CURTEIS, Edward Jeremiah (1762-1835), of Windmill Hill, Hailsham, Suss.
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Family and Educationb. 6 July 1762, o.s. of Jeremiah Curteis of Rye and Jane, da. and coh. of Searles Giles of Biddenden, Kent. educ. Westminster 1776; Christ Church, Oxf. 1779; fellow, Oriel, 1784-9; I. Temple 1778, called 1788. m. 14 Apr. 1789, Mary, da. and h. of Rev. Stephen Barrett of The Bent, Kildwick, Yorks., rect. of Rothfield, Kent, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1806. d. 18 Mar. 1835.
Capt. Cinque Port vols. 1804.
Curteis’s family had been small landowners in the Tenterden area of south-east Kent since Medieval times. He was originally named after his father, but rebaptized as Edward Jeremiah, 1 Dec. 1798, possibly to clarify the professional distinction between them. His father, an attorney, had settled over the Sussex border at Rye, where he served as town clerk, set up a family bank in 1790 and began to acquire local landed property. Curteis practised as a special pleader on the home circuit until 1797, and at the Sussex sessions, before disappearing from the law lists in 1805 or 1806. Around the time of his succession to his father’s estates in 1806 he moved to the ‘elegant’ mansion at Windmill Hill. He accelerated the process of establishing a landed family with further purchases, including a deal reportedly worth £90,000 with Sir Godfrey Webster†, whom he eventually replaced as Member for Sussex. Land in Romney Marsh came via his marriage to an heiress, and by 1834 he was listed as a major landowner in 12 parishes in the rape of Pevensey. Lord Sheffield recognized his upward mobility in 1820, describing him as ‘a useful country gentleman of a family rather above the yeomanry, very rich’. His contributions to such publications as the Gentleman’s Magazine, usually on topics of antiquarian interest, demonstrated that he had literary pretensions too, and he was fond of parading his classical scholarship (a habit into which he occasionally lapsed in his later parliamentary speeches).1 His politics, to judge from his vote at the 1802 Kent election, had once been Whiggish, but in 1820 he was brought forward to contest Sussex by Tory grandees, led by Lords Ashburnham and Egremont, who were anxious to oust Webster, the radical sitting Member. In his first address he expressed his ‘full approbation’ of the Six Acts and declared himself to be a ‘firm and determined supporter of the constitution’, although he was ‘wholly unconnected with party and without bias in my politics’. He accepted that his ‘primary duty’ would be to use his best endeavours to help relieve the ‘present agricultural distresses’. He later professed his ‘attachment to religion, but not the religion of Carlile’, and his ‘regard for true liberty, but not the liberty of Hunt*, Watson and Thistlewood’, which he described as ‘a liberty begotten by French Jacobinism on the body of atheism’. Despite mounting hysteria over his personal safety and the cost of the election, particularly after Webster retired in favour of a cousin of the duke of Devonshire, his nerve, and the resolve of his backers, held long enough for him to be returned in second place, after an eight-day poll. Egremont privately regarded him as an ‘irresolute brute’ and was not alone in regretting his selection for the seat.2
William Huskisson*, in a letter of introduction to Charles Arbuthnot*, the Liverpool ministry’s patronage secretary, was scarcely enthusiastic about Curteis:
Now that we have made him knight of the shire I turn him over to you with all his imperfections on his head. Lord Ashburnham gave him to us and will I suppose vouch for him. I am sure that I will not. Unless he is kept steady by having an object in view (which I rather suspect may be the case) he will be as often against us as for us (and not when they most need him). There should be some explanation with Lord Ashburnham on this point, but I am afraid he will not be able to manage the hog, or willing to take the trouble.3
In fact, he proved to be a fairly regular attender who gave general support to ministers and won a reputation as a dogged defender of the agricultural interest. In May 1820 he attended a meeting of George Webb Hall’s protectionist society, the Central Agricultural Association, and it is likely that many of the agriculturist petitions which he subsequently presented were transmitted through this body.4 On 8 June he explained that as ‘the representative more particularly connected with the eastern part’ of Sussex, it had fallen to him to introduce a bill to hold future elections in the centrally situated town of Lewes, rather than at Chichester, which had been demanded at a county meeting the previous month. He declared his readiness to be guided by the wishes of such assemblies, 23 June, ‘whatever his own sentiments might be and however the doctrine might be unfashionable’, and spoke from bitter experience of the expense of conveying eastern freeholders to Chichester. However, powerful vested interests in the west of the county ensured the bill’s defeat. He divided against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He urged the