BRISCOE, John Ivatt (1791-1870), of Botleys, nr. Chertsey, Surr. and 19 Edwards Street, Portman Square, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 12 Oct. 1791, o.s. of John Briscoe of Cross Deep, Twickenham, Mdx. and Mary, da. of Stephen Winthrop, City merchant. educ. Ealing; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1808; L. Inn 1813. m. 25 Sept. 1819,1 Anne Maria, o. surv. da. and h. of Sir Joseph Mawbey, 2nd bt., of Botleys, s.p. suc. fa. 1809. d. 16 Aug. 1870.
Briscoe, who appears to have been an only child, inherited his father’s estate at Twickenham (which the latter had inherited from an uncle) in 1809, along with the residue of personalty sworn under £70,000.2 His marriage in 1819 to the Mawbey heiress brought him a country house and something of that family’s prestige in Surrey, thereby laying the foundations for his political career. He established a reputation as a ‘liberal and reforming’ magistrate who took a deep interest in humanitarian causes such as prison discipline. In 1824 he dissented from his colleagues on the bench, notably Henry Drummond†, over the introduction of the tread wheel at Guildford, publishing a letter which, as he told the home secretary Peel, expressed ‘the strongest conviction’ of its ‘objectionable nature ... derived from the almost daily impartial investigation of several months’.3 He offered for Surrey at the general election of 1830 on a platform of retrenchment and reform, although he maintained that he ‘was not a Whig, for he bound himself to no party’. He deplored the lack of ‘sympathy between the rulers and the ruled’, who were ‘bowed down’ by the weight of taxation, and he wished to see a ‘wise and salutary reform of Parliament’, including ‘the extension to the large towns of the popular franchise’. He was returned in second place with the Whig William Denison after a four-day poll. A Sussex newspaper applauded his ‘rare merit of being, in every sense of the word, a man of business’.4
He was a very active Member, who presented numerous petitions and was never reticent to speak in debate. The duke of Wellington’s ministry listed him among their ‘foes’, and he duly voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In his maiden speech, 9 Nov., he expressed confidence in the authorities’ response to the spread of incendiarism in the agricultural districts and attributed the disturbances in Surrey to extortionists, rather than indigenous labourers; he nevertheless cautioned ministers against their apparent indifference to rural distress. Two days later he moved the second reading of Weyland’s settlement of the poor bill, to promote rural employment, which gained royal assent, 30 Mar. 1831. He advocated measures to facilitate the enclosure of wastelands, commute tithes and provide allotments, as means of alleviating rural distress, 19 Nov. 1830. He criticized the exemption of charitable lands from the poor rate, which shifted the burden onto those least able to pay, 7 Dec. Resisting the arguments of O’Connell and the repealers, he looked to Lord Grey’s ministry to direct ‘their most earnest attention’ to the condition of Ireland, 11 Dec. He declared that the proposal to increase the army in the wake of the agricultural disturbances was ‘one of the last propositions’ which he had ‘expected to ... hear from the present ministry’, 13 Dec. 1830, as he had always supposed that ‘the essential difference between them and the late government’ was that ‘they better understood the times in which we live, as well as the circumstances and condition of the country’. He pointed next day to the equitable advantages of a direct tax on coal. Convinced of the utility of granting land to the poor, he and Weyland were given leave to introduce a bill to relax the restrictions on leasing allotments under the poor law, 16 Feb. 1831; it made no progress before the dissolution. He reproached ministers for their apparent abandonment of economy and called for a ‘diminution in the expenditure of the country, especially in overgrown establishments like the army’, 21 Feb. Next day, unconvinced by the case for promoting emigration in order to relieve distress, he opposed the scheme to facilitate it by mortgaging the poor rates, as this was too advantageous to colonial interests. At the same time, and against a torrent of coughing, he elaborated on the need for a general enclosure bill and argued that the tithes system acted as a disincentive to agricultural improvement, thereby preventing ‘a large portion of the population from getting employment’. Declaring his support for economies at the Royal Military Asylum, 23 Mar., he believed that an ‘equal amount of good might be produced at much less cost to the public’. Next day he approved the proposed reductions in the civil list and was confident that these would not trench upon the ‘dignity and splendour’ of the crown; he regretted the government’s failure to effect more substantial savings, 14 Apr. 1831. Indefatigable in his denunciations of slavery, he presented numerous abolitionist petitions and spoke of his conviction of the ethical argument in favour of emancipation, 19, 23 Nov., 13 Dec. 1830. He presented and endorsed a Lambeth petition complaining of the expense and inefficacy of the Metropolitan Police Act, 21 Dec. 1830. He similarly endorsed a Richmond-upon-Thames