CURTEIS, Herbert Barrett (1793-1847), of Young Lands, Peasmarsh, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. 19 June 1793, 1st s. of Edward Jeremiah Curteis* and Mary, da. and h. of Rev. Stephen Barrett of The Bent, Kildwick, Yorks., rect. of Rothfield, Kent. educ. Westminster 1805; Christ Church, Oxf. 1812. m. 29 June 1821, his cos. Sarah, da. and coh. of Robert Mascall of Peasmarsh, 1s. suc. fa. 1835. d. 13 Dec. 1847.
Curteis, whose father was returned for Sussex in 1820, was described shortly afterwards by Lord Ashburnham as
the eldest son of our representative, and whom I should have preferred and had actually thought of as in some respects the fitter of the two for the situation. But he is now at Athens, having been some years abroad travelling over a great part of Egypt, etc.
Later that year he returned from his four-year tour, which had covered France and Italy, as well as Middle Eastern countries rarely visited at that time. His marriage in 1821 brought him a residence near Rye, but differences over his marriage settlement reveal a rift with his father, who observed bitterly to his wife that Herbert ‘never has been much to us and never will. He has chosen to be abroad for independence, and therefore to avoid us, and this is still his plan’. He duly decamped on a tour encompassing France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy, where his only son was born in January 1823. The death of his wife soon after their return to England in 1825 was a blow from which, according to an obituarist, he ‘may be said never to have completely recovered’.1 He was evidently reconciled with his father, on whose behalf he spoke at the general election of 1826,2 and by the summer of 1829 he was being groomed to succeed to the county seat at the next general election. His father was anxious that he should check his liberal inclinations, to judge from Herbert’s letter of 10 July:
I am obliged to you for the hint about politics. As I have never been violent, there will be nothing new in my being moderate as to these. I have every reason to believe that the politics I profess will be acceptable with the majority of the freeholders, though they may not be sufficiently Tory to please some of the great men of the county.
He thought no purpose would be served by raising a ‘No Popery’ cry, ‘even in Sussex’, and reported that his declaration for a ‘moderate, practicable and safe’ measure of parliamentary reform had given general satisfaction. He also sought his father’s expert advice on the corn laws, and later that year he assumed a leading role in the extra-parliamentary campaign for repeal of the duties on beer and malt. From the chair of a London meeting, 15 Dec. 1829, he defended this form of popular politics, observing that while there was ‘a certain class of politician who entertained great fears of anything like public discussion’, he was ‘happy to perceive that this mode of thinking was gradually being exploded in this free country’. He presented the campaign’s ethos as philanthropic, maintaining that ‘beer was conducive to the health of the labouring classes’, although a critic claimed that his ‘real object’ was to ‘effect an advance in the price of barley’.3 In May 1830 his public profile was further raised by a dispute between the inhabitants of Rye and local landowners (among whom his family were prominent), when he led a troop of the coastal blockade force into the town to halt the destruction of land drainage sluices, which the townsfolk claimed were affecting their harbour. A petition was presented to the Commons, 27 May 1830, complaining of his arbitrary conduct and protesting against interference by a magistrate ‘in a case where his own pecuniary interests are concerned’, but the home secretary Peel praised his ‘great firmness, wisdom and discretion’.4 The incident cannot have harmed his reputation among the county magnates and freeholders, and he quietly replaced his father at the general election that summer. One constituent later summarized his politics as ‘three fourths liberal and one fourth ... bigoted agriculturalist’.5
The duke of Wellington’s ministry listed him among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’, and Henry Brougham* hoped he would be more willing than his father to oppose them. He defended their Irish policy from O’Connell’s attack, 4 Nov., but warned that unless they ‘observe a strict system of neutrality’ and ‘adopt measures of retrenchment’, he could not give them his general support. Next day he dismissed Hume’s suggestion that ministers bore responsibility for the ‘Swing’ riots, then spreading from Kent into Sussex, but stressed that he sat on a ‘perfectly neutral’ bench and called for an early vote of confidence. He divided against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. He approved of the Sussex juries bill, which proposed to divide the county for the purpose of summoning jurors, 22 Nov. He denied, from local knowledge, that labourers’ wages were too low, 6 Dec., and argued that the real victims of distress were the unemployed. He also urged Lord Grey’s new ministry to carry out promised reductions in expenditure, particularly in relation to Buckingham House. He favoured reform of the game laws, including the abolition of manorial rights, 7 Dec., when he deprecated the language of one agricultural petition as alarmist and objected to the needless expense of printing petitions. In presenting petitions for reduction of tithes and taxes, 17 Dec., he reiterated his views on the nature of agricultural distress, but admitted that wages were too low in some parts of Sussex. His