (1790-1863) and the Rev. William Hiley Bathurst (1796-1877), whose grandson Charles Bathurst of Lydney (1867-1958) was created Lord Bledisloe in 1918. A ‘dull statesman’ Bathurst may have been; but there are hints in the testimony of some contemporaries that he was a more talented parliamentarian than he has generally been considered.34 Lord Harrowby wrote that

though he did not obtain the attention he deserved in the House of Commons, his speeches were always sensible and often useful, and he was of great service in committees and whenever an intelligent, well-informed mind and sound judgement were required.35

Edward Littleton* (Lord Hatherton), commenting in 1847 on a review by John Croker* of Pellew’s Life of Sidmouth, noted that Bathurst was ‘not done justice’ (even though Croker recalled him as ‘a well-informed and judicious man, who spoke with considerable weight’):

He was a man of considerable power as a debater. He was shrewd and hard-headed and fluent, but he had bad enunciation and a dreary voice, so that few listed to him. Nevertheless I thought him one of the ablest debaters in the House when I first entered it [in 1812]. The cleverest man I then lived with used frequently to remark that he took better than any other the point of a case, and it was a common thing for those who followed him on his own side later at night, when the House was fuller, to use the materials of his speech over again.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, viii. 9996.
  • 2. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. ii. 47.
  • 3. The Times, 28 Apr. 1820.
  • 4. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 6634.
  • 5. Add. 52444, f. 192.
  • 6. The Times, 18 July 1820.
  • 7. J.E. Cookson, Lord Liverpool’s Administration, 292-3; Hobhouse Diary, 46-47.
  • 8. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 93; Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 338; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to Bathurst, 20, 25-27 Dec. 1820, 2 Jan. 1821, reply, 22 Dec., Liverpool to Sidmouth, 25 Dec. 1820; Add. 38288, f. 386; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 890.
  • 9. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 2; Creevey Pprs. ii. 10.
  • 10. Colchester Diary, iii. 201.
  • 11. Grey Bennet diary, 12.
  • 12. Creevey Pprs. i. 12; Cookson, 308.
  • 13. The Times, 20 Feb. 1820.
  • 14. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 126; Buckingham, i. 142.
  • 15. The Times, 12 Apr. 1821.
  • 16. Ibid. 3, 10 May 1821.
  • 17. Bankes jnl. 128.
  • 18. The Times, 29 May 1821.
  • 19. Grey Bennet diary, 111.
  • 20. Buckingham, i. 173.
  • 21. Ibid. i. 200; BL, Fortescue mss, Buckingham to Grenville, 2 Dec.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 11 Dec. [1821].
  • 22. The Times, 15, 19 Mar. 1822.
  • 23. Ibid. 27 June, 13, 30 July 1822.
  • 24. Cookson, 366; Hobhouse Diary, 99-100.
  • 25. Cookson, 369; Add. 38743, ff. 192, 196; Croker Pprs. i. 230.
  • 26. Cookson, 381-4; Add. 38291, ff. 218, 335; 38575, f. 78; 38743, ff. 242, 248; Arbuthnot Corresp. 32; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 194, 194-6; HMC Bathurst, 537.
  • 27. Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to Bathurst, 1, 5, 17 Dec. 1822, reply, 11 Jan. 1823; Bagot, Canning and Friends, ii. 145; Hobhouse Diary, 100; Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 F215, Sidmouth to Estcourt, 28 Jan. 1823.
  • 28. Add. 40368, f. 222.
  • 29. Colchester Diary, iii. 354; PP (1830-1), vi. 538.
  • 30. Sidmouth mss, Bexley to Sidmouth, 19 Aug. 1831.
  • 31. Sotheron Estcourt mss F665.
  • 32. See W.H. Bathurst, Roman Antiquities at Lydney (1879).
  • 33. PROB 8/224 (11 Nov. 1831).
  • 34. HMC Fortescue, x. 403.
  • 35. HMC Bathurst, 537-8