government to supply colonial garrisons with home grown wheat, 9, 14 Feb., and to rescind the ban on using wheat in distilleries, 23 Feb., and he presented petitions complaining of agricultural distress, 1, 6 Mar.5 He voted to repeal the tax on husbandry horses, 5 Mar., and the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr. He spoke in favour of poor law reform, 24 May, and presented petitions in this sense, 7, 13 June.6 He divided against the omission of arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He expressed humanitarian concern at the forceful methods employed by the preventive service, 22 Mar., but voted against the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May 1821. At the Battle meeting on agricultural distress, 3 Jan. 1822, he signalled his disillusionment with the government, painting a grim picture of the condition of farmers in Sussex. He lambasted the report of the select committee on agriculture and made sweeping demands for protection, rigid economy in expenditure, reform of tithes and poor rates and a tax on stockholders. William Cobbett† also addressed the meeting, after which Curteis proposed his health from the chair. Lord Grey thought this ‘very amusing’, but an adverse reaction in other quarters obliged Curteis to deny that he had invited the radical demagogue to speak. Cobbett in turn rebuked him for ‘lack of courage to act the manly part’.7 His votes for Hume’s amendment to the address, 5 Feb., and Brougham’s motion for more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., were cast in accordance with the views of his constituents, as he explained when presenting petitions for relief from distress, 13, 15 Feb.8 He divided with ministers against Lord Althorp’s motion for more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., but with opposition for reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and of the junior lords of the admiralty, 1 Mar., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, and reduction of the cost of the embassy to the Swiss cantons, 16 May. From late April to June he presented numerous agricultural petitions critical of the revision of the corn laws proposed by David Ricardo* and praying for relief from distress. He declared that ‘agriculturists were now determined not to be made the dupes of the political economists, as it appeared the ministers had been’, 3 May.9 He voted for Lethbridge’s resolution for a fixed 40s. duty on imported corn, 8 May, warned of the ‘dangerous feeling’ among labourers in his locality, 10 May,10 and called for a reduction of tithes, 15 May. He divided against relieving Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. He voted for inquiry into the lord advocate’s conduct towards the Scottish press, 25 June. He divided for the alehouse licensing bill, 27 June, and against inquiry into the Calcutta bankers’ petition for compensation from the East India Company, 4 July 1822.
His main concern during the 1823 session was the distressed state of the hop growers, on whose behalf he presented numerous petitions and made requests for information and inquiry. On 21 Feb. he called for ‘some Member of great landed property to erect the standard of neutrality round which the country gentlemen might rally and vote with that party, opposition or ministerial, which might give the best indication of a wish to rescue the agriculturists from their present distressed condition’.11 He voted with the minority to postpone consideration of the sinking fund report, 6 Mar., but a week later failed to persuade Lethbridge to postpone his motion on distress. He divided with ministers against inquiry into delays in chancery, 5 June 1823. He suggested that the recipients of poor relief should be encouraged to join the armed forces, 25 Feb. 1824. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation next day. He opposed repeal of the silk duty, preferring that it should be taken off leather, malt and hops, 5 Mar., when he opposed a manufacturer’s petition against the export of raw wool. He presented a petition against repeal of the duties on imported wool, 25 Mar., and complained that an increase in the export duty had been smuggled through the House at a late hour, 29 Mar. He asked for more time to examine the wool import and export bill, 5 Apr., presented various wool growers’ petitions against it, 12, 14 Apr., 3 May, and condemned it as a free trade measure, 21 May, when he showed naivety over parliamentary procedure in his attempts to block it.12 He supported a proposed alteration in the regulations concerning hides and skins, 14 Apr., and vainly seconded a motion for repeal of the leather tax, 18 May. He presented several petitions in May against relaxing the regulations on foreign grain warehoused at ports and called for a return of corn sales from various markets so that the method of calculating the averages could be scrutinized, 13 May. In this concern he found an ally in the leader writer of The Times the following day, who attested to his fitness to pronounce on the subject by noting that ‘he retains much land in his own management’. He expressed readiness to abandon the whole system of averages, 