DIXON, Joseph (1802-1844), of Helensburgh, Dunbarton and 34 Parliament Street, Westminster, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 14 Jan. 1802,1 4th s. of Jacob Dixon, merchant, of Dumbarton and Katharine Anne Macaulay. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1816; adv. 1827. unm. d. 15 Jan. 1844.

Offices Held

Biography

Dixon’s family were manufacturers of crown glass, which constituted the ‘staple trade of Dumbarton’ in the early nineteenth century, and the ‘highly superior quality’ of their products meant that ‘the business increased very rapidly and for many years the company ... had the bulk of both the home and foreign trade in their hands’. Messrs. Dixon were major employers in the town and ‘wielded immense influence’ there; the father, Jacob, became provost. Joseph qualified as an advocate, but it seems that ‘most of his time was occupied in foreign travel’.2 At the general election in 1830 he acted as counsel to Kirkman Finlay*, the unsuccessful candidate for Glasgow Burghs, and he afterwards expressed confidence that Glasgow would soon have its own representation, observing that it was ‘contemptible for such a city to be supported by burghs such as Renfrew, Rutherglen and Dumbarton’; a ‘modified common-sense system of reform’ was required. That December he chaired a reform meeting in Dumbarton.3 He was returned for Glasgow Burghs at the general election in 1831, defeating Finlay, a prominent merchant and fellow reformer. He admitted that Finlay was in many ways better qualified to deal with matters relating to free trade, but emphasized his ‘ardent desire to promote the great interests of his country’. He pledged support for the ‘whole’ of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, but favoured modifications to the Scottish bill, including separate representation for Dunbartonshire and a £5 rather than a £10 household franchise in boroughs of ‘a poorer description’ than Glasgow. He later reaffirmed his commitment to ‘the measure of reform’, adding that ‘if any alteration were to be made ... he would rather incline to make it a little more democratic’.4 Finlay petitioned against the result, alleging corrupt practices, but Dixon was confirmed in his seat, 27 July 1831.

He was described by another Member as ‘one of the most singular looking persons I ever saw’, sporting a ‘magnificent’ set of whiskers; he quickly acquired the nickname of ‘the glass blower’.5 He defended his constituents from Tory criticism, 27 June 1831, maintaining that ‘not the slightest disposition to riot was manifested’ during the recent election, and he believed that accounts of violence elsewhere in Scotland were ‘much exaggerated’. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, and generally for its details, though he voted for separate representation for Merthyr Tydvil, 10 Aug., and against the proposed division of counties, 11 Aug. Presenting a Glasgow petition for the bill’s speedy passage, 6 Sept., he declared that the Scottish people ‘place perfect reliance on the intentions of ... government’. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He warned that ministers would not carry the Scottish bill unless ‘some additional representation’ was given to the larger counties, 9 Aug., and said he would ‘certainly oppose’ the measure ‘unless the independence of Dunbartonshire [from Buteshire] be restored’. He asserted that it was the ‘general feeling’ of the Scottish people that ‘justice has not been done them’, 13 Aug. On 5 Sept. he gave notice that in committee he would move for separate representation for Dunbartonshire and the enfranchisement of £5 householders in boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants; he did not act on this occasion. He voted for the second reading, 23 Sept. He maintained that it was the ‘wish of the great body of the Scotch clergy’ that they should be disfranchised, ‘to prevent them from being engaged in political controversies which may lower them in the estimation of their congregations’, 26 Sept. Next day he supported the claim for compensation by charitable trustees in Haddingtonshire unable to dispose of their superiorities, explaining that these did ‘not bear the least resemblence’ to votes in English rotten boroughs. He was granted a fortnight’s leave for the death of a near relative, 3 Oct., and missed the division next day on Murray’s amendment to give extra seats to the larger counties. He voted with the minority against issuing the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. 1831.

