CORBETT, Panton (1785-1855), of Leighton, Mont.
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Family and Educationbap. 2 Apr. 1785, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Rev. Joseph Plymley (afterwards Corbett) of Longnor, Salop and 1st w. Jane Josepha, da. of Thomas Panton, merchant, of Leghorn. educ. Pembroke, Oxf. 1800; L. Inn 1801, called 1806. m. 16 May 1814, Lucy Favoretta, da. of Dr. Trevor Jones of Lichfield, Staffs., 2s.(1 d.v.p.) 1 da. suc. fa. to Leighton and Longnor 1838. d. 22 Nov. 1855.
Steward, Llanfyllin 1818, Welshpool 1818; sheriff, Salop 1849-50.
Panton Plymley, as he was first known, was born at Bank House on the 4,000-acre Longnor estate, which had been in the Corbett family since the reign of Henry VI. It became his father’s on the death of his maternal uncle Robert Corbett (formerly Flint), in accordance with whose will the family assumed the name of Corbett by royal licence, 20 Nov. 1804. Little is known of his early life. His mother, one of the Pantons of Flintshire and Plas Gwyn, Anglesey, died following the birth of his younger brother Uvedale in 1792, and his father, who was made archdeacon of Shropshire that year, soon remarried.1 Corbett became a barrister on the Oxford circuit and, on his marriage in 1814, made his home at his father’s subsidiary estate of Leighton, on the Shropshire-Montgomeryshire border. This brought him to the attention of the 1st earl of Powis’s son Lord Clive*, who appointed him high steward of the Powis Castle boroughs of Llanfyllin and Welshpool.2 At the 1819 by-election he was put forward on the corporation interest for Shrewsbury, whose representation his ancestor Sir Richard Corbett had relinquished in 1754 to the Clives. He spent £2,000, but ‘refused to bribe’ and was defeated by ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton of Halston.3 According to his maiden aunt Katharine Plymley, whose diaries detail Corbett’s early parliamentary career, his father cautioned:
A person of very large fortune, without direct bribery might by constant attention and proper agents secure a return. But our situation is very different. We have not that great fortune and you did not seek the representation as a personal advantage, but were willing to take it as a duty; and it is one of the duties of men of independent fortunes to serve in Parliament if called upon ... M.P.s of your fortune leave their families in the country and live in cheap lodgings, dining in the coffee house of the Commons five days in the week and visiting their friends the other two. But you would not like to leave your family, you must therefore have taken a small house in London, but then you would see them only in the mornings for five days in the week and be kept up till 12 or 1 o’clock or later very many of those days; so that it is an uncomfortable thing to the rest of the family to have its master Member of Parliament.4
Undeterred and assisted by his father and brothers, Corbett retained his election committee, cultivated his interest and came in with Henry Grey Bennet, the sitting radical Whig, after only a show of opposition at the general election of 1820.5 He arrived in London, where Uvedale, a barrister and expert in election law, lent him his Gower Street house for the session, 25 Apr., and went directly to the Commons to take the oath.6 Despite his refusal to give specific pledges, his constituents expected him to support Lord Liverpool’s administration and oppose Catholic relief; but it soon became apparent that he was plagued by indecision and determined to vote on each question ‘to the best of my judgement without consideration of popularity’, so much so that Edward John Stanley* described him in February 1821 as ‘a good Whig’.7 According to a radical publication of 1825, he ‘attended frequently and voted sometimes with and sometimes against ministers’.8 An infrequent speaker, he favoured criminal law reform, corn law revision, reform of Scotland’s representation and the enfranchisement of the large manufacturing towns, and he could be relied on to support the campaign against colonial slavery; but he prevaricated over the Catholic question and the economies proposed by opposition.