24 May.13 His intervention on the matter of alleged forgery of signatures on petitions relating to the Manchester gaslight bill, 30 Mar., stemmed not from any interest in the measure itself, but from his concern that such abuse was common to many petitions emanating from northern industrial towns. The next day he named a notorious forger and wondered if he had been at work on a Manchester anti-slavery petition.14 He urged that all evidence of such fraud be laid before the House, 8 Apr. He spoke in favour of the Hammersmith bridge bill, 13 Apr. His bill to fix the place of settlement for mariners’ apprentices at their home port was defeated on its second reading, 18 May. He divided in the minority against the beer duties bill, 24 May. He presented a petition for inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 1 June,15 but did not vote in the division on this subject, 11 June 1824. That autumn he successfully solicited a new army posting for his second son from the prime minister, who had apparently assisted in this way before. Curteis reminded Liverpool that
as a county Member I have given a steady but a conscientious support to His Majesty’s administration. I have asked for nothing as I have resolved to be independent, and I trust that in this application to your lordship ... I make no surrender of that independence which I am bound to preserve to render my support of any value.16
He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 9 May 1825. He maintained that given the state of feeling in Sussex it would have been treason against his constituents if he had voted for emancipation, 26 May. He moved for returns of the number of casualties in affrays involving the preventive service, 18 Feb.,17 and argued that a reduction in customs duties would give ‘an effectual check to smuggling’, 11 Mar. He presented petitions for repeal of the assessed taxes, 7 Mar., and against alteration of the corn laws, 28 Apr., 6, 12 May.18 He condemned any measure that would reduce the price of corn and denied that demand now outstripped the home supply, 2 May. He opposed the distillery bill, 13 June, as it permitted the use of molasses instead of grain.19 He moved the second readings of the London corn exchange bill, 22 Mar., and the London Brick Company bill, 28 Mar., ‘having been so requested on my way to the House’.20 He demanded a general reduction in charitable grants, 18 Mar., and voted in the minorities against those to the Society for the Suppression of Vice and to facilitate Irish emigration to Canada, 13 June. However, he divided for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 6 June. He supported an attempt to clarify the settlement laws, 22 Mar.21 He presented a petition from Rye freeholders complaining of their exclusion from the elective franchise, 17 May, having previously informed the corporation that ‘I consider it to be my duty to present all petitions coming from the east of Sussex that may be offered to me.22 He presented petitions both for and against the Brighton improvement bill, 3 June, but alleged that names had been ‘improperly affixed’ to the hostile petition and promised to reintroduce the measure, 16 June.23 He voted for the St. Olave tithe bill, 6 June 1825. In the debate on commercial distress, 23 Feb. 1826, he warned ministers against the doctrines of free trade and political economy, observing that ‘he was one of their friends, as he generally voted with them, except when they got into their novelties’.24 Next day he divided in the minority for inquiry into the silk trade. He accompanied the presentation of petitions against revision of the corn laws with protectionist tirades, 28 Feb., 3 Mar., when he was accused of self-interest by Lord Milton, who drew attention to the paucity of his votes for economy. A similar criticism was later made by Cobbett, who was also incensed by the evidence Curteis gave to the select committee on emigration, 25 Apr., in which he showed a distinct lack of sympathy for the plight of the labourers.25 He approved the release of bonded corn to alleviate distress in the manufacturing districts, 1 May, but could not forbear to mention the privations of the agriculturists;26 he voted against any relaxation of restrictions on corn imports, 8, 11 May. He divided against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. He presented numerous anti-slavery petitions that session. At the general election that summer he faced some criticism for his over-readiness to accede to constituents’ views at the expense of principle and for being ‘too much of a farmers’ man’, but his assiduity was widely admitted and, despite a froideur with his former sponsor Ashburnham, he comfortably resisted the challenge of his predecessor Webster.27
