EAST, Sir Edward Hyde (1764-1847), of 12 Stratford Place, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 9 Sept. 1764, in Jamaica, s. of Edward East of Whitehall, Jamaica and Amy, da. of James Hall of Jamaica. educ. Harrow 1776; Magdalen, Oxf. 1782; I. Temple 1781, called 1786. m. 23 Dec. 1786, Jane Isabella, da. of Joseph Chaplin Hankey of East Bergholt, Suff., 1s. 1da. kntd. 26 Feb. 1813; cr. bt. 25 Apr. 1823. d. 8 Jan. 1847.
C.j. Bengal 1813-23; bencher, I. Temple 1823, reader 1830, treas. 1831; PC 29 June 1831; member, judicial cttee. of PC 1833.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1794-6.
East, whose family’s fortune derived from Jamaican plantations, had been active in the defence of West India interests during his first spell in Parliament, and gained another colonial perspective by his appointment as an Indian judge in 1813. According to his son James Buller East*, who accompanied him to Bengal, he found there a primitive and inefficient judicial system and encountered resistance from settlers to his attempt to introduce trial by jury.1 One of the cases to come before the Calcutta supreme court during his stewardship was that of his own son-in-law, James William Croft, who was found guilty in March 1819 of the seduction (and impregnation) of the daughter of a family friend. Croft, who was moderately fined and banished, had apparently induced her to fake insanity and suicide to cover her flight. East’s reference to a ‘factious cabal’ of enemies in a letter to Charles Philip Yorke*, 27 Aug. 1820, suggests that there may have been calls for his removal as a result of this episode, though he had already determined on a return to England.2 He blamed the ensuing delay in the acceptance of his resignation on the aspirations of George Canning*, the president of the board of control, to the governor-generalship of India, and his wish to delay any new judicial appointments until he could make his own nominations. He also appeared to hold Canning responsible for the difficulties which later emerged over his pension. (In his anxiety to leave, he accepted the comparatively low settlement of £1,300 per annum, with a promise of an increase to £2,000 when funds permitted.) Still in post in November 1821, he complained that he had been ‘unwell for nearly the last two months, my stomach having been long aching, accompanied with debility and occasionally with headache’, and he had yet to receive confirmation of his resignation when he left for Britain in February 1822 aboard the Thomas Greville, which docked at the end of May.3 He was chiefly remembered in India for his efforts in promoting native education, notably the foundation of the Hindu college, and on his departure was commended by the inhabitants of Calcutta for his even-handed dispensation of justice ‘to people of different countries, languages and habits’. A statue of him was commissioned to stand in the grand jury room over which he had presided.4
Whilst in India East had tried to keep abreast of political developments at home. An opponent of parliamentary reform, in August 1820 he opined:
The system of radical reform ... has only corrupted or is capable of corrupting some of the lower classes of people. Those above them who affect to talk this nonsense, have in reality a revolution in government in prospect, and use the other merely as a popular stalking horse of the day. The government and gentlemen of England have, I am sure, sufficient strength to combat and overthrow this hydra.
He identified public finance as the crucial issue of the hour and reckoned it ‘not improbable that ... reducing some of the taxes, now highly raised, would tend to increase rather than diminish the revenue, by increasing ... consumption’.5 On belatedly learning the outcome of the 1820 general election the following month, he felt himself vindicated in not falling prey to alarmism, but admitted fearing that
the minds of the lower classes will in time be perverted by the incessant insidious attacks upon the very frame of government and society through the daily and systematic abuse of the press, urging every abstract ... right to such an excess as to make it a wrong and a public mischief.6
East’s knighthood was upgraded to a baronetcy within a year of his return, upon which he resumed regular attendance of the West India planters’ committee.7
In February 1823 he came forward for a vacancy at Winchester caused by the retirement of his son’s father-in-law James Henry Leigh, whose second residence at Adlestrop House, Gloucestershire, was to become one of his bolt holes.8 On the hustings he derided the ‘absurd’ notion that agricultural distress demonstrated the need for parliamentary reform, sought to justify the French wars and the return to a ‘wholesome currency’, and promised to support such ‘moderate reduction of taxation as would not endanger our national freedom, credit and security’.9 He was returned unopposed on the interest of the 1st duke of Buckingham, who, by way of a denial that Winchester was really controlled by his wife, informed William Fremantle* that East had ‘no partialities or predilections except for my opinion and votes for the Catholic question’. He ‘has sworn allegiance to me exclusively’, he later insisted.10 Fremantle thought Buckingham protested too much, but East duly supported Catholic relief (to which the duchess of Buckingham was strongly opposed), and as the duke’s private auditor from 1827 made valiant but futile attempts to save him from financial ruin.11 A regular attender, described as ‘an agreeable but not very effective speaker’ by a radical commentary of 1825, he invariably supported the Liverpool ministry.12 He was in their majorities against repeal of the assessed taxes on houses valued under £5, 10 Mar., and limiting the sinking fund, 13 Mar. 1823. That day Buckingham’s son Lord Chandos* requested his attendance to vote against a select committee on the game laws, though in the event there was no division.13 He divided against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange theatre rioters, 22 Apr. He was a majority teller against a motion for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr., when he observed that the architects of the 1688 Revolution had not seen fit to alter the electoral system and denied that the representative base had narrowed, citing the transfer of Grampound’s seats to Yorkshire and warning against a more general measure, ‘the benefit of which must be precarious and questionable, while the hazard is great and certain’. Ricardo, who spoke next, dismissed his arguments as ‘too often repeated, and too often refuted, to have any weight’. He voted against reform of the representation of Scotland, 2 June 1823, and Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824, 13 Apr. 1826. On 11 July 1823 he spoke in support of a clause to the East India mutiny bill empowering the governor of Bombay to summons courts martial.14 That month Buckingham attempted to intercede with government to obtain a improved pension for East; he tried again two months later, without success.15