He doubted whether reduction of the duty on glass would lead to increased consumption, 1 July 1831, but suggested that repeal of the window tax would ‘indeed ... do good to that trade’. He was added to the select committee on the East India Company’s charter, 4 July (and reappointed, 27 Jan. 1832). He presented a Glasgow petition against the duty on marine insurance policies, 14 July. He was ‘quite of opinion’ that Parliament must make ‘a large expenditure’ to maintain the colony of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 18 July, but was ‘convinced ... a large revenue might be derived from the sale of convict labour’. Next day he moved for papers regarding the compensation claims for the seizure of British vessels by a Brazilian squadron off Buenos Aires in 1826, ‘a case of hardship from attacks made on the property of British merchants unparalleled ... in the history of this country’. He complained that successive governments had been dilatory in pressing for a settlement, allowing the Brazilians to practice the ‘grossest evasions and delays ... in the adjustment of the claims’. However, he accepted the leader of the Commons Lord Althorp’s explanation that producing the papers would be inconvenient, and did not force a division. He continued to press for decisive action, 30 Aug., and threatened to move for an address to the crown, 20 Sept. He presented a petition from West India planters and merchants in Glasgow against renewing the Sugar Refinery Act, 8 Aug., and seconded Keith Douglas’s abortive amendment to this effect, 12 Sept., when he voted for inquiry. He had ‘strong objections’ to the Scottish turnpike roads bill, 12 Aug., as it imposed a duty on steam carriages ‘amounting to a prohibition of these vehicles’. He lamented that the country frequently suffered from the effects of ‘ignorant legislation ... particularly on private bills’. He condemned the bill for giving oppressive powers to trustees, 24 Aug., and forced a division at the report stage, 26 Aug., but was defeated by 66 votes to none; he was a minority teller. He reiterated his opposition on the third reading, 29 Aug., but did not divide again. He seconded Alderman Thompson’s motion to abolish fees for ships in quarantine, 6 Sept., complaining that ‘ship owners are exposed to the greatest hardships ... for the benefit of the public’, who ‘ought to defray the charges’; he was a minority teller. He deplored the Glasgow Protestant petition against the Maynooth grant, 19 July, believing that ‘no man of liberality or charity would give utterance to the doctrines’ expressed in it. He divided with the minority to postpone issuing the Dublin election writ, 8 Aug. He voted to punish only those guilty of bribery in the Dublin election and against censuring the Irish administration, 23 Aug. He divided for the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug. He opposed the grant for Dublin’s police, 31 Aug., protesting that it was ‘really too much that we should hear, night after night, of the distress of one part of Ireland or another’, when the Scottish Highlanders were ‘as much entitled to relief’. He voted against the grant to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 25 July. He vowed to ‘take every means in my power to oppose’ the extension of the game laws to Scotland, where ‘the laws ... are severe enough’, 8 Aug. During a discussion on the Sale of Beer Act, 24 Aug., he said he was ‘not friendly to improper interference’, but feared that ‘unless some restraint was placed upon the orgies of the lower orders, they would materially interrupt their own happiness ... and the general peace of society’. He divided against going into committee on the truck bill, 12 Sept. 1831, and later complained that he had missed his opportunity to move an unspecified amendment, owing to the ‘undertoned conversation’ by Members opposite, which made it impossible to follow the proceedings. He added that this was ‘always the case’ and that ‘we seldom ... know what takes place in committee, from the hurried conversational manner in which the discussions are carried on’. The Scottish solicitor-general, Henry Cockburn, sarcastically observed about this time that ‘Fat Dixon’s parliamentary eloquence must be very pleasing to all Scotchmen’.6

Following the Lords’ rejection of the English reform bill Dixon attended the Dunbartonshire meeting, 2 Nov. 1831, to address the king for another full and effectual measure. He expressed support for the creation of new peers, although ‘such a measure should only be resorted to in cases of such great emergency as the present’. He had always been willing to pledge support for reform, but ‘on all questions of commercial policy and business of that sort’ he would ‘most firmly refuse’ to do so, as he considered it ‘a most dangerous line of conduct to require pledges on the hustings on every subject of minor importance’. With regard to the political unions, he believed there was ‘no occasion for them whatever’, as the Commons adequately represented public opinion, and their ‘tendency to control the legislature’ meant they ‘might be highly dangerous’.7 He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but generally supported its details, although he voted against the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb., and, according to The Times, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. 1832.8 He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., but was absent from the division on Lord Ebrington’s motion for an address to the crown requesting the appointment only of ministers committed to carrying an undiluted measure, 10 May. He presented, without comment, Glasgow and Dumbarton petitions to withhold supplies until the bill was carried, 30 May. He complained of the unfair treatment of Scotland in its reform bill, 27 Jan., observing that the government was ‘forming a new constitution for that country’ and was therefore ‘not bound by what was done at the time of the Union’. He believed the agricultural interest had been ‘neglected’ and hoped that additional representation would be granted to ‘two or three of the largest counties’. He presented the Glasgow Political Union’s petition in favour of the bill, which he ‘understood ... is highly approved of in Scotland generally’, 20 Mar. He divided with the minority for increased Scottish county representation, 1 June. He was ‘astonished’ by Hume’s suggestion that the owners of superiorities should continue to qualify for county votes, 4 June, as the object of reform was ‘not merely to extend the franchise, but to destroy everything like nomination’. That day he proposed a six-month rather than 12-month residence qualification, which was negatived, and a £5 borough household franchise, which would ‘in many places’ add considerable numbers of people to the electoral register who were ‘at least equally intelligent and respectable’ as the £10 householders in London; this met the same fate. He warned that annual revision of the register by sheriffs would cause many to ‘abandon their right [rather] than submit to the inconvenience of prosecuting it’, 5 June. He opposed uniting Port Glasgow with Greenock, 15 June, as the ‘greatest rivalry and jealousy prevails’ between the towns, and Greenock was entitled to its own representation so that it might ‘advocate the interests of all the small towns upon the Clyde, which ... are at present too frequently injured by the corporation of Glasgow’. He said he would support Shaw Stewart’s motion to put Kilmarnock in the Ayr district, although ‘I cannot say it accords with my private opinion’. He voted that day for the dismemberment of Perthshire. He condemned the proposed property qualification for Scottish Members, which restricted the choice of candidates available to the electors, 27 June, and hoped that ‘when the rotten boroughs are destroyed, this system will be completely at an end’. He threatened to divide the House, but the ‘obnoxious’ clause was withdrawn. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He argued that the bribery at elections bill should also apply to the counties, 6 Aug. 1832, but thought it would be a ‘gross injustice’ to punish a whole borough by disfranchisement when only ‘a portion of its electors have been guilty of bribery’.