In February and March 1827 Curteis presented numerous petitions against alteration of the corn laws and for greater agricultural protection. He called for the standardization of measurements used in the sale of corn and for the reintroduction of small banknotes, 12 Mar. He maintained that manufacturers would benefit from high corn prices, 26 Mar., and railed next day against fraud in the computation of corn averages. He seconded the unsuccessful wrecking amendment to the corn duties bill, which he condemned as a product of political economy, 2 Apr., and he vainly urged its postponement, 6 Apr.28 He introduced another bill to fix future Sussex elections at Lewes, 5 Apr., but was persuaded to withdraw it, 9 May, pending the report of the select committee on the reduction of county expenditure (of which he was a member). He confided to a correspondent that his real preference was for county polls to be taken simultaneously at all major towns, but he feared that this would be long in coming.29 He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He spoke against expenditure on educational establishments in Ireland and voted for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. He supported Canning’s ministry by dividing against the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 28 May 1827. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 7, 21, 25 Feb. 1828, and voted accordingly the next day. He jibbed at ending the double land tax payments made by Catholics, 10, 27 Mar., on the ground of the cost to the exchequer, and claimed that legislative machinery already existed for Catholics to apply for remission. He divided against Catholic relief, 12 May. He called for inquiry into the Commons library, which he claimed was being misused by Members, 27 Feb. He dismissed a petition from debtors in Horsham gaol complaining of conditions there, 28 Feb., 2 May, for which he was rebuked in a pamphlet alleging that he had not visited the prison in years.30 He pestered the duke of Wellington’s ministry to close the loophole in the corn laws which permitted imports via the Isle of Man, 10, 24 Mar., 28 Apr.; they eventually obliged him with a bill. He asserted that a ‘more favourable’ corn law would enable farmers to provide employment for all hands, 27 Mar., suggesting that he no longer believed in the necessity of emigration. He stated that his vote for a protectionist amendment to the corn bill, 25 Apr., was cast at his constituents’ behest; he presented petitions against the measure as it stood, 29, 30 Apr., 6, 9 May. His suggestions on the specifics of calculating the corn averages, 20, 21 May, were not adopted, and his advocacy of a clause to prevent merchants from hoarding grain imported at low duties, 23 May, was similarly futile. He favoured the reintroduction of small notes or, failing that, the adoption of a bimetallic currency, 28 Apr., 30 May. He congratulated Macqueen on his attempt to reform the poor laws, 29 Apr., warning that under prevailing conditions ‘our land is destined to become the property of our paupers’. In presenting one of a number of petitions for protection for domestic wool growers, 21 May, he alleged that the foreign article was being illicitly imported in the guise of rags. He secured a postponement of the third reading of the hop excise bill, 1 July, having attested to its general unpopularity among hop growers. He balked at suggestions that improvements to the London water supply should be publicly funded, 28 Mar., and was highly critical of the expense of Millbank penitentiary, 23 May. However, he thought reduction of the navy estimates was inappropriate, 16 May, and he voted against reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828.
In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, optimistically predicted that Curteis would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, but he voted against their measure, 6, 18, 23, 30 Mar. He presented numerous hostile petitions and claimed, 3 Mar., that no more than a twentieth of Sussex inhabitants were in favour of emancipation, which he reckoned was typical of popular opinion generally. His subsequent lapse in attendance is explained in a letter from a friend, 8 June, which referred to the ‘late severe and dangerous attack with which you have been affected’. A few days later he reported that his health was ‘nearly or quite restored, with the exception of some remains of temporary debility from gout’, and that he had no thoughts of retirement. In fact, it appears that he had already decided to retire but wished to delay any announcement in order to strengthen the position of his son Herbert, whose intention to offer for the county in the event of a vacancy was publicly declared in July 1829.31 Curteis was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 1 Mar. 1830. On 10 May he spoke in support of a bill to drain the Rother levels, a measure that had caused friction between its landowning sponsors and the inhabitants of Rye, who were concerned for the effect on their harbour. He subsequently observed in a letter to Egremont that the Rye harbour bill, which was designed to placate the townsfolk, constituted a ‘sacrifice of the rights and property of the landed interest’.32 He presented a petition against the bill, 24 June, but was content to drop his opposition on being assured that a compensation clause would be introduced in the Lords, 2 July. He divided with the minority for a reduction in the grant to South American missions, 7 June 1830, when, contrary to his previous position, he voted to abolish the death penalty for forgery.