Writing to his father, who set great store by the political conduct of his old friend William Wilberforce*, Corbett explained how he came to vote with administration for the continued use of admiralty droits as civil list revenue, 5 May 1820:
I went into the House very undecided, thought Brougham’s speech very able, but after hearing Canning I made up my mind to vote against it and was afterwards fortified in that determination by what C.W. Wynn said; I hope I decided right; I had called upon Mr. Wilberforce that morning, in hopes of hearing his opinion, but I could not see him, and he was not in the House.9
Accounting for his failure to vote on the appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May, he said that he
went into the library and read carefully through some papers calculated to throw light upon the subject before he went into the debate, and, as these did not appear to him sufficient ground for the motion, yet not being able entirely to make up his mind to oppose it, he walked out of the House.10
He wrote of his maiden speech, in favour of appointing a select committee on agricultural distress, 30 May:
At past two this morning [31 May] I began by stating that I did not like to give a silent vote upon a question of such importance. That I thought the House would not do its duty if it did not take some notice of the very numerous petitions that had been presented from all parts of the country complaining of distress, which I knew to exist, that I was not very sanguine of being able to do any great good by inquiry, nor should I pledge myself to support any specific measure for relief, but I thought we were called upon to make an inquiry, and the motion ... called for no more. I particularly wished it to be understood that in giving my vote for the appointment of a committee, I did not do it with any intention of setting up the agriculturist in opposition to the manufacturer and tradesman, for I considered their interest so inseparably united that one could not be relieved at the expense of the other.11
His minority vote for economies in revenue collection, 4 July, prompted his half-brother Robert, who was anxious for ministerial preferment, to remark, ‘I am glad his name is so recorded, though it would have been much more pleasant if it had been in a majority on the same side of the question’. He accompanied Grey Bennet to a meeting on prison discipline addressed by Wilberforce, 23 May 1820, and was elected a director of the African Institution that month.12 At Lichfield and Longnor during the summer recess he saw to county and corporation business, and attended the assizes, races, hunt and other social occasions.13
He had been quick to condemn Queen Caroline’s decision to return to England, feeling that ‘something decisive must be done, she must either be acknowledged queen, or be put upon her trial’.14 In November 1820, when the bill of pains and penalties was dropped, he thought ministers should have ‘inverted it, which would have saved this discussion in the House, and much violence out of doors, and ... made ministers stand very high’.15 Addressing the Shropshire county meeting, 10 Jan. 1821, he spoke in favour of adopting the ‘moderate’ loyal address to the king, which was denounced by Grey Bennet and its opponents as a declaration of support for ministers.16 He divided against censuring their handling of the queen’s case, 6 Feb., and restoring her name to the liturgy, 13 Feb., but he was chagrined to have differed from Wilberforce and wrote of his own conduct:
I often feel, from want of decision and confidence in my own judgement, and from inability to speak, that I am not at all fit for the situation I am placed in, and am sometimes tempted to wish I had declined what appeared to me at the time so flattering an offer; but then again I think this wish wrong, when I reflect that had I not attended to the call (and my friends would have said that I might easily be in Parliament) I should probably have regretted it myself. Therefore, I at last came to the conclusion that I ought to be thankful and endeavour to do my duty as well as I can.17