He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but against them on the Greek loan, 6 Aug. 1832. He pressed the foreign secretary Lord Palmerston for information regarding the state of the Brazilian claims, 3 Feb., as the merchants involved were ‘now in despair’. He accused the government of treating ‘the seizure of English ships with the greatest carelessness’, 28 Feb., and, receiving no response, gave notice of a motion for an address to the crown. He complained of being obliged to put off this motion for a fourth time, 3 Apr., and protested angrily against the ‘vile system of parliamentary tactics’ being used to obstruct him, 13 Apr., accusing Palmerston of having organized a count-out the previous day and declaring that he deserved to be censured by the House. His motion finally came on, 16 Apr., but after a debate he accepted Peel’s advice to withdraw it. He thought it was ‘much better policy to make small rather than large grants of land’ in the Swan River colony, so as not to ‘interfere with part of the colony belonging to the government’, 17 Feb. On 22 Feb. he condemned the conduct of the governor of New South Wales, General Darling, in revoking previous grants of crown land and demanding quit-rents for their restoration, the ‘most iniquitous proceeding I ever heard of’, which would ‘bring that colony into a state of ruin’. He pointed out that New South Wales was ‘calculated to be the safety-valve of Britain’, taking its surplus population, and was likely to become a ‘most valuable trading colony’. The governor deserved ‘impeachment’ and he urged ministers to take prompt action. He moved for a select committee on the subject, 7 June, but, faced with government opposition and ‘knowing ... how useless it will be to divide the House, constituted as it is’, he withdrew. He denounced Darling’s ‘grossly illegal’ and ‘tyrannical’ conduct in removing the commissioner of crown lands, 23 July. He supported Bulwer’s motion for a representative system in New South Wales, 28 June, observing that it was ‘the curse of this colony ... [that] instead of having its interests decided upon by competent judges upon the spot, such decisions are left to an under-secretary of state at home, upon partial and prejudicial representations’. He believed that convicts who had served their sentence had ‘as much right to sit in a legislative body, or to enter a jury box, as any other man who has property to protect’; he was a minority teller. He voted with the minority to reduce the sugar duties, 7 Mar. He presented three Glasgow petitions for protection for the West Indian colonies, 24 May, noting that there was ‘hardly a respectable family in this part of Scotland that is not interested ... directly or indirectly’ in them. He ‘heartily concurred’ in the Glasgow ship owners’ petition for inquiry into West Indian distress, 4 June, and regretted that these colonies had ‘hitherto been regarded with total neglect’, adding that ‘I really believe ... any attempt at a sudden abolition of slavery will operate most injuriously to all classes’. He asked if ministers were aware of the distress in Jamaica and Barbados caused by the orders in council, 22 June, and urged that steps be taken to remedy the ‘calamitous state of commerce in St. Lucia’, 6 July. On 25 July he moved to reduce the duty on rum imported into Scotland to the same level as in England, which was desired by the West India interest, although he also felt ‘entitled to expect the support of the anti-slavery party’, as emancipation could not be achieved until the condition of the planters was ameliorated. After the motion was negatived, he condemned the ‘selfish interest of the landholders’, who were backing the government in a thin House while many Members were in their constituencies. He believed that ‘Members should not go canvassing’ and stated that while he had ‘many opponents canvassing against me in Glasgow’, he was ‘determined to stay here and perform my duty’. He demanded to know whether the ministerial plan to reduce the tax burden on certain West Indian colonies was really ‘compensation’ for the orders in council, 8 Aug. He advised that the naval station at Sierra Leone should be transferred to the more salubrious Fernando Po, 23 July, as care needed be taken to ensure ‘the freedom of the blacks is not purchased by too great a sacrifice of the lives of Europeans, which I know myself to be dreadful’. He declared that the government deserved the ‘severe reprehension of this House’ for appointing a resident for New Zealand at public expense, when local merchants had recommended an individual and offered to defray his salary, 7 June. He gave a ‘most express and decided contradiction’ to Inglis’s doctrine that the Church of England should be considered the established church in every colony, 23 July 1832.