His assiduous performance as county Member enabled Curteis quietly to pass the representation to his son at the dissolution in the summer of 1830. Following the ‘Swing’ riots that November he warned his son that ‘revolution has actually begun, the only question is how to control and regulate it’, and he conceded that a measure of parliamentary reform was now inevitable.33 He died in March 1835 and divided the bulk of his landed property in Kent and Sussex between his three surviving sons, Herbert, Edward (who sat for Rye as a reformer, 1832-7) and Reginald; his personalty was sworn under £60,000.34
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. E. Suss. RO, cat. of Curteis fam. pprs. (AMS 5995), introduction; R.S. Sayers, Lloyd’s Bank, 280; T.W. Horsfield, Suss. i. 546, ii. 500-88; Gent. Mag. (1835), i. 543-4; GL mss 19355/1; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Sheffield to Sidmouth, 29 Feb. 1820.
- 2. Kent Poll 1802, p. 141; Account of Suss. Election ... 1820, pp. 11, 107-47; J.R. McQuiston, ‘Suss. Aristocrats and Election of 1820’, EHR, lxxxviii (1973), 534-58; The Times, 28 Feb.; W. Suss. RO, Petworth House mss 76, Egremont to Chichester, 13 Mar. 1820.
- 3. Add. 38742, f. 6.
- 4. T.L. Crosby and D. Spring, ‘George Webb Hall’, JBS, ii (1962-3), 123, 126.
- 5. The Times, 10, 15, 24 Feb., 2, 7 Mar. 1821.
- 6. Ibid. 8, 14 June 1821.
- 7. Ibid. 7 Jan.; Fitzwilliam mss, Grey to Fitzwilliam, 13 Jan. 1822; Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, i. 54, 64, 69.
- 8. The Times, 16 Feb. 1822.
- 9. Ibid. 4 May 1822.
- 10. Ibid. 11 May 1822.
- 11. Ibid. 22 Feb. 1823.
- 12. Ibid. 6, 26, 30 Mar., 6, 13, 15 Apr., 4 May 1824.
- 13. Ibid. 25 May 1824.
- 14. Ibid. 31 Mar., 1 Apr. 1824.
- 15. Ibid. 2 June 1824.
- 16. Add. 38299, f. 195.
- 17. The Times, 19 Feb. 1825.
- 18. Ibid. 8 Mar., 29 Apr., 7, 13 May 1825.
- 19. Ibid. 14 June 1825.
- 20. Ibid. 22, 29 Mar. 1825.
- 21. Ibid. 23 Mar. 1825.
- 22. Ibid. 18 May 1825; E. Suss. RO, Rye corp. recs. 141/1.
- 23. The Times, 4, 17 June 1825.
- 24. Ibid. 24 Feb. 1826.
- 25. Ibid. 1, 4 Mar. 1826; PP (1826), iv. 114-23; Cobbett’s Rural Rides, 377-8, 411.
- 26. The Times, 2 May 1826.
- 27. Brighton Gazette, 1, 22 June, 6 July 1826.
- 28. The Times, 7 Apr. 1827.
- 29. Rye corp. recs. 141/4.
- 30. M. Stapylton, Defence of Debtors in Horsham Gaol (1828).
- 31. E. Suss. RO SAS/JC 504; AMS 5995, 1/46, 61, 66, 67.
- 32. Petworth House mss 80, Curteis to Egremont, 11 June 1830.
- 33. E. Suss. RO AMS 5995, 3/13.
- 34. PROB 11/1846/281; IR26/1380/340.