CREEVEY, Thomas (1768-1838).
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Family and Educationb. 5 Mar. 1768, o.s. of William Creevey (d. 1769), capt. of an African slaver, of Liverpool, Lancs. and Phoebe, da. of Robert Prescott of St. Peter’s, Liverpool.1 educ. Newcome’s, Hackney 1780-7; Queens’, Camb. 1787; I. Temple 1789; G. Inn 1791, called 1794. m. 16 June 1802, Eleanor, da. of Charles Brandling† of Gosforth, Northumb., wid. of William Ord of Whitfield Hall, Northumb., s.p. d. 5 Feb. 1838.
Sec. to bd. of control Feb. 1806-Apr. 1807; treas. of ordnance Dec. 1830-July 1834; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1834-d.
The irrepressible Creevey, ‘that old mischief brewer’, whose ‘lively perception of the ridiculous’ entertained his friends but sometimes betrayed him into malevolence, was, as Greville put it in 1829, ‘a living proof that a man may be perfectly happy and exceedingly poor, or rather without riches’.2 In late 1819 he returned to England after a five-year sojourn in Brussels as a 51-year-old widower with no home and little money. He and his three Ord stepdaughters found a base at Rivenhall, near Witham, Essex, which they rented from Creevey’s oldest friend, Charles Western, the Whig county Member.3 In January 1820 he was taken on visits to the country houses of the Whig grandees Lords Essex and Jersey by Henry Brougham* (‘The Archfiend’ or ‘Wicked-shifts’ in Creevey’s lexicon of nicknames), who persuaded him to accompany him to see Queen Caroline at Milan after Easter. At the time of George III’s death at the end of the month he was in his native Liverpool, but he was ‘anxious to be off’ before the dissolution to avoid the chance of being dragged into the ‘mess’ of being put up as a Whig candidate there, as he had been with Brougham in 1812. The death soon afterwards of his aged uncle John Eaton of Edge Hill, Liverpool brought him a half share with his spinster sister Jane in modest local properties.4 At the beginning of the election campaign he composed, for the service of the opposition, a Guide to the Electors of Great Britain, which Brougham, who thought it excellent, tinkered with and had published. In it, Creevey exposed the spoils system, by which 76 Members, servile ministerialists, pocketed £156,000 a year of public money: he drew particular attention to the four-and-a-half per cent Leeward Islands duties, originally intended for repairs to local fortifications but long since appropriated as a pension fund for such as Sir Home Popham†, Charles Long*, the paymaster-general, and Lady Grenville. He demanded greater parliamentary control over the civil list and the removal of pensioners, sinecurists, subordinate placemen and Welsh judges from the Commons. The pamphlet, which Brougham persuaded Burdett to take to the Westminster hustings ‘as his manual’, went down well with the opposition ‘Mountain’, but was ill received at Holland House. Creevey, who felt that the Whig hierarchy deserved their defeat by the ‘odious’ John Hobhouse in Westminster, but believed that opposition would ‘certainly gain’ by the elections, was in late May 1820 returned on a vacancy for Appleby by his friend the 9th earl of Thanet, rather to the disapproval of Tierney, the Whig leader in the Commons, who had been returned there but had opted to sit for Knaresborough.5
Creevey divided against the aliens bill, 1 June 1820. That day, supporting a motion for inquiry into the Welsh judicature, he ‘hacked coarsely but cruelly with a butcher’s knife’, as the Whig Sir James Mackintosh* put it, the chief justice of Chester, Warren, Member for Dorchester, contending that his convenient recantation of his former radical views ‘furnished a strong argument ... to show that the judges should not be allowed to have seats’.6 On 2 June he raised the issue of the Leeward four-and-a-half per cent pensions, in what Lord Yarmouth* considered ‘the most mischief making speech I ever heard’.7 He presented a petition from inhabitants of Coventry complaining of excise prosecutions for selling roasted wheat, 12 June.8 He favoured inquiry into the standing orders on trade bills and was named to the select committee, 14 June, when he voted to reduce the army. He criticized the East India Company volunteers bill, 16, 19 June, 11 July, as ‘part of the military system ministers were establishing throughout the country’;9 and on 16 June 1820 he also spoke and voted against the barracks grant. The ministerialist backbencher Bootle Wilbraham told the former Speaker that Creevey had ‘become a great orator in his old age’.10
He had encouraged Brougham, whom he rightly distrusted, to bring the queen to England, and he became one of her ‘furious partizans’.11 He voted against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution, 22 June, and the appointment of a secret committee on the ‘green bag’ evidence, 26 June 1820. He called for the coronation to be postponed until the investigation was over, 3 July, and on the 6th, in what the backbencher Hudson Gurney thought ‘a tremendous speech’, ruffled feathers by attacking the king and the vice-chancellor, Sir John Leach†, as the queen’s persecutors.12 Planning, after the modest success of his Guide, to produce ‘A History of the Trial of Queen Caroline’, Creevey supplied his favourite stepdaughter Bessy Ord with shrewd, witty and irreverent daily accounts of the proceedings in the Lords, where he sat close to the queen on the right of the throne. He was contemptuous of the ‘insanity’ of Lord Grey and Tierney in