On reform, he had no qualms about voting to transfer Grampound’s franchise to Leeds, 12 Feb. 1821,18 and to reform the Scottish representation, 2 June 1823, 13 Apr. 1826, but he divided against the radical Hume’s motion to disqualify ordnance officials from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr. 1821, and seems to have refrained from voting on proposals for a general reform. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, but observed, ‘I cannot say I am sorry the motion was carried, and shall be glad to hear what will be proposed in the committee’.19 He cast a wayward vote for inquiry into the conduct of the Allies towards Naples, 21 Feb., critical ones on expenditure, 14 Mar., 11 Apr., 4, 14, 28 May, and divided for the repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., when government pressure secured its defeat. He voted in Baring’s minority for inquiry into the currency, 9 Apr. 1821, but against Western’s, 12 June 1823. His father, who was with him in London in April 1821, noted that: ‘last night (13 Apr.) he divided three times for and once against government’.20 In October 1821 they were instrumental in securing the return of the anti-Catholic Tory Rowland Hill for the vacant Shropshire seat.21
When Charles Williams Wynn became president of the India board as part of the 1822 Grenvillite accession, Archdeacon Corbett proposed his re-election for Montgomeryshire and Robert Corbett was promised a clerkship in his private office, care being taken throughout the protracted negotiations to ensure that Panton’s parliamentary independence was not thereby compromised.22 He left his family at Lichfield and was described as ‘very thin’ and in poor health throughout the 1822 session. He divided with government on distress and taxation, 11, 21 Feb., but against them to lower the duty on salt, 28 Feb., and for admiralty reductions, 1 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May. He maintained that he went to the House ‘to vote against Lord Normanby’s motion’ on this, 13 Mar., but changed his mind ‘after hearing the arguments on both sides’. He also mentioned that he would have set aside personal considerations of loyalty to Williams Wynn and divided with opposition for inquiry into the duties of the India board, had they presented a stronger case, 14 Mar.23 At the Shropshire landowners’ meeting which petitioned for government action to alleviate distress, 25 Mar., he argued against abolishing the sinking fund and explained that he had ‘voted for reduction and retrenchment in several instances, and for a remission of taxation’ on the specific assumption that it would be retained. He defended his decision to vote ‘fearlessly and conscientiously’ and praised those landlords who had assisted their tenantry by reducing rents.24 He presented a Shrewsbury petition for repeal of the leather duties, 1 May.25 He voted for revision of the criminal code, 4 June 1822. He attended the Shropshire by-election in November, when his preferred candidate William Lacon Childe* desisted, with the social reformer Robert Aglionby Slaney*, and returned to London for the session, 3 Feb. 1823.26 He presented and endorsed Shrewsbury’s petitions against the Insolvent Debtors Act, 18 Feb., 14 Mar.27 He voted to reduce expenditure on the Royal Military College, 10 Mar., reaffirmed his support for the sinking fund, 3, 13 Mar., and divided for renewal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. He was in the government minority against inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. He voted to abolish punishment by whipping, 30 Apr., and to equalize the duties on East and West Indian sugars, 22 May 1823. During the recess he met the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society Thomas Clarkson at Longnor and agreed to assist him in Montgomeryshire and to promote their parliamentary campaign.28
Corbett took a house in Somerset Street for the 1824 session, but illness soon caused him to return to his father-in-law in Lichfield.29 On 30 Mar. he voted to have the reports of the Scottish judicial inquiry referred to a committee of the whole House. He presented Shrewsbury’s petition against the Bristol town dues bill, 15 Apr.30 He obtained gallery seats for Robert and the Shrewsbury corporator William Jones and sat with them throughout the debate on Brougham’s motion condemning the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June, which he divided for and reported in detail to his father.31 He voted for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. The Powis Castle eisteddfod in Welshpool and Montgomery Canal business occupied him during the recess.32 He divided against the usury laws repeal bill, 17 Feb. 1825. He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., but though ‘present during the whole of the debate’ he refrained from voting on Catholic relief, 6 Mar., 21 Apr.; Edward Littleton* considered him one of six erstwhile anti-emancipationists won over by Plunket’s speech.33 Accounting for his conduct in a private letter to the printers of the anti-Catholic Salopian Journal he explained:
I voted for the [Irish] elective franchise bill because I was convinced that independently of the Catholic question it was calculated to remove a very great evil. On the subject of paying the Catholic clergy, I felt much difficulty, but upon the best consideration I could give the question I voted for the resolution upon the conviction that should the emancipation bill pass, paying the clergy would be the strongest security to the Protestant establishment, as it would give the government much influence over them and decrease their influence with their flocks. I regret exceedingly that there should be any difference of opinion on such an important question between so large and respectable a body of my constituents and myself, for whose opinions I entertain the highest respect, and hope they will give me credit for not changing any opinion without serious reflection, and that I possess in common with them, the most anxious desire to maintain the Protestant religion and church establishment at the Reformation ... I am sorry that I cannot vote against the third reading, as so many of my constituents wish it, but I am willing to pay every attention to their opinion, and therefore, unless I feel from conviction compelled to vote for the third reading, I shall not vote at all.34
He reiterated his views on presenting Shrewsbury’s petition against concessions, 6 May, and, despite the hostility he knew it would generate, he did not vote on the third reading, 10 May.35 He presented Shrewsbury’s petition in favour of the county courts bill, 25 Apr.36 He divided with Wolryche Whitmore for corn law revision, 28 Apr., and presented and endorsed the Shrewsbury brewers’ petition against altering the beer duties, 6 May.37 He divided against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 27 May-10 June, and for the spring guns bill, 21 June, and was instrumental in securing the passage of the Montgomery and Pool poor bill, which the Clives and Williams Wynn endorsed; but he failed to secure the committal of the Shrewsbury poor bill which Clive opposed, 2 May 1825.38 Corbett presented anti-slavery petitions procured by his father from Ellesmere, 1 Mar., and Shrewsbury, 14 Mar. 1826. He had no qualms about voting to condemn the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and was named to the select committee on the slave trade in Mauritius, 9 May.39 He divided against government on the army estimates, 10 Mar., and Huskisson’s board of trade salary, 10 Apr., presented petitions for a reduction in the malt duty from Shrewsbury, 22 Mar., and Ellesmere, 10 Apr.,40 and voted for Whitmore’s corn bill, 18 Apr., and against the government’s measure, 11 May 1826. In Shrewsbury, at the general election in June, he resisted all attempts to make him promise to oppose Catholic relief, reaffirmed his commitment to the ‘Protestant religion’ and topped the poll ahead of Slaney, whom he had tacitly supported, and the Ultra, Thomas Boycott of Rudge.41
Corbett divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He voted for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., to disfranchise Penryn for electoral corruption, 28 May, to limit election expenses, 28 May, and for the grant for Canadian waterways, 12 June 1827. He divided against the Coventry magistracy bill, 11, 18 June. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827.42 Tierney, master of the mint in the Goderich ministry, included him on his list of possible members of the finance committee, but he was not appointed to it. He presented Shrewsbury’s petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 Feb., and endorsed the measure but failed to vote for it, 26 Feb. 1828.43 He supported the Shropshire maltsters’ campaign for revision of the 1827 regulations governing the steeping of barley and criticized them as ‘injurious to the maltsters without producing advantage to the revenue’, 27 Feb. He voted against sluicing the franchise at East Retford, 21 Mar. He was in the minority against the small notes bill, 5 June. He presented and endorsed Shrewsbury’s petition against slavery, 18 June 1828. As the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary Planta predicted, Corbett divided ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. Commending both the Catholic relief and Irish franchise bills, 27 Mar., he approved their ‘simplicity ... clearness’ and ‘advantages of not making the government a party in any degree to the errors of the Romish Church’, adding:
I should never have been satisfied with any bill unless it was introduced on the responsibility of government. That is now done, and I rejoice to find the details of the bill are such as are consistent with the principles on which I support it.