petition calling for a general fast in response to the cholera epidemic, 7 Feb. 1831. In the adjournment debate, 23 Dec. 1830, he pressed ministers to fix a date for submitting their plan of parliamentary reform. Likening the extension of the franchise to the creation of a ‘national guard of moral force’, he supported petitions in favour of reform, 4, 28 Feb., 7 Mar. 1831. He divided for the second reading of the government’s bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he offered again for Surrey and affirmed his enthusiasm for the reform bill and for root and branch reforms in every department of state. He advocated the abolition of slavery and reform of the criminal law, deprecated the game laws as the ‘parent of crime and misery’ and argued that ‘no pension should be granted except for public services, and under the sanction and control of Parliament’. Proud of his ‘independence’, he pledged his support for ministers so long as they were guided by the principles of retrenchment, reform and non-intervention abroad. He and Denison were returned unopposed.5
He endorsed the call for reference to be made to Divine Providence in the king’s speech, 22 June 1831. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and steadily for most of its details. He argued that the bill should take precedence over other parliamentary business, 20 July, and deprecated the protraction of debate by ‘useless discussion’, 29 July. He voted in the minority against the proposed division of counties, 11 Aug., as he feared it would ‘neutralize and endanger’ the bill by strengthening the landed interest and ‘convert[ing] the counties ... into the closest of nomination boroughs’. He objected to time wasted in debate on the English bill with respect to the arrangements for Scotland and Ireland, 13 Aug. Anxious to contribute to debate, 27 Aug., he aroused Members’ impatience but subsequently declared his support for Hume’s proposal to rearrange the parliamentary timetable so as to speed the bill’s progress. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He was full of praise for the government’s economic policies, 1 July, and hailed their determination to restore ‘constitutional control over the national expenditure’. He spoke but did not vote for the grant for professors’ salaries at Oxford and Cambridge, 8 July, though he remarked that London University had an equal if not better claim for public support. Opposing the grant for Millbank penitentiary that day, he dwelt on the anomaly of supporting criminals while the ‘honest population’ were left to fend for themselves, and recommended emigration as a means of ridding society of those who had ‘forfeited their claim to remain’. He voted in the minority for reduction of the civil service grant, 18 July. That day he reiterated his commitment to ‘rigid economy’ as the basis for all reform and dismissed the coronation as ‘little better than an idle pageant’; he nevertheless approved the coronation grant, 31 Aug., since it avoided ‘wasteful and profligate expenditure’. He gave vocal support to ministers over the grant to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 25 July, but did not enter the division lobby. That day on the grant to promote emigration to Western Australia, he called for the production of parochial statistics to determine the extent of England’s ‘surplus population’. Deploring the ‘procrastination’ in the passage of legislation affecting the economic interests of his constituents, 5 Sept., he addressed the House on the wine duties, 7 Sept., and complained about the high price of coal resulting from the virtual monopoly in that industry, 15 Sept. He voted in the minority to postpone the grant for building work at Windsor Castle, 28 Sept. He advocated reform of the game laws and appealed for further amelioration of the penal clauses in the government’s bill, 8 Aug., as he had ‘never considered poaching a crime’. He presented and endorsed the Labourers’ Friendly Society petition to facilitate the leasing of land under the poor law, 5 Sept. On 11 Oct. he distanced himself from the arguments of the political economists which, in his opinion, had little relevance to an understanding of rural poverty. From personal experience, he found that ‘as you increase the comforts of the labouring classes you make them less reckless’, encourage ‘a spirit of industry’ and ‘increase that desire ... of bettering [their] condition’. Critical of the Speenhamland system, he favoured inquiry into the condition of the agricultural labourers and repeated his call for the distribution of parochial wasteland to relieve distress. While he defended the conviction and imprisonment of Robert Taylor for his scurrilous attack on Christianity, 22 July, 18 Aug., he presented petitions for remission of the prison sentence, 5, 14 Sept., though he was at pains to dissociate himself from Taylor’s heterodoxy. He spoke in favour of the highways bill, 9 Aug. He spoke and voted for printing the Waterford petition for the disarming of the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He supported a petition calling for relaxation of the laws regarding imprisonment for debt, 15 Aug. He derided the translation of Grey’s brother-in-law, Richard Ponsonby, to the see of Derry, which he argued could not be justified on the ground of merit, 31 Aug. 1831.