distancing themselves from her cause and was confident that the bill of pains and penalties would ‘never pass’. On the motion to prorogue Parliament, 18 Sept., he denounced the measure, demanded an end to the prosecution as ‘the only mode of harmonizing the higher, the middle, and the lower orders of society’ and voted in the minority of 12. The radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* told Brougham that it was ‘a very good speech’, delivered ‘in a calm but firm tone’.13 When the trial resumed in early October Creevey continued his commentary, still convinced that the bill would have to be dropped to avert ‘commotion and bloodshed’. Incensed by Tierney’s feeble resistance to the renewed adjournment of the Commons, 17 Oct., he gave him a piece of his mind and, claiming a resounding success, boasted that ‘I never was so cheered during any speech I have made in Parliament’. The Hollands were ‘in a state of rage at my attack on [Mrs.] Cole’ (as he called Tierney, after a self-righteous brothel-keeper); but he was relieved to find that Thanet considered him ‘quite right’, for he would have felt ‘bound to surrender my seat had we differed about it’. He thought Grey was ‘more provoking in all he does than these villains of ministers’, but accorded him due credit for his ‘magnificent’ speech of 3 Nov.14 Delighted by the abandonment of the bill, 10 Nov., he got drunk, but later reflected that the representative peers and the bishops had ‘nearly destroyed for ever the character of the House of Lords’ and that ‘the people have learnt a great lesson ... how to marshal and organize themselves, and ... the success of their strength’. He ignored a conciliatory ‘little love-letter’ from Lady Holland. On 13 Nov. he went with Western to his Essex home at Felix Hall and helped to orchestrate a celebration by the inhabitants of nearby Kelvedon. When Parliament was peremptorily prorogued, 23 Nov., he joined lustily in the opposition’s cries of ‘Shame’ as ministers and the Speaker filed out of the Commons. He was at St. Paul’s to witness the queen’s thanksgiving visit, 29 Nov. 1820.
Creevey, who on 20 Jan. 1821 made his peace with Lady Holland, at her husband’s request, declined to attend the opposition’s eve of session meeting, but pressed on Brougham ‘the absolute necessity’ of immediately confronting ministers over the ‘outrage offered to the ... Commons by the last prorogation’. He was disgusted when the leaders, guided by the ‘inveterate folly’ of Tierney, decided to do nothing on this and to move ‘a censure upon ministers’, which he saw would only play into their hands. He privately considered the speech from the throne, 23 Jan., as ‘all muggery’, but, a precedent having been found for the summary prorogation, he confined himself in the House to arguing that by taking temporary charge of the board of control after Canning’s resignation, Bragge Bathurst had vacated his seat, and to voting silently against government on the liturgy question. He deemed the administration’s success on this, by 310-209, 26 Jan., ‘a ruinous blow to the character’ of the House, but felt that ministers were not ‘out of the wood yet’ and continued to hope that ‘this blackguard foolish war with the queen will eventually ruin the ministers and produce some great changes in the House of Commons’. On 2 Feb. he ‘discharged my duty to my native town’ by supporting the Liverpool petition (presented by Lord Sefton, of whom Creevey passed himself off as a bastard half-brother) demanding justice for the queen and complaining of corporation interference in elections there. He believed that he ‘never did anything so well’; but the son of the Liverpudlian ministerialist John Gladstone, who answered him, thought that ‘Creevey seems to make a great noise in the House, but without any effect’.15 As a pauper, he ‘had no business’ at the Whig meeting to start a subscription for the queen, 4 Feb., but he was dragged along by his friends. He voted for the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb., was shocked by the size of the government majority, but took pleasure in Brougham’s ‘inimitable performance’ in the debate. He joined in criticism of the conduct of the sheriff of Cheshire at the county meeting in support of the queen, 9, 14 Feb., and moved unsuccessfully for inquiry, 20 Feb. He went with Brougham to dine with the queen at Brandenburgh House, 10 Feb. He was shut out of the division on the liturgy next day, but was in the opposition ranks for those on 15, 20, 22 Feb. 1821.16
Creevey made his greatest impact in the Commons this session by leading, with Grey Bennet, Thomas Davies, Joseph Hume and a few others, an obstructive campaign against the estimates, to the disapproval of the opposition front bench, which he called ‘Rotten Row’.17 He hinted at this, 26 Jan. 1821, and on 2 Feb., abetted by Grey Bennet, enjoyed ‘a great field day’ by dividing the House five times against going into committee of supply (they were beaten by 41-11 on each occasion) in protest at the practice of voting away millions of public money on the nod without detailed estimates. He also goaded Bragge Bathurst into ‘a great passion’
to the convulsion of Sefton and my other ten bottle-holders with laughing. It was considered a most successful exposure of the honourable House, the big Whigs of course are horrified at the radical nature of the proceedings, but the great mass are quite enchanted, and only mortified they were not there ... Bennet tells me Lord Grey told him he quite approved of what I did, which pleases me much. Old Cole is furious with me.18