assertion that ‘English agriculturists must, will and shall have protection, I care not in what way’, was interpreted by his opponents as a call to arms, and he was obliged to clarify his meaning. He denied that agriculturists were at odds with the clergy over tithes, 21 Dec. 1830. He urged ministers to prune the pension list further, 7 Feb. 1831, when he rejected radical claims that the payment of wages in kind was a widespread practice in Sussex. He boasted of his altruism, as the owner of woodland, in supporting remission of the coastwise coal duty, 16 Feb., and complained of ministerial inaction on agricultural distress. He thought that if tobacco growing was to enjoy continued sanction in Ireland, it should also be permitted in England, 10 Mar. He agreed to postpone his motion for repeal of the malt duty, 17 Mar. On 19 Mar. he justified his participation in the defeat of ministerial proposals to reduce the duty on Baltic timber the previous night by reference to his ‘conscientious opposition to the principles of free trade’. He was disappointed by the leader of the House Lord Althorp’s refusal to bind himself to the recommendations of the committee on the reduction of official salaries, 28 Mar. 1831, and indicated that he would have voted with the radicals, had a division taken place. He presented numerous anti-slavery petitions during the winter of 1830-31. He condemned the ‘disrespectful’ language of the Middlesex reform petition and advocated a ‘practical and safe reform’, 21 Dec. 1830. Though he expressed hostility to the principle of the ballot, 26 Feb. 1831, he conceded that if the forthcoming reform measure failed to give Members ‘sufficient command over the public purse to prevent the scandalous profusion of former years’, he might be forced to change his mind. In presenting reform petitions, 14 Mar., he denied that the government’s bill was slanted in favour of the agricultural interest. He expressed his ‘cordial support’ for the measure, 19 Mar., and voted for the second reading, 22 Mar. At the high constable of Brighton’s dinner, 5 Apr., he attacked the clergy for interfering in the reform question, and at the county meeting two days later he drew parallels between the reform bill and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and applauded the balance struck by ministers between competing interests.6 He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned unopposed at the ensuing general election, after declaring his support for the ‘whole bill’ but allowing for the possible amendment of minor details.7
He reserved the right to oppose the government on agricultural issues and spoke against permitting the use of molasses in brewing, 30 June 1831. He dismissed Hunt’s call for the right to appoint gamekeepers to depend on a property qualification, 8 Aug., having ‘always considered that every man had a right to do what he liked with his own’. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and steadily for its details. He voted in the minority for the complete disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, and in an exchange with Sir Charles Wetherell over the disfranchisement of Steyning he decried the existence of such boroughs as a disgrace to Sussex. He presented a Winchelsea petition against its disfranchisement, 27 July, but opposed De Lacy Evans’s scheme for Rye and Winchelsea to return two Members together. He approved of the decision to grant two Members to Brighton, 5 Aug., but expressed surprise at the number of agricultural Members who had voted to do the same for all the towns in schedule D the previous night, a proposition which he said he had opposed. He was assured that the boundary commissioners were not enlarging boroughs to the exclusion of rural populations, 1 Sept. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. Following the Lords’ rejection of the bill he attended the county meeting at Lewes, 4 Nov., when he expressed confidence that the Commons would pass a similar measure again.8 He voted to prosecute only those found guilty of bribery at the Dublin election and against the motion censuring the Irish administration’s conduct, 23 Aug. However, he voted in the minority for the introduction of a poor law system to Ireland, 29 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its details and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He welcomed the adoption of the Chandos clause, enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, as having given ‘the greatest pleasure and satisfaction among the tenantry and the farmers’, 1 Feb. He declared that the reinstatement of Grey’s ministry was ‘absolutely necessary for the salvation of the country’, 11 May, and cited the illness of a close relative as the reason for his absence from the division on the address to the king the previous day. He presented two petitions requesting that supplies be withheld until the reform bill passed, 21 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against the Conservative amendment for increased Scottish county representation, 1 June. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but with them on the same issue, 12 July, and on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He approved the principle of Sadler’s factory bill, but not its details, 16 Mar. He voted in the ministerial minority to reduce the Irish registrar’s salary, 9 Apr. In supporting the designation of Norwich as the sole assize town for Norfolk, 23 May, he became involved in a dispute with his colleague, Lennox, over the allegedly arbitrary resiting of the Horsham assizes at Lewes. Next day he