He delegated to Robert the task of responding to his critics in Shrewsbury, where it was rumoured that he had been ‘bought off’ with a place on the India board.44 He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. He presented the Salopian Provident Society’s petition against the friendly societies bill, 11 May, and assisted with the Oldbury Common enclosure bill, which received royal assent, 1 June 1829.45 Corbett voted against Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 18 Feb., but for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He divided for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May, and for the grant for South American missions, 7 June. He voted to restrict on-consumption under the locally contentious sale of beer bill, 21 June, 1 July. Slaney and others attributed his defeat at the general election in August 1830 to his decision to remain in London to attend to parliamentary business in the week following the death of George IV instead of hurrying to Shrewsbury to spend and canvass.46 He retired ‘proud to have assisted in the repeal of the Test Acts and Catholic emancipation’ and ‘still upholding my opinions [that] to preserve this great country glorious and free you must progress in education, in commerce, and in the extension of civil and religious freedom’.47
Corbett seconded Williams Wynn’s nomination at the Montgomeryshire by-election of December 1830, necessitated by his appointment as the Grey ministry’s war secretary.48 At the 1831 general election, he declined to stand for Shrewsbury, supported the anti-reformers in Shropshire, and fostered the Wynnstay and Powis Castle interests in Montgomeryshire, where he was vice-chairman of the sessions. He organized a successful petitioning campaign to have Llanfyllin included in the enlarged Montgomery District constituency created by the 1832 Reform Act, but failed to have its ‘ancient voting rights’ restored.49 Proclaiming independence and refusing to give pledges or cast ‘blind votes’, he contested the Montgomery District as a Conservative in April 1833 and in 1837, but was narrowly defeated both times by the Liberal, John Edwards.50 He succeeded his father in 1838, and following the death without issue in 1843 of his elder son Richard, he sold Leighton to Christopher Leyland and carried out major alterations at Longnor, supervised by the architect Edward Haycock.51 ‘Although not a good speaker’, Corbett’s thorough knowledge of sessions law and the support of the Clives secured him the vice-chairmanship of the Shropshire bench in 1850, when his term as sheriff was complete.52 He died at Longnor in November 1855 after a long illness, recalled as ‘diligent and conscientious in the discharge of such public business as devolved upon him’.53 He had provided for his widow for life and left real estate valued at £43,984 and his personal property to his only surviving son, Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Corbett (1817-95), Conservative Member for Shropshire South, 1868-77.54
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 555; (1856), i. 87-88.
- 2. PP (1838), xxv. 257, 365; Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Jnl. 23 Nov. 1855.
- 3. VCH Salop, iii. 267-8; E. Edwards, Parl. Elections of Shrewsbury, 20-21; HP Commons, 1715-54, i. 311-12, 577.
- 4. Salop Archives, Corbett of Longnor mss, diary of Katherine Plymley 1066/124, 1 Feb. 1820.
- 5. Ibid. 3 Feb.-10 Mar.; Shrewsbury Chron. 21 Jan., 11 Feb.; Salopian Jnl. 9, 16, 23 Feb., 1, 8, 15 Mar.; The Times, 7 Mar. 1820; Edwards, 20-23.
- 6. Plymley diary 1066/122, 28 Apr. 1820.
- 7. Ibid. 12 May 1820; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 10, Stanley to Denison, 7 Feb. 1821.
- 8. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 458.
- 9. Plymley diary 1066/122, 12 May 1820.
- 10. Ibid. 1066/123, 24, 29 May 1820.
- 11. Ibid. 3 June 1820.
- 12. Ibid. 1066/122, 21 May; 1066/123, 29 May 1820.
- 13. Ibid. 1066/124, 8 July-2 Nov. 1820; 1066/125, 2 Nov. 1820-9 Jan. 1821.
- 14. Ibid. 1066/124, 10 July 1820.
- 15. Ibid. 1066/125, 27 Jan. 1821.
- 16. Salopian Jnl. 3, 10, 17 Jan.; Shrewsbury Chron. 1821.
- 17. Plymley diary 1066/125, 11, 19 Feb. 1821.
- 18. Ibid. 26 Feb. 1821.
- 19. Ibid. 1 Mar. 1821.
- 20. Ibid. 14 Apr. 1821.
- 21. Ibid. 1066/126, 15, 18 Oct.; Shrewsbury Chron. 19 Oct. 1821.
- 22. Shrewsbury Chron. 8, 15, 22 Feb.; Plymley diary 1066/127, 8 Mar. 1822; 1066/130, 5 June; 1066/132, 20 Oct., 24 Nov. 1823.
- 23. Plymley diary 1066/127, undated letter.