On 9 Feb. he attacked corruption, the 72 Members who held places or pensions and the so-called ‘independent Members’ whose ‘families were quartered upon the country, and lived upon the taxes’. He divided the House against renewal of the sugar duties and, despite the accidental absence of Sefton and others, was ‘quite content’ with his minority of 48 (against 81). When unsuccessfully opposing the second reading of the malt duties bill, 14 Feb., he made what Grey Bennet called a ‘droll speech’ in which he mocked Sir George Warrender*, ‘a sinecure and sham lord of the admiralty’, who had threatened to serve him out for obstructing the supplies, as a former ‘tip-top patriot’. Warrender demanded a written apology, but the quarrel was settled without recourse to violence.19 He divided the House (59-22) against the Scottish admiralty court clerks’ compensation bill, 15 Feb., and questioned the lord advocate about a bill to regulate the court of session, 16 Feb., when Grey Bennet noted that his recent conduct was ‘beyond all praise’.20 Creevey voted against government on the suppression of the liberal regime in Naples, 21 Feb., raised ministerial hackles by attacking chief justice William Best† as ‘a political judge’, 23 Feb., and voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb.21 He continued the campaign against the casual voting of vast sums: on 9 Mar., for example, he opposed going into committee of supply with an amendment calling for a reduction in the number of placemen in order to create ‘an independent and disinterested House of Commons’; he was defeated by 172-38. On 6 Apr. he got 36 votes against 120 for inquiry into placemen and the recent dismissal from the household of Lord Fife* for voting against government on the malt duty.22 By then Tierney had resigned as leader, partly out of frustration at ‘the violent course’ pursued by Creevey and his cronies, who were now seen as a self-styled ‘economical committee’ bent on conducting a ‘Pindari warfare’. One wag, observing that ‘when Hume concludes an abusive speech Creevey commences another’, commented that ‘Creevey should be called Smollett as he was a continuation of Hume’.23 He complained on 30 Apr. that the House had been six weeks on the army estimates ‘without a single reduction to show for it’; his amendment for a cut was lost by 55-22. He advocated admiralty economies, 4 May, so that ‘the minor servants of government would not be admitted into Parliament to determine on the extent of their own emoluments’. He presented victims’ petitions for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 15 May, and voted in that sense next day.24 His motions for proper use of the Leewards four-and-a-half per cents, 21, 24 May, when Grey Bennet thought he delivered ‘a good speech to which no answer was really made’, were rejected by majorities of 28 and 21.25 He paired for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May. He was a steady opponent of the duke of Clarence’s grant in June, and on the 29th was reprimanded by the Speaker for referring to the ‘ferocious manner’ in which the duke had pronounced his sister-in-law guilty in November 1820.26 He voted for Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June, after savaging ‘with great success’ Henry Bankes’s compromise amendment, in what Grey Bennet considered ‘a humorous and bitter speech’.27 On 3 July he praised Hume’s efforts to secure economies, claimed that as a result the House was ‘in progress to do a great deal of good’ and, although he had not voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9, 10 May, commended the transfer of Grampound’s seats to Yorkshire because ‘it recognized the principle that population and property had a claim to representation’. According to Grey Bennet, he went to the Commons on 10 July 1821 intending to announce the queen’s determination to attend the coronation but, frustrated by a protracted discussion of petitions and ‘being engaged to dine, preferred his dinner to his speech and left the House’.28
Creevey had ‘an infernal lump in my throat’ over the death of the queen and was inclined privately to accuse Brougham of exploiting her case for his own selfish ends. He voted for the amendment to the address, 5 Feb., against the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 7, 8 Feb., and for more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb. 1822. He considered the division on the 11th, when ministers mustered only 212 votes to 108, ‘a most extraordinary one’. He divided in protest at Sir Robert Wilson’s* dismissal from the army, 13 Feb., and for inquiry into the Scottish burghs, 20 Feb., and continued to vote steadily for economies and tax cuts. On 27 Feb. he drew attention to the operation of the 1817 Civil Offices Compensation Act, which he condemned as one to ‘incorporate the dealers and traders in politics ... into a ... corporation ... with the same precise and methodical division of the profits of the concern that always takes place in any other trading body’, and attacked Henry Bankes and the 1817 finance committee. He told his stepdaughter:
My benefit went off ... as well as possible. The ‘front row’ of course could not attend, so I ... occupied it with myself and my books ... I disported myself for upwards of an hour ... Our lads were in ecstasies, and kept shouting and cheering me ... Brougham and Sefton were among my bottle holders, and in common with all our people complimented me hugely.