East presented constituency petitions against the licensing duties, 20 Feb., and the assessed taxes, 22 Mar. 1824.16 The latter was possibly the spur for his minority vote for their repeal, 3 Mar. 1825, and he later boasted of having twice opposed government at the request of his constituents, though the second instance apparently went unrecorded.17 He was appointed to the select committee on the criminal law, 16 Mar., and voted against inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith, accused of inciting slave riots in Demerara, 11 June 1824. That November Buckingham mentioned him as a candidate for the governorship of Madras to Charles Williams Wynn*, president of the board of control, who dismissed the suggestion as ludicrous.18 He divided for suppression of the Catholic Association, 25 Feb., and Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He was in the majorities for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 20 May, 6, 10 June. On 6 June 1825 he warned that the interference of Parliament would only strengthen the attachment of Indian Hindus to the custom of burning widows, but applauded the efforts of local authorities to discourage the practice. He presented a petition from Winchester silk throwers for protection from imports, 21 Feb. 1826.19 Confirming Hume’s assertion that slave owners in India had no legal redress against runaways, 1 Mar., he added that on his West Indian property he had ‘always thought it his duty to have it managed in the way most advantageous to the slaves’ and cited his record of support for ameliorative measures, but urged a consensual approach to abolition and the compensation of owners. Next day he voted against a motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials. He divided with ministers for the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. He was added to the select committee to consider a petition of grievance against the East India Company, 11 May 1826.
At the 1826 general election he stood again for Winchester, promising to continue to support ministers ‘for so long as they promote the general good’ and Catholic relief. He was returned unopposed.20 In February 1827 he was the conduit for Buckingham’s communications of admiration for Frederick Robinson, the chancellor of the exchequer, and the latter’s less than effusive response. Privately, he considered that the ‘melancholy and sudden’ event of Liverpool’s stroke ‘must throw the government into great difficulty for a time at least, if it do not even produce interior conflict’, and doubted the general assumption that Canning would soon be in sufficient health to resume his place, 20 Feb.21 He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828 (as a pair). He divided for the duke of Clarence’s annuity bill, 16 Mar., but against the corn bill, 2 Apr. With the apparent encouragement of East, Buckingham had taken against the Canning administration after being passed over for the governor-generalship of India, and in April instructed his Members to oppose them, before decreeing a course of abstention the following month. East does not appear to have broken either injunction, though Fremantle reported that his true allegiance was ‘to the duchess and Chandos’, who had gone into outright opposition, 19 Apr. 1827.22 In January 1828 the duke of Wellington was advised by Sir Henry Hardinge* that although East counted himself a supporter of the Goderich ministry, he was convinced that ‘things cannot and ought not to last’ and was anxious for ‘a reconciliation or change by which your grace and Mr. Peel may be at the head of affairs’.23 Like Chandos, East voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. He assumed responsibility for a bill to amend the law governing the liability of British citizens in India to have their property seized for debt, 25 Mar., but the initiative for the measure was later taken by Robert Cutlar Fergusson. He divided with the Wellington ministry against a motion on chancery delays, 24 Apr. He welcomed the second reading of the settlement by hiring bill, but suggested that entitlement to poor relief from a particular parish should be dependent on residence and ‘industrious labour’ for a set number of years, 29 Apr. He approved legislation to extend recent English legal reforms to India, 4 June. He voted against ordnance reductions, 4 July. He presented a petition from West India proprietors for an impartial inquiry into colonial slavery, 22 July 1828. It appears that he joined Chandos in unsuccessfully urging the appointment of Buckingham as Irish viceroy in December 1828, but without the knowledge of his patron, who was in Italy.24 He was, of course, expected by Planta, the patronage secretary, to divide for the ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, though he only did so on the bill’s third reading, 30 Mar. 1829, which was his sole recorded vote of the session. On 20 May 1829 he attended a special meeting of the West India planters, at which Chandos was elected as permanent chairman.25 His profile remained low during 1830, when he was in the majorities against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and Jewish emancipation, 17 May. On 2 June 1830 he attended a meeting of Members with West India interests, where he seconded a motion of support for the ministerial proposals on the rum duty.26
At the 1830 general election he offered again for Winchester, promising to maintain his general support for government and contrasting the state of the nation with the revolutionary conditions prevailing in France. He was returned unopposed.27 On 26 Oct. he proposed the re-election of Charles Manners Sutton as Speaker with an appropriate eulogy. He had naturally been listed by ministers as one of their ‘friends’ and he was in their minority in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was censured for his absence from a Winchester meeting for parliamentary reform in mid-February 1831, and although he presented and endorsed the resulting petition, 28 Feb., it was with the qualification that he would oppose any measure ‘which goes to the forfeiture or confiscation of privileges now held by any persons, without ... proof of abuse’.28 He presumably felt that the Grey ministry’s reform bill fell into this category, for he voted against its second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. On 18 Mar. 1831 he spoke against an increase in the duty on imports to the West Indies.