He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and steadily for most of its details. However, he apparently criticized the omission of yeomanry tax exemptions in the calculation of the value of Helston’s assessed taxes, 23 Feb. 1832; no speech is recorded, as the gallery was cleared, but after a warm discussion he voted against the borough’s inclusion in schedule B.6 He divided for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., and the motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May. Following the reinstatement of Grey’s ministry he welcomed the flood of reform petitions and entertained no doubts as to the bill’s passage through the Lords, 22 May; he congratulated the Commons on earning the ‘confidence and support of the country’. He voted against a Conservative amendment to increase Scotland’s county representation, 1 June. On the motion for a return of Westminster ratepayers, 27 July, he warned of the likely reduction of the electoral roll, because many scot and lot voters had not paid their rates before the registration, and feared that ‘the object of the [reform] bill ... will be utterly defeated’. He approved the expedient of selling crown lands in order to meet the cost of building work at Buckingham House, 17 Jan., but had grave doubts about the propriety of proceeding with it in view of the hidden costs of refurbishment. He endorsed a petition for the prevention of animal cruelty, 20 Jan. While welcoming legislation to promote and monitor anatomical research, 24 Jan., he had ‘strong objections’ to some of the provisions of the anatomy bill and declared his determination to vote against the second reading, as the late hour made the ‘full, fair and ample consideration ... which its importance requires’ impossible. He criticized the inadequate provision of inspectors, 11 Apr., and, again complaining of the late hour, was a minority teller for an adjournment. He secured amendments to safeguard against perfunctory dissection, 18 Apr. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted in the minorities to amend the Vestry Act, 26 Jan., and for information on military punishments, 16 Feb., and the immediate abolition of slavery, 24 May. As an ‘enemy to monopoly in every shape’, 27 Jan., he wanted equal protection for agriculture and industry and advocated a fixed duty on corn, tax reductions to relieve distress and a property tax. Anxious to preserve the prospect of Southwark cathedral from encroachment he threatened to oppose the London Bridge approaches bill, 13 Feb., but finally gave way on receiving satisfactory assurances. He offered first-hand observations that day on the extent of the cholera epidemic in Bethnal Green and advocated scientific methods of control, 15 Feb., when he tried unsuccessfully to insert a reference to Providence in the preamble to the cholera prevention bill. Next day he congratulated the House on reaffirming the Christian foundations of the state, after it had included a similar reference in the Scottish bill. He presented and endorsed a Camberwell petition for better observance of the Sabbath, 29 June. He thought the Bridgwater and Taunton canal bill should be given a second reading, 27 Feb., believing that only a committee could assess the viability of the scheme without the conflict of vested interests. He adopted the same line next day over the reduction of the soap duties, arguing that only a select committee could properly examine the evidence. Though mindful of the case against interference in labour relations, 7 Mar., he stressed the need for legislation to safeguard factory children, who were ‘unable to protect themselves’, but raised no objections to shift work. Having presented petitions in favour of factory reform, 9 May, he reproached the select committee for its lengthy deliberations, 7 June, and called for resolutions before the end of the session. Comparing the plight of factory children to that of slaves, he enjoined the abolitionists to embrace the factory movement, otherwise he would be ‘obliged to conclude that they have taken up West