Mackintosh thought the speech was one of ‘very ingenious and effective mischief, full of sophistry and unfairness, but very galling’.29 On 14 Mar., targeting the Grenvillites, who had recently joined the government, he moved for inquiry into the duties of the officers of the board of control, where three of them had been accommodated in ‘a snug, comfortable family party’. In his reply to the debate, which Mackintosh reckoned was ‘full of Billingsgate and brutality’, he condemned the costly Swiss embassy of Henry Williams Wynn†, brother of the board’s president. He secured 88 votes to 273, but almost half of them, according to Mackintosh, were those of ‘unwilling voters’ committed by Tierney’s premature declaration of support. Mackintosh wrote that Creevey’s opening speech was
full of injustice and malignity but irresistibly droll and very powerfully sarcastic. The calm impudence with which he said the most offensive things and the dry way in which he stated his jests gave an effect to it of which no report can give the least conception.
Samuel Moulton Barrett*, though a political ally, believed that Creevey’s personalities and the feebleness of his reply ‘created a strong feeling of prejudice’ against him and would ‘detract from his talent as a speaker’. Creevey flattered himself that he had ‘made a very good speech ... to the universal satisfaction of the House’, damned Tierney for his ‘hollow support’ and admitted that Canning’s rejoinder had been effective; he regretted that he had let ‘the Joker’ off ‘so easily’, thereby missing a chance to mock his impending ‘banishment to India from want of honesty’.30 He again attacked the Leeward Islands pensions fund, 25, 27 Mar., when his description of the House as ‘degraded’ got him into trouble; he secured minorities of only 22 and 39. Now convinced of the need for parliamentary reform, he voted for Russell’s motion, 25 Apr., and for reception of the Greenhoe petition, 3 June. He divided for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May and was in Wyvill’s minority of 33 for drastic tax cuts, 8 May. He spoke and was a minority teller for inquiry into diplomatic expenditure, deploring Lord Londonderry’s refusal to countenance it, 15 May. He was steady in opposition the following month, voting for repeal of the salt duties, 3, 28 June, and criminal law reform, 4 June; against the aliens bill, 5, 14 June; for inquiries into Irish tithes, 19 June, and chancery administration, 26 June; for Brougham’s motion condemning the influence of the crown, 24 June, and in protest at the lord advocate’s treatment of the Scottish press, 25 June 1822. Next day he moved eight resolutions embodying the case for repeal of the 1817 Pensions Act; the seventh noticed the large stake in it enjoyed by Lord Sidmouth, the former premier and home secretary, and his family. Henry Bankes, who carried the orders of the day against the motion by 143-42, wrote in his journal of Creevey’s performance:
There was a coarse vulgarity of manner and a bitterness of mind, with little regard to correctness ... but he was not deficient in that sort of malevolent sharpness which enabled him to say what men of more gentlemanlike habits would have avoided saying with a pointed and sarcastic force. He used to put me in mind of Sheridan in his worst manner, when he was labouring for wit but could produce nothing beyond ill humour.31
That summer Creevey, who got himself into a ‘damnable mess’ by spreading a story that Lord Hardwicke had been killed by a cricket ball,32 and had no compunction in speaking ill of the suicide of Londonderry (‘a worse, or, if he had talent and ambition for it, a more dangerous man never existed’) published, as ‘A near Observer’, Remarks on the Last Session of Parliament. In this he claimed significant progress as a result of ‘that struggle, which was made by day and night, for a period of nearly four months’ duration, to interrupt the accustomed lavish expenditure of the public money’:
Such an exposure has been made of the House of Commons, such a breaking-in effected upon its modern ways of proceeding, that a practical reform of that body may be considered as begun ... and if supported by the vigilant and active co-operation of the people [it] cannot fail of producing the most important consequences (pp. 1-2)
After a long stay at Cantley, near Doncaster, where his friend and butt Michael Angelo Taylor* and his wife entertained Whigs and the duke of Sussex, Creevey went to Sefton’s seat at Croxteth, near Liverpool, in November 1822. He was astounded and amused to learn from John Lambton, Member for County Durham (‘King Jog’), that ‘all the Whigs are either fools or rogues enough to believe that our monarch is really fond of them, and that ... if we ... could but arrange our matters between ourselves, the sovereign would be happy to send for us’.