At the subsequent dissolution East retired from Winchester in favour of his only son James Buller East, rather than face a contest against two reformers, noting his ‘advancing years’ and support for ‘ancient and honourable franchises, which to the last I have defended in Parliament’.29 On 11 Aug. 1831 he asked Brougham, the lord chancellor, to use his influence in favour of his reappointment as chief justice of Bengal, citing the weight of his experience as a counter to any objection on account of his age. ‘All my property lies unfortunately in the West Indies and is involved in the ruin of Mr. [William] Manning’s* bank’, he explained, adding that ‘several near and dear relatives, besides my own immediate household, are thrown nearly helpless upon me, and all I have to rely on is my pension’.30 (As early as August 1810, he had predicted that his Jamaican estates were ‘more likely to break my heart than benefit me’.)31 Brougham evidently suggested that a domestic post might be more suitable, but ‘under the pressure ... to which I before alluded’, East vainly renewed his application in November 1831. Brougham had already satisfied his wish, first expressed in 1822, for a seat on the privy council, and in August 1833 named him to its judicial committee. As a mark of gratitude East, who was plainly glad of the work, sent Brougham an engraving of his Calcutta statue.32 Thereafter he acted as a ‘constant assessor’ of Indian appeals, on which subject he had earlier wearied another former colonial judge, Sir James Mackintosh*.33 Amidst his financial difficulties he retained an interest in politics, and was almost certainly the ‘Sir East’ whom Benjamin Disraeli† encountered at a ‘regular Bucks party’ in 1839 in the company of ‘a widow daughter’, and reported to be ‘enthusiastically blue, and boring Chandos about my genius’.34 From 1831 he chaired meetings of the West India planters, of whom he led a delegation to Peel, the prime minister, in August 1842.35
East moved to Minchenden House, Southgate, Middlesex, in July and thence to Sherwood House, Battersea, Surrey, presumably for reasons of economy.36 He was discovered in his locked bedroom by his butler, ‘lying on his left side, apparently dead’, at the latter address in January 1847, in circumstances sufficient to merit an inquest, though the jury agreed with the doctor that the cause of death was ‘sanguineous apoplexy, induced solely from natural causes’.37 The only legacies realized from his will, dated 11 July 1844, were those of his library, which passed to his son and executor, and the £1,093 in government stock placed in trust for his daughter Anna Eliza. After the settlement of debts his personal estate was insufficient to meet his other bequests to family and servants, and at his own request he received a ‘plain and simple’ burial in the family vault at Kensal Green.38
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer
- 1. BL OIOC Mss Eur. A. 145, f. 1.
- 2. Add. 45038, f. 35; The Times, 15 Nov. 1819.
- 3. Add. 45038, ff. 43, 49, 53, 57.
- 4. Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 422-3; H.D. Sandeman, Selections from Calcutta Gazettes, v. 429, 439-42; Bengal Obituary (1848), 269.
- 5. Add. 45038, f. 35.
- 6. Ibid. f. 41.
- 7. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/3/4; 4/1-2.
- 8. N. Kingsley, Country Houses of Glos. 48.
- 9. Hants Chron. 24 Feb. 1823.
- 10. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 29-30; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/71; 12/76.
- 11. Sack, 201, 211-12, 215-16.
- 12. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 462.
- 13. Fremantle mss 46/11/78.
- 14. The Times, 12 July 1823.
- 15. Fremantle mss 51/5/19; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 269-70.
- 16. The Times, 21 Feb., 23 Mar. 1824.
- 17. Hants Chron. 19 June 1826.
- 18. Buckingham, ii. 165.
- 19. The Times, 22 Feb. 1826.
- 20. Hants Chron. 19 June 1826.
- 21. Add. 45038, ff. 59, 61, 64.
- 22. Fremantle mss 46/12/100; Sack, 210-11.