India slavery as a party question only, and not in that high Christian sense which ought to have animated their exertions’. He favoured giving compensation to factory workers summoned as witnesses, 27 June, observing that ‘every generous mind must feel how unequal their struggle is against the ample means which the masters have at their disposal’. He considered it reprehensible to ‘hesitate for a moment’ in passing legislation to protect children ‘and even working people generally’, condemned the mill owners for inflicting ‘severe privations’ on the labouring class, and demanded government intervention to prevent ‘such a system of cruelty in this country’. While agreeing that the absence of an Irish poor law exacerbated distress among English labourers and that the majority of Southwark’s cholera victims were Irish, 14 Mar., he resisted calls for their repatriation on humanitarian grounds. He voted in the minority to relieve the Irish poor by a tax on absentee landlords, 19 June. In presenting a petition against the vagrants’ removal bill, 29 June, he favoured imposing repatriation expenses on Ireland, ‘particularly as they are exempt from all poor laws’; he affirmed his opposition to the removal bill, 9 July. He welcomed the opportunities for healthy recreation afforded by the Gravesend pier bill, 10 Apr. He objected to the employment of prisoners as teachers at Millbank penitentiary as ‘a very mischievous perversion of the object of the establishment’, 13 Apr. He presented and endorsed a debtors’ petition complaining of improper empanelment of juries within king’s bench gaol, 29 June. He was quick to defend the Surrey magistracy from the imputation of neglect regarding the inspection of Horsemonger Lane gaol, 17 July, but backed an inquiry. He favoured a joint conference with the Lords over its amendments to the death penalty abolition bill, 6 July, as he ‘should be exceedingly sorry to see the bill lost’. He drew attention to the ‘moral if not legal’ grievances of duchy of Cornwall sublessees, arising from the imposition of heavy renewal fines by the leaseholders, 6 June. Hard pressed with petitions, he took exception to the protracted debate over a question of privilege, 22 June, but was rebuked by the Speaker. On 6 July he pledged support for an inquiry into the improvement of London’s water supply, remarking that ‘I should be glad if I were able to give as good reasons for the expenditure of every thousand pounds of the public money, as I can for this’. That day he challenged the assumption that it was obligatory to instruct professional lawyers in cases of appeal relative to friendly societies, and he called on the press to assist in contradicting an error ‘which operates so prejudicially to the interests of most useful societies’. He divided for inquiry into the inns of court, 17 July. He presented and concurred in petitions against the plurality of benefices bill, 25, 30 July. He pressed for retention of the import duty on castor oil, 25 July 1832, since its reduction would injure domestic manufacturers previously encouraged to invest in the product. Reproved for seeking to protect the vested interests of his constituents, he did not press the matter to a division but retorted that, ‘it will be a fatal day for England when her interests are put out of sight by those who ought to protect them’.
A Liberal and a warm advocate of popular education, ‘fool Briscoe’, as Thomas Macaulay* uncharitably called him, sat for East Surrey in the first reformed Parliament and later represented West Surrey. He died in August 1870.7
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Simon Harratt
- 1. IGI (London)
- 2. PROB11/1495/253; IR26/146/48; R.S. Cobbett, Mems. Twickenham, 294.
- 3. [W. Carpenter], People's Bk. (1831), 182; Add. 40361, f.77; 40362, f.132; H. Drummond, Letter to the Justices (1824).
- 4. Windsor and Eton Express, 24 July; The Times, 30 July, 6-10 Aug.; Suss. Advertiser, 16 Aug. 1830.
- 5. The Times, 28 Apr., 6 May 1831.
- 6. Ibid. 24 Feb. 1832.
- 7. Macaulay Letters, ii.246; The Times, 19 Aug. 1870.