Creevey found the part of the king’s speech about the Franco-Spanish conflict, 4 Feb. 1823, ‘much better than I expected’, and had ‘no difficulty’ in persuading Brougham to drop his ‘projected amendment’. Anticipating the start of parliamentary business ‘in earnest’ on 17 Feb., he steeled himself to renew his attack on supply procedure ‘on that or some early day, if my nerves are equal to it; but I find them fail me more and more every day’. In the event he moved an instruction to consider the grievances of the people, which was negatived. He voted against the appointment of a lieutenant-general of the ordnance in peacetime, 19 Feb., when opposition ‘got into a fine mess’ and were trounced. On the 17th, supporting the London reform petition, he had suggested that before debating the subject the House should obtain electoral statistics from the returning officers of the English boroughs. Russell took up this proposal, 20 Feb., when Creevey, who privately considered it ‘admirably suited for mischief’, duly spoke and voted for it. He reported that Russell was ‘exceedingly pleased with the result, and so were all our people, except Brougham, who was not even there’, and whom he suspected of making himself available to an offer from Canning, the new foreign secretary; he concluded three weeks later that Brougham was ‘mad ... to be in power’.33 He voted silently for reform, 26 Mar., 24 Apr., 2 June. He paired for significant tax reductions, 28 Feb., voted in that sense, 3 Mar., and on 7 Mar. moved another unsuccessful amendment calling for retrenchment and the abolition of sinecures. He continued to divide for economies, brought up his old Leeward Islands chestnut, 17 Mar., 9 June, securing 56 and 57 votes, and on 24 Mar. questioned the legality of colonial agents sitting in the Commons. He voted for inquiries into the Irish church establishment, 4 Mar., and the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 24 Mar., 22 Apr. He was one of the dozen Members who followed Burdett out of the House in protest when Plunket, the Whig turncoat Irish attorney-general, opened the debate on the Catholic question, 17 Apr.34 On 14 Apr. he uttered ‘repeated shouts’ to encourage Brougham in his ‘licking’ of Canning on the Spanish question. A fortnight later he again buried the hatchet with Lady Holland, who had sent out peace feelers through Sefton. He voted for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into chancery delays, 5 June. On 28 May he called for improved regulation of juries to prevent undue interference by the crown office, and he voted for the Scottish juries bill, 20 June. His objections to proceeding with the law merchant bill at the dead of night, were disregarded, 7 July 1823.
Creevey, who spent ‘a most agreeable’ late summer with Sefton at Stoke Farm, near Windsor, and joined him at Croxteth towards the end of the year, was increasingly seduced by the luxurious attractions of fashionable Whig society in London and the country. As a generally welcome guest, he moved with assured ease in this world and chronicled its foibles, scandals and splendours with impish objectivity. At Kinnaird’s, 10 Feb. 1824, he ‘cracked my jokes with such success that old Rat Warrender was compelled to ask me to drink wine with him’; and at the end of the month he made his ‘long owing visit’ to Holland House. He is not known to have spoken in debate that session, when he voted for reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb.; to accuse lord chancellor Eldon of a breach of privilege, 1 Mar.; for repeal of the window tax, 2 Mar.; to act on the findings of the Scottish judicial commission, 30 Mar.; against the aliens bill, 2 Apr., and the grant for new churches, 9 Apr.; for inquiry into Ireland, 11 May, and better use of Irish first fruits revenues, 25 May, and to condemn the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. From Cantley in September 1824 he went to Lambton Castle, where Hobhouse met and took a dim view of him:
He seemed to me a very wag, and one who would let no principle of any kind stand in the way of his joke. When he had no jest to excite laughter he tried grimaces ... Of Creevey’s superior abilities there can be no doubt. He had a strong and a quick memory ... Raillery of the present and detraction of the absent were his weapons for general talk; but when serious he showed sound and honest views ... and discovered qualities which might adorn a higher character than he had endeavoured to acquire.35