Dixon divided with the minority for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan. 1832. He thought Liverpool had been ‘peculiarly favoured’ by the grant for erecting customs buildings and suspected it ‘amounted to something very like a job’, 8 Feb. He feared that the clause in the factory bill forbidding nightwork for people under 21 would ‘prevent that competition which is so necessary among [such] persons’ and thus ‘reduce to pauperism, in manufacturing places, all young men’, 10 Feb. However, he regretted to see the Glasgow cotton manufacturers upholding the existing system and defending child labour, 7 Mar., and took it as a ‘compliment’ that they had not asked him to present their petition. He declared that the committee on the bill, of which he was a member, had gathered evidence of ‘such a system of atrocious slavery’ as would ‘disgust every feeling and humane mind’, 7 June. On 10 Feb. he introduced the Scottish arrestment for wages bill, to regulate proceedings in the sheriffs’ courts for the recovery of small debts, which had ‘given rise to a very great degree of misery’ in the manufacturing districts and been a ‘source of constant dissension’. He proposed a delay in the issuing of warrants, to allow debts to be repaid in instalments. However, when the lord advocate expressed doubts about the bill, he postponed it to another session, 6 June. He hoped ministers would not consider ‘cutting off the communication between great towns’ in order to combat the cholera epidemic, 13 Feb., as this would ‘be the means of scattering famine and destitution among all the working population’ in places such as Glasgow. He protested against ‘resorting to any system of compulsory relief, similar to the poor laws’, as envisaged in the Scottish cholera prevention bill, 15 Feb., predicting that it would ‘never be got rid of, but form a constant curse to Scotland’. He called on English Members to ‘assist the Scotch in preventing them from being borne down by a knot of Irish Members’, who had forced the government to bring on its malt drawback bill without adequate consultation, 17 Feb. He maintained that the measure was based on ‘calumnious assertions’ made against the Scottish distillers by their Irish rivals, 29 Feb., and warned that it would lead to the ‘renewal of illicit distillation all over Scotland’. He moved to reject the second reading, but was defeated by 41-17, acting as a minority teller. He was a minority teller against going into committee, 30 Mar., when he objected to the ‘indefinite’ penalties for fraud, and he voted against the third reading, 2 Apr. He voted with the minority for information regarding military punishments, 16 Feb. He seconded Alderman Thompson’s motion to modify the soap duties, 28 Feb., explaining that he personally favoured a small duty on foreign tallow rather than one on Irish manufactured soap. He thought it was ‘very unjust’ to impose a levy on merchant seamen to support Greenwich Hospital, 8 Mar. He complained that a ‘vast number of officers’ were being ‘paid extremely high’ at Millbank penitentiary, 13 Apr., and recommended the adoption of the Glasgow prison model. He denied that petitions against the plan for national education in Ireland represented the general view of the Scottish people, 23 May, and suggested that the hostile petitioners from Glasgow would ‘display a better taste by not meddling in such matters’, 5 June. He defended the strong language in the Preston petition against Irish tithes, 3 Aug., observing that ‘it can hardly be disputed that the hierarchy of Ireland have been of little service to that country’. He strongly objected to the proposed road toll on steam carriages in the stagecoach duties bill, 9 Aug., as it was ‘extremely impolitic to crush ... a rising invention of so useful and important a nature’. He moved to exempt steam carriages, but was defeated by 48-2, acting as a minority teller. However, he expressed ‘great pleasure’ on learning that ministers had adopted his view, 11 Aug. He voted with the minority against making the ecclesiastical courts contempts bill retrospective, 3 Aug. He believed that ‘all unnecessary pensions ought to be struck off as quickly as possible’, 8 Aug. 1832.

Dixon offered for the new and populous Glasgow constituency at the general election in December 1832. He gave no specific pledges but promised to ‘follow the course which I have uniformly pursued’, of ‘diligently advocating and supporting those measures which the advice and instructions of my constituents, combined with my own observation, have led me to conclude were most conducive to local and general interests’. His humiliating defeat, coming bottom in a poll of six, may have been partly attributable to the fact that he ‘did not apply in time ... till after many pledges had been given’.9 He and ‘the heirs of his body’ inherited £1,500 from his father in 1833, in addition to £2,500 ‘already advanced’, and he may have been a beneficiary from the ‘annuities ... previously made ... and contained in a separate supplementary trust deed’.