- 24. Shrewsbury Chron. 29 Mar. 1822.
- 25. The Times, 2 May 1822.
- 26. Salop Archives, Eyton mss 6003/3, Slaney jnl. 14, 15 Nov. 1822; Plymley diary 1066/129, 3 Feb. 1823.
- 27. The Times, 19 Feb., 15 Mar. 1823.
- 28. Plymley diary 1066/131, 22 Sept.; 1066/132 passim.
- 29. Ibid. 1066/133 14 Feb. 1824.
- 30. The Times, 16 Apr. 1824.
- 31. Plymley diary 1066/133 , 20 June 1824.
- 32. Ibid. 1066/134 passim.
- 33. TNA 30/29/6/3/93.
- 34. Salopian Jnl. 27 Apr., 4, 11, 18, 25 May, 1, 8 June; Plymley diary 1066/135, 4 May 1825.
- 35. The Times, 6 May; Plymley diary 1066/135, 13 May and passim.; Salopian Jnl. 11, 18, 25 May, 1, 8 June 1825.
- 36. The Times, 26 Apr. 1825.
- 37. Ibid. 7 May 1825.
- 38. Ibid. 23 Apr. 1825; CJ, lxxx. 12, 45, 224, 518.
- 39. Plymley diary 1066/36, 7, 17, 19, 28, 31 Jan.; The Times, 2, 15 Mar. 1826.
- 40. The Times, 23 Mar., 11 Apr. 1826.
- 41. Salopian Jnl. 26 Apr., 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 May, 7, 14, 21 June; The Times, 1, 27 May, 12 June; Birmingham Univ. Lib. Eyton mss 185-6; Plymley diary 1066/136, 4 May-10 June; 1066/137, 12-19 June 1826; Edwards, 23-24.
- 42. The Times, 8 June 1827.
- 43. Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug. 1830.
- 44. Salopian Jnl. 11, 18, 25 Mar., 1, 8, 15 Apr. 1829; Salop Archives 840/159/412.
- 45. CJ, lxxxiv. 39, 132, 196, 299, 305, 355.
- 46. NLW, Aston Hall mss C.599; Salop Archives 6001/3059, ‘Henry Pigeon’s Salopian Annals’, vii. 16-24; 6003/6, Slaney jnl. June-Aug.; Shrewsbury Chron. 2, 9, 16, 23 July, 6 Aug. 1830; Salop Archives 840/159/441; D45/1170.
- 47. Edwards, 26.
- 48. Shrewsbury Chron. 17 Dec. 1830.
- 49. Ibid. 29 Apr., 6 May; Salopian Jnl. 4, 11 May, 22 June, 26 Oct., 2 Nov. 1831; PP (1831-2), xli. 133; NLW, Glansevern mss 14037; D.A. Wager, ‘Welsh Politics and Parl. Reform, 1780-1832’, WHR, vii (1974), 437-9.
- 50. Salopian Jnl. 19, 26 Dec. 1832; Shrewsbury Chron. 2 Feb.-12 Apr. 1833, 14, 21, 28 July 1837; B. Ellis, ‘Parl. Rep. Mont. 1728-1832’, Mont. Colls. lxiii (1973), 84-88.
- 51. PROB 11/1901/633; IR26/1479/712; Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 555; VCH Salop, iii. 110; H.T. Weyman, ‘MPs for Shrewsbury’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), xii (1929-30), 250.
- 52. V.J. Walsh, ‘Diary of a Country Gentleman’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. lix (1971-2), 157; H. Johnston, ‘Salop Magistracy and Local Imprisonment: Networks of Power in 19th Cent.’, Midland Hist. xxx (2005), 67-82.
- 53. Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Jnl. 23 Nov.; Shrewsbury Chron. 30 Nov. 1855; Gent. Mag. (1856), i. 87-88.
- 54. PROB 11/2230/274; IR26/2058/343; 4911/73; VCH Salop, iii. 317.