His year’s end visit to Croxteth was punctuated with excursions to Lord Derby’s at Knowsley and Colonel Hughes’s at Kinmel; and at the turn of the year, after coming to a tentative arrangement with his sister over his need to raise money on his moiety of the Eaton inheritance to pay some modest debts, he went to his friends the Ferguson brothers at Raith, Fifeshire. News of the death of Thanet in France in late January 1825 raised doubts about his continuance in his seat: he told Bessy Ord that not only was he unconcerned, but the event ‘makes a great difference in my feelings as to parliamentary attendance. It was due to him to be at my post; I feel no such obligation to the present earl or my dear constituents’. On his way south he called at Raby Castle (Lord Darlington’s) and Cantley, where he perceived that the Taylors ‘without saying a word to me are at work for a seat for me’.36 He voted against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., but disliked the proposed disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders, against which he voted, 26 Apr., 9 May.37 Opposing the payment of Catholic priests, 29 Apr., he argued that it must be done, if at all, from church revenues, for ‘he voted for Catholic emancipation ... not as a favour, but as a matter of right’. He did not vote for relief, 10 May. He presented petitions against the Liverpool and Manchester railway bill, 17 Mar., 30 May, and as a member of the committee on it acted shamelessly in the local interests of Sefton and Derby to scupper that ‘infernal nuisance, the locomotive monster’.38 He paired for repeal of the window tax, 17 May, and on the 30th spoke and voted against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, a ‘gross ... outrage’. He divided for the St. Olave tithe bill, 6 June, and for inquiry into chancery delays, 7 June 1825. Creevey was aware of and resented Brougham’s attempts to appropriate his seat for a brother when a dissolution was anticipated in September. Darlington, who was alerted by Mrs. Taylor, could do nothing to help Creevey immediately, but promised him ‘the first vacancy which happened in any seat of his’. In the event the dissolution was postponed and Creevey told Bessy Ord that until the following July at least ‘we can go on defrauding the public by not paying for any letters we write’ and reflected that ‘it is a funny thing, if after all, my conduct about the Catholics, which according to Brougham played the devil with my parliamentary prospects, is in some measure connected with my stealing another year out of ... Appleby’.39
That autumn Creevey composed two Letters to Lord John Russell on parliamentary reform in which, drawing on Prynne, he argued that the ‘original constitution’ of Parliament had been ‘subverted and reversed’ by changes since the fifteenth century. After scrutiny by Brougham, the Letters were published in 1826. Russell thought them ‘excellent, and calculated to do good when money ceases to be uppermost in everyone’s thoughts’, though he had reservations about some of the technical arguments; Creevey dismissed him as ‘a conceited little puppy’, jealous of the pamphlet’s success. He was indignant at Brougham’s ‘perfidy and villainy’ in delaying its promised notice in the Edinburgh Review. His brother-in-law Charles Brandling, Member for Northumberland, died on 1 Feb. 1826 and he went to Gosforth for the funeral. While there he played a part in starting Brandling’s nephew Bell for the county and he remained on the spot for a month to assist in his successful contest against the Tory Liddell. He accompanied Bell to London in mid-March.40 He voted for reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. On 18 Apr. he divided for revision of the corn laws and on 2 May was in the ministerial majority for the emergency admission of warehoused corn, on which he differed amicably with Sefton; he rejoiced in the ‘complete defeat of both squires and lords’ and believed that ‘in a new Parliament Canning and Huskisson may effect whatever revolution they like in the corn laws’.41 He presented a Dublin Catholics’ petition for emancipation, 21 Apr.42 He was ‘perfectly convinced’ that the ‘clique of prigs and villains’, Russell, Brougham, Hobhouse and Burdett, intended to ‘play foul by me’ on Russell’s reform motion of 27 Apr. by disregarding his pamphlet, despite promises to make use of it. So it proved, though Hobhouse did insert a brief favourable notice of it in the published version of his speech.43 Creevey cast a silent vote for reform, as he did for Hume’s motion on the state of the nation, 4 May 1826. At the general election the following month Appleby was not made available to him, but he was led to believe that in the event of Brougham’s success in Westmorland (of which Brougham spoke confidently) the seat held in reserve for him at Darlington’s borough of Winchelsea would be his. He was required to go to Winchelsea to represent the other candidate, Grey’s son Lord Howick, who was fighting a hopeless contest for Northumberland. This he did with a good grace, but as Creevey had known would happen all along, Brougham was humiliated by the Lowthers in Westmorland.44
Thus Creevey had no part in the 1826 or 1830 Parliaments, though there was idle talk of his coming in for Winchelsea in January 1830, when Brougham, embarrassed by Darlington’s adhesion to government, transferred to the Knaresborough seat made vacant by Tierney’s death. No offer was made, and in any case Creevey could hardly have accepted one in the circumstances.45 In June 1830 he was too hasty in rejecting the ‘comical suggestion’ of his old friend Lord Radnor that he should come in for Downton at the impending general election. Repenting at leisure, with some bitterness, he told Bessy Ord that while a seat ‘would not add to my happiness’, it ‘would be some little triumph over other mean devils ... afford the privilege of franking and ... amuse the children to have the "decayed Member" restored’.46 He continued his wandering existence (which took in visits to the Tory stronghold of Lowther Castle in August 1827 and to Whig houses in Ireland in the autumn of 1828) and kept up his lively commentary on the political and social scene. Like Grey, with whom he got on well, he was one of the ‘Malignants’ who deplored the Lansdowne Whigs’ junctions with Canning and Lord Goderich in 1827; the affair temporarily poisoned even his relationship with Sefton. He despised and condemned Brougham’s conduct at this time.47 In September 1829 Greville had this to say of ‘Old Creevey’, who was ‘rather an extraordinary character’:
He possesses nothing but his clothes, no property of any sort; he leads a vagrant life, visiting a number of people who are delighted to have him, and sometimes roving about to various places, as fancy happens to direct, and staying till he has spent what money he has in his pocket. He has no servant, no home, no creditors; he buys everything as he wants it at the place he is at; he has no ties upon him, and has his time entirely at his own disposal and that of his friends ... he suffers none of the privations of poverty and enjoys many of the advantages of wealth. I think he is the only man I know in society who possesses nothing.48
When he came to power in November 1830 Grey, prompted by Brougham and Sefton, earmarked Creevey for the treasurership of the ordnance. Creevey’s only reservation was that ‘if it is to be made a point that I am to be in the House of Commons, I can’t and won’t go there if I am to vote against reform’. At first it seemed that there would be no need for him to be in the House, but the plan began to look ‘very ill’ when Grey told Brougham that ‘he was so beset by people who insisted upon the necessity of the person who held the office being in Parliament, that he could not give it to me’. However, Brougham argued Creevey’s case and Grey got the king’s permission for him to take the place without a seat for the time being, and ‘of his own unsolicited and free will’ promised him ‘the first seat ... that he had at his disposal’. Creevey was delighted, not least with the remuneration of £1,200 a year, and he was flattered to be invited by Russell to consult with Lord Althorp*, the chancellor of the exchequer, on what savings could be made in public salaries.49 Hobhouse noted (with approval) that Creevey’s and the other ordnance appointments were ‘generally disapproved’; and there was speculation that vengeful Tories might attack his ‘lucrative’ elevation, but nothing came of it.50 Creevey, whose name was ‘wrong spelt ... Creevy’ in the patent, was critical of the government’s ‘blundering’ budget, but in ‘raptures’ with their reform bill, unveiled on 1 Mar. 1831:
It was all very well for an historian like Thomas Creevey to lay down the law, as he did in his pamphlet, that all these rotten nomination boroughs were modern usurpations, and that the communities of all substantial boroughs were by law the real electors; but here is a little fellow ... Lord John Russell ... who, without talking of law or anything else, creates in fact a perfectly new House of Commons, quite in conformity to the original formation of that body ... What a coup it is! It is its boldness that makes its success certain.51
He was supposed to take a seat for Cleveland’s borough of Ilchester in April, but this fell through; and at the general election precipitated by the defeat of the reform bill Radnor returned him for Downton, where he was not required to show his face.52
Creevey is not known to have uttered a syllable in debate during the 1831 Parliament (the House, populated by ‘a set of low devils’, filled him with ‘disgust’); but as a ministerial underling he was steady in the lobbies in his support for the details and principle of the re-introduced and final reform bills. In November 1831 he visited the ordnance survey office in Ireland.53 He was of course in the ministerial majorities on all other major issues: reflecting on their narrow squeak on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832, he commented that ‘we are bunglers when we quit the subject of reform’. On the resignation of the government over the king’s refusal to create enough peers to force reform through the Lords, 9 May, he observed that William IV ‘cuts a damnable figure’ and resigned himself to the loss of his place:
All that I have to hope is that there will be the same dawdling in making out my successor’s patent as there was in making out mine. I regret certainly the loss of position and of doing agreeable things to myself with my official resources; but it was quite an unexpected windfall to me, has lasted much longer than I expected, and the recollection of the manner in which it fell to my lot will always be most agreeable to me. And so there’s an end to the business, and it will never affect me more.
He was reprieved by his friend the duke of Wellington’s failure to cobble together a reform administration, a ‘false move ... which ... has saved the country from confusion, and perhaps the ... monarchy from destruction’. After witnessing the third reading of the reform bill in the Lords, 4 June 1832, he counted it as ‘the third great event of my life at which I have been present, and ... to a certain degree mixed up [in]’, after Waterloo and the queen’s trial.
Downton was disfranchised by the Reform Act. Creevey was led to believe in June 1832 that he would be started for the new metropolitan district of Finsbury at the forthcoming general election, but he was not. In November 1832 ministers, hinting that ‘my place would be more usefully filled by a House of Commons man’, tried to tempt him with the ‘place for life’ of receiver-general of the Isle of Man - ‘salary £500 - residence in the said romantic island nine months only out of twelve’. Creevey, who franked his last letter on 1 Dec. 1832, laughed in their faces. His ordnance post was abolished in 1834, but before he resigned the premiership in July that year Grey got him the snug place of commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, worth £600 a year with a free house, coal and candles. Creevey called it ‘the most agreeable finishing touch to my political life’.54 He was ‘charmed’ by his apartments and planned to live there for at least half the year with one or more of his stepdaughters, writing his projected history of his times. By the will of Jane Creevey, who died in Liverpool in July 1835, he acquired a small additional income from a corporation annuity and rents on local urban properties.55 He died ‘suddenly’ at his London lodgings at 17 Jermyn Street in February 1838. Lady Holland wrote that ‘his life was useful and valuable to many; and his wit and agremens made him a most agreeable member of society’, while Lord Melbourne later told Greville that he had been ‘very shrewd, but exceedingly bitter and malignant’.56 By his brief will, dated 5 Aug. 1835 (immediately after the settlement of his sister’s affairs), he directed his executors to sell his Liverpool property to pay in the first instance debts to friends amounting to £1,000, with any surplus and the residue of his personal estate to go to Mrs. Emma Murray, his companion at 17 Jermyn Street for several years. His effects were sworn under a meagre £450 and his estate was noted to be ‘insolvent’ in 1841.57
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
Based, unless otherwise stated, on Creevey Pprs. ed. Sir H. Maxwell (1904 edn.) and Creevey’s Life and Times ed. J. Gore (1937 edn.).
- 1. IGI (Lancs.).
- 2. Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, 23 Mar. ; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 80-81; Greville Mems. i. 320. See Oxford DNB.
- 3. Greville Mems. i. 320.
- 4. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 17 Feb. 1820; PROB 11/1630/346.
- 5. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 17 Apr.; Add. 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland [12 Apr. 1820].
- 6. Add. 52444, f. 125.
- 7. Add. 60286, f. 202.
- 8. The Times, 13 June 1820.
- 9. Ibid. 20 June 1820.
- 10. Colchester Diary, iii. 143.
- 11. Add. 52444, f. 133.
- 12. Gurney diary, 6 July .
- 13. Brougham mss, Bennet to Brougham [19 Sept. 1820].
- 14. Add. 51579, Morpeth to Lady Holland, 22 Oct. 1820.
- 15. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 11; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 192, T. to J. Gladstone, 14 Feb. 1821.
- 16. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 122; Grey Bennet diary, 19.
- 17. Grey Bennet diary, 122.
- 18. Ibid. 11-12; The Times, 7 Feb. 1821.
- 19. Grey Bennet diary, 14, 37.
- 20. The Times, 17 Feb. 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 21, 22.
- 21. The Times, 24 Feb. 1821.
- 22. Colchester Diary, iii. 217.
- 23. NLS Acc. 10655, Abercromby memo. bk. [Mar.]; Harrowby mss, Castlereagh to Harrowby, 8 Mar.; Trinity Coll. Lib. Camb. Dawson Turner mss DT2/K2/3; Dorset RO, Bond mss D/BoH C16, Jekyll to Bond, 20 Mar.; Cumbria RO, Bagot mss, Wellesley Pole to Bagot, 17 May 1821.
- 24. The Times, 16 May 1821.
- 25. Ibid. 22 May 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 86.
- 26. Grey Bennet diary, 112.
- 27. Ibid. 108.
- 28. Ibid. 116.
- 29. Add. 52445, f. 56.
- 30. Add. 52445, ff. 66-67; HLRO, HC Lib. Ms 89, Moulton Barrett diary, 14 Mar. .
- 31. Dorset RO D/BKL Bankes jnl. 139 (26 June 1822).
- 32. Blakiston, Lord William Russell, 71.
- 33. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 21 Feb. 1823.
- 34. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 17 Apr. .
- 35. Broughton, iii. 80-81.
- 36. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 7, 19 Feb. 1825.
- 37. Broughton, iii. 93; Buckingham, ii. 242.
- 38. The Times, 18 Mar.; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 10 Mar. 1825.
- 39. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 6 Sept. 1825.
- 40. Ibid. Creevey to Miss Ord, 11 Feb.-11 Mar.; Grey mss, Creevey to Grey, 21 Feb. .
- 41. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 2 May 1826.
- 42. The Times, 22 Apr. 1826.
- 43. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 20 Apr., 2 May 1826; Parl. Deb. (n.s.), xv. 688.
- 44. Creevey mss, Mrs. Taylor to Creevey [2 June], Creevey to Miss Ord, 7, 11 June 1826.
- 45. Creevey mss, Sefton to C